Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's A Boy!!!!

We found out this morning that we are most likely having a boy, which is what we were both hoping for. We'll most likely max out at three kids and were hoping one of them would be male. Now that we've gotten one of each out of the way, I don't care what the 3rd is as long as it's healthy.

I say "most likely" because the baby was breach today and wasn't allowing for a full money shot. But, the doctor felt confident he saw the kid's unmentionables. I tried to nail him down to a percentage, but he wouldn't bite. We go back in four weeks for a follow up, so we should know empirically then. For now, I feel safe saying it's a boy. The baby is due around January 11th.

This seemed like as good a time as any to put a picture of Georgia up in here. For Grandpa's bday last month, we took pictures of her in her BYU, Utah Jazz, and Oakland A's cheerleading outfits, our family's three favorite sports teams. This one was one of the cutest.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #11: Crowded House - st (1986)

I’m often asked what my favorite album of all-time is. Well, it’s this one.

Even while making such a huge declaration, I struggle to find a reason why that would compel everyone to listen to it. What I’ve decided is that it sounds like home to me. Not my house, or where I was raised, or even the era in which I grew up. It sounds like home because the sound, the melodies, the songs, the voices and instruments are so comfortable and familiar.

Lead singer Neil Finn gets my vote for the greatest songwriter in rock history. Well, him and Paul McCartney. The reason being, he/they seem to have a wellspring of catchy, familiar, yet fresh melodies inside of them that never dries up. Nothing is flashy or edgy or on the fringe. It’s so simple and honest and it rings true every single time. That is an urgently underappreciated talent, especially in today’s music environment. His contemporaries are not other rockers, they are Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Henry Mancini, and Irving Berlin. Artists that contribute to the canon of musical history. If Neil has one weakness, I would have to say it’s his lyrics. They are not always as universal as the melodies are. But, that’s a small complaint.

Of course, everybody knows “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. Almost no one seems to know it by name until you say the “hey now, hey now” part and then the light goes on. The album had one other top 10 hit, the far less enduring “Something So Strong” and that’s it for hits from Crowded House. A few others flirted with the top 40 over the next seven years, but nothing quite cracked it, leaving CH with the moniker of “two-hit wonder”. This is another one of life’s true travesties.

This album itself tossed out three other singles, the comparatively dark “World Where You Live” and the brighter “Now We’re Getting Somewhere” and "Mean To Me". None found the masses, but they’re equally as good as the hits and serve to make the spectrum of songs on the album more robust. Adding to the depth is producer Mitchell Froom. His distinctive and immediately identifiable style has since become really stagnant, claustrophobic, and redundant (sadly, Neil continues to use him on his solo albums, much to my chagrin), but it was fresh and powerful in ’86. Some complain it makes the songs too busy with an organ here and some brass there, but I think it gives it heft and greater reasons to revisit the album since sounds sometimes surprise and come out of nowhere. Considering CH is just a trio, Froom becomes a crucial fourth member that helps round out and fill up the sound and spaces. You don’t always want that from a producer, but it works here big time.

So here it is, the gold standard of contemporary pop music. And if it weren’t you’d never be able to convince me otherwise.
One sad postscript. Drummer Paul Hester committed suicide in 2005, breaking my heart. CH put on a great live show, full of audience banter and loads of comedy. Paul was often the biggest clown of all. He was actually a really sad person behind the act.

The Nugget: Man, this is next to impossible. “That’s What I Call Love is the one I probably play most often, and "World..." has been creeping up recently, but today I’m feeling “Hole In The River” (I prefer the album version to this live one, but it's all that's out there). It’s definitely a Froom driven track, a vast soundscape and collage of swirling moods and sounds. It’s what I’m digging right now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Things I Don’t Like About the Olympics

The Olympics are great, so I don’t want to focus on the negative, but I kind of get off on it.

The Redeem Team have to be the least interesting thing in the entire Olympics. Why would I wish a gold medal to a thugged out criminal like Carmelo Anthony or a spoiled brat like Kobe Bryant or a wife-beater like Jason Kidd? These guys already make millions of dollars, are VIPs of every strip club and swank spot in the world and have all their sex crimes swept under the rug, what do they really need a gold medal for? To put on the shelf next to their Collector’s Edition Scarface DVD? I couldn’t care less about these guys. I don’t watch the all-star game anymore for the same reason. It’s a bunch of show-offs showing off. How is that interesting? It’s an obvious revenue generator is all. The NBA makes millions off the marketing, so of course they trash any ideas of good taste. Also, someone explain to me why every other sport is made up of amateurs, but professionals are allowed to play basketball? I get that the other countries do it too, but why? I’m serious.

Why is beach volleyball getting twice as much coverage as regular volleyball, which takes twice as much skill and is far more interesting to watch? I’ll tell you why. One word: bikinis. Notice how much more of the women you’re seeing than the men. Granted, they are the best team in the world, but you put them on the sand fully clothed and no one is paying attention. The crazy thing is, neither of the Americans are hot. At all! Again, this reeks of a marketing opportunity. Before the last summer Olympics, no one cared about it. Now, advertisers are seeing the potential of marketing a sexy sport with sexy players hanging out in the sun all day and seizing their opportunity. I get it, but I don’t like it.

Any sport dependent on judges needs a governing body to monitor their decisions. Much like the frustrations I’m suffering through with the NBA now, I think refs/judges need to be held accountable for their decisions. They should be interviewed afterwards. Hold a press conference and send them to the wolves (ie, the Press). Make them explain and also take the criticism. We’ve seen Alecia Sacramone (sp) and that Nastia chick both fall victim to this confusion. It’s pretty deflating, even for a spectator, when you smell foul play.

NBC is paying WAAAAY too much attention to only a few sports. I know they’re trying to be as live as possible, but why can’t they just run down every event that took place that day with an American involved and show some quick highlights? I know they have the secondary channels like USA, MSNBC and CNBC covering a lot of them, and they’re always pimping out their website, but it wouldn’t hurt anything to give a little attention to the smaller stuff. Do we really need another Michael Phelps interview?

Which brings me to the last problem. I’m completely Phelps’d out. He did great and I’m happy for him, but there are a couple hundred other Olympians that could use some airtime too. It’s his Olympics, we're just along for the ride.

Hopefully, we can all move on now that he's done his thing. Isn’t there an archer somewhere that we could get on TV. In keeping with the Phelps/Walsh/May theory, maybe no one else’s abs are good enough.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Live in Concert: The Regeneration Tour 8/7/08

The best word to describe the Regeneration Tour’s stop in SLC is “efficient”. Four bands keeping a tight time schedule. This was an example of professionals conducting business.

The show began promptly at 7 with Naked Eyes getting right to the point by leading off with “Always Something There To Remind Me”, lest anyone forgot who they were. They did eight songs in 35 minutes. Show over. Fifteen minutes later, ABC comes on stage. Same thing, eight songs in 35 minutes. Show over. Fifteen minutes later, Belinda Carlisle comes out. Again, eight songs in 35 minutes. Finally, the Human League took 30 minutes to take the stage. They did ten songs in 45 minutes. Evening over by 10:30. You figure each band had to pocket a couple grand each. How do I get a job making all that money for 35 minutes of work? Oh, maybe I do that already, actually.

Aside from Belinda, I’ve been a huge fan of all involved for as long as I’ve known what pop music was. In fact, “…There To Remind Me” and “Don’t You Want Me Baby” are some of the first songs I remember taking notice of and ABC has steadily climbed to near the top of my list of all-time faves. There was no way I could pass this night up, even if it meant driving from Denver to Salt Lake City to see it. Unfortunately, A Flock Of Seagulls were supposed to be there, but weren’t. I never heard why.

Luckily, I’ve seen the bands I wanted to see previously. So, while the short set lists were kind of a bummer, at least I know I’ve seen them do their thing before. For not being a fan of Belinda, or the Go-Go’s really, her set was a pleasant surprise, mostly because it was the only one that was new. She still looks great. Slightly thicker, but still hot.

Naked Eyes sound the exact same as they always have. Led by Pete Byrne (collaborator Rob Fisher died nine years ago), they ran through all 3 of their top 40 hits, “…Remind…”, “When The Lights Go Out” and “Promises Promises”. He sounds just the same. He pulled out a few of the cult faves, for those of us who have been paying attention to their lesser known hits. Same thing with ABC. “Be Near Me”, “The Look Of Love” and “When Smokey Sings” were all accounted for, as well as a couple new tracks. Front man Martin Fry remains one of the classiest acts in rock. He’s battled back from cancer to look as debonair as ever.

Belinda played all the songs I knew, but never liked. “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” and “Mad About You” as well as a couple Go-Go’s classics. And finally, the Human League trotted out all their usuals too, like “Fascination”, “Mirror Man”, “Human” and “Tell Me When”. They are an especially good time. Leader Phil Oakey roams the stage going from point to point, almost like he’s on a calorie burning regimen. For a band that created such great dance songs, he doesn’t appear to have much in the way of moves. Meanwhile, the girls, Susan and Joanne, remain on either side of the stage wiggling their hips and flirting with the crowds. All of the artists look great, considering they’re each around 50.

When I tell people who I saw, most of them know the names, but can’t place the songs. They know enough to know it’s been years since they were big, so they usually crinkle their noses or laugh. The truth is, you’d probably know at least 2/3 of the songs that were played that night. Between the four of them, they’re responsible for around 20-25 top 40 hits. Granted, none in the last 15-20 years, but each song remains a staple of life’s background music.

All in all, it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Get some good friends and let loose. I hope they do something similar every summer. Maybe pull together a different collection of bands. Maybe I’ll quit my job and manage it. That could easily be my life’s calling.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Best Music of 2008 So Far...

Duffy – Rockferry
She’s being hailed as the “new Amy Winehouse” which is meant as a complement from an artistic standpoint, but, unfortunately, carries negative connotations not just because of Amy’s behavior, but because of the glut of “new Amys” that are already bottlenecking the record bins.

For my money, Duffy is actually an improvement over Amy. Her voice is just as rich and lush, like a modern day Dusty Springfield, and the music is more organic. Amy was a classicist to be sure, but also seemed to be appealing to the hip-hop audience. Duffy relies more on her talents, than on the producers and studio gimmickry. Amy is good, but Duffy is solid.

Unfortunately, the single is not the best song on the album. That is a recurring theme this year. It’s satisfying to see the album is selling well anyway. Artists like her deserve the kudos. I don’t know if her career will span decades or if she’ll come and go like the other “new Amys” are bound to do. But she’s a bright star now.

Best Song - "Rockferry"

Mudcrutch – st
It’s the best work Tom Petty has done in over a decade (or two in my opinion, but I’m not a long-term Petty disciple). Who knew reuniting his first band would trigger the creativity like this?

Last year, director Peter Bogdanovich released a four hour documentary on Petty called Running Down A Dream that premiered on the Sundance channel. The reception was very positive and in the film viewers learned that the band that started it all was actually Mudcrutch. They were the ones that made the cross-country drive from his native Florida to LA to score a record deal, only to have the label axe Mudcrutch in favor of Petty, who they saw as the real value. A couple guys stuck around for what would become The Heartbreakers, and a couple other guys went home and lead normal lives for the next 30 years missing the entire circus. Petty must have felt guilty or deeply nostalgic because he reformed his original band after the doc’s airing and released a beautiful album.

More so than with his Heartbreakers stuff, Mudcrutch (terrible name, btw), sound even sunnier than he normally does. Honey-soaked melodies of bright yellows and oranges permeate the album. Even the darker stuff still sounds like dusk on a warm summer night. It’s folkier than the normal stuff too. He’s always been heavily influenced by the Byrds, but he wears it more on his sleeve this time out. At 14 tracks, it could have lost 2 or 3 to make for a tight, perfect offering, but it’s pretty close as it is.

Put it this way. I’ve resisted being a big Petty fan his entire career. It took Mudcrutch for me to stand up and take notice.

Best Song - "Scare Easy"
There are many, but you may as well start with the single.

Nada Surf – Lucky
Some people just don’t get this band, or find them inconsequential. Me, I find their last 3 albums, especially 2002’s Let Go, some of the most beautiful pop ever written.

Imagine a gorgeous girl without any make-up on. That’s Nada Surf. Pure, simple, lovely, natural, unforgettable. Singer Matthew Caws has a voice like a lovelorn romantic on a late, dark night. Full of passion that is haunted and yearning. Yet, his love is perfect, just as his melodies are perfect. His thoughts and emotions are clear. His muse is on his shoulder. No frills. Just bottomless heart.

It's certainly a far cry from their one gimmick hit "Popular" from '96. They aren't even the same band anymore.

Best Song - "Beautiful Beat"
The bestest of all the "best" songs I point to here.

R.E.M. – Accelerate
They’re still around? Yep, and finally recapturing the fury of their youth. Many have criticized the last 15 years of the band’s career. Surely, the sales have shown that one of the biggest bands ever, and a one-time monster revenue generator, have dwindled to a core of cultist fans who just haven’t moved on with their lives yet. (That being said, I thought 2002’s Reveal was one of their best, but I’m the only one who feels that way).

REM are smart businessmen and couldn’t help but notice their star plummeting, so they tried to infuse some life in their seemingly forgotten careers. Thus, Accelerate, a fast and lively and energetic shot of adrenaline that reintroduces them as artists to take seriously once again. Will they be rediscovered? Probably not. The young don’t care about the old unless they’re on a dating show on VH1 and even then it’s not for their music. But, fans will finally feel repaid for their investment.

The easiest touch point is to compare the album to 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant. To call it a carbon copy is not meant to minimize the greatness of Accelerate. It just means that they took their best template for a rock record and reworked it for 2008. The songs are urgent and vibrant and straightforward. No experimenting. No obscure lyrics. No drama.

Again, the single “Supernatural Superserious sucks and is the worst song on the album. Don’t let it, or your dubious feelings about REM, keep you from checking it out though. I know you’re sitting there thinking, “But, I really don’t care anymore.” In fact, their fall to mediocrity might even cause you to forget that you ever cared (chances are you did once). But fight that impulse. They’re handing you a reward. Take it! It’s yours!

Best Song - "Man-sized Wreath"

Vampire Weekend – st
Yes, the hype is deserved. Yes, they’re that good. Yes, they’re worth your time.

It’s this simple. They sound like ivy-league college kids who were heavily influenced by Paul Simon’s Graceland album. That also happens to be exactly what they are. If you’ve seen them live, you know they wear v-neck sweaters, sear-sucker pants and boat shoes, the Cape Cod uniform. Not to be clever either. That’s them. The music is rich white kids versions of afrobeat and ska and new wave. It doesn’t sound at all pretentious (to me, at least), and, in fact, sounds like the freshest music of 2008. No one else is doing this.

Best Song - "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"

Wussy – Left For Dead
Take Nada Surf’s girl with no make-up and smear some lipstick on her. Maybe some thick, black eyeliner. Dress her up in a white t-shirt with a pack of cigs rolled into the sleeve and make her road weary and you have Wussy.

They manage to take the pop simplicity of Nada Surf, but run it through the DIY aesthetic. Crunchy, fuzzy guitars, even lower-maintenance production, a chick lead singer (on most of the songs), and some attitude. What they’re calling on, are the spirits of long gone bands like Replacements and Husker Du. It isn’t totally ramshackle. In fact, it’s often quite beautiful, just as those bands could be when they chose to dial it down. It’s real and raw and earnest.

Best Song - "Jonah"
Truthfully, it's one of the only ones I could find a link for. But it is good.

Honorable Mention
Black Crowes - Warpaint
Estelle - Shine
Moby - Last Night

Gnarls Barkley - Odd Couple
Bob Mould - District Line
Spiritualized - Songs in A&E
Deathcab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs

Friday, August 1, 2008

Book Wrap-Up Part 2/Some Soul Searching

If you’re looking for some juice (or much life at all) from Steve Martin you aren’t going to find it with his autobiography. Farrah found it extremely boring. I found it to be an informative view into a shy and private (I’ve also heard him described by those who know him as “boring”) personality I feel I’ve known, but known little of, all my life.

It starts with his days in So. Cal growing up near, and then working for, Disneyland and how that, paired with his fascination with magic, formed the basis for his experimental performance art and stand up career. Magic turned to acting, which turned to stand up. Is learning about someone’s magic fixation interesting? Not really, but when it’s more information than you’ve ever received at one time from a beloved figure, every bite is still pretty savory. (I remember watching him on Larry King in 1991 promoting “My Blue Heaven” and Larry saying that they were tearing through the hundreds of calls coming into the show to find one person who didn’t like him and couldn’t find a single one.)

The book ends when he steps away from stand up and into film, concluding with his first film, The Jerk. So, basically, it ends just as it’s getting good. Along the way you learn about his quiet, somewhat unloving family life, his passion for philosophy and the hippie ideals, and the progression from playing small clubs in San Francisco in front of 10 people to selling out Madison Square Garden and selling millions of records.

This book has something in common with the second review which is for “Love Is A Mix Tape” by Rob Sheffield that I will get to in a second.

Sheffield is a writer/editor for Rolling Stone and by far my favorite writer there. He brings a real sense of humor and pop culture fanaticism to what he writes, sprinkling any points he’s making or stories he’s telling with references that are for the truly devoted.

In fact, the book is exactly what I would write if I wrote a book. To be honest, it’s so close to home that it’s easier for me to be sort of critical. For me, it was almost too much of a good thing. Too many sentences in the first person for my tastes, and more meat every now and then would have broken up the cleverness. Sometimes meaningful moments in his life are reduced to song lyrics. I guess that's the point, how life and songs come together. It just seemed like the easy way out once in a while.

Sheffield relates the mileposts of his life with the mix tapes he made or were listening to at the time, literally documenting the soundtrack of his life. Every chapter kicks off with the tape’s tracklist and then relates the stories back to the songs.

Mostly, it tells the story of how he met and fell in love with and married Renee, only to have her die suddenly five years later. It’s about their time together, who she was, why he loved her, and, most importantly, the music they shared with each other. One credit to Sheffield’s retelling of Renee and who she was is that when she dies, you feel a real sense of loss too. Like someone you know has disappeared. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to walk back into your house after returning from the hospital where your loved one just died. An hour earlier, life was completely normal. Then a pulmonary embolism changes everything in a heartbeat and your life is changed forever and the house is empty to remind you of that.

But, there are so many other things about Sheffield’s book that I can relate to. An old girlfriend tells him he looks like Dr. Robot from the Blow Monkeys. I LOVE the Blow Monkeys! He says he just knew an old girlfriend’s favorite Go-Go was Jane Wiedlin. MY favorite Go-Go was Jane Wiedlin, so I know exactly what kind of girl this is! When he first confessed his love to Renee, they were listening to the first Marshall Crenshaw album. I LOVE that album! There are a couple of these on every page.

Still, because it’s so close to my own sensibility, I was as critical as I would be with my own writing. But, if you have a soundtrack to your own life and treasure mix tapes, then this speaks to you in a special language only you understand.

As I’m reading these books I’m getting very depressed because it’s hitting me how envious I am of people who follow their hearts. Whenever I read stories like this, I relate to a point and then have to tell myself “But, what about the church?” or “I wish I could do that, but I’m afraid I would leave the church.” Unfortunately, it’s just managed to cause some level of resentment toward the church and a growing sense of being incomplete within me. Read “A Prayer of Gratitude” for more info.

There is no question that I have a wonderful life and I love my family and friends and I even love the church. But there are times when I wonder who the real me is. The one who isn’t so influenced by, or expected to live by the precepts of the church. In my heart and mind, I think and have always thought, I would be Rob Sheffield, which makes reading his book both good and bad. Or maybe I wouldn’t have been. Maybe I’d be in dark places I should be grateful I’m not in. Not knowing bothers me sometimes. It must be what it would be like to have fallen in love with someone who wasn't Mormon and not marry them because of it. You move on and have a great life and wife and family, but could you have been happier?

I think I also didn't pursue more for 3 reasons.

1) Fear of failure - This is a small one though. It wouldn't have surprised me to fail, so I doubt I would have been too heartbroken about it.

2) No contacts - Probably the biggest one. I've sent lots of clippings into newspapers searching for writing assignments, but they mean nothing without someone going to bat for you.

3) You don't make any money - This was also a big one. I never pursued radio, or print, or broadcasting because you just didn't make any money at it.

These are the reasons I make myself feel better with and they are all legitimate. But, I make good money selling software and couldn't care less about it.

I'm going to have to work this one out.