Monday, December 17, 2007

Spice Quiz Results

My score on The Which Spice Are You Test:


(You scored 50% intoxication, 50% hotness, 100% complexity, and 25% craziness!)

You are Fennel!

You're a cool cat. Crisp, clean, fresh, and extremely complicated. You're like quantum physics or modern jazz. Think Niels Bohr meets Ornette Coleman. You may look normal now, but once you sprout, you look kind of, uh, funny.

Link: The Which Spice Are You Test
(OkCupid Free Online Dating)

Friday, December 14, 2007

1000 Years

I’m going to veer wildly from my usual subject matter—me—and write about musician Richard Thompson.

Born in West London, the son of a Scotland Yard detective, Richard Thompson started his recording career as a member of the British folk-rock band Fairport Convention in 1967. The band’s take on Celtic music provided a graceful accompaniment to the burgeoning psychedelic scene, using traditional acoustic instruments and vocal harmonies to balance out heavier American counterparts like Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds. Thompson played guitar in a style influenced by Django Reinhardt, Les Paul and Buddy Holly as well as older forms of English folk music. He is mainly noted for his guitar playing virtuosity, but his rich voice, which one critic claims just gets better with age, is also a strong feature of this subtle musical craftsman.

Thompson left Fairport in 1971, partly due to the band’s slow progression toward original material. His solo career showed uneven success, but he remained critically acclaimed for much of this 35 year span. The early and mid-seventies saw Thompson recording with his wife, singer Linda Peters (later to be Linda Thompson) with whom he converted to Islam in 1974. He still remains a committed Muslim. The Thompson’s marriage lasted until 1980 when, at the height of their first measurable critical success for their release Shoot out the Lights, they went their separate ways under less than amicable circumstances. At one point during this period Linda reportedly kicked Richard in the shin during a guitar solo.

After the couple split, Thompson continued a journeyman career in and around the recording industry. He managed to negotiate a deal with Capitol Records which allowed him to release a consistent flow of material into the early ‘90s. In 1991 he received a Grammy nomination for Rumor and Sigh, which included the masterpiece modern-folk single "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." Thompson left Capitol in 2001 and has since been exploring different venues of style with independent labels.

I just acquired Thompson’s 2006 DVD release 1000 Years of Popular Music. Thompson has recently been touring this DVD/CD and is stopping by my stomping ground on Jan. 18th. The concept of the show came from a Playboy interview which asked artists to name the ten most important songs of the last millennium. Thompson, a student of musical origins and genre took this to heart and formed a collection of songs beginning in the 13th century and ending, well, relatively speaking, right now.

The breadth of the song list is remarkable. There are traditional songs from the Elizabethan era, an Italian madrigal, a piece from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, a Smokey Joe’s reminiscent "Java Jive", Cole Porter’s "Night and Day", and a soul-melting version of one of my favorites, "Shenandoah."

The range of these selections is ambitious, but viewing the DVD from start to finish in one session is—and it is hard not have this sound trite—like making a musical journey through time. To conceive that you have just watched the same performer play Vecchi’s "So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo" an hour before playing Bowling for Soup’s “1985” is to take part in more than just a great live performance. There is some instruction going on here as well.

Thompson demonstrates the occasional universal thread that connects the music of the past to today. As he introduces a modern pop-song he identifies the chord-structure as one that resembles those of the distant past. During the song he skillfully places a waltzing, finger-picked classical form of the chord-sequence in the middle of a typically “whatever” attitudinal assertion of adolescence. The song is Brittany Spear’s “Oops I did it Again.”

Thompson’s version of “Oops I did it Again” shows what a song (any song) can be in the hands of a talented musician. I’ve had it my head for about three days now, but not in an annoying way—or at least not yet. To hear this pop-confection performed with a voice that could come straight out of the Scottish peat-bogs transforms its meaning, even though it is a song about a teasing teenager suffering a brief moment of guilt for toying around with someone’s heart. There is beauty in the notion that an aging male folk singer is conveying this pre-adult sentiment.

I’ve watched this DVD about three times since purchasing it on Saturday, and I know I’ll be watching it tonight. I can hook my stereo up to my TV, and the music is so good that household chores seem to take care of themselves as I leave the DVD running and get on with the endless War of the Dog Hairs. The video is that much more pleasing because of the presence of Judith Owen who is a singer of seemingly limitless range and very easy on the eyes. The overall impression that Thompson and his three piece band are having a ball with this material sets the overall tone of a modern bacchanalian romp.

So I’m looking forward to the concert in January (I better start looking for tickets). My mind has been distracted of late, but some of the life-long joys are coming back at a time when I have more time to focus on them. These distractions are welcome, and I hope more are forthcoming as I depressurize and start, temporarily, resting on a laurel or two. See, I knew I couldn’t go a whole post without writing about myself.

Here is Thompson doing 1952 Vincent Black Lightening

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stick a Fork in Me

“Stick a fork in me Jerry, I’m done.” I’m quoting Kramer from Seinfeld here, but unlike him I haven’t basted myself in butter and sat out in the sun all day. I’ve just finished undergraduate.

Last night they had a reception for all of us who are graduating this semester. It was in a barn-like auditorium they use for student dances. It has a cement floor and cinder-block walls, and I’ve never felt like chattel so much in my life. It was sweltering. The air parked itself motionless above the screaming babies and sweating students and I have to say, I became cynical.

Most of the graduates are adults: single moms, adults going back for a second degree, and people who weren’t ready for college the first-go-round. I fall into the last category. As I stood there listening to the generic “now-all-the-doors-are-opened” speech, smelling stale bodies thinly masked by cheap deodorant, I tried to make this momentous occasion mean something. Still, I couldn’t help feeling like a number—a boost to enrollment, a warm body. If you are going to recruit adults to your institution and then give them four years of liberal-arts ideology you have to expect a few to see it for what it truly is.

Okay it is time for me to boast uncharacteristically. Why? Because after last night I need to remind myself of what I’ve done here and not feel like a statistic who’s just received a distracted and patronizing send-off in a building with the warmth of an abandoned train-station. Here are some things I’ve done at college.

The Thomas Thompson Award for History
The Eugene Hire Award
The Dorothy Gilbert Award
The CCE History Award
Who’s Who’s on American Campuses 2006 and 2007
Dean’s List 9 semesters
Phi Alpha Theta Historical Society
GPA 3.8, GPA for History 3.9
Was a TA
Wrote a very well received food review column
Landed three campus jobs
Helped numerous students with projects, papers and other life-issues
Double majored—with English being my second major
For most of this time I worked full time while attending school full time
Organized two benefit dinners for The African Medical Mission raising $15,000
Taught my dog to play Frisbee

It’s hard for me to brag. I don’t like doing it and I don’t like people who do. But I feel I needed to do this in order to individualize this experience. Still, I’ve been around long enough to know that how ever well you’ve done, there is someone who will do better, unless you are Michael Jordon.

After the ceremony wrapped up I ran into Vivian, a woman who was with me in my very first class. She graduated last spring. She gave me a huge hug and we talked for a while. She said that for a month after she graduated she would keep writing in the margins of every book she read—she just couldn’t help it. I believe her. It’s hard to give up these habits of thinking, reading and writing.

It was great seeing Vivian, and she lifted my spirits to no-end. Life throws some strange coincidences at you and I feel that this chapter has been book-ended in some way by the presence of Vivian. She was there virtually on my first day and my last, although I rarely saw her after that first semester. She was so gracious and encouraging and funny. I realized that this whole thing has been more than just a treadmill for me and a payday for admissions. As I pull away and try to put things in perspective (the curse of a student of history) I know that through time I will see this for what it is, truly. And then I’ll be ready to start giving back.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

My Friend, My Brother, My Shirt

I can tell the pressure is residing. Today I actually folded clothes. This is a change from my pattern of the last three or four weeks, which saw me grabbing something from the wrinkly pile I had hastily washed the night before and putting it in the dryer for five minutes as I frantically shoved things into my book bag before rushing out the door, hopefully with the article of clothing on my back. The wrinkly, but clean, pile was acceptable, but on certain days when no laundry was available I resorted to the dirty wrinkly pile—not something I’m proud to admit. My only consolation is that during this period in the semester many resort to the same style. I’ve even heard professors admit it.

So as I was folding my first round today (a wrinkly pile that had been sitting on the back porch for about four days) I ran into a dire moral dilemma, one that made me reevaluate the notion that I might be obsessive. I realized that some of the clothes had almost deteriorated into rag-status. As I examined a frayed and grease-stained golf-shirt I thought “why am I wasting energy and water on washing these things, I can’t wear them in public and I rarely want to wear them around the house?”

I gathered them up and put them right in the garbage. Done, problem solved. But when I started folding again I realized I had missed one. It was the green polo-style shirt. I wore it into the ground, retiring it when an un-removable stain appeared and it was good only for yard-work-days and lounging. This I grabbed up too and unceremoniously tossed it into the trash.

I moment later I had pulled out ole’ Greeny and the rest and put them on the ottoman. I just couldn’t throw them out. I was humanizing the damn things.

I suppose there’s something about pack-rats and people who can’t throw out anything from bottle caps to broken refrigerators. I can tell you why I do it. The clothes represent a time I believe I will have to let go of if I throw away any physical representation of it.

Ole’ Greeny and the rest are probably ten or more years old. What was I doing ten years ago? I was a chef at a country club, Margaret and I had just taken our first trip to Scotland—an amazing trip—and I was in the first or second year of my mortgage, a proud homeowner who did yard work regularly and played in a band with two old friends from high school. I was actually making a little money as well.

Some of those things are still with me, some aren’t. But the clothes are. Even in their rag-tag incarnation they provide sentimental recall for me. Ole’ Greeny (I know, that name is getting old) used to be my favorite shirt! How can I throw it out? Do I have to move on? I can’t seem to picture the shirt in a landfill somewhere surrounded by plastic grocery-bags and empty soda cans. First of all, it's 100% cotton. You just don’t do that to 100% cotton.

I have no idea what to do with these clothes, and if anyone has any suggestions I’d love to hear them. They are definitely not material for Goodwill—they are way past that point. My mom used to turn old clothes into house-hold rags, but to me that seems like a demotion, like sending a guy with a .322 lifetime-batting-average to go run the concession stand.

So, I think I’ll post pictures—a Hall of Fame for knits. A strange thing I know, but for me, appropriate.

Old Greeny

These shirts alway get holes around the collar.

These have seen better days.

Friday, December 7, 2007

From the Vault

This is a draft of a post I wrote in October. I don't know why I didn't post it then, maybe I thought it was too ranty. But I just re-read it and I think it needs to go up.

Right, I'm pissed off. My favorite time of the year, Autumn, has been ruined by the greedy fossil fuel industry and our do-nothing government not to mention bipsy-bopsy in her gargantuan SUV which she bought because she is such a coward that she wants to make sure that if she gets in an accident everyone else will be killed by her civilian tank and not the other way around. It's October 19th and it feels like August 1st. Where is the crispness? The cool clean air? The beautiful leaves? The hint of frost? The promise of snow? Maybe in Nova Scotia, but not here.

I missed the environment blogging day, but better late than never right? My area of the country is experiencing severe drought. Water restrictions with diligently enforced fines are being issued in all of the surrounding counties. I've talked to people who know more about this stuff than I do, and they believe that this drought is not a fluke (in fact it can't be, it is actually an ongoing event that has been plaguing our area for a number of years). This is what global-warming is folks.

Today it rained, but not nearly enough. It is overcast and muggy, and while getting ready for work today I began to sweat profusely just minutes after my shower. I had to move into the living room because my office is too stuffy and I refuse to turn on the air-conditioner. This is okay in July, but the summer is only bearable in this part of the world because of the "fact" that there are determinable seasons here and that cool weather is always just around the corner. Well I believe that corner has been blocked off by greed, good-ole boys, and selfish Americans.

The Weather Channel reported yesterday that rain clouds are evaporating at an increasing speed which makes it difficult for any appreciable amount of rain to fall. Why? Well if you stare at the sun without protecting your eyes your eyeballs would burn off. If we expose storm-systems to increased exposure to the sun's heat, caused by depleted ozone, the systems will evaporate and my little part of the world will become Mojave Desert East.

Dammit let's do something. Conserve, recycle, carpool, plan for making less trips, and for God's sake let these bozos who are running for elected office know that if the environment is not a major plank in their platform then screw 'em. Let the people decide how our country should be run, not big business!

Now that they've ruined "my time of year" it has become personal.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What I lerned in colage

Today I attended my very last class of undergraduate school (unless some unforeseeable circumstance arises and I’m forced to take botany over again). Here is a list of things I learned in college.

1) Turning on the passive voice setting on the grammar options for Word is the most annoying thing I’ve ever done. That green squiggly line under every “did go”, “is maintained”, and “was forwarded” almost caused me to throw my laptop though the window this morning.
2) When I’m trying to look casual, I usually look awkward.
3) When I speak in class, I don’t throw up on my feet like I always think I’m going to do.
4) However smart I feel at home is directly proportionate to how stupid I feel in class.
5) Getting through with classes has not eased my anxiety, now I’m a basket case over grad-school.
6) I’m old.
7) How to actually believe the B.S. I write in a paper. I can convince myself of anything now.
8) My hand starts to shake when I hold it in the air too long.
9) Witty banter is not my forte.
10) That the piece of plastic that clips a Bic mechanical pencil to your shirt pocket breaks very easily.
11) That when people bring food to class I’m usually too worried that food will dribble out of my mouth to actually eat any.
12) That when you try to say something funny and people just look at you with a confused look on their face, what you said wasn’t funny.
13) A lot of adult students complain.
14) A lot of traditional students skip class
15) Occasionally a student will show up drunk to class, no matter if he is a traditional or an adult student.
16) That when I have a day where class makes me feel smaller than a bug, writing a post usually helps.
17) That if I can’t be a creative genius all the time, then life ain’t worth a damn.
18) That I don’t know how to spell genius (but spell-check does). Officially, you can’t be a genius unless you know how to spell genius—so scratch #17.
19) I lack confidence.
20) Singing the confidence song from “The Sound of Music” doesn’t help, it just makes me feel creepy.
21) Without spell-check and my dog, I would have flunked out.
22) Never look at your transcripts from when you were an eighteen-year-old punk.
23) Applying to grad-school is like trying to work your way out of burlap sack in order to play a sonata on a piano in another state.
24) Every professor I had here was awesome in one way or another, even the one who gave us a study guide for an exam and put none of the questions on the actual exam.
25) That I would rather write history than lit. theory.
26) To love postmodernism (sigh).
27) That at this school, for the first time in my life, I might be considered a conservative—but I’m not dammit!
28) That film classes are not an easy way to pass the time and earn some credits. They can be tortuously dull.
29) That any school where you spend a week discussing “The Big Lebowski” is a school I’d be proud to graduate from.
30) That sometimes it’s alright to end a sentence with a preposition.
31) That the sun just came out and I feel better!