Monday, December 31, 2012

Song of the Week: What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

I'm more familiar with Diana Krall's version of this song, but you can't go wrong with some classic Ella.  Happy New Year, everybody!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gone, Baby, Gone by, Dennis Lehane

Four-year-old Amanda McCready has gone missing from her Dorchester home. Her aunt, Beatrice, has called every law enforcement agency in town, hung flyers, and organized neighbors in a city-wide manhunt for little Amanda. At the end of her rope, she hires private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro to provide extra assistance.

Gone, Baby, Gone, the fourth book in Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie/Gennaro series, is considered one of his best, and it’s hard to disagree. The story is multi-layered, the characters are vivid, and the questions are big.

Four books in, Kenzie and Gennaro are starting to get tired. Not in the sense of being played out (hell, no!), but in the sense that all the stuff they’ve seen and done is starting to pile up. They are reluctant to take the case because they don’t want to find a four-year-old dead in a dumpster. Lehane packs in a lot of references to their encounter with Gerry Glynn (Darkness, Take My Hand). One of the cops they work with also tells Kenzie to keep his mouth shut or risk people finding out what really happened to Marion Socia (A Drink Before the War).

Going to enter into spoiler territory for a bit, so if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, you might want to bail on the next paragraph.

One of the big questions asked is about which is more important: the biological family or a loving family? Eventually, Patrick and Angie discover that Amanda is still alive and that the kidnappers are raising her as their own daughter. Amanda’s mother, Helene, is a poor parent and a sorry excuse of a human being. On the night Amanda was kidnapped, Helene was at a local bar with her friend while Amanda was home alone, asleep in an unlocked house. Angie argues that Amanda is better off with the kidnappers and that living with Helene will suck the life out of her. Patrick concedes that Amanda might be better off, but what the kidnappers did was wrong and it’s not their place to say Helene is an unfit parent. The disagreement causes a rift between them and they dissolve their partnership at the end of the book. Lehane gives both sides of the argument equal weight and allows the reader to decide which side they come down on.

A quick word on the movie: it’s a must see. It’s extremely faithful to the book, with some changes that make it work on the screen. Even though I’ve seen the movie a bunch of times and knew how things would turn out, the novel was still heart wrenching and extremely powerful.

One of the best reads of the year.

Highly recommended.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Song of the Week: Hey Santa Claus

If you're a fan of Christmas Vacation, you should recognize this tune.  If not, you better go watch that movie again.

There are The Moonglows with "Hey Santa Claus":

Sunday, December 16, 2012


The third Sunday in Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday.  I stumbled across the following clip last year and decided I must share it.  If you wade into the comments you'll see complaints about the temp and the Latin pronunciation (hey, it's YouTube, people have to kvetch about something), but I think it's gorgeously arranged.

Friday, December 14, 2012

MST3K Friday: 10 Best Clips

"There goes the last shred of dignity, folks."
"Now that I'm driving those caribou don't stand a chance."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Song of the Week: Jingle Bells

I've spoken about Tony DeSare a couple times on this blog already.  Every year he posts a video Christmas card of him playing/singing a holiday tune.  This year, he gives us "17 Funny Versions of Jingle Bells".  I was able to tell who he imitates at 2:40 after the first two chords.

Friday, December 7, 2012

MST3K Friday: Turkey Day '94

I know Thanksgiving was two weeks ago, but IT'S ADAM WEST!  Batman is your "Cheeesy Gormet".  Of the 14 movies shown in 1994, I've seen four (Mitchell, The Killer Shrews, Gunsligner, Zombie Nightmare).  I need to get watching.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Brubeck Tributes

The New York Times, as always, has a very good obituary.

WBGO has a post on their blog with links to a couple interviews Brubeck did with Michael Bourne. I remember hearing the first one when it aired back in 2003.

WKCR is having a memorial broadcast until 9pm tonight.

I'm sure there will be others.

If only we could get PBS or somebody to rebroadcast "Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way" or "Rediscovering Dave Brubeck".

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

RIP Dave Brubeck

My favorite jazz pianist David Warren Brubeck died today, one day short of his 92nd birthday (December 6, 1920 - December 5, 2012). He died of heart failure, en route to a regular treatment with his cardiologist. When your heroes start getting around 90, you begin to expect these things, but it doesn't make the news any less sad.  Like I said on Monday, I'm glad I got the chance to see him in 2007.

Around this time last year, he wrote a brief letter on his website talking about his retirement from touring.  He was known as a prolific traveler and the move to retire from touring must have hurt him.  Here is the opening to the letter dated December 20, 2011:

Dear Friends,
I celebrated my 91st birthday just two weeks ago today.  As Eubie Blake remarked on his 100th birthday, "If I'd known I was gonna live this long I would have taken better care of myself".  Although I have retired from touring, I'm still at the piano ever day and am thinking about doing another piano album of wonderful old tunes that most people have forgotten.  It seems I'm about the only one left who still remembers them.
I am so grateful to all of you who have followed my music through the years and surprised and happy when young listeners tell me they have discovered and like my music.  I hope this will lead them to explore more of the great jazz legacy.
Iola joins me in sending your way a warm wish for HAPPY HOLIDAYS and a blessed Christmas.

I'm sure he continued playing every day until his death.  Maybe we'll get that solo album, but in the meantime we can listen to the fabulous music he's given us over the decades.

I think his tribute song to Audrey Hepburn is fitting to post today:

He did things in his own sweet way.

Book Review: Harry Turtledove's American Empire series

During my senior year at college, a friend introduced me to Harry Turtledove. He had 2 books of the Great War series and I asked him about them because they looked interesting. For anyone who doesn't know, Turtledove is one of the premier writers of alternate history. The Great War and American Empire trilogies are based in a universe he created for a one-shot book called How Few Remain. In HFR, Lincoln was pressed to stop the fighting during the Civil War and recognized the Confederacy as a sovereign, independent nation. Flash forward to the early 20th Century (for the Great War series) and the United States of America and the Confederate States of America co-exist on North America, but not peacefully. The CSA has been riding high since seceding from The Union, while the US as never recovered from defeat. Lincoln's Republican Party has all but completely vanished; with the Democrats (lead by President Theodore Roosevelt) occupy the familiar position of pro-capitalism and strong defense. Their counterpart is the Socialist Party: pushing a progressive agenda similar to that of Democrats of the Wilson era. The long animosity between the two nations, and the fact that their loyalties are on different sides of WWI (US with Germany and CSA with England, France, and Canada), creates the unusual circumstance of battles being fought on the continent of North America.

Turtledove does an exceptional job telling the story, but there were always a few things about his style that didn't sit right with me. While engrossing, the books tended to be a slow read. One major complaint (shared by some other fans) is the sheer number of major characters. I've read books in the past with a lot of characters, but Turtledove has at least a dozen major story lines running through his works which hardly ever intersect. Not that its a real problem, but they're not exactly novels that you can put down for a week or two and pick up right where you left off.

With the American Empire series, the problems aren't quite as noticeable (unless I was expecting them and ignored them). There are still multiple threads of the narrative, but they seem to be more manageable. The AE series continues in the same universe mentioned above. In fact, most of the major characters from the WWI series return as major characters in this one (or their families in the case of characters who died). Empire takes place in the period between WWI and WWII and deals with many of the problems that the world faced in those years: treatment of minorities, suffrage, stock market decline, etc. One of the major themes is the rise of a Nazi-type party in the Confederacy, complete with a southern Hitler.

As with his previous trilogy, Turtledove weaves real-life historical figures into his books in fascinating ways. You'll find both Roosevelt presidents, Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, Joe Kennedy, George Armstrong Custer, and others. His characters are (of course) aging and it would be unreasonable to expect them to carry on into further books, but he manages to transition many of the storylines to future generations in very interesting ways. When a major character dies, their story is usually picked up by a son/daughter, their spouse, or in-laws. One story skipped an entire generation to the character's grandchild. All the events in this trilogy deal with the effects of WWI while building to WWII (Turtledove's Settling Accounts series currently in progress).

If you're interested in reading some good alternate history, I suggest you start with the Great War series (or How Few Remain if you can find it). To quote Larry Bond, "Anyone who loves history will love what Harry Turtledove can do with it."

Highly Recommended.

Great War: American Front, Walk in Hell, Breakthroughs
American Empire: Blood and Iron, The Center Cannot Hold, Victorious Opposition

Posted on the old blog 12/11/2004.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Song of the Week: Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

It's time to kick off the tradition of Christmas Song of the Week!  Thursday, December 6th is the 92nd birthday of my favorite jazz musician, Dave Brubeck.  He's one of the most prolific and most well-traveled musicians of our time.  Even in his 80's, he was on the road over 200 days of the year; more that a lot of musicians a quarter of his age.  It was only at age 91 that his doctors told him to stop accepting dates so far from his house in Connecticut.  I'm so glad that I got to see him in May 2007 in Morristown, NJ when he was at the positively young age of 86.

This week's song features the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet with Dave on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums.  "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town".