The Year in Music, Part 1

Posted in Dancing about architecture on December 30th, 2005 by bill

Despite 2005 being a year of financial fear and loathing, I seem to have managed to acquire quite a few CDs. So I figure I might as well write about them. I may be able to use them as a deduction.

Today’s selections are two albums that just seem to go together: Gimme Fiction by Spoon and Get Behind Me, Satan by the White Stripes. They share, for one thing, a color scheme; Gimme Fiction’s cover could just as well be the cover of a White Stripes album, which by law may contain only red, black, and white. They also share a certain dryness of sound, which comes across as perversely retrograde in the digital era, and a reliance on piano on the low end. And while I can’t call either one a bona fide classic at this point, both hint at depths that may reveal themselves more fully in the future.

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Vigoda Outlives Another One

Posted in Moving pictures on December 28th, 2005 by bill

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I am saddened to report that we recently lost one of the great character actors, Vincent Schiavelli, who died of lung cancer on Dec. 26.

You may think that you don’t know who Vincent Schiavelli was, but you’re wrong. Study the photo above and you’ll recognize him from such movies as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Night Shift (or from such lesser work as Death to Smoochy, 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up, or The Gong Show Movie). He also had an extensive TV resume, including an especially memorable role as Latka and Simka’s priest on “Taxi.”
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The Ache in Spades

Posted in Dancing about architecture on December 23rd, 2005 by bill

There’s a quality in certain music that I like to call the Ache. Those who have a gift for it can express all the delicious complexity of human life—the love, the loss, the longing, and all those things starting with “L”—in a three- or four-minute song. Sinatra had it. Billie Holliday had it, and Hank Williams, just off the top of my head.

I’m in the mood for the Ache these days, so it’s a damn good thing I recently acquired the 4-CD boxed set called The Immortal Soul of Al Green. Al has the Ache in spades. It’s only one of his modes, of course, alongside the preacher and the swaggering sex god. But when Al really reaches for the Ache on a song like “Simply Beautiful”…well, time stops, space disappears. It’s magic.
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Fu: Winter Solstice, Awakening

Posted in A few words from Lao Tzu (or someone like him) on December 21st, 2005 by bill

The pulsing of thunder deep down in the earth is hardly noticeable.

The circle is closed. The end and the beginning meet one another in the winter solstice. The thunder, hidden in the earth, indicates that movement is coming. It cannot yet be heard, only felt. So it is also with the return of light, symbolized by the strong bottom line. Days are lengthening again, but this is noticeable only after the seventh day.

Fu is about the triumph of life, created by the interaction of heaven and earth. Light will always defeat darkness, which is why progress will be guaranteed with every movement.

The wise rulers of the past interrupted all activity on this day. This is a time of silent awakening.

-Frits Blok, I Ching: A Spiritual Guide, Chapter 24

(For another interpretation of hexagram 24, see the Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn.)

The War on Christmas Music

Posted in Dancing about architecture on December 16th, 2005 by bill

There’s a lot to like about the holiday season: time spent with family and friends, plentiful food and drink, groovy twinkling lights. But one thing I hate about it, and don’t seem to be able to avoid, is Christmas music.

My policy on this is very simple. If it’s a holiday, then it’s meant to be celebrated and enjoyed, and that means listening to good music, not sucky music that happens to be seasonally appropriate. There is holiday-themed music that doesn’t suck, but not much; “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong’s version of “Winter Wonderland,” and precious few others make my list. Of course you can get into the parody or anti-Christmas genres—or you can listen to Santa Doesn’t Cop Out on Dope six or seven times—but on the whole I’d rather just forget the whole thing and listen to whatever I’m going to enjoy the most.

With that in mind, I’m thinking I’m going to spend some time focusing on the year’s best music. But first, I’d like to talk about a few albums from 2004 that I was a little late in gaining appreciation for.
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And now, a brief seasonal message

Posted in A few words from Lao Tzu (or someone like him) on December 4th, 2005 by bill

I recently came across this piece, which beautifully sums up how I feel about Christmas, in the pages of Playboy magazine, of all things. I bought it because it had Marilyn Monroe on the cover. I have very little interest in the fake plastic women that populate the magazine’s pages these days, so after Marilyn I found myself reading the articles.

Anyway, it is entitled “A Christmas Sermon” and was written by the agnostic thinker and speaker Robert Ingersoll in 1891. I recommend that you print it out, put it in your wallet, and pull it out and read it whenever holiday stress starts to get you down.

The good part of Christmas is not always Christian; it is generally pagan—that is to say, human, natural.

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NaNoWriMo Wrapup

Posted in Whatever Else on December 1st, 2005 by bill

Even though I broke all of NaNoWriMo’s rules, and didn’t come anywhere near their desired word count, I’m going to go ahead and call November a success—because progress was made, and that’s all I care about.

I had forgotten how hard it is to write fiction (or semifiction, anyway); you have to like, make stuff up, and that takes time. When it goes poorly, it’s like pulling teeth; but when it goes well, it definitely improves the day.

Anyway, if anyone is interested in seeing the story continued, I’d like to hear from you. And be honest, because at this rate it’ll probably take me five more years to finish, and I’d just as soon not be bothered. Muchos gracias, anyway, if you’ve been reading.