Monday, December 30, 2013

Song of the Week: We Three Kings

Great arrangement by Joshua Leavy. Listen to the best horn section in the buisness.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Song of the Week: Up on the Housetop

The Airmen of Note is the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force. A few years ago, the group released a Christmas CD. Here's one of the tracks from that disc: "Up on the Housetop". Just listen to those screaming trumpets.

Friday, December 20, 2013

MST3K Friday: This Island Earth

Better known as Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie.

"Fortunately he has his theme music on 8-track."
"The Amazing Rando!"
"Normal View. Normal View. Normal View! NORMAL VIEW!!!"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Trinity Game by, Sean Chercover

Daniel Byrne didn't notice the boy with the gun until they were standing face-to-face, six feet from each other in the quiet alley behind the fruit stand.

Father Daniel Byrne works for the Office of the Devils Advocate - the Vatican's department for dealing with miracle claims. His latest case requires him to debunk American televangelist Tim Trinity, an obvious con man, who apparently has the gift of tongues. When his act is played backwards and slowed down, Trinity seems to be predicting future events with a 100% success rate. Daniel is perfect for the job. He's quick, efficient, and hasn't certified a miracle yet. Not to mention the fact that he's Tim Trinity's nephew.

The Trinity Game is a departure from Chercover's Ray Dudgeon series, with completely new characters and new locations. What's not new is Chercover's ability to spin a gripping yarn. The novel is expertly plotted and moves at a rapid pace.

Daniel Byrne is a strong protagonist whose actions are believeable. When it comes to these globe-hopping thrillers with an everyman thrown into the deep end, it's sometimes hard to believe that they can perform the stunts required of them. Chercover establishes early on that Byrne is a former Golden Gloves boxer. Throughout the book, Byrne struggles between his faith, his belief in the con man Trinity, and the woman he left behind at age 19 when he joined the priesthood. The Office of the Devil's Advocate is the perfect place for a priest in search of a miracle to affirm his faith.

Because the book's subject matter dealt with religion, I was on guard for backhanded swipes against organized religion and bad caricatures of believers, but the overall treatment of the subject was fair. I did have some problems here and there, including with how incapable a priest (Byrne) was in arguing for faith and how readily he was willing to throw his vows away. Toward the end of the book, Trinity declares "faith without works is dead" (quoting from the book of James) as if it's a new insight and he and Daniel decide that it doesn't matter which god you believe in as long as you do good works for your neighbor (a feel good, if theologically empty, point). There was also a global conspiracy angle between two shadow groups that felt like gliding the lily, but I'm sure that was there to set up future installments of the series.

Overall, The Trinity Game is a solid thriller.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Song of the Week: It's a Marshmallow World

I first heard this song in college. My roommate and I laughed at the goofiness of the song, but you have to admit it's catchy. The first version I ever heard was Johnny Mathis's and, like last week's, this is my favorite version of the song. Nobody else captures the fun of the song like Mathis.

Friday, December 13, 2013

MST3K Friday: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

I watched this movie last weekend, so I thought it would be a good time to share it. This is a classic MST3K episode. The movie is extremely bad, but in a way that's goofy so it's easy to riff. Enjoy!

"Custume Designer?"
"He stopped 'em short."
They didn't use it but: "Lentils."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Prayers for Rain by, Dennis Lehane

The first time I met Karen Nichols, she struck me as the kind of woman who ironed her socks.

Prayers for Rain opens with Patrick Kensie being hired by Karen Nichols to deal with a stalker. After the events of Gone Baby Gone, Kensie no longer partners with Angie, but spends more time with his friend Bubba, the arms dealer. They deal with the stalker and everything seems right in the world until Kensie hears that Karen committed suicide by jumping naked from the observatory deck of the Custom House.  Plagued by a feeling that Karen didn't seem the type to kill herself, Kensie is determined to look into her death. He soon discovers that someone was playing mind games on Karen and most likely drove her to suicide. Who did this and why are part of a much bigger plot planned by the most devious villain Kensie has ever found himself up against.

Continuing some themes from GBG, Kensie has become tired of the private investigator scene. Some might read that Lehane was growing tired of private eyes as well, since this book from 1999 is the last time we see Kensie and Angie Gennaro until 2010's Moonlight Mile.  Along with the theme of weariness about the sickness in the world, I was reminded quite a few times of Ross Macdonald because a lot of family secrets come into play with the case.

While they are no longer a couple and no longer partners, Angie does play a big role in this book. Angie shows up on page 135 and Kensie asks her for a favor. Of course the favor only piques her curiosity, and soon, she and Kensie are working the case together.

I've gushed about how much I love Lehane's work before, and if you haven't read him yet, I don't know what your problem is. His language is as good as anyone working today and his characters are so layered and lifelike. Prayers for Rain isn't, in my eyes, as awesome as A Drink Before the War or Gone, Baby, Gone, but it's still better than most other books out there.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Song of the Week: I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm

This week, we've got Dean Martin singing "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm".  This is my favorite version of this song.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Brubeck on Handy

One year ago today, Dave Brubeck died at age 91. Among all the tributes to his life, many jazz stations across the country replayed some of his appearances on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. In one edition, from 1997, Brubeck tells a story about W.C. Handy.

Handy, for those of you unfamiliar with him, was a blues composer and musician often referred to as "The Father of the Blues". Perhaps is most famous composition is "St. Louis Blues". Almost every blues or jazz musician worth his salt has recorded at least one version of this tune.

On one of his many tours, Brubeck was going to play a show in Memphis, so he wanted to play "St. Louis Blues" the way Handy wrote it. Brubeck got his hands on the old music and was surprised to discover that it was written as a tango. So that night, he played it as a tango.  After listening to this interpretation, I can never not hear the tango elements of the song.

Here's the link to the episode.  The whole episode is great. If you don't want to listen to it all, fast forward to 46:30 to hear Brubeck tell this story. Fast forward to 48:40 to hear him play "St. Louis Blues" as a tango.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Song of the Week: Christmas is Starting Now

That's right! It's time for the annual tradition of Christmas songs all December! This year, we start off with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's "Christmas is Starting Now".

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Just to Say Thanks

On this day we gather to give thanks. I'm actually reminded of an old column by William F. Buckley, Jr. Completely devoid of political content, Buckley gives thanks to the uniquely American invention of peanut butter.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Reprinted here from National Review:

Just to Say Thanks
By William F. Buckley Jr.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This ran as William F. Buckley Jr.'s March 26, 1981, "On the Right" column in National Review.

For many years I have labored under the burden of an unrequited passion. What have I done for it, in return for all it has done for me? Nothing. But I have wondered what I could use as what the journalists call a "peg."

I have found one. This may strike some of the literal-minded as attenuated, but it goes as follows: This is the centennial year of the Tuskegee Institute, which was founded on the Fourth of July, 1881, by Booker T. Washington. Tuskegee continues to be a remarkable institution, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is the head of a committee of illustrious men and women who are devoting themselves to raising $20 million to encourage it in its noble work.

What noble work? We have arrived at step two. It was, among other things, the principal academic home of George Washington Carver, and it was G. W. Carver who to all intents and purposes invented the peanut. What he did, more specifically, was document that the cultivation of the peanut despoiled the land far less than the cultivation of cotton, and then he set out to merchandise the peanut in order that there might be a market for it.

He discovered an estimated three hundred uses for it, many of them entirely removed from the peanut's food value. But it is this, of course, that is the wonder of the peanut. The Encyclopedia Britannica informs us that "pound for pound peanuts have more protein, minerals, and vitamins than beef liver, more fat than heavy cream, and more food energy (calories) than sugar." And George Washington Carver discovered — peanut butter.

I have never composed poetry, but if I did, my very first couplet would be:

I know that I shall never see
A poem lovely as Skippy's peanut butter.

When I was first married and made plain to my wife that I expected peanut butter for breakfast every day of my life, including Ash Wednesday, she thought me quite mad (for the wrong reasons). She has not come round, really, and this is a source of great sadness to me because one wants to share one's pleasures.
I was hardened very young to the skeptics. When I was twelve I was packed off to a British boarding school by my father, who dispatched every fortnight a survival package comprising a case of grapefruit and a large jar of peanut butter. I offered to share my tuck with the other boys at my table. They grabbed instinctively for the grapefruit — but one after another actually spit out the peanut butter, which they had never before seen and which only that very year (1938) had become available for sale in London. No wonder they needed American help to win the war.

You can find it now in specialty shops in Europe, but I have yet to see it in anyone's home. And it is outrageously difficult to get even in the typical American hotel. My profession requires me to spend forty or fifty nights on the road every year, and when it comes time to order breakfast over the telephone I summon my resolution — it helps to think about peanut butter when you need moral strength — and add, after the orange juice, coffee, skim milk, and whole-wheat toast, "Do you have any peanut butter?"

Sometimes the room service operator will actually break out laughing when the request is put in, at which point my voice becomes stern and unsmiling. Often the operator will say, "Just a minute," and then she will turn, I suppose to the chef, but I can hear right through the hand she has put over the receiver — "Hey Jack. We got any peanut butter? Room 322 wants some peanut butter!" This furtive philistinism is then regularly followed by giggles all around. One lady recently asked, "How old is your little boy and does he want a peanut butter sandwich? To which I replied, "My little boy is twenty-eight and is never without peanut butter, because he phones ahead before he confirms hotel reservations."

I introduced Auberon Waugh to cashew butter ten years ago when he first visited America, and although I think it inferior to peanut butter Auberon was quite simply overwhelmed. You can't find it in Great Britain so I sent him a case from the Farmer's Market. It quite changed his writing style: for about ten months he was at peace with the world. I think that was the time he said something pleasant about Harold Wilson. In the eleventh month, it was easy to tell that he had run out. It quite changes your disposition and your view of the world if you cannot have peanut butter every day.

So here is yet another reason for contributing money to the Tuskegee Institute. For all we know, but for it we'd never have tasted peanut butter. There'd be no Planter's, no Jif, no Peter Pan — that terrible thought reminds us of our indebtedness to George Washington Carver.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

MST3K Friday: Turkey Day

Good news, everyone! The annual celebration of MST3K known as "Turkey Day" has returned. From 1991 to 1997, Comedy Central would show MST3K marathons every Thanksgiving. Each year, Joel (or Mike) and the 'bots would have goofy host segments as bumpers between the shows. This year the marathon is online at and fans are encouraged to tweet Joel with suggestions of which movies should be streamed.

To get you ready for some Sampo-related goodness, here's a sampling of Turkey Day bumper segments from 1991.

"We gather together to watch cheesy movies"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Black Money by, Ross Macdonald

Lew Archer is hired by a rich young man to investigate a French nobleman who stole the man's fiance. Archer finds out the Frenchman is not entirely what he seems and discovers a surprising connection to a seven year old suicide.  Soon the lies and the bodies both start to pile up.

Going into an Archer novel, you kind of know what you're going to get: rich people with secrets they try to keep buried, not to mention some of the tightest similes in all of fiction.  Here's one such example:

"He lived in the adjoining harbor city, in a rather rundown tract whose one obvious advantage was a view of the ocean. The sun, heavy and red, was almost down on the horizon now. Its image floated like spilled fire on the water."

In addition to the usual family business, Black Money also involves a Las Vegas casino. It turns out one of our suspects might have been skimming from the mob.

I love a good Ross Macdonald. Even with a lot of the same elements in play, he always finds ways to surprise you. Of course you know the suicide was actually a murder, but I wasn't able to figure out who and why before Archer did.  That's the sign of a good mystery.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Song of the Week: Little Green Bag

This song has been in and out of my head for the last two weeks.  I blame the new Moto X commercial. Of course, every time I hear this I think of Reservoir Dogs.

Friday, November 15, 2013

My Life According to Books: 2013

While looking through some old blog posts, I saw a fun one "My Life as Books: 2011".  I'm a little behind the times, but it looks like Jen and Pop Culture Nerd are at it again.  Here is my life in Books 2013:

My to-do list looks like: Dead Letters (Chris F. Holm)

If a peeping Tom peeked into my bedroom, he'd: (be) Sleepless (Charlie Huston)

If Martians meet me, they'd think: Point and Shoot (Duane Swierczynski)

My doctor is always telling me: Rework

The weirdest thing that happened this past week: (was when I was) Riding the Rap (Elmore Leonard)

I often daydream about: John Adams (David McCullough)

The government shutdown makes me: The Forgotten Man (Robert Crais)

If I win the lottery, I’d: (worry it was) Black Money (Ross Macdonald)

My superpower is: Righteous Indignation (Andrew Breitbart)

I knew I was a book lover when: (the clock struck) The Gentlemen's Hour (Don Winslow)

My blogging experience has been: The Unmaking of a Mayor (William F. Buckley, Jr)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD today. I enjoyed it, but I think I need another viewing to decide whether or not I like it.  I have some issues with some relatively flat character arcs, but there is a lot about the movie that feels right. There is a hell of a lot of destruction, which is what you'd expect from a movie where a person as powerful as Superman fights someone as powerful as himself.

What is most striking about this movie is the lens through which it views Superman. Rather than a superhero movie like Batman or Spiderman or Green Lantern, Man of Steel is told as an alien invasion movie. What would we do if we found out an alien with God-like powers lived among us? Would we accept him? Would we be scared of him? Even after General Zod (Michael Shannon) demands Superman's surrender, the government is skeptical on Superman's motives.  Keeping with this spin on it, the character is mostly referred to as Clark or Kal-El and only called Superman twice.

While I said there was a problem with some of the arcs, the character of Lois is pretty good. She is shown as the real investigate reporter she is and not just a damsel for Superman to save. She traces tall tales of a mysterious stranger saving people back to Clark Kent in Kansas. In fact, it's her discovering of a superhero in our midst that serves has her introduction to Clark. He doesn't become a reporter for the Daily Planet until after he has saved the world.

If you haven't seen it, you should. I'll be watching it again.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Song of the Week: Seasons

Chris Cornell's song "Seasons" was featured in Man of Steel (2013).  I picked it out as Cornell's voice right away and think it's a great song.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Unmaking of a Mayor, by William F. Buckley, Jr.

The Unmaking of a Mayor is the story of the unique campaign of William F. Buckley, Jr. for New York City Mayor in 1965. At this point in his life, the 39-year-old Buckley had founded National Review, published six books (including God and Man at Yale), had a syndicated column in hundreds of newspapers across the country, run the John Birch Society out of the conservative movement, and had energized the conservative wing of the Republican party to a point that it nominated Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. With this long list of accomplishments, why would he run for mayor? That's one of the questions this book answers.

In the mid-1960's, many people thought New York City was ungovernable, broken, and on an unreversible course of decline. Many of the city's problems will sound familiar with those of us who remember the period before Rudy Giuliani's election in 1993. Buckley opens the book with an account of the political system of New York, with its intricate third party laws, and follows on with a history of the previous 30 years of governance. Then he delves into what John V. Lindsay, the liberal congressman and presumptive GOP nominee, and Bill Buckley were doing in the spring of 1965.

It is customary to call any third party candidate "unserious" because they have no legitimate shot of winning and they typically have a few kook positions.  Buckley was under no illusions of his chance at winning. In a famous exchange from the campaign, a reporter asked him what would be the first thing he'd do if he was elected. Buckley quipped, "Demand a recount."  But reading his position papers, reprinted in total with reactions from the press and the other candidates, shows he really thought through the problems facing New York.

You don't have to agree with all of his proposals, but the position papers were a very compelling and thought-provoking part of the book to read. The typical politician's position papers are vague, gauzy pieces of fluff that aren't worth the paper they're printed on.  Candidate Smith promises to balance the budget by eliminating waste and closing loopholes. But Buckley's papers actually offered concrete solutions.  Bad Traffic? Reserve one lane in the Holland and Lincoln tunnels for buses. Allow delivery trucks to only park on odd-numbered streets on Mondays and Wednesdays and even-numbered streets on Tuesdays and Fridays. Pollution?  Convert city buses to liquefied petroleum gas. Add control devices to city vehicles to reduce emissions. Modernize municipal incinerators.

But the position papers also reveal some of the oddities associated with third party candidates. Buckley's traffic proposal included a Bikeway to travel above Second Avenue from 125th Street to 1st Street. His proposal for the drug problem included moving addicts to special housing so they don't get others addicted to narcotics. His affordable housing platform had something similar.  Of course, twenty years after World War II, his opponents pounced on these relocation ideas as "concentration camps".

So why did Buckley run? Part of it was to counter the leftward lurch of the Republican party under the leadership of Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller. Many people were predicting that Lindsay would be the GOP standard bearer in 1968 or 1972 if he became mayor. The other reason was because he saw Lindsay and Abe Beame, the Democratic nominee, as mealy mouthed politicians who would throw bromides at each other and not discuss the things that were actually wrong with New York City.

Unmaking of a Mayor is a bracing, sometimes hilarious, account of the race and the personalities involved. It shows the difference between career politicians and those with something to say about government. Sometimes I wish people would take more risks and speak plainly about the issues as Buckley did. It's well worth the read for anyone interested in political history, New York history, and public policy.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Song of the Week: Let's Fall in Love

This is one of my favorite songs by Diana Krall. Unfortunately, I can't find a link for my favorite version (witch she played during the Smithsonian's Piano Grand! celebration), but this one is a close substitute.

Let's Fall In Love (live) by Diana Krall on Grooveshark

Friday, November 1, 2013

MST3K Friday: Best episodes to watch on Halloween

A while back, Topless Robot put together a list of the best MST3k episodes to watch on Halloween.  Since yesterday was Halloween, I figured this would be a good time to share the list.  I've seen 7 of the 10 and a couple of them are among my favorites. Here's the list, but click-through to TR to read their commentary.

10) Revenge of the Creature
9) Manos: The Hands of Fate
8) The Thing That Wouldn't Die
7) Ring of Terror
6) The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living sand Became Mixed-Up Zombies
5) The Screaming Skull (with a Gumby short "Robot Rumpus")
4) The Unearthly
3) Samson vs the Vampire Women
2) Bride of the Monster
1) Hobgoblins

Monday, October 28, 2013

Song of the Week: Witchcraft

A complement to last week's song. Which Sinatra song do I like better? Depends on the day.

Friday, October 25, 2013

MST3K Friday: Girl Town

"This guy's just flaunting his bad driving now."
"It's a young Bill Clinton!"
"This is why there's no alcohol at Eruo Disney."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Song of the Week: Luck Be A Lady Tonight

I have a hard time deciding if this week's or next week's song of the week is my favorite Sinatra tune.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Governor Listeth, by William F. Buckley, Jr.

William F. Buckley Jr. was a gifted polemicist, best-selling novelist, sesquipedalian speaker, television star, political candidate, yachtsman, harpsichordist, wit, and bon vivant. He also had an abiding love for the paperback book.  When the paperback edition of any of his books was released, his publisher would send him a box full of them.  After his death in 2008, the folks at National Review began the task of cleaning out his office and his salon in NYC.  They found numerous unopened boxes of his books and eventually put many of them up for sale.

This is how I happened upon The Governor Listeth: A Book of Inspired Political Revelations, a big (nearly 500 pages) collection of WFB’s best columns, speeches, obituaries, and other writings from the late 1960s. Here we find Buckley near the height of his powers and in the form, I think, that suited him best. I have nothing against his longer books (Up From Liberalism, God and Man at Yale), but the short form of columns and speeches let Buckley swoop in and dive-bomb his subjects with his trademark wit. You can almost hear him smile as he twists the knife.

Is it worth reading a book of columns written in the 1960s? Yes and no. There are some sections, particularly those on Vietnam, that won't hold the modern reader's interest very long. But the collection opens with a speech on political violence, delivered in 1968 after the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr and John F. Kennedy, but before the murder of Robert Kennedy, that is well worth reading. He says, "[M]ore significant by far than the ghastly executions of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King - acts committed by isolatable and isolated men - more significant by far is the spontaneous universal grief of a community which in fact considers it aggrieved. That is the salient datum in America: not that we bred the aberrant assassins of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, but that we bred the widely shared and the most intensely felt sense of grief: such grief over the loss of Mr. Kennedy and Mr. King as is felt over the loss of one's own sons."

Buckley's reporting of the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions are excellent examples of his reporting style.  Those sections were among my favorites in the book.

I received great joy from some of the non-political essays in this book. For example, his column on the Apollo 8 mission entitled "Can Men Make Miracles?" is near poetry. I've never sailed much outside of tooling around the bay on vacation, but "A Week Aboard Cyrano" makes me want to hop aboard a yacht and sail down to Bermuda.

The title of the book comes from the Bible (James, chapter 3):
In many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
A great sentiment to invoke for a book by Buckley. The Governor Listeth is Chairman Bill at the height of his powers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Song of the Week: Forty Days

I've never been that much a fan of ska. You'd think it would be up my alley with the drums and guitar riffs of rock layered with the brassy sound of big band. But a lot of bands, and songs from the same band, sound identical. That's not to say there aren't individual songs I like.

This week's song is from a band called Streetlight Manifesto. I like more songs from them than from other ska bands. Also, I used to play basketball with their trombonist (at least the guy who played from 2003-2010). The song "Forty Days" features some good work by him and some catchy riffs.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Winter of Frankie Machine by, Don Winslow

Everyone loves Frank the Bait Guy.

Frank Machianno has settled into a pretty nice routine.  He has an ex-wife, an ex-showgirl girlfriend, and a daughter going to med school. He has his bait shop. He supplies fresh fish and fresh linens to many of San Diego's finest restaurants.  He's the unofficial sheriff of the Ocean Beach Pier. And he's also a retired mob hitman.

When the son of the mob boss Frank used to work for, a snot-nosed little punk named Mouse Junior, feels his porn business is getting squeezed by the Detroit mafia, Jr asks Frank to accompany him on a sitdown. With the legendary Frankie Machine in his corner, he figures he'll get a better deal out of the Detroit bosses than on his own. The Detroit boys say they want to talk to Frank alone first and try to kill him.  Frank takes out both would-be assassins, one of whom is an FBI informant.  Frank's routine is now blown to hell and he's being hunted by the mob and the feds.

The Winter of Frankie Machine is told in a mix of flashback and present-day action. As he tries to piece together who would want him killed (and who would have the juice to get a hit on Frankie Machine sanctioned), he remembers his decades long career as go-to hitman for the San Diego mafia. The world is populated by colorful wise guys with even more colorful names. You've got Frankie Machine, Mouse Senior (and Junior), Billy Jacks, Sherm, Bap, and Momo.

As with all of Don Winslow's novels, this one is told in his fast-paced style with lots of talk about surfing and goes into almost travelogue detail about parts of San Diego and its history.  I liked the book and found it easy to root for Frankie Machine. It's a great novel, but I'd place it a step below the Boone Daniels books and California Fire and Life.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Song of the Week: Some Fantastic

In 2007, Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies sat down with a camera and a guitar in his bathroom and recorded solo acoustic versions of 40-some Barenaked Ladies songs. The majority of these songs are the more sedate tunes rather than their crowd pleasers (though "1000000 Dollars" and "One Week" are featured), almost foreshadowing the tonal shift of the band after the 2009 departure of Steven Page.  Page shows up in some of the videos, but it's mostly just Robertson.

These stripped down versions are a fun way to re-evaluate some of their tunes.  I can't tell you how long the bathroom version of "Aluminum" sticks in my head.

This week's song is "Some Fantastic", which was always one of my favorites. I understand there were reasons Page and the band parted ways, but there's no denying the magic of the two of them singing in harmony.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Song of the Week: I Love a Piano

What better way to celebrate this week's release of Tony DeSare's new album Piano then with a song about pianos?

Sing for Hope put pianos all over New York City. Tony went around with two camera guys (dressed like tourists) and sat down and played one song on as many as he could in a day. Here's what happened...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Song of the Week: The Malcontent

Another song this week from Fastball.  This song is from their 2009 album Little White Lies (which might be my favorite album of theirs).

"I'm tired of living in the modern world / with pretty boys and plastic girls"

Here is "The Malcontent (The Modern World)":

Monday, September 16, 2013

Song of the Week: Nearly Lost You

Screaming Trees was a rock band from Ellensburg, Washington.  If a lot of bands these days are classified as post-grunge, Screaming Trees is pre-grunge. Their sound, which incorporated hard rock and psychedelic elements, was a large influence on later Seattle bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains.

"Nearly Lost You" is perhaps their best-known song because of its appearance on the soundtrack to the 1992 Cameron Crowe film Singles.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Back to Church

When I first saw this video I thought it was a good satire put together by some enterprising young Lutheran (or Baptist or...) to point out the vapid, content-free nature of the modern American church growth movement.  It goes to great lengths to show that church isn't some stuffy place filled with old people that your parents forced you to go. Our minister uses an iPod! Church is interactive and fun! And we rap!

Then I went to the website and saw that this is a real thing. The video is actually being earnest.

I don't want to crap over the whole thing. I actually think the tune is catchy, the video is fun, and the attempt to bring more people to church is a good thing. But what compelling reason do they give to attend church? To get an iced coffee? People can go to Dunkin' Donuts. Hang out with your community? People can volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Have fun? People can go to the park or shore or the movies.

The most compelling reason to attend church is something the American evangelical movement is missing. They've made people believe that God is a cosmic ATM who you just have to pray to to get health, wealth, and happiness.  The Greek origin of the word evangelical is literally one who spreads the evangel, the Good News. That is forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. Hearing the Gospel is something you only get from a church. Quick - how many times was Jesus mentioned in the rap? I'll wait while you listen to it again.

I'm not trying to open a debate about religion or convince any non-churchgoers to go to church. This is straight up PASWO blogging. I'm frustrated about church-growth movements that emphasize getting butts in seats over spreading the true Word of God. I'm frustrated with mysticism and moralism preached over forgiveness of sins. I'm tired of Christians being stereotyped as square, then doing things like this to try to counteract the perception only to reinforce it.

Maybe I'm just being cranky. In spite of this post, I'll probably be singing this rap for the next couple days.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Forgotten Man, by Robert Crais

Responding to a gunshot, the LAPD has found an injured man in an alleyway. He has told the officer on the scene that he is looking for his son, Elvis Cole. Minutes later, the man is dead. Cole's been haunted his entire life by not knowing who is father was, so, even though he doesn't believe the nameless man was his father, Cole tries to find out who this man was while grappling with who he is.

I heard someone say The Forgotten Man does for Cole what LA Requiem did for his partner, Joe Pike. In a way, I agree.  We learn more of Cole's back story and why he became a private detective. It's also a more introspective and less wise-cracking Cole than we see in Crais's earlier books.

I don't want to talk more about the plot because there's a lot to give away.

Crais's Elvis Cole series is one of the great modern PI series. You can't go wrong with any of them.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Song of the Week: Berlin

The fifth season of Sons of Anarchy premieres tomorrow night.  Even when they go in a super pulpy or super soap opera direction, you can never say the show is boring. It's a visceral experience from the first frame of the first episode until the last.

Throughout its history they've made great use of music. As far as I know, they've never played any Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  Putting aside the name, I think their style fits in with the rest of the show's musical choices.  Tell me you can't see a montage of Jax, Chibbs, and the boys cruising toward a fight with this song blaring in the background.

Here is Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with "Berlin".

Friday, September 6, 2013

MST3K Friday: Jungle Goddess

"Ford Bebe."
"Donner, party of three, please."
"Looks like they all just got out of the shower."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Big Reap by, Chris F. Holm

The last thing I remember was dying.

The opening line grabs you, right? Want to read what's next? Damn right, you do.

Starting just minutes after Goodbye ends, we meet up with Sam at the grave of fellow Collector Danny. If you don't remember, Danny was the Collector in the last book who wanted to perform a ritual to free himself from his Collector contract. The ritual was performed by a group of nine Collectors thousands of years ago and produced the Great Flood (you know...the story of Noah?). Sam is picked up by a man calling himself Simon Magnusson, who it turns out is actually one of The Nine. He has plans to put Sam in suspended animation, but Sam fights back and ends up killing Simon. Realizing The Nine can be killed, the truce between them and Heaven and Hell is torn apart and Sam is tasked with collecting the souls of the remaining eight.

If Dead Harvest was Chris F. Holm's tribute to pulp fiction and The Wrong Goodbye was an homage to road/buddy movies, then The Big Reap is his love letter to the old Universal horror movies. Slogging through The Nine, Sam encounters a Dr. Frankenstein type, a Mexican monster (Chupacabra?), werevolves, and even a Dracula wannabe. This is the creepiest, pulse-poundingest installment of The Collector series yet.

Reap is not just about chills and thrills, it's about choices. Our choices define who we are and the choices The Nine, and Sam, have made over the years either enforce or destroy their humanity. In previous books, Sam typically possesses the bodies of the recently dead, but in this one he possesses mostly (entirely?) living bodies. He keeps telling himself it is only because it's the expedient thing to do, but he does start to wonder if he's losing what little remaining humanity he has.

I don't know if Holm is cooking up more Collector books, but whatever he writes, I'm going to read it.

The Collector series is highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Once Were Cops by, Ken Bruen

"Where do I begin?"

Michael O'Shea is a member of Ireland's police force, known as The Guards. He's also a sociopath. When an exchange program is initiated between The Guards and the NYPD, Shea is more than willing to go to America.  Teamed with a brutal cop nicknamed Kebar, the two unlikely partners become a devastatingly effective force in the war against crime.

Some of the blurbs liken Once Were Cops to James Ellroy's LA Confidential, and that's a pretty fair comparison. We have three male protagonists and they're all nasty pieces of work. Shea is a sociopath and a murder. Kebar is a cop on the take, possibly just bent because all the money he takes is to provide for his mentally challenged younger sister. Many of the characters do violent and deeply disturbing things and everyone is only out to enrich themselves.

This is my first brush with Bruen and I thought the story was well told and moved at a very quick pace. I did think the characters were a bit thin and the ending was a bit too neat. If the villain was as clever as the whole book made him seem, I don't see him falling for such an easy trap. That being said, I enjoyed it enough to put a couple of Bruen's Jack Taylor series on my TBR pile.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

John Adams by, David McCullough

I am but an ordinary man. The times alone have destined me to fame. -John Adams

With all due respect to John Adams, he was an extraordinary man in extraordinary times.  Often called the voice of Independence, to Jefferson's pen, he was one of the most vocal proponents of liberty and self-government throughout the Revolution and afterward. Running down his list of achievements, we see that Adams was:

- the lawyer for the British Soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre
- a member of the Continental Congress
- the main voice of the Independence movement in Congress
- Ambassador to France
- the man responsible for securing a loan from the Dutch that provided much needed funds for the Revolution
- primary negotiator of the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War
- first American ambassador to the Court at St. James
- member of the Massachusetts legislature
- writer of the Massachusetts constitution
- first Vice President of the United States
- second President of the United States
- father of the American Navy

It is remarkable how prescient Adams was. He and his fellow revolutionaries framed their disagreements with the British in terms of liberty and the rights of man, but Adams, almost alone, saw beyond the separation with England. He often wrote of an America that would stretch across the whole continent and one that, within the century, would be the most powerful nation on earth. His advocacy for a strong navy weren't grasped by his contemporaries, but many, including Thomas Jefferson, credited Adams's navy as a prime factor in assuring the War of 1812 didn't have even worse consequences on the continent.

Writing in 1819, he felt that the American experiment was imperiled by the "peculiar institution" of slavery and that before too long, the country would erupt in violence.  He thought that slaves would be inspired by the American ideal and would violently rise up against their masters. He felt that they would be well within their rights to do so, as he abhorred slavery, but worried that tyranny would spring up in the aftermath.

Adams himself almost presaged our Independence Day celebrations, though the day was off.  Since the actual vote for Independence took place on July 2, 1776, he thought that day would be the day long remembered, not the 4th (which was when the final text of the Declaration was approved).  From Adams's own letter to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.  It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It out to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.
David McCullough does a fantastic job bringing Adams and all the players to life. You feel happy when Adams is happy and you feel crushed when he suffers a loss.  McCullough is a master storyteller and this book is worthy of the Pulitzer it won.

Highly recommended for both students of history and people who just like a good story.

Friday, August 2, 2013

MST3k Friday: The Mike Sprite

This host segment is from the episode "Squirm". It's a riff one one of my favorite shorts, "A Case of Spring Fever".

"No Mike!"

Monday, July 29, 2013

Song of the Week: Savoy Truffle

This weekend I was involved in a singular event:  a cupcake crawl. As implied by the name, it resembles a pub crawl, but instead of going from bar to bar and getting drunk, we went from bakery to bakery and got sick on cupcakes.

This week's song is all about sweetness overload.  Legend has it that George Harrison wrote "Savoy Truffle" after witnessing his friend Eric Clapton's chocolate addiction.

From The Beatles (aka The White Album), here is "Savoy Truffle":

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Affair in Trinidad (1952)

When Steve Emery (Glenn Ford) arrives in Trinidad at the urgent request of his brother, he is stunned to find that his brother has not only been murdered, but that his brother's wife Chris (Rita Hayworth) is succumbing to the seduction attempts of the man who quite possibly is the murderer. His feelings are further exacerbated when he discovers that he, too, is becoming strongly attracted to Chris, who is a steamy cabaret singer. She, in turn, is playing off one against the other while betraying the secrets of both men to the police, for whom she is secretly working.

This is a pretty good movie.

I love old movies.  The stars of the '30's and '40's could typically sing and dance as well as act. Case in point: Rita Hayworth.  Her parents were professional dancers and young Rita was part of the act.  After her mother's death, a teen-aged Rita became her father's dance partner. In quite a few of her movies, they put her dancing skills on display.  In Affair in Trinidad (1952), there are two dance numbers.

Here is the first.

Friday, July 19, 2013

MST3K Friday: Kitten with a Whip

Episode 615 - A young woman (Ann-Margaret) escapes from a juvenile detention center and hides out in what she thinks is a vacant home.  It turns out the house belongs to a senatorial candidate (John Forsythe) who is just too lazy to pick up the newspapers while his wife is out of town.  Forsythe helps her out of the goodness of his heart, but she turns around and tries to blackmail him.  This is a really fantastic episode with lots of top shelf riffs.  The full movie is available in MST3k volume XXV or here on YouTube.

Here's a sampler:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Emeritus Friends

This essay originally appeared in Richard Brookhiser's City Desk column in the March 25, 2013 edition of National Review.  It struck a chord with me, but I have been unable to find a copy of it online.  Here it is, reprinted without permission.  I don't own it and will take it down immediately if I run afoul of any legal strictures.

"Emeritus Friends"
By, Richard Brookhiser
My wife came back from lunch with her friend: she was ticked.
She and this friend go a long way back, on parallel paths. Each was a bridesmaid at the other's wedding, both in the Carter administration. They are in the same profession (shrinks). They do not practice the same religion (Judaism). They are both short, the laugh often and at the same things, and they both like turn-of-the-last-century British genre fiction. (Hint: Whose treatise on the binomial theorem had a European vogue?) And yet despite all that, their lunches have gone from being weekly occasions to monthly to semi-annual. Appointments are canceled and remade two or three times before they click. When the two of them meet, though conversation can be as lively as ever, there is no real meshing of the minds. They have become emeritus friends.
Friendship becomes emeritus when it is all but over. If there had never been a friendship in the first place, there would be no detectable relationship whatsoever. But memory and loyalty give scattered moments of contact a shape they would not otherwise possess. Instead of random scraps, emeritus friends share husks. Do not touch them too roughly, though, or they will crumble away.
Emeritus friendship can be painful when it is asymmetrical - when one friend seems to notice, or mourn its withered condition, more than the other. That is my wife's case, hence her being irked. Emeritus friendship may also be embarrassing, if made explicit ("When was the last time you saw Shmedrick?") Everyone knows he himself is a good friend; you mean to tell me I'm not? That is why I began with my wife's emeritus friendship; most of her old acquaintance is liberal, and hence unlikely to read this. My emeritus friends might experience the shock of recognition.
When emeritus friends feel compelled to justify their state, they offer a variety of explanations, all of them plausible, unless you think about them for two seconds. I am so busy is a popular one:  I have 13 children, I am proving Fermat's theorem; no wonder we've lost tough. Right - but even mothers and mathematicians have to eat lunch:  Why not with your friend? I moved away is another favorite. How can I meet you for coffee when we live in different states? Distance admittedly complicates a relationship, but the telegraph wires will be laid across the Great Plains any day now, and until then there is the Pony Express. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison maintained their friendship even while living in Paris and Virginia pre-Skype. There were times when one of their letters would take eight months to cross the ocean, but they kept writing them - brilliant, quirky, heart-sore - anyway.
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis wrote that friendship arises from shared interest and activity; lovers gaze at each other, friends look together at a common goal. That is part of the truth:  Friends don't meet across a crowded room, but find each other after being thrown together. The neighborhood was the nexus of friendship in my suburb of tract houses on quarter- and half-acre lots, quickly followed by public school, the great sorter and shelver. Then came college, that peculiar combination of salt mine and spring break; then work. But certain people stand out from the work gangs and posses we find ourselves in because of their qualities, their natures, the melodies they make. What strikes us first may be the turns of phrase and mind; next come traits it takes time to notice because only time shows them:  constancy, consistently low or high spirits (Hamlet might prize the first, Cole Porter the second - or vice versa). In the end we can only say of a friend what Montaigne said in the most beautiful sentence in his book, and maybe the only beautiful one:  "If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than because he was he, and I was I."
Friendship becomes emeritus because the qualities we prize change. Their value may change in our eyes: that charming compassion is charming still, but isn't he also a bit of a bum, not to be trusted around money or women? The polymath knows as much as he ever knew, which is everything, but since we know more ourselves his omniscience wears a different color. Or the qualities themselves, with years of practice, take a more definite form - sometimes for the better, but sometimes not. A thin line separates a friend's ability to be the life of the party from his need to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral.
The city offers more excuses for friendships' turning emeritus, because density and busy-ness simulate distance; all you have to do, instead of saying I moved away, is stop shelling out money for cabs. But friendships can stiffen anywhere - in small towns, monasteries, desert islands.
They can last anywhere too. There is one friend I met in the Nixon administration. We have not seen each other in so many years that we missed seeing our hair turn white. She lives two days' drive from the ocean, and all our correspondence is about her career, which is teaching. One day she wrote to ask if I know the Poet, whom her students admired. The Poet is a Nobel Prize winner; my friend seemed to think that because I am a writer in the city, I could stroll over to the Laureate's Cafe any afternoon and ask Derek, Vidia, and Mario when they expected the Poet to drop by? But when I thought about it, I did know someone who had a drink with the Poet once, and written a genial column about him. So I made a withdrawal from the favor bank, and in time that Poet was corresponding with my friend's charges. Her ardor is unchanged, as is my capacity for being impressed by it. Friendship, not emeritus.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Clean Living

Recently my friend E started a blog about living cleaner, greener, and with fewer chemicals.  The blog's mission statement is pretty much in its title:  It's Called Clean Living.  Go check it out.

Friday, July 12, 2013

MST3K Friday: Crash of the Moons

"Can I take your helmet? Oh, that's your hair."
"Frau Blucher!"
"The weather started getting rough, the tiny wheel was tossed."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Friday, July 5, 2013

MST3K Friday: Days of Our Years

"This beats having friends."
"I regret everything."
"I didn't hate accidents enough."

So the moral of this short is: 1) don't fall in love, 2) don't plan for the future, and 3) don't have kids.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Song of the Week: You Got To Me

Neil Diamond is one of the most successful adult contemporary singers of all time.  Nowadays the only one of his songs that gets a lot of play is "Sweet Caroline", but Diamond has had ten number one hit singles: "Cracklin' Rosie", "Song Sung Blue", "Longfellow Serenade", "I've Been This Way Before", "If You Know What I Mean", "Desiree", "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", "America", "Yesterday's Songs", and "Heartlight".   While it only reached #6 on the Billboard charts, "Cherry Cherry" is probably one of his more popular songs.

This week's song sounds like it was recorded around the same time as "Cherry Cherry".  It's called "You Got to Me":

Friday, June 28, 2013

MST3K Friday: Crow Pranks Mike

I've always had a soft spot for the movie "The Screaming Skull", the movie that features this host segment.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sleepless by, Charlie Houston

Charlie Houston's Sleepless certainly has an interesting premise. In a world not too different from our own (the novel takes place in 2010), there is a brand new worldwide pandemic:  insomnia.  Sleep being necessary for life, the sleepless are eventually driven mad and die because of a lack of REM sleep.  Initially ascribed to things like mad cow, it was traced to the same genetic markers as fatal familial insomnia.  Society collapsed. People retreated into virtual worlds of MMORPGs. The only hope is a drug called Dreamer, and LAPD officer Parker Haas's assignment is to find and stop the source of black market Dreamer.

Houston is more known for his Joe Pitt series, but I picked this one up at one of the many Borders liquidation sales I went to.  I have to say I was a bit disappointed.

The book is split into three POV:  a third person following Parker, a first person from a hit man named Jasper, and another first person of Parker's journal.  I'm not sure why we were also shown Parker's notes, but that ultimately doesn't matter.  Parker's story takes a little while to get off the ground, but I couldn't get myself to care at all about Jasper.  There was a ton of leaden exposition and back story throughout the book, but Jasper's was even less interesting than Parker's.  Even when Jasper was captured and was being tortured for information, the prose just laid there flatly on the page.

So much exposition in this book. And lists! Lists of things on shelves, in boxes, on tables, on the floor, and in car trunks.  Lists that take up three or four lines of text.  Lists of things the characters never use! At one point I wondered if Houston was using lists as a way to up his word count; then I summarily stopped reading the lists.

I liked Parker's story and found it twisty and engaging enough, but I couldn't help wondering what a different writer would do with it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Song of the Week: Reach Out of the Darkness

Last night was the season finale of Mad Men. This season covered the tumultuous, transformative year of 1968.  I always dig the music Matt Weiner and Company use during the ending credits.  One of the earlier episodes of this season brought back to the public consiousness the song "Reach Out of the Darkness" by Friend & Lover (how about that for a band name?).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

1776 by, David McCullough

The title is quite literal as the book covers the war from October 1775 through March 1777. We see American successes (the Siege of Boston, the Battle of Trenton) and all too many defeats (the Battle of Brooklyn, the loss of Fort Washington). It's a gripping account of the precarious first part of the war. We learn a great deal about the larger-than-life characters behind the historic events. The American side is represented by Washington, Nathaniel Green, Henry Knox, and Charles Lee. The Brits have King George, both Lord Howe and General Howe, and Cornwallis.

I found McCullough's vivid depiction of the Battle of Trenton to be extremely gripping. Of course I knew how it turned out, but I was on the edge of my seat.

Very readable and engaging. My only wish is for McCullough to write a history of the rest of the war.

Friday, June 14, 2013

MST3K Friday: Idiot Control

OK, that's not the real name of the song from "Pod People", but it's a close enough facsimile.

"It stinks!"

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by, Marcus Sakey

Who are you when you don't remember who you are?

A man wakes up naked, wet, and frozen half to death on a deserted beach with no memory of where he is or who he is. He stumbles into a nearby BMW where he finds clothes that fit, a registration card for a Daniel Hayes, and a gun. Is he Daniel Hayes? Who is Daniel Hayes? Why is he here and why can’t he remember anything?

Since his debut novel (2007’s The Blade Itself), Marcus Sakey has shown a preternatural knack of developing well-crafted stories based on provocative “what if” scenarios. He’s thought his way over every angle and down every alley and created a number of rich, impeccably crafted novels. What if you’ve renounced a life of crime, but your old running buddy comes back into your life (The Blade Itself)? What if you survive Iraq but your brother is killed as soon as you get home (At City’s Edge)? What if the man you’re renting a room to dies and leaves several thousand dollars behind (Good People)? With The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes, Sakey has created another terrific hook and written what may be his best novel.

It’s difficult to talk about Hayes without giving away spoilers, and this is a novel where unraveling the mystery is half the fun. We piece together Daniel’s life as he does (we find out he’s a television writer) and follow the investigation into the death of a rising television star; a death where Daniel is the prime suspect.

In the grand noir tradition, Hayes is about choices made and the consequences of those choices. Past choices lead Daniel to where he was at the start of the book, but is his slate wiped clean because of his amnesia? Can he start over and be a better man now that his perspective is changed?

In addition to being a novel about choices, there’s also a great love story. On alternate pages, Sakey will make your pulse pound and your heart break. Marcus Sakey is one of the few authors whose praises I sing to everyone I meet.

Very highly recommended.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Song of the Week: St. James Infirmary

While driving home from work Friday night, I tuned in to WBGO in the middle of a song.  It was a nice bluesy tune with a strong piano line running through.  I listened to the remainder of the song to find out the song title and artist, planning to check them both out when I got home to see if it was an album I wanted to get.  Much to my surprise, Bill Daughtry said the artist was Hugh Laurie.  Yes, THAT Hugh Laurie.  Dr. House.  The song was from his debut album Let Them Talk (2011) and let me tell you, he can really play.

Here is Hugh Laurie with "St. James Infirmary":

Monday, June 3, 2013

Song of the Week: Why Should I Worry?

Whenever I think of Disney's "Oliver and Company" I always remember a behind the scenes video that aired on CBS way back in the day.  It featured interviews with Cheech Marin, Bette Midler, and Billy Joel.  This is pretty much the only song I remember from the movie.

Friday, May 31, 2013

MST3K Friday: Are You Happy in Your Work?

This song is from the episode "I Accuse My Parents".  It's an exact re-enactment of a scene from the movie. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Point and Shoot by, Duane Swierczynski

I can stop you.

Charlie Hardie is back and he's pissed.  Point & Shoot is the end (?) of Duane Swierczynski's Charlie Hardie trilogy (Fun & Games, Hell & Gone).  After Hardie's escape from a super secret prison in Hell & Gone, he made a deal with the Accident People/Secret America:  he spends a year in space guarding their most precious secret and his family gets to live.  Nine months into his space exile, something goes awry.  Someone docks with his capsule and forces it to crash land in the ocean off of California.  Hardie must then race across the country to save his wife and son in suburban Philadelphia before the Accident People find out what's happened.

A lot of the characters from the first two books come back for their swan songs.  It put a smile on my face to see Mann, Deke Clark, and the Kindreds causing mayhem on the page.  As with any Swierczy book, it's a white-knuckled thrill ride from page 1.  When I first cracked the book, I didn't put it down for another 72 pages.

Two things that bugged me were Mann's ultimate fate (I don't want to go into more detail because of spoilers) and that Swierczynski gave an explanation of Hardie's ability to never get killed.

I put a question mark when talking about this as the end of the trilogy because, like the two proceeding books, the last chapter throws the reader for a loop and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

Overall, the Hardie series is well worth your dollar and is highly recommended.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Song of the Week: All Things Must Pass

This is the demo version of the song released as part of The Beatles Anthology.  I always liked it better than the official version.

Friday, May 24, 2013

MST3K Friday: Century 21 Calling

"These monorail designers have a one track mind."
"So I guess Seattle is Epoct Center?"

Monday, May 20, 2013

Song of the Week: Temptation

"Temptation" is a Tom Waits cover by Diana Krall from her underrated album The Girl in the Other Room.  Recorded in 2004, Girl features many songs Krall co-wrote with her husband Elvis Costello.  The album is definitely worth seeking out.

Friday, May 17, 2013

MST3K Friday: Robot Rumpus

This has long been my favorite MST3K short.

"One of my classmates died in the kiln today, Mother."
"Pokey left a big surprise in your begonias."
"Hey you can throw things through Dad. I'm gonna get an anvil."

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Grandfather's Son by, Clarence Thomas

"Only the person who takes the voyage can really talk about it." -William F. Buckley, Jr.

Clarence Thomas's life is what we used to call an American Success Story. My Grandfather's Son details is life from being born in rural poverty to becoming an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Thomas was abandoned by his father and, at age 9, was shipped off by his mother to be raised by her parents. After the dual assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, young Clarence's life fractured. He dropped out of the seminary, turned his back on religion, and embraced the Angry Black Man (tm) persona popular with college-aged African Americans in the early 1970's. These decisions caused a rift between him and his grandfather that was never repaired. He spent the next part of his career fighting for civil rights and to get better opportunities for minorities in America, but what he saw pushed him back to the political right instead of further to the left. Thomas discusses with much candor subjects like the dissolving of his first marriage, his alcohol abuse, and the rift between him and his grandfather that they both tried to repair shortly before his grandfather's death. He discusses with equal joy the love he obviously feels for his second wife, his return to the Christian faith, and the gratitude he feels toward his grandparents for raising him right. 

In keeping with the tradition of secrecy about the Supreme Court, the book ends with Thomas being sworn in by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the silent prayer Thomas spoke before his first conference with his fellow justices.

My Grandfather's Son would be a good, inspiring read even if it wasn't written by a justice of the Supreme Court.

Friday, May 10, 2013

MST3K Friday: Selling Wizard

"Ben & Jerry before Woodstock."
"What's this, frozen cotton?"
"Every cabinet is designed with your needs in mind." "But I need a stove!"

Monday, May 6, 2013

Song of the Week: The Downeaster "Alexa"

May 9th is Billy Joel's birthday, so we celebrate with this week's song of the week.  This track comes from Billy's 1989 album Storm Front, and has always been one of my favorite tunes.

Friday, May 3, 2013

MST3K Friday: General Hospital 3

"Can you folks break it up? Your party's depressing everyone in the building."
"Life getting you down?  Headache pain? Try Booze."
"The truth is I'm in love with a small Mexican man."

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Suzie Cracks the Whip - Blues Traveler

I'm a pretty big fan of Blues Traveler.  I saw them in concert back in 1998 and I think I own every album they released, so I was happy when I finally laid my hands on their latest CD: Suzie Cracks the Whip.  I wasn't a fan of North Hollywood Shootout (their previous album), but with this one they're back in form.

Blues Traveler's sound is constantly changing and each album sounds different from the others.  With Suzie, the closest companion I can think of is Bastardos! - which is not a bad thing. The thing is a little funk, a little Blues Traveler, and has a pretty strong country influence in the second half (probably in part to the appearance of Crystal Bowersox).

Blues Traveler has never been a dour band, but I was astonished at how unrelentingly upbeat the whole album is.  I give it a solid B.

Standout tracks:
"Things Are Looking Up"
"You Don't Have to Love Me"
"I Don't Wanna Go"

Monday, April 29, 2013

Song of the Week: Things Are Looking Up

Blues Traveler!  This song is from their latest CD, Suzie Cracks the Whip.  Look for my album review tomorrow.

This song is "Things Are Looking Up":

Friday, April 26, 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Getting Things Done by, David Allen

Getting Things Done by David Allen is one of the modern pillars of the executive/manager world.  This book and Allen's seminars have created legions of GTDers who approach management with a "mind like water" mentality.  Even without fully implementing GTD, there are a lot of tips and tricks here to get your professional and/or personal life under control.

I like his concept of a "tickler file", a file that helps you remember things on future dates, but it seems unwieldy for someone who does as little long-term planning as I do.  It involves creating 43 (43!!) folders, one for each day of the month (1-31) and one for each month.

Like a lot of help guides the advice is so simple that it borders on stupid.  But, you know what, it works.  Examples of Allen's wisdom

  • Always determine your "next action" on a project.
  • If the next action can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it now.
  • Write stuff down.  Your brain can only hold so much at once.
I've followed some of these in the past and listening to the audio book reminded me of how productive I was when I did.  I think this is a book that I should listen to at least once a year to keep myself focused.

Recommended...and not just for managers, but for anyone who just wants to get things done.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Song of the Week: Some Day My Prince Will Come

In 1957, Dave Brubeck and his Quartet recorded an entire album of Disney songs called, fittingly, Dave Digs Disney.  I remember first hearing about this from WBGO a couple years ago.  I distinctly remember that I was driving home at the time (and even which stretch of road I was on), and thinking "Hmmm..that sounds like an alto sax.  That sounds like Paul Desmond's alto sax.  That IS Paul Desmond's alto sax!".  Then Brubeck's piano came in and I knew I was right. The song was "Heigh-Ho" from Snow White (click here to listen) and I went out and bought the CD the next weekend.

From Dave Digs Disney, here is "Some Day My Prince Will Come":

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wednesday Wisdom II

"Political correctness is the fascism of the ‘90s. It’s kind of this rigid feeling that you have to keep your ideas and your ways of looking at things within very narrow boundaries, or you’ll offend someone. Certainly one of the purposes of journalism is to challenge just that kind of thinking. And certainly one of the purposes of criticism is to break boundaries; it’s also one of the purposes of art. So that if a young journalist, 18, 19, 20, 21, an undergraduate tries to write politically correctly, what they’re really doing is ventriloquism."

-Roger Ebert

Monday, April 15, 2013

Song of the Week: Tuesday's Gone

This week's song is an interesting one.  "Tuesday's Gone" is the second track off Lynyrd Skynyrd's first album.  This version is an acoustic cover by Metallica with Les Claypool, Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains, and the Hendrix of Harmonica - John Popper of Blues Traveler.

Friday, April 12, 2013

MST3K Friday: General Hospital 1

"Here are your headshots for the Young and the Restless audition."
"There is something wrong with me?" "Yes, you've been hospitalized."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Movie Review: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Last night I saw The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with a couple friends. It was hilarious. Very faithful to the original book and the new elements added had the same tone as the novel (and radio series and TV show and game and….). A lot of the criticism from main-stream sources has hit the one problem with this film: it may be confusing to those who have not read the series. Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick (who finished the screenplay after Adams’s death) did a good job adding a more narrative structure to the story and inserting asides from The Guide for exposition purposes seamlessly with the original story. However with a story like this, familiarity with the source material is a clear help to understanding some of the jokes.

Fans of the BBC series will be delightfully surprised by some nods given to it by the directors. When viewers are first introduced to The Guide, the original theme music plays in the background. In a new scene (in a Vogon detention center), the TV Marvin can be seen. And the ghostly image that welcomes our heroes to Magrathea is Simon Jones (who played Arthur Dent in the BBC version). Unlike homages in other films, these are not blink-and-you-miss-them appearances, but prolonged cameos acknowledging the history of these characters.

From the opening sequence (featuring the delightful song “So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish”) to the final bow (stay till after the credits), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a hilarious adaptation of Adams’s well-loved trilogy in five parts. And remember: Never leave home without your towel. And Don’t Panic.

**** out of *****

UPDATE: A friend of mine just found this link on the Hitchhiker's website. If you want to hear the "So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish" song, just click here.

Posted on the old blog 4/30/2005.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Song of the Week: The Sidewinder

This week's song is the classic "The Sidewinder" by Lee Morgan.  Personnel includes Lee Morgan on trumpet, Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Bob Crenshaw on bass, Billy Higgins on drums, and the great Barry Harris on piano.  Great tune that always leaves a smile on my face.  This weekend I heard a re-imagined version of this song by guitarist John Pizzarelli from his Double Exposure album.  It weaves the tune in with a popular Beatles tune and it works seamlessly.  You should check it out here.

Here is the classic "The Sidewinder":

Friday, April 5, 2013

MST3K Friday: The Phantom Creeps 3

"Ford Beebe."
"Oh, he used a smoking jacket."
"How come they kill all these people, but the credits don't get any shorter?"

Monday, March 25, 2013

Song of the Week: C Jam Blues

An all-star lineup this week with Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Ed Thigpen on drums.  Oscar Peterson sometimes threatens Dave Brubeck as my favorite jazz pianist.  I love the moment around 4:30 where Oscar reaches up to wipe sweat from his brow while not missing a beat.

Here is "C Jam Blues":

Friday, March 22, 2013

MST3K Friday: The Phantom Creeps 2

"Ford Beebe." (again)
"The plot's out of order?" (sounds about right)
"Is he dead?" "No, just stunned." "Stunned? He took six bullets!"

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wednesday Wisdom

"The ears of our generation have been made so delicate by the senseless multitude of flatterers that, as soon as we perceive that anything of ours is not approved of, we cry out that we are being bitterly assailed; and when we can repel the truth by no other pretense  we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, and intemperance to our adversaries."
--Martin Luther

Luther spoke these words nearly 500 years ago, but he could have spoken them 5 days ago.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Song of the Week: The Living Daylights

John Barry was an accomplished composer and musician.  He's most well known for his work on 12 different James Bond films, but he also scored nearly 100 other movies plus commercials and television programs.  His scores for Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves garnered him Academy Awards.

Last week I listened to a podcast dedicated to Barry and focused primarily on his work with the Bond franchise.  He wrote or co-wrote songs for nearly every film from Dr. No to The Living Daylights. After listening to the podcast, The Living Daylights was stuck in my head for days.

Here is Norwegian band A-ha's recording of Barry's last Bond theme.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Song of the Week: Beyond the Sea

This song's been stuck in my head for a couple days, so I thought I'd share.  "Beyond the Sea" is a pop song that shares its tune with the French song "La Mer" and was popularized by singer Bobby Darin.  It's also the name of a 2004 movie starring Kevin Spacey which I need to see one of these days.

Here's Bobby Darin singing "Beyond the Sea".