Monday, April 30, 2007

Lost Innocents

Awhile back, I wrote a dedicatory blog about The Rockets, a band I had only recently discovered. This time around I need to pay cyber-homage to The Innocents, and band I never get tired of...and probably one of the best bands you never heard of.

Like the other dozen or so people who bought The Innocents' lone LP in 1982, I first became aware of the band via a television show about them. I think it may have been a "20/20" special, but the basic premise of the program was to follow the band from club dates through a label signing to making their album. This mini-bio comes from AllMusic, written by Stephen Schnee:

This quirky new wave band found initial fame as the subject of a 1982 TV documentary that chronicled the life of a new band, following them from the clubs straight through signing a major label deal. Unfortunately, the initial interest quickly waned and the band found itself ridiculed by the same industry that initially embraced it. Fronted by vocalist Michael Hurt and featuring keyboardist Tommy Newman, lead guitarist Tony Kowalski, drummer Chris Kaye, and bassist Marten Ingle, The Innocents were, in reality, a talented and very creative band that mixed pop sensibilities and new wave quirkiness and created an original sound that no one before or since has managed to duplicate. Once the band split, the only member to attain any kind of notoriety was Newman, being part of the legendary Newman family of film composers (which also includes Randy). Under the name Thomas Newman, he's gone on to be nominated for numerous Academy Awards for many of his film scores.

I agree wholeheartedly with Schnee's assessment of the group; I never found them to be particularly "quirky," but their mix of pop and new wave was definitely combined with an unmistakable Devo-like hollowness. The first two songs rip into this sound right away: both Stop Shooting Up Stars and Directly From The Heart pound and thrust with an urgency that was poppy, but not necessarily radio-friendly. Track 3, Hold My Hand, is a tender ballad that nevertheless manages to feed this established urgent fire by crashing into the pre-chorus with a plaintive howl of pure sexuality: "Dontcha like messin' around, around, around? Dontcha like feelin' your heart begin to pound?" This same idea is presented once again in a later up-tempo number, Twisted Kiss, when vocalist Hurt insists that "She shakes when she's in my arms, trembles when she's next to me, ohh and that's a message of love!"

Side 2 of the album is a little more diverse, but still delivers a cohesive "Innocents" sound. Backseat Of My Car is perhaps the most like Side 1, with its lightning-fast chorus delivery. Sob Story and You Gotta Cry are both quasi-50's tunes, not so much in the way of production as the hollow sound of Hurt's voice and the throbbing 12/8 "stroll" feel. Without Time is a return to form, the repetitive cry of the chorus satisfyingly memorable.

And what of the players themselves? Thomas Newman is certainly the most high-profile Innocent; a prolific film composer, he's been nominated for Academy Awards for everything from The Green Mile to American Beauty to Shawshank Redemption. Bassist Marten Ingle hasn't disappeared either, keeping active in the music world by playing and touring with a variety of musicians in Europe. Of the other three members...well, I don't know. I Googled each, but was only able to find their names connected with the single album. They're probably all living "normal" lives now, rarely bothering to think of "that band I was in once." Don't worry, guys; you're not forgotten by at least ONE person out here who thinks that your lone LP was brilliant. Every time I sing along to "d-i-r-e-c-t-l-y, yeah baby!" your music lives on. Especially since a newly-acquired USB turntable has allowed me to transfer a happily found virgin copy of your album onto a CD. And the rest of you, reading this? Go out there and find a copy of this great, great music. You may have to hunt a little bit, but you'll be happy when you get it home & listen.

Friday, April 27, 2007

ASCAP Goodness

Generally I post professional music news on my official composer site, but since the ASCAP conference is still fresh in my mind I thought I'd share some of that stuff here on CF. The "I Create Music" Expo is an annual event - begun in 2006 - that brings together music creators of various styles, as well as music industry professionals and a host of sponsors hawking their wares. Held for the 2nd year now at the Renaissance Hollywood, the 3-day gathering is a WHIRLWIND of intense panels, workshops and song listening.

The Capitol Records Building: from my hotel window

I'm a professional composer, but I've also been a songwriter since my teenage years. At the time I first went to college (1986! Whoo! '80s!) my reasoning was to "get a backup degree in case I don't make it as a rock star." Yeah. One of THOSE guys. But, it was the age of hair metal, and I wanted to be part of it. Of course, the only song I'd successfully written and recorded (with guitarist Mike Rule - hi Mike!) was a lovely little ditty called 1-800-HOT-LOVE. Good stuff. (*groan!*) The clever part - or so I thought - was that the chorus conveniently rhymed: "1-800-HOT-LOVE, 468-5683! 1-800-HOT-LOVE, h-o-t, l-o-v-e!" God, that's awesome. The rest of the song is kind of a throwaway: it's basically about a guy who sees a number written in a phone booth (which automatically dates it), calls and gets his OWN answering machine, then admits to having put the number there himself. Yeah. Like that. So, anyway, back to college...I thought that my prodigious songwriting and drumming skillz would SURELY propel me to the top of the metal world...but, you know, just in case, I'll get this degree. Problem is, a BM in Theory/Comp is NO kind of a backup! Seems you can't do anything with least not in music. So, I went on for the MM and PhD in composition, and by the time I finished up with those, I no longer wanted to be a rock star. (Well...that's ALMOST true.) I love creating the contemporary art music that I do, and I'm fairly successful at it. Granted, I'm no John Corigliano (an Expo panelist), but then again, I'm not quite 40 yet, so there are PLENTY of years left to win that Pulitzer. But through all that time, I've kept writing songs, generally of greater depth than the drink-&-fuck songs of my metal youth. I'm ready to see if OTHER folks have any use for these tunes, and that's why I went to the Expo.

So. There were writing workshops with HUGE songwriters. I'm talking, Holly Knight and Desmond Child. Folks who have written (meaning, co-written) some of my favorite songs for some of my favorite artists. Both Holly and Desmond have worked with Bon Jovi, Paul Stanley, Aerosmith, Meat Loaf, etc. etc. etc. Desmond wrote You Give Love a Bad Name, Dude Looks Like a Lady and Reason to Live. Holly worked on Rag Doll, The Warrior and Love is a Battlefield. Both were well-spoken, and during listening sessions had good, plain advice for the songwriters whose tunes were played.

Then there were moderated panels consisting of OTHER huge songwriters: Alan & Marilyn Bergman (The Way We Were), Hal David (Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head), J.D. Souther (Heartache Tonight) and Bill Withers (Lean on Me). They were all well-spoken folks, telling entertaining stories about some of their greatest songs and dispensing valuable advice about the songwriting process.

The "featured performer" on Thursday night was the legendary Randy Newman. I mostly knew Randy from his 70s hit Short People, but then realized that he sings that song played during the opening credits of Major League: "Cleveland, city of light, city of magic." Yeah. Here's the thing about Newman: almost ALL of his songs are pointedly political or otherwise associated with social causes. You know the title of that song about Cleveland? I had to look really hard to find's called Burn On. You know why? Because in 1969 the Cuyahoga River spontaneously BURST INTO FLAMES because it was so polluted. And - get this - this fire was the FOURTH in three decades! So, the words about being a "city of light," as well as the actual chorus ("Burn on, big river, burn on") are all about the fucking river catching fire. Most people don't get that. Same with Short People: it's told from the point of view of a guy who DOES hate short people, but the tongue-in-cheek nature of the song is to point out how ridiculous unwarranted prejudices are. He has a beautiful song called Sail's about a recruiter for SLAVERY, trying to convince Africans to "come to America" where they won't have to scuff up their feet running through the jungle. Great Nations of Europe details how colonizing European nations came to the west, killing and/or conquering everyone in their path. His froggy voice, so unusual when you first hear it, is so BEAUTIFUL once you settle in with it. He has a new-ish CD out: The Randy Newman Songbook vol. 1, and I can't really recommend this disc ENOUGH. It's at iTunes for $9.99, a complete & total bargain considering the number of tracks. Check it out. It's good shit.

All of this expo goodness took place at the Renaissance Hollywood hotel, corner of Hollywood & Highland. Right around the corner was Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and the walk of stars extended as far as I could see in either direction on Hollywood Blvd. The only downside of going was that I was alone; Miss Tessmacher, being at the beginning of 28 weeks, was advised long ago not to fly. So, I'm sure there were lots of things to do & see that I didn't, only because, hey, it's not much fun to go alone. I did eat at the Pig & Whistle, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. And I took a quick trip through the Hollywood Wax Museum, also around the corner from the hotel.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre entrance

Judy Garland's star: south of Highland, west side of Hollywood Blvd.

Everyone I spoke with at the Expo was extremely friendly, and while I may not have made many lifelong contacts, I put my name out there and had many, MANY, great conversations about musical creativity. Lots of folks I spoke with were there for the second year in a row, and while the cost of attending made me realize that I myself won't make this an annual trip, I left the Expo feeling refreshed, with a new sense of purpose about my songwriting. If you're a music creator in general, and a songwriter in particular, you should go to this conference. It's worth it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Shameful Silence

Just got back from the ASCAP "I Create Music" Expo in sunny Hollywood. Fantastic, and there'll be more about that to come. But before I get into all the deets and name-drop with abandon, I need to try to set the cosmic karma right and admit to my shameful inaction yesterday.

I probably should blog about this more anonymously than I'm going to. Sheer professionalism ought to guide my hand a little here and try to haze things a bit so that no one "gets offended." Fuck that. I was offended. And, I don't believe in unnecessary cyber-anonymity. So here we go.

I met the eccentrically-dressed Mr. Red Kilt the first night of the conference, and ran into him on each of the successive days. He was hard to miss in his garish but authentic gear, and he struck me as very jovial and outgoing...just the kind of person with whom I can make easy small talk at these kinds of conferences. We ended up sharing a shuttle van back to LAX on Saturday eve, and that's when I witnessed a seemingly-harmless Dr. Jekyll turn into a horrid Mr. Hyde. The setup, then: we have our driver, in the driver's seat. (Duh.) Driver is listening to VERY amenable jazz, of the Dave Brubeck-meets-Billie Holiday style. Good stuff, and surprising considering his tender years. (I saw no one working in L.A. who was over 25. Weird.) Immediately behind him are Mr. Red Kilt and myself. The next bench back was, at the moment, empty, and then there was an American woman of long-ago African descent in the very back seat. Onward...

Mr. Red Kilt spent several blocks regaling me with one of his songs. At one point he asked the driver to "turn down the music" so the "musicians could share their stuff," which wasn't so much out-of-line as it was oddly imperious. I thought Red Kilt's song was clever, sure, but I was perfectly fine paying attention to him with the radio on too. But whatever; this was my last chance to "network," and I felt like professional courtesy dictated that I give this guy my attention, the same way I would want attention when disseminating MY art.

So we pull up to another hotel and Driver sallies forth to fetch our last passenger. Billie Holiday was, literally, on the radio at this point, and Red Kilt was revving up for a run at a DIFFERENT set of lyrics. At this point I much preferred hearing Billie, as did Back Seat Woman who was quietly - and expertly, I might add - singing along. Red Kilt unexpectedly reached up to the dashboard and turned the volume knob all the way down; I honestly think HE couldn't concentrate on what he was saying with the distraction, but whatever. Back Seat Woman curtly but POLITELY asked "Could you please turn that back up? I was listening to it." At first Red Kilt did nothing and kept regaling me with his new song, but I tapped his shoulder and motioned to the back, indicating "Someone back there wants your attention." He turned back and, in my ONLY defense of him, seemed surprised to see someone back there; I honestly think he didn't know she was there.

And he said? "No!" Now, the exclamation point is too heavy of an emphasis; he did NOT shout. But, neither would a period suffice, as he was definitely too emphatic for that punctuation. What followed, though, was an escalation beyond all proportion to the situation, the kind of thing that 30 years ago would have had me scouring the bushes for Allen Funt and a hidden camera crew. The exact exchange is beyond my memory; I was really too horrified at the rapidly-degenerating situation to pay that close attention. But there was an ugly exchange, during which Red Kilt belittled, harassed and generally steamrolled Back Seat, at one point berating her for not being able to "not listen to music for more than 30 fuckin' seconds" (this, despite the fact that he talked continuously for the next half-hour).

I sat there, stunned. What should I do?? My initial reaction was to come to Back Seat's defense...but, she really didn't seem to need it. She handled her own very well, but I realize too long after the fact that she must have been feeling the same brutal shock that I was...only, as the focal point of his tirade, I'm sure she would have appreciated some vocalized support. I wasn't afraid of this guy necessarily, but I did have enough time to wonder "Wow, if he's on this short a fuse, what happens if the whole van turns against him? Is it possible to have road rage within the SAME CAR?!?" I had already loosely associated myself with this horrible man simply by sitting with him and discussing a shared interest, and so I felt pinned, as if any support I might offer would be taken as something akin to a Judas kiss.

Finally he wound down, as I was mentally nudging him onto other topics. I thought "If I can just get the focus off of HER, this will all be over!" This is the silence that shames me. I should never have just sat there, but hindsight makes that a little more clear. At one point he did attempt to explain his behavior - to me, not to the person he SHOULD have apologized to! - but then astonishingly followed that up with some misbegotten comment about "two long-haired Caucasians" and a "black woman" in the back. WH-WH-WHA...??! EX-FUCKING-CUSE ME?!? Did you SERIOUSLY just revert to 1953 and say that a black woman BELONGED in the back of the bus?? Oh, no you DI'INT!! At that point I DID speak up, clearing saying for the listening benefit of the van ", you do NOT have my support, understand? You are on your OWN with THAT shit!"

I wanted Red Kilt to be dropped off first, so that I could attempt to apologize to Back Seat for the behavior of a man I was now at least mentally associated with, in her mind. I wanted to apologize for not acting sooner, to explain that shock had me immobilized. Alas, I was the first to go, and so I can only send this out to the blogosphere:

Back Seat: please forgive me. Claiming that shock kept me from acting is a sham; I could and should have spoken up in your defense, or at least made it clear that I was NOT allied with this terrible man. Understand that I had had previous encounters with him, NONE of which prepared me for his unwarranted lashing-out. That we share the same career is an unfortunate coincidence, akin to comparing a kind and loving parish priest with the ludicrous Jimmy Swaggart. What I should have done was to decry this man, to deny him THREE times and then abandon my seat next to him and joined you in the back. That you could sing along to Billie Holiday should have been my first clue that we might have had a far more satisfactory musical discussion than Red Kilt could dare to dream of.

And Red Kilt: fuck you. I admit to enjoying our musical discussions, and I appreciate that you shared your song with me; the rhyming and imagery were both clever. But bigotry and shit-headedness don't come from, as you seemed to claim, living as a hermit for months at a time, with just your cats to keep you company. That shit runs DEEP, and I share neither your values nor your clear lack of empathy. Get your head on straight, man! How can you be a songwriter with that nastiness bubbling under your carefree surface? Work that shit out in your music, so that you don't inflict it upon the undeserving.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Endorphins and Social Equity

Just got back from a great run. Now, remember, when I say "great" you need to take that with a huge salt lick, because I really do not like running. I'll do it for heart exercise and so forth...but, it's really not my bag. A few things made it easier this morning, listed in increasing order of importance:

1) My freshly-installed Billy Squier mix. Newly-minted brother-in-law Joel, Purveyor of All Musical Oddities, recently gave me a copy of the two Piper LPs he burned into his laptop. I don't have a lot of good things to say about their second 1977 release, Can't Wait, but the original Piper album is outstanding! (I've had "Who's Your Boyfriend" stuck in my head for days.) Add to that all the hits you know from Don't Say No and Emotions in Motion, plus the random soundtrack single (Metropolis and Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and there were more than enough great tunes to push me along. Thanks Billy!

2) A recommitment to running. I didn't run all winter, and was amazed at how much I'd deteriorated, especially since I spent the winter months going to the gym. Now that I've been out a number of times, my stamina and lung capacity are coming back online. Feels good.

3) NEW SHOES! I didn't realize how beaten down last year's New Balance sneakers were until I got the new pair on. Whoof! Two runs in and I feel...well, not necessarily "light as a feather." But, you's a big improvement.

But, the biggest propellant for me today was a newfound sense of social and moral outrage, directly related to last night's viewing of The U.S. vs. John Lennon. Presidential candidate Michael Passmore suggested I see the film, but of course it was de rigeur anyway since Dr. Tessmacher is a huge Beatles fan. I honestly did NOT expect to enjoy the film as much as I did! I also didn't expect to see exact political parallels between 1968-1973 and 2001-2007 (and counting). Everything Presidents Johnson and Nixon were saying about the police action in Vietnam is being regurgitated by President Bush. And I mean...EVERYTHING! From the "rationale" for the war to the sense of civic "duty" and idiotic "God is on our side" blathering, (as if Jesus would actually commend warring)'s dejá vu all over again. I actually had no idea about this, either...I'm what you might kindly call a political and social "neophyte," in that I didn't even begin to be interested in politics until my late-20's. So, I feel as though I have years' worth of indignation that is only now bubbling to the surface. See this film. Seriously.

And, having seen it, I now have a call to action. I feel like the current government has learned from past "mistakes" (i.e., not letting cameras film returning soldier coffins) and is orchestrating this war in such as way as to PROMOTE apathy and unwavering nationalism at the same time...and, wait, isn't that one of the 14 signs of fascism? Well, I'll save that for another post; for right now, I want to help correct the apathy that has so enveloped our society, especially our youngest adults. I think the one of the biggest reasons so many 18-25 years olds were organized against the Vietnam war was because of the immenent threat of compulsory military service. I therefore call on Candidate Passmore to include as part of his campaign platform: a return of the draft.

But wait! This ain't your father's draft! What I want to see is essentially an equity in military service. Right now, how many sons and daughters of Congress are serving? How many children of governors? While the number may not be zero...I'll bet it's pretty close. Pretty fuckin' close. No WONDER so many people have such boners to go to war: THEIR KIDS WON'T BE PART OF IT!! The inequality of a volunteer militia means that only the poor kids will go; only the underpriveledged and, let's face it, undereducated will enlist, because they're the only ones who won't have many other options. Enough. Enough, I say! It's time for everyone to have a stake. Here's how I see it:

1) Service is mandatory. Everyone serves...EVERYONE. Even physically and mentally handicapped folks can do SOMETHING.

2) Through a massive, bipartisan effort, the new compulsory service works at both the federal AND state level. It goes like this: every child, upon reaching his or her 17th birthday, will be given a number (like in the old lottery style draft). The Pentagon will say how many people it needs to fill the ranks of the regular service branches: Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines. A random lottery will be held until those numbers are reached, and those folks do a mandatory year of service beginning on their 18th birthdays. Everyone who is NOT chosen through the lottery enrolls in their own state's National Guard. The commitment is for 1 year, but there are bonuses for re-upping for more years: college money, extra education, higher pay, whatever.

3) Folks are allowed to state their desired fields: if you want to become a doctor, you get first choice at the medical corps. That way, you're still furthering your education. But everyone goes through the same physical boot camp, and everyone at some point is given basic weapons training.

4) Deferments may be granted, but they are ONLY deferments. So, let's say a woman is pregnant when she's 18. She gets a deferment until, say, her child reaches school age. Then she goes. No deferments for college.

5) This results in a 1-year college reset. Colleges will just have a very small freshman class for that first year; I'm guessing this will save TONS of money in every state budget. That's a good thing, right?

6) Since every Senator's son will serve, every Congressman's daughter, even those slushy booze-addled Bush twins, there will be a MASSIVE societal re-thinking about the use of force as a political ultimatum. And in the event that the powers-that-be decide that force IS necessary, they won't be facing a passive electorate: they really will be forced to listen to the people they supposedly (all together now) REPRESENT!

7) Finally, everyone will have a much truer appreciation for American freedoms: we'll all learn about responsibly handling weapons, so that the need for gun control will fade away. We'll learn that sometimes, in order to protect the freedom of speech, you DO have to fight for it. That's what makes it precious. Like...blogging revolutionary ideas.

Vote Mike '08

Friday, April 13, 2007

It Ain't Easy Being Green

When I was 21, I spent a good portion of my senior year at Central dating a freshman girl named Erica. Other than marching band, we had little in common and mostly I just wanted to fuck her...but, as my friend Mike very accurately reminds me, I somehow wasn't able to just do that thing and move on. I had to make it a whole RELATIONSHIP, and truth to tell, it was a pretty decent one. I dumped her hard in the spring when I couldn't hack it anymore, but, honestly, most of my time with her was great. She was a cherubic blonde with hippie tendencies, which means she wore a lot of hemp (and smoked a lot as well!), burned incense, doused herself in patchouli, and recycled.

Recycle?!? What the hell is THAT?? Yeah, that's pretty much where I was at that age. I remember, Erica wanted us (that's me, my friend Eric and his fiancée Sue) to get several bins to put in our kitchen, into which we could sort all manner of tin cans, crumpled up aluminum foil, glass, and a host of plastics. I was getting all into it - 'cause, that's pretty much how I roll when I'm being a serial monogamist - but Eric laughed right in her face. "Do you see this kitchen?? It's 4 feet wide and 10 feet long! Where the FUCK are we gonna put bins?!? Get outta here!!" And, just to drive his point home, he threw a McDonald's styrofoam Big Mac container directly into the trash. (Side note: Eric took such glee in being the downfall for well-intentioned consumers that when someone came through the line at McD's and wanted his Big Mac "Wrapped in paper, please!", Eric would deliberately take the pre-packaged burger OUT of its styrofoam box, throw it in the garbage, then wrap the thing in paper and hand it to the customer saying "There, now you wasted TWO pieces of trash!" He's great.)

Back on track journey from someone who didn't understand the first thing about recycling to being one of the more eco-friendly people I know was a loooooong one. Some things happened because of Miss Tessmacher: when we got our first apartment together, she made it a point to keep a (stolen) milk crate in the garbage closet for recycling. I learned what could and could not be recycled, then waited until the thing was an overflowing tower before I sorted it all out & drove the 3 miles to the recycling center. A bonus at this point was that I was selling tons of stuff on eBay, and I had all the free shipping boxes I could dumpster-dive for. Once we bought our house, things became much easier. St. Johns has EXCELLENT curbside recycling: typical big green tub, and no sorting necessary. They pick up #1 and #2 plastic, EVERY color of glass (great for us as we generate lots of green wine bottles!), all paper (including boxboard like cereal boxes & toilet paper tubes), and of course metal cans. Really, we only set out a single bag of trash every other week, we recycle so much!

Once the bug bit me, I began noticing other ways I might be friendly to the environment. This was all happening for me during the time of popularly-elected President Gore's rise to fame as the Ozone Prognositcator, and "being green" became the darling of mainstream media. I started to realize that trying to leave a minimal enviromental "footprint" on the planet isn't all that hard...but it DOES require a mindframe change. It requires a person to abandon the concept of "I'm doing this for ME" and embrace the idea that "I'm doing this for EVERYBODY". This is a hard sell for lots of folks: modern Conservatism is not about "conserving" at's about mindless consumerism, selfish worship of the "Me, me me!" ideal, and unquestioning obedience to a Jesus concept that is in direct opposition to his factual existence. True conservatism means you have to think not about the air that YOU breathe, but the air your NEIGHBOR breathes. The air you CHILDREN'S CHILDREN will breathe. I began to realize that being green was about doing what's RIGHT...something "the Right" always preaches but rarely practices.

The acceptance of eco-friendly living by the mainstream media has made purchasing green products incredibly easy. Every issue of This Old House comes to me FULL of products that are either recycled (like using shredded blue jeans for house insulation) or are less harmful to the environment (like low-VOC paints and varnishes). I discovered that an easy-care flooring is old-skool linoleum. NOT "vinyl sheeting"...the guy at Lowe's tried to tell me that they're "the same thing." They're not: vinyl is, naturally, a petrol-based product. Linoleum is - are you ready for it? - linseed oil and pulped wood. Throw away a kitchen's worth of vinyl flooring (something we did last summer) and it'll sit in a landfill for a thousand years. Throw away the same floor but made out of linoleum, and it'll simply disintegrate. Hell, you could throw it on your compost pile! Anyway, my point is, being green is pretty easy.

What makes it NOT easy's expensive. What the...?!? Why does it seem like the "better" solution is ALWAYS the more expensive one?!? If I buy 4 incandescent light bulbs, I spend around $3.50...I know they burn out more quickly, but really, I only replace a bulb maybe once a year or so. Who notices $3.50 on the grocery bill? But, if I buy 4 mini-flourescents, I spend about $24.00...a HUGE difference. Most people won't put together that the bulbs will save enough on monthly energy bills to pay for themselves in a year...and that they're then FREE for the next 4 years of life. Food is the same way: nasty-ass chicken that's been bred in captivity and sprayed with tons of chemicals is about $1.59 a pound. Organic, cage-free chicken is about $4.79. Gee...guess what most people buy?

For me, this is one of the most unfortunate results of the Conservative agenda: convincing people that they ought to be able to keep "more of their money" and then they should buy everything as cheaply as possible so that they can have more OF it. Need to fertilize your lawn? Head to the nearest Wal-Mart or Lowe's and pick up a bag of Scott's chemical-laden weed-&-feed for $8.99! Don't worry about the fact that all that shit is going to kill birds and seep into the groundwater to fuck up everybody's wells...or, run into storm drains and eventually into the Great Lakes and screw up THAT ecology. We'll come up with ways to justify our purchases and ease our conscience LATER. Just buy it CHEAP! You DESERVE IT!! This year I got online and went to Cooper Seeds and bought a 50-lb. bag of Misty Grower's organic fertilizer. It's nothing but chicken shit, and it smells like it. But...that smell is of the FARM, and even thought it was a little pungent when I opened the bag, I didn't WINCE the way I do when I get a big whiff of Scott's.

The up-front cost of being green means you're paying more out-of-pocket dollars, and people who have bought into the agenda sown by the Right have a hard time getting that idea to grow. The long-term cost of instant savings, though, will end needing to be repaid by your future family. You probably won't live to see it...maybe your kids won't either, or even THEIR kids. Somewhere down the line, though, some relative will have to pay for our selfish living "in the now." Think about those people. Then, do what you can...even if it's just a little at a time.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Interview by Stephanie

I have lots of stuff on my mind lately; much of it is blog-worthy, and I have preliminary drafts for many of these brain fartlets. In the meantime, though, I have a few more interview tradeoffs to complete.

These questions come via Stephanie of Sweet Water Journal. Steph and Dr. Tess first became friends in gradual school: both are flutists, and later both served as grad-asses in ethnomusicology. Various offshoot friendships exist between us, too confusing to go into here. Suffice it to say that Steph and hubby Eric are dear friends, whose physical presence here in Michigan is greatly missed. Stephanie may be the most creative cook I personally know, and meals with them (and the larger circle of pot-luck buddies) always rank high on my "Gotta do that!" list. We all share a similar affinity for sarcastic, cornball, occaisionally malicious humor, as well as a deep love of political and socially conscious discussion. And, Eric is one of my counted-on smoking buddies. Probably healthier for me if they stay in the Plains, but still...

1. What piece of classical music do you secretly think is shite? (Somebody had to ask the composer!)

Actually Steph, this isn't the greatest question to ask me. Don't get me wrong: like any good musician, I think the Canon in D is utter pap. But - and I say this with more than a little shame - I actually don't feel like I KNOW that much literature! Remember, I may be a pro musician, but I spend most of my LISTENING time on thunderous heavy metal or decades-old radio pop. But, to pick a piece of music that is well-regarded and then opine about it in opposition? That presumes I have a good working familiarity with lots of classics...and, beyond classroom examples, I really don't.

Having said that: I fail to understand why some pieces - and here Beethoven's 9th comes to mind - are continually regarded as "earth-shattering" while other things equally good or better are ignored. Take that symphony, for instance: it's a fine piece. I personally find the 4th movement theme a little ham-handed in its tonality, but, you know, it's fine. I could also name a dozen symphonies written SINCE that time that I think are better. Why isn't Honegger performed more often? When's the last time you saw Messaien or Ives programmed? Note for note, I think Ives says more about the human condition through music than Beethoven was capable of conceiving. I'm against the idea of "old war-horse" pieces being kept on pedestals simply because they've always been there. Kind of makes me feel like there's nothing left to accomplish as a composer, y'know?

2. What do you plan to teach your daughter about God/religion and spirituality/the nature of the universe?

Tess and I actually had some conversations about this before we even really tried getting preggo, and I feel like we came to a pretty good conclusion. Neither of us are aligned with any sort of organized religion. But, we both feel like we want Roslyn to be exposed to a bunch of different philosophies, and then she can make up her OWN mind. 'Course, that sounds great in theory, but naturally she'll probably go by our far-more-subtle day to day clues, and so she'll turn out to be a liberal socialist wiccan heathen tree-hugger too. Damn. I'd like her to believe that Jesus of Nazareth existed once as a real person, and that he preached love and acceptance of all. Makes him a pretty good philospher and humanist. I'd like her to understand that "god" is a blanket term some folks use to define a cosmic "creator" and is generally the same entity in all the world religions. I'd like her to understand that ALL life is sacred, that the universe is a place organized by rules we cannot fully fathom (and therefore contains elements of magic), and that this life is the only one she's liable to have and should therefore try to make it the best it can possibly be.

Toward that end, Tess & I knocked around the idea of spending a couple of years - say, the junior high ones - taking her to a different religious ceremony once in awhile, just so she could get a handle on what many of her friends are probably doing on various holidays. I'd like to go to various denominations of Christian houses of worship, including a good ol' raucous gospel Baptist meeting. I'd like to go to Temple, and understand what Passover and Yom Kippur are all about. I'd like her to see a Shinto shrine, to chant with Buddhists, and to dance in the dew of Mayday dawning.

3. Where in the world do you most long to travel?

Um...anywhere I haven't been? The follow-my-roots guy would like to bike around Scotland and the Orkney Isles, the treasure-hunter guy wants to see the Sphinx, and the lazy-vacation dude wants to snorkel in Belize. Ultimately, though, I really think I'd like to see France. That sounds a little pedestrian maybe, but a week or so in Paris, some time wandering through the countryside and trying a zillion fabulous wines, and ending with a relaxing few days on the French Riviera. Yup. That'd do.

4. Undergraduates: our hope for the future, or rain of pestilence? Explain.

20/80 split. I do get a precious few students who are such a joy to have, either because they're exceptionally talented and motivated, or because they're simply nice people. I try to focus on these folks, because I know they're the ones who appreciate what I'm trying to do for them, which is not so much about filling them with knowledge as it is teaching them how to learn for themselves. Every year or so I'll get a student - generally male - who reminds me very much of me as an undergrad: smart, not especially driven, and definitely more interested in the social aspects of college life than in high achievement in his classes. I give special attention to these people, because I know they'll EVENTUALLY "get it" and I'm trying to prepare them for that day.

But, yeah, a staggeringly disproportionate number of my students are simply clueless as to why they're here in the first place, or what their true role is in the educational diorama of college. I could come pretty close to an infinite list of reasons why I think this, but for brevity's sake (I'm brief?) I'll limit my explanation to just three points:

1) Many ascribe to the "I paid for it, therefore I should get a good grade" philosophy. Pisses me off. This whole attitude is unfortunately NOT helped by the current political focus on college education, with all of the talk about college needing to be "affordable" and how having that degree really gives you a "better chance" at life. Sure, that's true...but, that whole argument equates success in life with being able to pay for college, and that is simply NOT true. The richest person in the world can take all the classes he wants; at the end of the day, though, you either do the work or you don't. Those who don't, don't pass. Got nuthin' to do with dollars.

2) Many are not emotionally mature enough to warrant being here at all. Some of this comes down to life experience, and I believe that societally we shield children in this country from a lot of everyday life realities. We try to make sure kids "feel good" about themselves, and so they're treated as if LOSING isn't an option. (This was hilariously sent up in Meet the Fockers when DeNiro says to Hoffman: "I...wasn't aware that they MADE medals for 7th place!") But, I expect voting-legal 18-year-olds to act like the adults they relentlessly claim to be, and so I often force them up against this unpleasant truth: there are consequences for your actions. This may mean that, yeah, if you didn't study the material, you'll probably fail the test...maybe the class. If you didn't get your homework turned in on time, I won't take it; the whole POINT was to do it BEFORE the test, and if you didn' missed that point. And NO, there is no such thing as "extra credit." What is this: high school?!? I feel like too many of them are emotionally stunted by this cultural protection, and things can get ugly when they perceive life as being "unfair"...whatever that means.

3) Bad manners. Okay, I'm not exactly Mr. Etiquette in this regard all the time myself, but: turn your stinkin' cell phone off when you come into the classroom; don't stand around in clumps in the hallways to bullshit with your buddies and fuck up the flow of traffic; and keep your voices down as you get out of class, some people aren't done yet and you're pissing us ALL off. Simple, simple things that show you're aware of the importance - existence? - of other people.

5. What are the three worst movies you have seen in your life?

This is kind of a loaded question to ask me, because I have this frightening habit of seeking out movies that common sense should indicate are spectacularly awful. My friend Mac once started this game with us about movies, wondering "What movie, if it comes on TV, will you watch EVEN IF you already own it?" Most people coughed up various guilty-pleasure movies, casting downward glances lest they have to see the shameful head-shaking of the group. Lots of those movies listed were fairly decent, I thought: Dirty Dancing, Ghost, and my personal TNT fave, Roadhouse. (Hey! Those are all Patrick Swayze films! What are the chances...?) So, I'll watch some really horrible dreck and not blink an eye. I generally do this when Miss Tessmacher leaves town for her symphony gigs; I get the weekend alone, and so I slink to the video store to rent films that have conceptual potential, but end up kind of generally sucking.

For me, a movie is "worst" when I either 1) consider turning it off, or 2) actually DO turn it off. I'll watch Grease 2, Corvette Summer or Xanadu all the way through, repeatedly, because I wallow in the kitsch. Here are three films that can't even muster that dubious honor:

The Last Days of Disco: I was following my 70's-obsession by renting some disco-themed films. I picked up Boogie Nights, 54, and this one. The first two were decent films; actually, Boogie Nights was GREAT. ("Dirk Diggler...great name.") And 54 was interesting for the interior shot attention to detail. But there was NOTHING redeeming about The Last Days. One of the few movies I actually quit was that bad. Shitty writing and deadpan acting helped make sure this stinker will wallow in 99¢ bins for all eternity.

Roadie: The obsessive completist in me cringes that I'm not keeping this movie...but, I'm not. It SHOULD be "great," in that sense of "so-awful-it's-awesome" way that Rocky Horror is. The basic concept is that Travis Redfish (played by Meat Loaf) falls for a crooked-toothed groupie, and goes on the road with her in her quest to lose her virginity to Alice Cooper (played by himself). Along the way he becomes...the greatest roadie in the world. Yeah. That's pretty much it. Even the inexplicable casting choice of Art Carney as Travis' dad or the fair amount of screentime given to the delightfully slutty Debbie Harry can't make up for the weird plot holes and stupid-ass acting. Fugh. Still, it DOES have the greatest tagline in the world: "The bands make it rock...but the ROADIES make it ROLL!"

Catwoman: I shouldn't even have to argue that a feature-length film about Catwoman OUGHT to have starred Michelle Pfeiffer. Hell, even Julie Newmar! Don't get me wrong: Halle Berry is great, lovely, fantastic and looks killer in the suit. But...then what? Oh, right, you mean there needs to be a basic plot and somewhat believable writing? Whoops, guess we forgot to tell the SCREENWRITERS that!! This cinematic turd needs to be scooped out of the litter box and unceremoniously dumped out the back door.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Mac Wants to Play

I recently posted some interview questions to folks who were already playing the game...and, lo & behold, my friend Lisa wants to get in on the action. Splendid!

Before we begin, though, some folks out there need a little history. And...Mac SURELY deserves a little embarrassment, doesn't she? SURE she does! So, let me say that the current Lisa Stanley (aka "Great Lakes Running Gal", maiden name McEachin, hence the abbreviated nickname) is one of my oldest friends. We've known each other since junior high (WAY before the somehow wimpier concept of "middle school"), when my folks moved to a town near hers and my dad became her band director. He would always take the band around and march in all these summer festival parades: you know, silly things like the "Auburn Corn Fest" and the "Munger Potato Fest" and the "B.F.E. Diseased Radish Fest". Basically, (insert tiny village name here) and (farm crop of your choice here) and you've got it. So, he needed more drummers in his band ('cause, like, who doesn't, right??) and I filled the bill nicely. I actually enjoyed these trips; I can look back now and recognize that this time spent with my father ranks pretty high in terms of quality. Lisa and I quickly developed an unrequited crush on each other that soon morphed into a strong friendship based on sarcastic good humor and a love of being band geeks. Heck, we even went to Blue Lake one summer together...where, I must admit, I showed my complete lack of quality thought-process by "hooking up" with her friend Sue. D'oh!

At a band beach party: summer, maybe 1983 or '84.
We're each sporting nice Speedos!

Through no real plan that I remember, we ended up as rookies together in the CMU marching band in the fall of 1986. I think we were both waiting for a time & place when we could give free rein to the deviant personalities that dwelled secretly, Hulk-like, within us. The Marching Chips was that place, and we bonded together with a large group of friends, most of whom have stayed the closest group of people either of us knows outside our immediate family. Heck, maybe even INCLUDING our immediate family!

Mac, the way we love her: swigging Hot Damn!

After moving between states and husbands, Mac finally brought the man of her dreams to meet her "band friends", which is - and I say this without a trace of humor or irony - a difficult group of people to win approval from. Ask any of our spouses, from Lisa's hubby Mark to Annette's hubby Steve to my OWN lovely Miss Tessmacher, and I think they'll concur: this close-knit group of people eats outsiders for breakfast.

Mac, whose Playboy-perfect tits were dubbed "Fritz and Bobo"
and then set to the "Flintstones" theme song.
(Could my shorts BE more gay?!?)

It might have taken awhile, but Mark eventually won the "Marching Chip Animal Stamp of Approval" (to which he would probably grimace and intone in his heavy New Hampshire accent: "That's fuckin' GREEEEAAAAT.") and so they eventually settled down in eastern mid-Michigan to raise their cool-as-beans son. They occasionally spout nonsense about moving again (Mac is something of a nomad, apparently), and the thought that they might actually pick up stakes & go somewhere else saddens me greatly. I'll often try to play a guilt card to keep them from moving, even though I shamefully haven't seen the Stanley family since we rocked it hard to Cinderella & Poison back on my birthday.

Mac: strangling me after my PhD graduation, and smiling
with Miss Tessmacher at one of many homecomings.

Now, as you can see if you head over to her blog, Lisa is currently involved with running marathons and learning how to suck. BLOOD, that is, as she's trading in her trumpet for a syringe in nursing school. Hey, more power to ya, Mac: maybe when we're old & grey, you can give ME a sponge bath in the shower. Wait, I'm ALREADY grey! Hmmm...

Doing the Hustle at my wedding: June, 2002

So, there's the brief history, accompanied by what I hope are scorchingly embarrassing photo-essays. But, knowing Mac: probably not. She'd just nod & say "Yep. That's me." And so, forthwith, her questions:

1) What were your most & least favorite things about growing up in Ubly?

2) Any particularly boneheaded thing you did in college you'd take back if you could?

3) What excites you most about running? Is it the resultant weight loss, the sense of achievement, the little outfits...?

4) A two-parter: what about nursing just absolutely scares the shit out of you? And, what makes you feel like you could conquer the world?

5) Tom Keifer, Steven Tyler, and David Coverdale are having a three-way swordfight to determine who gets to spend a night on the town with you. Who do you hope wins?

Mmmm...tiki fresh after a long trail run!
Summer 2006