Friday, April 27, 2007

How I spent last winter

When I heard Google Maps made it easy for someone who doesn't do source code to do his own annotated map, I knew exactly what I had to do.

This map (with comments, links and photos) where I spent two and a half weeks last winter, thanks to Google Maps' surprisingly detailed pictures of Torino.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Post #350: A good Colbert-style joke

Yes, this is my 350th post. And to celebrate, I'm going to have a good laugh at the good and ugly -- not bad -- of the Internets.

Start here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which published a hysterical letter to the editor. It's a conspiracy theory -- the liberal Congress wanted to perpetuate the global warming hoax, so it pushed back the beginning of Daylight Savings Time so that March would be warmer.

(Stop. Make sure you read that -- if not the full letter, at least my synopsis, which doesn't do it justice.)

How would the blogosphere react to this?

A few people figured it was a lost cause to explain that Congress didn't actually gain control of time and space, so they explained that the DST law was passed before the Democrats gained control of Congress. Some were a little hostile, at least at first. Even Boing Boing.

But some people figured it must be a joke. And Snopes, bless their hearts, gets to the bottom of it. Snopes also shares some of the livid reactions in subsequent letters but is kind enough not to print their names.

The story has a good subplot -- the headline. As you can see, it's misspelled -- "Daylight exacerbates warning." (As a former copy editor, I feel the pain here, especially because changing the "n" to an "m" would mean the headline wouldn't fit.)

Among the snarky reactions (you'll have to go to that "misspelled" link and pop open the comments -- it's #2):

"And I guess one of the first caualties of the new ‘journalism’ take of todays media was the proofreader/spellchecker. Which since most Writing Programs on the computer have them built in - should be a given."

Accept that eye don't think a spellchecker wood have cot "warning."

Monday, April 23, 2007

DVD review: Blue Man Group, The Complex Rock Tour Live

After seeing an amazing Blue Man Group show last month, I asked for and received a Blue Man DVD for my birthday. My family rocks.

It only takes a few minutes to realize that no DVD can possibly do the live show justice. The show is an overwhelming assault on your eyes and ears. It's not quite the same watching on a computer screen, particularly on the titletrack The Complex, which loses a bit of power when you're not immersed in it, feeling the office drone's despair as he tries to escape.

And the DVD seems designed not to give everything away. It's basically the music and only the music, not all the sketches in between. That's a little disappointing in the sense that I would've liked to see how the 2003 show documented here differs from the "Megastar" show I saw.

So given all that, you have to judge it for what is is -- an introduction to Blue Man Group shows rather than a complete replication of the experience.

Judged on that standard, it's quite good. With the Blue Men and full band -- guitarists, vocalists, drummer and THREE percussionists (I only saw two) -- there's no shortage of interesting visuals, and the music is a good mix of professional polish and raw live energy.

The DVD also features the singer I didn't get to see -- Tracy Bonham. And she's just wonderful, particularly on Baba O'Reilly. It helps that she can pick up a violin and play the last bit.

Bonham isn't the only vocalist to record on the Complex album who is featured here. Peter Moore, who was also in the live show I saw, replicates his songs as well as those they recorded with Dave Matthews and Gavin Rossdale. He easily bounces between personas, and his Jon Peter Lewis hair gives him an extra layer of innocence that works for the show.

And Venus Hum, the band that helped the Blue Men redo the disco classic I Feel Love, appears in full force. Lead singer Annette Strean has a big powerful voice that belies her appearance. Think Lisa Loeb's perky, playful twin sister, and you get the idea.

Given a choice between buying the DVD and seeing the show, see the show. If you can't see the show, enjoy the DVD.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hey hey, we're the Hall of Famers!

Phred passes along a few comments from Peter Tork on the Monkees' case for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. Tork, in case you don't know your Monkees lore the one who could play several instruments -- as opposed to Mike Nesmith, who could play guitar and write songs, and the other two, who were singers who had to learn drums and percussion.

Tork says Rolling Stone editor-for-life Jann Wenner is The Man keeping the Monkees out.

Here follows a quick debate on whether Wenner is right:

They couldn't play their own instruments!

They did in their live shows and on their later albums, particularly after Nesmith demonstrated his wall-punching skills to Don Kirshner.

Besides -- I don't recall any of the Ronettes sporting Stratocasters, and I don't think they'll hold it against Run DMC that Run didn't play the riff in Walk This Way.

They were pre-manufactured!

Again, the Ronettes. And yes, the Sex Pistols.

They didn't write their own songs!

Nesmith and Micky Dolenz did a lot more writing than some of the bands in the Hall.

They had no lasting impact!

Anyone over the age of 30 can hum Last Train to Clarksville. They pioneered an early form of the music video. In fact, Mike Nesmith played a hand in the next step of video evolution.

Well ... they're not New Yorkers like Blondie, the Ramones or Patti Smith. And they're not bluesmen and old Sun Studio guys we pretend to like so music historians think we know something.

We're aware of that. But this is not the Greenwich Village Hall of Fame, it's the ROCK AND ROLL Hall of Fame. And it's in Cleveland. Look it up on Mapquest.

OK, fine. At least they're not progressive rock guys like Rush and Yes.

Yeah, we'll talk about that next week.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Song review -- Rush, "Far Cry"

As longtime readers here will know, I'm a dedicated Rush fan. I've seen them live four or five times, and I have at one time or another owned every studio release except the debut Rush and the third album Caress of Steel, which was hurried out for some reason I should probably know.

Since becoming a convert in late middle/early high school, the release of the first single from a new Rush album has been something special.

- The chilling Distant Early Warning, with the heavy synths and the Strangelove-style video.

- The Big Money, whose electric-drum bombast didn't detract from the nicely intertwining riffs and playful lyrics

- The breathtaking Force Ten, which sounded like a passing hurricane and ended with an ominous sound, as if another storm were brewing

- Show Don't Tell, not one of Neil Peart's best lyrics (and not one of Rush's better albums, despite AllMusic's inexplicable 4.5 star review) but an intriguing mix of riffs

- Dreamline, another powerful show-stopper in the vein of Force Ten

- Animate, opening with a funk-rock beat and a chugging rhythm that sets the backdrop for a meditation on gender roles. Hey, only Rush could explore this sort of territory in a power trio.

- Test for Echo, an abrupt mood-swinger that's probably the weakest of this batch and not as memorable as two other songs (Driven, Resist) on the album of the same name. It was a little disappointing, particularly after an unprecendented (almost) three-year gap between albums for a band that usually cranked them out every 1.5-2 years.

- One Little Victory -- apologies to LL Cool J, but we will call this comeback. Rush hadn't recorded in almost six years, with the band very much in limbo after Neil Peart lost his wife and daughter within a year's span. It was fitting that the song opened with a full-throttle drum assault that only Van Halen's Hot for Teacher can approximate. Even without the backstory, the song simply outrocks just about anything ever recorded ... anywhere. When you add in the context and appreciate the understatement of that "little" victory, it's amazing.

Five years have passed since then, and Rush has had fun being a band again. They've gone heavily into the DVD format with the R30 retrospective and the live Rush in Rio. They recorded an album of rock standards called Feedback. They've toured, they've rested.

And now, they've recorded another album. You don't have to dig around or wait for the radio to play the new single -- just go to their site and look for Far Cry.

It's ... not that good.

I've listened three times in three weeks, and it just hasn't grown on me. Neil Peart joked that the last album was "all the things you hate about Rush," but this song actually fits that description. You could even say it's all the things we hate about Dream Theatre or other prog-rock bands that approximate the musicianship and complexity of Rush but never quite turned their technical ability into good songs.

Far Cry starts with a turgid guitar-bass drone, slamming the same chord over and over in an unpredictable rhythm. That's a prog-rock cliche, and it's a bad sign. Worse, it's repetitive -- it sounds a little too close to the Vapor Trails standout Peaceable Kingdom, which made far better use of it by contrasting it with the hopeful, atmospheric chorus.

A problem I had with Vapor Trails -- though it's a far better release overall then Presto or Test for Echo -- was that the sound was far too thick. Too crunchy, to borrow my kid's terms. At times, I was convinced I had a defective copy that couldn't possibly have been mixed properly.

Far Cry has the same problem throughout. It's not an accessible sound, and any hooks are buried in the mix.

Thematically, it just doesn't go anywhere. The song meanders from one section to the next, with nothing holding it together. That negates one advantage Rush always had over Yes -- Rush generally has a better idea of where its songs were going, while Yes sometimes devolved into this: "OK, Steve, you can play a three-minute solo now, then it's Rick's turn, then we'll restate the opening riff just so people remember what song this is, then Steve plays the slide guitar ..."

(Hey, I kid because I care. I love Yes, too.)

I'm sure I'll like at least a couple of songs from this album. But this is undoubtedly the most disappointing opener Rush has ever released. Even Caress of Steel, the only truly bad Rush album, had the blazing Bastille Day to kick things off.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Boys Don't Cry ... the band

Quick post today before I get to a long day of Annoying Stuff I Have To Do:

From VH1 Classic this morning, one of those songs that I hadn't thought about in 15 years or so but can recite from memory upon hearing the first bit. It's Boys Don't Cry's I Wanna Be a Cowboy.

If, like me, you had repressed all memory of this campy drum-machine, spoken-word hit and its preposterous fantasy video, take a look ...

You can also see it at the keyboardist's site.

It's such a random song that I'll have to go with random observations:

1. I guess the main difference between seeing this at age 16 and seeing at age 30... (cough) ... is that I now see a cowboy-themed video and immediately start looking for gay subtext. I'm not sure they get any closer than "Camping on the prairie / Plays havoc with my hair." Today, I guess we'd call that metrosexual subtext.

2. I like the way the woman in the video smiles even as she yells "help!" A lesser actress would have made it seem more like an actual hostage situation and less like a bit of silly -- possibly kinky -- fun.

3. Lemmy is in this video. Let me repeat ... Lemmy. The guy from Motorhead who strums his bass like a guitar and spits out Ace of Spades plays the bad guy. As Butt-head said, "He's Lemmy. He can be in any damn video he wants to."

4. Boys Don't Cry's Wikipedia entry currently makes this claim: "The song has been described as the perfect musical realization of a spaghetti western movie." By whom?

5. Also from Wikipedia: One guy worked with a couple of Yes-sters, including Jon Anderson, and two guys sued Paula Cole over Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? I'd have sued her over I Don't Want to Wait for attempting to refashion grammar in own image (it's "say a little prayer for ME," Miss Precious). Rolling Stone, though, says it wasn't Cole's fault.

6. Oh, they also sued Kid Rock. No word on whether they sued Jerry Seinfeld for saying "I don't wanna be a pirate!"

7. The lead singer remade the song a decade and change later.

This was followed by the Rush video for Limelight, one of several from the Moving Pictures/Signals era in which someone figured they'd just run cameras while the guys were in the studio and do some fancy split-screens. And maybe splice in some shots of Geddy on stage in a cape.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why you should read Mellow Gold

I don't usually apologize for infrequent blogging because I'm not paid for it (not here, anyway) and people who want to reach me and inquire about my health can usually reach me with little trouble. But this week, I'll apologize. It's been the perfect storm of work and family concerns.

Whenever I find a bit of time, I'll do my next song of the day (it'll be Poe's Haunted, in case you want to prepare in advance) or sum up just how utterly freaking brilliant the season finale of Friday Night Lights was.

In the meantime, if you haven't been reading Jason's Mellow Gold series, please start now. The guy takes forgotten musical artifacts and nails down the back story. If I were running VH1 and stumbled upon his blog, I would drive to his apartment (or house, I don't know) and say, "Here's $250,000. We'll pay expenses. Please take over our prime-time programming."


Friday, April 06, 2007

Ode to one-stick percussionists

I suppose that shouldn't be plural. I only know of one one-stick percussionist, not counting Sheila E. when she puts a stick down to make a couple of sexy gestures before whipping through a few cowbell-and-timbale patterns. (Seriously -- Sheila E. can play.)

The one-stick percussionist here is the woman in Was (Not Was)'s classic video Walk the Dinosaur.

I'm guessing she could also play. Even though Stereogum dismisses her as a "token, cowbell-hammering female ... wearing David Byrne’s blazer instead of a cocktail dress," I'm guessing she wouldn't have been hanging with the Wases if she didn't have some chops. I'm sure that's news to the Stereogummers who think Was (Not Was) "paid for their hubris with obscurity," which just goes to show you why I prefer to read music bloggers like Jason and Jefito who ... you know ... know something about music and research what they don't know.

That said, I'll admit that I've spent a lot of time pondering the question: Why didn't she have another stick, at least to keep up appearances? If my college percussion teacher insisted that I have four mallets in my hands even for the simplest marimba parts, shouldn't she have two sticks? Instead, she's just standing there, one arm stiff against her side.

Until ...

Heyyy! Fancy move!

If she could dance, of course, I'm sure she would've been "walking the dinosaur" with the dancers, cowbell in one hand and stick in the other. She could always wander over for the occasional cymbal crash -- which is surely superfluous, since the band had a drummer in the back who seemed perfectly capable of hitting the cymbals.

I played percussion for three years in a wind symphony, with occasional appearances in pit orchestras and a symphony. That included some boring parts. In a typical rehearsal, percussionists sit around for about 20 minutes. Just when you think you're going to play, the conductor quickly waves a hand so the group can go back over that tricky passage the third clarinet section just isn't getting. And that "part" sometimes consisted of one good thud on a bass drum.

But never -- not once -- can I remember going one-handed.

Maybe men are just too self-conscious to play such a small part in a song and video, especially when the repeated close-ups draw such attention to the fact that you're adding only slightly more to the sound than the guy in the Mighty Mighty Bosstones who just bounced around on stage all the time. A typical male probably would've cracked the cowbell against his head all night.

And so, almost 20 years after the fact, we salute you, One Stick Percussionist. You did more with one stick than most of us accomplish with two hands and all the gear we can buy.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

One-song VH1 Classic live blog

No time to do a full-fledged live blog, but one video just can't pass without comment ...

WOMAN ON STREET (slightly panicked): "What's going on in there?"

STEREOTYPICAL SOUTHERN COP: "I wouldn't worry about it, ma'am. It's just dem Damn Yankees!"

(Damn Yankees? Hey, I heard about this band! They've got Tommy Shaw from Styx! And Jack Blades -- well, Night Ranger sometimes rocks! And Ted Nu ... NUGENT!! This'll be some badass rock here!!!)

Cut to Jack Blades, wearing sunglasses that look like some sort of lab equipment. He sings: "I don't wanna hear about it ... anymore ..."

Oh, thank heavens the police have this under control!

This video goes through more phases than Pfiesteria:

- Cops cordoning off the street with a 10-48 in progress -- '80s supergroup shooting a video for a power ballad

- Band is suddenly outside, possibly because the director realized they're not shooting Sunglasses at Night, and the band looked silly wearing shades in the house

- Unknown couple making out. Apparently some sort of Romeo & Juliet storyline ... I wasn't really paying attention.

- Nugent reminds us that yes, he really did join up with these guys. He steps onto the porch to play a solo that causes electrical appliances to short out and soda cans to tip as if shot by BBs.

- Unknown couple is being chased by ... the police? Not sure. (Coincidentally, Don't Stand So Close to Me is now on.)

- Someone's on Death Row for some reason. Blades and Shaw still emoting about being taken high enough. So apparently, this woman is on Death Row for ... what? Not selling drugs? "Having been found guilty by a jury of your peers for failing to give '80s rockers a steady supply of coke and pills, you have been sentenced to death ..."

- And apparently Nugent is the priest reading Scripture as the woman is carted off to whatever execution method this state uses? He stops ... he mugs for the camera.

Oh, that badass Nugent! Just when you think he's gone all soft on us, there he is, subversely playing a Death Row priest!

Rock and roll!!!!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

OK -- NOW I might switch to Google

The latest and greatest search keywords through which someone found this blog -- "diarrhea milkshake poopoo."

But alas, this blog is NOT one of the nine results you get when searching for those keywords at Yahoo, my search engine of the past 12 years. That's because I spelled the last word "poo poo" rather than "poopoo."

Google is more lenient with the spelling, which is why I'm on the first page of the 287 pages of results for the same search. But note that Google does NOT return MMM if you put the phrase in quotations.

In case you're wondering why a blog that normally steers clear of the scatological would use such a phrase, consider the context.

(And no, I'm not actually switching over to Google. My Yahoo toolbar and My Yahoo itself are just too vital. If you're reading this and did NOT arrive via search, chances are pretty good I've got your blog on the first of my SEVEN My Yahoo pages.)

(And no, I DON'T know why I think it's so IMPORTANT for me to be EMPHASIZING certain words with ALLCAPS TODAY.)