The Journey of 10,000 Songs

Posted in Dancing about architecture on January 21st, 2015 by bill

About two and a half years ago I bought a new MacBook Pro. Unlike my previous laptop, it didn’t come with any music preloaded, so this was a chance for me to start from scratch with an empty iTunes library.

At first, I loaded only albums from 2012 to force myself to listen to recent music. Then I added stuff from 2011, and then 2013 when the time came. Then I wanted to have staples like the Beatles and the Stones, so I relaxed the rules, and from there things started to get out of hand. Around this time I discovered that it’s pretty easy nowadays to take your laptop to the library and burn to your heart’s content, without bothering to check stuff out and return it. My friend Robert gave me a memory stick full of Sly and the Family Stone and Madlib mixes. I got 8 CDs’ worth of both Johnny Cash and James Brown. You get the picture.

Fast-forward to today, and I just reached the 10,000-song mark. This seems like a good time to step back and reflect for a minute. Of course, 10,000 songs represents only the merest fraction of my total collection, but that’s still a lot of music; to be precise, 26 days, 5 hours, 4 minutes, and 56 seconds’ worth. So I could still theoretically listen to all of it during the month of February, as long as I didn’t sleep. If I just made a job of it and listened to 8 hours a day, it would take me 79 days to get all the way through, assuming I didn’t add anything more in the meantime. Which is unlikely.
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My Six-Word Review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice

Posted in Moving pictures on January 12th, 2015 by bill

That is one shaggy dog, man.

Nothing Has Changed – Part 3 (Disc 1)

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on January 8th, 2015 by bill

“I’m exhausted from living up to your expectations.”
—Jareth the Goblin King, Labyrinth

One of the perks of being David Bowie, with a long and distinguished career behind you, more money than God, and an inexhaustibly deep well of heavy heavy cool to draw from, is that you can do whatever you want.

Last year, what David wanted to do was release a career retrospective that includes greatest hits, unreleased tracks, and songs he felt were insufficiently appreciated. He also recorded two new songs, one of which (“Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)“) leads off the three-disc, reverse-chronological-order version of Nothing Has Changed. (There are also double-vinyl and single-CD versions, each with different track listings and sequencing.) I must admit that despite my best efforts I have been unable to find a way to enjoy this song; it does not seem to be designed with enjoyment in mind.

“Sue” is perhaps best viewed as the latest step in the pas de deux between Bowie and Scott Walker, which has gone on for 40-some years now. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around but it’s quite possible that, as great as we all think being David Bowie must be, what David Bowie really wants is to be Scott Walker. My theory on this is that despite his artistic adventurousness, Bowie has always been somewhat constrained by his desire to please his audience. In doing so he has become rich and famous, but I wonder if he has in some respect felt hemmed in by what people expect of “David Bowie,” and wished for the freedom afforded a Scott Walker, who seemingly cares to please only himself. In the last 20 years Walker has abandoned all commercial considerations and explored completely alien territory that challenges what we think of as music. I don’t personally care for albums like Tilt and Bish Bosch, but there is no denying their integrity.
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Nothing Has Changed – Part 2 (Disc 3)

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on December 31st, 2014 by bill

David Bowie: Artist and athlete

Disc 3 begins in 1975 with “Fame,” which may be the first Bowie song I ever heard; it’s certainly the first one I remember. As with so much of the innovative music of that era that I ended up loving, I initially found it disturbing and frightening. At that point I was not yet a person who controlled his own musical environment; I just soaked up whatever was around me, mostly from the radio, and there was nothing else on the radio like “Fame.” For one thing, it was hard funk when the charts were dominated by soft rock and first-wave disco (funky enough, in fact, that James Brown ripped it off wholesale for a song called “Hot (I Need to Be Loved, Loved, Loved)”). For another, it had that bizarre descending vocal line near the end; surely nothing like it had penetrated my tender young ears before.

But now “Fame” is a comforting old friend, ditto “Young Americans,” which follows it on Nothing Has Changed. Like “Heroes,” “Young Americans” is lyrically ambiguous, to say the least, if not downright grim (consider: “Well, well, well, would you carry a razor?/In case, just in case of depression” or “We live for just these twenty years/Do we have to die for the fifty more?”). But as with “Heroes” that tends to get lost in the sheer sonic bliss and forward momentum of the music. There is a sense here that the Young Americans are maybe not all that bright, that they’ll gladly swallow any poison pill wrapped in tasty candy. And I have to admit I’m right there with them; I love this song regardless.
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Festivus Message 2014

Posted in Whatever Else on December 23rd, 2014 by bill

I had been thinking about getting on here to air my grievances, today being December 23, which is of course Festivus as well as the last day of Hanukkah (this year). But I was having a hard time thinking of any; I don’t have much to kvetch about in my personal life, and while I could get on my high horse about climate change or the Taliban, really, who wants to hear it?

To the rescue comes Rand Paul, who took to Twitter today to air his own grievances. For example:

First, politics in general: As a Doctor, I was trained first to do no harm. Wouldn’t it be nice if politicians started from that premise? But we get “politics is the art of looking 4 trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly&applying wrong remedies.”

Hey Rand Paul! I got a few problems with you! First and foremost, you are not funny. If you’re going to invoke the spirit of the best sitcom ever made, you should be funny. And, let me say that again, you are not funny.

Also, you are violating the spirit of Festivus, which is supposed to be an (admittedly insincere) alternative to the commercialism of Christmas, by hijacking it for your own political purposes. (And while we’re at it, your political purposes are nonsensical, but that’s really a topic for another time.)

Your intelligence is overrated, and you come across as a smug, pampered asshole who gets everything he wants and doesn’t care what happens to anyone else. It would be nice if you would go away.

Here endeth the message.

Reality Check

Posted in Golden (State) Years on December 17th, 2014 by bill

There are at least 4 things I love about this photo.

I have been superstitiously avoiding writing about the Warriors, because they have been on a crazy run unlike anything I have ever experienced as a basketball fan. After I last wrote about them on November 10, they lost the next game (to the San Antonio Spurs) and then did not lose again until last night (to the Memphis Grizzlies). In between, they ticked off 16 straight wins, raising their record to a surreal 21-2 (now 21-3).

It’s hard to know what to say. This team is very, very good at what they do. They score, they defend, they rebound, they pass. They play with supreme swagger that has not (yet) turned the corner into arrogance. They post fun videos on YouTube and Instagram. It’s a sweet time to be a Warriors fan.

The only sour note is that Andrew Bogut’s knee is acting up, and aside from Steph Curry, Bogut is the one player the W’s cannot afford to lose. He is the defensive anchor and a key cog in the offensive scheme. So now I have something to worry about, which is a much more familiar position to be in. That head-in-the-clouds, it’s-impossible-for-us-to-lose stuff is great, but weird. Reality may set in now; but then again, reality still has the chance to be pretty damn spectacular. So no complaints from this quarter.

Nothing Has Changed – Part 1 (Disc 2)

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on December 8th, 2014 by bill

Funk to funky

I resisted buying the new David Bowie 3-CD anthology, Nothing Has Changed, for the better part of 20 minutes. I already have most of those songs, I tried to convince myself, and it’s unlikely there will be any real revelations among the outtakes and rarities. I had already heard the new single, “Sue (or a Season of Crime)” and decided I didn’t care for it.

But I am weak, and it was not that expensive, so my resistance did not last. And although everything I told myself is true, I can’t say I regret the purchase; the opportunity to hear new Bowie songs, or old Bowie songs in a new context, is always welcome.

The gimmick in this set is that it is sequenced in reverse chronological order, which definitely changes the narrative, turning Bowie into an artist who starts off experimental and abstract but self-assured, goes through a long shaky period, and emerges from it as a mind-blowing rock’n’roll superman, before petering out in a series of derivative, underdeveloped, but not charmless singles.

I actually cheated a little bit and listened to discs 2 and 3 first, because I was on a car trip with two teenage girls in the back seat and I didn’t think they’d sit still for a full disc of late-period Bowie. Even so, we all got a little restless during “Buddha of Suburbia” and “Jump They Say,” but to the rescue, surprisingly, came “Time Will Crawl” — a refugee from the abysmal Never Let Me Down, but in this context it sounded great. (The version included here, the “MM Remix,” may be better than the original, which I haven’t heard for a while.)
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Tuesday Night in A-Town

Posted in Dancing about architecture on December 3rd, 2014 by bill

A not-so-great picture of Sallie Ford and her band.

Last night is one that I’d like to remember. It started off shaky but ended up great, and some lessons were learned along the way.

Lesson #1: I really don’t like jazz all that much. Or certain kinds of jazz, at least. As part of a general program to try to shake off old biases and enjoy as many kinds of music as possible, of late I’ve relaxed my strict “no jazz” policy and tried to find a way to enjoy what is, after all, a huge and diverse genre. And I’ve made some progress, discovering a fondness for Miles Davis especially.

So when I saw that the Bad Plus was included in our subscription to the Center Arts season, I was mildly optimistic. They have a reputation as jazz mavericks and have covered songs by the Pixies, Nirvana, and Radiohead. While I haven’t dug deep into their oeuvre, I have heard a few things I enjoyed, and hoped that in a live setting they would do some crowd-pleasing.
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One more time to the well

Posted in Golden (State) Years on November 10th, 2014 by bill

The Warriors lost their first game of the season last night, putting an end to this little flurry of giddy intoxication. I think they will still be great this year, just not perfect. Which is fine.

On the bright side, Draymond Green had a career-high four blocks, which gives me a convenient excuse to use my favorite phrase of the week one more time:

Quoth the Draymond: Nevermore!

Quoth the Draymond

Posted in Golden (State) Years on November 9th, 2014 by bill

Noted philosopher Draymond Green

“Obviously, we’re not looking at it and thinking we’re the best thing since sliced bread. It’s a long season. We’re five games in, but winning is fun.”