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Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday feels censorious

Monday strikes a censorious pose and gives me the hairy eyeball for not wanting to get up and at 'em this morning.  I want to tell Monday to bugger off and leave me sulk, because I think I may be fighting off a little viral something, but in the end, if I am, it's relatively mild and better to push through it than give in to it.  So my upbringing has trained me.  And so, also, my iPod seems to admonish by tossing Wilco's Shake It Off at me on the drive in.

This is the kind of morning that leaves self-doubts as certain as heavy footfall leaving prints in fresh snow, or mud.  Am I up to what is expected of me, or what I expect of myself?  Doubts like those expressed in Lydia Davis' poem, A Position at the University: "Then I see what the problem is: when others describe me this way, they appear to describe me completely, whereas in fact they do not describe me completely, and a complete description of me would include truths that seem quite incompatible with the fact that I have a position at the university."

These are fleeting thoughts, borne of low energy and somewhat mitigated by the first large cup of mate (or, for others, coffee or tea) and by simply putting the shoulder to the plow and getting that first furrow started. Even a bit of completed furrow, straight and true, shows me I can do what is needed of me.

On mornings like this the pending-tasks list feels overwhelmingly large and finding that first thread to pull seems impossibly difficult.  It would be easy to shuffle between less-critical and less-demanding actions and wait for the energy level to bounce back to productive strength, tomorrow, or maybe the day after.  Experience has taught me, though, that the best course of action is to grab any one of the pending projects and simply get it done.  Once one is completed and checked off the others seem equally mortal, and task-list-combat becomes the rhythm of productivity, regardless of my energy level.  So.... heave ho, I really do have a position at the university, or rather, college.

In an ironic inversion of what I need to do, today's playlist gradually shifted from upbeat energetic to sweet and mild and slow.  Mr. Rock & Roll gave way to a bluesy, almost-jazz, Wilco.  Wilco passed the conductor's baton to Seamus Egan and a lilting Irish-themed ballad of guitar and pipes, which finally gave way to some of the sweetest piano and violin on the planet.  There can be little doubt that Peterson and Grappelli were two of the greatest masters of their respective instruments and listening to the two of them gently trade swinging riffs with one another on this nearly-seven-minute standard only drives the point home. 

The full playlist:

 - Amy MacDonald: Mr. Rock & Roll
 - Wilco: Shake It Off
 - Seamus Egan: When Juniper Sleeps
 - Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli: Someone To Watch Over Me

Friday, January 28, 2011

A denim-latte-favorite-song kind of day, or poetry is like travel

It's Friday.  Friday may be the popular dude, but today he just feels tired.  Or, more likely, it's just me that feels tired and Friday is the same dude he always is.  Definitely a denim day; tennis shoes and a fleece-lined sweatshirt also sound just about right.  I stopped for a coffee on my way in and waited through a long line of other folks treating themselves to a cup of joe (or joe-fancy).  It gave me time to repeat a favorite Neil Young tune a couple of times while I waited.  This is a denim-latte-favorite-song kind of day, if that makes sense.  It does to me, at any rate.

I really like music.  Probably obvious, given the essential theme of this daily brain-fart-of-a-blog about my daily commute music shuffle.  I like good music, good instrumental mastery, the craft of constructing melody, harmony, and arrangement, the poetry of well written lyrics, and that special sauce that makes one musician different from the common-commodity-pablum-of-the-day of the audio airwaves.  I also really like poetry, for it's power to evoke empathy and to take me outside of my own experiences and into another's perspective.  Poetry is like travel that way.  Mostly, though, I love the two (music and poetry) combined.

The thing about poetic song lyrics is that they combine the best of two mediums, each capable of evoking strong responses on their own.  When the two elements are perfectly combined the effect can be nothing short of magical and mesmerizing. Not all poems set to music carry this power of evocation, but you know it when lyric, melody, and rhythm combine in that just-right way.  Two of this morning's songs register that way for me.

The first is Neil Young's Four Strong Winds, an Ian Tyson song Neil says listened to over and over on a cafe juke box when he first left home and which he later recorded himself back in 1978 in what, for me at least, is the quintessential recording of this perfect song.  When this tune pops up I almost always repeat it a few times before I'm willing to move on.

Four strong winds that blow lonely, Seven seas that run high,
All these things that don't change, Come what may.
But our good times are all gone,
And I'm bound for moving on.
I'll look for you if I'm ever back this way. 

The lyrics themselves, while good, are not masterful poetry.  However, set to this particular melody, they combine to evoke a strong feeling of time and place and melancholy.  A song about seasons of relationship and those things which can be changed and those which cannot. Also, a tune that it is impossible to not try and sing harmony on.

The second song is from the Guggenheim Grotto, Rosanna (a nice acoustic live recording can be seen at: This, too, is a melancholy tune with that perfect match of lyric and melody.  In this case the lyrics are more poetic:

Wash your face Rosanna 
Tonight we'll go out on this town 
Give them dogs a bone and put them down 

Shine your shoes Rosanna 
Tonight we're walking on those tiles 
Give them cats a class in feline style 

Have a drink Rosanna 
Pour it straight and knock it down 
Pull the rug of being up from the ground 

Take a seat Rosanna 
Soak your sight and suck the sound 
Skip the last train home go underground 

Have a heart Rosanna 
Clubs for fools and spades for clowns 
Diamonds only serve to fill your crown 

See me in Rosanna 
Here's a boy in shining steel 
Fighting for a part of something real

This, too, is a song I am likely to repeat a time or two before moving on.

All in all, a very good playlist this morning.  Good stuff, as they say.  The full list:

 - Sigur Rós: Avalon
 - Don McLean:  And I love you so
 - Neil Young: Four Strong Winds
 - The Guggenheim Grotto: Rosanna

-Posted via iPad

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Trucks that sniff tailpipes

Thursday morning, dark but dry.  Or, at least not raining.  Mild temps, too (low 50's).  A really conventional commute this morning: about the usual level of traffic, nothing notable happened, nothing notable seen, at least one aggressively tailgating truck sniffing at my tailpipes for a few blocks. Normal.

I've mused on this theme before, why trucks like to aggressively tailgate small cars like the Miata [by the way, did you know the word muse has it's roots in the old French word muser, which means to meditate or waste time?  Which is precisely what this thread is going to do.]. It isn't just a matter of big vehicles just appearing closer when driving the smaller car, I know the difference.  It's not a response to stickers or messages on the car; I don't have bumper stickers or such on my cars.  I'm not poking along holding up traffic, I'm going with the flow of the cars in front of me.  I don't react or respond in any way, and besides, I don't initiate the behavior.  This doesn't happen when I drive our other car.

When I drive Ruby (our other car) it is rare for one of the large trucks to come up within inches of the rear bumper, but in the Miata it happens (with trucks) more often than not.  And when it does happen, it almost always involves getting to within mere inches and slightly offset to the left so that their left headlight is aimed directly at the side mirror (this doesn't do anything to me because my mirrors are adjusted out for better lane-change visibility, which has the added benefit of not catching headlights directly behind them). The stance is predictable and specific.  The same trucks, if they change lanes at some point, usually don't tailgate the other cars around us.

It doesn't happen 100% of the time, of course.  There are truck drivers out there who maintain a safe (or at least, normal) distance and clearly could care less what kind of car others are driving (or don't appear to alter their driving behavior based on the type of cars around them).  But it certainly happens to me more than 50% of the time when driving the Miata.  The question remains: why?  Can it really all be compensating behavior, all of the time?  Frustration with the rising price of gas and the awareness that some of us drive cars which are less impacted by that trend?  If so, do they also tailgate hybrids and Honda Fits?  Maybe it's an addiction to exhaust that inspires this kind of extra-intimate tailpipe sniffing?

Alas, no answers here. Just one of the commute's regular mysteries.
This morning's playlist started off like an evening at the piano bar, slowly edging away from jazz and into jazz-heavy rock by the time Bruce Hornsby sat down at the keyboard.  Good stuff and one of those amazing well-blended mixes of tunes:

 - The Bad Plus: Film
 - Aaron Parks Trio: Everything Happens To Me
 - Rod Stewart: We'll Be Together Again
 - Bruce Hornsby: Harbor Lights

-Posted via iPad

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The un-, sub-, or super- natural forces shuffle

Mr. Malleable has popped around for his weekly visit, though he only brought half the moon with him this time.  A fuzzy pale-blue half-moon sat just over the horizon early this morning, looking colder than the ambient temperature felt.  The sky was noticeably lighter (though still far from daylight) when I got up and when I drove in, so the days are incrementally lengthening. The forecasters are still calling for a few hours of midday sunshine today, but the overall forecast still looks gray and wet.

Today's soundtrack rather defies the odds of random.  Or maybe it's more like the opening scene of Gildenstern and Rosencrantz are Dead when, after flipping a coin 92 times and always having it come down heads, one says to the other, "Consider: One, probability is a facter which operates within natural forces. Two, probability is not operating as a factor. Three, we are now held within un-, sub- or super-natural forces. Discuss."  At any rate, of three tunes the iPod shuffled up for today's playlist, two were the same track off the same album.  If, as Tim Roth's character in G&R suggests, though, there is a 50% chance that any individual coin will land heads up each individual time it is tossed, we should not be surprised when each individual time we toss it the coin does end up heads up.  Therefore I should be equally unsurprised if every time the iPod's shuffle algorithm reaches into the bag of shaken tunes it pulls up the same tune.  

Almost anything by Pat Metheny is likely to be a good tune to suggest for a dark and lightly foggy morning drive, though, so no complaints.

 - Pat Metheny: Inori (Live)
 - Chicago: Beginnings
 - Pat Metheny: Inori (Live)

-Posted via iPad

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Neener-neener weather

It's Tuesday already/only?  At 6:00 AM, dark, wet, and pockets of foggish mist.  The weather forecast has been playing neener-neener with the promised sunshine again this week, with each day's forecast pushing it out one more day and substituting another day of rain instead.  This does not instill warm fuzzy feelings toward the weather, for the record.

[Aside: it appears nobody knows the etymology of the word/phrase neener-neener. Is it pre-cultural, common with children across cultures, or does it have a specific origin?  If the latter is true, then it has been spread around the world.  Now there's a thought: of all the things to spread from culture to culture....a children's taunt-noise.]

Today's playlist started out with a track from one of my favorite jazz albums.  BeatleJazz is a group augmented with talent such as John Scofield (guitar), Michael Brecker (saxophone), Randy Brecker (trumpet), and Mike Stern (guitar), and which (as the group's name suggests) covers wonderful jazz versions of Beatles' tunes.  This comes from the album, With A Little Help From Our Friends. Really good stuff.

It was also nice to get a Fountains of Wayne track this morning.  Considering how many of their albums are scattered across my iPod, it's been a surprising little while since I've last heard from them.

All in all, a nice play list today:

 - BeatleJazz: Chains
 - Fountains Of Wayne: Bought For A Song
 - Alice Smith: New Religion
 - Carole King: Loving you forever
 - Joel Frahm & Brad Mehldau: Away From Home

-Posted via iPad

Monday, January 24, 2011

My soundtrack blew a raspberry

Monday has rolled around once again, and once again the drive in was dark and barely wet.  A 70% chance of the wet stuff is forecast, though the rest of this week is forecast to be mostly sunny.  Also, mild (low 50's all week).

Driving in I saw a lad, probably late teens, walking along in brightly colored harlequin pattern pants.  Or something very similar, anyway.  At least he was wearing something with a little color and white to it, so he was visible in the dark.  Most of the others I saw walking this morning were wearing black or other very dark shades, rendering them almost invisible unless they were directly under a street light.  Even as careful and attentive as I am I have frequently been startled to suddenly come up on a pedestrian walking in the lane of traffic (many streets I drive on my route have no sidewalks and little shoulder), in the dark, wearing dark clothes, with their backs facing oncoming traffic.  

Speaking of street lights, here's a related question for anyone who knows the answer: why is it that in Lynnwood, Bothell, and parts of Snohomish County mid-block crosswalks don't line up with street lights? Most of the crosswalks I drive through on my morning commute sit dead center between two street lights, which has the effect of making the crosswalk space even darker than it would be without the two end-capping bands of relative brightness.  From a planning standpoint, I would think this would be a basic starting point, no?

Today's soundtrack was all over the place.  From blues to requiem-paced near-classical to flatulence (yes, really) to 80's-style rock  The flatulence came from the Broadway soundtrack for Spamalot, and more specifically, from a French salute to British knights.  Spamalot is, of course, the musical based on the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so this kind of thing is to be expected.  Still, it is a good demonstration that shuffled tracks don't always flow with grace.  That bouncy silly tune was followed by the dead-slow melancholy of D.Sharp by Bill Frisell, which was then followed by the a very electric guitar driven 80's-feeling Bon Jovi tune (which was really written/recorded only a couple years back).  Not a mix I would construct intentionally.

The full playlist:

 - Peter Doherty: 1939 Returning
 - Van Morrison: Once in a blue moon
 - Spamalot:  Run away!
 - Bill Frisell: D.Sharpe
 - Bon Jovi: Summertime
 - Supertramp: If Everyone Was Listening

- Posted via iPad

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Parking and the Planet of the Clowns

Thursday, dark and (I think) tending toward clear-ish.  We'll see better when the sun comes up, of course, so for now I must reserve the right to be completely wrong about the clear-ish bit.

Spent the drive in thinking about parking on campus.  Every quarter start up these days brings the same thing, an explosive emotional barrage of anger and hostility about perceived lack of parking between the hours of 8:00 AM and 1:00 PM Monday through Thursday.  Words like "disaster" "unacceptable" and "catastrophe" get tossed around, and all the worst qualities of scarcity thinking models kick in.  Yet, critically examined, the problem isn't nearly as bad as it gets cast. A little perspective about what really constitutes hardship in life might help. I would never occur to me to get so exercised about having to walk a few blocks between parking spot and work station. For some, though, this is a primary quality-of-life issue worth a great deal of time and energy. So we will spend yet more time trying to figure out how best to accommodate everyone's preferences with a fixed and scarce resource.

As someone who has spent most of his 17+ years on campus working in off-main-campus buildings, I have also spent most of those years walking the blocks to and from main campus for meetings and events.  I have a backpack I slip my laptop and any papers I need into before setting off for meetings, or (increasingly) I go entirely digital and just pack my personal iPad. When it rains I wear a rain coat and a floppy-brimmed hat.  When it's hot I use sunscreen. I make the one mile round trip between my office and main campus once or twice most days (and count it toward my exercise goals).  It's all good.

Decided to stop for coffee this morning and actually paid for it using my iPhone.  It's about time someplace in this country finally allowed cell-phone based payments, like much of the rest of the developed world has had for some time.  One less card to carry in my already-minimalist wallet.  Good stuff.

The music this morning was also all good, diverse, and with a few short interlude tracks extending the size of the playlist.  Bruce Cockburn's Planet Of The Clowns captured my sentiments most closely this morning, given my drive in musings:

Stare into the moonlight
Silver fingers press my eyes
Probing in my heart with longing

These footprints by the sea's edge
Disappearing grain by grain
Lose their form but keep their substance

As the waves roar on the beach like a squadron of F16's
Ebb and flow like the better days they say this world has seen

Government by outrage
Hunger camps and shanty towns
Dignity and love still holding

This bluegreen ball in black space
Filled with beauty even now
battered and abused and lovely

And the waves roar on the beach like a squadron of F16's
Ebb and flow like the better days they say this world has seen

Each one in our own heart
Desperate to know where we stand
Planet of the clowns in wet shoes 

The full playlist:

 - My Morning Jacket: I'm Amazed
 - Johann Bach: Concerto No.6 in B Flat Major BWV 1051: Allegro
 - Boston: The Journey
 - Bruce Cockburn: Planet Of The Clowns
 - Michel Legrand: I Will Wait For You
 - Charlie Hunter Quintet:  Interlude5

- Posted via iPad

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mr. Maleable and the post-apocalyptic partial drive

Wednesday is a flexible, changeable, make-of-it-what-you-will kind of day. If Friday is a popular dude, Wednesday is Mr. Maleable. It's mid-week (for many of us), and we bring to that whatever mood or rhythm we are tuned to by this point in the work week.  The week is flying by, the week is dragging on, three days to go, three days down, we've made it this far, the weekend is still a half a week away, I need another weekday, or whatever your fancy: Wednesday is obligingly there to soak it up and reflect it back at us.  As is fitting of a mid-point in the week, the pinacle between the waxing and waning of the workweek, today is also a full moon.  A perfect parallel for Wednesday: mooned by Mr. Maleable.

This morning's drive in, under the bright illumination of the very full moon only partially obscured by clouds, felt post-apocalyptic.  I didn't meet a single car until I was two-thirds of the way to campus.  At one point, as I crested a hilltop with a view down the valley, I saw a semi moving in the distance, but nothing shared the lanes with me until I was most of the way in.  Between the cliche full-moon-in-stormy-sky-overhead and the total lack of movement around me, it had me checking my clock to see if I had accidentally woken five hours too early or listening out for Rod Serling's voiceover (my glasses were not broken, so at least it wouldn't be that episode!).  Finally, I ran into three other cars at a stop light and then traffic seemed to flow at a normal, if still light, pace.  I even found the oh-so-common tailgating large truck for a few blocks. Back to ordinary.

Yesterday gave me a short list of long tunes, and today's shuffled playlist is a long list of short tunes, one as short as 33 second (Introduction). For a mix as eclectic as this one, it all flowed together sweetly.  From Wilco to latin folk to the Pachelbel Cannon, with even a little gospel tossed in for good measure, everyone played nicely together in the musical sandbox.

Today's complete playlist:

 - Wilco: Hell is chrome
 - P.T. Walkley: Evolution
 - Dave Grusin: Lupita
 - P.T. Walkley: Introduction
 - Thad Cockrell: Great Rejoicing
 - Arthur Fiedler: Canon and Gigue for 3 violins & continuo in D major
 - Chick Corea and Bela Fleck: Children's Song #6

- Posted via iPad

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday as Monday, flooding, and deconstructed music

Tuesday, which is the new Monday, at least for this shortened work week.  Yesterday we honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a holiday, so schools, and government offices were all closed.  Today is mom's birthday, which we celebrated with a dinner out last night. It was nice to have the long weekend away from the office.  I was especially good and stayed away (mostly) from office email this weekend, which helped give the weekend real weekend flavor.

It was a wet weekend, as promised, though maybe not quite as dramatically so as predicted.  We got rain, flooding rivers, and wind, but I don't think we got anywhere near five inches of rain on Sunday. Splitting wet hairs, I know.  It has been warm, too. with temperatures in the 50's (lower 10's C).  Flood warnings remain in effect, but this week's forecast offers more than just the little dripping cloud icon that has been so ubiquitous these past several weeks. Wednesday and Saturday even show the cloudy sun icon!

Watching a brief bit of news this weekend I was struck by the perspective of folks who live along the banks of rivers.  The ones that were interviewed by the TV crews, at least, all seemed angry and shocked that the river could flood and suddenly change course, taking a chunk of their property and possessions with it.  There seemed to be a sense of anger that someone hadn't done their job correctly for this to have happened.  Many had never seen anything like this before.  My heart goes out to anyone who, for any reason, loses their home.  That is one of those losses that, quite literally, uproots and undercuts most of us.  However, living alongside a river also means living alongside powerfully coursing uncertainty.  Rivers do flood, and they frequently change course.  One flood event can alter the location of a river significantly.  Unless you so tame a river as to destroy its character and purpose in life, it remains a wild thing and should be respected as such.

A short playlist, this morning, of long tunes. These tunes ran 7-1/2, 6-1/2, and 4 minutes in length, respectively. This was truly a playlist in which each tune was so similar to the others as to be from a single album which, in fact, two of the three cuts were.  The last two tracks were from the Uninvisible album by Martin, Medeski, and Wood (me thinks the iPod was being lazy with its shuffling this morning). Both tunes are instrumental jazz, tending toward the ragged edge of the genre.  Electric, percussive, and frequently discordantly deconstructed, I wouldn't call it easy morning music.  Good, by all means yes, but in a challenging-to-follow sort of way.  The first cut, from the venerable Pat Martino, runs along similar lines, though is less discordant and slightly more electric.

The full short playlist:
  • Pat Martino: Outrider
  • Medeski, Martin, and Wood: Nocturnal Transmission
  • Medeski, Martin, and Wood: Take Me Nowhere
- Posted via iPad

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cake Friday

Friday, still dark, and very wet.  Forecast calls for lots of rain today and through the weekend (up to 5" of rain on Sunday alone!), rivers flooding, and strong wind gusts.  Should be fun.

No post yesterday as I attended an Economic Forecast Conference in Seattle and a colleague was kind enough to drive for the both of us.  To use, of the economists panel discussion, a happy saying of my grandmother's: dry as a popcorn fart. I would summarize the whole economic forecast discussion as: 2011 will be incrementally better than 2010, jobs are going to be very slow coming back, where they do at all, we are out of the recession but it won't feel like it to most folks for some time to come.  Oh, and there were lots of slides (which were interesting) to support all of this.  The Governor talked tough about what the legislature needs to do and how we need to get away from putting bandaids on the status-quo, and how state government simply isn't going to be able to provide all the services it had traditionally provided and the private sector is going to have to step up to the plate in that respect (my aside: we all know how well that happens!). With the exception of one of the economists who used a portion of his time to make the case for tax code change, no talk about revising our tax code to fix the perpetual revenue problem we have in this state. <sigh>

I'm in a Cake mood this morning.  I may be dieting, but damn it, I can still have my Cake.  Specifically, their most-recent album, Showroom of Compassion. So today's short playlist is drawn entirely from that album:
  • Federal Funding
  • Got to Move
  • Bound Away
  • Sick of You
  • What's Now is Now
You have to love the droll whimsy in their lyrics, the almost comedic timing of John McRea's lead vocals, and the rich eclectic instrumentation.  Maybe you have heard a bit of their song Short Skirt/Long Jacket on a recent iPod commercial. For an example of just how unique their songwriting is, take the tune Federal Funding:

You'll receive the federal funding, you can have a hefty grant 
You'll receive the federal funding, you can have a hefty grant 
Strategize this presentation, make them see that you're the man 
Strategize this presentation, make them see that you're the man

Not the usual song lyric fodder.  Or Italian Guy, the lyrics of which consist of a single visual observation:

That Italian guy over there, 
the one with the polyester, pin-striped suit, 
the one with the gray hair and mustache, 
Must be thinking really loud thoughts. 
Because he's nodding and squinting, 
and nodding and squinting, 
and putting down his metal case, 
like he's making a point, 
and it's very important indeed.

Good stuff, fun stuff, and the right thing for this very wet Friday.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A tumulus in the slush

Wednesday, glowing and slushy. We got 3-4" of the white stuff late yesterday evening, then it warmed up and this morning it was raining.  So the snow is slowly turning into slush, most roads are quite passable, and even the side roads are fine if you take your time and respect the layer of slush between your tires and the concrete.  In places the snow had been shoved aside, but in odd looking ways.  It didn't look like it had been plowed to the side so much as balled up here and there.  In the middle of our hill road, about half-way up from our house to the top, was what looked like a small tumulus in the middle of the road.  Maybe a Karmann Ghia stalled in the middle of the hill last night and got buried under snow?  Whatever the source of this mysterious new hill on our hill, the rain will excavate it today and reveal its secrets.

Since this type of weather also means it was a 4:00 AM wake up to make the open/not-open/delayed-open decision with our new president, and being one of those souls who stays awake once I wake up at all, I hit the road early and drove on in to campus.  Took Ruby rather than the Miata, mainly to get up our hill, and listened to NPR on the way in.  No iPod playlist to report, alas.  Nyja Lagio (Sigur Rós, from the Svefn-G-Englar album) is playing as I type, for the record.

Most of the commute was pleasantly pastoral.  The snow reflected the street light illumination and created a ground-up glow, light rain was falling across my headlight beams, and for much of the drive there was little or no other traffic on the roads.  NPR talked about the memorial services for the Arizona shooting victims, local weather and traffic conditions, and there was certainly more talking about other subjects, but I honestly cannot recall what it was. Riveting stuff, obviously.

- Posted via iPad

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How much snow and what price gas?

Tuesday, dark (it won't always be, the days are slowly lengthening) and cloudy.  Looks like we'll get a bit of snow later today (during or after the evening commute, they tell us), which will turn to rain overnight, and probably be a sodden mess by tomorrow morning.  Here's hoping the amount of snow is much less than the amount of overnight rain.  Snow-in-the-mountain lovers should be happy, though, since this event could dump up to 3 feet (roughly 1 meter) overnight at Mt. Baker and other Cascade peaks.

Gave the Miata a drink this morning and paid nearly $3.50 a gallon for the higher octane juice it prefers.  Gas prices are heading upward, which doesn't exactly break my heart.  While I dislike spending more of my earnings just to fill the tank (though, let's face it, filling up a Miata's little gas tank every couple of weeks is hardly a major expense), $4.00 a gallon for regular fuel seemed, last time 'round, to be the tipping point to noticeable behavior change.  Most of the ginormous oversized vehicles that people were using for their daily commute were parked and small fuel-efficient vehicles became all the rage.  Traffic was noticeably lighter, public transit ridership was up, people actually talked about trip-chaining, and suddenly hybrid vehicles gained serious public buy-in.  Those changes for the positive, in my opinion, are worth the added cost at the pump.  And it only puts us about 20 years behind most of Europe. 

Some morning playlists flow beautifully from one tune to the next, seemingly engineered for continuity. This morning, however, the transition from the mellow and smooth duet of Chris Botti's trumpet and Sting's crooning of the standard In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning was jarringly followed by Pink Floyd's crunchy Young Lust. There simply isn't a good possible segue between those two tracks.  The rest of the playlist worked together just fine, and all of the tracks are good tunes in their own space.

I have no idea why an Alabama-born funk and jazz trumpeter (Fred Wesley), best known for his work with James Brown, should use the British spelling of "neighbourhood" for one of his track titles, but there it is. Spelling curiosity aside, this is a great album (Amalgamation, 2006) from a very good musician.

The full playlist:
  • Chris Botti & Sting: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
  • Pink Floyd: Young Lust
  • The Beatles: From Me To You
  • Fred Wesley: My Neighbourhood
  • Phil Keaggy: Paka
- Posted via iPad

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday, from Weepies to Holiday

Monday again, and the work-week cycle begins anew.  Not that the college is strictly a Monday through Friday sort of place, or even that my work doesn't extend into the evenings or weekends often enough. But, for me at least, my commute-into-the-office scheduled hours are the traditional week days, and Monday kicks of the rotation.  And what a difference one week can make on campus.  Last week, first week of the quarter, even by the early hour I pull in the parking lots were filling and movement was everywhere.  Today, one week in, new routines have been sorted out and the campus was largely still and quiet.  It won't be for long, but at 6:45 AM it still had its housecoat and slippers on, first morning cup of coffee in hand as it shuffled into the morning.

Dark and icy this morning, and while it was too dark and hazy to be certain, I think there is a fair bit of cloud cover hanging over us.  Mostly, streets and sidewalks are just warm enough to be wet, but here and there they are still ice.  It was an easy-but-take-nothing-for-granted drive in.

The television weather-folk have been whipping the locals into a frenzy about the coming "snowpocalypse" that some models (last week and into this weekend) were predicting would hit our metropolitan areas midway through this week.  Not all models showed that, though, and there were some forecasters taking a more moderate view on what the celestial currents might sweep our way.  Small talk, though, replies heavily on weather, so casual encounters were given new energy and breath for the last several days.

This morning's commute shuffle was nicely mixed, and had an unusual number of tunes.  The first tune was really just the last partial minute or so, having started and then paused sometime before this morning, and Epilogue from Grusin's Orchestral Album is a short track. That album introduced me to the Milagro Beanfield Suite, which took me to the movie of the same (if you substitute War for Suite) name.  My reckoning was that any movie with a soundtrack that spectacularly good had to be a very good movie.  Right on both counts.

Billy Holiday was being introduced (sounded like it was Dick Cavett?) as I pulled onto main campus, and was well into the first verse by the time I snaked around to North Campus and parked.  A later recording that reunites her with many of her early recording musicians, the track explodes with the kind of smokey latent emotion that Holiday so uniquely represented.  You got emotion in her singing, to be sure, but you could always feel that you were getting just a sip of the emotion behind her genius. 
  • The Weepies: How Do You Get High?
  • Seamus Egan: The Czar of Munster
  • Tim O'Neill: Red is the rose
  • Dave Grusin: Epilogue
  • Nils Krogh: Disposition
  • Billie Holiday: Fine and Mellow
 - Posted via iPad

Friday, January 7, 2011

Country skeletons from the closet

It's Friday, and it has certainly been a week.  I should look up the moon's phase to see if there is an explanation in the form of extra gravitational pull or something.  While the first week of any quarter is always a hopping time, there has been an additional degree of emotional volume to this week that is out of sort. This is one week I will be glad to put some sort of wrap on come day's end.

Very varied playlist today, yet nothing was jarringly incongruous. Four instrumental pieces and two vocals, one of which is a sort of skeleton in my musical closet. Having grown up surrounded by mostly country music, I find I have a low tolerance for it now and little of it in my collection.  However, I do have some nostalgia pieces that have crept in over these digital music years, pieces I sought out for one reason or another and quietly slipped in through the back door when I hoped nobody was looking.

Growing up with country music meant more than just the music that played over the old Grundig stereo my dad brought back from Germany or on the radio (later, eight-track player) in his truck, it also included TV viewing.  The Grand Ol' Opry, Porter Wagner and Dolly Parton's show, the Glen Campbell Show, Hee Haw, Pop Goes the Country, Marty Robbins' show (with that big black and white checked piano!), and Minnie Pearl everywhere with her hat's price tag showing. So the occasional highlight tune from those years will pop up now and then, such as Dolly Parton's original recording of I Will Always Love You.

The Live 8 concert recording of The Long and Winding Road by Paul McCartney and U2 is very good.  Arguably the best recording of that song, and that's saying something.  Terence Blanchard, from the Flow album, was just getting started on Wadagbe as I pulled into the campus.  Like the rest of that most-excellent album, the music is strong and evocative.  It really deserves to be listened to without distractions and (ideally) with a good set of headphones.  There are so many rich layers of musical activity that it takes that kind of focus to experience them all.  Time, alas, I don't have this morning.

The full playlist:

 - Victor Krauss: Here To Be Me
 - Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau: Legend
 - Dolly Parton: I WIll Always Love You (Original Version)
 - Sam Baker: Prelude to Pretty World
 - Paul McCartney & U2: The long and winding road
 - Terence Blanchard: Wadagbe (intro)

 - Posted via iPad.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Winter, dieting, Happiness

For the first full work week in a spell, this one is sure sliding past quickly. Hard to believe it is already Thursday, yet here it is. Cold, dark, and wet: check, must be a winter morning in the great Pacific Northwet.

The other constant for post-holiday winter is dieting. For me, it isn't a new year's resolution (I don't do annual resolutions, per se) but the blunt recognition of additional pounds to shed. I don't diet during the holidays, so January always means a redoubling of effort. Back to tracking, in an iPhone app, every morsel and mile walked, watching portion size, and being mindful about food. It's really not hard, but it does require consistency.

I really like this morning's shuffle selection. A good combination of tunes and styles, serendipitously blended. Andrew Bird is an amazing musician. An indie-folk one-man band. There is a good TED session of him performing that is worth watching, if you are not already familiar with his music.

The Weepies were back this morning, as well, with the title track of their album Happiness:

Got a charger, no cell phone, I can't call out
Unless it's to cry your name out the open window
To a sky that looks right back
And says it's never seen rain
Sometimes you gotta start clean
You gotta begin, not begin again

It's a mean town but I don't care
Try and steal this
Can't steal happiness

Today's full playlist:

- Andrew Bird: Sectionate City
- Belle & Sebastian: I Took a Long Hard Look
- Sigurd Rós: Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa
- Robert Walter: Kickin' Up Dust
- The Weepies: Happiness

- Posted via iPad.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What the birds don't hear

It's Wednesday and the rains have returned. I almost appended, "at last" to the first sentence, but I know it won't be long before I'd regret that sentiment. At least we don't have to bother with icy roads or cars on the roads that haven't taken time to scrape their windows. Now we are back to our most-familiar weather pattern, for better and worse.

This morning's playlist had another of those magic transitions between songs. Shifting from The Weepies' Simple Life to Rocco DeLuca's Mercy, the ending of the one song and the opening piano work on the next could not have been more perfectly matched. I've listened to project albums with less perfect transitions between songs.

I love the lyrics in Simple Life, especially the opening verse:
When I get up in the morning, put the kettle on
Make us some coffee, say hey to the sun
Is it enough to write a song, and sing it to the birds
They'd hear just the tune, not understand my love for words

Well, I hear your love of words, Deb and Steve, and that is one of the reasons I have most of your recordings in my library. Good stuff.

Here is the full playlist from this morning's drive in:

- David Gray: You're the World to Me
- The Weepies: Simple Life
- Rocco DeLuca & The Burden: Mercy
- Sixpence None The Richer: Puedo Escribir
- Frank Sinatra: I've Got You Under My Skin

- Posted via iPad.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bug Music

Tuesday slipped quietly in much like the Monday that proceeded it, dark and still cold, though with a bit more cloud.  It is 32º F (0º C) now and the forecast calls for a balmy 44º today, then staying above freezing tonight.  Maybe our hill will finally thaw.  It hasn't changed since the first snow and ice layer was laid down several days ago, still a sheet of unbroken ice.

Today's soundtrack was mostly slower paced and, I would say, contemplative.  David Ford was wistful, Hornsby can make even a slower (for him) tune sound energetic with his keyboard work, and Bollani was calm and pastoral with his piano work.  Don Byron was the exception, with a silly bit of cartoon nostalgia music from his fun album, Bug Music

The New York Times review of the album said, in part, "Don Byron likes to use jazz reperatory to nudge compsers from the fringes into public consideration. His music often arrives in the form of an argument, and on 'Bug Music', he argues for the reputation of the swing band leaders John Kirby and Raymond Scott as underappreciated rebels and genre colliders with a distinct link to Duke Ellington."  Fun stuff.

The last tune, by Sigur Rós, is a wonderfully melodic and rhythmic, as well as downright beautiful.  It is one of those tunes I can rewind (I guess we say replay these). Soft, yet soaring, it is one of my favorites.  A nice way to end the morning commute.

The full playlist:

 - David Ford: Train
 - Bruce Hornsby: Solar
 - Don Byron: Wondering Where
 - Stefano Bollani: Antonia
 - Sigur Rós: Olsen Olsen

Monday, January 3, 2011

May our days be as dynamic as a shuffled playlist

Monday morning, dark and crisp.  Crisp like a new unused two-dollar bill and, with a light dusting of frost on the trees along my route in, a similar shade of white-gray-muted green.  The first challenge was getting up our hill, which has never unfrozen from last week's snow and ice.  The Miata is rear-wheel drive, but does have winter tires (not studded).  The tricky part is that from our driveway we have to pull out and turn left up the hill, and that turning uphill on a sheet of ice can be, quite literally, a non-starter. I turned off the slip-control (which, in a case like this, would only cut power to the driving wheels if they slipped, resulting in no-go), and left it in first.  Slow and steady does the trick, as the old saying goes.  Once over the hill, the roads were pretty much dry and bare the rest of the way in.

Today is a first, several times over.  First workday of the new year, first full work week in a few, first day of classes for winter quarter (at our college), and the first day for our college's new president.  We celebrate the passing of an old year and the start of a new year, though we really only move one day forward at a time. We can just as easily celebrate the small firsts and beginnings along the way. I am reminded, though I can't quite put my finger on why, of the poem How Things Work by Gary Soto:

Today it's going to cost us twenty dollars
To live. Five for a softball. Four for a book,
A handful of ones for coffee and two sweet rolls,
Bus fare, rosin for your mother's violin.
We're completing our task. The tip I left
For the waitress filters down
Like rain, wetting the new roots of a child
Perhaps, a belligerent cat that won't let go
Of a balled sock until there's chicken to eat.
As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.

Each quarter I feel the same way, it is good to see the campus coming back to life as the students return.  Yes we have lost much of our state funding over the past three years, and yes we are overcrowded with record numbers of students seeking to accomplish their educational goals, but like a large family that sometimes feels too noisy, too crowded, or too much trouble, I still love it.  Things change and we experience firsts and new, but would we really rather have the static alternative?  Not for this little gray duck; I'm glad things are starting back up today and looking forward to see what happens next.

Speaking of starting back up, it is time to document another short playlist of randomly shuffle-selected tunes from this morning's commute:

 - Brian Withycombe: My Heart Will Go On
 - Electric Light Orchestra: The Whale
 - Annie Lennox: Sing (Full Length)
 - Bob Dylan: Gotta serve somebody

At the start of a new year, though, it seems relevant to ask myself why I bother doing this every work-day morning.  Viewed against the long-view passage of time, this post and this small list of tunes and musicians is totally inconsequential. These musings are, after all, very finite.  Like Douglas Adams' total perspective annihilator, this comparison only highlights the insignificance of the minutia of our lives. 

Maybe no one other than myself sees most (all?) of these morning jottings, but the exercise of recording them and starting each day thinking about, at the very least, music and the day ahead, is a purpose in and of itself. It creates a way to start the day not caught immediately up in the mechanics of another just-like-yesterday-and-just-like-the-day-before-and-so-on..., and I think this is an important perspective-granting action. Music as catalyst of thoughts beyond the task-list for the day, hopefully just a dynamic as a shuffled playlist.