Friday, December 31, 2010

top 5 stories of 2010

This will be the last in my series emulating the banal, creepily nostalgic pop culture artifact of reviewing the past year as it reaches its end. I won't use a headline like the San Francisco Chronic did today (Explosive losses, Giant victories), because eywwh.

Instead, I'll do a reverse-order top 5 kind of list. Those are always really uninteresting, aren't they? Gee, whatever could the top 5 stories of the year 2010 be? It's just that they write up all this stuff in early December so nobody actually has to work between Christmas and New Year's. Basically, almost nothing of global import happens during that week, except the occasional bombing, or attempted bombing, or maybe an assassination plot - nothing that won't keep until Monday morning, anyway.

5. The Apocalypse

This didn't actually happen. We did drive through Bakersfield on the way to and from LA several times, but that's really only a metaphor for the Apocalypse, not the actual event. This is what I tell myself over and over whenever we drive through. It helps.

4. Avalanche buries Cow State Santa Claus

This didn't happen, either. What did happen was the ongoing unrest on campus from Fall 2009 morphed into protests against the administration on March 4 and in the summer, related to some kind of event on campus the nature of which has slipped from my memory.

The avalanche referred to here is, like Bakersfield, metaphorical. It could be an allusion to the shredded non-existent documents allegedly the private property and garbage of a university official who maintained the non-existent documents on university property but which documents, had they existed, would not be university documents. Yes, that's right, it's an avalanche of bullshit. But seriously, what other kind could possibly strike our campus, given the topography around here (to say nothing of the climate)?

3. Former college instructor arrested following crime spree

This also didn't happen, but it was a near miss. Through much of the Spring semester, it seemed 90% certain that all or most of my work in the department would be cut. The philosophy job market nationwide was practically non-existent, as well. I had one interview, that I botched, for a job at a community college in Ohio where I wouldn't have been happy.

Given my advanced educational attainment in the humanities, my career options would have been sorely limited. Other than returning to school for something else, my best bet would have been a life of crime. I used to be pretty good at stealing stuff and breaking into places.

I'm glad to be teaching ethics, instead.

2. New enlightenment flourishes in social life and politics

Now I'm just making shit up, just like the pros do it. Although, even here, there's a grain of truth, if by "enlightenment" we mean an era of shrill, screeching, pandering, fear-mongering, and slander.

1. 2011 canceled due to budget cuts

We can't be sure this won't happen until midnight tonight. Given how many state budgets are in the crapper, and how poor the economy continues to treat most of us, states like California and Arizona could try this as a way to reduce deficits, or at least shift attention away from their gross irresponsibility when it comes to dealing with fiscal realities.

On the other hand, given how well the economy treats people who still profit from it, and how much they stand to benefit from this continuing, and paupering states in the process while they collect interest, tax breaks, and public money in the form of fees paid to outsource formerly public services like education, probably 2011 won't be canceled at all, it'll just be a repeat of 2010.

I don't know about you, but I'm planning to have bubbly on hand for the countdown.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 - a year in words and numbers

My series of entirely useless summing-up posts continues, this time taking up these spent and emptied examples of the genre.

Apparently, the OED added 39 words in 2010, including the vomitous defriend and staycation, the oddly old-fashioned fussbudget and buzzkill, the ubiquitous exit strategy, and the rarely-useful steampunk, quantitative easing, and microblogging. One imagines the difficulty of using all of these in a single sentence, although such a sentence could be a promising entry in the annual Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest.

Of course, my own efforts in bad writing this year were restricted to participating in National Novel Writing Month - in which I completed the 70,000-word satirical Autobiography of Biff Nerfurpleberger. The book contains approximately 4 narrative voices, the two main ones being Biff's own, and his competing autobiographer, someone called Simon Ratmason - both of whom are unreliable narrators. Biff is a bad writer because he's completely inattentive to the fact that he's writing, or, at times, what he's writing. Simon's a terrible writer in the tradition of most celebrity biographers, especially musician biographers. It was great fun to write, even the hideous parts by Simon that made me cringe, or worse. I think, if you're writing a work of fiction, and you're yelling at your narrator, you're doing some worth doing.

Some more words related to 2010 include: peanuts, yeast, turtle, frustrating, delicious, hilarious, and subjection.

And now, some numbers.

0 - the number of remaining payments on Eddie Jetta.
10 - the number of courses at my birthday dinner party.
10 - the number of people at my birthday dinner party.
2 - the number of cats currently living with us.
13.5 - the number of pounds the lighter one weighs.
1 - the number of purple-handled scissors on my desk.
1 - the number of manufacturers who still build tape decks, apparently.

Also: 37, 117, 90, 12, 64, i, 41,233, 0.02.

Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 - the year in review, in terms of threats to homeland security

The following review interprets and determines threat levels regarding the relevant ongoing concerns.

Threat #1: Job Security

Despite constant threats to Job Security during 2009 and early 2010, Employment has remained intact. Current threats to Employment include long-standing political attacks on humanities, specifically philosophy, and ongoing state budget crises, coupled with withdrawal of public support for public universities. A new three-year "temporary" appointment was obtained in August, however, continuing state budget issues and local campus fiscal irregularities create an environment in which insurgency should be anticipated.

Threat Level: Yellow ("Elevated"). California's large budget deficit will continue to threaten Job Security for at least the remainder of this three-year "temporary" appointment. In addition, bargaining between the CFA and CSU point to emergent threats.

Threat #2: Health

Local conditions have resulted in resurgence of both depression and anxiety, culminating in two adverse events during 2010. In June, an outbreak of anxiety led to a full-scale panic attack on a commercial flight bound for NYC-JFK, forestalled only through the heroic efforts of on-board civilian medical personnel. In October, a depression insurgency arose; however, counter-insurgency by NaNoWriMo forces prevented any significant gains by the enemy.

In response to the panic attack, a summer program of health review and restoration was undertaken, with positive results including a wide reduction in stress, decreasing resting heart rate, and general improvements to preparedness. The October plot was undermined successfully as well.

Ongoing local threats include Feline-centered Urinary Tract threats, as well as Loveliest-Targeted threats that have, thus far, remained impervious to intelligence efforts.

Threat Level: Yellow ("Elevated"). It remains unclear when, if, or how these enemy covert operations may be launched. Constant surveillance continues to be necessary.

Threat #3: Canadians

It remains clear, as 2010 nears its close, that the biggest single threat to local security conditions in this area is posed by Canadians. The nature and extent of the threat is considered so serious that no detail of any kind, and no vague allusion of any kind, may be provided in this report, for fear of undermining security and intelligence efforts in this area.

Threat Level: Red ("Severe").

Saturday, December 18, 2010

landmark 650th post!

A few random items.

It's been a while since I posted anything about food or cooking. Last night was pizza night here, which can mean some combination of things. Last night I made my famous notorious gorgonzola béchamel sauce and schmeared one pizza with that, adding fresh mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, scallions, kalamata olives, and crimini mushrooms (which I always pronounce like a euphemism for "Christ" that some folks enjoy, notably my Dad). I also made what I would love to call pizza sauvage or something equally pretentious, which is just dough with a coating of olive oil and sprinkled sea salt with toppings (the salt is, in this case, Hawaiian red salt, dried and cured in clay pots, old school, because, as has been mentioned in this space from time to time, I am a foodie snob in possession of 8 different salts and 5 peppers at any given moment, and let he among ye who isn't some kind of junkie cast the first paraphernalia). The naked pizza had diced tomatoes, criminis, fresh mozza, etc. etc., and spinach on it. It was one of the best pizzas I've ever made, in my estimation.

In my mind, the pizza orgy was to celebrate being 99 44/100% done grading for the semester. Lawdy, do I hate grading. But there it is. I have one paper, for one orphaned student for whom I am volunteering my work to be a project adviser, to go.

I already have received one complaint about grades, and it's a valid one, I think. Most grade complaints are, in my experience. I'm not perfect. I don't even add well.

Before I stop wasting everyone's time with this useless post, I'll pause to mention two things:

(1) That I'm planning a series of Year In Review posts, and

(2) I'm off to play a guitar lesson for an elaborated fingerstyle version of "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel."


And also that I dreamed all night of weird goings-on on our campus (though topographically, architecturally, and geographically transformed) involving former students suddenly getting married; festivals suddenly ending in ways that prohibited my access to my Loveliest, my old Japanese-built Takamine classical, and my car (regarding which, proceed with caution, Dan or Jackson, whoever in my dream world is driving Eddie Jetta); a rude security guard; and creepy people from the university doing creepy things (who shall remain nameless).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

crazy busy

I think I'm finally over the rotten head cold that forced me to teach the last week of classes via charades. Apparently, people don't play charades any more. I joked that I was playing charades in class, and proceeded to make the charades sign for "movie," but not one person played along. It's also pretty hard to perform charades of ethical concepts or abstractions like "obscenity."

The week before that I was grading term papers, to get them back for possible revision. That was the same week of way too much holiday musical performance. In one week, Lauren had her long dress rehearsal and two performances with the MSO chorus, then we saw the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus the evening after the second, matinee, MSO gig. The very next afternoon we went to Carolfest on campus, and last Saturday we went to the Central West Ballet performance of the Nutcracker. There's one more, next Tuesday - the Candlelight concert with MSO.

Final papers, and finalized term papers, are just starting to roll in, so I'll be looking at between 120 and 240 papers, depending on the various options my various students take. That's at least 100 too many, give or take.

Holiday shopping has been, perforce, hasty. Of updating this here online public journal, not a whit. However, in the course of writing the madcap and thoroughly alleged autobiography of Biff Nerfurpleberger, I dropped the names of various songs Biff composed and recorded throughout his career. I've had to write and record two of them, just out of compulsion. The second one, yesterday's achievement, is a seasonal song called "Don't Shoot! It's Santa! (And Rudolph too!) (And Frosty!) (And Jesus!)" Be forewarned that I may post to teh Interwebs.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

good day

Today was a good day. My Bioethics class was pretty good – there were some good questions about Foucault’s critique of scientific discourse, and its application to the scientific discourse of medicine (through Canguilhem). My class is populated largely by nursing students who take the course to fulfill both the humanities GE requirement and their own program’s requirement for ethics education. The recent course material presented them with some serious intellectual challenges, and I decided to spend the class session today reviewing some of the concepts and trying to lead them to a deeper appreciation of the meaning of the critique for their own (future and present) practices.

One student asked a question about exactly that, and framed it in a very intriguing way. She prefaced by saying that for the last two weeks we’ve been discussing these issues, she has struggled in her nursing classes with accepting the assertions about medical conditions, diseases and deviations from “normal” physical conditions. If this is the “freedom” that Foucault’s critique leads to – the free choice regarding how and to what disciplinary practices and discourses we submit and subject ourselves through – then, she remarked, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Another student remarked that she was also struggling with that.

Score! A sort of ultimate ideal of teaching, for me, is to create the conditions under which a student can produce a powerful critical knowledge that matters for them intellectually and personally. Basically, when students are upset, I win. (I’m putting that in a deliberately contentious way.) Then another student chimed in on the same subject, objecting to Foucault’s critique in one of the classic ways – that his critique doesn’t tell us how to make ongoing social arrangements we rely on continue to work.

This is a class I’ve struggled with. It’s a good class – even a little too good, if you catch my meaning – and it’s been hard to provoke them to talk about the ethical questions I’ve tried to pose to them. There have been occasions over the semester when it has seemed they’ve been awake and aware on the level I’ve wanted to reach – a level of fairly significant discomfort, frankly. But I never felt I’ve been able to keep them working, thinking, and upset at that level.

After class, two very academically prepared students waited to ask about their term papers, and another student engaged in the discussion waited to ask more questions about Foucault. One of the students was asking where my office was, so she could talk to me during my official hours. Instead, faced with all four of them, I decided to hold my office hour just outside our classroom.

We spent the next hour together – partly talking about their term papers, but also about the discussion in class, what it meant for them in their future practice, how it was affecting their approach to their university lives, what we’d been discussing in class meant in the grand scheme of things medical…

And the magical thing happened, that all of us who teach for a living dream of. Without any prompting, without any provocation, they kept bringing issues, articles, discussions, themes, concepts, and moods and intuitions, that the course was built around, together, in their own discussion, their own understanding. It became clear from their discussion that all we’ve talked about, all we’ve read and discussed, has made a tremendous difference to them, has made them wonder, doubt, and think. I just can’t say how good that felt.

Like I said, it was an hour. I realized the time that had elapsed when the conversation finally slowed, and we realized we had our various places to go. The clock in the hall told me I had not only failed to get to my office for my official office time after class, but had spent twice that time there.

These are incredibly rare moments. They are what makes teaching worthwhile. I’m inexpressibly grateful to you today, gang.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

national novel writing month

So, I'm writing a 50,000 word novel this month. I started on Tuesday, and I've reached 23,000 words. More later on this insanity.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 12 of ??

1. Long December - Counting Crows. Studio version. The live versions from either the VH1 show or the MTV show (we've got a double CD incorporating both of those) are vastly superior. I've never seen Counting Crows in concert, but I imagine they'd be tremendous.

2. Lord Granville - Al Stewart. Nobody sees Al Stewart in concert, of course, and Lord Granville, among all the songs on The Year of the Cat, is one I imagine lease likely to play well live.

3. Los Angeles - X. My Duquesne pal Dave "Dave" Koukal turned me on to X. The first album of theirs I bought was Los Angeles, which contains the song "Los Angeles," and I've never really been sure what I think of the album or the song. The re-released CD had a demo track of "Adult Books," and that's really what got me into X.

4. Los Angeles, I'm Yours - The Decemberists. Okay, I'm sold. As iPods are notorious for doing, mine repeats this song inordinately frequently when set to "randomly" "shuffle" songs. This morning I gave in. You win, Decemberists.

5. Loser - Beck. Get crazy with the cheez whiz all you want, Beck. You're still a loser.

6. Love - The Sundays.

7. Love Always Remains - MGMT. This is one of their more poppy tracks, which I don't think I mean as a pun.

8. Love The One You're With - Crosby, Stills, and Nash. My pal Bobo the Wandering Pall-bearer once started yelling about Israel and Palestine when this came on the radio in the car. It's not really about religious, cultural, and political conflict.

9. Love, Reign O'er Me - The Who. I'm a total sucker for this song, and it's not just Townshend's descending electric guitar line, but also Roger Daltrey's absolute pummeling of the vocal. Just soak in the genius.

10. Madame George - Van Morrison.

11. Magic Bus - The Who. It's almost hard to believe the same guy wrote this. But also genius.

12. Maginot Waltz - Ralph McTell. A cute little ditty about the singer and his pal Albert hanging around playing music and the singer trying to cozy up to Albert's cousin Marjorie, with a very cool chord progression, until it turns all off-to-war in the surprise finish:

Nine o'clock come round we had to take the charabanc
Albert was too drunk to play the banjo but still we sang
All except Marjorie, I could tell at a glance
Because me and Albert was leaving for France.

I said "We'll both be home in a week or two
Me and Albert and Lord Kitchener will teach the Hun a thing or two.
I'm sure to return, after me do not yearn
And we will waltz together all our lives through."

Did they? Well, certainly not in two weeks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 11 of ??

1. Lapsing With Drainpipe - Grogshow.

2. Last To Know - Neil Finn.

3. Laughing - Winterpills. Three mopey indie/alternative tunes in a row. I needed this?

4. Lazy Line Painter Jane - Belle and Sebastian. That's more like it. I love the ambiguous gender/sex/sexuality stuff in the chorus as the song progresses: "You will have a boy tonight/ You will have a girl tonight / On the last bus out of town..." This version is from a collection of random bits and pieces, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds.

5. Leave It Like It Is - David Wilcox. My friend Nancy knew him when he was scratching out a living playing fingerstyle guitar in coffee shops in the mountains of North Carolina. And now where is he? I think he's scratching out a living playing fingerstyle guitar in coffee shops. Who says show biz doesn't pay?!

6. Leif Erikson - Interpol.

7. Length of Love - Interpol. The more I listen to Interpol, the more I'm willing to accept them into my musical life. They have a good chunky feel. They may be one of those who deliberately title songs so they play consecutively when people play all the songs on their iPods in alphabetical order (I'm looking at you, R.E.M.). Or I might be paranoid.

8. Life And How To Live It - R.E.M. Aha!

9. Life Being What It Is - Kaki King. I love this song. I love Kaki King. She doesn't love me. Life being what it is...

10. Life Is Hard - Bob Dylan. Or as Dylan would say.

11. Lion - John Fahey. Fahey wrote this song about his cat, Lion, after Lion's death. The separate parts are a romping blues and a slow, sweet ballad, and, on my listening at least, capture two essential cat moods.

12. Lips Of The Goddess - Grogshow.

13. Listening For The Weather - Bic Runga. Apparently one of the biggest names in New Zealand pop music, I only know Bic Runga because of this song about the ineluctable vicissitudes of weather, the inevitability of age, and the will to be accepting of each.

14. Little Blue Joy - Paper Cats. A short solo guitar piece of mine, title drawn from a comment Lauren made about a tiny blue wood-sided house somewhere.

15. Living Room - Tegan and Sara. What I like about this song, and what I like about Tegan and Sara, is the sense of their being almost totally out of control. I'm not sure at all I'd like to be around them when they finally lose it.

16. Lonely Rag - Nick Roche. I found this on Soundclick when I first set up my account to share Paper Cats music on the web. It is indeed lonely sounding. If I recall correctly, Roche is from the UK, has some kind of technical job (engineering?), and at 50-something aspires to learn to play better. I need to remember him when, as lately, I despair of ever playing well.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

album of the day: Mr. Demachy - Pièces de Viole

A few weeks ago, my loveliest and I started talking about and listening to more classical music - in particular, cello stuff, and in particular, Bach. About that time, I heard about the music streaming site Pandora, and added Bach to my list of musicians (along with Beth Orton, John Fahey, Bert Jansch, Land Of Talk - a very weird list). Pandora uses something they call musical DNA to identify what similar music you might like, and plays it for you.

It played me two Baroque composers I have since fallen madly in love with: Tobias Hume (of which more anon) and Machy (aka Le Sieur de Machy, or on the cover of this album, Demachy) - both composers and players of the viol, the predecessor of violins, cellos, etc. The Pièces were written sometime in the 17th century, but feel rather pre-Bach, both because of the lack of more modern instruments, and because they're still written in more varied modes.

I realize this is why the musician in me loves this music. It's just not like music that's been made since Bach, since we've standardized and reduced our modes and have perfected tuning and scales of instruments, in particular of stringed instruments. Back then, one viol was much like another, but not identical to another, and the frets on them were adjustable, which would change the way the instrument scaled.

But the real reason I have fallen in love is that the bass viol's range is somewhere between a cello and a viola, and has the sonority and cry that cellos have. The varied musical modes add more to the melancholy of the bass viol's sound, so the whole of it has tremendous emotional punch. You do have to really like melancholy music, though.

The four suites contained in the Pièces are modally and chromatically linked, progressing from D minor, to D major, to G minor, ending in G major. Even the major keyed suites aren't your grandpa Bach's major key, because the intervals are both not quite the usual and the steps aren't quite the same as on Grandpa Bach's blasted violins and cellos.

I want to make my guitar sound like that, and to a limited extent, one can do that by changing the tuning. I keep a crappy Takamine tuned to open-C major, with the low E string tuned down to C, but because the frets are built for higher string tension, the lower tuning distorts the scales. Yippee, I say.

I'd love to get my hands on a bass viol, but my guess is they costs millions of dollars, and I have no experience whatsoever with bowed instruments. Maybe I should look for a lute?

That's the other reason I'm enamored: I love early instruments almost as much as I love early music. They both have an imperfect grace that I'm just a sucker for. The viol, like the guitar, derive from an earlier mainly Spanish-made instrument called the vihuela (there are Mexican vihuelas nowadays, but these are the old jobs, the vihuelasaurus as it were). Viols moved north into France, and eventually England, and somewhere along the way somebody decided to bow them instead of pluck them. Machy has a little pluck left in him, too. It sounds somewhere between a guitar and a harp, hint of banjo in there, rather than like a plucked violin or cello - the sound boxes are smaller and so there's much less of that deep resonance.

Monday, October 25, 2010

terminally tired

We went to our fourth Bridge School Benefit concert Saturday night, through the kind auspices of our pals Jennifer and Andrew. It was, as every year, jammed (the grass seating area was entirely full), chock-full of excellent performances, and very long. It was also rainy at the beginning.

After seven hours of Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, David Lindley, Lucinda Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Idol, Modest Mouse, Grizzly Bear, and, oh yes, Buffalo Springfield, we walked as we have done every year the couple miles back to our hotel. We got to our room at 1:40 AM. We didn't get really properly to bed for another hour.

Up at 9 to grab breakfast and drive home, home by 1 PM, to spend the rest of the day in a muddled state of consciousness. One thing I don't like about Bridge School is that after that much stuff in one evening, I lose the impact of individual performances. The other thing is the exhaustion the next day.

I'm still tired this morning, and just about my first conscious thought this morning was to wonder if exhaustion could be terminal in a literal, medical sense. To the internet I've hied self, then, to find what wisdom I could on the subject.

According to this exchange on Yahoo! Answers, indeed, exhaustion can be terminal. We might, however, question whether the diagnosis of death by fatigue is correctly applied by the, um, roofer who answered.

Something called "Wrong Diagnosis" offers the tidbit that exhaustion death is actually a misnomer for Bell mania. I find this disappointing, because Bell mania is a symptom-related syndrome, rather than a proper diagnosis of death caused by exhaustion. Plus, I'm personally just not that into bells.

I found an online test for an EasyDiagnosis (presumably TM) to determine, from the comfort of your own keyboard, whether you are about to die from exhaustion. The disclaimer uses large bold fonts to tell you, repeatedly, that this diagnosis software, whatever it does, doesn't diagnose. Which may or may not cover the EasyDiagnosis people's asses legally speaking, but sure as heck doesn't answer my question, which is why the hell anyone dying of fatigue would spend their last moments on earth trying to get a computer program to confirm it - or, really, to do anything.

I still, therefore, have no trustworthy information on whether a person in ordinarily fine health can (as they say in the South) up and die from fatigue. I suppose this is the kind of thing I should really ask qualified medical personnel. I'm sure my Kaiser Permanente GP will be happy to hear from me, for the first time in five years, when I email him to ask. Maybe I should ask for a referral.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

down with negativity!

For the last couple weeks I've suffered an unaccountable bout of depression.

All depression is unaccountable, as anyone who's had any kind of treatment for it can tell you. There are only "factors" in depression, no "causes," and no "cures."

One such "factor" is having previously been depressed, which is kind of like saying that there's a correlation between the sun rising Wednesday and the sun rising all over again on Thursday. (Which it has.) My first actually acknowledged and treated depression happened when I was 9. Then again at 14, 19, 22, 27, 29,... you get the general idea.

A major "factor" this time around is that every day I am immersed in a tub full of the vomit and excrement of powerful people. In the media, this mainly takes the form of the resentiment of an ownership class so paranoid and jealous of its wealth and control that it foments fake populisms to pervert democratic processes. At the university, it's the mind-warping inversion of all meanings to preclude any real public accountability or responsibility. On the streets of this town, it's mainly in the trickle-down form of bumper stickers, like the one I see in a parking lot telling me that the driver will keep his guns and money, while I keep the change.

(Which - HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR! Keep the Change!! HAR HAR HAR! I have insane urges to grab people like this and shake them, shove them up against their own vehicles and sneer into their faces while I mutter in barely-withheld violence, "Oh, don't doubt it for a second, buddy. That crazy [derogatory word for African American] in Washington is going to come and take your guns away. And your money.... And your truck.... And your daughters....!" I don't do these things, you understand.)

So, I'm going to try to take a vacation from all that vomit and excrement, give myself a thorough wash. For me, that generally means a refreshing dip in a cool satire pool.

For the next little while, Paul Krassner is my co-pilot.

Friday, October 15, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 10 of ??

1. I Was Meant For The Stage - The Decemberists. Quick, name three other songs with the word "derision" in them!

2. I Will Follow - U2. Way back in the day, U2 were a proto-alternative band with a unique sound.

3. I'll Be Back Up On My Feet- the Monkees. Kind of genius: the staccato rhythm of the lyric and the punchy rhythm guitar give this recording a tremendous forward momentum.

4. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - Norah Jones/Bob Dylan. A very lovely take by Norah Jones on one of The Bob's sweetest ballads. She even retains his long pause on "IIIIIIII'll be yooooooour..." and snap on "ba-by tonight," which is good, because it wouldn't be half the song it is without those.

5. I'll Stop The World And Melt With You - Modern English. For some reason, this is mislabeled on my iPod as being by the Cure.

6. I'm Burning For You - Blue Öyster Cult.

7. I'm In The Mood - John Lee Hooker with Bonnie Raitt. From one of those late-career John Lee 'n' Friends projects that has such mixed results. Bonnie Raitt is no slouch on slide guitar, though.

8. I'm On Fire - Bruce Springsteen. It's Boss's day tomorrow! Er, no, sorry, that's Bosses' Day. Screw that.

9. I'm Only Sleeping - the Beatles. A strangely good fit after "I'm On Fire."

10. I'm Special - the Pretenders. Okay, you have my attention. Geez!

11. I'm The Man Who Loves You - Wilco. Kick-ass distorted/feedback guitar solo. Did you know Summerteeth is 17 years old now? That album can drive a car!

12. I've Been Everywhere - Johnny Cash. Rapid-fire delivery catalog song. It's fun to listen to all the place names and compare with my own (rather extensive) list of places I've been.

13. If I Needed Someone - the Beatles.

14. If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It - Al Stewart. I dunno, Al, it's just so put together, I can't be sure it did come naturally.

15. In My Place - Coldplay. One of the best numbers by the band we're supposed to love to hate.

Hey, by the way, this is my landmark 641st post!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

album of the day: Bringing It All Back Home

My favorite "early" Dylan album includes several well-known songs - "Maggie's Farm," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" being among Dylan's best-known. These songs were very influential, as well. "Mr. Tambourine Man" was famously and popularly covered by the Byrds, who sang one inconsequential verse of it. "Maggie's Farm" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" indirectly affected untold thousands of folk singer-songwriters' socially-conscious efforts.

But the most influential, and most copied, I would argue, is "Subterranean Homesick Blues" - the fast-paced story song made into the famous film of Dylan in the alleyway dropping cuecards on the pavement, literally dropping names/concepts from the song. That film, which tons of people have seen, analyzed (yes, that's Allen Ginsburg; no, it doesn't mean anything), and copied, makes the song seem to be a catalog song - which it clearly isn't - and has led to at least 4 more-or-less satirical mimicries that I know of. First was the obscure Simon and Garfunkel bit, "A Simple Desultory Philippic (or, How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission)," which satirizes the entire genre of folk-rock, which evidently Mr. Simon did not believe his own music was part of. Simon did, however, establish the parameters of the "Subterranean"- style Dylan knockoff with his vague logic and name-dropping - picking up the vibe of the film, rather than the actual song lyric. Second is R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," the logic of which is less clear and which drops fewer names, less coherently. Third is Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire," which is still less logical, drops more names even less coherently, and is the least satirical of the direct ripoffs. Finally, there's the Weird Al Yankovic parody, "Bob," written entirely in palindromes, and complete with parody film.

I think we wanna cover the original "Subterranean Homesick Blues," because it's actually kinda good. That'd be the second cover we'd do from this one album, though, and that rather arbitrarily strikes me as one too many. Lauren also wants to cover "Mr. Tambourine Man," all 290,117 verses of it.

My favorite single track on the album is "She Belongs To Me," a rather ambiguous ode to a woman who the singer might love, might be under the power of, or might really be suspicious of, depending on how you read it. In any case, it's a spooky portrait of a spooky woman, who apparently "paints the daytime black." The song really hit me when I was 18 and suddenly found myself in a very heavy relationship with a 30-year old woman who, in a certain respect, had everything she needed, who was an artist, and who did not look back. It was the first time I felt like I was having the kind of experience that people like Bob Dylan wrote songs about - the first time I felt that the authentic voice of experience of loss, confusion, and heartache could be one I would ever speak with.

I also have serious affection for "Gates of Eden," a pessimistic paean, and the bleak (and, depending on my mood, irritatingly narcissistic) "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." But there's also the ridiculous "On The Road Again" and "Bob's 115th Dream."

Earlier I wrote that Blood On The Tracks would be my Exhibit A in the case for Dylan's greatness as a songwriter. I must have been crazy, because this is clearly the stronger album for overall lyrical cleverness, range of themes, and critical perception and bite.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 9 of ??

Now, for the letter I!

1. I Am A Rock - Simon and Garfunkel.

2. I Am Also A Walrus - Biff Nerfurpleburger. Written because I realized my character/alter ego Biff believes he was a member of the Beatles, and needed to write a post-Beatles self-referential song (like all of the actual Beatles did). I'm pretty sure Biff is not deranged, though most of his fans may believe otherwise. The whole Beatles thing is because he is badly misinformed.

3. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart - Wilco.

4. I Don't Wanna Grow Up - Tom Waits. If you've never seen the video of the song, directed by Jim Jarmusch, it's revelatory - I'm just not sure of what. Jim Jarmusch is not allowed in the house.

5. (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea - Elvis Costello. Well, then, don't go, Elvis. Do I have to explain everything to you?

6. I Feel It All - Feist.

7. I Found A Letter - Paper Cats. Not my favorite of ours. I wrote it one evening when I found a letter or something written by my ex. Seeing her handwriting was really weird, and brought back a lot of very bad memories, so I wrote them all in a song. As one might imagine, it's not a very nice song.

8. I Found A Whistle - MGMT. I don't know what was happening when they wrote this. I'm guessing its allegorical. Or apocryphal.

9. I Guess I Planted - Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie. Union song!

10. I Kicked A Boy - The Sundays. The Harriet Wheeler of the date this song was recorded would probably be welcome to kick me a few times. She's got one o' them voices, I tells ya!

11. I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts - X. Not only does this song express John Doe's bad conscience about being an American, but it also incorrectly foretells the doom of American bands. Hah! Stick that in yer pipe and smoke it, X fans!

12. I Remember California - R.E.M. Yes, California is on the edge of the continent. Very informative, Michael.

13. I See Your Face Before Me - Miles Davis. I only know this Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz song from Miles' mid-50s recording, which is painfully desolate. Someone once wrote that no one else has ever been able to express loneliness and forlornness like Miles playing the trumpet. Exhibit A right here.

14. I Started A Joke - the Bee Gees. Wow, has this thing utterly failed to remain current, or even viable, in any way, shape, or form. Play it once, I dare you. Does. Not. Work. Especially not after Miles.

15. I Want You - Elvis Costello. Look, Elvis, she's with that other guy, and she doesn't care what you think of him. And quit being such a creep! This is, in fact, an amazing song. If you're in a committed relationship, and you've got a desperate longing for someone else in a committed relationship, and the two of you are alone together, and that person plays you this song, I for one believe it might mean something.

16. I Want You - the Beatles. In fact, not too very different from the previous song - for the first and only time today.

Monday, October 11, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 8 of ??

... more skipping...

Today's list is brought to you by the letter H.

1. Hey Stella - Paper Cats. I write songs for cats. It's just something I do. Stella is one of the cats that lives at Lauren's mom's house in Harbor City. It dislikes everybody but me and Lauren's mom. I almost always greet her by doing a bad Stanley Kowalski, hence the title of the tune.

2. Hideous Towns - The Sundays. One of my all-time favorite moody alternative bands. I used to play Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic on my usually very depressed drives from Punxsutawney back home to Pittsburgh when I taught at IUP. Perfect music for those gray February afternoons.

3. High Fidelity - Elvis Costello. Not to kvetch, Elvis, but hasn't everybody tasted the bitterness of their own tears?

4. High Flyin' Bird - Richie Havens. Beautiful, sad song.

5. High Germany - Bert Jansch. Traditional song of the Thirty Years' War in a typical Janschian setting - acoustic guitar and bass, a little flute, female voice.

6. Higher and Higher - Jackie Wilson. Possibly the most joyful song ever.

7. Hoodoo Voodoo - Wilco/Woody Guthrie. Yet another from the Mermaid Avenue disc. Among the silliest songs ever.

8. Hotel Song - Regina Spektor. Yummy.

9. House of Cards - Radiohead.

10. Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin.

11. How Do You Feel? - Jefferson Airplane. If there's a Jefferson Airplane album other than Surrealistic Pillow that's worth anything, I sure don't know it. It's dated as hell, but who cares?

12. How My Heart Behaves - Feist. I adore Leslie Feist's voice. I hate the backup singing by the band on this track. They shouldn't have done that.

13. How Soon Is Now? - The Smiths. May I be forgiven if I have doubts that Morrissey is human, or that he needs to be loved just like anybody else does?

14. How To Be Free - Paper Cats. From Do Paper Cats Dream of Origami Birds? When I first started writing the music for our 4th cd, I fully intended to write a rock record. This ended up being really the only rock song on it.

15. I Am A Rock

Saturday, October 09, 2010

choral concert, preceded by abject despair, followed by hyperreality

I am a fan of the music program at Cow State Santa Claus. I go to numerous concerts every year, especially choral and jazz performances. But I almost missed last night's concert because I saw no advertisement of the show on campus. None. Zippo. I have received four emails announcing the current theater show, and not one about the choral concert.

Thanks to insider information, we got to the show anyway. And as usual, it was excellently performed.

The Concert Chorale performed Mozart and Mendelssohn, and some people you don't know, but maybe should, like Nunes Garcia, Clements, Van Heusen, and Earnest (though Earnest's name probably isn't important...). Wonderful work by the soloists.

Lousy work by the audience. I have really never heard such a rude and obnoxious audience. First of all, dozens of people arrived late, came into the recital hall and didn't get seats until music had started. The etiquette is that you do that as quickly as you can between songs, not walk in and wander around for a while, waving at your friends. Secondly, don't crinkle yer damn program! Most importantly, if you are going to break the law by recording the performance, don't play back the recording immediately after a song!

The Chamber Singers followed after intermission. Our joke name for the Chamber Singers, which dates back to 2005 I believe, is Daniel Afonso's Elite Republican Guard - which is a weird joke, to be sure. (The Elite Republican Guard were Saddam Hussein's crack military security force, alleged to be the absolutely best Iraqi military personnel. I think I had some idea of their being the troupe/troops Daniel sends out to commit musical murder, mayhem, and mischief, though I can tell you I never put it in such brilliant alliteration before.)

The Chamber Singers are indeed the elite choral singers on campus, who generally work with more challenging material and are basically expected to be professional under all circumstances - handy for enduring such a crap audience. They sang all kinds of stuff you've never heard of before, which is great fun, especially the excerpts from Poulenc's Sept Chansons. (They did numbers 1, 2, 5 and 6. I explained, rather helpfully I thought, that in fact this is the complete version of Poulenc's Sept Chansons - it's just called that because Poulenc was a nutter.) Poulenc was a nutter, and the Sept Chansons include some of his weird intervals and melodrama. The other two highlights of their program for me were another 20th century piece, by Hanson, called "A Prayer of the Middle Ages," which has some of the same stuff I love in Poulenc, and was beautifully sung, and the closing number, "Cosita Linda," which is a bit of fluff, but rhythmically dynamic and featured Daniel playing a shaker and the choir swaying to the beat.

Great, great show. The audience didn't deserve it. Well, okay, some of us did.

Anyway, yeah, this was after a day of feeling utterly miserable, all freaking day. No further comment on that.

Afterward, we stopped in at a party for the choirs, and this morning somebody on Facebook had a profile picture taken at the party. So this morning I'm having this Virilio/Baudrillard moment, staring instantaneous nostalgia in the face(book) over my coffee. For some reason folks' party images posted to Facebook hadn't struck me before, but they really are hyperreal, taken to the extreme - some people spend a great deal of time at parties capturing images of the party, then either posting them immediately or soon after to teh Interwebs, so the party becomes this hyper-real event - you know, like the Gulf War... which ties us back into the Elite Republican Guard joke, and which will close out this rambling for today, not least of all because I have a two-inch stack of student papers to grade.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

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the problem with public education,
or, why Johnny's much-bemoaned fate is probably a red herring

[Caveat: I've worked in public higher education for 13 years, going all the way back to the year I taught at Indiana University of Pennsylvania's satellite campus in Punxsutawney. I went to public school in Maumee, Ohio and Greensboro, NC, and to a public university for my bachelor's degree, UNC-Charlotte. So my perspective might be biased.]

I'm reading a fair bit lately about public education - about funding, success or failure, even purpose. Well, okay, a lot less about purpose. This morning's San Francisco Chronic web site had two stories about public education that, juxtaposed to one another, give a pretty clear picture of where public educational policy seems to be.

The first is a review of the David Guggenheim documentary Waiting for Superman. Guggenheim advocates for ... something (it's not clear what from the review), by following the families of four kids who are hoping to win a lottery to take a spot in a charter school, freeing them from the failed public school they were attending. The Chronic reviewer notes that, on average, charter schools are no better than public schools, and in fact may be marginally worse, and cites with irony the position Guggenheim has cast his protagonists in: "The families that won spots in the schools just won a future for their kids - why wouldn't they celebrate? Everyone else is just someone else's problem."

So, that's point one. Public education is meant to be a public trust and a public good. To me, the whole phenomenon of charter schools, home schooling and so forth are an admission of a tragic loss of faith - not in the schools themselves (they may be objectively crappy), but in public education as an institution and commitment. This is the deepest, most difficult, and most important problem to deal with, because unless there is public commitment to public education, there can be no political will or moral justification to help them.

Instead, many people blame them. And by "them," I mean the scapegoats they pick out, and by "scapegoats," I mean, for the most part, unionized teachers.

So, that's point two. Unions operating in the least socially conscientious way possible advocate the interests of labor groups. That is, they protect jobs and seek higher wages, expanded benefits, and more desirable working conditions. They do so through collective bargaining, in which (a) there is a powerful group called "management" on the other side pushing against the union, and (b) a need to reach a mutual agreement. Whenever you read a story blaming a teacher's union for schools' failures, you should ask what the relationship actually is between unionization and the alleged failures, and you should ask, if the contract they have seems far too cushy for the teachers, why the hell management agreed to it.

I know, I'm bucking the trend of 40 or 50 years of backlash against organized labor. I'm not a labor historian, but I can tell you about what I've seen the California Faculty Association do. Indeed CFA bargains faculty contracts, including the most recent agreement to give faculty their first considerable raises since I've been employed here. Those raises were eliminated by the CSU administration in the first round of budget trouble, because, they said, they had other spending priorities.

CFA has opposed every student fee increase. CFA has advocated for increased state funding for the CSU (while the administration has sat on their hands). CFA has commissioned a study of the economic and fiscal benefit of funding the CSU (an effort the CSU administration has recently duplicated). I don't think there's a better advocate for the CSU, for CSU students, and for the cause of public education in the state. Whatever one imagines the problems are in the CSU, unionized faculty don't seem to be causing them.

Point three is murkier. It's the question of what, exactly, is wrong with public education. Contrastingly, I think the issue of whether there should be well-funded public schools is obvious, and the issue of whether unions are good or bad for schools can have some actual factual basis - and I'm confident how such a debate would turn out (yes, even in the crappiest school districts).

But what's wrong with public education?

The hidden agenda of the "failing public schools" talk has always been: (1) break the unions, and (2) give the public's money to private companies. Various quantitative accounts of what the failures are alleged to be have been marshaled in order to drive the agenda, not in order to arrive at any objective conclusions about what schools do. We don't even know what schools do at that level of generality.

We judge schools subjectively, based on our own schooling experiences, and on our kids' experiences or our neighbors' experiences. I think we have to admit that. Education is not measurable in terms of general outcomes. And why should it be? Is everyone equally talented or industrious? Are the talents and work the school curricula demand even equal across disciplines? But if the true and proper results of education can't be quantitatively measured or even generalized, and if even qualitative accounts of the success or failure of education are going to be subjective, then we may have to face this rather inconvenient fact.

Trust me, I'm a doctor.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

album of the day: Breakfast in America

I'll refrain from any extended commentary on Supertramp, thank you very much. Just take this one album, forget anything else, and you've still got a single work of towering genius, at least as far as pop music goes.

I have the odd feeling about this album, and one or two others, that I've always known it. I feel like this music was familiar to me from before birth, as some weird kind of congenital cultural inheritance. The truth is that my sister had a copy that she played regularly, and I eventually felt compelled to buy one for myself rather than wait for her to play it.

I don't feel one way or another about the quality of the music. It's perfectly fine, perfectly suited to the project as a whole.

Breakfast in America has a perfect pop sensibility, too - bouncy, great hooks, and an ideal balance of cynicism, discontent, and nonchalance. For instance, in my favorite, "The Logical Song," which is the pop-song version of Freud's Civilization and its Discontents, but catchier, Roger Hodgson lumps together education, logic, responsibility, and strict adherence to social and political convention. Once you've been in school, you're trapped in this plastic cage of discipline, with no way out:

Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a radical,
liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won't you sign up your name, we'd like to feel you're
acceptable, respecable, presentable, a vegtable!

Whence into that tight, gorgeous little sax solo by John Helliwell.

Dissatisfaction is a fundamental theme of the album, or at least of Hodgson's stuff, as in the confusedly hopeful travelogue "Breakfast in America":

Take a look at my girlfriend
She's the only one I got
Not much of a girlfriend
Never seem to get a lot
Take a jumbo across the water
Like to see America
See the girls in California
I'm hoping it's going to come true
But there's not a lot I can do.

Good luck with that, Rog. Write if you get anywhere with the California girls.

It's not just Hodgson, either. Rick Davies has his own problems to talk about, for example, in the less well-known "Just Another Nervous Wreck":

Live on the second floor now
They're trying to bust the door down
Soon I'll have a new address
So much for liberation
They'll have a celebration
Yeah I've been under too much stress
And as the cloud begin to rumble
So the juggler makes his fumble
And the sun upon my wall is getting less
Don't, give a damn
Fight, while you can
Kill, shoot 'em up
They'll run amuck
Shout, Judas
Loud, they'll hear us
Soldier, sailor
They'll run for cover when they discover
Everyone's a nervous wreck now

No wonder they're trying to cross the pond.

Even when I was 15, it was interesting to me how strangely disaffected this album is. If I wanted to be very cynical about it, I'd suggest that Davies and Hodgson were deliberately exploiting popular grievances in order to sell records. And I can't really judge that one way or another, in the end.

But I can tell you a couple things.

If you happen to be living through the doomed end of a rapidly failing relationship, and you're pointedly avoiding both this thought and the other party one weekday after work, and you're driving rather far west for your destination directly north, and "Take the Long Way Home" pops onto the radio, it means something.

And if someone you think is lovely suddenly and randomly quotes "The Logical Song" at you, and you know there's no reason it should be there, except that it had to be, and it perfectly and directly addresses you, it means something.

Whether or not it meant anything to Davies or Hodgson.

Friday, October 01, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 7 of ??

1. Fall On Me - R.E.M.

2. Feeling Gravitys Pull - R.E.M. I'm using their spelling, omitting the apostrophe.

3. Feral Children - Beth Orton. Ain't that a great name for a song?

4. Fighting in a Sack - The Shins. And yes, I once more typoed the band name as The Shings. They might as well change their name, eh?

5. Finest Worksong - R.E.M. I wasn't fully aware how many R.E.M. songs start with F.

6. Fire and Rain - James Taylor. Quick, name three other James Taylor songs that aren't about people either going crazy or dying.

7. Fireplace - R.E.M. This is getting suspicious.

8. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - Robert Flack. I wish this song held up better over time. Partly it's the schmaltzy recording and production of this track, but partly, sadly, it is the song.

9. First We Take Manhattan - R.E.M./Leonard Cohen. The is beyond suspicious. R.E.M. close to, but perhaps just a moment beyond the pinnacle of their power, from the Cohen tribute disc I'm Your Fan - the only tribute album I know of whose title puns on a lyric by the honoree.

10. Flash Delirium - MGMT. I'm not sure what to think of MGMT. Some of their more neo-psychelia stuff I like. This isn't some of that stuff. Too much whispering and shouting.

11. Flavor of the Month - The Posies. It's grape.

12. Float On - Modest Mouse. Another band I'm not sure what to think of. You're supposed to like Modest Mouse if you like bands like Coldplay or Radiohead, but I frankly don't see what's so similar.

13. Flying Sorcery - Al Stewart. In late spring and early summer, we kept hearing "Year of the Cat" on the radio, and I eventually downloaded the whole album. Whatever one thinks of it - overproduced, cleverly disguised vapidity; smart pop-rock; significant genre-stretching singer-songwriter meets rock meets prog meets proto-chamber-pop - you couldn't get away with this these days. You'd have to be waaaaay more techno or emo, and that'd wreck the thing.

14. For Marlene - Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog. Possibly the only coherent, and easily the most listenable song on Party Intellectuals. It tells the story of a working stiff's devotion to his kid, and for all of Ribot's brooding and bombast, it's actually rather sweet.

So, I had three comments submitted to recent posts, all spam from a website design joint. Let's see if they prowl again.

Friday, September 24, 2010

this is the week that was

And oh what a week it was.

Has the album of the day been 'disappeared'?

These rumors are baseless. What's happened is I've completely lost track of the Album of the Day feature. I'm at the start of the Fs now, and the big highlights of this week are lost in a haze of meetings, class sessions, and grading, and grating.

And the semester, how goes it?

I've hit the perpetual-motion chunk of the semester, and from here until just about the very end there's no respite from the constant shifting tides of student work. So if anyone sees me on campus, or walking around Turlock, wearing bright yellow ducky water wings, it's because I'm trying to float.

You do realize those are not meant to be life-saving floatation devices for adults, right?


Yeah, it's more of a novelty item for little kids spashing about in backyard pools.

Now you tell me.

Any new revelations or epiphanies to report? You were up to two or three a week during the high point of the summer.


All my epiphantic powers are now focused on the problem of How To Work With Bunches And Bunches Of Assholes - which would be a guaranteed best-selling title - rather than the more pleasurable discoveries of the philosophic life. Plus, I keep playing this same riff, over and over again, that is clearly desperate to turn into a song. I got nothin'.

Still, sanity remains intact, right?

Let's see. This week I've told my students to spend a week not consuming anything made in Asia; suggested it would be a good idea to jam their bodies into the ceiling of elevators whenever they ride them; insisted to them that 10 years ago I was also still male, causing grievous confusion on the part of some, and gender paranoia on the part of others; and I told one class I resented being there because it was Lauren's birthday, then retracted that and said I was just upset because I was longing for the strawberry tart I'd made. In a class discussion of the professional obligation to maintain client confidentiality, I urged a student to tell us the juicy gossip she'd heard about a faculty member.

So, yeah.

What's the outlook for next week?

30% chance of pain!
Grading this afternoon, tapering off in the late afternoon. Pizza this evening, followed by fizzy liquids. Saturday and Sunday, expected in the foothills, followed by the return of grading Sunday evening or Monday morning.
70% chance of thunder-grading Monday night.
For the rest of the week, intermittent grading between classes. For Tuesday's Academic Senate game, expect dense fog, low visibility, and darkness.

Apparently, there's also a 0.00010374% chance of Apocalypse by Wednesday. Be sure to bring your hat.

Monday, September 20, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 6 of ??

1. The Death Of The Clayton Peacock - John Fahey. Eerie tune played with a slide.

2. Diamonds And Rust - Paper Cats/Joan Baez. This is from our latest CD, which is called Do Paper Cats Dream Of Origami Birds?, in case I hadn't mentioned. It sounds really good - way better than I thought it would turn out, on the nth take, the final, successful one, the one after which I said, "Well, I don't care if I never play that song again the rest of my life."

3. Different Drum - Michael Nesmith. Nesmith wrote a handful of terrific songs, and I think I like his version of it better than Linda Ronstadt's.

4. Digging For Fire - The Pixies.

5. Digital Handshake - Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog. Noise. Felt great today.

6. Dirty Back Road - The B52s. Just reaching the corner of Monte Vista and Dels Lane. So if you saw me there at around 9:50 this morning, wondering what I was listening to and thinking about as you passed by, now you know. You'll be more circumspect about asking, next time, too, I bet.

7. Djobi Djoba - The Gipsy Kings. Always brings back strangely fond memories of a time long ago with people I never speak to any more, in a place I hope never to revisit.

8. Do I Do - Stevie Wonder. Friggin' Dizzy Gillespie trumpet solo!

9. Do Re Mi - Woody Guthrie. My favorite Dust Bowl Ballad.

10. The Dolphins - Fred Neil.

11. The Dolphins - Richie Havens.

12. The Dolphins - Tim Buckley.

Now that was a trip. Hearing multiple versions of the same song played by different people is one reason I decided to play all the songs on my iPod in alphabetical order. These are all good, but in this order, Buckley's comes off as the most contrived piece of doggerel ever written.

13. Don't Fear The Reaper - Blue Öyster Cult. Hear that, dolphins?

14. Don't Get Me Wrong - The Pretenders. Oh, Chrissy Hynde, is there any malady you can't salve? Of course there is.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

exciting new ideas for your (political) party!

Among the mysteries surrounding the so-called Tea Party movement is what exactly these self-styled zealots stand for. Usually, zealots are zealots because they believe in something with the core of their being - in the holiness of a, the abomination of b, the - uh - zestiness of c, etc. But as far as I can tell, GOP candidates who have associated themselves with this movement, especially successful ones, have no identifiable political beliefs, let alone a considered, coherent ideology. They're sort of wandering in a vast, vacant desert of politics, and apparently, they hate it.

So, as a service to anyone among them, or just anyone who shares their livid, if not altogether conscientious or self-reflective, anger at their existential bereftitude, I'm offering some new positions, expressed in convenient, poster-board-n-magic-marker-ready slogan format.


This marvel of economic and fiscal policy has its roots in Marxism, specifically in Animal Crackers (1930). Groucho expounds the prudence of the 7¢ nickel: you could buy a 2-cent newspaper, and get the same nickel back again as change. As Mr. Marx put it, a single nickel, carefully spent, could last a family for years. Obviously, prices have changed since the last Depression, so perhaps what we need here is a $7 $5 bill. But you get the idea. The slogan is symbolic.


Foreign policy is often so complex as to defy forecasting, let alone policy-making. Ending conflict with Canada is an easy policy goal to understand, and a campaign promise any aspiring candidate could defend.


The depths of rumor-mongering about President Obama have yet to be plumbed. The great thing about insinuating or directly claiming Obama is secretly Amish is that, if you restrict yourself to screaming about it in the media, the Amish will never come forward with proof. Plus, you could demand that Obama prove he was never at a barn-raising, point out that the Amish don't have cameras, and that therefore he can't possibly prove it. QED.


Since most Americans already seem to agree that the primary legitimating purpose of government is to assure their access to an endless supply of fries, this is sure to win popular support.


Poor Maryland!


Campaign proven! Especially useful if your name is Harrison, for some reason.


Let folks know where you stand. Someone's got to be bold enough to tell the truth about this issue. All these career politicians try to bend words and line their pockets! But the truth needs to be told! (This is also a terrific slogan to include in any candidates' debate, or city council meeting, or any other occasion when more than one person occupies a defined space: the train, an elevator, waiting for the crosswalk light, intimate moments...)


In this day and age, it's just unfounded prejudice that keeps us from making Pat legal. If the government would legalize, regulate, and tax Pat, a large portion of our deficit could be fixed. Everybody knows this.

Friday, September 17, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 5 of ??

1. A Common Disaster - Cowboy Junkies. Cowboy Junkies are one of those bands I feel I should like better than I do. They take more patience than I'm sometimes willing to give to a band.

2. The Con - Tegan & Sara. Unlike Tegan & Sara, who demand more patience than I'm usually willing to give to a band.

3. Conceived - Beth Orton. And unlike Beth Orton, whom I adore without qualification.

4. Countenance - Beth Orton. She named these songs on purpose so they'd turn up in alphabetical order on some jerk's iPod, I bet. Wait, what?

5. Creep - Radiohead. 17 years and multiple parodies later, I submit this still stands up.

6. Crosstown Traffic - Jimi Hendrix. A bajillion years and, I suspect, zero parodies later, still one of the best buzzbox guitar solos ever recorded.

7. Cruelty Humor: Object Permanence - Paper Cats. Lauren's lyric contemplating mortality, our precarious existence, and our dependence on the universe not suddenly becoming offended by that existence.

8. The Crunge - Led Zeppelin. Erg. Whiplash.

9. Crush With Eyeliner - R.E.M. A note to follow The Crunge.

10. Cypress Avenue - Van Morrison. Thankfully, this was after class, on the way home.

11. D'yer Mak'er - Led Zeppelin. More whiplash.

12. Dance Of The Inhabitants Of The Palace Of King Louis XIV Of Spain - John Fahey. This version, from The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick, interpolates some other themes that, Fahey announces, don't have titles.

13. Dancing Days - Led Zeppelin. So there's your Houses of the Holy segment, Al.

14. Dead On The Dancefloor - Earlimart. Yes, they are named after the town about halfway to LA of the same name. They used to pass through a lot on the way to gigs, they say. Sorta indie-post-punk band. For a while, we used to play their album Treble and Tremble whenever we drove through Earlimart, on the Crankster Freeway. The joke lost momentum. Note the "dance" theme dominating.

15. Dear Old Stockholm - Miles Davis. One of my favorite mid-50s recordings of Miles. His version of this old folk tune with his first band with John Coltrane, on his first Columbia album, 'Round About Midnight. This was Miles' first great band, with Red Garland on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums, and Paul Chambers on bass. Chambers would return for another round with Miles and Coltrane in the late 50s.

Whiplash, dancing, Led Zeppelin. That's been the day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 4 of ??

1. Chain of Fools - Aretha Franklin. I've had outstanding luck with opening songs this week. I shall risk offense and say that I believe this is better than Aretha's version of Respect. And to quote Steely Dan - "Hey nineteen, that's 'retha Franklin."

2. Chelsea Hotel No. 2 - Leonard Cohen. My favorite line in this most excellent song is "Clenching your fist for the ones like us who are oppressed by the figures of beauty." Leonard Cohen is allowed in the house, but only if he brings his own booze.

3. Chocolate Jesus - Tom Waits. This completely twisted my entire outlook for the day and established a goofy mood I didn't escape until the walk home. I told my students I became a philosopher when I was 10 in order to impress an older girl I was in love with who was a family friend. It's a true story, but it's still goofy as hell. But how else could I respond to this?

When the weather gets rough
And it's whiskey in the shade
It's best to wrap your savior
Up in cellophane
He flows like the big muddy
But that's ok
Pour him over ice cream
For a nice parfait

4. Christ for President - Wilco/Woody Guthrie. Or maybe it was this that set my mood.

5. Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk - Rufus Wainwright. Or maybe it was this.

6. Cinnamon Girl - Neil Young. Definitely not this.

7. Clap Hands - Tom Waits.

8. Clocks - Coldplay. I suppose I should be deeply suspicious of Coldplay. Oh well.

9. Clubland - Elvis Costello. This was the first song on the walk home.

10. Coal to Cola - Grogshow. Nasty good line: "... the rest of me thinking of all your charms, / and how few there are and how far I go for them."

11. Cocoon - The Decemberists. Pretty and fairly inscrutable song, and not at all goofy, and a great transition from Grogshow to.

12. Coda In Search Of A Song - Paper Cats. An old tune without lyrics, just a 12-string basic track and lead played on an acoustic-electric classical (my trusty Cordoba) with some distortion and echo.

13. Cold Turkey - John Lennon. John Lennon quitting drugs.

14. Come Together - Beatles. John Lennon still on drugs. Time going backwards.

15. Comfort of Strangers - Beth Orton. No evidence of drugs involved.

16. Comfortably Numb - Dar Williams & Ani Difranco. ... and right back on the drugs. Want some cognitive dissonance? Listen to this cover of Pink Floyd.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 3 of ??

I'm skipping a chunk of Bs. They played on Monday, and I neglected to post about them. Sue me.

1. Brown-eyed Girl - Van Morrison. There might be better ways to start your morning walk to work, but I have my doubts.

2. Burn Your Life Down - Tegan & Sara.

3. C'Mere - Interpol. I just started looking into Interpol. But I've always claimed to be a big fan of the Interpol warnings on videos. I cheer them when they come on the screen.

4. California - Semisonic. Found trolling for songs mentioning California. Dan Wilson sings it as "Cal-i-for-ni-a," which is always fun to hear.

4. California Stars - Wilco/Woody Guthrie. This was interrupted by a student walking to school. She asked how long I've lived here (12 years), and I mentioned that, although I've lived here longer than almost anywhere else, I somehow still don't feel like it's home. I think the precarious nature of my employment may have something to do with that. Anyway, home, for me, is where I live with Lauren - and which somehow manages not to be in California.

5. A Call To Apathy (Tentative Title) - The Shins. I typoed the band as "The Shings" twice.

6. Can't Get There From Here - R.E.M. From Fables of the Reconstruction, my album of choice for stomping around the campus at UNC-Charlotte. It still calls up that particular mood of my youth.

7. Candy Everybody Wants - 10,000 Maniacs. Back when this came out, Natalie Merchant had some kind of weird solvent power over me. I melted on contact with her voice. Somewhat less so these days.

8. Caramel - Suzanne Vega. From Nine Objects Of Desire, which was featured very prominently in the late 90s on Harry Shearer's public radio satire program, Harry Shearer's Le Show. For a while, Vega was one of my favorite songwriters. Now she strikes me as a little too neat and tidy.

9. Caribou - The Pixies. Now, talk about untidy songwriting. Like most Pixies songs, this is basically stupid. I love it.

10. Caring Is Creepy - The Shins. Or the Shings.

11. Carolina In My Mind - James Taylor. Confession time: James Taylor creeps me the heck out.

12. Carry On/Questions - CSN. One of the songs that made me want to play the guitar. That gigantic crashing hard strumming opening - woof! The perfect solo that forms the bridge between the Carry On section and the Questions part - I assume by Stills - cazart!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

what's philosophy for?

So there I was, preparing for tomorrow's Contemporary Moral Issues class, re-reading the class assignment, an essay by Margaret Urban Walker about Carol Gilligan's work on the "feminine" moral voice. Walker's language is, to me, fluid, clear, and at times evocative, even profound (I adore her line calling respect an "astringent" form of beneficence); but I realize how opaque or abstruse it's going to seem to a roomful of 19-year-olds on Monday morning. My attention has been focused on the problems of articulating the meaning of Walker's essay, the meaning of her language, the connection between the two, the relationship between all that and Nel Noddings' ethics of care, and the relationship between all that mess and Carol Gilligan. Suddenly, Walker says, concerning her own development of an ethics of care from Gilligan's work:

One would not expect a view “systematic” in the philosopher’s sense to spring full-blown from any survey of opinion. It must be admitted, finally, that perhaps these reconstructions are too energetic.

The genius of this statement is its expression of the fundamental problem of the philosopher's prejudice. What I've taken to calling the philosopher's prejudice is the presumption that seems built into philosophical writing and thinking, that everyone thinks like a philosopher about life: that is, rationally, systematically, and maintaining a sense-giving narrative at all times. Philosophers are often better at interpreting life than living it, and so mistake their interpretations for actual lives, in other words.

Walker's lines helped put into focus for me the problem of being a philosophy instructor and making her words make sense for the minds and lives of my students. I don't mean by this that I have to translate philosophical ethics into the vernacular, and I certainly don't mean I have to dumb it down. I have to triangulate between the everyday lives of actual flesh-and-blood people, the abstractions of philosophical theory, and this third thing that philosophers seem very keen to promote, which for now I'll hastily name a self-reflective life.

My students' sense of Walker's articulation of the ethics of care won't be like an academic philosopher's. I believe it shouldn't be, either. The value of the abstract, academic, philosophical articulation is not in-itself, unless your last name is Kant. Nosirree, the point is not to interpret life, the point is to live it. What, then, should be my goal in helping my students understand Walker's essay about the ethics of care?

How about: to help them to reconstruct, for themselves, the meaning of caring as an ethical standpoint. Not in order to be able accurately to recount this position in correct academic philosophical jargon, but in order to consider their own caring. If the ethics of care is worth something, what I should hope to do is help my students graft an intelligent and reflective caring into their own moral lives, wherever it fits best, and however it fits best.

Friday, September 10, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod, in alphabetical order
Part 2 of ??

Today on my way to and from campus, I entered the Bs.

"At the Zoo" - Simon and Garfunkel. You knew about the hamsters, didn't you? At least suspected?

"Auctioneer" - R.E.M. From Fables of the Reconstruction, and consequently almost entirely inscrutable. Good riff, though.

"Australia" - The Shins. Time to put ze earphones on!

"Ba-De-Ba" - Fred Neil. Fred Neil is one of 3 or 4 singers I hear in my lumbar vertebrae.

"Back In Your Head" - Tegan and Sara. Another Bridge School Benefit concert performer I've been listening to ever since (2008 edition of the show, I believe), but I still haven't decided whether I like them.

"Back to Ohio" - The Pretenders. I bought Learning to Crawl when I was 16, I think. I had read a story in Time about Chrissy Hynde, about the tumult in the band when she fired Pete Farndon (whom she had a kid with) and James Honeyman-Scott died from a weird reaction to cocaine.

"Balloon Man" - Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians. Robyn Hitchcock is not allowed in the house.

"Bambaleo" - Gipsy Kings.

"Bateau" - Marc Ribot. I decided this afternoon that, since he's from Jersey, I shall assume that he poses as French and affects an accent in conversation, so I will pronounce his last name henceforth like the sound a frog makes.

"Because the Night" - Patti Smith. You may not like Patti Smith. You'd be a fool not to like this song.

"Begin the Begin" - R.E.M. First tune on Life's Rich Pageant. I can't itemize or think clearly either, Michael.

"Better than Ice Cream" - Sarah McLachlan. Lovely lovely song, by a lovely lovely chick. Geez, I'd like to bang her.

"Beyond Belief" - Elvis Costello. Well, that certainly ruined that mood. I really like Elvis Costello in his more cynical mood, which is good because he's almost always in it.

"Big Yellow Taxi" - Joni Mitchell. Is it just me, or does the cutesy ending of this song just about wreck it?

"Bike" - Pink Floyd. This came on after "Big Yellow Taxi," and my brain nearly seized. I exclaimed aloud, walking near Donnelly Park, "Fblaugh!" I can't think of a song on my iPod more unlike "Big Yellow Taxi" than Syd Barrett's crazed rumination on whatever the hell was going on in his lunatic head.

"Birds and Ships" - Billy Bragg & Natalie Merchant, written by Woody Guthrie. Then I exclaimed, "Gwuff!" when this came on after "Bike," but I'm not sure anything else would have been much better.

"Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair" - Nina Simone. Also not a good fit, but what a thrilling song. This is a live version, first verses with piano accompaniment, then, when Nina switches gender after the bridge, with a sort of blues/flamenco guitar. And she really does switch gender. And she sings bass.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

album of the day: all the songs on my iPod
Part 1 of ???

(Caveat emptor: There is no Money Mark on my iPod.)

I struck on this idea Friday: playing everything on my iPod, in alphabetical order by song title. I actually started then, but the album of the day was already Biff Nerfurpleberger's Greatest Hits. Today's list, with a few annotations:

"Ain't You A Mess" (Mose Allison).

"Airbag" (Radiohead). Brought to mind the concert we went to a few years ago, opened by Christopher O'Riley, whose claim to fame is that he has transcribed a bunch of Radiohead songs for solo piano. He was followed by the Bad Plus, who rocked.

"All Along The Watchtower" (Jimi Hendrix' version of Bob Dylan's song). This followed perfectly from Airbag, surprisingly enough.

"All Apologies" (Nirvana). The MTV Unplugged version, which I like better than the studio version.

"All My Friends" (Land Of Talk). I'm pleased as heck this came up, because I've wanted an excuse to enthuse about Land Of Talk in this space. I listened to them obsessively desperately this past Spring and early summer, and am still acutely susceptible to lead singer Elizabeth Powell's punky, raspy vocals, especially when she's singing about naughty stuff. If more men of a certain age listened to Land Of Talk, I believe Pfizer would be a less profitable operation.

"All The Quirky Singer-Songwriters You Can Eat" (Paper Cats). This remains one of our best written and best produced songs. It has a fun lyric, a nice jazzy tune, I like my lead guitar work for once, and of course, Lauren sings sweetly and innocently about cannibalizing people like Regina Spektor and Rufus Wainwright.

"All You Need Is Love" (Beatles). Believe it or not, that seemed to flow pretty well. Often, as for instance today, when I hear this song, I get the video in my head from the international TV broadcast when the Beatles debuted this song: the room full of celebs, the hippie outfits, etc., but mainly, John chewing gum while singing. That has always bugged me. I've seen the footage dozens of times, and I always expect him to swallow his gum.

"Another Man's Done Gone" (Wilco/Woody Guthrie). From the Mermaid Avenue album.

"Anywhere I Lay My Head" (Tom Waits). We learn that anywhere Tom Waits lays his head he considers home.

"Arena Rok" (Grogwhow). Of course, I just wrote about Grogshow.

"Ashes To Ashes" (David Bowie). Not a good fit sandwiched between the two Grogshow numbers. Poor Major Tom.

"asiwwog" (Grogshow).

"Ask" (The Smiths). I couldn't for the life of me think of a Smiths song starting with A when this came on. (Morrissey is right, you know. But that's probably meaningless.)

"Astral Weeks" (Van Morrison).

"At My Window Sad And Lonely" (Wilco/Woody Guthrie). Okay, this was starting to get weird. I don't think we can safely conclude anything about anything - not the inner workings of the universe, not my musical tastes, not anything about music in general, by the coincidental repetition of Wilco doing Woody Guthrie songs and Grogshow songs in this set. Especially not considering this was followed by...

"At Seventeen" (Janis Ian). Quit yer whinin'!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

album of the day: Greatest Hits of Biff Nerfurpleberger

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Like lots of kids, I spent time with a tape recorder making up fake media programming. Unlike lots of kids, I kept doing it through college, and continued to write fake media (in various forms) through grad school, and, well, my whole life. Which means I'm either incredibly immature, or continue to have an active imaginatio. These are not mutually exclusive.

Biff Nerfurpleberger is a character I invented in order to write a spoof of TV advertisements for music compilations by various oldy moldies. It was only meant to be an ad for Biff's compilation, variously identified in the ad as his Greatest Hits, Big Hits, and Golden Greats (in fact, even his name changed at the end of the ad). The album was, according to the ad copy, available in a tremendous array of formats, including LP, cassette, 8-track, or, surreally, hairstyle.

I recorded the ad with my friend Doug one autumn afternoon at my parents' house in Matthews, NC. We'd made up a list of song titles allegedly on the album: "I Didn't Know She Could Do That With Her Nose," "My Dog Is Covered In Lichen," "They Just Pulled My Mailbox Out Of The Ground And Put In A New One" (based on a true story: while we wrote the list, a crew did exactly that, to replace my father's installed mailbox, which failed to meet specifications of the absurdly fascistic home-owners association), "Grease The Cat, Charlie, I'm Coming Home" (one of Doug's, and subsequently also a catch-phrase of our gang of pals at UNC-Charlotte), and "My Ears Are So Flexible." This list excludes many other titles too ridiculous or obscene to be named here.

The main point was to come up with the least likely song titles ever to be hits, by an artist with the least likely name of someone ever to have had any hits, and the least likely music - we played a backing track in the ad of ourselves banging away on guitar and piano. We later played the backing track to a girl who was trying - ultimately successfully - to get into Doug's pants, and convinced her that it was our actual band.

(We also played the ad to a friend of ours in my dorm room, mainly in order to agitate my roommate - the ad was included in our lengthy, thoroughly obscene, completely blasphemous parody of Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker's PTL Club "religious" program, which we called "Praise The Money." It worked. He was so enraged, in fact, that the residence adviser on our floor intervened, and eventually pulled strings to get me and Doug both moved out of our present situations and into a room together, where we'd presumably cause less trouble. It was shortly after that that we put the "God is Dead" sign in our 3rd story window and began receiving hatemail.)

(I had a marvelous and frequently illegal time in college. But back to our story.)

I have no idea why this, of all things, should have remained indelible in my memory. And I really haven't a clue why I took up Biff Nerfurpleberger as an alter ego and started writing and recording his "songs" last summer. The first one I wrote for our friend Christina. We planned a trip out to Berkeley to celebrate, and she somehow received two large ice cream cakes. These were the central themes in Biff's first "song," "Xina's Birfday," and to the plaintively bellowed refrain, "Too much cake!" In what's become a Biff tradition, I conceived, wrote and recorded the song, including several lead tracks, in an afternoon. "Xina's Birfday" includes a very bad electric piano solo.

Biff followed with "End Of The Year," written for New Year's and based roughly, not to say crudely, on the changes to "Auld Lang Syne," which is quoted at the beginning and end. Lauren played harmonica and provided slap percussion, but in the album she isn't credited for this performance.

Then there's "New Place!" written to commemorate Christina and Guerin moving. Then, I think, "Sad," which advises listeners, "Don't be sad. It'll make you feel bad. That would be sad. Which would make you feel bad."

Somewhere in there, I wrote "Monkey" for Guerin. The lyric is "Monkey." The entire song is played in only one chord, E major, because a bottle of wine we bought for Guerin had a cork on which was printed "Let the monkey out! EEE EEE EEE". Lauren sings the "EEE" parts, and adds a couple extra "monkey"s as well, and is listed in the song credits as "Typhoid Lulu."

More recently, I've done the endless, worthless, experimental "My Ears Are So Flexible," the only song of Biff's to have a title based on the original ad copy. It's terrible. The last one I've done is actually very clever. It's a parody of "I Am The Walrus" that I wrote last Saturday when I suddenly realized that Biff believes he used to be in the Beatles.

For me, the most fun about all this is that Biff's "songs" have a logic to them, as well as recurring themes and musical elements. He almost always botches a rhyme in a "song," the joke here being that he's obviously written the thing, but still seems unable to come up with the simplest and most obvious rhymes, and is sometimes surprised when he can find a rhyme. The solos usually include very surprising instrumentation, and do not work. They are often in the wrong key. He can be relied upon to scream a lyric. The lyrics, when they make any sense at all, inevitably somewhere fail. I think the "songs" actually stand up to some scrutiny as bits of amusement, and some of them even stand up to some scrutiny as music - though not much scrutiny.

There's one more song to record, and then I plan to offer free copies of The Greatest Hits of Biff Nerfurpleberger to my Facebook friends. Several of my friends will receive copies whether they want them or not. You know who you are.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

album of the day: Blood on the Tracks

Blood on the Tracks is, I believe, the 3rd Dylan album I ever bought. When I was in high school, among my peers, anything approaching respect or appreciation for Bob Dylan was derided. He had released Infidels and Empire Burlesque, and while the latter was critically acclaimed and both were reasonably successful, practically anyone I heard say anything at all about music thought of Dylan as a washed-up, ridiculous anachronism. Of course, that drove me further into Dylan's catalog. (I had bought both Infidels and Empire Burlesque, and actually did like them, but haven't bothered to repurchase them on CD.)

So while any mention of anything vaguely 60s-related prompted very bad parodies of Dylan singing "Blowing in the Wind," I was secretly playing the Greatest Hits compilation over and over again, fairly amazed at how good the songs were. I never did, and still don't, observe any of the rites of the Bob Dylan cult, and I don't believe in his holiness or omnipotence, but I think anyone who fails to admit that Dylan's best work is enduring, timeless, genuinely poetic, and excellently composed (if musically derivative in the best folk tradition), is not taking the issue seriously.

And if a debate should arise regarding whether Dylan is really great, and I had to point to any single album as Exhibit A, it would be, without question, Blood on the Tracks. It can't be beat for range, good tunes, strong musicianship, and above all, emotional pitch. For instance, I love "Idiot Wind," which is just about exactly what you might need to hear thinking about a bad breakup, some years past. Dylan relentlessly attacks the memory of whatever lover it was, how awful she was, how wretched he felt then, and refuses to feel now. It's caustic and nasty and extremely satisfying. But the clincher, to me, is the twist at the end:

I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin’ I was somebody else instead
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory
And all your ragin’ glory

I been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I’m finally free
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats
Blowing through the letters that we wrote
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves
We’re idiots, babe
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves

... because it takes two to fuck up so spectacularly.

The song I think most people think is the best is "Tangled Up in Blue," a story song in a way, about another memory of a former lover, this time sweetly but sadly reminisced upon (I don't know for sure, but I've always thought that the bit with the girl in the topless bar that brings Bob home and gives him poetry to read is just a girl who reminds him of the former lover. I have also always thought that, in the song, they don't do it). The refrain that people love is the title, sung over a totally predictable and ordinary chord progression that is just absolutely perfect.

This album has had a big influence on lots of musicians. Us, for instance.

Lauren and I have covered the long ballad/story song "Shelter from the Storm." She adores singing it because of the strain she can get in her voice. It's a lot different from Dylan's version. (It also inspired my own long story song "What I Lost in the Flood," which uses a true story - a flood that filled the basement of a place I lived in Pittsburgh destroyed about 12 years of my writing, including several plays and over 1000 poems - as an allegory for how I battled through a long, ultimately very bad relationship.)

Lauren wants to cover "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," which is something like 7 months long and has 68,293 verses, and seems to be about events in a sorta Wild West town that cycle around each other. It's rather cinematic, and one wonders if Dylan was either recycling something from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid project, or hoping for another Hollywood gig. We're still in negotiations.

And I made an early crude recording of a bunch of solo guitar things that I made like 4 copies of for people, and named it "Buckets of Cheese," as a play on the closing track, "Buckets of Rain," which has always charmed me. It's a bit silly, but the silliness evokes how stupid being in love makes you. Dylan sings in what, for him, has to count as a sweet voice:

Buckets of rain
Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets comin’ out of my ears
Buckets of moonbeams in my hand
I got all the love, honey baby
You can stand

I been meek
And hard like an oak
I seen pretty people disappear like smoke
Friends will arrive, friends will disappear
If you want me, honey baby
I’ll be here

Like your smile
And your fingertips
Like the way that you move your lips
I like the cool way you look at me
Everything about you is bringing me

So, uh, yeah, I kinda go around singing "Buckets of rain, buckets of cheese. Got all them buckets coming out of my knees." Oh well.