Monday, December 29, 2014

Song of the Week: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

To close out this year's Christmas songs, let's hear from my boy Kenny Wayne Shepherd.  This version of Rudolph is from an album called Merry Axemas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Song of the Week: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Jars of Clay have recorded two versions of this song:  one on their EP Drummer Boy and one on the full album called Christmas Songs.  I always preferred the Drummer Boy version because it shows off their guitar work more.

Here is that version:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sons of Anarchy - Finale

I meant to use this song as the song of the week when Sons of Anarchy came back for its final season, but I forgot, so you get a bonus song this week.  Tonight is the last episode of Sons of Anarchy ever.  It's kind of hard to believe that of the original cast members, only three remain.  Who knows how many will be left standing when the curtain comes down for the final time.

I haven't written much about this show recently, probably because my interest level has fluctuated.  Here's a rundown of what I think:

Season 1 & 2 = Awesome
Season 3 = started and ended awesome, the middle was a lot of moving people into places
Season 4 = great, crummy ending
Season 5 = good, but whenever the ending of 4 came up, it pulled me out of the story
Season 6 & 7 = felt a little bloated and after season 5, I could see only the flaws in the show.

I thought this is a good song and an appropriate one for its end.  It was played at the end of an episode where one of my favorite characters (the heart of the show) met his end.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Song of the Week: Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel

OK, so Michael is right that this is Advent, not Christmas.  So here's an Advent tune before we get back to more Christmas ones.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Atlas Shrugged by, Ayn Rand

It is very difficult to separate the book as a polemic from the book as a work of art (since being a polemic is its primary purpose), but even those so inclined to agree with Rand's philosophy must see that Atlas Shrugged is pretty dreadful solely as a work of art. There are elements of the story that work and more than one intriguing mystery, but the execution as poor. The characters are very flat. Her heroes never do anything wrong, and her villains are nothing but straw men. There is very little urgency in the book; partially due to storytelling choices, partially due to the over-use of passive voice. When two characters meet in the book, we are immediately treated to 200 pages of their backstory from the time they first met until the present. This can be either trimmed or dropped in when part of the characters' relationship needs to be clarified or emphasized.

There is also a large amount of summary instead of scene, so Rand ends up telling us what her characters think instead of showing us. The one time where she errs in the opposite direction is Galt's 400 page speech near the end of the book.  It was extremely repetitive and derailed the story for a long time.  In fact, after the speech, I dropped my rating of the book to 1-star until the very last chapter.

The story itself is overall depressing. Rand seems to say that it's no use in fighting The Looters; smart people should just let the world collapse and build a new one out of the chaos.

Rand does have something to say about the over-reliance on others to make decisions for us and the need of many people to play it safe instead of striving to make things better. I just don't think she had the talent to do it herself.

And because I can, here is Whittaker Chambers's epic takedown of Atlas Shrugged in National Review.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Song of the Week: Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me

It's December again, so that means a month of Christmas songs.  We'll start this year off with Elvis.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Song of the Week: Random Song Ad-Libs 2

"You got mud on your face, you big disgrace. Shoving those sandwiches into your face."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Song of the Week: Presence of the Lord

Blind Faith was a band composed of former members of Traffic (Steve Winwood) and Cream (Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker).  They released one album in 1969 and went on one tour.  Since they only had one album, their catalog was small and the band was forced to play Cream and Traffic songs to fill out their set lists.  The crowds reacted more to these songs than Blind Faith's songs, much to Clapton's frustration.  There are some great songs on the album and they still get radio play.

Perhaps Blind Faith's most famous song is "Presence of the Lord", which is this week's song.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Song of the Week: The Rain Song

I'm a fan of Led Zeppelin, but never appreciated "The Rain Song" until I heard the version Page and Plant did on 1994's No Quarter.

Here's the original version:

Friday, November 7, 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate by, Bob Woodard.

The American presidency has no doubt changed since the resignation of Richard Nixon in August 1974.  Cynicism of and distrust toward government and politicians are high.  Political opponents and reporters are constantly on their toes, ready to pounce if a President does, or appears to do, something wrong. Rightly or wrongly, Presidents no longer have as much power to enact a sweeping agenda like FDR or LBJ did. Shadow chronicles the five presidencies immediately following Watergate.  Using presidential documents, diaries, and hundreds of interviews with firsthand witnesses, Woodard attempts to show how each president discovered the Presidency had been altered, but his attempts ultimately fall short.

The book is broken into five sections - one for each President.  The first four sections focus more on the office of Independent Council that was created in the aftermath of Watergate.  The largest section of the book is a point-by-point account of Ken Starr's investigation into Bill Clinton.

Clinton comes off the best of all the Presidents portrayed in the book, while the others are reduced to the common caricatures of them.  Woodward paints Gerald Ford as a good guy, but ill-equipped to be President. Jimmy Carter is two-faced and preachy.  Ronald Reagan is unengaged and moody, while Nancy rules the White House by astrology.  George Bush is a wimp who wanted a war with Iraq to prove his tough-guy credentials.  Bill Clinton is a good-old boy who was persecuted by nasty Ken Starr.  The only person who comes off as more sympathetic is Hillary.

Woodward merely used Watergate and Nixon as a hook to get readers to buy this book. He offers very little evidence that the subsequent presidents learned anything from Watergate.  The only president who appears to have thought of Watergate was Ronald Reagan, when he hired Howard Baker to conduct an internal investigation into Iran-Contra.

Shadow is ultimately a shallow book.  Woodward hardly does any analysis of the men and the problems they faced.  By hyper-focusing on the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky scandals and dismissing Whitewater (not to mention spending three sentences on the White House Travel Office affair), the book reads as a defense of Bill Clinton and the first attempt at rehabilitating his reputation after impeachment.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Song of the Week: Cedarwood Road

About a month ago, U2 released their new album for free on iTunes.  I haven't really evaluated it like I did No Line on the Horizon, but there are some good tracks on this one.  I think "Cedarwood Road" is up there among my favorites.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

RIP: Jack Bruce

Yesterday, Jack Bruce died.  He was perhaps most well known as the bassist and lead singer of Cream.  I knew for years that his health was declining, so his death isn't all that surprising.  There were rumors that the Cream reunion shows in 2005 were staged partly to help Bruce pay for his liver transplant.

Jack Bruce is now free indeed.

Friday, October 24, 2014

MST3K Friday: Random Bits 5

"Don't fool with me, I'm a wizard."
"Oh, please tell me this isn't happening."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

This is one of the books I read on vacation. It was a quick read with some good things to say.  There wasn't a whole lot new I learned from the book, but that's more of a testament to how influential this book has been than an indictment of any shortcomings.

My one takeaway is to act mindfully as a manager.  You want to do stewardship delegation as opposed to gopher delegation.  In stewardship delegation, you allow your direct reports to learn and grow.  Gopher delegation is simply having them paint by numbers to implement your vision. I try to do this with my team, but I think I should be more explicit about wanting them to do things on their own and to hold myself back when I feel like I'm making them "gophers".

Monday, October 20, 2014

Song of the Week: I Left My Hat in Haiti

I missed the last two weeks because I was on vacation again. I didn't go to Haiti; I just like this song by Billy Eckstine.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Song of the Week: Big Legged Woman

This week's song is Freddie King playing "Big Legged Woman".  I almost posted a different version just because of Freddie's lapels (click on the link and check out how big they are), but I like this version better.

Friday, September 26, 2014

MST3K Friday: Random Bits 4

"Do you have any idea who those turkeys were?" "Were they Butterballs?"

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A World Transformed by, George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft

President George H. W. Bush has stated on many occasions that he doesn't plan to write a memoir.  Given that Bush is 90 years old, it seems unlikely that he'll do so, even if he reverses his stand.  But in 1998 he wrote a book with his National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft about the major foreign policy decisions they made during their four years in office.  These events were Tienanmen Square, Desert Storm, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In one of the lighter sections of the book, President Bush talks about The Scowcroft Award, given every year to an Administration official who fell asleep in a meeting and did the best acting job of trying to appear they were awake the whole time.

Reading about these events that occurred only 25 years ago, one is reminded about how much chaos and uncertainty there was on the world stage in those four years.  Nearly every day there was another country moving toward independence from the Soviet Union, Germany moving toward reunification, and shifting borders between countries.  After the great personal diplomacy and treaties between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, relations were better between the US and the USSR than they had been at any point in the histories of the two countries.  Bush and his team performed a high-stakes high wire act between supporting these breakaway republics and not antagonizing our new Soviet Allies.

In hindsight, the reunification of Germany was seamless and almost inevitable, but it didn't appear that way to those in power at the time.  Everybody in government of all of the allied countries underestimated the speed of the dissolve of East Germany.  Some of our allies were wary of German reunification, partially because of the history of German aggression (this was only 40 years after WWII), but mainly because of the unresolved issue of Germany's border with Poland.

Each chapter in the book is made up of alternating sections:  one written by Bush, the next by Scowcroft.  Sometimes this was a little jarring and stopped the good narrative flow, but it was interesting to get the participants' differing perspectives.  Bush's style was a lot more readable than Scowcroft's.  Another thing I found interesting was how Bush referred to foreign leaders.  He'd talk of phone calls with Margaret (Thatcher), inviting Francois (Mitterand) to Kennebunkport, and trying to reach Mikhail (Gorbachev) during the attempted coup against him.  In all the books I've read by world leaders, nobody has ever done that.

Some sections of the book were more interesting than others, but overall it provided a good insight into the diplomatic efforts of the Bush Administration and a real fly-on-the-wall feeling of the tumultuous early '90's.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Song of the Week: Arms Around Your Love

I haven't shared a Chris Cornell song in a while.  Here's one from is second solo album "Carry On".

Monday, September 15, 2014

Song of the Week: 7Horse

Last week, I mentioned that the opening band for Kenny Wayne Shepherd was a duo from Los Angeles called 7Horse.  I couldn't find a way to link to my favorite song of their show, but you can listen to it on their website.  Go to their current album, Songs from a Voodoo Wedding, and click on the song "Please Come On Home".

Here's another song they played called "Carousel Bar".

Friday, September 12, 2014

MST3K Friday: Random Bits 3

"I notice you're bewitching a man into your web of deceit and lies."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Song of the Week: Somehow, Somewhere, Someway

On Saturday night, I saw Kenny Wayne Shepherd play at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, NJ. It was a great show. He played a good balance of songs off nearly all his records.  There were five songs from "Goin' Home" (including my two favorite songs back to back), two from the previous album "How I Go", one from "Live On", and three from "Trouble Is...".  He also played some songs from his album with The Rides and a couple that he always plays live.  If you ever have a chance to see him, I strongly recommend going.

The opening act was a duo called 7Horse who was pretty good.  I'll see if I can find my favorite song of their performance and post it next week.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Song of the Week: Miami 2017 (demo)

I can't remember where I first heard this, but I love Billy Joel's demo version of "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)".  It's stripped down, just Billy and his piano.  Hope you enjoy, too.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Song of the Week: Stone Cold Dead in the Market

This is a fun little tune from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan.  Every tune I know of Jordan's has a sense of humor; case in point his song "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens".

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)

I'd always loved Robin Williams, his manic energy, his impressions, his virtuoso talents at improv, so it was a shock and extremely painful to see the headlines of his death yesterday.

It's often said that comedy is harder than drama, so it's no wonder that Williams garnered 4 Academy Award nominations (1 win) for his dramatic work in Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, and Good Will Hunting.  Someone on Facebook said their favorite Williams performance is in the movie One Hour Photo (which I haven't seen).  I thought he was brilliant opposite Al Pacino in the underrated Insomnia.

I always thought his performance as Genie captured the essence of Robin Williams perfectly:

Monday, August 4, 2014

Song of the Week: Dengue Woman Blues

Still on vacation, so here's some more Texas blues from Jimmie Vaughan. This song comes from the soundtrack of From Dusk Till Dawn.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Song of the Week: Good Texan

I'm off to Texas this week for vacation. To get in the mood, this week's song is Stevie Ray Vaughan and his brother Jimmie singing "Good Texan" from the album Family Style released in September 1990, almost a month after Stevie's death.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Song of the Week: Still Remains

Another one from Stone Temple Pilots.  I don't think this was ever one of their bigger hits, but it's always been one of my favorites.

"If you should die before me ask if you can bring a friend."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

This Is Orson Welles

This Is Orson Welles is an edited series of interviews that director Peter Bogdanovich did with Welles in the 1960's and 1970's. The topics run the gamut from Welles's life and career (he considered the book his autobiography) to people he knew to his thoughts on all things art.  Even for someone as familiar with Welles's life and work as I am, there were some surprises in this book.

It is quite well known that when Orson arrived in Hollywood, his first picture was going to be an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Welles was to play Marlow and there were going to be long stretches of the film shot from the point of view of Marlow (a device that proved unsuccessful in Robert Montgomery's Lady in the Lake).  There was also talk of Welles doing a film version of the Bible with all the dialogue directly quoted from the Gospels.  But what I didn't know was that he tried to do a movie called Smiler With a Knife, co-starring Lucille Ball. The studio said "What do you want her for? She's practically washed up in pictures." Smiler was to be a total farce featuring the kind of gags Lucy made famous 15 years later on her television show.

There is a famous theory that Welles hated finishing his movies.  How else could you describe his running away to Rio during the editing of The Magnificent Ambersons, giving the studio the opportunity to tear the film apart?  I can't remember if Simon Callow explicitly said it in his bio The Road to Xanadu, but he definitely left the reader with that impression.  Bogdanovich point blank asks Welles about this and Welles shoots him down.

Welles also pontificates on the subject of all art being autobiographical.  I agree with him when he says that the work is the important thing, not the mind that created it.  He says, "It's an egocentric, romantic, nineteenth-century conception that the artist is more interesting and more important than his work... The emphasis on the artist himself - the glorification of the artist - is one of the bad turns civilization has taken in the last hundred years."

On actors:  "Everybody in the world is an actor. Conversation is acting.  Man as a social animal is an actor; everything we do is some sort of a performance."

The book is thought provoking, elucidating, and quite funny.  There are numerous times where you can just hear the smile in Orson's voice and see the twinkle in his eye as he answers Bogdanovich.  In the old game of "Name three famous people living or dead who you want at a dinner party", I've always included Welles and if you read this book, you will, too.

I'll close with an excerpt from Bogdanovich's introduction, an essay he calls "My Orson".

My favorite memories of him? Many:  like Orson moving hurriedly through my study in the afternoon on his way the the bedroom, anxious not to miss a second of his favorite TV rerun, The Dick Van Dyke Show....And, vividly: Orson under the trees at night on a Beverly Hills sidewalk lithely doing a little song-and-tap-dance routine from a musical he had written up in school at age thirteen.  There was a full moon, and Orson's face was beaming at us, looking remarkably like an out-to-please teenager, unburdened by legends, lies, mistakes, triumphs, or failures. the whole world still out there for him to conquer.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Song of the Week: Andy Warhol

This song played in the background of a dream I had the other night.  I hadn't heard it in years.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lost Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite movie directors.  I've seen everything he directed, except for Fear and Desire.  Most people know that AI was a Kubrick film that Steven Spielberg finished.  But Kubrick left behind several more unrealized films, the most famous of which are his Holocaust movie and a biopic of Napoleon. shared this nice little documentary talking about how close some of these films came to being filmed.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Song of the Week: Sit Down, John

Since this is the week of July 4th, this week's song is from the musical 1776.  I had a hard time deciding between the first two songs of the musical, so here's both.  The first one has John Adams laying out the case for Independence before the Continental Congress. The second takes place immediately after Adams leaves Independence Hall and features him venting his frustrations with Congress.

"I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress."

"They can't agree on what is right and wrong or what is good or bad. I'm convinced the only purpose that this Congress ever had was to gather specifically to drive John Adams mad!"

Friday, June 27, 2014

MST3K Friday: Head Swap

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Joel swapped Crow and Servo's heads? No? Well, you're about to find out anyway.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Song of the Week: Looking Back

Another one from Kenny Wayne Shepherd's most recent album. This week's song is an upbeat tune from Johnny "Guitar" Watson called "Looking Back".

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Act of Treason by, Vince Flynn

It's a gorgeous autumn day in Georgetown. The Democratic candidates for president and vice president of the United States are dutifully glad-handing voters and the media outside a grand estate where a national security conference has just been held, bringing together the world's greatest minds to discuss the issues that are threatening the country. It's American politicking at its best. That's when all hell breaks loose. When presidential candidate Josh Alexander's motorcade is ambushed by a group of terrorists, the nation is thrown into turmoil. Two weeks following the attack, Alexander is carried to victory by a sympathy vote, but his assailants have not been found. Enter Mitch Rapp, the super CIA agent star of Vince Flynn's hugely successful series.

When Flynn died last year from prostate cancer, I realized I hadn't read a Rapp novel in a long time.  They're all good stories that can be easily adapted to movies: high-octane spy stuff with gunfights and action sequences.  This was probably my first Rapp book in about 5 years or more, but it felt a bit more talky than I remember the series being.  After the first 50+ pages with the motorcade attack and Rapp tracking down the would-be assassin, I don't remember a single action scene.

Not bad, but not great.  A fun summertime diversion.

Act of Treason is the ninth book in the series.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Song of the Week: Breaking Up Somebody's Home

Kenny Wayne Shepherd released a new album, Goin' Home, in May. In this album, Kenny pays tribute to his many influences by playing songs he thought were emblematic of their style.  While not quite up to par with How I Go, it's a really good album.  There are a number of stand-out tracks, including Freddie King's "Palace of the King", Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "Looking Back", and Muddy Waters's "Love the Live I Live".

This week's song comes from Albert King and is called "Breaking Up Somebody's Home".

Friday, June 13, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Since 1980, about one percent of the population have been born with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men.  They are referred to as "brilliants" (or derogatorily as "twists"). Nick Cooper is a brilliant who works for a federal agency called the Department of Analysis and Response: a sort of NSA/FBI hybrid tasked specifically to deal with brilliant terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in - and betray his own kind.

Anyone who's read my blog in the past knows how much I dig Marcus Sakey, so I eagerly anticipated this one. In this novel, Sakey stretches beyond his normal realm of everyday Joes dealing with moral dilemmas and jumps into thriller "The World is in Trouble" territory. The Brilliance Saga might be the Sakey's ticket to stardom, but I don't think it's his best work (that's still Daniel Hayes).

Lee Child's blurb on Brilliance says "The kind of story you've never read before", but my biggest complaint about the book is that it felt like I had read it before. There's a government operative who goes undercover to take down a terrorist, only to find out that the terrorist isn't what he was made out to be and there are elements inside the government plotting against him. It's standard thriller fare you can find in dozens of movies. The only twist is that some people have special abilities.

The description of Cooper's ability kicking in is fantastic and believable.  His gift is in pattern recognition, which allows him to process information quickly and react almost before his target takes action. This comes in very handy in fights and chase scenes.  Sakey deserves bonus points for figuring out how to effectively convey this talent through words where comic books or movies would make his task 100 times easier.

An Nick is an interesting character.  Like a lot of Sakey's protagonists, he has heart.  He puts himself at great peril because his daughter might be a Tier One brilliant - which means she will be taken away from him and given a new name and a new life.  But he's really the only character that is fleshed out.

Elements of the story are a thinly veiled War on Terrorism parallel, but those parts only succeeded in pulling me out of the story.

The book is fast-paced, well written, and definitely a page turner, but it all feels too familiar. Brilliance is an enjoyable novel, but I expected more from Sakey.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Song of the Week: Turn It on Again

I've talked before about how The Police were great at creating catchy tunes that stuck in your head. Phil Collins and Genesis are great at that too. Case in point, this week's song. It appeared for no apparent reason in my head when I woke up on Friday. I can't remember the last time I heard it.

Friday, June 6, 2014

MST3K Friday: A Joke by Ingmar Bergman

Last Saturday, I watched "The Sword and the Dragon".  It was a really good episode with lots of funny riffs and great host segments.  Here is one host segment where they make fun of Ingmar Bergman.

Here's SHOUT!'s promo for the DVD release:

"This baby can handle everything but a three headed dra - oh, son of a..."

Monday, June 2, 2014

Song of the Week: Don't Worry Be Happy

When I was younger, my family would always go on vacation to the Outer Banks for a week. I distinctly remember one year that every time we turned on the radio in the car, Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy" was playing.  Sometimes you have to go back and remember his simple advice.

"In every life we have some trouble / When you worry you make it double"

Monday, May 26, 2014

Song of the Week: We Crossed the Rhine

Like many young men in the 1940's, Dave Brubeck was drafted into the Army and served in Patton's Third Army in Europe. One day, some Red Cross girls came to entertain his unit that was camped outside of Verdun at a place they called "the Mud Hole".  They asked if anyone would volunteer to play piano for them to sing.  Brubeck was sitting on his helmet with the rest of the GIs and raised his hand.  The next morning when their unit was lined up to be sent as replacements on the battle front, his was among three names called and told to step out of line.  All three were musicians.  The colonel in charge had heard him play and decided that he wanted to hold Brubeck back in order to form a band. That was the beginning of the Wolf Pack Band.

The Wolf Pack was the first racially integrated band in the U.S. Army. When a soldier was wounded or sent back from the front for recovery, if his records showed he played an instrument, he was sent to Brubeck. They played many popular tunes of the day, including "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else but Me", "Where or When", "When I Grow Too Old to Dream", and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To".

In 2004, Brubeck released a solo piano album with many of the songs he played in the Wolf Pack. This week's song is one that he wrote himself about his experiences in the war.

From Private Brubeck Remembers, here is "We Crossed the Rhine":

We Crossed the Rhine by Dave Brubeck on Grooveshark

Monday, May 19, 2014

Song of the Week: Follow Me

I heard this on WBGO the other week, and I knew it was Duke Ellington from the first piano lick. Duke and Frank Sinatra recorded an album together called "Francis A. and Edward K.". This recording of "Follow Me" is from that album.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

Song of the Week from Let It Be

Let It Be was the last album released by The Beatles, but it was recorded before Abbey Road. Let It Be was originally intended to be released before Abbey Road during mid-1969 as Get Back, but the Beatles were unhappy with this version and it was temporarily shelved.

I really like "Across the Universe", "I've Got a Feeling", and "The One After 909".  Though I'm going to end this project on a cheat.  During the past two months I've said a couple songs are among my favorite Beatles tune, and this week's song is no different. It could possibly be my favorite of them all.  And I'm going to post my favorite version:  an alternate take from The Beatles Anthology.

Stripped of Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound", this song is nearly perfect.  Here is the final song:  "The Long and Winding Road".

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Goldwater by, Lee Edwards

From its present state, its hard to imagine how small, how irrelevant, how insignificant conservatism was in the early 1950's. National Review did not exist, the future editor of The American Spectator was only a boy. There were no conservative think tanks - no Heritage Foundation, no Cato Institute, no Center for Strategic and International Studies. There was no talk radio. There were only a handful of conservative intellectuals and their works; F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was the most quoted source. In 1951, William F. Buckley, Jr. made a big splash with God and Man at Yale, but not much had been heard from him since (he founded NR in 1955). In short, it seemed as though liberalism would be the dominant ideology for years to come.  This is the climate in which Barry Goldwater was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1952.

Lee Edwards' Goldwater: The Man Who Made A Revolution traces Goldwater's career and shows how the seeds of Ronald Reagan's victory and the 1994 Republican Revolution were sown in Goldwater's historic defeat at the hands of LBJ in 1964. He shows that Goldwater was a man who stuck to his principals (rather than playing politics), and inspired a generation plus of conservatives to speak out for what they believed in.

Goldwater is more a political biography than a personal one.  Edwards starts with tracing how the Goldwater family came to America and Barry's early life, leading to his decision to run for the Senate in 1952. From then on, he goes into great detail about the 1964 campaign and the Senator's dealings with various presidents (from LBJ to Carter) after his return to the Senate.  I wish there was more time spent on Goldwater the man, but what's here is very interesting.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Song of the Week from Abbey Road

If The White Album showed The Beatles fracturing into four distinct musicians, Abbey Road is them working together as a single, harmonious unit once again. However, that was not the case behind the scenes. While this was the last album they recorded with the full band, Lennon refused to participate in a couple songs (he's absent on "Maxwell's Silver Hammer") and privately left the band for a time during the session. Paul would publicly do so a year later, ending The Beatles.  Released in September 1969, Abbey Road, with it's iconic cover, reached #1 on both the US and British charts.

My comment about them working together is in reference to the B-side of this record. Starting with "Because", the songs that finish the album flow seamlessly together. My only gripe is tacking "Her Majesty" on the end of it.  If the album ended with "The End", it would have been perfect. I could cheat and post a the entire B-Side, but I won't.

The best song on the album is George's "Something", which he wrote for his wife Pattie Boyd. Side note:  Boyd left George Harrison to marry Eric Clapton.  She served as inspiration for the song "Layla" and possibly "Wonderful Tonight".  What was it about Boyd that inspired such great music?

As far as lesser known songs, I like "She Came in Though the Bathroom Window" and this week's song "You Never Give Me Your Money".

Here's a demo version of "Money":

Monday, April 14, 2014

Song of the Week from Yellow Submarine

The less said about Yellow Submarine the better.  The title track is one of the few popular Beatles tunes that I just can't stand.  The pickings are slim for best song on this record, so by default the winner is "It's All Too Much".

Monday, April 7, 2014

Song of the Week from The Beatles

The Beatles (commonly referred to as The White Album) is a double album released in November of 1968. This album was recorded during a tumultuous period for the band. Ringo briefly left the band during the recording of the album, forcing Paul to play drums on a couple tracks.  My view of this album is that it isn't quite a Beatles album. It's more like a collection of solo work from each of the members, put together under the Beatles name.  If it wasn't for the existence of Yellow Submarine, this would probably be my least favorite album.

Since it's a double album, I'm going to cheat this week and share two songs.  One of them is extremely well known, but I have to pick it because a) it's a great song and b) it's one of the few good songs on this album.

First, the cheat. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a George Harrison composition, and is unique in the Beatles' catalog as it features a guest performer.  Eric Clapton, while not credited, plays lead guitar on the track. George and Clapton were friends for many years, despite Clapton stealing George's wife. Everything from the lyrics, to the guitar work, to the opening piano riff make this one of the great rock songs of all time.

The second, more obscure, song this week also deals with Eric Clapton. Like I mentioned above, George and Clapton were friends, and George couldn't help but notice Clapton's strong chocolate addiction.  "Savoy Truffle" is a reference to the guitar god's love of sweets.  In fact, most of the candies named in the song were real treats at that time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Last Five Books I Bought

I haven't done one of these in a while.  Here are the last five books I bought and a quick reason for each.

Brilliance by, Marcus Sakey.  If you've read this blog for any period of time, you know I'm a fan of Sakey's.  Here's the text from the back cover: In Wyoming, a little girl reads people’s darkest secrets by the way they fold their arms. In New York, a man sensing patterns in the stock market racks up $300 billion. In Chicago, a woman can go invisible by being where no one is looking. They’re called “brilliants,” and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in—and betray his own kind.

God Save the Child by, Robert B. Parker.  After reading The Godwulf Manuscript, I decided not to wait as long between Parker books. Appie Knoll is the kind of suburb where kids grow up right. But something is wrong. Fourteen-year-old Kevin Bartlett disappears. Everyone thinks he's run away -- until the comic strip ransom note arrives. It doesn't take Spenser long to get the picture -- an affluent family seething with rage, a desperate boy making strange friends...friends like Vic Harroway, body builder. Mr. Muscle is Spenser's only lead and he isn't talking...except with his fists. But when push comes to shove, when a boy's life is on the line, Spenser can speak that language too.

Churchill by, Paul Johnson.  Winston Churchill is one of the most revered men of the 20th Century and one of the greatest leaders in history.  I don't know as much about him as I'd like and Paul Johnson's histories are supposed to be sharp and readable.  At 200 pages, it probably won't give me a full picture of the man, but it looks like it'll be a good start.

The Accidental Creative by, Todd Henry. I got this book because the concept seemed interesting and Henry blurbed a recent book by someone I respect.  I did a capsule review here.

In the Arena by, Richard M. Nixon.  After visiting his presidential library on my vacation last year, I felt the urge to reacquaint myself with the man.  My review is here.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Song of the Week from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sgt. Pepper is the eighth studio album of The Beatles, released in June of 1967.  It has sold more than 30 million copies, making it one of the world's best selling albums.  Rolling Stone magazine named it #1 in their list of 500 Best Albums of all time.

"A Day in the Life" is one of my favorite Beatles tunes, but definitely too well known to make the cut for this project.  As you can probably guess, the finalists for this week are from Paul and George.

First up is "Fixing a Hole" by Paul McCartney. It's a catchy, upbeat tune that I find myself singing at random times.

Next is "Within You Without You" by George Harrison.  Like "Love You To", this is George embracing both the Eastern influences in instruments (sitar) and philosophy.

But the winner this week is Paul's beautiful composition "She's Leaving Home".

Friday, March 28, 2014

MST3K Friday: It Lives By Night

"Oh, this one's gonna hurt like hell."
"Geez! All he's missing is the feather boa."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Song of the Week from Revolver

Revolver is the seventh studio album of The Beatles and was released in August of 1966. It is generally considered The Beatles's best album, and one of the best albums of all time. I'm more partial to the ones preceding Revolver, but there are a lot of great tracks on this album.

The finalists are:
"Love You To" by, George Harrison. It really takes the sitar and Eastern influences first used by The Beatles in "Norwegian Wood" to a whole new level.

"She Said She Said". Quite often this one randomly pops into my head. Very trippy lyrics and I love the tempo changes.

"Tomorrow Never Knows". Turn off your mind relax and float downstream. I love the opening lyric. This is probably the song that ushered in the more psychedelic era of '60's music.

But the winner is Paul's "For No One". It's a baroque love song about the end of a relationship. Everyone called Paul the cute one and said he wasn't as deep as the other Beatles (still a criticism of him). But this song had amazing heart and is beautifully composed. You can listen to the studio version here, but here's a great version Paul did after The Beatles.

Friday, March 21, 2014

MST3K Friday: Mike Nelson is Lord of the Dance

It looks like I've already posted the Kathy Ireland Song, so here is Mike and the 'bots making fun of Riverdance.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Song of the Week from Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul was released in December 1965 and was only the second Beatles album to contain 100% original material (the first was A Hard Day's Night). Rubber Soul usually comes in the top 10 of albums all time whenever magazines put together lists. It was #5 on Rolling Stone's 2012 list. From the dreamy "Girl" to the sitar infused "Norwegian Wood", the Sixties are in full swing on this one. "Norwegian Wood" is a favorite, but, again, we're looking for the under-represented song.

I'm intrigued by "Run For Your Life". The Beatles are known for songs about love and happiness, but this song is quite different.  If you're unfamiliar with it, the chorus goes "I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man". It's not the winner, but it deserves a listen no matter what.

This week's song is "If I Needed Someone":

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Moonlight Mile by, Dennis Lehane

All in all, it was an interesting Christmas Eve.

Amanda McCready was four-years-old when she vanished from her Boston home. The police were short on clues and the people her mother associated with weren't the kind to talk to cops. Amanda's aunt, Bea McCready, hired private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro to find her; which they did.  Now, twelve years later, Amanda is sixteen and missing again. Haunted by their consciences, Kenzie and Gennaro revisit the case that troubled them the most. In their desperate fight to confront the past and find Amanda McCready, Kenzie and Gennaro are forced to question if it's possible to do the wrong thing and still be right or to do the right thing and still be wrong.

Moonlight Mile, the sixth book in the series, is Lehane's first Kenzie/Gennaro book since 1999's Prayers for Rain and a direct sequel to 1998's Gone, Baby, Gone.  Kenzie and Gennaro are now married and have a four-year-old daughter of their own. Angie is retired from the detective game, spending most of her time as a stay-at-home mom, but going to night school to get a degree. They closed their office and Patrick is now bucking for a job at a prestigious Boston investigations firm. They're older, wearier, and tired of seeing good people get screwed.

With it's parallels to Gone, Baby, Gone, it's hard to discuss the book without spoilers, so consider this a spoiler alert.

Amanda's mother was an unfit parent who left the four-year-old alone as she went out to get drunk and do drugs. She left her daughter alone in a car so hot that it left little Amanda with second degree burns over most of her body. Her uncle, Lionel, talked to a detective he knew, and they kidnapped Amanda and sent her to live with a police captain and his wife. Patrick found the girl and, despite his misgivings, returned her to her mother. Amanda was kidnapped to give her a better life, but it was still kidnapping.

In Moonlight Mile, Amanda herself is doing what Patrick could not. This time, she disappeared because she kidnapped the infant daughter of a Russian mobster and his crazy Mexican wife. She did what her Uncle Lionel did: take an innocent child from horrible parents in order to give her a better life. There are some highly charged conversations late in the book between Patrick and Amanda where Patrick explains to her why he did what he did. Lehane hasn't lost the ability to tap into Patrick's heart and show us the suffering he endures by being a heroic knight in a fallen world.

I will say, though, I was disappointed a bit with Angie's role in the story, and I thought the denouement was a little too convenient.  Still, it was nice to spend time with the duo again, and Lehane's descriptive powers of a New England winter are beyond peer.  The whole Kenzie & Gennaro series is well worth your time.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Song of the Week from Help!

Help! was released in August 1965 and doesn't get as much respect as it deserves. Perhaps because it was sandwiched between Beatles for Sale and Rubber Soul, it gets lost. I love Paul's "The Night Before". I love "Tell Me What You See", which comes in second place to this week's winner.

This week's song is the George Harrison composition "I Need You":

Monday, March 3, 2014

Song of the Week from Beatles for Sale

Beatles For Sale was released in December 1964 and shows the beginning of their turn from pop sensation to the deeper, more transformative musicians they would become. It's also, quite possibly, my favorite Beatles album. "No Reply" is near the top of my list of Beatles songs, as is "Baby's in Black" (which the boys wrote in response to the sudden death of Stu Sutcliffe), but they're both too well known for this project. This week's choice comes down to "Every Little Thing She Does" and "What You're Doing".

The winner is "Every Little Thing":

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Godwulf Manuscript by, Robert B. Parker

The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse.

Boston PI Spenser is hired by a university president to retrieve a priceless stolen manuscript. His first lead is a left-wing student group, whose secretary is a young woman named Terry Orchard. One night, Terry's boyfriend is murdered and she calls Spenser in a panic. Spenser now has two cases: the missing book and clearing the name of a young, frightened student.

The Godwulf Manuscript is the first Spenser book and it sets Parker up as the clear heir to the grandfathers of hardboiled detective fiction: Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald. The twisted family dynamic of the Orchards fits squarely into Macdonald's wheelhouse. Terry is a child of privilege whose parents use her has a pawn in their mannered little war. Terry rejects their wealthy lifestyle and lives the Bohemian dream with her boyfriend.  Parker also lays on the Chandlerian similes and wisecracks pretty heavily. Upon meeting a suspect's wife, Spenser muses, "She was as lean and hard as a canoe paddle, and nearly as sexy."

Sometimes the wardrobe descriptions go on too long (but they're entertaining because they're the height of 1970's fashion) and Spenser seems to wisecrack just because it's what he's supposed to do. But the framework for one of the most popular and successful detective series in history is clearly there.

The Godwulf Manuscript is a fun and entertaining read. I've waited too long between Spenser books and will definitely read more.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Song of the Week from A Hard Day's Night

A Hard Day's Night was released in July 1964, five months after their historic appearance on Ed Sullivan. This is the hardest decision to date. I love practically every song on this album and it would be cheating to call it a thirteen way tie.  Here is the track listing, just to give you an idea of what I'm up against:

No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."A Hard Day's Night"  Lennon and McCartney2:34
2."I Should Have Known Better"  Lennon2:43
3."If I Fell"  Lennon and McCartney2:19
4."I'm Happy Just to Dance with You"  Harrison1:56
5."And I Love Her"  McCartney2:30
6."Tell Me Why"  Lennon with McCartney2:09
7."Can't Buy Me Love"  McCartney2:12
Side two
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Any Time at All"  Lennon2:11
2."I'll Cry Instead"  Lennon1:46
3."Things We Said Today"  McCartney2:35
4."When I Get Home"  Lennon2:17
5."You Can't Do That"  Lennon2:35
6."I'll Be Back"  Lennon with McCartney2:24

Pretty tough, eh? This week's pick is the surprisingly downbeat last track "I'll Be Back". You can read a little bit about the song on its wiki page.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bowling Alone by, Robert Putnam

Americans are living lives increasingly isolated from each other, recent research finds. A quarter of Americans now report that they have not a single person to confide in with their most personal troubles, which is more than double the number reported twenty years ago. Overall, Americans report an average of two close confidants, down from three twenty years ago.

The definitive text on the phenomenon is Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, mentioned briefly in the above article. It’s a thick and dragging read on the concept of “social capital,” i.e. the social benefits we derive from interpersonal relationships. Putnam argues that our isolated lives have undercut America’s reserve of social capital, which in aggregate leads to much less pleasant lives (a neighborhood with poor social connections, for example, is not likely to form a Neighborhood Watch and keep crime down).

One would think that with our increasingly networked lives, via Facebook, IM, email, Twitter, and the like, people would be more connected than ever, but that seems not to be the case. A person can have 10,000 followers on Twitter, but no one to talk to when faced with a scary medical situation, for example. Our communications networks are vast, but our messages are trivial and at least one or two steps removed from actually sitting down and talking to someone face-to-face. How many of us email or IM our co-workers rather than walking over to his/her office?

There's a lot more Putnam says about the problems withering social capital cause, but one is struck by how isolated and less involved we are in our communities than our grandparents were.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Song of the Week from With the Beatles

With the Beatles was released in November of 1963. It features the first solo composition by George Harrison in "Don't Bother Me". There are a lot of great songs on this one and the finalists are "Not A Second Time", "All I've Got to Do", and "Hold Me Tight".

The winner is John's "All I've Got to Do":

Monday, February 10, 2014

Song of the Week from Please Please Me

Please Please Me is the debut album of The Beatles, released in March of 1963. The first track, "I Saw Her Standing There", is a perfect example of the early Beatles style, and is a personal favorite of mine. This week's song comes down to "Ask Me Why" and "There's A Place". Both show the great musicianship and fun of the early Beatles, but the harmony between John and Paul give the edge to "There's A Place".

If you want to listen to the runner-up, here's "Ask Me Why".

Friday, February 7, 2014

MST3K Friday: The Last Chase

"We can rebuild this movie. We have the technology."
"Suspect is driving a white dot."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In the Arena by, Richard Nixon

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out when the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena... - Theodore Roosevelt

In the Arena was the eighth book written by Richard Nixon, published in 1990, and one of his most candid. The subtitle of the book is "A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal" and Nixon opens with one example of each. For victory, the former President talks about his groundbreaking visit to China in 1972. For defeat, it is his resignation and self-imposed exile to California. His previous memoir, RN, ended with Nixon and Pat boarding the helicopter on the White House lawn, and the chapter on defeat picks up the night before, dealing conversations with his daughters, who wanted him to fight. He then talks about a sever bout of phlebitis, which sent him to the hospital for a surgery that almost killed him, and his years in the wilderness. For renewal, it was the writing of his memoirs and the television interviews with David Frost that helped him rediscover his purpose and decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Nixon critics who want to hear about Watergate shouldn't look here for answers (RN is better for that), as the President barely mentions the scandal. After the trio of chapters on victory, defeat, and renewal, the book is divided into five page mini-essays, each on a one word topic (e.g. faith, family, war, peace). He offers advice for politicians or anyone in a leadership role based on his years in office and things he learned from some of the big names of the 20th Century like Churchill, Eisenhower, and de Gaulle. The last chapter, "Twilight", is all about the importance of keeping active and mentally sharp as you age.

This is the third Nixon book I've read, and the man could write. He was also a very clear thinker and knew how best to communicate his ideas. It seems funny to say it about the only U.S. President to resign from office, but he writes at great lengths about duty and honor. If any politician lifts from his chapters on power, privacy, or governing, they'll have my vote.

Democrats hate Nixon for Alger Hiss and Watergate. Republicans hate Nixon for the EPA, OSHA, and wage and price controls. Conservatives should be heartened to know that in this book, Nixon says the wage and price freeze of 1971 was a mistake and he would not take that action if he had to do it over again.

In the Arena is a great read that I'd recommend to any student of American politics or history.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Song of the Week: The Song We Were Singing

In case you've been living underground for the past couple weeks, you've no doubt seen the hype surrounding the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' arrival on the Ed Sullivan Show, February 9, 1964. Even before the hype, I had it in my mind to celebrate this event by kicking off a series of related Song of the Week posts. For the next couple weeks, I'm going to be picking a favorite song off of each of their studio albums. The wrinkle is that, where possible, I'm going to pick from the lesser known songs, instead of their hits. Should be fun.

To kick this off, here's a song from Paul McCartney's Flaming Pie. He recorded this album in 1997 after the success of The Beatles Anthology release. "The Song We Were Singing" is Paul reminiscing about his Beatles days, how, for them, it was always about the music.

Friday, January 31, 2014

MST3K Friday: Super Bowl Edition

In honor if this weekend's Super Bowl, here is a collection of MST3K clips where the guys refer to the Packers.

"High, Little Buddy."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Song of the Week: Far From Any Road

HBO does a good job of picking theme songs for their shows. The Sopranos set the tone, but the ones for Treme and Boardwalk Empire follow in the tradition (I posted Boardwalk's a while back). I'm not sure if I "like" HBO's new show, True Detective, but it's compelling enough to bring be back for the first couple episodes.  They have a good, and fitting, theme song, too, and the music from the rest of the episode is equally strong.

True Detective's theme song is "Far From Any Road", by The Handsome Family.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Recent Books

I haven't posted any recent book reviews, so I'll just blame it on laziness. Here are some quick hits on my recent reads.

The Accidental Creative by, Todd Henry. It's not about ways to be more creative, it's how to be ready to be creative by preparing. There were parts of the book that were annoying, like when he kept plugging his website to go buy a product or when he said "we'll get to that later" when it was already 50 page into the book. The book is mostly a synthesis of other hugely popular methods for organizing, like David Allen's influential Getting Things Done.  There are some good tips in here and I've proposed a couple to my co-workers.

Hell to Pay by, George Pelecanos. This was more Drama City than Right as Rain. I didn't really feel any tension in the story and didn't care about any of the characters. I kept being reminded of Elmore Leonard's Rules for Writing, especially Rule #7: use patois sparingly. A lot of the characters spoke in a "street" dialect that gave the novel some authenticity, but was distracting by how overwhelmingly it was used. Pelecanos has been hit or miss for me, so I'll read him again, but not for a while.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by, Susan Cain. Good examination of how introverts and extroverts view and experience things differently. Dives deeply into The Extrovert Ideal. Built on a ton of recent research, but with enough anecdotes that it doesn't get too dry. A very interesting read.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Song of the Week: A Girl Like You

The Smithereens is a rock band from Cateret, New Jersey. They have a very "college rock" feel. How can you dislike a band that wrote a song that quotes from the great Bogart flick "In A Lonely Place"?

Here is "A Girl Like You":

Friday, January 17, 2014

MST3k Friday: Leech Woman

Here are two clips from Leech Woman. This is one of the movies I haven't seen yet.

"Where does your aunt keep the liquor?" "The liquor? Well, there's never enough to keep..."
"She doesn't want me? What's her deal?"

Monday, January 13, 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014

MST3K Friday: Future War

"Is this a halfway house for huge guys?"
"Good thing we switched places there."

Monday, January 6, 2014

Song of the Week: Amoreena

Over the Christmas and New Year's break, I watched Dog Day Afternoon. It's a fantastic, gripping movie with great performances by Al Pacino (before he became a parody of himself) and Charles Durning.

There is no soundtrack to the movie, no score, no nothing except Elton John's "Amoreena" playing over the opening credits. The credits (which I suggest you watch here) set the mood of the movie by showing exactly how New York City looked in the 1970's; it's a drab, dirty, depressing place full of crime and poverty. This is the pre-Giuliani and pre-Koch New York. There are some people who complain that New York is now "Disneyfied", but I doubt anyone would want to return to the bankrupt city of the mid-1970's.

While New York was low, Elton John was at or near the height of his creative output. The song "Amoreena" is a great example of how good Elton can be. Here is Elton John with "Amoreena":