Sunday, September 30, 2007

Going Back

I'm going home despite
that Thomas Wolfe was right
--Josh Joplin, "Who's Afraid of Thomas Wolfe?

Just got home from a visit back to CoMo. A big thank you to Comoprozac and R for their hospitality.

Had a great time. Friday night, after our arrival, we spent a few hours bending elbows and ears at Booche's and Mojo's. Saturday night, Monkey and I attended the Oktoberfestivities for which we had traveled. We are indebted to our hosts that evening, as the food and beer were copious, the fire was smoky and warm, and the ommpah music was oompah-licious (until a certain someone decided she had had enough and "puuled the plug").

It was great to see everyone we got to see, and apologies go out to everyone we didn't get to see.

The journey home was uneventful, save for the gully washer that forced us to pull over on I-29 due to a lack of visibility.

I will need some time to reflect on the trip. It is an odd experience, returning to a place you have left after living there for a long period of time. This is the second time I have done it, and the first time is not helping me deal with this time. At least, I don't think it is...maybe I am wrong.

At any rate, expect one of two things in the future (or possibly both): a reflection on here and there, and/or a reflection on two years of blogging (an anniversary I reach on Tuesday). Until then: that's all I got.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Most Underrated Performer of His Generation?

Considering the decade or so from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, perhaps one performer should stand as an icon of the era. Sadly, that icon is little discussed (and perhaps little respected). Johnny Rivers, who had a string of hits that include: "Baby I Need Your Lovin'," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Curious Mind," "Help Me Rhonda," "Look to Your Soul," "Maybelline," "Memphis," "Midnight Special," "Mountain of Love," "Poor Side of Town", "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu," "Sea Cruise," "Secret Agent Man," "Seventh Son," "Slow Dancin'," "Summer Rain," "Tracks of My Tears," and "Where Have All The Flowers Gone," was a recording giant for a time. Today, he is all but forgotten in the annals of popular music.

Perhaps, some might say, that is because he had the innate ability to make every one of his songs sound like a cut-rate cover of some other song, but I would disagree. Rivers' "White Boy Blues" sort of style is sometimes a bit less than genuine, but for me, it works. The Michael Bolton of his time, some would argue. I might not disagree. But, you have to admire an original. And Johnny Rivers was a true original.

And, taken at face value, the lyrics to "Summer Rain" make for an eerily fitting coda to the era.

Check him out next summer at a state fair near you. He's probably opening for Joan Jett.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Company My Dad and Grandfather Worked For Used To Spell "Quality" With a "W"

Sometimes I wonder what makes a thing popular.

Let's assume that the majority of the world equates popular with good. Keep in mind that I am not stipulating that popular equals good. I am not implying that that which is popular is good. If put to it, I would probably prefer to lump everything popular into the category of "not good," knowing full well that in doing so, some things will be erroneous labeled "not good" (e.g., Earth, Wind and Fire: once popular, always good; Superman: really popular, mind-numbingly good). Granted, that last parenthetical might lead to a etymological discussion of "good," but, after this statement, I am going to skip right over that.

Alright, so, things that are good can be made popular, but not all things that are popular are good. do they become popular? Why like something that is not good? And here, I am beginning to see that this argument will go nowhere without a discussion of what it means to be good. Fine. Let's go there.

I, of course, am not talking about "Superman" good. This good is not the sense of "obedient, moral, virtuous." However, the sense I am talking about might have something to do with virtue. I am talking about "good" in the sense of competence, skill, cleverness, validity, genuineness. Yes, good has myriad meanings: unspoiled, pleasant, proper, large, favorable. But, in the sense of, music, movies, books, individuals, products, TV, what have you, let's go with a general sense of quality, shall we?

Yes, yes, before I even begin, I hear the contrarians out there quashing my argument: good is relative, you say. Of course, it is. But, what is not? Quality is an individual determination, right? But, each individual has to exercise his/her right to judge the quality of something for that argument to be valid. I am proposing that very few folks do that.

I'll begin by admitting I don't always do it. I have indulged in things because it was the thing to do, rather than individually assessing anything to decide whether I really liked it or wanted to do it. A bad evening of laser tag circa 1983 comes to mind, among other episodes. We all swallow the line every now and then. But, it seems, and this is not an earth-shattering revelation, at all, that the mass of humanity just takes what they are given without thinking about it.

Whatever is on TV. Whatever is on the radio. Whatever the hot song is. I would extrapolate this out to books, but we already know that a minority of the population reads anything (is my job becoming obsolete?). That being said, I am sure that the majority of that minority buys whatever everybody else is reading.

Ah, I love this train of thought writing. Here is an example of the power of the mass popularity monster: twenty five percent of the US population claims to have read a book last year. That is about 75 million people. Let's assume we have that many "readers" in the US. Harry Potter's latest adventure unleashed itself on the US to the tune of about 5 million copies on the first day. Let's assume the less motivated bought an additional 3 million more (okay?). That's about ten percent of the "readers" buying a book that was media-fied into this thing that EVERYONE was buying. Now, how many people went and bought that book because of the media buzz, and how many bought it because they find the Rowling series to be "good"? Yes, the overwhelming majority of the purchasers of that book would call it good. But is it?
An interesting thing I am discovering as I investigate the phenomenon of popularity, is that it doesn't take much to make something popular. I mean, okay, just about one Bible has been sold for every living breathing person on Earth--that's pretty popular. But, Britney Spears, who at one time was supposedly hotter than Mercury (now she's more like toxic), has sold four million records, according to some, possibly unreliable, figures. That's practically nobody, really. It's not even half the population of Manhattan. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon has sold about 40 million copies, alone. But still, that still leaves about 260 million people who don't have it. And even if half of them are really old or really young, that's still 130 million for the "not purchased" side, against the 40 on the "purchased" side.

I'm sure that someone with a much bigger brain than me could explain the nuances of these sales figures, but, in the long run, popularity is perception. Quality is perception, too. And, at this point, you can perceive that what you have just read is neither popular, nor quality!

You can blame this entire entry on Geggy Tah (who was once popular...for about ten 1996):

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Good News for People Who Love No News

Not much seems to be going on here of late. Monkey and I are in that school year pattern in which we only really see each other for grocery shopping on the weekend. A later school day is causing me to get home later than I used to, and I still maintain my early rising pattern. Add to that a school culture that has encouraged me to really ratchet up the parent contact that I engage in, and I am averaging eleven hour days at school. That doesn't include the grading and planning that I do at home. It is the same as it ever was.

No big plans this weekend, either. A football game versus Ball State on Saturday.

Speaking of football: I know I have moved to a place where people are rabid about the Huskers, but this week has been quite interesting on the heels of the USC debacle last Saturday. Some folks are really upset. I can't even explain it. It's just really not what I am used to. Perhaps those of you who have spent time in Columbus or South Bend can relate in some way, but being from a basketball state and living in Columbia was not even a small taste of the emotion folks put into football around here. Really remarkable, maybe even a little pathetic.

Well, that is that, and this is this.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Kids in America

We're the kids in America.
We're the kids in America.
Everybody lives for the music-go-round.
--Kim Wilde, "Kids in America"

Sometimes I think that Sal Paradise was right
Boys and girls in America
Have such a sad time together.
--The Hold Steady, "Stuck Between Stations"

Perhaps, in some way, while The Hold Steady were alluding to Jack Kerouac on their latest album, they were also, subconsciously or not, giving a nod to 1981 hit-mistress Kim Wilde. But, that is not what I come here to tell you about.

I have been transitioning my classes, during passing time, with a little music. Partner Teacher used to play music during passing time, and a few others used to sling the tunes at my old salt mine, and I thought I would carry on the tradition. It makes me a bit unique here at the new salt mine. I don't hear anybody else doing it.

I have been trying to play diverse stuff. So far, I think I have managed to do that. I haven't been playing much of my personal faves, yet. I thought I'd work up to that. I wanted to start them off with more "traditional" or even familiar stuff, first. For some of them, it may not be familiar at all; it may be the first time they heard some of these folks. This week it gets a little different.

Here's the artist list so far:

Week One (all classical, a little Friday jazz):
Medeski, Martin, and Wood

Week Two (Jazz and Blues):
Sarah Vaughn
Dinah Washington
Ella Fitzgerald
Bessie Smith
Alberta Hunter

Week Three (Folk and Country):
Lyle Lovett
Bruce Springsteen
Waylon Jennings
Pete Seeger

Week Four (Soul and R&B):
Al Green
Earth Wind and Fire
Otis Redding
Michael Jackson

This Week (Alternatives?):
The Ramones
Meat Puppets
Mazzy Starr
Will Johnson
The Beatles

I'm thinking of accompanying the music with a little hand out on each artist, or maybe linking a warm-up writing to the songs, but, mostly, I just like to play a little music. If they like it, if they get interested in any of it, that's great, but mostly, I just do it because I like it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Waiting for Herb

Actually, Herb has nothing to do with this post. I don't know a Herb (I know OF a Herb, but we ain't so tight any more). I just like this Pogues album title. Not the best album--I mean, as with my early comment about REM post-Bill Berry, how can this REALLY be a Pogues album without Shane McGowan? Yes, that is the correct answer: it can't, but, nevertheless a good title.

The Okkervil River show was excellent. They were better than I have ever seen them. The show started out with some seriously bad sound problems, but once they were fixed, the show just flowed along (on the river of golden dreams?). It didn't appear as if the band members were ever happy with the mix in their monitors, but the sound out to the PA was eventually balanced. Will was all over the stage and really playing with the crowd. The mix of old and new material was good. The venue was large enough that we never felt sardine-packed, but intimate enough that one is never too far away from things. Monkey and I planted ourselves about ten feet from the stage, so we never were too far awy (except when Monkey went to sit at the bar near the end of the show). We managed to keep the giants from standing in front of us, as they always seem to do, so that was good. Damien Jurado was okay, but he really didn't seem very into it. I am not very familiar with his stuff. I liked all but one of his songs, but he really just didn't do much for me. Overall, Monkey and I rated this show highly.

The USC-Nebraska football game on the other hand, we rated not so highly. It was a rout, after the first five minutes of the second quarter. Final score: 49-31. The Huskers tacked on two TDs during garbage time. USC is really good. Nebraska is not as bad as they appeared (I don't think). But, for most of this game, it looked like men against boys out there. Obviously, I have not seen LSU or Oklahoma live, but right now, I am putting my money on another USC national title run. They are REALLY fast on both sides of the ball.

A little basketball playing today, a little football watching (Ravens up on the Jets, last I checked). A good weekend overall.

PS--A shout out to the Rev. Wayne Coomers, whose old blog, Rock Therapy, is now being updated. Check it out!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stuff To Do

This is going to be an awesome weekend, if you like music and college football. Monkey and I will be heading to Omaha to check out Okkervil River and Damien Jurado at The Waiting Room. That should be pretty awesome. (By the way Comoprozac--I was at that Arcade Fire show at Mojo's back in the day.)

Tomorrow night, Monkey and I will be attending the USC-Nebraska football game. College Game Day will be here in Lincoln to whip all the already insane fans into a lather, and, with a 7pm Central start time, the tailgaters should be just near violence/spewing/passing out stage. I look forward to a less-than-competitive football game, made entertaining by first half hi-jinx in the stands. (Oh, Comoprozac, did I mention I saw Arcade Fire at Mojo's?) This, with Notre Dame-Michigan vying for winless status, could be the finest college football weekend I have ever experienced. [Sarcasm meter calibration check: reading=HIGH.]

Sunday could only be used for such things as buying vacuum cleaners and coffee grinders, both of which gave up the ghost this week. It would be nice if I could get paid some time soon, but I guess I'll just have to wait until next month (which reminds me of the time I saw Arcade Fire at Mojo's that one time)....

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Track Eleven

Carry each his burden
We are young despite the years
We are concerned
We are hope despite the times
--REM, "These Days"

I am slowly going through the Monkey House Nebraska CD collection, sucking a good deal of it onto the medium-infinite capacity of my new iPod. Tonight, I got to the Rs. And there, leading off the Rs, almost propping up my entire CD collection, is an incomplete history of my favorite band ever: REM.

I was making it through without getting too caught up in the Reverend Howard Finster whirligig of memory and melancholy that music can often send me into, until I caught the opening notes of "Feeling Gravity's Pull." And, well, I guess I felt it. The pull of the past. The recall of a place or a scent that is triggered by a sound. Again, I go back to those formative high school years. That's when music really started playing a big role in my life.

For me, the soundtrack to those years is all over the map, and, perhaps, none too hip. REM, of course, Life's Rich Pageant. Also, Hendrix--"Crosstown Traffic" being a particular track of note. Jethro Tull, too--Thick as a Brick, Stand Up, War Child, in particular. Throw in Cure (Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me), Violent Femmes, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Pretenders, and you've got quite a few of the big guns that filled my shoe box of cassette tapes.

But, REM has always occupied the highest station in my pantheon of musical dieties. Sadly, as the dieties of most primitive civilizations are reduced to quaint figures over time, so goes REM. I stuck with them all the way through Reveal, but it stopped there. I should have cut my ties when drummer Bill Berry cut his. After all, a band that loses such an integral part as a drummer really ceases to be that band anymore. It becomes something else. Like Van Halen with Sammy Hagar--it just wasn't Van Halen, anymore, no matter what Eddie and his drummer brother whose name nobody knows says.

Anyway, I started this out, thinking I would trace the development of College Radio in the eighties, in order to prove that REM was a watershed band, like The Beatles, The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, Sonic Youth and Nirvana, The Blues Brothers (just kidding), but, I got side tracked, and now, I just want to go eat.

This blog of note certainly does more justice to the nuances of my favorite band than I have the energy or interest to give them. If you are interested, just head up the stairs and to the landing.

Friday, September 07, 2007

You're in High School Again--No Recess!

Young lovers in town share each others dreams
While they're riding around while the stereo screams
Then they go to the Dairy Queen and they share ice cream
Young lovers in town share each others dreams
--The Bottle Rockets, "Young Lovers in Town"

There is something amazingly wonderful about being a teacher of high school aged kiddos. I know I have spent a good deal of space now and again carping about something or other that makes my job troublesome. It's true that teaching, be it high school, middle school (God bless you all), elementary school, university, whatever, is a tough job. It wears you out, sometimes. But, it must have some reward, or else we who do it would not do it for the sometimes embarrassingly small amount of money that we get paid. And one of those rewards is the joy of spending time with young people who are mostly innocent, mostly trying to comprehend their world on some adult level, and who are beginning to realize that the childhood hour glass is running low. They are (as we all once were, I guess) swirling masses of emotion, confusion, inquisition. They are sleepy, spastic, goofy, deathly serious, curious, and disinterested. All of them. And they are all these things simultaneously. It really is kind of beautiful.

I was sent into this line of thought by my first block today. This afternoon was the big rivalry football game, and the kids were giving me the low-down (newbie that I am) on the rivalry. I kind of laughed. I explained that, while I did not know the deal with their rivalry, I did have some experience with the concept. After all, every school has a rival, does it not? But what made me laugh was that my current school has only been in existence for six years. For the juniors in my first block, that didn't really matter. They have attended the school since they were freshman. They were ten when the building was completed. It has consisted relatively forever for them. I told them about the rivalry at my high school in Baltimore. My freshman year was the 100th year of my school's existence. The rivalry between Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (my alma mater) and Baltimore City College, is now in its 118th year. It was a REALLY big deal. One of the oldest rivalries in the country. They used to play the game on Thanksgiving Day in old Memorial Stadium. I didn't make light of my students rivalry, at all. That would have been wrong. But I did make it clear that I was down with rivalries.

This discussion was followed by a discussion I had with a colleague about pep rallies, one of which we had at school today. We were talking about the difference between pep rallies no and pep rallies back in the day. We never had pep rallies where I used to teach. We had big ones at BPI. My colleague speculated, due to the lack of student enthusiam for pep rallies in the past five years or so, that the concept of the pep rally is dead. this got me thinking about those old high school days a bit more. But, it's no wonder that I am looking back to those days more often here of late.

This month, my graduating class is celebrating our 20th reunion. I will not be attending, but I have been thinking about that phase of my life. It was a pretty good time. I had some great times with some great people. None of them are a part of my life, anymore (except my brother and a blogger friend). It wasn't the best time in my life, and I thank fate for that. It is a sad life, I imagine, if the high point comes at 17. However, it was a wonderful time of trying to figuring things out--relationships, time management, social interaction, financial responsibility, safe driving, testing boundaries. I did a number of really stupid, almost death-defying things in those four years (and a few years after them). I am lucky, considering the lack of wisdom involved in my decision making process, that I made it through some of them unharmed or un-arrested. But, I wouldn't alter the course of those years. Not much anyway.

To bring this home, I get reminded of the thrill and the angst, the love and the fear, the awesome and the awful of those years everyday. Some days I am too wrapped up in doing my job to allow myself to get lost in nostalgic thoughts, but today I was visited by the memory express. I enjoyed the brief ride.