Sunday, June 9, 2019

Unexpected gifts

I am the faculty sponsor for the Dungeons & Dragons club at my school.  Doesn't cost me much since I mostly just stay late and work one evening a week while the kids play D&D.  I spent a few bucks buying some dice and a Player's Handbook since at the beginning few of the students had their own copies.

The other day, however, at the last meeting of the year, I was presented with this viking shield, made in woodshop by the student who originally organized the club (graduating this year), and signed by all the students who were there.

This will be mounted on the wall of the classroom once I figure out a safe way to do it.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Renewing my interest in music

I've posted on music a bunch in the past several weeks and thought I'd expound a bit on why.

I have listened to music for most of my life.  First record I ever bought was Trooper's Thick as Thieves (which I still like, by the way).  At one point I had about 400 records, then CDs came along.  At one point I had about 500 CDs, having disposed of most of the records (I kept about a 100, mostly rare and import pressing stuff).  Then mp3 came along.  I have about 13,000 songs on my iTunes.  Much of it I bought, much of it I downloaded as I got into Grateful Dead bootlegs for a while and expanded into bootlegs of other bands that I enjoyed.

Aside: You can check out my bootleg collection at etree.  If you want anything, let me know and I'll burn a copy and send it to you. . I may post a bit more about bootlegs another time now that I'm thinking about it.  It is an interesting concept and an interesting community.

What I did discover over the past many years is that music has become background, rather than an activity in and of itself.  I put music on when I am running, working, mowing the lawn, cooking, etc, but I don't really listen and I definitely don't spend much time with music as the primary activity.

Enter Political Beats.  PB is a podcast, put on by political writers through National Review Online, that is devoted to music and doesn't discuss politics.  The two hosts invite another political writer and the three talk about a band.  The third writer is chosen for their love of the chosen band.  The results are a bit hit and miss (the gal who talked about Dire Straits didn't have much to contribute other than how much she loved DS, whereas Charlie Cooke, who talked about the Beatles, was clearly a font of Beatles knowledge.  I learned little from the former and much from the latter).

I started with the Electric Light Orchestra because it was there.  I then jumped to The Beatles because I enjoy listening to Cooke.  Not only does he have a British accent (making him sound much smarter) but he has a command of the English language that is impressive.  He uses words in ways that I know are correct, that impart much more meaning than the more common alternative phrases, and that tickle my fancy as someone who thoroughly enjoys language.  I also happen to like the Beatles.  I was amazed at the amount of information that I didn't know.  I knew, for example, that Paul had broken up the band as this was common knowledge growing up in the early seventies when I was just old enough to start following popular culture.  I also knew that Yoko had broken up the band, as there were jokes about it circulating around.  I didn't actually know which of these was true.  (Yoko).  I also heard Beatles songs played and discussed that I had never heard before.  How on earth someone could be in their sixth decade, a fan of rock and roll, and not have heard some Beatles songs?  Well, American releases (which I grew up with in Canada) versus original British releases (which I had never heard).  Two of the four Beatles albums still in my record collection (Revolver and Abbey Road) were the EMI versions and missing songs.  I bought the whole Beatles discography on CD (stereo and mono since I tend to go a little overboard), as well as new copies of Revolver and Abbey Road on vinyl, and am thoroughly enjoying them.

Since then I've bought a new stereo amplifier (Denon) to allow me to hook up my old turntable (Fisher direct drive), new Klipsch center and subwoofer speakers to allow me to listen to a better sound.  I've built a record washer (stay tuned for details and pictures) in order to get a better listening experience from my old records.  I've also listened to four more PB podcasts, carefully selected to jibe with what I knew or thought I knew about my musical tastes.

In order:

Electric Light Orchestra
The Beatles
Dire Straits
The Monkees
Pink Floyd

Steely Dan is in the queue and we will have to see what comes out in the future.  Lots of bands I don't care about or haven't heard about are featured and a fair number of bands that I've listened to but never really went crazy on.

Meanwhile, however, I have bought a dozen or so new vinyl albums and spent some time sitting and listening.  The act of putting a record on the turntable, cleaning off the dust with a high quality and original Parastat record cleaner, and then just listening has been thoroughly fun.  Once again, I'm enjoying just listening rather than having music on as a background distraction.  I do, of course, still have it on in the background, I've maybe just become a little more discerning.

Wot's Uh ... the deal?

The title is "wot's uh the deal", every lyrics website lists the lyrics as "wot's uh the deal" EXCEPT ...

...listen as I might, there is no "the" in the song.  It isn't even unclear or slurred, it just isn't there.

I know, in the bigger scheme of things, is there a god, should I marry this woman, should I take the new job in a different state, or even should I be nice to the crazy old man down the road who is playing his music too loud and shouting about Pink Floyd lyrics, this doesn't seem to matter that much. 

But if I could ask David Gilmour one question right now, this would probably be it.  Everything else is golden.  Some of their music is awesome (Ummagumma Disc 1), some not so much (Ummagumma Disc 2).  Some I'm tired of  (DSOTM), some not so much (Meddle, WYWH).  But that lyric is bothering me.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Electric Light Orchestra wrap up

"Well finally" I can hear you saying, if you've bothered to stick around. After all, why keep following a blog whose author can't start reviewing an artist without taking over two months to do it?  My witty humor and erudite ways, I suppose. 

Excuses or reasons?  Well, I burned out on listening to ELO music would be one.  Not sure which.  It just isn't collectively that good.  I thoroughly enjoy the occasional ELO song and forty minutes with the Greatest Hits album is doable, but thirteen albums turns out to be over my limit.  At least for ELO.  Anyway, I promised three more albums and I will deliver three more albums.

Secret Messages

Meh.  Except for Rock and Roll is King, which is a good song but on All Over the World.

Balance of Power

OK, so this actually has a couple pretty good songs.  Getting to the Point and Calling America are definitely worth a listen.  Endless Lies is OK but that could be personal history, and then the album ends with Send It which isn't bad at all, if a little too electronic.  I'd say this one is worth keeping in the rotation.


So I was about to say some nice things about this album, including how much I liked the song Shangri La, and then I looked up the lyrics, only to find that it came off the album A New World Record.  Doing a little digging and somehow when I imported NWR into iTunes one of the songs (Shangri La) got listed on another album and one song (Above the Clouds) is missing altogether.  Weird.

So, Zoom is a pleasant album with nothing that really stands out and further proof that Jeff Lynne probably should have stuck with his decision after 1986's Balance of Power.

My takeaway from listening to thirteen ELO albums multiple times each, they weren't great but they were more than pretty good, less than very good.  There aren't many albums that are flat out un-listenable (Xanada, if you consider it an album).  On the other hand if you can crank out as many quality songs as Jeff Lynne did over two decades, I guess that puts you in the top ranks.  I could probably put together a triple length greatest hits that I could listen to regularly but other than A New World Record and my personally constructed GH, I'll probably stick to All Over the World when I need a Jeff Lynne fix.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Random thoughts while riding

So if sliding off the road in winter is automatically a ticket (considered driving too fast for the conditions) why isn't failure to have an accident considered an affirmative defense for not driving too fast for the conditions?  Just wondered, while we were riding the bikes down south the other day.

Side by side, nose to tail, is a blast.  Four bikes packed into less than thirty feet of road at highway speed.  It takes utter concentration.  Those of wonder at the clubs riding and think that it looks dangerous, you practice and then you practice some more, and then you stay completely focused the whole time.  You don't focus on the bike ahead of you, you focus on the road past them and you watch them with your subconscious.

So St Patrick was Welsh and converted the Irish to Christianity. The Irish are now one of the least Christian countries in Europe. But St Patrick's Day is still a holiday in Ireland and the pubs there are closed on that day.   Meanwhile they want the island to be united and not subject to a foreign power.  Self rule.  But the Irish are a part of the European Union which imposes laws on its member countries with little or no input by the people of those countries.  The Irish in Northern Ireland are at least consistent in that they both want British rule and they voted by a larger percentage to stay in the EU.  I think I have that all right.

Does Congress have the right to give local communities veto power over the exercise of federal power?  That was a small item in the immigration legislation that was passed, that local communities could veto building of a security barrier in their localities.  I wouldn't have thought that would stand up to Constitutional muster.  I am hearing that it is hypocritical to support states refusing to enforce federal law on firearms within the state boundaries, but I think there a significant difference.  The feds are given complete authority over immigration.  They are also given authority over "commerce between the states" and supposed to defend the right to own firearms.  If firearms are being built and never moved across state lines, not sure how they ever had the authority to regulate them (SCOTUS gave the feds a lot of power in Wickard V Filburn (1942) that I am not convinced that they were intended to have or should have. To get back to the original point, the states have no independent authority to regulate immigration into the country.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Electric Light Orchestra Comprehensive Discography Review Part 2

Tactical error.  I made it through Xanada and Time then took a break.  I'll give you some quick thoughts then explain.

Xanadu.  Uhh.  I didn't listen to the Olivia Newton John side.  I could have skipped the ELO side also, except for the title track.  I'll add it to my personal playlist and delete the rest.

Time  Nothing special.  Very electronic.  The song Yours Truly reminded me of Buggles Living in the Plastic Age which came out the previous year.  Must have been the sound that year.  The Way Life's Meant to Be, Rain Is Falling, and The Lights Go Down are decent.    Hold on Tight was the hit from this album.  I suppose four decent songs off an album that in my head was pretty bad is pretty OK.  So I'll rank this one above Xanadu and keep the four songs.  On a quick re-listen I might delete The Lights Go Down.

So what was this big tactical error.  I took a break from ELO before I put on Secret Messages.  I needed a break after the last two albums and I felt like listening to a podcast.  On went Political Beats with two more episodes.

1) The Beatles Part 1 with Charles CW Cooke

2) The Beatles Part 2 with Charles CW Cooke

I grew up with the Beatles as background.  They had broken up by the time I was listening to music and my parents weren't into that kind of music anyway.  My dad was opera, my mum was silence.  Their music was, however, everywhere.  I know dozens of Beatles songs, there was Breakfast with the Beatles for three hours every weekend, there was Beatlemania when I was in high school.  Because it was background, however, it just drifted further into the background as time went on.  Until two weeks ago.  I listened to almost seven hours of Beatles podcast, interspersed with songs and albums.  Songs when they were mentioned and I wanted to hear the whole song, not the clip, and albums when they finished talking about an album.  I downloaded the whole discography. 

What I discovered was that the Beatles were, and remain, the best band in history.  I had forgotten so much.  Songs I never remember even hearing the names of are now vying for places in my own personal top ten.   My favorite Beatles album is now either With the Beatles, Revolver, Hard Days Night, or Abbey Road.  Then there's Magical Mystery Tour which, although it hardly qualifies as an album, has all sorts of good songs including Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane.  When you know the backstory these two songs become even more incredible.

Favorite Beatles song?  I'd wear out the keyboard on my laptop listing the possibilities.  I wouldn't mind choosing You Never Give Me Your Money through The End, an eight song masterpiece on the back side of Abbey Road.  The first side is almost as good.   Things We Said Today, A Hard Day's Night, I Saw Her Standing There, In My Life, Girl, A Day in the Life, Tomorrow Never Knows, It Won't Be Long.  How do you choose?  My favorite Beatles song is album length and possibly a double.

Fun facts, the weird noises on Tomorrow Never Knows is a recording of Paul laughing, sped up.

Best songs I had no recollection of: And Your Bird Can Sing, I Don't Want to Spoil the Party, Devil in Heart, I'm Only Sleeping.

I have listened to every album at least five times in the past two weeks except The White Album  (which I had on my ipod and had listened to occasionally over the past few years.  Good songs but just didn't do anything for me as an album. Found out from the podcast that this album was recorded much more sloppily and with less discipline than the rest of the Beatles discography), Help, which I listened to once and am going to get back to soon, and Let It Be, which didn't do much for me the one time I listened.  Again, recorded more loosely in the Get Back sessions and released after they had already broken up.

I also haven't listened to the Past Masters which has all their singles plus more (singles in Britain weren't put onto albums generally on the theory that "if you had already bought the 45, why would you want another copy?").  I'm looking forward to spending some time with them although the fact that they weren't put together as an album but are rather a collection of songs might reduce the experience.

So then, of course, having downloaded everything in order to listen, I had to make it right.  Found The Beatles: Complete Studio Recordings, Remastered on ebay and they arrived the other day.  I also found a decent price on a set of the original mono masters.  Stereo music in the early sixties was recorded in mono and then dual tracked (or something, I'm not a recording engineer).  Apparently the original mono is much better.  I guess we'll find out.

So, there you go.  Bonus discography review included for the price.  I think, at this point, I'll hit "post" and finish ELO in Part 3.  I listened to Secret Messages today but still have Zoom and Balance of Power to go.  I'd hate to only give you three albums in a post but I'll leave you with this little tip.  Don't rush out and buy a copy of Secret Messages until you have a chance to come back and check out Part 3.  You may not want it in your collection.

Endeavor - Morse

Watched Endeavor, the Morse prequel, having never seen an episode of Inspector Morse.  Thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next season.  I will admit to a bit of wistfulness.  Sixties Oxford set.  I was born in 1964, grew up in Vancouver, Canada, lived in Cambridge for a year in the mid seventies.  I remember fondly the small town feel of Vancouver, even though it was a small city at the time, and I remember England as a country of small villages and medium towns.  We didn't spend much time in the cities except for touring museums, cathedrals, etc and I have little recollection of city.  Vancouver has grown to a big city and when I visit it doesn't feel like home.  The Oxford shown in Endeavor is the kind of place that I would want to live.  I know, it's a TV show and romanticized somewhat.  Still.

Then I started watching Inspector Morse.  Set in the late eighties or early nineties.  I suspect the latter based on the police cars that they are driving.  Not only is the tone not nearly as English countryside and village as the first, I am having trouble reconciling the character of Morse with the younger version from the prequel.  I suspect that it wouldn't have been as bad going backwards.  You get used to the older character, then you see what he was like twenty five years earlier.  Having gotten to like the character of 30ish Endeavor Morse, it is sad to see the person he became.  Not what I had hoped for or imagined.

But there it is.  I suspect that I am not the person that anyone would have hoped for or imagined, if they were watching my life.  Either that or the creators just missed the mark completely when they thought about the character.