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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Ruby day and no playlist.

Thursday morning, cold and icy. Current local temperature is 28° F (-4° C) and wherever the roads still had snow or water on them from yesterday's wet-fall are ice.  I needed to drive Ruby (our Focus hatchback) in this morning, since she has studded snow tires on, just to get up our hill.  After that it was pretty much dry clear roads the rest of the way.  We live on a steep shady hill that tends to stay very icy longer than the rest of the area, and on those days M and I have worked it out that I take Ruby with her little clicking nails and she has one of her much-loved "no-drive days."

Ruby is the opposite of the Miata in so many little ways that I have to think more about what I'm doing (that is, how the car operates) when I drive her.  The most obvious difference (besides the two-door-two-seat versus 5-door-five seat and luggage capacity!) is that Ruby is front wheel drive and the Miata is rear wheel drive, which has a big impact on handling characteristics.  Then it comes down to small things: Ruby's wipers are activated in steps up, the Miata in steps downward, one has window switches on the center console, the other on the door panel, gas doors are on opposite sides as well.  Light switches are in different places, tach and speedometers reversed, one has stereo controls on the steering wheel and one doesn't, and so on.  Nothing of earth-shaking significance in any of this, just subtle differences that make moving between the two cars noticeable.

You'd think, after nearly eight years of owning and driving Ruby (really, a few more years if you count the Focus we had before Ruby, with its identical interior) and nearly five of the Miata (hardly seems possible I've had it that long already!) that this dissonance would have faded.  There is, however, a number to factor into this equation, that helps explain why time alone isn't the full story.  Ruby has barely over 40k miles on her (at this rate, by the time she reaches her upcoming 8th birthday with us she will have seen an average of 5600 miles a year) and the Miata has about 35k after nearly five years (so a little over 7000 miles a year on average).  We don't spend a lot of time in our cars, even counting my short daily commute.

No music this morning, since the Focus doesn't have an iPod input.  I opted for NPR instead, so no playlist to share and discuss today.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The old routine, again

Wednesday, and the weather is flakey. Flakey in both the flakes of snow and flakey-as-in-crazy meanings of the word, but mostly the latter. My short drive West to the college this early morning saw driving hail, falling soft pellets (snail?), driving flakes, and rain. The wind was a switch-hitter this morning, swinging from one side of the plate one minute then from the other the next. With short powerful swings, it drove the snow and rain vertically across the beam of my headlights. Pretty stuff, really.

This is my first commuting early morning in a couple of weeks, or nearly. I thought it would be hard to get back into the swing (pun noted but not intended) of things, but the old routine slipped back into place comfortably. I beat the alarm clock by 20 minutes. I think the dogs were more disconcerted than I to be woken at this early hour. They stretched, yawned, and vocally grumbled about having to take their morning break in the dripping cold. They also didn't bother to see me off (mostly, they do), but instead ran straight back upstairs to curl up in their still-warm beds.

Light traffic, which is to be expected on this many-folks-take-it-off week between holidays. Of the few vehicles on the road I still managed to find a truck to ride my arse. May he be as persistently ridden all day today.

The iPod was heartily glad to be shuffling something other than Christmas music, or so I anthropomorphically assume. It was certainly in a blues/rock mood.

I hadn't really paid attention to the Weezer lyrics on El Scorcho before, and am glad I hadn't. I'm not a big Weezer fan (I really like some of their stuff, and really don't like other bits of their catalog), but this song...

" 'cause I can't even look in your eyes without shakin', and I ain't fakin', I'll bring home the turkey and you bring home the bacon."

Oy. That it was followed by Nada Surf, with their typically-sharp lyrics, made it stand out all the more.

Hayden and Jones brought the pace right down with a slow moving piano/cello duet as I was parking the car in the then-whirling snow. As I wrap up this post Jan Garbarek is, fittingly, piping out Iceburn from his etherial and haunting In Praise of Dreams album. Good stuff, and very appropriate to the morning.

The full playlist:

- Counting Crows: Have You Seen Me Lately
- Bobby "Blue" Band: If I Don't Get Involved
- Weezer: El Scorcho
- Nada Surf: Do It Again
- Charlie Hayden & Hank Jones: L'Amour de Moy

- Posted via iPad.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas morning

Saturday, Christmas morning, and so far the skies are retaining their ample wetness; saving the rain for later today? "Merry Christmas," they might be planning to say, "Here is our gift to you, a generous portion of the waters of life poured out for you to enjoy!" Reminds me of a poem I wrote many many years ago, which I titled, The Deliverance of Derby:

An inverted wind-blown hat
Lies like a catch-basin under a rain gutter,
Cocked by a passing sidewalk breeze,
Straining to free itself from underneath
Its liquid load.

Feet passing by in frenzied
Haste, some irresponsibly clad in last season's
Less-warm fashion, splash on through winter's
Rains. One, less agile than its counterparts,
Set free the hat.

In a shower of stale rain
A cascading derby danced over the lazy
Foot, drenching it in gratitude,
Then quickly catching upon another
Breeze, off it flew.

Now that our children are grown and flown, Christmas morning is a quiet and nearly lazy affair. We get up when we want to, and breakfast is our own time together. I made wholegrain buttermilk pancakes this morning (that and a loaf of bread being my only culinary contribution to this day of cooking and feasting).

Part of me misses the Christmas morning energy of children, the pent up excitement, and the bouncing-off-the-walls enthusiasm that children wrap this special day up in. The joy of being able to so-easily create magic for your children. The other part of me really enjoys the selfishly quiet low-key start to the day of our post-children phase of life. Another proof for the waterbed theory of life, which states (more or less) that, just like you can press down on any one spot of a waterbed and have some other spot of the bed rise correspondingly, if one aspect of life is easier/better/happier/etc. then the will be a corresponding part of life which isn't. Pros and cons through the passage of time.

Take, as a further example, the aforementioned magic. When our kids were young I used to have "daddy magic" with which I could do all sorts of seemingly impossible (in their eyes) things. As they grew, this magic waned and they saw more and more of the small man behind the curtain. This was eventually replaced by outright hands-on-hips exasperation or sad head shaking. In time, though, if I am lucky, all of this will slowly be replaced by the "wisdom of age." Dated, but still applicable and valuable, experience-based knowledge, ready for the asking. Someday, perhaps.

Fred and George live the kind of simplistic life that was all the fad among the must-have set a few years ago. They see only the usual weekend routine so far today (and they see only the moment they experience right now), since holidays don't register for dogs like they do for small children. People register to dogs: the sudden expansion of the pack by several additional members, some they know well and others they have not sniffed/met before. When small kids arrive with the new pack members then they really have things to keep track of, and dogs love a task to own and perform. Fred and George love people, so this will be their holiday reward.

After our brief lazy morning we will turn our attention to getting ready for a large Christmas dinner. We are blessed to be able to host family for the day. Melissa draws energy from the food preparations and I, whom she often accuses of having no repose, from the rest of the preparations. We will enjoy a full house today!

Later, perhaps much later, after the guests have departed and at least most of the clean up is completed, we will have a quiet Christmas evening in which to count our simple blessings of health and family.

To the few who read these finite musings: Merry Christmas from Melissa and I, and may you enjoy the happiest of holidays. May the new year bring you the dance and deliverance you seek or drench you with gratitude.

- Posted via iPad.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

For auld lang syne and the gift of musical friendship

It had already been a good morning. A day off, a little bit of a sleep in, then up to fry a couple of eggs with a slice of home made bread. A couple of remaining errands to attend to brought an unexpected opportunity for a top-down drive around town. Finally, free time to put together a couple of loaves of whole grain, cinnamon, honey, and cherry/cranberry bread for the holidays. As I say, not a bad morning.

Then came a special, unexpected, early Christmas gift.

As I write this, the bread is in its second rising and I am bathed in recorded sounds of music, laughter, and friendship from many years ago.

In the late eighties to early nineties (someplace in that range of years, anyway) three friends regularly got together to play music. One played guitar, another keyboard (and sometimes really bad guitar), and the third played drums. They played cover renditions of old folk ballads and, mostly, original compositions. Since every band needs a name, they simply drew on their respective three last names, and styled themselves the BMW Band.

Now let's be honest, this wasn't a particularly good band. Off-key was the new on-key then, mistakes were as common as the laughter captured in these old recordings, and it was rare magic when all three musicians were really on the same page. Some of it is even embarrassing to listen to, if I try to take it at all seriously. But it was never designed to be a serious musical effort, this was about friends getting together to play music, exchange musical ideas, share a common faith expressed in some of the songs, solve the political problems of the day, and laugh.

As the recordings evidence, there was a lot of laughter, for all the earnestness that sometimes crept into the music. And there were some magic moments when the music really is damned good. A few of those original tunes would hold their own against almost anything professionally written and recorded, too.

Many evenings our assembled children would drift off to sleep listening to those music sessions, and they still reference those memories with fondness (and laughter, too). Quite often they can be heard playing in the background of some of the tracks (a special blessing captured on these old recordings).

Someplace along the way we decided to start recording some of our sessions, using very cheap mics and recording equipment. The sound quality is muddy and atmospheric, some mics picked up better than other, and it is often hard to hear all the voices or instruments. Yet the recordings gave us the ability to hear ourselves with reasonable honesty, which only added to the sense that these were not (and never would be) serious music sessions. And each of us had one or two of the cassette tapes these recordings were captured to, gathering dust in a drawer. Much like memories do.

I remember an interview with Chuck Mangione from about at many years ago in which he attempted to describe a certain raw, real, unpolished quality in an album he had just created. He said, and I may not get the quote exactly right here, that if you listened close enough you could still smell the garlic on his breath. This is very much like that.

Today, though, I received in the mail a remastered CD of all of those old recordings, assembled by one of those three musicians and one of his daughters. I am still listening through all of those tracks. If the companion memories have been sitting dusty in some memory-drawer, they sure come back quickly and clearly to this soundtrack. I can tell you which living room each recording was laid down in, I can see where each of us sat, and I can almost predict when someone is about to crack a joke.

This is a very special gift, the sort you simply cannot buy for all the money on the planet. Like friendship. To the Wittmer family who made this gift possible, a very sincere thank you!

Karl, Robert: good friends are the hardest friends to find.

- photo from a later BMW Band reunion.

Friday, December 17, 2010

O frabjous day, this storm before the calm

It's Friday again. "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy." More than that, it's the Friday before a week off (more or less, we shall see, etc.) and the holidays, so it has an extra shot of callooh and callay.  This is the extra-popular dude version of Friday. "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" will be the catch-phrases of the day as folks reinforce this communal sense of jeu de vie.

Of course, this also means that this Friday has to see all the remaining loose ends tied up or carefully mothballed for the coming week off, and that will make it a busy Friday.  The storm before the calm.

Traffic wasn't heavy, I don't think my trip in this morning took longer than usual, though I did stop for coffee and that line was a tad backed up.  All this to say I don't really know why this morning's playlist has so many more tracks than usual.  They must all be shortish in length.  A great selection today, too.

Here Comes Your Man (Pixies) is a very compelling bit of tune-smithing. I can't say I really understand the lyrics, but the words themselves seem to fit the tune.  A good bouncy start to the morning.  Peter Doherty's acoustic version of Lady Don't Fall Backwards is a jagged listen, with coffee-house-open-mike-raw guitar work and similarly raw (often off-key) vocals. It feels very personal, like swapping songs with a buddy in your living room.  David Gray is always fine, also in a raw but energetic fashion.  Capping it off with the very beautiful guitar work of a contemplative Pat Metheny put the cherry on top of this Friday sunday. Good stuff.

The full playlist:
  • Pixies: Here Comes Your Man
  • Logh: Saturday Nightmares
  • Robert Walter: Don't Hate, Congratulate
  • Peter Doherty: Lady Don't Fall Backwards (Acoustic)
  • The Weepies: Red Red Rose
  • David Gray: Debauchery
  • Path Metheny/Brad Meldau: Find Me In your Dreams

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Now: quiet days, coming up: Nixon singing

Thursday morning, dark, lightly misting rain, and calm.  Top up, for the record. The commute seemed quieter than usual this morning, which may be a result of the approaching holidays.

This is also the period of the quiet campus.  While my meeting and project calendar has yet to reflect that (it will soon!), the campus is as close to sleeping as it ever gets, with most of the students and faculty gone, parking lots more empty than full, and even the rest of us starting to thin in ranks.  It is odd to make the half mile walk from North Campus to Main Campus and meet almost no one on the way.  I enjoy the relative quiet, but also miss the vibrancy and energy of the busy-in-full-swing campus.  Not that there aren't many folks on campus working to get things ready for the next quarter.  This is also that small window of opportunity for any construction, upgrade, deep cleaning, or reorganizing that needs done, a slice of time when work can happen without interrupting our central business of teaching and learning.

Next week the campus will be officially closed.  All activities except the bare minimum required are to be shuttered and buildings will not be heat or services provided.  This will be our third (I think) year of harvesting whatever utility savings we can squeeze out of a week of closure.  In this shuttered economy, every penny counts dearly. I will not be commuting next week, so after tomorrow's post, it may be a more sporadic week and won't be focused (to the extent these finite musings ever are) on the daily commute's shuffled playlist.

Today I get to look forward to a lunch break with my beloved of 29 years.  Despite the fact that we work less than six miles apart, it is rare that we get the opportunity to do this, so I color it a special treat.  

This morning's playlist was another odd one, not  seamlessly coordinated, but interesting.  The Roosevelt (High School) Jazz Band kicked off the commute with an Ellington selection, All Heart. I've noted before in this space that a colleague and friend's son played in the band the last four years (now off to college), and we still get together for the annual Ellington Nutcracker holiday concert the band puts on.  Consistently good stuff.

Life's Short Call Now (second to last tune from this morning's playlist), from the album of the same name, reminds me that Bruce Cockburn has a new album coming out in March (approaching 30 albums since 1970!), and it looks like it should be amazing.  What am I going on, when there are no pre-release tracks to go by?  The published playlist (song titles are usually a good indicator of content in a Cockburn album) and the list of musicians who will be working with Bruce on the album. Cockburn is often referred to as a musician's musician, and it becomes evident when you look at the musicians who have worked with him over the years.  On this coming album will be local (Bainbridge Island) guitar legend Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Jenny Scheinman, Annabelle Chvostek, and others.  The new album is titled Small Source of Comfort (title link will take you to a view of the album cover and playlist).

Cockburn is quoted, talking about the song (on the new album) titled, Call Me Rose, ""I woke up one morning with this song in my head almost complete. Richard Nixon is singing in person, having been reincarnated as a single black woman. The song was in my head and I had to write it down," he said.

In Cockburn's poetic hands, and with his history of passion for social justice of all sorts, this should be a treat.  I'm intrigued.

  • The Roosevelt Jazz Band: All Heart
  • John Michael Talbot: Rebuild My Temple
  • Landon Pigg: Speak to the Keys
  • Bruce Cockburn: Life Short Call Now
  • Stan Getz/Joao Gliberto: O Grande Amor

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The little dripping cloud icon

Wednesday already, dark but dry today.  Forecast calls for cool (low 40's F, 2-6º C) temperatures with rain off and on.  The forecast also offers little hope of getting a top-down drive anytime in the foreseeable future, with the little dripping cloud icon displayed for as many days forward as the predictors are predicting.

This is, after all, that time of year when we get used to seeing that particular little weather icon on pretty much any digital or TV forecast display.  This is when the elements which make the Pacific Northwest so beautiful start to challenge the psyche of many.  Tall mountains to the east and west create definite boundaries to the horizon and a low-hanging, solid, grey ceiling creates a dull yet palpable claustrophobia.  Those of us who grew up with it don't seem to see it as much as those who transplanted here at some point after reaching whatever state passes for adulthood these confused days.  Those who know there is a different kind of winter weather, who know that there are achingly deep horizons just beyond those things which block their view here, are the ones who most resent the topographical and atmospheric walls of the PNW winter.  Me, even though I start to moan when the little dripping cloud icon becomes incessant, I generally find this weather a bit of a comfortable wrap.  I'd probably find a bright cold midwest winter somewhat agoraphobic.

An interesting blend of music and styles assembled itself for the drive in this morning.  This isn't a mix that necessarily flows seamlessly from track to track.  It was a mix that required some mental tracking to keep transitions from one tune to the next from being jarring. I mean, John Mayer may be good, but following a Vivaldi cello sonata?  John, if by some odd chance you ever read this blog post, take it from me: don't book a classical concerto as your warm up band. And Ralf Illenberger's rich electric guitar improvisation make, shall we say, an interesting counterpoint to a traditional cuban love song from the Buena Vista Social Club album.  Terence Blanchard, on the other hand, brought it all back down to earth with a track that could slide easily up against almost anything, up tempo to slow.
  • Buena Vista Social Club: Dos Gardenias
  • Ralf Illenberger: Blue Darkness
  • John Butler Trio: What you want
  • Pieter Wispelwey: Sonata nr. 8 a minor (Vivaldi)
  • John Mayer:  Vultures
  • Terence Blanchard: Fred Brown

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A sweet jazz commute

It's Tuesday, wet, wild, and wooly.  Another night of heavy rains and high winds, more flooding around the region, power outages, and fallen limbs.  I know at one point last night I woke to the sound of wind-driven rain slamming into the western wall of our bedroom.  

Miles Davis kicked of the morning commute shuffle with one of the most beautiful jazz and orchestral compostions of all time, from the highly regarded Sketches of Spain collaboration with Gil Evans.  It started on my drive home last night, so only about half of the 16 minute track was left to savor this morning. This remains one of my favorite of Davis' albums, tied with Kind of Blue.  The Concierto was a wonderful way to ease into the early morning hours of the day.

Then it was on to more great jazz and a seemingly genre-focused selection this morning.  All but one of the tunes were instrumental, and the one vocal was an instrumentally-heavy piece of solid blues (Midnight Radio).  Even the Belle and Sebastian track (Fiction Reprise) is a sweet instrumental piece from a film soundtrack the group wrote.

The full playlist:
  • Miles Davis: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)
  • Charlie Hunter Quintet: Whoop-Ass
  • Terence Blanchard: Flow, Pt. 3
  • Big Head Todd & The Monsters: Midnight Radio
  • Belle and Sebastian: Fiction Reprise

Monday, December 13, 2010

The pineapple express has passed, the tree is up

Monday morning, dark and damp, but not raining.  Top up, of course.  I did manage a top-down drive home from a neighboring college Friday afternoon, coming back from a state meeting (said meeting is also the reason there was no Friday post).  It wasn't exactly blue skies, in fact it was threatening rain, but it worked.  Felt wonderful!  I don't need to tell anyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest that it rained this weekend.  Torrential downpours, flooding rivers, flooding roads, and warmer temps: the infamous "pineapple express" has been here.

A social weekend: we had breakfast with our son, lunch with a good friend, and quiche-over-football (which would be irony except that I don't hold with conventional thinking regarding quiche and men) with a brother-in-law, all good stuff.  I also put up a christmas tree for the first time in a few years.

I'm not a holiday scrooge, but I do dislike shoving the furniture around to make way for a tree that only attracts unwelcome attention from the cat and the smallest of grandkids.  We finally got one of those fake trees that come pre-assembled (more or less) and pre-lit, so setting it up is supposed to be as simple as dropping piece one in the base, sticking piece two on top of piece one, and piece three on top of piece two. Then allow the branches to drop into place, connect the plugs together, and shape the having-recently-been-squashed branches into a more realistic condition.

Here's how it really works: The three pieces do fit together quite easily. By the way, fake trees also shed needles but they are easier to vacuum up later than real pine needles in carpet.  The branches do not, however, fall down readily or naturally.  They have to be manually pushed down into place.  Since they have been smashed together for storage, they are now tightly interlocking, much like velcro would be if you wadded a bunch of it up.  Also, the pre-strung lights have wires, which catch and weave through the smooshed branches and have to be unlooped here and there before you can drop all the branches. About this time, I'm realizing just how many branches there are on a seven foot fake tree.

Then it's time to un-smoosh the individual twigs on each branch and bend them into realistic shape.  If there are a lot of branches on a seven foot tree, there are a lot more twigs on all those branches.  The first tier was patiently and artistically arranged, with careful attention paid to providing each small twig with a natural upward curve.  The second tier was less patiently attended to, but still with some attention to details. By the third tier of branches I was trying to find a technique that would allow me to aggressively shove all the twigs outward in a single gesture.  By the time I got to the bottom layers I was happy if they didn't look like they had been slept on. Then the ornaments, then plugging it in to behold.  It is actually rather pretty, so long as the lighting is dim and the little lights distract from the less-than-artfully arranged branches.

Music this morning was an odd assortment.  Taking nothing from the musicians on this list, only the last two songs would make it onto my songs-I-like list. Proud Mary always makes me think of my buddy Karl, who currently drives long-haul, mostly across the Trans-Canada.  We have spent many hours together playing old tunes on guitars (which he is good at and I am not), and Proud Mary was a regular.  Fun stuff.
  • Billy Bragg & Wilco: Joe DiMaggio done it again
  • The Beatles: Lady Madonna
  • Five for Fighting: One More for Love
  • Sigur Rós: Fljótavik
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: Proud Mary

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Use me while you can

Thursday's commute saw another damp and dark commute, top up, I might add. I haven't had the top down in several weeks now, and it is this period of the PNW (sometimes referred to as the Pacific North Wet) that thoughts of investing in a hard top shell for the Miata get entertained.  Then we get (and we will!) a few days here and there of blue skies and, cold or not, the top can be tossed back over my shoulder and I can once again be that dog with its nose out the car window - whee!  For now, though, the canvas top stays firmly latched but I live with the ready hope it won't always be up.

Yesterday, shortly after getting into the office and noting that the drive required only the occasional wiper swipe, the skies grew very suddenly darker than they should have been.  Harry Potter readers would immediately think: dementors! Bang-crash-flash – and the heavens opened up in a downpour worthy of a Southeast Asian monsoon.  For 30 minutes or so we were treated to a torrential rainstorm with wonderfully rich acoustics and lighting.  Then it settled into a more-typical heavy rain for the rest of the morning.

The iPod must know we are creeping toward the holidays because it continues to toss just one holiday selection into the morning playlist.  This morning's holiday tune is from a Placido Domingo, Diana Ross, and José Carrera holiday album (Christmas in Vienna) that includes some wonderful duets.  This particular medley, which also features Dionne Warwick is one of those album high points.

That it was followed by Supertramp was a tad jarring, though I'm not sure what a selection like that could be followed by that wouldn't be.  Supertramp, at least, is good stuff. Once the initial mental recalibration took place, all was quite good.

Bruce Cockburn's lyrics almost always trigger my pause-and-listen button.  Use Me While You Can is a good example of that, with a combination of both spoken and sung lyrics, the song conjures strong imagery. If you want to see the full lyric (and I do recommend), the song title in the previous sentence will take you to them on the Cockburn Project web site.  If you are content with a small sample:

Pearl held in black fingers
Is the moon behind dry trees
Pearl held in black fingers
Bird inside the rib cage is beating to be free
Use me while you can

I've had breakfast in New Orleans
Dinner in Timbuktu
I've lived as a stranger in my own house, too
Dark hand waves in lamplight
Cowrie shell patterns change
And nothing will be the same again

Cockburn, in the liner notes about this experience-based song set in the Sahara, says, "There were people living there when it was grassland. An ancient presence is there, and yet it can only be felt because there's no sign of it now, no living vestige of it, other than what's left of Timbuktu. Which relates to what our lives are all about. We're here, then we're gone. So if you're going to get anything out of me, get it now."

Today's full playlist:
  • Placido Domingo & Dionne Warwick: Medley
  • Supertramp: The Logical Song
  • Travis: Turn
  • Bruce Cockburn: Use Me While You Can

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The week begins to breath but I don't skip songs

The hallowed middle of the week, Wednesday, has arrived. My calendar suggests that this week is finally going to catch its breath and ease into a brisk walk, which will be welcome right about now. Just enough wet in the air (or being flung up by car tires) to need a very occasional pass of the wiper blades on the way in. The weather remains damply clement, for winter.

There are times, on this now-regular morning experiment in shuffled music blogging, when I want to skip a tune that pops up, but don't. It's a compulsion to hear the thing through as if I were playing to a set of imposed rules. I could easily skip songs I don't like (or those I would be embarrassed to admit have a place on my iPod at all), but somehow that feels like cheating. It's odd, really, since this is something I do entirely for myself. On the drive home, which I don't record, I certainly feel free to skip tracks, and it isn't unusual for me to skip several tracks on a drive home. Maybe I'm moodier and less tolerant by the end of the day.

That said, if I were to allow myself to skip tracks on the morning commute this morning would probably have had two skips, out of four tunes.

Eugene Maslov is a fantastic jazz pianist and definitely one of the tracks I would not have skipped. I could easily have repeated this track. Every time Maslov pops up in a playlist I look to see who is making this wonderful noise. I have two of his albums and really could stand to have a few more. Very good stuff.

Puedo Escribir would have been the first skipped track. Usually, Sixpence None The Richer does pleasing popish music of the slightly-more-interesting-than-usual type. This cut, especially when played in a small noisy car, presents irritatingly high nasal vocals, driving but boring guitar chords, and a grating melody. It was a small serving of brussel sprouts on my plate, overcooked, that I politely ate in order to not offend the host this morning.

Bruce rescued me from that by following it up with My Beat, a delicious tune with a wonderful beat and swing to it. Like the Maslov tune, this one could have warranted seconds. The song was written shortly after Cockburn moved to Montreal and is a pretty litteral, if poetic, description of riding his bike around his new town. A couple of the versus:

Past the derelict mattress
and the overgrown pavement
over the tracks
and through the hole in the fence
Past graffiti-bright buildings
and the junkyard alarm bell
and the screaming police cars
and it's all present tense
It's my beat
In my new town
Past the drunk woman reeling
with her bag of provisions
Down through the tunnel
with the stink-fuming bus
On to the bike path
where it's something like freedom
and the wind in my earring whispers
Trust what you must
It's my beat
In my new town
In a sense, some aspects of this daily blog are like that tune, in that I capture a bit of my daily beat, by car rather than bike.

The last tune is another from the Astral Weeks album (second day in a row). While the lyrics on this tune are wonderfully poetic, the song itself is best enjoyed in a quiet room or with headphones on so you can listen to those amazing lyrics as Van Morrison barks and wails them. Even though I would have like to skip this one out of frustration at not being able to enjoy it sufficiently, I highly recommend taking the time to sit and listen to this piece when you the chance. The lyric starts off like this:

Little jimmy's gone way out of the back streets
Out of the window, into the falling rain,
And he's right on time, right on time.
That's why broken arrow waved his finger
Down the road so dark and narrow
In the evening just before the sunday sixbells chime
And way out on the highway
All the dogs are barkin' way down below
And you wander away from your hillside retreated view
Went to wanderin' nordhbridge way out on the railroad
Together all the tipping trucks will unload
All the scrapbooks built together stuck with glue
And I'll stand beside you, beside you

Like the Cockburn tune today, this one has a certain amount of descriptive wandering-about-town to it.

Today's full playlist:
  • Eugene Maslov: Sweet Lana
  • Sixpence None The Richer: Puedo Escribir
  • Bruce Cockburn: My Beat
  • Van Morrison: Beside You

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Arriving late, adjourning, and beautiful creatures going away

Tuesday has arrived, dripping, dark, and cold, though the forecast holds the promise of some patches of clear skies later today.  Monday sailed past me yesterday in a non-stop string of to-dos that started before I got into the office.  There was no time to post yesterday; these things happen.  Today I woke 15 minutes late, so to compensate I stopped for coffee on the way in.  In for a penny in for a pound, right? Besides, being "late" is relative when I set my own early-morning-arrival-at-the-office-so-I-can-get-stuff-done schedule.  

Cabinet held a small going away party for our retiring president last night, graciously hosted by one of the party.  It was a very nice casual event, and a good way to close what, especially for some, has been a long-running team.  The research that brought us the notion that all effective teams need to form, storm, norm, and then perform was updated in more recent years to include the idea that teams, when they disband, also need to formally "adjourn."  Teams that have worked together for any serious length of time need a chance to come together to recap and acknowledge what has been done in order to bring closure to that project, period of time, or whatever circumstance the team operated under.  This was a good adjourning event.

Today's soundtrack was very enjoyable, with tunes I hadn't heard in a while artfully strung together.  Morrison's Madame George is one of my favorite cuts from his 1968 album Astral Weeks, frequently cited on best-albums-of-all-time lists, and certainly a landmark album from a prolific musician. The song runs nearly 10 minutes, and would have meant a very short playlist this morning except for that coffee stop which lengthened my commute a tad.

The Cockburn tune, Beautiful Creatures is unlike anything else he has ever recorded.  With an almost symphonic score, very minor key and sombre, and Bruce breaking into a clearly-difficult falsetto for the chorus, it is both hauntingly beautiful and jarring.  The lyrics are as poetic and powerful as anything he has written, which (in my opinion) is saying something.  A couple of verses, for example:

Like a dam on a river
My conscience is pressed
By the weight of hard feelings
Piled up in my breast
The callous and vicious things
Humans display
The beautiful creatures are going away 

Why? Why? 

From the stones of the fortress
To the shapes in the air
To the ache in the spirit
We label despair
We create what destroys,
Bind ourselves to betray
The beautiful creatures are going away 

I particularly love the phrase, "...the ache in the spirit we label despair."  That is how real despair feels, and Bruce's song captures that emotion very powerfully. 

I added back all my Christmas music to iTunes and, consequently, my iPod.  I have a DVD with all the Christmas music stored on it so I can pull it out of iTunes when out-of-season.  That way it doesn't creep into shuffle mixes when I really don't want to hear it.  Today, though, it was totally appropriate to get a beautiful harp rendition of a Christmas classic, especially on the heels of the previous darkly beautiful tune.

The full playlist:
  • Van Morrison: Madame George
  • Bruce Cockburn: Beautiful Creatures
  • Hilary Stagg: O Come Emmanuel
  • Vega4: Life Is Beautiful

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A hodge-podge of throw-away gestures

Saturday, cold and heavily frosted. At first glance, out the bedroom window early this morning, it looked like it had snowed. The outside thermostat read 32° F (0° C) when I ambled downstairs. Forecast calls for clear and cold today, but a PNW kind of cold, which is to say low forties.

I didn't post yesterday. My morning commute was to an early morning allergy test to see if the last three occasions when I got violently ill after eating meals which contained either clam, crab, or shrimp meant I had developed a shellfish allergy. The testing came back negative, so I will be able to pick a date (carefully) on which to test a nice bowl of clam chowder (or, to really give myself a test drive: cioppino!) and see what happens.

The testing consists primarily of two rows of little drops of various concentrated flavors running up both forearms, then pricking each bubble to introduce the flavor under the skin. The result looks like a cross between a heroin addict's arm and a box of chocolate, simultaneously attractive and alarming (which is which depends on your point of view, I suppose).

One of the clinic employees sat behind a counter with two or three signs which told patients to check in at the front desk then just be seated in this area because this area would be electronically notified you had checked in. In compliance with this process the employee behind this desk had that well-practiced art of seeing nobody and never allowing eye contact. The art of working at a desk in a fish bowl. The use of body position, downward angled head, brisk intentional pace to all actions, all designed to say, "I am very very busy here and am not just waiting here to answer questions; ignore me as I am ignoring you." I have worked in such conditions before, I recognize the actions, and it is an exhausting way to have to work. She had my sympathy for all but the frequent open-mouth cough she wasn't bothering to cover.

Finally, to my Facebook friends who are changing their FB pictures this weekend to a cartoon from your childhood and encouraging others to do the same in order to, "join the fight against child abuse": my picture is already a caricature of my own face. This is the same face (sans the facial hair and with more hair on top) that I had in my childhood, so I feel I am more or less in the spirit of this new fad. It could even be said I have lead.

However, maybe some of you could help me understand how changing my FB picture to a cartoon from my childhood (which is a fun idea in and of itself, by the way) allows me to also "join" (a term which distinctly implies I am not already on board) the fight against child abuse? This piece of this current FB social experiment is confusing me.

My current theory is that that bit has been stuck on just to create a false sense of social pressure to comply (do this or else be branded as in favor of child abuse!), much like all those email threads which get endlessly passed around because they have cute pictures combined with some tail-line like, "Pass this on to ten people you know in the next three days or you will suffer horrible bad luck and an orphanage will collapse on Christmas day."

So I am starting my own Facebook picture counter-challenge: refuse to change your Facebook picture this weekend to show you are willing to join the fight to end all truly awful human behaviors toward one another, other creatures, and our environment. Also, to not trivialize serious issues with throw-away gestures.

I'm saddened to think my failure to change my FB picture this weekend might now brand me, at least among my FB friends, a child abuser, though. It is a steep potential price to pay for being an intentional social activist.

I thought y'all knew me better. ;-)

No commute music on a Saturday morning, but last night we joined mom for her church's Christmas program. With a very professional production, full band and orchestra, and huge choir, it was a great program and very good music to boot. Tonight we get to enjoy the Roosevelt HS's annual Ellington Nutcracker concert with friends. Good stuff!

- Posted via iPad.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Perfect segues across genres

Thursday morning, and strangely not as dark on the way in.  Also not wet; no complaints.  The forecast calls for clear skies and moderately cold weather (highs in the low 40's F, 5-ish C), with no measurable precipitation.  Which is good, because the morning skies had that peculiar orangish horizon-lighting (light that seems to flow up from the horizon rather than appearing front or back-lit) that often signals approaching snow.  Not sure if that makes any sense to anyone but me, but that's how it looks from my eye sockets this morning.

Longish day ahead, with a special Board meeting in the early evening to announce and introduce our new president.  Looking forward to that, but it does extend the day noticeably when I also get in as early as I do.  That bit is mostly my fault, so no complaints there either.

Today's iPod scramble was another of those mixes where each tune seems to have been tailor-made to segue into the next.  Even across very different musical styles, the trailing notes of one tune were complimented, in each case, by the initial notes of the next.  Its one thing for songs to work well next to each other, but quite another when they also seem to blend with this kind of sounds-crafted flow.

The first track is from a collection titled, Tango Tomorrow, which is comprised of various artists doing modern interpretations of tango music.  Think of it as modern electronica meets Antonio Carlos Jobim (I know that's really Bossa Nova more than Tango, but the flavor is right for this comparison).  Strong base lines and almost-hip-hop cadence, usually in a minor key.  Very compelling.

The Augustana track was the first tune I ever heard from the band and the one that caused me to explore their music more.  A great group, usually categorized as 'alternative' (whatever that means any more!).  Then The Low Anthem came back for the second or third time this week, from the same Oh My God, Charlie Darwin album. I have noticed that the iPod's shuffle songs mode likes to toss up a couple of tracks from each album, usually not too far from each other. I often get a song on the drive home from the same album as one I heard on the way in.

Party, by Boston, would seem a jarring choice to follow To The Ghosts Who Write History Books, except that it has a soft and acoustic guitar intro that created a perfect transition between the two.  That Sinatra could follow Boston with equal elegance is something I don't even want to try and explain.  I'm just sayin' it worked well here; trust me.

 - L.A.Thomas: Obscure B.A.
 - Augustana: Stars and Boulevards
 - The Low Anthem: To The Ghosts Who Write History Books
 - Boston:Party
 - Frank Sinatra: Night And Day

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lightly misting to lilting music

It is now Wednesday morning. Another commute in the dark (no surprise) and it was very lightly misting rain. I know that in some parts of the country and world rain is simply rain. It can be light to heavy, but it is always generally the same sort of rain. Here, as in other wet-inclined northern climes, we have a whole range of falling wetness besides just "rain" fall. It can mist, sprinkle, shower, drizzle, and more.

Even the Beaufort Rain Scale is left wanting for enough distinct describers of rain. To be honest, I don't think this scale, copies of which can readily be found on the Internet, is really something Beaufort created. Some of the descriptors seem outside of his time. More likely it a rain-oriented tribute to Beaufort's very poetic wind scale. Whoever the creator of the rain scale, it is richly descriptive of at least some of the forms falling wetness can take:

- Scotch Mist: Presence of wet in the air, hovering rather than falling...
- Individual Drops: Individual drops of rain falling, but quite separate as if they are all freelance and not part of the same corporate effort.
- Visible Light Shower: Hair starts to congeal around the ears. First rainwear appears...
- Downpour: You can see rain bouncing on impact, like charter planes landing.
- Etc.

Lightly misting will do, however, for this morning.

The morning soundtrack scramble was delightful again this morning. A real blend of musical styles not commonly sat down next to each other.

The album Sira by Cissoko and Goetze is different from anything else in my music collection. A collaboration between African kora player Ablaye Cissoko and jazz trumpeter Volker Goetze, it has a languid late-night beauty to it as the harp-like melodies from the kora weave in and out of the very-silky trumpet work from Goetze. Cissoko also provides the vocals. The word lilting applies perfectly to Cissoko's contributions to this album. The tunes are predominantly middle eastern in style, as are the vocals. The result is a surprisingly soothing and beautiful album and very worth the listen if you are not already familiar with it.

The set ended with Camera Obscura, a Scottish band whose lead singer sounds just a tad like she could be a modern incarnation of Skeeter Davis or Connie Francis, with strong vocals and energetic tunes.

All in all, very good stuff.

- My Morning Jacket: Hopefully (Acoustic Version)
- Christine Lavin: Bumblebees
- Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze: Sira
- Camera Obscura: Away With Murder

- Posted via iPad.