07 December 2009

Favorite Cuts of 2009

We're near the end of the year and all the obligatory "best of" lists have begun to emerge, so I figured now was as good a time as any to compile my personal favorites list.  I've whittled down my list to thirteen tracks, and while I was hoping to pare it down to ten, I'm content that this list clocks in at 48:08, less than last year's 54:34 run time.  The playlist is sequenced for listening, and does not reflect any kind of ranking of the songs.
"American Girl," Taylor Swift - A Rhapsody exclusive, '09 was Swift's year.  I heard a lot of her music hanging out with my cousin, I followed Swift on Twitter and her cover of this Tom Petty song reflects a growing maturity to her voice and phrasing sensibilities.
"Johnny Cash Is Dead (And His House Burned Down," Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers - Yeah, Johnny Cash tribute songs are now a dime a dozen, but this one hails from a longtime touring partner and friend of the Man in Black's.  It's set to the tune of Cash's "Big River," and its message is as simple as it is humble: "there'll never be another Johnny Cash."
"Who Will Comfort Me," Melody Gardot - Gardot continues to record sultry, forlorn jazz that simply smolders with sensuality.  Every time I hear her voice, time slows down.
"The Touch - Sam's Theme," Stan Bush - A radical remake of Bush's iconic '80s recording, this time as an uncredited  collaboration with Linkin Park.  It was intended for inclusion in this summer's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but was passed over by director Michael Bay.  At first I hated the new arrangement, and the newly added Linkin Park hip-hop segments still haven't quite grown on me, but I've come to appreciate this new take on an old favorite.
"I Told You So," Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis - Speaking of new versions of old favorites, I was thrilled when I learned that Underwood had covered this gem of Travis's on her sophomore album.  Retroactively adding his vocals was icing on the cake, and it's interesting to hear a song I'd always thought of as the interior monologue of one person presented as a dual monologue between two former lovers.
"Easy as You Go," George Strait - A young couple get hot and heavy, and then have an unintended pregnancy complete with family drama.  Sounds pretty rote, except it's in the hands of George Strait, whose discography to date has generally shied away from any social controversies.  In the song, the characters don't get an abortion, but they don't have an easy time of it, either.  Strait's narration refrains from passing judgment or holding up the couple as martyrs; he simply relates their tale, while somehow making it feel reassuring.
"I'm Movin' On," Rosanne Cash - From Cash's The List album, a collection of old school covers.  This old Hank Snow song has been covered countless times, but it has never been sexy until now.  Cash's vocals are mesmerizing, and it's easy to forget this was once a trucker song.
"Cousin Randy," Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears - From the Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears EP, this is one of the most unique cuts I've heard in a long while.  It tells the story of Black Joe's cousin, Randy, whom he believes to be possessed by the devil.  It's got all the feel of an early blues parable, but it's thoroughly modern...and funny as hell.
"Wild One," Those Darlins - This was including in one of the numerous free samplers I downloaded from iTunes this year, and when I heard it I couldn't believe it was a new recording.  It oozes early 70's country, which isn't typically a sound I even like--and yet there's such a charming enthusiasm from Those Darlins that makes this one of the most infectious songs I've heard in a long while.
"Take My Drunk Ass Home (demo)," Luke Bryan - From Bryan's Spring Break with All My Friends digital EP, this is one of those songs that is easy to relate to, fun to hear and even more fun to sing along with.  I miss my drinkin' days every now and again, and it's fun to relive them vicariously through the safety of a three-minute long song.
"The House That Built Me," Miranda Lambert - This is one of those songs that is so simple in its concept that it doesn't seem right that it is also so profound.  Lambert returns to her childhood home, now owned by people she's never met, and takes a tour, narrating the physical artifacts left behind--and more importantly, those left within her.  This is my favorite song on an excellent album, and may be my favorite of the entire year.
"Lullaby," Honeyhoney - Yes, Brahms's "Lullaby" performed by the indie rockers that gave us "Little Toy Gun" and "Black Crows."  Suzanne Santo's vocals are full of twang and range, and yet somehow fit the soothing melody perfectly.
"Married Life," Michael Giacchino - From Pixar's Up, this is the music played throughout the emotional montage that opens the film.  Not since John Williams's "Journey to the Island" in Jurassic Park have I been so impacted by the perfect marriage of music and image in a film, and that was just cool--this was heart-wrenching, and Giacchino's score expertly navigates the delicate nuances without becoming schmaltzy or bombastic.

25 November 2009

"Between the Bridge and the River" by Craig Ferguson

Between the Bridge and the River
Craig Ferguson
Date of Publication: 15 March 2007
Cover Price: $13.95
329 Pages
ISBN: 0-8118-5819-7

Fraser, a Scottish TV evangelist, leaves for America ahead of a career-destroying scandal.  George, an estranged friend of his from childhood, is dying.  Leon and Saul are transient brothers, trading on the former's charisma and talent and the latter's conniving to break into Hollywood.  Uniting them are a series of events, the full meaning of which is only revealed to the reader.

First-time author Ferguson weaves a fascinating tale of what he calls, "unexpected redemption."  The pace of the novel is brisk, helped along by the brevity of the chapters (some are a mere two pages).  In fact, at times it feels more like a collection of vignettes than a traditional novel; one can easily see Ferguson dashing off a chapter here or there, as his schedule and inspiration permitted.  Given the philosophical and emotional density of some of the passages, it's actually nice to be able to turn the page and find a conveniently placed stopping point.

There are some distractions throughout; Ferguson replaces real-life names of entertainment people and businesses with fictitious knock-offs (for obvious reasons).  It might be impractical to cast either Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts in the novel, but the fictitious name Meg Roberts (an "America's sweetheart" type actress) is a bit of a speed bump in the middle of this story.  In fact, I found myself frequently wishing to get through the passages devoted to Leon and Saul and return to those relating to George and Fraser.  George's self-examination in light of impending death (and his unexpected affair with the alluring and captivating French Claudette) touches on one of the most important themes of them all: potential.  Fraser, meanwhile, has his own epic story (including a recurring dream in which Carl Jung appears to him to analyze what's going on with him).  In many ways, Fraser's story recalls Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and that's never a bad thing.

13 November 2009

"The Psychologist's Book of Self- Tests" by Louis Janda, Ph.D.

The Psychologist's Book of Self-Tests: 25 Love, Sex, Intelligence, Career & Personality Tests - Developed by Professionals toe Reveal the Real You
Louis Janda, Ph.D.
Date of Publication: 1 July 1996
Cover Price: $13.95
230 Pages

I have owned this book for twelve years; it was one of my sign-up selections when I joined Quality Paperback Club (the first time).  As I recall, I needed a seventh title, and this seemed as interesting as half of the other contenders for the spot.  And so it came in the mail and promptly began its decade-plus role of collecting dust that would otherwise have marred my book shelf.

Unlike other books reviewed by me for this blog, this one is somewhat interactive; I actually took twenty-four of the twenty-five tests.  (I passed on "How Do You Love Your Partner?" which seemed too-Cosmo for my taste.)  Anyway, I found that most of the tests re-affirmed things I've always known or been told about myself.  For instance, I placed very highly on the Experience Seeking subset of the Sensation-Seeking test, while placing very low on the Thrill and Adventure Seeking subset.  I have little attraction to things that could be dangerous, yet will quickly volunteer for something novel from which I suspect I might earn an entertaining anecdote.

My favorite anecdote from having taken these tests concerns the very first test, "How Intelligent Are You?"  There are fifty-four questions, and scoring forty-five or higher places one in the "Gifted" percentile.  When I checked my answers, I discovered that I had correctly answered forty-four questions, one shy of the "Gifted" label.  I also discovered that I had, inadvertently, outright skipped question 25, which, upon review, I would have answered correctly.  If you give me credit for that one that I passed over for some reason, then perhaps I have a claim on the "Gifted" label; I, however, accept that my having failed to even see the question constitutes evidence that I'm not a passable borderline case.

These tests are largely taken from various psychologists; Janda himself only claims credit for one of the tests (and he explains that part of the impetus for this was that he was not given permission to use the test he wanted to include).  Janda follows each test with a cursory explanation of its objectives, and the general implications for people who scored at the high and low ends of the results scale.  One thing I appreciated was Janda's honesty in questioning the significance of a few tests.  For instance, the test, "How Rational Is Your View of the World?" he suggests is reflective of a "philosophy," rather than "science," and that it is perhaps less relevant to the theme of the collection than some of the other, more empiric, tests.  (This test might stand out to me, as I bombed it--scoring a 14, placing me well in the lowest category; the only test on which I surprised myself.)

Tests such as these aren't for everyone.  My own wife balks at the very existence of such things, and will not listen to anything I have had to report about my own results--even when they support things she has insisted are true about me!  I suggest that anyone seeking to take these (or similar) tests do so 1) privately and 2) with the understanding that they are merely introductions to various aspects of ourselves.  Janda regularly offers encouragement for improvement in areas in which we do not place well, and just as regularly cautions against being too proud of a low or high score.

If I had one chief complaint (other than the sometimes obnoxious self-scoring system, what with its reverse-scored questions and all), it is that Janda's explanations are too simple.  Referrals to further reading, or more descriptions concerning the included tests, their origins and those of their creators, would help sheath the tests in a veneer of professionalism.  As it stands, this book is accessible to people with little familiarity with psychology but not particularly rewarding for those who have subsequent questions.

My Results
The General Mental Abilities Test -44, placing me in the 85th percentile; a 45 or higher is "gifted"
The Fear of Success Scale - 14, placing me deep into the 85th percentile (10 or higher)
The Assertive Job-Hunting Survey - 57, placing me well within the 15th percentile (90 or lower)
The Impostor Phenomenon Scale - 72, placing me ridiculously high in the 85th percentile (37 or higher)
The Test-Wiseness Test - 29, placing me in the 85th percentile (28 or higher)
The Self-Esteem Inventory - 22, placing me lowly in the 15th percentile (33 or lower)

The Internality, Chance, and Powerful Others Scale

  • Internality - 33, placing me in the middle of the 50th percentile (32-34)
  • Powerful Others - 33, placing me highly in the 85th percentile (25 or higher)
  • Chance - 30, placing me highly in the 85th percentile (23 or higher)

The Rational Behavior Inventory - 14, in the 15th percentile (22 or lower); the only test with which I strongly disagreed

Sensation-Seeking Scale, Form V

  • Thrill and Adventure Seeking - 6, in the 15th percentile (6 or lower)
  • Experience Seeking - 7, in the 85th percentile (7 or higher)
  • Disinhibition - 5, in the 30th percentile (5)
  • Boredom Susceptibility - 5, in the 70th percentile (5)
  • Total - 23, in the 50th percentile (23-25)

The Existential Anxiety Scale - 10, in the 85th percentile (10 or higher)

The Social Interaction Self-Statement Test

  • Positive Thoughts - 48, placing me in the 50th percentile (47-50)
  • Negative Thoughts - 46, placing me in the 50th percentile (44-48)

The Rathus Assertiveness Scale - 5, placing me in the 50th percentile (0-14)

The Interpersonal Dependency Inventory

  • Emotional Reliance on Others - 31, in the 15th percentile (30-34)
  • Lack of Social Self-Confidence - 40, in the 85th percentile (36 or higher)
  • Autonomy - 42, in the 85th percentile (35 or higher)

The Competitive-Cooperative Attitude Scale - 62, in the 30th percentile (60-67)
The Argumentativeness Scale - 15, in the 85th percentile (15 or higher)
The Triangular Love Scale - did not take
Intimacy Attitude Scale, Revised - 163, in the 30th percentile (161-171)
The Romanticism Scale - 89, in the 50th percentile (86-92)
The Self-Report Jealousy Scale - 31, in the 15th percentile (58 or lower)
Positive Feelings Questionnaire - 112, in the 70th percentile (107-112)
The Sexual Knowledge Test - 21, in the 50th percentile (19-21)

The Sexual Attitudes Scale

  • Permissiveness - 64, in the 50th percentile (60-72)
  • Sexual Practices - 35, in the 85th percentile (35 or higher)
  • Communion - 41, in the 70th percentile (41-44)
  • Instrumentality - 12, in the 15th percentile (9-12)

The Sexual Anxiety Inventory - 14, in the 85th percentile (14 or higher)
The Sensuality Scale - 25, in the 50th percentile (23-25)
The Relationship Assessment Scale - 35, in the 85th percentile (35 or higher)

10 October 2009

"My Word Is My Bond" by Roger Moore

My Word Is My Bond
Roger Moore
Date of Publication: 4 November 2008

Cover Price: $27.95
336 Pages
Oldham County Public Library

Sir Roger Moore, perhaps best known as one of the assorted James Bonds, turns in a rather self-deprecating account of his life.  Along the way from birth till publication, Moore tells of various hospitalizations, his professional growth from a clothing ad model to one of the most recognizable actors in the entire world, a handful of marriages and a spattering of colorful anecdotes of friends and colleagues along the way.  Fans of Moore's aren't terribly likely to learn a lot of revelatory insights, as most of this has been fairly common knowledge for some time.

To be honest, I was somewhat disappointed because many of the anecdotal passages were shared during his frequently off-topic audio commentary tracks for his seven Bond outings on their most recent DVD issue.  Of course, having already literally heard these tales in Moore's own voice made it even easier to hear him narrating whole passages at a time while reading the printed page.  In fact, the entire thing smacks of Moore's speaking voice and reads fairly effortlessly.  The only genuine complaint I would register concerns the plethora of run-on sentences; sometimes whole paragraphs have a singular period and a host of commas where others ought to have been.

The final chapters concern Moore's involvement with UNICEF, and the content breaks dramatically from the ego-clashes of movie stars that permeates the remainder of My Word Is My Bond.  Even already being familiar with the kinds of cruelties and hardships endured by countless children across the world, they never fail to rattle me each time I hear of them.  There are some genuinely disturbing things Moore shares with his readers, and this is in keeping with how he has approached his role with UNICEF.  People may not be excited to discuss the plight of children, but they are drawn to the celebrity of James Bond.  Moore has openly traded on his celebrity to draw much-deserved attention to the cause, and it comes as no surprise he would structure his memoir accordingly.

08 October 2009

VHS Rental Memories

This blog entry began as a response to a thread on the DVD Talk forum.  I got a bit carried away and when I finished, I decided that the whole thing would make for a worthy entry in my movies blog.  For people of my generation, I think that VHS rental was the way most of us saw the majority of movies.

DVD rental never really had the same effect, for a variety of reasons.  First, VHS weren't "priced to own" until the latter stages of the format; in the beginning, VHS tapes were priced at $100 and up, thusly discouraging consumers from owning films.  The thinking on the part of the studios was that if you owned a VHS, they wouldn't get any of your money anymore.  If you were going to make a permanent purchase, they wanted to get a big chunk of cash from you upfront to offset a lifetime of repeat rentals that they would then miss.  It wasn't until sometime in the early 1990s that consumers could count on $20-$30 release price points.

Secondly, of course, renting DVD's can be done through Netflix.  You have access to a much larger library than any brick & mortar store I've ever rented from, and you never even have to leave your house to make your selection, receive it, watch it or return it.  Despite the obvious superiority of this system, there's something to be said for the human interaction of actually going to a local community's video rental store.  You hear the discussions of favorite actors, movies that "looked good," and things that someone else recommended (sometimes followed by a critique of that mysterious third party's taste).  "Rob said Doc Hollywood was a good movie."  "Rob also said his Ford Pinto was a good car."

The first video rental place I can recall in our town was actually Radio Shack. They had a small library, kept on a double-sided shelf. My dad rented from them regularly, whereas my mom never really cared for movies. They divorced when my brother and I were little (hell, he wasn't even a year old), so we became acquainted with the rental process through him. Later, we got a Roadrunner Video that moved to, I think, three various locations over a little more than a decade. After I turned about 10, I quit going to my dad's on his weekends. Mom had opened a shop with my grandmother and they worked Saturdays. So, I got to rent tapes a lot of times and stay home on Saturdays and watch the movies.

Dad rented things that I know Mom would never have selected, or even approved of us seeing.  I recall Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will?, My Life as a Dog, Glory and other movies with harsher language, more graphic violence and flagrant nudity than the more age-appropriate fare that she preferred we see.  I remember there was one movie he rented, and to this day I have no clue what it was, but during the opening credits a woman walked in on what was either her sister or friend having sex.  The guy was hoisting the woman into the air, and she was wearing black panties.  Maybe a garter belt and stockings.

I remember renting Dick Tracy, which I'd wanted to see all summer long in 1990 but never quite managed to get out to Louisville to a theater to see. (I finally got to see it on a big screen last year.) I rented all kinds of things: Dances with Wolves, Hot Shots!, This Is Garth Brooks! (which I later bought from Roadrunner when they removed it from the rental library), Mobsters (I still am not sure how I got away with renting an R film at that age), Doc Hollywood and various other early 90s flicks.

Sometime in the early to mid 90s, we got another local chain, Movie Warehouse, and for a while Kroger (regional grocer) operated a video rental department. Movie Warehouse's library was probably the largest, but they had a bad habit of keeping titles in their "new releases" much longer than was reasonable. For instance, I know for a fact that From Dusk Till Dawn was on that new arrival wall for well over a full calendar year. (New arrivals cost more/were rented for less time than catalog titles, so maybe it was a testament to the popularity of that particular film.)

Kroger was more of a hassle (and costlier), which is probably why their rental service didn't last long. I don't really recall renting videos from them particularly, though I do remember renting video games for the SNES from time to time. And I bought Groundhog Day as a used VHS from them. Strangely, I never saw the movie until I finally broke it out for the 10th anniversary of the theatrical release.

In 1995, we finally got a theater in town--the Oldham 8. By my junior year of high school, my friends and I would regularly catch the last matinee showing of something there, and then go walking around town. We'd wind up at Movie Warehouse, where we'd rent three movies ('cause that was their standard rental package at the time), and stay up all night with a themed trilogy. We'd do a Val Kilmer night, or a baseball night. One night we did a parody night that consisted of National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1, Canadian Bacon and The Silence of the Hams. By the time these trilogies wrapped up, the sun was usually coming up. The night we finally got around to renting From Dusk Till Dawn, we saved it for last. It was very surreal having the sun come up almost in sync with the film.

12 August 2009

The Long Goodbye

It shouldn't be surprising, or upsetting, that Brooks & Dunn have announced that they are dissolving the most successful duo in country music (if not all of music). The last single they released to radio featuring lead vocals by Kix Brooks was "South of Santa Fe" from the If You See Her album back in 1999. It stalled at #41 on the charts. Concert-goers have found Kix's portion of the set repetitive as a result, tiring over the last decade of hearing "Mama Don't Get Dressed Up for Nothing" because there's nothing to take its place in the repetoire.

Ronnie Dunn has, in recent years, appeared as a guest vocalist credited by himself; in years past, non-album tracks of theirs credited the duo even when the contribution was restricted to vocals from just one of the two of them. Kix has taken over the American Country Countdown radio show and become a board member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Perhaps more significantly, ever since Sugarland became a duo they're stranglehold on the Duo of the Year awards has been usurped.

So, what now? Well, next month they release a 2-disc, career-spanning hits collection, #1's...and Then Some, including their current single, "Indian Summer" and another new recording. 2010 will see what is being billed as their final tour. Dunn seems poised to break loose as a solo act, while Brooks appears to be settling into a life that doesn't revolve around the stage. It's difficult to imagine either having as much success in the Male Vocalist category as they have had together as a duo, and yet as they near their 60's in the next few years it's hard to imagine them maintaining the same pace they've kept up for nearly twenty years regardless of what they do at this point.

Ultimately, of course, as a fan I can only thank Tim DuBois for having the idea of pairing the two once upon a time. Their Neon Circus & Wild West Show tours were an absolute blast and they've turned in some of the most crank-it-up worthy songs of their generation--from "Ain't Nothing 'Bout You" to "Brand New Man," from "Play Something Country" to "Rock My World (Little Country Girl)," it's been a wonderful ride.

Around the World in…a Handful of Samplers

I don’t know about you, but I love free music.  I’ll listen to pretty much anything at least once, and for the price of free I can afford to find out I don’t like something.  Amazon currently has a plethora of free digital samplers and I have downloaded a handful of them.  Most of them are from lesser-known independent labels trying to gain exposure for their up-and-coming talent, but what interested me were the few international music samplers.  I have no way of knowing just how representative these recordings really are of the music scene in different countries; I may be hearing their All-American Rejects, or I might be hearing their Milli Vanilli.  I just don’t know.
In any event, the samplers vary from about six songs to ten, with eight songs being the common length.  These would be perfect for the commute to and from work; get away from the monotony of commercial radio for thirty minutes and head to a different part of the world entirely.  The international-themed samplers currently available are:
  • Rough Music Guide World Music Sampler
  • VP Recordings Reggae Sampler
  • Music from Croatia
  • Far Out Recordings – Brazilian Music Sampler
  • Celtic Sampler Summer 2009
  • Six Degrees Free Indian Music Sampler
In case you’re not interested in traveling the world, perhaps you’d prefer to travel back in time.  In that case, there are also a handful of other samplers that may be of interest:
  • X5 Golden Voices
  • X5 Jazz
  • Savoy Jazz 1959 Sampler
These samplers contain recordings by Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Edith Piaf and others.  Between the three samplers, there are 13 songs waiting to be heard, perhaps again; perhaps for the first time.
Two other samplers I would currently recommend (the price being right and all) are the Amazon Comedy Sampler and the Romantic Nights Sampler.  As with most contemporary comedy, the sample tracks contain a lot of explicit language and you might not find them all funny; I thought it was very hit-or-miss, but fans of the Comedy Central brand of humor will probably be more satisfied than I was with the represented comics.

10 August 2009

What Would Willie Do?

As we struggle to endure the woes of the economy, one might consider looking to Willie Nelson for guidance. The Red Headed Stranger has, after all, lived quite a life and made it through all kinds of trials--from being born during the Great Depression to several divorces, from service in the Air Force to founding Farm Aid and from being sued by the I.R.S. to being a public proponent for the legalization of marijuana. And yet, when I ask myself, "What would Willie do?" I see an obvious answer that isn't necessarily applicable to everyone else:

Keep working.

No one in modern music comes close to Willie's output. Just through the end of this month alone, Willie will have released five albums. In February, he released a collaboration with Asleep at the Wheel. That was followed in March by a collection of live recordings from the "Last of the Breed" Tour with the Wheel, Merle Haggard and Ray Price, as well as a stripped-down re-issue of several of his vintage RCA recordings. Tomorrow, Lost Highway releases a 17 song compilation of cuts from Willie's releases for the label and two weeks from now he will make his label debut for Blue Note Records with American Classics, a spiritual successor to 1978's iconic Stardust.

Sure, you might say, the live cuts were just taken from a tour he was doing anyway and the Naked Willie album was nothing more than un-editing thirty year old recordings. And the Lost Highway compilation just collects previously issued songs (with three previously unissued tracks for good measure). Maybe, but who else would even bother with such releases?

More importantly, perhaps that's the lesson. So many artists spend years crafting a 10-14 song album, mixing and re-mixing, tinkering and re-writing, and then if the sales aren't overwhelming the project is dismissed as a failure. Are any of Willie's albums multi-platinum blockbusters? No; those days are over, it appears. And yet, when one considers his legacy, one cannot avoid the ever-expanding discography. New fans can be forgiven for being overwhelmed; even if you managed to screen out the off-label collections of his recordings, it's daunting to find a starting point. Willie seems to be well past the point of even caring if his fans even know about his latest release, much less worrying whether its sales are high.

Instead, he simply keeps turning them in every few months and leaving it to the critics, fans and history to determine what was and what wasn't a standout entry in his discography. Perhaps then, we as a society should take a page from Willie's playbook and stop trying to perfect everything we do. Maybe we should just take our ideas and run with them, and let what works work and what doesn't, fall away.

"The Song" - Poem

Another poem? Really? 'Fraid so. I wrote this one en route to Our Deck Down Under in Daytona on vacation. I had the idea earlier in the day of using a song as a metaphor for a failed romance, and on the way to get some grub the lines practically wrote themselves. I revised several lines for the published version, but the general idea is still intact.

I know "real" poets wouldn't resort to such a pedestrian metaphor, and their compositions wouldn't rely on prose to the extent that I do. My response? Get over yourself. I simply had an idea that wasn't big enough to meet the demands of even a vignette, so I made it a poem. I have no delusions that I will engineer an overthrow of the poetry world, so feel free to continue ignoring my dalliances with your precious art form.

Click here to read for yourself.

09 August 2009

A Personal Soundtrack

Having explored the iTunes Essentials collections, and been particularly reflective (if not outright nostalgic) of late, I have recently begun sequencing mixes based on the music of different phases of my life. Currently, there are five discs in the collection. The first three cover music from my childhood through high school; the remaining two discs collect music that I recall hearing a lot while working at Cracker Barrel.

It's been kind of a fun project for me. When my brother and I were kids, we had a biweekly ritual where our mom would take us to Louisville on Sundays. Sometimes we'd go shopping, often to a mall where the idea wasn't so much to actually buy anything as it was to while away an afternoon and get birthday and Christmas gift ideas. My mom is one of those people who began Christmas shopping on December 26th, so she would take notes all year long. Sometimes we'd go see a movie, though it was always something marketed toward families with young children. I still have a distinct memory of being taken to Showcase Cinemas to see E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial during its original run, and I remember feeling left out of conversations at school because classmates had gone to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which was not presented as something my mom wanted to see, nor did she want us to see).

Regardless of where we went, we took a portable cassette recorder deck with us. I know today's kids won't believe there was a time before satellite radio and cars that sync with iPods, but we had a Ford Fairmont and the only music it played was the radio. Nothing against radio, but we as a family really weren't that into mainstream radio. I grew up on 50s and 60s oldies (mom thought music took a turn for the worse in the 70s), and it was actually my younger brother who brought country music into the mix. We got cable around the time of our parents' divorce, and I recall many an occasion when he would turn up the volume on our TV as far as it would go whenever the music video for Dwight Yoakam's "Honky Tonk Man" came on throughout 1986 and 1987.

It was in 1986 that I first owned music of my own. Mom surprised me one afternoon with the cassette release of The Transformers: The Movie - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Many a Sunday afternoon found us playing that tape on our portable deck in the car. Perhaps I should be impressed by my mom's tolerance for indulging me, but instead I look back and I'm impressed by her good taste. Hey, Stan Bush rocks!

The Transformers started my lifelong interest in soundtrack releases, even though it would be another three years before I would feel compelled to own another. It was 1989, and Batmania swept the nation (if not the entire world) and I was no exception. I had to have Prince's Batman - Motion Picture Soundtrack. At the time, I enjoyed "Partyman," "Trust" and "Batdance," and the other six songs did very little for me. I have since come to value it as something of a guilty pleasure. The Danny Elfman score release, though, was an eye-opener for me. I had enjoyed Vince DiCola's instrumental tracks on Transformers, but I had never considered that anyone would want to own an album of just instrumental music from a movie before. Of course, I had to have it and so began a love affair with scores.

By the time the 90s rolled around, I'd largely gotten out of country music. I can't say why, necessarily, other than to say there was very little that interested me at the time. (Odd, given that the fabled Class of '89 was just underway with its inauguration of a new aesthetic, and given how big a fan I have since become of most of those artists.) During my middle school years (late 1990 through early 1993), I favored MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. To this day, it remains a personal victory that I managed to get my openly racist dad to give me Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em on cassette for Christmas 1990. Mom objected to several of the lyrics to Ice's songs, but I somehow managed to own not only his To the Extreme debut, but the now-forgotten Extremely Live and even the soundtrack to Cool as Ice.

The rest of those years were marked, musically at least, by soundtracks. In fact, aside from Hammer and Ice, the only mainstream release I owned at all was Bryan Adams's Waking Up the Neighbours--and the truth is, I only wanted that because it contained "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Sure, I owned that soundtrack, too (Michael Kamen's score is good, and I've always hated the way it was presented on the soundtrack release).

In 1991, I saw a teaser poster for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and decided I wanted to see it. Being the person I am, I boned up by going back and renting the previous five Star Trek movies and watching the TV episodes. Naturally, I had to have the soundtracks, and I remember distinctly that I got my first CD player for Christmas 1991. It was a Sony boombox, and the first CD I ever owned was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.

CD technology fascinated me. For the first time, I could hear an entire album all the way through without having to switch sides, or even wait for the auto-switch feature to finish playing one side and begin the other. I could play any song I wanted by going directly to it and, best of all, I could shuffle a disc and hear songs out of sequence! So began my fascination with mixes, which take songs out of context and put them in a new one.

Throughout my high school years, most of my music listening was confined to soundtracks. In 1995, we finally got a movie theater in my small hometown and what had previously been a flirtation with films became a full-blown affair. That same year I discovered James Bond (just in time for Pierce Brosnan's debut in GoldenEye), and more soundtracks found their way into my library. Eric Serra's score doesn't hold a candle to the John Barry years, but I've always had a soft spot for it because it was my first. Plus, I loved Tina Turner's title song.

My senior year of high school, a friend introduced me to George Strait's Carrying Your Love with Me at a time when I was struggling with insomnia. I found I was able to fall asleep listening to the album and immediately bought a copy for myself. He then challenged me to go out and buy all of Strait's discography. Strait's debut album came in 1981 and he maintained a release schedule of an album a year--plus a few hits collections and a Christmas album along the way. It took me a while, but I eventually did it and I have maintained a complete George Strait library ever since.

I was always somewhat fascinated by Garth Brooks, dating back to my brother playing his eponymous debut album as an excuse to sing along with "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" so he could cuss. I'll never forget watching This Is Garth Brooks! on TV with my brother at our dad's house. Other than baseball, I can't think of anything the three of us were all interested in watching. After Strait brought me back to country music, my first visit was to check in on Garth and I was caught up on his (admittedly much smaller) discography in time for the release of his Sevens album in November 1997.

As I mentioned, there are two volumes of music collecting songs that were predominant when I worked at Cracker Barrel (from April 1998 through August 2000). The "Front of the House" disc contains country music; the "Back of the House" disc is comprised of Top 40 pop/rock stuff from the stations that played regularly in the kitchen. There is currently a gap between the high school years and the Cracker Barrel years, from June 1997 through April 1998. I'm not sure if I'll do anything with that sliver of time or not; I did work at Wal-Mart for six or seven months during that stretch. Maybe I'll do something with it later.

Ultimately, it's just been fun for me to revisit my youth in song. Even though the songs might be playing on my iPod, when I hear "The Touch," I'm back in that Fairmont with the tape deck on my lap in the passenger seat. "U Can't Touch This" makes me smile at my victory over my dad in 1990. I'm still excited at having unwrapped my first CD player when I hear "The Mountain" from Star Trek V. There are countless other memories, and it has been something of a catharsis to work on this personal project lately.

The Onus Is on You, Mr. Record Man

See if this sounds familiar. Consumer spending is down, and rather than have the folks at the top of an industry re-adjust to a less stratospheric income, they whittle away the jobs of underlings and reign in the business's activities. Yeah, it could be any industry right now, but the music industry has had a head start on the economic meltdown. In many ways, it might be the perfect microcosm for understanding how misguided many of our business leaders have been these last several years. I'll leave that to the economists, though.

Instead, I'm taking a moment to address a controversial issue: piracy. Now, no one needs to lecture me about the negative impact that piracy has on the artists, the labels and the whole industry. I have, in fact, been rather outspoken in my support over the years of the RIAA's efforts to date to defend recording artists from file-sharers. However, I have recently stumbled upon a gray area. It has been there from the beginning, of course, but I'm just now reaching it myself so bear with me if this all sounds repetitious to you.

I have been rebuilding my music library over the last year or so, thanks to Half Price Books where I can regularly rescue a CD from the clearance section for the cost of downloading a single song. Sometime last year, I found the score album for Tomorrow Never Dies there for just $3.00. I grabbed it firstly because it's a James Bond soundtrack I didn't already have, but I was also conscious of the fact that it has been long out of print and regularly goes for anywhere between $50 and $100 on eBay. Why? Supply and demand; there was such a low expectation of demand when it went into print a decade ago that not many were pressed. Ergo, those of us who are Bond collectors or happen to be soundtrack collectors, flock to this title whenever we get the chance. In point of fact, this copy is the only one I have ever seen in person.

This got me to thinking, though, about the other James Bond fans who want to hear this music but can't. Wouldn't this be the perfect release for file-sharing? Whether I paid $3.00 to Half Price Books or $100 to an eBay seller, David Arnold (the composer) won't see one penny of the transaction because it's a secondary market sale; the original inventory has long since sold through, meaning all the royalty money to be had off this release has already been made. Now, Tomorrow Never Dies is entirely relegated to the collector market, where the seller is entitled to keep 100% of the sale price.

So, if I were to upload Tomorrow Never Dies and share it, other than the fact that I do not have the legal right to do so, what would be the economic impact? Ultimately, the only thing would be that the $50-$100 secondary market price would fall. And even that's speculation, because most of the people who would even be interested in such a release would prefer to have a tangible original rather than a digital clone. It would suffice and sustain such a fan until such time as he or she could purchase the original, but I don't know that sharing this music would really even deflate the collector market price much.

Ultimately, then, if the RIAA and involved parties wish to earn every last cent from Tomorrow Never Dies, it seems to me that they need to spend money to make money. In today's digital age, where the record labels have lived in fear of music being distributed digitally, it seems to me that they have entirely missed an opportunity. Surely it is far more reasonable for record labels to keep music "in print" digitally rather than manufacturing CD's and expecting vendors to clutter their limited rack space with a title for which there are so few potential buyers. All they need to do is put this music for sale on iTunes and then not only will they diffuse the argument in favor of sharing Tomorrow Never Dies, but they might just make some money in the process. Not everyone who wants this release can be as lucky as me to find it for a mere $3.00, you know.

Note to the RIAA: I have not, nor do I intend to, actually share this or any other music. Mostly because I'm too lazy to go to the trouble of uploading it, but partly because I agree that the copyright system must be protected. I trust, though, that my point is made that there is a responsibility on the part of the suppliers to meet demand.

06 August 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

My wife and I have been working on "going green" for a while now, and we were thrilled to discover our county has resumed operating a recycling center. My grandmother has been doing some major cleaning and so I made sure to nudge her in the direction of taking a greener approach to her purge than just discarding everything into the trash. Her being 71 years old (and schooled in the arts of manipulation), I've been recruited to help her with some of her project lately, including loading up the recycling and taking it.

Among the items we've taken yesterday and today are: a bin full of plastic bottles that has been accumulating for about a month now; some flattened cardboard boxes; a handful of old phone books and several electronics items. We still had the record player/stereo system from when we owned the consignment shop, and even though the speakers still work and it will play cassettes, the phonograph is the only reason I ever wanted it and that part died about a year ago. We had two VCR's collecting dust and three portable TV's that are now paperweights thanks to the digital conversion. It was actually kind of sad to discard the small Samsung that had been in the kitchen since I was a child, but it was manufactured in December 1983 and there isn't even a jack for a DTV converter to plug into it. The nice thing is that I know there are many people who scavenge the center, so there's a chance someone with some know-how might make use of these things before they even get recycled. I hope so.

At the risk of exaggerating, I will say that this is easily among the most physically demanding activities I've done in months. Partly, this is because of all the lifting and carrying from the house, to the van, to the recycling center. Partly, though, it's because of the heat and humidity, and I know my Crohnies appreciate what the heat can do to one's guts. I once had a much higher tolerance for the warmer months, but the last few years I have longed for Autumn a bit more each August.

Still, it has been rather rewarding to exert such levels of energy. It's actually made me feel something that has been absent for quite a while, and that's a sense of being useful. It may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit helps. Whether discussing the green effort or one's self-image, I think that's true and I am here to testify that it has been healthy for me.

20 July 2009

Nature, Nurture, Maturity & Morality

Recently, I had a debate with my 14 year old cousin vis a vis some decisions that someone we both know has made of late. The person in question (who shall anonymous, because it is entirely irrelevant to the point I'm making here) has not, shall we say, had particularly healthy choices of a romantic nature. When I posited that this person has grown up without any real examples of what a healthy relationship is, my cousin responded that it is entirely a cop-out to blame one's environment, that we each know right from wrong. Does any of this sound familiar? I thought so.

While washing dishes a little bit ago, I re-visited this debate as I am wont to do while cleaning. I think most people, if pressed, will confess that they have many chore-inspired epiphanies. Why this is, I cannot say; I only know that it happens. Anyway, I was amused to consider what my 14 year old self would have said concerning the issue. Partly my younger self has been on my mind because of the ongoing, Make Sense of Turning Thirty issue that has played out in this very blog, and partly I've considered the contrast betwixt my younger and current selves because I revisited Eyes Wide Shut the other day to mark the 10th anniversary of seeing it during its theatrical release.

I went into Eyes Wide Shut having been told it was an artistic triumph, that it was brilliant, etc. I walked out of the theater in that Chicago mall where my friends and I saw the film on vacation convinced that the whole thing was really just an overlong excuse to put some flesh on the screen. Upon subsequent viewings, however, I have come to appreciate the nuances and subtleties of the film. As a 20 year old guy with precious little dating experiences, I grew impatient with Tom Cruise's performance as Bill, wanting him to get on with things. My 30 year old, married self instead sees the depiction of a man coping with the unforseen devastation of his wife's confession that she would have discarded their life together to act on a lustful impulse had she had the opportunity. I cannot fathom experiencing that in my own marriage, and so where my younger self was bored, my current self stares in empathetic anguish at Cruise's masterful performance.

Getting back to the point at hand, I considered that my 14 year old self would have quickly sided with my (our?) cousin on the issue. He was a much more black-and-white, judgmental guy than I am. He had little sympathy for the circumstances that influence how people's lives can divert them from where they intended or desired to be. He almost relished the idea of people paying maximum penalties for their errors, because it confirmed his thesis that doing the right thing ought to earn a reward and doing the wrong thing ought to similarly bring about consequences.

My cousin argues that we somehow know right from wrong, and that that inner guiding voice calls out to us regardless of what we have been taught or exposed to in our formative years. I think my younger self, again, would have agreed with this. After all, he did not grow up around drug abusers and he knew that substance abuse was wrong. Surely, there are no people out there unaware of this fact; ergo, anyone who uses gets whatever they deserve. Sounds like right and wrong and justice to me, I would have said.

Social conservatives share this worldview, and dismiss the more accepting, liberal approach as naive and destructive. "Spare the rod, spoil the child," they say. And yet, I have to ask: How do they raise their own children? I would suspect that, time after time, they re-iterate the household rules, they try to lead by example, they give lectures and other disciplinary measures as needed to reinforce their childrens' understanding of the expectations placed on their behavior.

But why?

If we, in fact, know right from wrong inherently as they insist, then surely that is all wasted effort? Aren't their children hard-wired to already distinguish right from wrong? Of course they aren't; they must be taught what behaviors are accepted and which are not. Why, then, can we not acknowledge the role that failure to properly instill these guidances in a child played to lead one to poor decisions as a teen or an adult?

I am not so leftist I believe these unpleasant conditions ought to excuse one from the consequences of one's actions; rather, I challenge the judgmental nature of those who wish to ignore the relationship between past and present. Maybe it's the historian in me, but I cannot isolate an event in the present from those that precipitated it. I consider it necessary to properly understand a situation; why is it naive to pursue such a level of understanding prior to passing judgment on someone? More over, can we not agree that the failure to provide healthy guidance and role models for our youth is directly responsible for unacceptable choices made later in life? That is, after all, why we try to teach our youth right from wrong; why are we so harsh toward the youth whose parents did not and were unable to provide those things for themselves?

My younger self would say I've sold out, that I've become a wuss. He'd say that I'm guilty of philosophical treason to ourself and that I am not the person he ever wanted to be. On the former point, I would certainly agree with him. I just don't know that he would be experienced or mature enough to pass that judgment on me.

iTunes Essentials

As I indicated in my June playlist post, I've recently begun exploring the iTunes Essentials playlists. These are constructed around three basic themes: 1) Artist-specific, 2) Year or era-specific or 3) Mood-specific. Each list varies in length, but the two most common sizes I've seen are 45 or 75 songs, broken into sections: The Basics, Next Steps and Deep Cuts. Theoretically, the relevance of a song to the playlist theme is suggested by the section in which it appears. For instance, if they had an MC Hammer list (and I'm a bit bothered that they don't), one would expect "U Can't Touch This" to be among The Basics, a cut from the Funky Headhunter album in the Next Steps and "This Is What We Do" from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack among the Deep Cuts. Get how this works? Good.

Now, what I've been doing is printing their lists and then constructing as much of them as I can with what I already have in my library. I've completed several so far: George Strait, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Gary Allan, Dixie Chicks and Waylon Jennings. I'm one song shy of completing Toby Keith ("A Woman's Touch") and two shy of Tim McGraw (a pair of cuts from his ignored eponymous debut album). I have yet to complete any of the year or mood-specific themed collections, though I've gotten as many as 62 of 75 on one list ("Contemporary Country").

Why would I, who has a long track record of diligently compiling my own playlists, defer to something manufactured like this? There are two reasons. Firstly, they are a measuring stick for my library. I took some small measure of pride in knowing my Waylon library is developed enough that I could completely create their 75-song playlist (even more so since I was able to take many of the songs from their original albums rather than the subsequent compilations from which iTunes selected them).

The other reason I have been fascinated to explore these lists is that they are guiding me as I re-visit the 1990s and begin exploring music that I had previously ignored. I can't say why, necessarily, but I have of late been drawn to compiling a collection of songs that I recall hearing on the mainstream, Top 40 radio stations that played in kitchen when I worked at Cracker Barrel in the late 1990s. Some songs I recalled; others I'd forgotten entirely until reminded by their appearance on the year-specific lists. I don't intend to track down all 225 songs on their 1998, 1999 and 2000 lists, but they have been helpful to me as I work to expand my own library.

I do have some remarks concerning the lists I have seen so far, and I wish there was a convenient way of bringing these to the attention of someone at Apple. Firstly, there are a handful of instances of song duplication within a list. For instance, "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven" appears within both The Basics and the Deep Cuts sections of the Kenny Chesney list. This isn't a common problem, but I think in the 30 or so lists I've printed I've run across three or four such duplications. That's about 10 per cent and that's way too high.

I was surprised by the Alan Jackson list because it does not include "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." Set aside the fact it was a six-week #1 hit; there is a unique, historical context to that song that transcended Jackson's already solid career to that point. The historian in me balks at its omission, and yet I confess: I was oblivious to its exclusion not only as I pored over the list, reconstructing it within my library, but I didn't even notice its absence as I played all 75 songs! That they could take 75 songs and arrange them so that I didn't even notice the absence of what may well be the biggest hit of his career is a testament that they did get something right, I should think.

Other omissions are not as easy to accept, much less forgive. For instance, their Dwight Yoakam list is simply invalid. I would love to know who approved any playlist entitled "iTunes Essentials: Dwight Yoakam" that includes neither "Honky Tonk Man" nor "Guitars, Cadillacs." That the remainder of the list is quite impressive is irrelevant; those two recordings are the very definition of "essential Dwight Yoakam." Still, Dwight fared better than George Jones, whose list is stunted at a mere 54 songs, none of which are "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes," "Choices" or "Beer Run." All three songs are available from the iTunes store, so their absence is particularly conspicuous. Granted, I favor streamlined playlists; but I find it egregious that George Jones, in his fifth decade as a recording artist, has but nine more songs on his "iTunes Essentials" playlist than Norah Jones, who has yet to release her fifth album as a recording artist.

My final gripe is the inconsistency of the Deep Cuts sections. iTunes describes this as the songs that are worth hearing, despite not having been released as singles--or even on the artist's own albums. One would expect to find, for instance, "Designated Drinker" among the Deep Cuts section of the George Strait list. It was a duet with Alan Jackson from his 2002 album, Drive. It appears on Jackson's list, but not on Strait's. The aforementioned Norah Jones list includes many of these miscellaneous recordings, and that's one of the reasons I think it's one of the better lists I've seen. Conversely, though, one can easily imagine an entire, 75-song list of just the "Essential Miscellaneous George Jones" recordings from over the years. Most artists' entire discographies aren't as large as the volume of guest appearance work that The Possum has turned in over the decades, and yet these are entirely missing from his list.

One failure I can forgive, though, is the absence of Garth Brooks from these playlists. Brooks, to date, has resisted efforts to bring his catalog to the world of digital distribution and as the biggest act since Elvis his songs are sorely missed on playlists such as "'90s Country." That said, it is impressive that the 75 songs on that list that iTunes selected manage to hold up despite missing the undisputed king of that era. We can only hope that The Beatles catalog reaches the digital world, because certainly that would bait Garth-zilla into following suit.

13 July 2009

Monsters: A Celebration of Horror Classics from Universal Studios

atThe Louisville Palace's summer movie series is up and running, having begun this weekend. Sorry for not posting sooner, but they are notorious for waiting until the last minute to post anything on their website about this annual series. I simply forgot to check back with them last week. Anyway, here is the lineup:

Friday July 10 (7:3o) & Saturday July 11 (2:00) - The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Saturday July 11 (5:00 & 8:00) - Dracula (1931)
Friday July 17 (7:30) & Saturday July 18 (2:00) - Frankenstein (1931)
Saturday July 18 (5:00 & 8:00) - The Mummy (1932)
Friday July 24 (7:30) & Saturday July 25 (2:00) - The Invisible Man (1932)
Saturday July 25 (5:00 & 8:00) - The Black Cat (1934)
Friday July 31 (7:30) & Saturday August 1 (2:00) - The Raven (1935)
Saturday August 2 (5:00 & 8:00) - The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Friday August 7 (7:30) & Saturday August 8 (2:00) - The Wolf Man (1940)
Saturday August 8 (5:00 & 8:00) - Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

I already missed Dracula and we won't be home until late the night of the 2nd, so I'll miss The Bride of Frankenstein. That only leaves Frankenstein this weekend on my Must See list.

25 June 2009

"Boone: A Biography" by Robert Morgan

Boone: A Biography
Robert Morgan
Date of Publication: 21 September 2007
Cover Price: $29.95
538 pages

I have a DVD Talk community member to thank for reading Boone: A Biography. I have seen, time and again, that Lateralus is an avid reader of history and so when he declared this work on one of my childhood heroes the best book he'd read in two years I knew I had to read it. The moment I fell in love with this book came when I pictured Boone, the only living soul living in Kentucky, camped out at night reading Gulliver's Travels and the Holy Bible. What wondrous times those must have been, for a singular man to have an entire territory to himself! Certainly, it was not without danger, but then, as Boone himself once declared, "I wouldn't give a tinker's damn for a man who isn't sometimes afraid. Fear's the spice that makes it interesting to go ahead" (page 69).

The subtitle is A Biography, but it should probably have been A Historiography, which is to say, Morgan has provided a history of the history of Daniel Boone. What Morgan brings to this volume is not just research; he contributes his own voice to the discussion of the implications of Boone's legacy and rather than outright discount all the anomalous claims of the pioneer scattered throughout the various historians who have chronicled his exploits, Morgan regularly pauses to explore the possible validity of each claim. Some he can debunk outright--for instance, noting that Boone could not have met with James Audobon in Kentucky at the time the famed ornithologist claimed, for he had yet to arrive in America during the time that Boone may have returned to his former home state. Rather, Morgan supposes that they met in Missouri and that Audobon relocated the discussions to Kentucky for the sake of his European audience, who would likely have been disappointed had they not been left with the image of Boone in the state he all but literally put on the map.

Morgan is, by trade, a poet and prose writer and so his narrative of Boone's exploits go beyond the typically cut-and-dried approach of historians divorcing themselves from emotion for the sake of objectivity. When Boone arrives and takes his first look out onto the Appalachian Mountains, Morgan fills the account with awe and wonder; when Boone lays to rest loved ones, it is as much Morgan's sadness as Boone's that permeates the page.

This is a very personal exploration of a man who, in many regards, existed as a self-contradiction. The explorer whose enthusiasm led directly to the destruction of the wilderness he loved, the hero hounded more by creditors than enemies, the devoted family man who once spent two entire years hunting in isolation during which his wife gave birth to what was likely the daughter of one of his own brothers; the list goes on. Now, in 2009 as we look with uncertainty toward our own present and future, it is with great comfort to recall the adventures of a man threatened with bankruptcy and external incursions and to know that the American spirit has, since before it was even American, endured such events. And, perhaps, we can learn from Boone's mistakes as well.

If I had two complaints, it would be these. Firstly, I sincerely wish Morgan had employed footnotes, rather than endnotes. Not only that, but there are no markers in the text pointing the reader to a particular endnote; rather, one must consult the endnotes and see which chapter, page number and sentence originated with which text. This may have made for a cleaner page to look at, but it did hamper some of my reading as I wished to know, frequently, where Morgan had found a particular quote.

Secondly, Morgan refers to events before discussing them several times. This is common in historical writing and the only reason I mention it in this instance is that this more prose-conscious work brought me much closer to Boone than my previous studies of the man. It "took me out of the book" to read a reference in one chapter that would not actually occur chronologically for another few chapters.

Still and all, this is an impressive work and obviously a labor of genuine love for Morgan. Beyond being a fascinating read about one of my personal favorite historical figures, Boone is also a beautiful physical book. You can click the above thumbnail for a much larger look at the gorgeous cover art, but only by hefting the tome in your own hand can you appreciate the quality that Chapel Hill put into its publication. The pages undulate, the font is pleasing to the eye...this precisely the kind of work that one prominently displays among a library. Despite having read it, this is going direct to the top of my Books Wishlist.

18 June 2009

f(x), Where x = 30

When you're young, each age milestone is a stopping point marking your ascent to adulthood. Remember the fuss over turning five? Ten? How about thirteen, when you officially became a teenager? Then it was sixteen, eighteen, twenty one; driving, voting and drinking, respectively. After twenty one came twenty five, because that's a nice, round number. Somewhere along the line, someone told you to fear or resent turning thirty, that it's a negative experience. Ridiculous, you say. Every milestone so far has been great. Besides, even if turning thirty lacks the sense of celebration that its predecessors have brought, surely it's just a number, right?

There is something palpable about turning 30 that has not set well with me. I was born in December, and because of the birth month cut-off plan of schools, I was a bit older than most of my classmates. Several of them are just now turning 30, or approaching it, and their anxiety comes at a time when I have been grappling for half a year over what this age means for me. I still don't know, honestly, other than to confess that I have found it emotionally disturbing.

Surely, it's all in my head, though? I'd like to say it is, that I'll just get over this when I turn 31, but I don't think so. I have remarked in a previous post about how turning 30 has excluded me from participating in very many online surveys. I've moved out of the meaningful age demographic, and every time my surveys end right after admitting my age I am reminded that I am no longer a young guy. If society expects me to have a different perspective and different lifestyle, then shouldn't I? And what does it say about me that I don't?

I find this time of year particularly trying, with Father's Day approaching. I have never had a particularly great relationship with my own dad, so I've never really enjoyed being surrounded by all the cards and banners everywhere I go. It seems even more aggressive this year, though it may easily be I'm just more sensitive to it. In 2005, we lost twins to a miscarriage and that was, without doubt, the single most painful experience of my life to date. Even now, four years later, I can scarcely discuss the subject and only even type this because I don't know that I'll even publish this blog. Seeing Up vividly brought back to mind every excruciating moment of that anguish, and maybe that's why I'm so resentful this year. Turning 30 and having no children is a reminder that I have, through no fault of my own, zigged when society expected me to zag.

So, if I'm not nearly-middle-aged dad by now, what am I? I'm apparently the same person I was in my 20s. Isn't that good enough? Shouldn't it be? I don't know. We're supposed to keep growing as people, progressing toward a point of achievement that will mark our legacy when we're gone. Maybe that's why turning 30 bothers me so much, and why Father's Day is so discouraging this year; I have no sense of what my legacy would be, should I die today. I can point to nothing in which anyone would, or should, take any sense of pride or accomplishment. Of course, family and friends would argue that I've left each of them with something and maybe that should be good enough but for some reason it just isn't. It seems hollow to think that the only thing left behind would be fond memories left in the fading recesses of the minds of a handful of people.

Reading Boone: A Biography by Robert Morgan has simultaneously exacerbated and abated my anxiety. Morgan describes Boone's two year exploration of Kentucky as his moment of destiny, believing that Boone must have felt and comprehended how special was his undertaking. Boone by this time had a family and was in his 30s; ergo, even having that which I lack was insufficient to fulfill the pioneer. And yet, I cannot help but wonder what should, or will, be my Kentucky? Have I already missed that opportunity, squandered like all the rest? Perhaps I should be contented to view the future as a wide open frontier, waiting to be explored and settled. And maybe when I turn 31, that's how I'll view it. For now, though, I suppose I'm trapped in my own 29 year old mind of the past.

17 June 2009

The Merits of Children's Literature

Originally posted on The Classic Tales Message Board.

Somewhere along the line, with the rise of a cultural emphasis on childhood, literature changed. I am 30, so I grew up in a world of Dr. Seuss, Beverly Cleary and Scholastic Book sales. It never occurred to me as a child to read things like the stories that have comprised The Classic Tales. Those were full books that grown-ups read, not kids.

Looking at my cousins, niece and nephew, though, I cannot help but wonder the effect of children's literature on our young. It seems to me that the idea behind the genre is to present short, easy-to-read stories to young readers so as not to overwhelm them. Let them start with
On Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and work their way up to Ralph and the Motorcycle, and it is assumed that, from there, they will eventually find their way to Great Expectations.

Yet, it seems to me that instead, what has happened is that from
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish they have graduated to watching an adaptation of Ralph and the Motorcycle and then they are lost to a world of movies and video games. Even when something like the Harry Potter or Twilight series comes along, as profitable and as popular as those have been, it seems too many young ones are content to wait for the movies than to ever explore the literary source material.

Has literature done itself a disservice by dumbing down things so much to appeal to children? By eliminating much of the "controversial" elements, have children's books been made so toothless that they repel our youth rather than entice them?

I personally developed my passion for reading through comic books based on
G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero and The Transformers and what always attracted me to those was that the writing was more sophisticated than that of the animated series, especially the former. The animated series might have introduced me to Snake Eyes, but it was Larry Hama's comic book series that made me care about him.

Your thoughts?

06 June 2009

Summer Movie Series - Oldham County Public Library

The free summer movie series continue to roll out! The brand-spanking-new Main Library branch of the Oldham County Public Library will screen the following films on the following dates:
6/9 The Tale of Despereaux
6/16 To Be Announced
6/24 Bedtime Stories
6/30 Bolt
7/7 Kung Fu Panda
7/14 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
7/21 High School Musical 3: Senior Year
This series was crafted for young viewers (obviously) and all movies start playing at 2:00.

01 June 2009

How Well Do You Know Your Friends?

There's an app running through Facebook lately in which people make up quizzes about themselves and then challenge their friends to see how well they actually know one another. It sounds fun and light, right? Well, it's not and I'm about to tell you why that is.

First of all, the quizzes are made up entirely by each person. Unless this is the sort of thing that you craft in your spare time, you'd be surprised how much pressure there is to form a question about yourself with up to five multiple choice responses. The screen just sits in front of you, not saying a word as you struggle to think of something to ask.

Favorite movie? Yeah, that's an easy one. Isn't it? I mean, mine would be Lawrence of Arabia. Except, of course, that I've loved Batman even longer and can quote it verbatim. Although, come to think of it, I've loved The Transformers: The Movie even longer than that and can not only quote it verbatim, I don't even need the movie to be playing to prove it! So, I modified the question to see if anyone knew which movie I wanted to see in widescreen badly enough that I bought my first DVD player (the answer, in case you care, is Tombstone, which was only available on VHS in pan & scan).

Looking back over my questions, I am surprised--and disappointed--that most of them have to do with material things. Aside from the aforementioned DVD player purchase, I asked which Cincinnati Reds player did not sign a baseball I own and what is the name of my childhood stuffed animal? These are things that hardly matter to anyone other than me, so why would they be relevant questions to ask? Oh, sure, I asked if anyone knew which of five choices was a phobia of mine (water at night), but even that's hardly the kind of thing that testifies to any particular quality of friendship.

The most shocking thing about my quiz (for me, anyway) is how many answers have come when asked to place me on the political spectrum. I gave options from Far Left, Left, Moderate, Right and Far Right. I have always seen myself on the Left, though not too far. My personal choices and decision making probably favor more of a Right orientation, but I believe in principles that offer more leniency to society at large than just what I would ask for myself, hence my leftist identity. I thought for sure this would be a "gimme" question, but I've been placed on the Far Left and on the Right!

It gets even worse when you take the quiz of someone else's. So far, the best I've done is 30%, I think. Maybe there was a 40% somewhere, but I haven't even managed to hit 50% of questions on any of my friends. Now, in fairness, I've only taken a few and about half of those are people I know exclusively through the Internet (other Crohnies I've met via wearecrohns.org). Still, when you lived in an apartment building with someone for more than a year and you can't quite recall what kind of car she drove--even though you saw it every freaking day--it makes you feel a bit self-absorbed.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try to craft a more meaningful quiz about myself.

31 May 2009

Louisville Exclusive Films - Village 8

Louisvillians seeking less mainstream/more artistic cinematic fare this summer should check out the Louisville Exclusive Films series at Village 8. The lineup so far is as follows:

5/22-6/4 Everlasting Moments
5/29-6/4 Lymelife
6/5-6/11 Sugar
6/12-6/18 Goodbye Solo
6/19-6/25 Hunger
6/26-7/2 Enlighten Up!
7/3-7/9 Tokyo Sonata

For more information, including show times and synposes, visit their webpage here.

Louisville Gay & Lesbian Film Series - Village 8 2009

Once more, Village 8 Theatres is hosting the annual Louisville Gay & Lesbian Film Series this summer. The lineup is as follows:

5 June through 11 June
Tru Loved (1:00, 5:20 and 9:35 daily)
Ciao (3:20 and 7:35 daily)

12 June through 18 June
Serbis (1:15, 5:25 and 9:45 daily)
Antarctica (3:10 and 7:20 daily)

19 June through 25 June
The Amazing Truth About Q (1:30, 5:30 and 9:55 daily)
I Can't Think Straight (3:20 and 7:20 daily)

26 June through 2 July
Sex Positive (1:30, 5:25 and 9:45 daily)
Breakfast with Scot (3:10 and 7:15 daily)

Learn more about this series by visiting the official online presence here.

Summer Movie Clubhouse - Cinemark Tinseltown Louisville 2009

Cinemark Tinseltown Louisville has announced its Summer Movie Clubhouse lineup for the summer. Their schedule is as follows:

6/2 & 6/3 Mr. Bean's Holiday
6/9 & 6/10 The Tale of Despereaux
6/16 & 6/17 VeggieTales: The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything
6/23 & 6/24 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
6/30 & 7/1 Hotel for Dogs
7/7 & 7/8 Kung Fu Panda
7/14 & 7/15 Bee Movie
7/21 & 7/22 Space Chimps
7/28 & 7/29 Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who!
8/4 & 8/5 Alvin and the Chipmunks

All movies start playing at 10:00 AM. Admission is $1.00 at the door, or you can prepay a $5.00 fee for admission to all ten features.

2009 Summer Children's Film Festival - Oldham 8

Every summer, the Great Escape Oldham 8 Theatre screens a movie for children free of charge. They have announced the following lineup for this summer, and it is as follows:

6/9 & 6/10 Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who!
6/16 & 6/17 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
6/23 & 6/24 Kung Fu Panda
6/30 & 7/1 The Tale of Despereaux
7/7 & 7/8 Surf's Up
7/14 & 7/15 Hotel for Dogs
7/21 & 7/22 Charlotte's Web (2006)
7/28 & 7/29 Space Chimps

Doors open at 9:00 AM, and movies start at 9:30 AM. Seating is free, but limited.

06 May 2009

When Life Gives You Lemons...Become a Lemon Critic

Most of the Google Alerts I receive for "Crohn's" are about local area fundraisers and stock reports on pharmaceutical companies.  Every now and again, though, I find one that catches my interest, as does one from today.  Abigail is a ten year old Crohnie from Sacramento who has turned her dietary restrictions into the foundation for a career...as a food critic!  She maintains a blog here, and appears monthly on the local FOX News broadcast.  She says in her biography that she was inspired by watching Ratatouille during one of her many hospitalizations last year.  I personally found that encouraging, because my wife and I have used our Disney Movie Rewards points to donate 23 Disney DVD's to children's hospitals so far.  (You can read more about my support of that program here.)

Crohnies--especially recently diagnosed Crohnies--should not take her lacto-ovo-pesce-vegetarian diet as a Crohn's friendly eating guide.  There are no universally recognized dietary guidelines for Crohn's disease; what works for one may not work for another.  I, for instance, find dairy upsetting in large quantities and fear the scar tissue from fruits and vegetables struggling to force their way through my severely narrowed terminal ileum.

Still, while it is heartbreaking to read of any child burdened with medical issues, it is also warming to read of how this little girl has found something constructive in her misery.  Kudos to her, and I hope you'll follow the provided links to both her blog, and my report on Disney Movie Rewards's Hospital Care Program.

03 May 2009

Wizard: The 50 Best Comic Book Movies of All Time

Wizard, you may know, is pretty much the magazine when it comes to the world of comic books.  In fact, their current official title is Wizard: The Guide to Comics.  Yesterday, I managed to attend my first ever Free Comic Book Day and among my haul was a sampler-sized issue of Wizard that featured (among other things) this ranked list of their top 50 movies based on comic books.
  1. Iron Man
  2. The Dark Knight
  3. X-2: X-Men United
  4. Spider-Man 2
  5. Batman Begins
  6. 300
  7. Ghost World
  8. Sin City
  9. Superman II
  10. Persepolis
  11. Spider-Man
  12. A History of Violence
  13. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  14. X-Men
  15. Batman (1989)
  16. Superman: The Movie
  17. Hellboy
  18. The Incredible Hulk
  19. Wanted
  20. Road to Perdition
  21. Blade
  22. The Rocketeer
  23. The Crow
  24. American Splendor
  25. V for Vendetta
  26. Men in Black
  27. Akira
  28. Oldboy
  29. Heavy Metal
  30. Death Note
  31. Blade II
  32. The Mask
  33. 30 Days of Night
  34. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky
  35. TMNT
  36. Batman Returns
  37. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
  38. X-Men: The Last Stand
  39. Danger: Diabolik
  40. Mystery Men
  41. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
  42. Spider-Man 3
  43. Ghost in the Shell
  44. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  45. Superman Returns
  46. Shogun Assassin
  47. Swamp Thing
  48. Fantastic Four (2005)
  49. Timecop
  50. Constantine
What makes this list interesting is to contrast it with the 2006 edition:
  1. X-2: X-Men United
  2. Spider-Man
  3. Superman II
  4. Superman
  5. Road to Perdition
  6. X-Men
  7. Ghost World
  8. The Rocketeer
  9. Batman (1989)
  10. Blade
  11. Akira
  12. Men in Black
  13. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
  14. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  15. The Crow
  16. American Splendor
  17. From Hell
  18. Blade II
  19. The Mask
  20. Conan the Barbarian
  21. Timecop
  22. Daredevil
  23. Batman (1966)
  24. Swamp Thing
  25. Batman Returns
  26. Mystery Men
  27. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
  28. Howard the Duck
  29. The Punisher (1989)
  30. Spawn
  31. Men in Black II
  32. Bulletproof Monk
  33. Return of Swamp Thing
  34. Judge Dredd
  35. Barb Wire
  36. Batman Forever
  37. Superman III
  38. The Crow 3: Salvation
  39. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
  40. The Crow 2: City of Angels
  41. Supergirl
  42. Tank Girl
  43. Captain America
  44. Conan the Destroyer
  45. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
  46. Fantastic Four (1994)
  47. Virus
  48. Red Sonja
  49. Steel
  50. Batman & Robin
From then till now, some titles have fallen out of favor; others have become seen in a better light (for one reason or another).  Somehow, Ghost World remained at the #7 position.  One nice thing about the CGI era is that comic-based movies have gotten much better in quality; no longer must things like the never-released 1994 Fantastic Four be included.