Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Album review: “Songs The Brothers Warner Taught Me” by Megan Lynch

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Songs The Brothers Warner Taught Me album coverI grew up on cartoons.

Nothing was better than getting up early on Saturday, pouring several huge bowls of overly-sugared cereals, and settling in to fight with my brother over the remote.

The use of classical music and opera in cartoons was my first real exposure to those genres. But it wasn’t all classical: The cartoons I grew up with (which were already decades old when I first saw them) also featured many jazz standards as well.

Megan Lynch’s 2009 album, “Songs The Brothers Warner Taught Me,” captures the spirit of those old Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies of yesteryear. This lively album includes classics that everyone knows, such as “Hooray for Hollywood,” “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby,” and “Shuffle Off To Buffalo,” as well as other period tunes such as “Someone’s Rocking My Dreamboat” (a popular song from 1941 by Leon René and Emerson Scott that has been memorably covered by Natalie Cole among others).

The highlight of the album for me is Lynch’s version of “I Love To Sing” (recently seen performed by Cartman on South Park). Lynch’s energy and pacing is perfect. I listen to this one frequently.

Lynch doesn’t try to imitate the cartoon characters (it’s not Michigan J. Frog’s version of “Hello Ma Baby” — it’s all Lynch), nor does she play any tricks. Backed by a studio of pros, she just lets her powerful voice carry the day. My kids have really enjoyed a lot of these as well.

Five of five stars, highly recommended. Purchase for $9.99 at CD Baby; if you purchase before August 3, 100% of the proceeds go to the artist.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Lynch a few questions about the process of creating the album.

Q. Where did you get the inspiration for the theme of the album?

A. When I could still play my own instruments, I performed solo with a repertoire that was a mix of my own compositions along with jazz standards, soundtrack tunes, Americana, etc. When I became disabled, my repertoire shifted heavily to jazz standards because the musicians I could hire to accompany me worked best with that repertoire. So the most recent thing the fans I had knew me for was that. As much as I wanted to do justice to my own compositions by recording them on something better than a janky 4-track, I figured I might have trouble connecting to my most recent audience with that.

I didn’t want to be “just another chick singer doing jazz standards” to people. I also wanted a strong theme to the album, some reason why these songs were being presented together. I’ve always had songs in my repertoire that are obscure or have a bit of humor or both. My first exposure to jazz standards was via Warner Brothers cartoons. It occurred to me that I could work with music that my accompanists would feel comfortable with yet satisfy my need to do something out of the ordinary and still have a strong theme. Most people are familiar with the tunes but don’t know the words because they’re not often sung in the cartoons. When they are, only a second or two is sung. As much as possible, I was going to perform the songs as they were originally written, including their introductory verses. This choice also allowed me to bounce around genre a bit.

Q. How long did it take to record and finish?

A. I wish I’d thought to keep a journal for the project. I could have learned a lot from those notes! I don’t remember precisely when I started and ended. I’m guessing I first started working with Tony Marcus on charts and music in Dec ’08. I owe an enormous debt of thanks to Mike DaSilva who recorded and mixed the album and to the musicians. All made it possible for me to make the album on the shoestring budget I had. But that also meant scheduling things in between better-paying projects. So the album took about 10 months to plan, record, mix and release.

Q. What was the experience like working with the different musicians?

A. This was only my second time recording with musicians in a studio. The first time years ago was reasonably easy because we had rehearsal time as an impromptu band and only five songs with relatively simple arrangements. This was more complicated because I was working with musicians who would never get the chance to rehearse all together. I just couldn’t afford to pay all the musicians for rehearsal time as well as studio time. However, I wanted to be able to work with Robert Armstrong and Tony Marcus, members of The Cheap Suit Serenaders (and other bands) who are not only very accomplished musicians but two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Robert lives about sixty miles from where the studio was so I wanted to do everything I could to keep him from having to trundle back and forth to Berkeley. Since Robert & Tony have played together a lot, it’s easy for them to settle into a groove. So the sessions where we had them together went pretty quickly and easily. For money reasons, I was initially planning on just working with the two of them, but as we mixed the album we realized we really needed a little more bass and treble in places. We called in Brandon Essex, a talented jazz upright bassist, who was enormously impressive in his ability to come in, learn the song nearly instantly, and lay down the recording. A real pro! On other tracks we called in Steven Strauss, who has worked with Hot Club of San Francisco and other bands and is a very versatile and talented upright bassist and ukulele player. Steven graciously came in on short notice to bring a couple songs more fully to life and really made them swing.

The hard thing for me in working with others on music is that I’m always afraid that if I insist on my vision for something, if I push hard for something, I’ll be seen as a bitch. So sometimes I actually soften up on stuff I want because I’m too worried about how I come off. That said, I try to observe how more experienced musicians work and communicate with each other. I try to learn the language. I performed by myself for so long that I’m a bit of a late bloomer on this stuff. You don’t need to work out arrangements or telegraph things when you’re accompanying yourself. You don’t even need to name it — you just do it. Working with others means coming up with a common language you can communicate in.

Q. If you had the experience to do over again, what would you do differently, such as changing which songs you included or changing any of the arrangements?

A. I would keep a journal not only to note the experiences of making the album and learn from them, but also to note the equipment the musicians used and what settings they were using. Occasionally you get tech questions from folks and you have no idea what you used. If you ever want to recreate a certain sound, it would be helpful to remember what mic you used, etc.

I would get a producer. Mike DaSilva was just invaluable every step of the way in this process. The album wouldn’t exist without him. He came up to me when he saw me perform and said if I was ever interested in making an album, he was looking to get into recording albums. It was another year or two before I decided I could scrape together the money to do that, but if he hadn’t offered I doubt it would have happened. Mike recorded all the sessions except for some of the basic rhythm guitar tracks which Tony recorded at his studio. He did all the engineering in his studio. Then he went through take after take with me, choosing the takes we thought were best. A producer could have freed me up to just do my best as a vocalist and interpreter, freed Mike up to do his best engineering, and neither of us would have to worry about as much of the direction and logistical stuff as we did.

In retrospect, I would have scraped up the money to record more songs. I didn’t realize how short they’d be so the album itself comes in shorter than I would have thought. There are many more WB songs I could have done. I think time was tight when we were recording the initial rhythm guitar parts, so 12 seemed like plenty at the time.

If I could have found a way to afford it, I would have loved to have gotten musicians together as a temporary band and gotten them recording together until things had gelled as a unit. While I’m proud of the album and think it turned out very very well, I think there’s a special energy people get from playing all together at the same time that it would have been interesting to hear.

Somebody that I used to parody

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

First, watch the original (if you’re not sick of it yet):

Then watch this amazing cover:

And then watch the parody of the amazing cover:

The man was a prophet

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Image of the projected Tupac Shukar from the 2012 Coachella, superimposed with text saying, 'Holographic Tupac says: I don't have no fear of death. My only fear is coming back reincarnated. Also can any of you explain this twitter thing to me?

This technology is amazing, but I’m not sure most dead celebrities would want to be brought back to life this way.

Symphony for the Comet (a short film)

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Hale Bopp comet, 1997, photo by John TewellI’ve had this idea for a student film in my head for 10 years and always wanted to make it. But today I have admitted to myself that I will never actually film this. Instead, I release the words from my head.


EXT. SUBURB – NIGHT

Just past dusk. A suburban church spire is silhouetted against the hazy sky. Directly above the spire, as if being pointed to, the comet Hale Bopp is clearly visible, a Nike-like swoosh.

SUPER: [The comet Hale Bopp was known as the “Great comet of 1997.”]

A car drives up to the church parking lot, and before the car has even fully stopped, the rear door opens. RICKY, a young junior high student, 12, with his tie loose and his shirt tail hanging out, rushes out, lugging a French horn case, and disappears through a side door into the back of the church.

SUPER: [In prehistoric times, comets were believed to be harbingers of doom.]

A few moments later, RICKY’S FATHER and RICKY’S MOTHER emerge from the car, close the doors without locking them, and casually make their way into the church, holding hands.

INT. CHURCH – NIGHT

The church is warmly lit by hundreds of candles. Comfortable pews line the church floor, easily enough seating for 300 people. On stage, behind a conductor, there’s an orchestra comprised of two dozen junior high students: two oboists, a bassoonist, two French horn players (including RICKY), and various violinists, violists, cellists, and a double bassist about half as tall as his instrument. Two dozen pairs of parents are seated in random locations, some close to the stage, some further back.

When the last pair of parents has sat down, the conductor and junior high orchestra teacher, MR. TYCHO, looks at his watch and then nervously stands up. Behind him, through the stained glass window, the comet is barely visible.

MR. TYCHO

Um, thank you, everyone. On behalf of the Cliffdale Junior High School Orchestra, I’d like to, er, thank everyone for attending, and, um, for all of your support. Well, the orchestra has worked really very hard on tonight’s program, so, um, this is… this is Haydn’s “Farewell Symphony.” Class!

He taps twice and the orchestra picks up their instruments. A nod and gesture, and the first turbulent notes of the allegro assai erupt from the violins. The first few seconds seem fine, but quickly the performance starts to fall apart. MR. TYCHO seems oblivious, stoic throughout. RICKY is the first to play an off note, but soon both the pace and the key of the entire ensemble deteriorate. Close-ups of the different parents show extremely visible reactions to each wrong note: A blink from one father. A frown from a mother. A series of nervous tics on a second father, in reaction to a sequence of wrong notes.

The orchestra continues on, undeterred, really doing their best. MR. TYCHO, with determined baton movements, tries to recover and get his class regrouped.

Interspersed with the performance, shots of the comet glowing brightly overhead, ominous, out of place.

Cutting ahead to the slow movement of the adagio, Haydn’s intended dissonance almost seems to be delivered by the orchestra. But one of the students drops his cello, a loud clatter from his folding chair as he scrambles to pick it up. A cut to someone who must be his father, hiding his face, he can’t bear it. He’s trembling.

The fast tempo of the last movement is next, the determination of the young orchestra obvious, sweat forming on MR. TYCHO’s brow. RICKY with his cheeks puffed up, snot running down his nose. While some parents sit passive (a close-up of one shows he’s wearing earplugs), most parents are in visible pain, reacting with spasms and jerks to each new wrong note or mistimed entrance. RICKY’S FATHER shakes his head while RICKY’S MOTHER grabs his hand. RICKY looks to them anxiously.

With a slow fade-out, finally, the last tortured note: A mournful dead cat’s howl of screeching pain.

Then: Silence.

MR. TYCHO stands stock still in front. Silence continues in the church. A survey of each parent: Shock, disbelief, pain, eyes closed, hands over ears, no motion, no words.

And then the expression of the students in the orchestra: Hopeful, expectant, exhausted, their young faces peering anxiously up from their instruments and searching around the room, looking for a reaction, any reaction. RICKY looks to his parents.

RICKY’S FATHER stands up and begins applauding. Within seconds, every parent joins him, cheering, jubilant, massive applause. It’s now a wave of standing ovations, the applause now thunderous. This is a genuine moment (no ironic slow clapping). Shouts of “brava” and other cheers. The reaction of the students is also genuine — they’re standing, bowing, giving off exhausted smiles throughout.

EXT. SUBURB – NIGHT

The comet. Silent. Motionless. When it finally leaves our night sky, it will not be seen again until the year 4534.

FADE TO BLACK

Kate Bush’s 1984 “Experiment IV” video — they don’t make ’em like that anymore

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

In 1986, Kate Bush’s record label pushed her to write a new song for her first best-of album, The Whole Story. Under what she called her tightest deadline ever, she ended up writing a song and directing a video that was a stylistic bridge between her previous album and next album.

This is the video she made. (And this best copy I found on YouTube; very grainy, sorry.)

Did you spot Hugh Laurie and Dawn French?

Unbelievably by today’s standards, this video was considered too “adult” to be shown on British television when it was made.

The Letter V

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

Sorry, every other letter in the alphabet, you’re fired. The letter V has completely dominated popular culture.

Vvvv vvv vv, V vvvvv, vvv vvvv vvvvvv vv’vv vvvv vv vvv vv “v.”

[Collage of images involving the letter V from popular culture, including V, True Blood, V for Vendetta, others]
(Click to enlarge)

In the collage, roughly from left to right:

  1. Supermodel Anne V (Sports Illustrated photo), wearing a v-neck bathing suit, from her 5-year SI run.
  2. Actress Morena Baccarin as Anna in the new “V” series on ABC.
  3. The energy drink V.
  4. XKCD illustrating Valentine’s Day (V Day). (Notice that the bottom half of a heart forms a V.)
  5. The band Live’s album V.
  6. V logos for Virgin brands as well as the TV series “V” look similar.
  7. The annual music festival in the UK.
  8. The victory gesture with 2 fingers; Churchill (his arm, at least) and Nixon are demonstrating here. Nixon is really demonstrating three Vs.
  9. The graphic novel V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore, drawn by David Lloyd, which later became a movie.
  10. In the HBO series “True Blood,” adapted from the Charlaine Harris novels, vampires are known as “Vs,” and their blood is a drug known as “V” (reminiscent of “X” for ecstasy).
  11. Visitors, visitors, everywhere. In addition to the current “V” series (where the Visitors are called “Vs”), there was the original two-part 1983 miniseries, a three-part 1984 miniseries, a short-lived 1984 TV series, and various novels and comics.
  12. Thomas Pynchon’s first novel, V.
  13. The V subway train, familiar in orange to residents of New York.
  14. The Gibson Flying V, made famous by Lonnie Mack and Jimi Hendrix.
  15. V Day (or V-J Day), and the world’s most famous photograph of a kiss in Times Square.

And there are probably a dozen more I could have included if I had thought of them.

A phone conversation between Björk and Diddy

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Stolen shamelessly from some random forum:

diddybj

Listen?

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Music is an emotion stimulator, a direct hit to the central cortex, an upper, a downer, a smash to the thumb, a squeeze of the heart, a rage against the system of the dawn of the power to the LISTEN FEEL LIVE.

So often we share what we’re listening to with others, hoping that our unique combination of tastes — that special mix that only we could come up with — might possibly form a connection, that somewhere out there among the six billions souls there’s someone, someone who shares our thoughts, knows what we mean, knows how we feel, has the same emotional reaction to the guitars and words that are hitting us so hard right this second. “Oh my God,” that person says, “that’s exactly right, that’s exactly what I’m feeling, this is the greatest song in the world,” which it is, at that moment, at that place, for the way you both feel.

NOW PLAYING: “Paper Bag,” Fiona Apple.

Why isn’t my entire music library available on my iPhone?

Friday, March 27th, 2009

As I drove home from the dentist just now, a song came into my head. (I won’t say which song, it’s embarrassing.) I knew I had this song ripped from CD on my computer at home, in my iTunes library. Some days it might well have been synced to my iPhone’s music library, but not today.

I really wanted to hear the song. But instead I had to wait until I got home.

It occurred to me, though, that I should not have to wait. I should be able to access that song using my iPhone itself. Streamed. Instantly.

My computer is on 24/7 and connected to the Internet 24/7. The file size for the song is reasonable. My iPhone can handle music streams from various sources (Pandora, CBS, PBS, many others) and music downloads (from Apple via iTunes). So why isn’t my iPhone aware of my entire home music library, and able to let me browse for songs I want to remotely sync, and then download (or stream) those songs upon my whim and demand?

If you’re an iPhone app developer and want to make this reality, feel free. (Just give me credit and a free copy of your app if this post really was your inspiration.)

Or Apple (via my many Apple employee friends), you guys should run with it. Here, I’ll even name the feature for you: “iMusicLibrary.” You’re totally welcome.

Most-played in 2008: “Trampoline” by Calamine

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

According to iTunes, the song I played most in 2008 was “Trampoline” by Calomine, which came as a bit of a surprise for me since it’s so obscure, but it’s just the kind of song that I like most:

  • low-key
  • catchy
  • both a male and female singer
  • nostalgic
  • a vivid narrative
  • evocative
  • shoe-gazing
  • jangly

It reminds me of two other songs that always catch my breath: “Dogs of L.A.” by Liz Phair and “You Picked Me” by A Fine Frenzy. I could write a dozen paragraphs on each one.

I don’t have many other songs by Calamine; I know they did the cover of the Sealab 2021 theme, and I’ve been meaning to pick up the rest of their stuff. I found this track when Roger played it one time at a Tuesday night poker game. (Thanks, Roger.)

Quick, check iTunes. What’s #1 most-played right now?

Best Superbowl commercial: will.i.am and Bob Dylan

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Look, some of the images and contrasts work better than others, and as a commercial this thing fails because no one even remembers what product is being sold, but I loved it just because of hearing Bob and will together.

I’ve already forgotten every other commercial. Good game though!

Music formats I’ve consumed, a list to date

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

So far in my lifetime, I’ve purchased recorded music in the following formats:

  • Vinyl (LP/EP/Single)
  • 8-track (if you don’t know what that is, read this, young person)
  • Cassette
  • CD
  • DVD
  • Protected AAC from iTunes (now updated to iTunes plus, so repurchased as AAC)
  • Video from iTunes
  • MP3 from Amazon

Many other digital formats are possible to purchase now too, including ring tones. There have been a few formats of CDs, and a few of DVDs, and I’ve yet to buy my first Blu-ray disc.

Even so, some albums or songs I’ve purchased four times. While it’s possible that songs I’ve purchased digitally will end up never having to be repurchased, it’s also possible that new formats appear in the future that are compelling.

In the year 2015, you’ll be able to purchase songs to be stored directly in your brain. You read it here (hear) first.

I have to admit my favorite is still CDs. I like those shiny things, I like having lyrics and cover art. The CD may be dying, but I’ll miss it.

Plinky linky another time sinky

Friday, January 16th, 2009

I’m trying out Plinky. It’s a site that asks an interesting or thought-provoking question each day. You then fill out the answer and share the answers with your friends. (And then buy stuff? Frankly the business model escapes me.)

The first question I answered was: Name three songs you’d put on a road trip mix tape. Here’s my answer.

Way too literal


[Red Hot Chili Peppers Album Cover art]

Road Trippin’
by
Red Hot Chili Peppers


[Rascal Flatts album cover art]

Life is a Highway
by
Rascal Flatts

(My son likes it because it was in Cars.)

[Willie Nelson cover art]

On the Road Again
by
Willie Nelson

Late-breaking millennial election results

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

It took eight years of tabulation, but the judges have finally awarded the Most Overwrought Line From A Song Lyric winner for the previous millennium. The winner was this line from the U2 song “One”:

Did you come here to play Jesus with the lepers in your head?

Congrats, Bono!

Unwinding “Universe”: Four strong covers of a Beatles classic

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Can we start by agreeing that the greatest Beatles song ever written is 1968’s “Across the Universe“? Composed by John Lennon and seen first on a charity album, it was released on the Beatles’ last album, Let It Be. The cosmic lyrics combine with a haunting melody to create a tune that even 40 years later can inspire a movie.

As Wikipedia notes about the song, it’s well-covered. The easiest way to deconstruct a song is to see it ripped apart by others. By seeing it rebuilt, its underbelly exposed and vulnerable, you can get your mind around it and hear it wholly new.

Here are four completely different takes. (All links to YouTube; please let me know if something disappears.)

  • Rufus Wainwright’s 2002 version is probably the most straightforward cover. But it may also be my favorite version, modernizing the song (ditching sitars for unadorned guitar) without ruining it.
  • Fiona Apple’s 1998 cover created for Pleasantville is absolutely mesmerizing. Her languid delivery is a perfect match.
  • If you know anything about Laibach, you may be surprised by their 1988 attempt, emphasizing the vocals over instrumentation, and amping up the chant-like components. Hypnotic.
  • Then there’s David Bowie’s 1975 take, off his Young Americans album (with John Lennon singing and playing alongside); Bowie’s goal was to “hammer the hell out of it.” Mission accomplished.

Even the Beatles themselves had an alternate version: Different speed, different mix of instruments, this is the so-called “psychedelic” version, released officially on the 1996 Anthology 2 album.

I can listen to the Rufus Wainwright and Fiona Apple covers endlessly, but for me the others (including the original) are best in small doses.

Without a doubt, the worst version I’ve heard is this Roger Waters’ travesty. Frightening.

Got a favorite cover of this song? Tell me about it.

Changing gears #2: Listen to your least favorite genre of music

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Everyone hates some kind of music. Maybe you can’t stand rap. Or dislike classical music. Or really despise country. Or think electronica is boring and repetitive.

But it’s really more about the artist, not the genre. If you open yourself up to new experiences and try to appreciate a genre with “new ears,” you might surprise yourself.

I normally can’t stand country, but there are a few songs that have really changed my mind. Certainly classics like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Kenny Rogers’ “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” I wouldn’t have guessed that I liked the Dixie Chicks until a friend made me listen to “Cowboy Take Me Away.”

Your mission today, should you choose to accept it:

  • Head to Pandora (or install their app on your iPhone) and try out something top-rated in a new genre. You might prefer Last.FM. Even iTunes has radio stations. It’s all free.
  • On your TiVo, try out the Rhapsody 30-day free trial and explore some top picks, or search using a letter at random and try out a new artist. Or download a top-rated music video from Music Choice from an artist you’ve never listened to before. (Or fire up Live 365 too.)
  • Go to muxtape.com and click on someone’s name at random, then click on artist you’ve never heard of. (Odds are it’ll be something gothy, in my experience.)
  • Get your rap-loving friend to play her favorite rap song and explain why she likes it. Note how infectious her enthusiasm is.
  • Try a classical radio station for your drive home.
  • Stop by a café with a folk artist or jazz combo playing. Live music always sounds a million times better than recorded music, anyway. Give it a try.
  • Your cable or satellite company gives you free music. Head to the end of the guide and try out their electronica Chill station. Give it 20 minutes while you do some web browsing.
  • Insert your idea here.

A flowchart showing knowledge gained from Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”

Friday, June 27th, 2008

[A flowchart showing knowledge gained from Kenny Roger's 'The Gambler']

(Click to enlarge)

The greatest Radiohead song you’ve (probably) never heard

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

The process of writing their 1997 album OK Computer was reportedly a drawn-out affair for Radiohead, if it’s true that they took more than a year and went from recording in an apple shed to actress Jane Seymour’s 15th century mansion.

As a result, they had far more material than could fit on one album, yet no desire to create a double album. So, after the June 1997 release of OK Computer, an EP was issued, with six new songs: Airbag/How Am I Driving?.

My copy of that first EP somehow disappeared from my cubicle back in 2000, and for a long time I couldn’t find any copies for sale. Fortunately a new batch has appeared, and recently I picked up a replacement from Amazon.

The standout song is, in my opinion, “Polyethylene (Parts 1 & 2)” which I’ve read nearly made the cut of being included on OK Computer. It’s a strange two-part song but grows on you like nothing else. My head replays it over and over again.

Keep all surfaces clean.

Variegated miscellany

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

Today I attended Jack and Andy’s fifth birthday party at Hoover park, and watched Bob get pelted by water balloons and shaving-cream-filled sponges by ten ecstatic kids. (How I escaped that fate, given I’m a co-godparent? Dunno! But I am oh so grateful.) Aunt Beth made two cakes, one a race car, and the other a chocolate volcano with lava made from melted orange lifesavers. Amazingly beautiful cakes.

* * *

While I was feting twins, Kimi took Sammy and Sophie to the Hiller Airplane Museum, which never gets old for Sammy.

Me: Sammy, what did you see at the airplane museum today?
Sammy: Airplanes.
Me: What kind of airplanes?
Sammy: Old airplanes. With wings!

* * *

Yesterday was Sophie’s eight month birthday. She babbles incessantly now, has the tiniest of teeth buds coming in, gives a smile to everyone, likes to wave somewhat erratically at people, and can roll over, but seems to show no interest in crawling. We’ve started the ferberizing to break her of her 3 a.m. feedings, and so far so good; she slept through the night for the last two nights.

* * *

Yesterday was also photo day at Sammy and Sophie’s school, and in addition, teachers’ lunch out for Sophie’s class. This semi-annual event asks the parents to donate their time and a little money for the teachers to get an escape, while parents come in during the lunch hour to watch the kids. There are eight kids in Sophie’s class, ranging from four months to almost a year old. For the noon to 1 shift where I helped out, we had five parents. When we first started our shift, the teachers had left us well-fed, happy, clean-diapered kids. Within about, oh, ten minutes, half of the kids were bawling, and most had dirty diapers. We parents just looked at each other and laughed. What a profoundly difficult job. The two teachers handle four infants each, with aplomb. We parents were having difficulty with less than two each. Things soon settled down though, and the hour ended up flying by.

* * *

While the photographers set up outside the school and we lined the kids up to have their individual and class photos taken, smoke and haze filled the sky from the nearby Santa Cruz mountains fire. Yesterday morning over 3,400 acres had burned, dozens of homes were destroyed, and the fire was less than 1% contained. Even though we were fifty miles away, kids rubbed their eyes and coughed; and the strange air reminded me of a smell from my childhood, in London: walking down the street in winter evenings, with seemingly every house having a fireplace with a blazing wood fire, smoke pouring out of chimneys, getting on your clothes.

Chim chimminee, chim chiminee, chim chim cheroo.

I was very glad to see the unexpected and unseasonable light rain today, giving the firefighters the break they needed to control the mountain blaze. The dull weather was not so much fun for five-year-olds attending a birthday party, but everything in life is a trade-off.

* * *

Earlier in the week, I caught Speed Racer and then snuck in to a showing of Prince Caspian. It took me about thirty minutes to catch on to Speed Racer’s vibe, but once I did, I loved it. I think this is a vastly underrated movie. The critical smackdown is somewhat intense; I guess most of the critics never watched the original cartoon, because I think the movie catches the goofy tone of the movie pretty much perfectly. And the visuals do not disappoint, exceeding even the hype.

Prince Caspian, on the other hand, is a dreadful bore, missing all spark of charm and whimsy of the first Narnia movie, laying the religious theme on over-thick, and really missing the point of the book (which I read probably twenty times before I was 12).

Speed Racer is over two hours but feels like 60 minutes. Prince Caspian is over two hours but feels like three or four.

* * *

Rob and I have been playing a new card game, Race for the Galaxy (which Steve and Larry introduced me to when they visited a couple of months ago). We play whenever we get a chance. I love this game. It’s a bit fiddly to learn, and the fact that you’re not directly interacting with your opponents takes a few plays before you understand how you can actually have a huge effect on your opponents’ play — but it’s such a short and intense game, I find myself even dreaming about it. Get this game!

* * *

Kimi gave me the new Flight of the Conchords CD for my birthday (among a lot of other CDs, thanks sweetie!). Although I loved the first season of the HBO show, I had thought some of the songs were hit or miss. But I was able to really listen to the lyrics (thanks to the iPhone making it easier for me to carry around music), and now I love all the songs. Buy this CD. Please mister, you won’t regret it.

* * *

There’s a friends-and-family deal at TiVo right now for a TiVo HD. If you’re a friend or family and want a new HD DVR, drop me an e-mail.

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While I do aim to generate content, rather than pass along content from elsewhere, here’s a link. I have to say I applaud these two for their convictions and avocation.
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Kimi: “Your blog is so random. No one likes all the content. No one!”

Guilty — variegated miscellany is what this is. I do tend to be all over the place. Everything’s connected, somehow. Just think though — there are half of the categories listed on the right not even touched by this post. But comments are what I like best, so let me know what you’d like to see more of, and less of.

Yuri

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Last Saturday, Kimi and I took a break from packing, got a babysitter and went to Yuri’s Night Bay Area over at Moffett Field, with Tracee and her friend Rafique. The event was an all-day affair, 2pm to 2am, with plenty of talks and interesting exhibits in addition to the music. It was quite Burning Man-esque, except without the playa dust, blinding desert heat, dust storm white outs, camping out for a week, driving several hundred miles, and the no commerce thing.

I would have liked to explore more, but based on our babysitting arrangements and when Tracee and Rafique could join us, we only made it there at around 9pm. The main attraction for Kimi was seeing Amon Tobin perform, which was around 10:15. The immediate problem was food: There were only a few booths, what they sold was a bit weird, and the lines were extremely long. Kimi and I waited in one long line, only to arrive at the front just as they ran out of food. So we bought some overpriced organic juice. Repeat again at the next line, where all we ended up with were some bizarre chips made from weird roots, and some chocolate. That was dinner. For an event of this size, they clearly didn’t plan the food situation well enough. More vendors, more choices, and adequate food supplies at each vendor would have helped a lot.

We spent a bit of time near a fire sculpture, talking with friends, and gradually made our way around to see different displays, some aeronautical, some environmental, and a few rides. We waited in line for the psycho-bike ride, which was a lot of fun: Four people pedal on bicycles, which spins around four seats in a merry-go-round. First you pedal and then you ride (or vice versa). I haven’t ridden a bicycle in a while, so it was a bit of a workout.

A fire exhibit, Yuri's Night, April 12, 2008, Mountain View, CA

We had to relieve the babysitter at midnight, so we weren’t able to stay too late, but we did enjoy the performances, and I thought the light installations were very well done. The music was so loud, though. I guess the kids today can’t have it any other way, but I was very glad Kimi remembered ear plugs. I was a little put off to see one dad had dragged along his (approximately) seven year old daughter and plunked her down by the speakers. She didn’t have ear plugs, and clearly wasn’t enjoying herself. Same kind of parent who drags toddlers to horror movies, I guess.

Dancers and light displays during Amon Tobin's set, Yuri's Night, April 12, 2008, Mountain View, CA

Amon was outstanding, and did make the evening worthwhile. There was a bit of cognitive dissonance in wandering past hangars and flight trainers, across a parade ground and runway, only to arrive at a rave on an airstrip. I would love to attend this event next year, prepared with having eaten at home and being able to attend more of it.

A light display during Amon Tobin's set, Yuri's Night, April 12, 2008, Mountain View, CA

(Apologies for the bad picture quality; the only camera I had with me was the iPhone.)