Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Two worlds collide

I hate wrap up lists generally, particularly when they're from news orgs because List journalism is usually just lazy. But I love Seth Stevenson's column on slate.com about advertising.

In the end, this column about the worst ads of the year is so great and I love it so much that I'm blogging list journalism. I mean, as a guy I'm perpetually a child and find humour in poop jokes. One of this year's nominees ... Charmin's cartoon bears discussing toilet paper.

Great line: And then this ad in which a young bear bends over, post-wipe, to display tattered t.p. still dangling from his furry taint. The scene is disturbing, and, to my dismay, causes me to contemplate the contents of the bear's stool.

I fear what lies beyond 2010

A recent informal survey of ex-Los Angeles Times staffers, revealed that a slim majority expected the newspaper to fold. God, how I hope that will never happen. The Los Angeles Times has been doing amazing work in the last year-ish covering the drug war in Mexico. The latest story, reported and written by San Pedro, a suburb of Monterrey, Mexico's industrial capital, boasts multinational corporate headquarters, Ferrari dealerships, pristine streets and parks, the top luxury hotels. At one typically orderly intersection rises a copy of Michelangelo's David larger than the original.

In an interview in a City Hall office decorated with paintings by Mexico's top contemporary artists, Fernandez dismissed comparisons between the intelligence units and death squads or Colombia-style paramilitaries, saying his units are "more like detectives," albeit answerable only to him. He refused to provide any details as to who serves on the squads or how they operate.In some parts of the country, priests have used money from traffickers to pay for church repairs, special chapels or other community projects. One senior priest was quoted a couple of years ago praising the drug lords' propensity to tithe.

"They make us accomplices," said another outspoken bishop, Raul Vera of Saltillo. "A steeple built with drug money has blood gushing from its rafters."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Credit where it's due

To the beleagured, overstretched staff of the Los Angeles Times, I must say thank you because today's paper was filled with great stories.

My favorite was Borzou Daragahi's story about a blind man who leads an all-female orchestra in Shiraz, Iran. Were he not blind, religious customs in Shiraz would never permit a male to be in the company of 30 women who he is not related to teaching them music on a weekly basis. But in this case, his blindness has become an opportunity to create something powerful. Here's the best quote I've read about music/the arts in a loooooooong time, from one of the musicians:

"We have something to say in this world of art, no matter how small," says Helen Parchami, a violinist in her 20s. "The instrument is strength. It's power. It's the freedom of my soul. When I play here I feel proud of all the women here. Only women play. We show that we can stand on our own feet."

But that's not the only reason the LAT was a great read today:

• David Zucchino's story about a recently elected city councilman in Asheville, N.C. who is an atheist. Local conservatives are threatening to sue the city because his public service is, according to them, in direct violation of the state's arcane constitution which bars those who don't believe in god from serving in public office in North Carolina. Classic case of "Is this 2010 in America?":

Six other states have provisions outlawing atheists in public office. The North Carolina clause was in the state constitution when it was drafted in 1868. In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that states were prohibited under the U.S. Constitution from requiring a religious test to serve in office. The court ruled in favor of an atheist in Maryland seeking to serve as a notary public.

• A great examination into how easily teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District "earn" tenure by Jason Felch, Jessica Garrison and Jason Felch. Without the newspaper, how would we learn about this?

* The reviews are so lacking in rigor as to be meaningless, many instructors say. Before a teacher gets tenure, school administrators are required to conduct only a single, pre-announced classroom visit per year. About half the observations last 30 minutes or less. Principals are rarely held responsible for how they perform the reviews.

* The district's evaluation of teachers does not take into account whether students are learning. Principals are not required to consider testing data, student work or grades. L.A. Unified, like other districts in California, essentially ignores a state law that since the 1970s has required districts to weigh pupil progress in assessing teachers and administrators.

The LAT's work was so important that Supt. Ramon C. Cortines announced that change was coming. After hearing The Times' findings more than a week ago, the superintendent pledged to scrutinize probationary teachers more closely so poor instructors are ousted before they become tenured.

"Too many ineffective teachers are falling into tenured positions -- the equivalent of jobs for life," he said.

• Finally, this incredibly powerful photo essay from Marissa Roth, a freelance photojournalist who documented her photos and interviews with war widows through the last 20+ years.

In her words:
While working on assignment as a Times photographer in Pakistan in 1988, I was drawn to tell the story of the Afghan war widows, who at the time numbered about 100,000 after 10 years of war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. I went into Afghan refugee camps in Thal and Peshawar and photographed women and children, for what I considered to be an underreported story of that war.

My experiences in Pakistan inspired me to continue photographing other women affected by other wars, a photo essay that has turned into a 20-year personal project dedicated to documenting the lives of women who have been directly affected by armed conflicts.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The ulimate betrayal

I have been losing my hair with some rapidity since around 2000, so when I was 25 (despite what two of my stylists have said while trying to assuage my anxiety over my ironic vanity. I say ironic because I never had like actual good hair) I started preparing myself for the inevitable.

But even though my scalp is very exposed at least what hair I had left was black. Well, until recently.

Today while I was washing my hands in the bathroom down the hall from my office, I saw it. A short white hair near my left temple. I couldn't believe how my hair stabbed me in the head and extinguished whatever self-respect I had left.

I kid, I kid. But 'tis sad, goddammit.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

wtf, barack

This from the Washington Post's Dana Milbank.

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to take on the drug industry by allowing Americans to import cheaper prescription medicine. "We'll tell the pharmaceutical companies 'thanks, but no, thanks' for the overpriced drugs -- drugs that cost twice as much here as they do in Europe and Canada," he said back then.

On Tuesday, the matter came to the Senate floor -- and President Obama forgot the "no, thanks" part. Siding with the pharmaceutical lobby, the administration successfully fought against the very idea Obama had championed.

"It's got to be a little awkward," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

It's even more awkward for millions of Americans who are forced to pay up to 10 times the prices Canadians and Europeans pay for identical medication, often produced in the same facilities by the same manufacturers, simply because the U.S. government refuses to rein in drug prices.

Those favoring cheaper prescriptions amassed an impressive ideological coalition, from socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to conservative Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). But they were no match for industry-friendly senators backed by the administration, who on Tuesday night easily voted down "reimportation," as it is called.

No surprise here: Lawmakers, and the White House, are addicted to drug money. The industry has pumped upwards of $130 million into federal elections over the past decade and is now among the top 10 donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. At the same time, the White House needed the industry to spend its millions of dollars in advertising money on support of the health-care legislation, not against it.

The drug-money addiction could explain why the administration struck a sweetheart deal with the industry, which offered to give up $80 billion in revenue in exchange for an understanding that the government would not push for deeper concessions. The White House was determined not to go back on the deal -- even though the industry had demonstrated bad faith by raising prescription prices nearly 10 percent this year. So when Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) brought his reimportation proposal to the floor, the administration pushed back with a letter from Food and Drug Administration chief Margaret Hamburg warning of "significant safety concerns."

Continued here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Awesome links of this particular day

From The coolest Wude in the universe comes a link to this story about a small group of Swedes who started manufacturing jeans in North Korea. Whoa.

I don't have much to add to this other than, thankfully there are Swedes, denim, storyreporters and an Internet to unite them.

Originally, this post was "Awesome link of this particular day" but then Amanda sent me this ode to SkyMall and it was forced to become linkS. All I know is that when my headache wouldn't let me read a book while flying from Chicago to Los Angeles, my mind could handle going from the wall-sized crossword puzzle to the continued iterations of Successories low-level-executive posters to Lord of the Rings chess sets.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Where never-was friendships go to live

That was how I once described Facebook to Scott in one of our mocking IM conversations about the seemingly ubiquitous social networking site. Though, I regularly (though not frequently) Google people from my past (primarily college friends—the subgroup from which I've lost touch with the most people), I have staunchly resisted FB. Through, e-mail, phone calls, IMs, text messages and even annual xmas cards, I am in touch with the people I truly care to be in touch with. Honestly, not to sound smug, but if I've lost touch with you it's your fault.

That's why it's always been odd to me, when people use the "don't you want to know what (insert name here) is up to?" as some kind of FB incentive. To be honest, not at all, which brings me to the point of this blogpost.

Someone I know on a very cursory level (not a colleague, source or boss) from my days as a newspaper reporter, contacted me on LinkedIn. Now why am I on LinkedIn when I am anti-FB? LinkedIn is more professionally targeted. I can see what my friends are up to professionally, like promotions, transfers, in some cases moves, or the most basic thing, learn what their goddamned jobs are in the first place. Like I said, it's supposed to be professional.

And yet, despite LinkedIn's more professional slant, it's still a place where barely-was-relationships can stay on life support. I suppose in this case it's where never-were colleagues can pretend that they might puruse a joint venture in the future?

The person who contacted me is not someone I worked with, but he had been at the Albany Times Union before I got there and was still friends with several of my co-workers, so we saw each socially a few times. I don't harbor any particular ill feelings toward this person. I'd register my feelings as neutral. Once I left I never expected to see him or hear from him again and I was perfectly OK with that.

I am going to leave the "invite" unanswered. I highly doubt he really cares what I'm up to or about teen journalism. I suspect he's collecting contacts. After all, who doesn't take note of how many "friends" or "contacts" a person has on their FB or other social networking page? But even though I look at someone's contact number, I don't want to be a collector of languishing-online-relationships.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A case for the fine arts in education

In third grade I lied to my parents and told them that third graders were too young to take instrumental music lessons from school, even though third graders who expressed serious interest were permitted to start a year earlier than typically. I don't know why I said that, given that I'd always thought of taking violin. But by fourth grade, when I think parents were notified through a letter sent home, I was in. I signed up for clarinet lessons, in part because a clarinet would fit in my backpack.

Nine years later, I would graduate as the concert master of my high school band. That just meant I was the first chair, first clarinet and that I tuned the band before concerts, even though I didn't have the ear to really understand intonation.

I thought that would be the end of my perfoming life, but in college my desire to attend University of Arizona basketball home games won out over my desire to drop music and fall semester of freshman year I joined the marching band, because only marching band members could audition for pep band (and pep band was the only way to guarantee good student seats to every home game).

Four years later, I graduated having sat courtside for a basketball national championship, but more importantly having cried my eyes out before, during and after my final marching performance at a football game. I knew that was the end of a chapter in my life.

I am so thankful that my parents encouraged me to try marching band. It was there that I learned to be accountable, how to lead people and equally as importantly how not to, to take pride in being a band geek, to see that different genres and styles of music are all just music and ultimately take my first steps becoming the person I am today.

And I am also equally grateful that I had those opportunities growing up and in college. It's why I am so passionate about the fine arts maintaining a thriving presence in public education. Sure, like with football and basketball, most high school violinists, tuba players, percussionists and oboe players won't become professionals. But they'll be forever changed by the experience, in almost every case, for the better.

It's one of the reasons I love the new show Glee so much, too. It really took me until I moved to Los Angeles to fully, proudly and publicly embrace loving musical theater, marching band, Star Trek and all those other subcultures of pop-culture-stereotyped popular kid ridicule. And now that there's a buzz-worthy show about high school kids who sing and dance ... wow. The only bad thing about Glee is that it makes me regret not supporting the other fine arts students at my high school, particularly abdicating my responsibilities to help out by doing pit orchestra for the musicals. I sucked. But as amazing as Glee is, it's a television show with ridiculously (at-times) over-produced numbers.

So perhaps to really appreciate the role and importance of the fine arts, check. out. this performance from the kids at PS 22 in NYC. (thanks, Jacquie for passing this along. I was chills for virtually the entire time.)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Public Option Please

I love talent and intelligence, hence I love my friend Amy. She's a talented graphic designer and illustrator, fellow ultra-liberal, indie-music lover and also a pretty fucking good writer. I don't love her quite so much for that because honestly, what left do I have to bring to the friendship, right?

Anyway, she recently entered a contest to design a poster for the Public Option Please campaign, which implores Congress not to forget that healthcare reform should actually maximize making people more healthy. Of course, since she's talented and smart, she WON!

Check it out here or like below, too.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I want a party of ideas

During the past few years I've become a big fan of NYT Op-Ed columnist David Brooks. He represents a rare conservative voice in the NYT opinion section, though not one that aligns much with the current Republican Party. Brooks frequently harkens back to the GOP of old, which touted itself as the party of ideas. Not the party that uses "elite" as an insult, particularly when referring to college-educated people who work for newspapers (earning middle class salaries) and magazines (often living paycheck to paycheck as freeelancers) who happen to disagree with the concept of wealth and power being concentrated in the hands of the very few (actual elitism ironically).

This mass amoeba of thoughtlessness has annointed Sarah Palin it's savior. Gawd, I fucking hope not ... from The Huffington Post via LAObserved:

December 1 2009 11:27 AM

In her new book "Going Rogue," best-selling author Sarah Palin claims to wrap herself in the flag of UCLA legend John Wooden. But, um, the quote she attributes to Coach Wooden is actually from Native American activist John Wooden Legs, writing in some left-wing journal. You'd think the stuff about the land and, in the original full quote, where Cheyennes talk the Cheyenne language, would have tipped off Palin and her people. Apparently not, as Palin watcher Geoffrey Dunn chortles at the Huffington Post:

There have been so many lies and distortions pointed out in Sarah Palin's Going Rogue since it was released last week that her memoir has already become something of a gag line.

But perhaps the most embarrassing gaffe so far is her mis-attributed quote to UCLA basketball legend John Wooden....

There's also no small amount of irony in the quote, given Palin's abysmal record on Alaska Native issues during her truncated term as governor.

He offers Palin some real Wooden quotes, such as "It's the little details that are vital" and "be more concerned with your character than your reputation" — and "never mistake activity for achievement."

Monday, November 30, 2009

The more things change ...

... the more they change. In the Stephen King book It, a character says that and then strongly rips people who revert to the cliched version that they "stay the same." After my experiences going out on the town in WNY Saturday night post-Sabres game, King's character is dead on.

The night starts downtown at the Buffalo Sabres game against the Carolina Hurricanes. A somnambulant Sabres team wakes up in the third period to vanquish the team that kept us from winning the Cup in 2006. Until the third period the only thing worth noting is that Ryan Miller turned into Dominik Hasek.

After the game, my high school friend Kerri and I decide to do something we've never really done ... actually go out in the city of Buffalo. We grew up in the burbs and under the same parental protectiveness umbrella that pre-emptively squelched any curiosity of the city and instead rendered urban Buffalo an undesirable place to our suburban teen selves. WTF? So we meet near the Sabres gift shop and send Kerri's dad off with my parents and sister for the drive back to the burbs.

Kerri and her dad ate in the city before the game at the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery and she asked their server how to get to Chippewa Street (Buffalo's main drag in downtown) from the HSBC Arena; luckily it's only a few blocks, which is good because Kerri and I have gone California and find the low-30s temps more than cold enough. She's reached a state in which she happily layers with hat and gloves out in public knowing we're bar-crawling and I am thankful to have to hit the ATM and that someone really slow is in front of me, just for the warmup. (I am almost ready to turn in my 716 lineage at this point.) Along the way we direct one group of people toward the Buffalo Convention Center, home of the annual World's Largest Disco. (Yikes?)

We arrive on Chippewa and don't really know where to go. Pretty much any place that I remembered from the one time I broke night on Chippewa (grad school June 1998) is loooooong gone (probably multiple times over). There's an Irish pub, a Mexican place (which sadly really scares us because Mexican and Buffalo wasn't a good mix for us growing up), plenty of random bars and then a place called Pure. There's a line outside to get into what looks like an interior waiting area and then stairs that take you up to the club. We decide that any place that reminds of a Buffaloized version of Vegas is OUT. [From the Clubplanet site: "Pure - Here’s the problem with most bars: the vibe sometimes dies around 1am. Luckily for you, when most bars are sweeping up the floors and closing shop, Pure kicks it into another gear. The place usually keeps it going ‘til way late—guaranteeing a late and out-of-control night." IRONY ALERT: last call in Buffalo is 4 a.m. so nowhere is winding down at 1 a.m.]

We keep walking down the street (it's only a few blocks), and nothing really catches our eyes. An I'm-stumbling-now-but-I'm-a-sure-bet-to-be-puking guy is being supported out of Bada Bing's by two friends. This place also has really loud music thumping and looks pretty crowded. After a pre-Thanksgiving night of jockeying for drink ordering positions one of our few criteria for this night is ease of ordering our drinks. Welcome to our mid-30s!

By now we're at the end of the bar/club strip and notice Papaya across the street. With the dim lighting inside, lack of any dancing and chill-ly sitting (no standing) bar patrons, this place is giving off a classy vibe that seems more our speed. We enter Papaya and head to the bar. It's very dimly lit, with a dark wood bar (very polished) and the bottles of liquor arranged on glass shelves behind the bar. Modern and classy without being like Euro-trash modern. Best thing, despite the decor it's still got Buffalo bar prices of $3.75 bottles of Labatt's. MMMMMM Labatt's.

Kerri and I note that despite being named after a tropical fruit nothing about Papaya seems tropical or fruity. Hmmmmm. At this point, the cliche of things remaining the same is winning. We've seen public drunkenness, a place named after something inappropriate (betraying Buffalo's at-times rubeishness. I say because I love), and cheap beer!

I've come to learn that Papaya is an Asian restaurant. Whatever. It's got a good-enough beer selection, cheap prices and quick, friendly-enough service. And oh yeah, some damned good people watching. There were two silver foxey guys. One had a just age-appropriate younger woman with him and they weren't too shy about sharing lusty looks at one another. The other guy though is apparenlty working the room more. And of course since he's older looking than silver fox 1, he goes after younger women. After a few rounds, we decide to head out. I haven't eaten in about 10 hours at this point, so even Canadian light lagers are feeling good.

As we walk back up Chippewa, we've noticed that the street has been overrun with revellers from the World's Largest Disco. It's an explosion of polyester, afro wigs and bad shoes. And the line for Pure is getting longer and longer. I want to open a one-adjective place in Buffalo, put a velvet rope and two tight-t-shirted fat guys in front and make money.

Kerri and I resolve to get one round at one more Chippewa bar and then get some food at Pano's, a legendary local place known for it's all-night greasy goodness. Kerri has even seen and I've heard from my parents about the restaurants recent mega upgrade to a gorgeous new building. My veins cannot wait for a huge late-night omelette with onions, cheese and other things that are bad for me. I'm seriously thinking of abandoning my no-pork diet to eat some bacon.

But first we need that last round. We decide on The Third Room. As we get our IDs out, things start to C-hange.

"That's five dollars," door guy says.

I pause. I can't believe that a place with no band playing or DJ spinning or without a velvet rope is charging a cover. Seriously, WTF? Kerri gives the guy a $10 and we're in. We get up to the bar and the bartender tells us that if we came from the Sabres game and show our tickets we can get free Labatt's. DONE. So we take our free beers and perch on the wall (better people watching, which is about to get good since Disco-ers are flooding Chippewa).

A few minutes later a girl drunk-zags past us followed by a few friends. Judging by how much she's concentrating on maintaining even a general walking direction, she didn't do a little dance and won't be making a little love or certainly didn't get down that night. A few minutes after that we see her again walking again toward the back of the bar.

"That's smart," Kerri says.

"Yeah," I say agreeing with Kerri's smartcasm. She didn't look puke sick and bathroom bound, just like she needed another dose of drama. "The only thing her friends should be doing is taking her outside."

While our attention is focused on this, the bar has added another dozen or so patrons, all of whom seem to have been discoing. Facing the bar with his back to us is big leisure suit guy. He's got a white-ish (it was dark) leisure suit and he cannot stop dancing. Kerri and I immediately love this guy. He got the perfect amount of drink on: wear stupid clothes, dance like you wanna be the center of attention, be superfriendly to fellow bar patrons and oooooze cheeseycheer. We seriously spend an extra five minutes hardly touching our beers just watching him.

Kerri though has to use the bathroom and when she returns thinks she might have spotted Christopher Knight (aka Peter Brady), who has been a regular at the WLD for years. In fact, he's frequently interviewed during the Sabres home game prior to the WLD about his appearance there. I love that an appearance by a has been's has been generates such attention in my hometown. I immediately do a slowspeed walkby, but no dice. He's probably a few years too young and like many things in Buffalo, not as good-looking. :( Now it's time to leave, because I am beyond hungry.

Thanks to my phone's GPS, Kerri's memory and a parking garage attendant, we find our way from Pearl to Elmwood and are on our way to Pano's. It's time to change alert. We can't help but notice how not dangerous the city is and laugh at our formerly afraid-of-the-non-suburbs selves as we pass by coffee shops, book stores, galleries, boutiques, restaurants all independently owned. I guess not seeing a TGI McFunsterbee's and FoeverContempoGap would have scared our high school selves.

Pano's is in a gorgeous new two-story brick building on Elmwood. It looks great. Still with some charm, but definitely seems much cleaner than the old greasy spoon. This is a good change. Unfortunately, we were about to learn that some change sucks. Once we walk in we see a guy vacuuming even though there are at least half a dozen tables with customers. I guess when a restaurant is 24 hours they gotta fit this in when they can.

"We're closed," says a guy wearing the typical restaurant outfit of black and and black.

DEJECTED doesn't begin to describe how I feel. One of the most important things I try to do when I am anywhere, and in Buffalo in particular, is to support local business. I bring back all my watches when they need service or batteries to Watch World on Niagara Falls Boulevard because I want to support those guys in their struggle against the ever-growing Boulevard Mall. I buy xmas cards at Hero and this year picked up a poster promoting Buffalo there. But getting the bitchslap from Pano's hurts.

It's 1:20 a.m.ish in WNY and there aren't tons of late night options at this point. As we head east on Sheridan Drive hoping something similar will catch our fancy, nada. Clearly Pano's had long ago stomped out any competing 24-hour greasy spoons. And yet now they throw that market away? I am moving back and opening up a one-adjective place with a velvet rope and fat guys next to my new 24-hour grease joint.

Eventually, we end up at Denny's on Maple Road. This used to be a Perkins (see, things frakkin change) back when we were in high school. And after midnight it became practically like the high school lunchroom so many of us ended up there post movies and the mall. When we get there a bit before 2 a.m. it's pretty busy; all but one or two booths are occupied.

Upon opening our menus, I point Kerri toward the Rockstar favorites. Basically, current rock/pop/country stars "designed/developed/created" menu items. I saw these a couple weeks ago post-Swell Season concert with Dave.

"Jewel has a chicken quesadilla," I remark to Kerri. "I remember watching her on Alternative Nation every night practically in high school." I wonder what that Jewel would say to this Jewel. Probably, the same thing she would have said to Intuition Jewel. But since this was my second late-night Denny's run in a matter of weeks, I couldn't repeat the Moons Over My Hammy. This leads me to the biggest change I could imagine ... I order the HooBurrito. Allow the Denny's All-nighter page:

"If a slice of BBQ chicken pizza married the perfect burrito…this would be their favorite child.”

Back in 2008, Hoobastank combined two of their favorite foods for their ideal post-concert meal - BBQ chicken pizza and burritos! Starting with crispy chicken strips, they added in pepper jack cheese and onion crispers, all wrapped in a warm tortilla to create their own, custom (and now infamous) "Hooburrito." They went the full mile to throw in a side of tortilla chips, cheese sauce and ranch to complete the plate.

Shamefully, all I can say it that this is one of the best late night grease binges I've ever had. (Of course I washed it down with a few mozarella sticks.) How can fried chicken, fried onions and cheese be bad? It cannot. Denny's nor Hoobastank could ruin this. I found a reason to live and maybe forgive Pano's for shutting it's fucking doors at an ungodly early hour considering it was WLD night. Btw, polyester followed us from Buffalo to Denny's in Amherst.

While finishing our Denny's timewarp into an alternate high school reality indulgence, we overhear the conversation from the booth behind me.

"California is sooooo liberal," says a young man's voice. Kerri points out that he looks pretty young, like probably too young to have ever actually been to California. "They just like give college education away for free. If you want to go to a Cal State University you don't have to pay anything."

Kerri and I laugh at the distorted view non-Californians have of the Golden State and also at how smugly he peddles his opinions. First off, this college-aged rube's assertion is FALSE. Back when the University of California and Cal-State systems were chartered it was written that state residents would not pay tuition. And they don't. They pay "fees," which are exactly the same as tuition would be called in other states. And California just raised student fees at the UCs by 33 percent beginning next fall. I think they've doubled since I moved to Cali in 02.

Secondly, though, why would a free education at a good college be a bad thing? I realize once again that I'm a socialist. Kerri and I quickly debate whether it's worth correcting our know-it-all friend, but we decide against it. Starting something with someone at Denny's/Perkin's afterhours wasn't a good idea then and doesn't seem like one now. Perhaps some things don't change.

POSTSCRIPT: I learn a few days later that one of my former students, whom I'd texted that I was at Denny's eating the Hooburrito, confessesd to having eaten the Jewel Acoustic Quesadilla a few days before. Obviously, she is like my bffffffffff.

Monday, November 23, 2009

true test

I forgot to pack my laptop for my nine-day trip back to Buffalo. Amanda tells me to disengage more from work. This will definitley make that happen. At least I can charge my iPod via my phone charger. I was hoping to blog more but without my laptop, I don't know whether that will happen. Hmmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Preview of review of Swell Season last night

I have to thank the amazing person who filmed this performance from what is one of the best shows of a year which has featured AMAZING shows.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals ...

... so let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel. That's a 1.5-entrende from a song by the Bloodhound Gang. But it serves as a great intro to this post, which coming the day after the previous one marks the return of regular blogging.

This story in the Telegraph (UK) about how scientists recently discovered the fruit bats practice fellatio (oral sex) caught my eye for obvious and non-obvious reasons. Obvious, because as a guy I'm still basically an immature junior-high boy who giggles when news articles cover sex, particularly non-missionary sex.

But in the non-obvious (and far more important way) is because of one quote in the article from a scientist.

Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University in Atlanta, said that animal oral sex may be more common than we realise, but researchers’ prudery has prevented this fact becoming known. He said: "Part of the reason fellatio is rarely mentioned is shyness about this issue."

De Waal is an expert on the bonobo chimpanzee, which prior to this finding about fruit bats, technically in this case the short-nosed fruit bats (Cynopterus sphinx), were thought to be the only animals besides humans to practice oral sex.

His quote stood out to me because it shows how our paradoxical prudishness about sex and sexuality is so detrimental to the advancement of knowledge. I get that studying the sexual behaviors of animals probably won't cure cancer or cure world hunger. But genetically we have so much in common with other primates, chimps in particular, but also animals, period (why do you think animals are tested on for cosmetics, medicines, etc.?), that to pretend it's unworthy of study is narrow-minded.

The researchers were good scientists and didn't make conclusive proclamations, but they speculated that it's possible the bats simply enjoyed it or that perhaps it was a way for females to hang onto mates longer. Either could be true. But the conclusion I'm willing to draw is that if it's OK for animals and OK to be written about with animals, it ought ot be OK for people to talk about, too, and for newspapers to write about with some delicacy, maturity and also even a little humor.

I was talking earlier tonight to a friend about my job as an editor at a teen newspaper and was guesstimating that as much as 3 percent of my job is to if not, teach, at least evangelize the potentially life-saving benefits of comprehensive sex education. I'm always aghast when we have discussions at staff meetings about sex education in schools how many students tell us that their teachers, and in many cases parents, haven't told them anything.

Back before Dennis Miller became a stool pigeon of the Republican Party he used to be a biting social commentator who had the stones to say that Clinton-era Surgeon General Joycleyn Elders deserved to be president for saying that masturbation should be taught in schools. In context what she was arguing for was comprehensive sex education that included factual information about masturbation—it's natural, normal, common, 100 percent safe if practiced correclty and something no one should be ashamed of.

But sadly, we live in a country with so many sexual hang-ups that a story about bat blow jobs made me laugh as a first reaction. Of course, saying "bat blow jobs" out loud is giggly. Perhaps the Bloodhound Gang will be inspired to write a single to their song, "The Bad Touch."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It is the romance of the heavens that awakens the blogger

This amazing story in the Science Times about using the solar wind to traverse interplanetary space caught my fancy today.

From the article (as is the Rick Sternbach computer image of the sail) by Dennis Overbye:

About a year from now, if all goes well, a box about the size of a loaf of bread will pop out of a rocket some 500 miles above the
Earth. There in the vacuum it will unfurl four triangular sails as shiny as moonlight and only barely more substantial. Then it will slowly rise on a sunbeam and move across the stars.

LightSail-1, as it is dubbed, will not make it to Neverland. At best the device will sail a few hours and gain a few miles in altitude. But those hours will mark a milestone for a dream that is almost as old as the rocket age itself, and as romantic: to navigate the cosmos on winds of starlight the way sailors for thousands of years have navigated the ocean on the winds of the Earth.

Save for newspapers, particularly the NYTimes, which commits a whole day to a science section, where else could our general population read a story like this and get exposed to not just the technological advances of science, but perhaps more importantly the romantic notions of exploration that have fueled the scientist for millennia?

Though I am a word person by education and profession, I've always harboured a deep love for science and in adulthood even mathematics, which throughout my educational career I professed to detest. It was ironic because my aptitude scores in math were always in the mid90s percentile compared to 80s for verbal. I don't see them as exclusive at all, for the best reporters are just another form of scientist. A person in search for evidence of why things happen and who is always prepared to adapt a hypothesis in the face of countrary evidence and who is most content to allow others to reach the conclusions.

Sadly, mathematics and science seem not to be taught this way in school. Math is manipluation of numbers while science is the recitation of equations, principles named after dead men and memorization of obscure multi-syllabic words.

The student I actually tutored in math many years ago was literally amazed when I told her that math is NOT numbers. It is a way of thinking about the universe in terms of a search for certainty. It's a method that will allow you double check your work every time and approach any new situation with the ability to see it clearly through learning some mastery of logic. Sadly, she just thought math was numbers and she hated numbers.

I hope that people read this article about the solar sail and perhaps have their own version of Einstein's dream of traveling on a beam of light. And I hope that people remember WHERE they read it, as well. For if newspapers cease to exist who shall teach us of our world?


And speaking of great journalism, listen to this public radio piece about why parents need to talk to their children about money management done by one of the L.A. Youth alums.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pre-34 blog post

I'm feeling old. I'm on deadline at work. I'm constantly tired. I am, of course, blogging about this at 12:36 a.m. That's one reason I'm blogging less often. But also, after the perfect song mix project, I honestly haven't been as motivated to blog lately. I don't want to be rest-on-my-affirmational-cliches guy, but I couldn't have been happier with how it went and the reactions from everyone that I haven't felt like I had much to say after that.

I've never blogged about my trip to SF; I suck. I shall. I shall, dammit.

But in the meantime, read L.A. Youth. One of our writers, Patricia, just wrote an amazing story about how she almost washed out of school after a combo of laziness, bad teaching, ditching and illness sabotaged her math future and then kept her out of school for much of two years, but ultimately thanks to her getting placed at an alternative high school she salvaged her academic career and her future.

It's one of the stories that I'm most proud of in all my time at L.A. Youth. With this one story she single-handedly blasted stereotypes about Compton, students who attend continuation schools and Latinas. Go, Patricia!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Best. Email. Ever.

I got this email this morning from my friend and former Albany Times Union co-worker Claire, who was one of the contributors to the Perfect Song Project.

Tess: “We want music.”

I pop in the Tom Chapin CD of kids’ songs.

Luke: “No, not THAT music. One of the cool CDs your friend Mike made you.”

(This is a very, very good sign. Turns out Lukien REALLY likes the Stones, The Who, and Bob Marley. I can live with that.)


Other music notes. I feel sorry for one of our newer L.A. Youth writers who is writing about how she discovered the life-changing properties of rock-n-roll. This is in some ways, the story of my life particularly since moving to L.A., where I've become a concertmonster. I hope that I'll always remember to respect the vision she has for her story.

Finally, saw Thom Yorke at The Orpheum Sunday night. Wow. He played with Flea (amazing fucking bassist), Joey Waronker (REM drummer since Bill Berry retired), Mauro Refosco (supplementary percussionist) and Nigel Godrich (Radiohead producer extraordinaire).

I am not typically a dancer/mover at shows, preferring to lightly shake my body, bob my head and maybe tap my foot or my hand against my thigh. And even though Thom Yorke encouraged us to stand and dance and not to act like we were at the cinema, I was stiller at this show than almost any ever. But it wasn't because I wasn't moved, rather because I was mesmerized.

I've often not responded to electronica, which coincidentally enough can be called trance when composed in certain threads, because I find it boring and not in any way enrapturing. But when Yorke's The Eraser solo album was brought to live with such a talented band, I was simply stunned.

Flea's nearly virtuosic basswork added a vigorous pulse to every song, almost like a rumbling tremor cleavinng a beautiful glacier to reveal something hidden and dangerously interesting. And I can only pray that Waronker's freedom to bang the skins is carried onto the next REM album. Those combined with Refosco's percussive textures had virtually the entire rest of the nearly sold-out Orpheum dancing as much as is possible in the incredibly tight confines of the rows of an early 20th century (when people were much shorter) theater.

Add Godrich's synth/laptop/guitar and Yorke's delicately powerful vocals and it was the most visually musical experience I've probably ever had. In this case, I'm not referring to Yorke's rubberbandish dancing or Flea's non-stop gyrating, but like I felt like I could see the sounds and the best metaphor I can come up with is that it was a 3D fullspectrum rainbow.

My favourite song was Super Collider, which is a Radiohead that debuted during last year's tour. He played that haunting piano ballad immediately after Open the Floodgates, which also blew me away.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Apple people are proud to be anti-Microsoft snobs

I love this video. With the in-your-face age, racial and gender diversity, too-well-rehearsed "uhs" and "likes," desperately random (Clarice) pans and zooms, painfully faux-extemporaneous "oh and ..." afterthoughts, creepy fourth-wall violating do-I-look-at-the-camera-now-confusion, JC Penney wardrobe in the Home Depot Kitchen, and enough fake laughing to fill an NFL pre-game studio show if it was composed of every networks' crew, Microsoft's "how to host your own Windows 7 launch party" video takes the concept of unintentional comedy to quanta that I didn't know existed. It's like discovering a singularity-dense collection of dark matter that is the source of all other unintentional comedy. The best thing, though, is who the fuck host's an at-home launch party for a fucking computer operating system? I'll tell you who doesn't ... Apple devotees.


I wish I could fathom why I haven't blogged so much in the past two months. Mostly work-related exhaustion. Sadly, the older I get the more the five-month sprint from July-November takes out of me and the earlier in the race that I start really feeling the drain. Because I have had things that I want(ed) to blog about ... like my amazing first trip to San Francisco (amazing everything, especially food and friends) town; a woman in Africa who continues to wear pants despite that being against the law; the opening of a new university in Saudi Arabia that has me genuinely excited to about continuing my education in a different part of the world; the joy of being surprised at a rock show (by Phoenix); discovering a former student's excellent blog about her experiences living and studying in India. I hope that by typing those post ideas down I shall force myself to write them, particularly since a couple are related to emails I've promised to send. I'm the let-downer friend. Argh, I never wanted to be that guy.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Democracy in trouble alert -- seriously

Here's an amazing and frightening New York Times story about how news organizations (primarily newspapers traditionally) are cutting back on their spending to fund cases to keep courts open to the public.

Some highlights:

• The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups have taken the leading role in trying to shake loose information about the Bush administration’s policies and actions.

• As part of the settlement in a case involving Amtrak, the parties asked Judge Lawrence F. Stengel of Federal District Court in Philadelphia to “direct LexisNexis and Westlaw to remove the decisions” from “their respective legal research services/databases.”

The judge agreed, and the database companies complied.

Westlaw spokesman John Shaughnessy, which is owned by ThomsonReuters, said that the record's case number will exist and a note indicating that the judge ordered the record deleted will remain. WTF??? Noting the existence of censorship is still censorship.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

We don't do everything better in America ... not even country music in this case

Newest music recommendation: Baskery. A trio of Swedish sisters who play some mean country with just a tinge of occassional punkishness to bring something new to their sound.

I saw them a few weeks ago (and suck for not blogging about it until today) at a tiny show at The Hotel Cafe. There were literally about 18 of us watching the show, which was a motherfuckingshame because these women were incendiary when they were playing the fast stuff and slash the heartstrings when going more traditional countrystyle.

They caught my eye about two months ago when I was trolling the HC's events calendar. I hadn't been in a looooooong time and missed it, especially the world's greatest chicken quesadilla. While scanning the calendar grid, a picture of three very attractive women caught my eye. I clicked on the word Baskery and was taken to the band's myspace. The banjo, guitars and harmonies blew me away, along with the stylistic description of "Alternatve / Punk / Country."

And I can say that after watching them, their myspace doesn't do them justice. Live is a much more vigorous and urgent experience. The song "One Horse Down" is a great rip-roarer online, but online it was the fire-breathing dragon of the set with fierce yowls, scorching guitar and dangerously infectious energy. And the deliciously emasculating "Out-of-towner" (which features basically one lyric "I don't wanna go to bed with a man from town"), which they dedicated to the boys in Stockholm basically had all the guys there ready to prove their non-Swedish lineage. What else can one ask for in a show, right?

Discovering Baskery's existence and then being able to see them for all of $12.50 (we were the only people to buy our tix ahead of time), is what makes living in L.A. sofuckingbeautiful. So if you wanna seem infinitely ahead of the musical curve in your non-L.A. part of the world drop Baskery as a band to watch 2010 and you'll be hot shit. And in 2012 you'll be really cool for liking such a talented obscure band of Swedish sisters.

If you're still not convinced, read the reviews included on the embedded image!

Monday, August 10, 2009

What is a perfect song? Part II

What is a perfect song? I've spent the last six weeks trying to get a better sense of the answer to that question.

It all started a few months ago when during a random IMing session with one of the L.A. Youth alums, I mentioned that I love The Elected's "Not Going Home" and when Angela asked me why, I said, "it's perfect." I hadn't really thought about why, but I was addicted to that song during that time and so rather than try to ad lib a Pitchfork-worthy reason I used the ultimate superlative. But that in-the-moment throwaway comment, stuck in my brain. What is a perfect song?

Is it one's favorite song? Must it meet any objective criteria, like lyrical depth, a certain musical complexity, or infectiousness? What are the criteria?

To get an answer I sent an e-mail to 15 friends with whom I've talked a lot about music over the years. I asked them ...

what is a song that you consider perfect?

It doesn't have to be your absolutely favorite song, if you could even have one of those, though I can't see how it would not be on your very short list. Now there's no definition of perfect that I'm going to set, because I'm sure we all would have many different and unique criteria.

But if each person could send me one or two songs (but preferrably one) that s/he considers perfect, that would be awesome. You're the people whose musical opinions I most value. This will lead to a CD that I want to burn and will happily send a copy of, if requested.

I quickly got great responses and realized that even more fun than collecting great music (any song not in my library I bought except for a couple which I had to have emailed), was learning why my friends chose these songs.

The only problem with the project was that I forgot to send the initial e-mail to some very important musical friends and once I did that the number of tracks and length of tracks exceeded what would fit on a single CD. So I added a few more people to the project and voila ... the Perfect Song Project double CD. Click here to get templates for making CD liner notes. Note: you gotta have Adobe InDesign.

Of all the places I've lived: Amherst, NY; Tucson, AZ, Syracuse, NY; Albany, NY, Los Angeles, CA ... L.A. had by far the greatest representation. This makes sense in that I live in a city in which I can immerse myself in music. And I also get to talk music with high school students and the way we connect to music in high school is with an unspoiled soul. Ironically, though, my former students often had the shortest explanations (but generally impeccable taste). I think though the greatest irony (on an objective scale) is that zero college friends were included. Honestly, I just didn't explore music much in college. Oh well. I don't think the list suffered for my lack of college music experimentation.

Without further ado here is Disc 2. There's not really a priority in terms of songs I like better than others (though Disc 2 has a few of the alternates), but instead it's based much more on how the songs worked together sequentially.

1. Pitchfork: “Rana -- chosen by Kevin W.
The layers of guitar are near perfect, and the lyrics are great, if a bit simple. All in all, my favorite hard guitar song of all time. It also is very unique, and I think it’s difficult to place in a musical category, which makes it all the more intriguing.

2. blur: “Coffee and TV -- chosen by Andrea
There's just something about Graham Coxon’s voice on this track that’s like curling up under a blanket. He’s not angry about the quotidian and the mundane, but comforted by it, and for some reason that makes the song full and satisfying. The way it’s structured, musically, is also satisfying. You have the mellow march of the guitar to complement the verse, then a little bit more honesty and rawness with the falsetto chorus. The guitar solo before the last chorus adds the perfect amount of recklessness, hinting that maybe everything is “not OK” after all. Complacency never felt so good. Mike’s note: an alternate selection from Andrea.

3. Neko Case: “Deep Red Bells -- chosen by Connie
After a long day’s work I light candles, park on my couch and take deep breaths listening to Neko Case. I find her distinct voice and dark lyrics soothing. The tempo is both passionate and delicate, and when Case belts, “Where does this mean world cast its cold eye?” during the last verse, I get the chills and am in love.

4. Donny Hathaway: “A Song For You -- chosen by Laura
This song makes me cry. Sob, with a snotty nose. I can't think of another song that has had that effect on me. It’s not perfect. The music is dated with an arrangement from the 1970s that can be at times trite. But his voice and the lyrics overcome all of the song’s problems. I've always thought that Donny Hathaway had the voice of an angel. The note at the end of this song may be the most perfect note ever sung. I can feel it in the center of my chest. The lyrics are heavy and sincere. The song is about a close relationship, perhaps romantic, maybe not. But he's singing to a person he cares about deeply. It's incredibly sad and beautiful. It makes me feel OK to acknowledge how much I love my friends and how important they’ve been in my life. It reminds me that we shouldn’t wait to tell the people we love, that we love them.

5. Joan Osborne: “Spider Web -- chosen by Claire
When I was pregnant with my first child in 1996, I found out that he had Down’s syndrome and a related heart defect. It was a struggle coming to terms with who my child was, and with the terrifying realization that I actually had many prior expectations about who he would be. I played this song over and over, letting Osborne remind me that my son would have his own unexpected gifts, and attempting to channel her powerful energy. He did not survive, but I still consider this “his song” and I still listen to it when I need a reminder to embrace my own talents and flaws. And besides, the song rocks, in that soulful, courageous Osborne way.

6. Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Green River -- chosen by Angela
I chose Green River because it makes me feel like I’m a hippie in the late '60s. It is SO TOTALLY TOTALLY on the playlist whenever I go up to NorCal. Mike’s note: Angela’s second choice.

7. Kirsty MacColl: “The End of a Perfect Day -- chosen by Diane
It’s a bright, beautiful, wise song that reminds me that there is and always will be life after love. Mike's note: I'm a dope. On the liner notes her name is misspelled as Kristy. I'm a dope.

8. The Tragically Hip: “Nautical Disaster -- chosen by Kevin W.
Nautical Disaster is all about lead singer Gord Downey. While the music is excellent, the conversational aspect of the lyrics sets this song apart from anything else in the Tragically Hip catalog. And lines like “Anyway Susan, if you like, our conversation is as faint as the sound in my memory, As those fingernails scratching on my hull.” Evoking the feeling of paddling away from other shipwreck victims is very, very powerful. You can take any line form the song. They are all equally as poetic. Mike note: Kevin’s second choice as well as Jon’s.

9. Al Green: “Love and Happiness -- chosen by Katie
Because it's the best “driving on PCH with my boyfriend” song.

10. John Mayer: “St. Patrick’s Day -- chosen by Quing
I like it because it has really simple and beautiful lyrics, and it’s slow with a constant beat. And obviously that John Mayer has an amazing voice.

11. Michael Jackson: “Billie Jean -- chosen by Mike
Degrees of perfection aren’t supposed to exist. It’s a paradox to even consider them. That this song obliterates the paradox is why it’s the best pop song EVER written and a Mike wildcard for placement on the list. Most famous bass line of modern pop era + an imminently singable chorus that forces one to dance + socially pointed lyrics based on a crazed fan who claimed Michael Jackson was the father of her child = wow.

12. Norwegian Recycling: “How Six Songs Collide -- chosen by Mindy
I knew I discovered a perfect song when I couldn’t pick out a favorite part from the song. Whenever I think I got to the best part, another one of the six songs enters and the mix only gets better. I especially like the song now because it reminds me of the view of my college courtyard from my suite. Unfortunately, you don’t get that kind of courtyard surrounded by Gothic architecture in Beijing. Mike’s note: These are the songs: 1. Jason Mraz - I’m Yours; 2. Howie Day - Collide; 3. Five For Fighting - Superman; 4. Angela Ammons - Always Getting Over You; 5. Boyzone - All That I Need; 6. 3 Doors Down - Here Without You.

13. The Shins: “Sleeping Lessons -- chosen by Jon
I chose “Sleeping Lessons” by The Shins for the song’s spirit of ascent. I’m lousy at describing music, but if I had to … It begins with a synthy, teeter-tottering arpeggio. And then it builds and builds. Toneless chika-chika strumming quickens it. Deliberate, spare bass notes anchor it. A few measures later, as the new rhythm establishes itself, the guitar and drums arrive. The tempo increases more. And the song, now cloaked with chiming guitars, seems to just take off. There’s an undeniable lift to it.
It’s fun to list activities that song could “describe” sonically, like: A shuttle launch (“Mission Control, permission to use iPod.”); Hang-gliding; Summiting Everest (“H-h-h-ard to s-s-select song while wearing g-g-gloves.”). Less fantastic purposes include: listening on a lazy weekend morning when you’re slow to get moving, and reinvigorating a long car trip—when some vague ache in the joints reminds you of a teen-age injury (or the onset of age) and the trip’s original spirit of adventure has, for the moment, faded.
Re: listening while driving though, Sleeping Lessons weights a pedal-foot. So maybe set the cruise (assuming you’re not in a rental car whose wacked-out dash delays your discovery of cruise control until the last day of the trip).

14. The Velvet Underground and Nico: “Sunday Morning -- chosen by Jane
There is no such thing as a perfect song. That being said, taking into consideration composition, melody, lyricism and presentation, of the songs I can call off the top of my head, I’ve narrowed it down to these, and you can do what you wish with this list because I just can’t pick:
“Sunday Morning” - Velvet Underground (Mike's note: I chose this based on how it starts, but it was a HARD choice)
“Gold” - Interference
“I Will Not Forget You” - Sarah McLachlan
“Piece of My Heart” - Janis Joplin
“Everybody Knows” - Leonard Cohen
“The Sunny Side of the Street” - The Pogues

15. Rilo Kiley: “Pictures of Success -- chosen by Mike
This has become my favorite song, so much so that I have some of the lyrics tattooed on my right arm. It came down to this song and “Nightswimming” when I was first choosing. Do I go with the song that defined high school and college or the song by the band that makes me (an early 30s person) feel about music the way that I did back in high school? Like the best songs, the opening notes immediately put the part of my brain that loves music into a suspended animation, in which exists only the song. Musically, it’s simple but the lyrical and vocal vulnerability as Jenny Lewis contemplates the future and laments the possibility of living a meaningless life ... it coalesces into something that absolutely hypnotizes me. It’s every moment of my youth that I wondered whether there was something beyond Amherst, NY and every moment since that I’ve understood that there is and that I can’t waste it. In short, the purest example in my life of William Blake’s concept of higher innocence—seeing with the unfiltered wonder of a child and understanding with the wisdom of those who have learned to value the fleeting nature of our time.

16. Ludwig van Beethoven: “Ode to Joy -- chosen by Claire and Mike
Claire: So I was really stuck on the word “perfect” last night. All I could think of was Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Because at heart, of course, I’m a geek. As for "Ode to Joy," it is so perfectly what it says it is. Can you feel sad after you’ve heard that music? Mike: Seriously, it was such a “Why didn't I think of that” choice! I love it. And it’s totally genre-busting, which is always a good thing.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

What is a perfect song?

What is a perfect song? I've spent the last six weeks trying to get a better sense of the answer to that question.

It all started a few months ago when during a random IMing session with one of the L.A. Youth alums, I mentioned that I love The Elected's "Not Going Home" and when Angela asked me why, I said, "it's perfect." I hadn't really thought about why, but I was addicted to that song during that time and so rather than try to ad lib a Pitchfork-worthy reason I used the ultimate superlative. But that in-the-moment throwaway comment, stuck in my brain. What is a perfect song?

Is it one's favorite song? Must it meet any objective criteria, like lyrical depth, a certain musical complexity, or infectiousness? What are the criteria?

To get an answer I sent an e-mail to 15 friends with whom I've talked a lot about music over the years. I asked them ...

what is a song that you consider perfect?

It doesn't have to be your absolutely favorite song, if you could even have one of those, though I can't see how it would not be on your very short list. Now there's no definition of perfect that I'm going to set, because I'm sure we all would have many different and unique criteria.

But if each person could send me one or two songs (but preferrably one) that s/he considers perfect, that would be awesome. You're the people whose musical opinions I most value. This will lead to a CD that I want to burn and will happily send a copy of, if requested.

I quickly got great responses and realized that even more fun than collecting great music (any song not in my library I bought except for a couple which I had to have emailed), was learning why my friends chose these songs.

The only problem with the project was that I forgot to send the initial e-mail to some very important musical friends and once I did that the number of tracks and length of tracks exceeded what would fit on a single CD. So I added a few more people to the project and voila ... the Perfect Song Project double CD.

Of all the places I've lived: Amherst, NY; Tucson, AZ, Syracuse, NY; Albany, NY, Los Angeles, CA ... L.A. had by far the greatest representation. This makes sense in that I live in a city in which I can immerse myself in music. And I also get to talk music with high school students and the way we connect to music in high school is with an unspoiled soul. Ironically, though, my former students often had the shortest explanations (but generally impeccable taste). I think though the greatest irony (on an objective scale) is that zero college friends were included. Honestly, I just didn't explore music much in college. Oh well. I don't think the list suffered for my lack of college music experimentation.

Without further ado here is Disc 1.

1. R.E.M.: “Nightswimming -- chosen by Mike
This was my first favorite favorite song once I had reached high school—a point in my life when I could finally and legitimately have a fave song, a song captured the hopefulness of my teenage solitude. The way “Nightswimming” navigates the tension of our innocence and our exploration of the way our physical and emotional selves entangle themselves with results euphoric and crushing is what the best songs should be about. To this day the opening piano line cues up a black-and-white movie in my mind that forces my brain to concentrate a little less on whatever I’m doing because the hopefully-never-gonna-die self-doubt and optimism of high school flickers again inside me.

2. The Cure: “Just Like Heaven -- chosen by Angela
It makes me feel like I’m in an ‘80s teen movie and the only way to dance to it is to jump around in circles.

3. Frightened Rabbit: “Fast Blood-- chosen by Amy
I picked “Fast Blood” because every time I hear it, I spaz out. It’s the perfect song for the blurry velocity of emotional and energy you get when you desperately want to sleep with someone and realize that it's going to happen, is happening, etc. I love love love it. Great song to run to. More succinctly: it sounds like sex.

4. Jeff Buckley: “Hallelujah -- chosen by Monika
“Hallelujah” is perfect because it is serene and beautiful and sad. And I like sad songs more than happy ones, what can I say?

5. Radiohead: “Planet Telex -- chosen by Christina
Perfection (imo) = playability + complexity + emotional impact. AND I can listen to PT on repeat 24/7.

6. The Beatles: “Blackbird -- chosen by Morgan
Not only is “Blackbird” the epitome of a simple—but not understated—song, it’s on The White Album, which changed my life and my outlook on music. “Blackbird” achieves everything a song should through melody, percussion and meaningful lyrics. It’s the perfect symbolism for the Civil Rights Movement.
My parents are big Beatles fans, so family road trips consisted of Beatles tapes and scanning the radio for oldies stations. As a child, I wasn’t aware of the meaning behind the song; I was more in love in Paul McCartney. As I grew up and really understood what Paul was singing about, I thought this was everything a song should be.

7. Indigo Girls: “Ghost -- chosen by Scott
So I’ve had trouble narrowing things down, but as of right now I think a perfect song is “Ghost” from Indigo Girls. It has a great melody, and is an example of perfect lyrics to me. There are no false rhymes, no skipped over syllables, everything locks together, just a perfect lyrical crystal. I first heard the song in a college class that was covering some mythology items and it was used as a pop culture reference for Ulysses.

8. Pulp: “Common People -- chosen by Andrea
This song is brilliant because it achieves perfection on two levels: musically and lyrically. The orchestration is full, layered and driving while still following a build-up. It never loses momentum, and not a single chord feels out of place. The music carries the story and its gradual emotional unhinged-ness right along with it. Jarvis Cocker's storytelling is frank and honest, but still eloquent. It’s perfect because it narrates a story while still being intimate and emotionally stirring; I feel that with most songs it’s either/or, not both. Most of all we can relate to—or relish in—what he’s singing about. Unless you’re a Greek heiress, of course.

9. The Beach Boys: “God Only Knows -- chosen by Kevin D.
I still think “God Only Knows” is too easy. although Pet Sounds was one of only 4 albums we had in my room when I was a kid, so I liked it before there was a VH-1 or Pitchfork ... Hell, it is my choice. It's a perfect song. Even if I didn't visit their boyhood home in Hawthorne.

10. Grizzly Bear: “On a Neck, On a Spit -- chosen by Sasha
My favorite songs are those that constantly evolve, that do not stay in one place but instead continue to unfold as a sort of reward for the listener. “On A Neck, On A Spit” feels grand and sweeping and epic, so much so that it takes my breath away. Although I've listened to it so many times, I still feel a wonderful tension followed release during its transitions and movements.

11. The Rolling Stones: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash -- chosen by Dave
If there's a sonic heaven, it exists within the 3 minutes and 41 seconds of The Rolling Stones' 1968 return to their roots, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” If the Stones recorded nothing else, this song would still earn them their title of “greatest rock ‘n roll band in the world.” Every element works in unison to kick the living shit out of the listener—in a good way. The protagonist of the track triumphs over the bleakest of circumstances. “I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead. I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled. I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread. I was crowned with a spike right through my head, but it's all right now ...” growls Mick Jagger in what is, for all its perfect flaws, his finest vocal performance. This song makes you cheer for the underdog; the Rocky Balboa’s of the world who, against all odds, survive the 15 rounds. A little history ... This song followed the Stones’ creative nadir, 1967’s “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” which was a pale imitation of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” It all began when bassist Bill Wyman was fooling around on a piano, waiting for the rest of the band to show up for a recording session. Wyman receives no songwriting credit, but none is probably deserved since “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is only a slight variation on the “Satisfaction” riff, which is entirely Keith’s. Its name traces back to Keith Richards’ gardener whose footsteps once awoke Jagger. Richards explained to him, “That’s Jumpin' Jack.” The main guitar riff of the verses is actually an acoustic guitar inside which Richards placed a cassette recorder microphone, overloading it to achieve a unique distortion, creating one of the meanest “electric” guitar sounds to ever leave its footprints on magnetic tape. There's still debate about Jagger's vocal entrance, some people believe he shouts “one, two,” while others hear “watch it!” The song also features a catchy bass lick, which is also supplied by Keith. This also represents one of his first uses of open tuning, which has since become his trademark. Interestingly, the best live version of the song is in standard tuning. Here's a YouTube link to it (watch for Jagger signaling in vain to an offscreen soundman to fix his monitor): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kB80DOFm29c

12. Guns N Roses: “Sweet Child O' Mine -- chosen by Rich
OK, so after much deliberation, here’s my answer to your impossible question. Without picking some seminal blues song that spawned everything from James Brown to Zeppelin, or a Beatles song, or some hipster choice like Nick Cave or whatever, I’m representing for straight-up rock and roll. I give you “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and here’s why:

• It’s one of the all-time most recognizable riffs in rock history. Still gives me chills when I hear it.
• Vocals like these would be savaged on American Idol, and that’s exactly what rock vocals should be—imperfectly perfect for the song they’re paired with.
• ”Jungle” put GNR on the map, but “Sweet Child” made them a phenomenon.
• It’s a love song with balls. Guys love it and girls love it. If ever there was an anthem for drunk couples who like to drunkenly dry hump at rock shows, this is it (“This Love” by Pantera is the metal version of the concert drunk-hump anthem).
• Starts out gently, takes you on a journey (“where do we go, childe” indeed) and ends with a bang—the most dynamic song on “Appetite,” which itself is one of the best rock albums ever.
• You can sing every note of the guitar solo.
• Guns and fuckin’ Roses.

13. The Who: “Baba O’Riley -- chosen by Stephanie
When you first sent out that email, I thought crescendo; mixology; total rock out music, but good, meaningful rock out music. I thought The Who and then I thought “Baba O’Riley” because in the first two seconds you automatically know that for the next five minutes you'll be in total and complete bliss. It’s an ode to the angst, the stress, the “I don’t give a damn” feeling we all feel at 17, 20, 35, 56, and on. The intro is so powerful, so moving, it's the perfect lead in to an even more perfect song. I still get goosebumps when I listen to it.

14. Bob Marley and The Wailers: “Jamming -- chosen by Guianna
Mike’s note: Guianna originally selected Ben Harper and The Relentless 7’s “Up to You Now.” After extensive review of my iTunes, I’ve decided to submit a different perfect song. The Ben Harper is my current favorite song but it's not perfect. It reflects more of what I’m feeling than what I consider to be perfection in a song.
I’ve decided to submit “Jamming” by Bob Marley and The Wailers. my criteria for the perfect song: simple, catchy tune; in my experience brings people of all types and backgrounds to the dance floor; has had a broader impact than your typical top 40, whether it be in terms of play in films, pop culture or innovations in lyrics. “Jamming” is simple and catchy; always gets people up to dance; and has had a well-recognized influence on reggae artists. My close second was “Bohemian Rhapsody” but I didn't choose this one because it doesn’t get people to dance as much as to sing the lyrics (pretty awesome in my opinion ... I’ll never forget that scene in Wayne’s World).

15. Cocteau Twins: “Pandora -- chosen by Wayne
Language-less yet still evocative words mean anyone can sing along to it equally well. It’s lush, almost orchestral, still-edgy sounding (hence timeless) and has a classic song structure.

16. Peter and the Wolf: “Safe Travels -- chosen by Machiko
Tried to choose a song I thought no one else would know/send ... which also happens to be my most played song on my iTunes: “Safe Travels” by Peter and the Wolf from Lightness.
The play count on my iTunes only takes into consideration songs I’ve started listening to from the beginning of college, and I’ve deleted some albums already ... so not as accurate. So in this case, my definition of perfect is one that I can listen to over and over and over again.

If I were to set an arbitrary criteria:
1) not depressing/downer
2) singable!
3) simpler the better

Disc 2 coming tomorrow. There's not really a priority in terms of songs I like better than others (though Disc 2 has a few of the alternates), but instead it's based much more on how the songs worked together sequentially.

[Mike's note: This clip, which I found after the initial blog post and well after making the CDs, resolves the what does Jagger say to open "Jumpin' Jack Flash" debate once and for all.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Seven years ago I started becoming who I am

I left Amherst, NY for the final time Monday, Aug. 5, 2002. Here's a replay of the e-mail I sent that night from Rockford, Ill. after having driven about 660 miles west on I-90.


so i have to say that southwestsern ny, northwestern penn, western ohio, northern indiana are very BORING!!! but that's OK, as a deep-down-on-the-inside left coaster, it's the later part of the journey that has me jazzed. the main point today was to make good time (just like george costanza does when he drives) and I succeeded. I write this message from my Sleep Inn room in Rockford, Ill. (666 or so miles from my starting point monday morning).

The first stop was in Ohio, just across the line from PA, and then i went to Cleveland to find some lunch, unfortunately I couldn't find any place to park where i felt safe with a loaded car so i didn't end up doing anything there but wasting time driving around. eventually i grabbed lunch at a highway service area -- typical fast food chinese (but no east wok) but i got a great forture cookie -- "your life becomes more and more of an adventure." so that was mega good karma, which is always good on a trip like this.

now this e-mail is probably pretty damned boring, considering that i am writing about fortune cookies and highway rest stop lunches, but that just goes back to the lead. there was nothing to write about -- unless y'alls want to hear about the flat green spaces. sorry, planning jargon slipped in there, once a muni reporter always a muni reporter, eh?

Indiana was equally exciting, although i did drive through south bend, which was depressing and then Gary, which was insane (thx andrew t.). It was like industrial/factorial sprawl. Factories, smoke stacks and train tracks everywhere. it seemed as though every where was the wrong side of the tracks in Gary. it certainly wasn't very music-man-esque... musical theater seemed to be about the last thing that was even considering going on in my mind.

chicago was typically majestic, well at least the skyline that i saw as i drove by on I-90. i fgured hotels there would be out of my league, and given how far i was getting, i decided to plow on to Rockford, Ill. ugly and suburban, but at least with a cheap, halfway decent hotel just off the highway. i almost stayed at an Extended Stay america, but opted against it.

tomorrow.... who knows.... i'll be going thru wisconsin and minnesota.

more then.....

btw, thx for the all the replies to the first email, unfortunately, i don't have time to respond to everyone. just know that i am hearing y'alls all the time when the voices that talk to me through my rear view mirror start their singing.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Cleverness inspires


Final spends: Friday, July 31 $23 on dinner.

Thursday, July 30 $5 on color copies at work because I messed up and sent jobs that were meant to be in B&W as color. Those would have been free.

Thursday, July 30 $4 on Coffee Bean.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Being in a great multi-cultural city is tough on the wallet

$20 on dinner at Rosalind's—a great restaurant in Little Ethiopia.

$1.09 on a Twix because I was dying for sugar this afternoon. :(

Monday, July 27, 2009

Student loans ... never ending

$85.67 student loan payment on July 13; it's auto-deducted so I forgot.

I still have well more than $7,000 left to pay. :( I am now more than 12 years post graduation, so more than two years post technically when I was supposed to have finished paying them off. :( But I re-fi'd a few years ago and they changed the terms to a lower interest rate but for 20 more years. Once credit cards are paid off, which should be in two months, I will up my monthly payment a lot. Oh yeah, also noted today that I've lost nearly $2,000 on my retirement savings since opening up my account.

I hate money.

Viva socialism!

$5.15 at Target for floss and some processed food Spanish Rice.

$10.98 at Albertson's for sliced turkey, a 20 oz Coke and a new jar of Miracle Whip Light.

$23.46 at Trader Joe's for milk, naan, pasta noodles, muenster cheese, chicken sausage, a dozen eggs, a soychorizo burrito, bananas and mac and cheese.

$20 for lunch at Tara's the amazing Himalayan place around the corner from my apartment.

$4.79 at Mitsuwa (Japanese grocery store) for Salmon sashimi and a pack of Soba noodles. Btw, at Albertson's the same pack of Soba noodles costs like $5.69 vs. $1.99 at Mitsuwa. It's like buying Canadian beer in Arizona or Mexican beer in Buffalo.

I hate my car

... OK, that's not entirely true. But I haven't been very happy with my 02 Saturn SL2. It's not been all that reliable. I mean, it's fine, but I just don't love it the way that I loved my first Saturn—though I do love the people at the formerly Saturn of Torrance.

Anyway, car insurance bill today (if I weren't paying that bill I wouldn't feel so anti-car right now) ... $108.32.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

$9.85 in Big Mike's six-inch chicken and cheese sandwich, with garlic fries and a Coke. So worth it, though.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

$25 on Dodger game, in which I sat in gum on my seat and saw about 50 shots of this skinny woman's ass crack. She was wearing too-tight, too-low jeans and she couldn't stop standing up to dance and cheer. Best part is that she was wearing a belt buckle (huge comboy-sized) that said "White Trash." You think?

I am a judgemental asshole.

Good game, though. I forgot how gorgeous the view is in Chavez Ravine.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Helping small business

$9.65 on pastries from Le Maison du Pain.

25 cents on parking in front of the French pastry shop.

$62.50 taking good friend out to dinner at LaLa's (Argentinian) on Melrose.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beer, couscous-stuffed salmon, brie, baguettes, sliced peppers with friend ... priceless

$8.69 at TJs for beer and uneaten popcorn as part of a good chill night having dinner with framily.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A little death of change

One of first and chief complaints against the Darth Vader presidency of Dick Cheney and his puppet W. was the refusal to disclose who (specifically which energy industry execs) met with the Vader to discuss what would become the White House's energy policy and goals. The Vaders declared that these were essentially confidential matters that were outside the need to know of the public. Ultimately, they were supported by the courts.

This flew in the face of everything I'd been taught in communications law, that information is assumed public unless a compelling reason (national security, chiefly) can be demonstrated to keep information private.

Throughout his campaign for president Barack Obama repeatedly criticized the Vaders for conducting business outside the scrutiny of the public's view. And yet, now Barack and co. have decided to kill some of the hope and change that they have been squandering throughout the first seven months (waiting forever to stand up for hardly any rights for same-sex couples and still refusing to support same-sex marriage) ... by refusing to disclose which health care industry execs have met with White House staff to shape the massive overhaul of our broken health care system.

Here's an exerpt from the L.A. Times story:

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent a letter to the Secret Service asking about visits from 18 executives representing health insurers, drug makers, doctors and other players in the debate. The group wants the material in order to gauge the influence of those executives in crafting a new healthcare policy.
The Secret Service sent a reply stating that documents revealing the frequency of such visits were considered presidential records exempt from public disclosure laws. The agency also said it was advised by the Justice Department that the Secret Service was within its rights to withhold the information because of the "presidential communications privilege."

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics said it would file suit against the Obama administration as early as today. The group already has sued the administration over its failure to release details about visits from coal industry executives.

and more ...

As a candidate, President Obama vowed that in devising a healthcare bill he would invite in TV cameras -- specifically C-SPAN -- so that Americans could have a window into negotiations that normally play out behind closed doors.

Having promised transparency, the administration should be willing to disclose who it is consulting in shaping healthcare policy, said an attorney for the citizens' group. In its letter requesting the records, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics asked about visits from Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans; William Weldon, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson; and J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Assn., among others.

"It's extremely disappointing," said Anne Weismann, the group's chief counsel. Obama is relying on a legal argument that "continues one of the bad, anti-transparency, pro-secrecy approaches that the Bush administration had taken. And it seems completely at odds with the president's commitment . . . to bring a new level of transparency to his government."