Category Archives: Music

An Interlude, with Music

I really have nothing to say that I haven’t said already before. But that won’t stop me from saying it.

I’m on a social media hiatus for now. I’ve had a rough couple of days, and I found that the more I hung out on Twitter and Facebook, the worse my mood got. Especially Twitter, which is now mostly a cesspool of right-wing propaganda and left-wing reactionarianism to that propaganda.

Is reactionarianism a word? Sure it is. I declare it so.

Now, I consider myself a good liberal, but there’s only so much outrage I can sustain before it affects my overall mood. I’d rather not spent my day swinging between seething rage and hopelessness; if I’m going to have hopelessness at one end of my emotional spectrum, I’d rather have the other end be something a wee bit more positive, thank you very much. Hence, my social media hiatus. I expect it to last only a couple of weeks.


On another note, I’ve decided that I really like the music of Janelle Monáe (see pic above; if she looks familiar, it’s because she played Mary Jackson in the movie Hidden Figures). Her song “Django Jane” is pretty incredible, even if I’m not necessarily the target audience. Check it out (but beware the explicit language):

At the moment I’m listening to her album The ArchAndroid, which is a neat concept album along the lines of Styx’s Kilroy Was Here: it’s basically a love story about an android and a human. This core conceit may seem trite, but Monáe makes it special, and the whole album ranges from swing to classical to hip hop, all with pop overtones. It streams for free on Amazon Prime, so I suggest you check it out.


The writing is going well. Haven’t sold anything, but I’m doing pretty well on both Padma and The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster. I’ve finished my short story “How the Old Ones Saved Christmas” and I’ve made good progress on revising a couple of other stories, and have begun the process of researching the background of a new one.

I’ve pondered setting up a Patreon. It seems like a lot of work, though, depending on what rewards I decide to offer my patrons. If I set one up, would you contribute? That may influence my decision. We shall see.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks for reading.

[A-Z] U is for Ukulele

I’m behind on the A-Z blogging challenge. Woefully so. Partially because I’ve been busy; sometimes I write my blog posts during my breaks at work, but lately work has been so busy that I haven’t been able to take breaks. And my evenings have been busy as well, what with my writers’ group and other commitments (that television won’t watch itself, after all). Plus, I just haven’t been sure what to write. So today I decided I was going to use the letter U, and put a call out on Twitter and Facebook for words that begin with U. One response (from my sister) was Ukulele, so that’s the word I chose.

I don’t really have that many thoughts about ukuleles. I like the way they sound when played well. They seem to be popular, especially among nerds, but I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because of Molly Lewis or Garfunkel and Oates.

I thought briefly about learning how to play the ukulele. There are several musical instruments I’ve thought briefly about learning how to play. When I was young, I took piano lessons, but they wMV5BMjA3NDUyMDA1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzM3NDI0Mg@@._V1_SY317_CR10,0,214,317_AL_ere at the same time as my favorite Saturday morning television show, Land of the Lost. This, by the way, is a show that does not hold up upon watching as an adult. Even with scripts by notables such as Larry Niven, Ben Bova, David Gerrold, and so on, the show was clunky and silly. I sometimes regret the life choices I made as a seven year old child. But, on the other hand, the show had time travel, parallel dimensions, aliens, and, of course, dinosaurs, elements that certainly affected my creative proclivities as an adult.

Soon after college, in those “floating years”, I decided to learn how to play the fiddle, because I was entranced with Irish folk music (particularly with the bands Tempest and Golden Bough). I couldn’t afford to pay for lessons, but I did find someone who was willing to teach me in exchange for food. I took a few lessons on an instrument I rented, then ended up delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut and my schedule no longer allowed me to take the lessons. I returned the fiddle, and never played again.

But back to the ukulele. Of all the ukulele players I know of (and, I can count them on one hand) my favorite is, of course, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. And my favorite song of his is his medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” (the video of which I’m linking to below). Actually, I really can’t listen to this song without crying these days. That’s because I downloaded the song onto my MP3 player about six years ago, and on the day that Tangerine got sick I listened to that song over and over and over and over and over again, especially as I was driving her to the emergency vet for the last time. Even now, as I write these words, I’m starting to get a little weepy. So I’m going to wrap this up. I’ll catch up on the challenge later today.


 

La la la, it’s the A-Z Blogging Challenge, doo be doo.

Nothing else came to mind

When I was trying to compose the greatest blog post in the history of the world, nothing came to mind. So I present Tenacious D and “Tribute”, which has been my earworm all morning. Enjoy.

In other news I had no idea until a couple of weeks ago that Jack Black was involved with Tenacious D. When it comes to pop culture, I’m just a failure.

Musical Interlude, with Zombies

Update:  Well, apparently that’s not actually Jonathan Coulton himself in the video.  Just a guy who’s very good at lip-syncing.  That’s okay.  I still approve.

One of the things I really missed about Dragon*Con this year was Dragon*Con TV, the in-house tv network that shows parody commercials and "bumps" reminiscent of those done by AdultSwim on the Cartoon Network.

Apparently, this year they added music videos to their repertoire.   Among those videos was this one of "Re: Your Brains", one of my favorite songs (because it’s got zombies), by one of my favorite singers (Jonathan Coulton).  Here it is:

No, I don’t know what it is about zombies that amuses me so much.  As a horror trope, they’re overdone to the point of cliche, almost as bad as vampires, and almost every zombie movies has pretty much exactly the same plot: zombies rise up, people defend themselves, lots of people die and get eaten, and at some point a loved one gets turned into a zombie: a spouse, a child, a co-worker, whatever.  And as my friend Beth pointed out, my fondness for zombies seems to be at odds with my dislike of the Bush Administration.

Maybe it’s just me being trendy.  I don’t know.

Whatever. Check out the video. Be amused by it.

Imogen Heap

I want to thank Jer over at Nyquil.org for introducing me to the music of Imogen Heap.  Check out this video:

I’ve always enjoyed songs like this, where one person does all the different parts, becoming, essentially, a one-person acapella group, and Imogen Heap has a lovely voice.  I’m now on a hunt to track down more music and videos by her.

A Random Musical Note

Watching Ghost Rider last week and hearing Spiderbait’s cover of Johnny Cash’s "Ghost Riders in the Sky" made me want to dig out the Blues Brothers 2000 soundtrack.  In the first Blues Brothers film, you may recall, Jake and Elwood do a cover of "Rawhide" in a cowboy bar; I have that soundtrack, and I like that song a lot.

In Blues Brothers 2000, the generally inferior sequel, Elwood and Mighty Mack (John Goodman’s character) end up in a similar predicament.  I can’t recall the specifics, but the song they end up singing is "Ghost Riders in the Sky".  When I first saw the film in 1998, I recall being thrilled by that scene; there were great CGI ghost horses galloping across the sky, and there were Dan Aykroyd and John Goodman, two of my favorite comedic actors at the time, singing one of my favorite songs of all time.  "Wow," I thought to myself.  "I didn’t know John Goodman could sing!"  (Of course, I was a much more impressionable 30 years old at the time; now I’m a much more cynical and world weary 39).

So I listened to the soundtrack the other day.  Turns out my first instict was actually right.  John Goodman can’t sing; or, at least, he couldn’t when they did that cover of "Ghost Riders".  And Dan Aykroyd didn’t do such a hot job either.  Both of their voices were warbly, and uncertain about the notes.  Some of the notes were too low even for John Goodman to hit properly (face it, there was only ever one Johnny Cash).  The other songs on that album are pretty good, but I think the first one was probably better.

So, of the three versions of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" that I’ve heard, Johnny Cash’s is, of course, the best.

No killer squirrel reports to pass on today.  Things are quiet in the interspecies conflict.

Zero to Hero and Tempestuous Happenings

As usual, the hero business is up to me. It all began, really, about six weeks ago, when I realized that at the age of 32, my body was about where it was going to be for the rest of my life in many ways (yes, wrinkles will show up and gray hairs will appear and arthritis will probably set in at some point as well… but you probably know what I mean). I wasn’t going to suddenly grow six inches, lose fifty pounds, get perfect vision, and suddenly be cured of my asthma and hypertension. If anything was going to improve or change, I was going to have to take some drastic action on my own.

This is why I’ve enrolled in the exercise/diet program that I’ve written about earlier. This is going to be a year-long program, you see; and at the end of the year, I plan to be in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life. One year from now, I leave for my three-month backpacking trip through Europe, and I’ll be damned if I go weighing 240 pounds, and unable to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded.

This is why I’m starting up another series of weekly entries to this journal. I’m calling this series "Zero to Hero", after the song in Hercules. This will be a more-or-less regularly updated journal of my progress through the program I’m in. I doubt that I will get too intimate (sorry, everyone!) but I’ll certainly chart some essentials, along with whatever thoughts about the entire project that I may have along the way. Any tips on fitness or dieting or lifestyle changes that I pick up along the way will also be entered in the "Zero to Hero" column. My first entry is here.


Tempestuous Happenings

Last night I got to see one of my favorite bands, Tempest, perform. Tempest plays a style of music which the band itself describes as "Celtic rock" but which is really a fusion of Celtic, folk, and rock, with sometimes a bit of Cajun and even Arabian thrown in for good measure (one of their albums — my favorite, actually — is called Surfing to Mecca; that should give a hint of their musical style).

Generally, a concert is only a good concert if, afterwards, your voice is hoarse and your ears are numb (ideally, of course, you’re also surrounded by about two hundred of your closest friends, and pickled beyond recognition by the end of the show as well — though that’s my own opinion). Tempest provides that kind of show; my friends and I sat in the front row, about three feet away from the band, and in the venue that they played in — a converted old barn known as The Palms Playhouse — the music can’t really help but be overwhelming. Just the way I like it when hearing live music.

Tempest has a way of getting up close and personal with their audiences. The lead singer and double-necked-electric-mandolin player Lief Sorbye loves to interact with the audience while playing, and even came up and sat down in my friend Jennifer’s lap during one song of the first set. Jennifer announced that she would never wash her jeans again. I suspect, though, that she was being facetious.

Another friend of mine who had come to the concert was lucky to be sitting where she was. Michael, the fiddler of the band (Tempest is the first band I’ve ever known that has an electric fiddle as one of their instruments), whom my friend perceives as a sort of fiddling deity, stood right in front of her and even looked down at her several times. I’m sure my friend was elated by this; this was the same friend who, after seeing Tempest perform for her first time, went up to this same fiddler and asked, "Hey, Michael! What did you do with the golden fiddle that you won from the devil down in Georgia?".

Tempest was not the only live band I’ve seen perform this week. Last Monday, a friend of mine and I went to The Fox and Goose in downtown Sacramento (great bar — check it out if you’re in Sacramento) to check out Open Mike night. Generally, I love open mike events, and Davis hasn’t got a single decent regular open mike night since the Blue Mango closed down in 1995. Open Mike at the Fox and Goose started, that night, with a fellow who seemed to be tuning his harmonica through most of his set (turns out he was actually performing), and ended (at least for the two of us) with a woman who desperately wanted to be Aretha Franklin but was far too white to pull it off (no, I’m not racist — but this woman’s voice simply did not have the sort of range or depth which the great female jazz vocalists have had; and most of the female jazz vocalists I know of are African American). Instead of sounding inspiring, exciting, or thrilling, she came off as flat and… well… stoned. She was accompanied by three fellows who looked as if they really wanted to be somewhere else. At one point I leaned over to my friend and asked her how much she thought the singer had paid the band to stand there with her.

In all fairness, I suppose that this woman is probably just getting started and hasn’t had a chance to really find her voice yet. She has a good voice, and when she stops trying to imitate Aretha or Ella in order to develop her own style, she will probably be a great singer.

My last live music event of the week is going on as I write this, here on Lucien in Borders Cafe in Davis. I’m sitting here, watching a soft jazz band perform some of my favorite tunes (only one of which — "Girl From Ipanema" — I actually know the name of, but that’s okay). It’s great fun, though not as much fun as screaming "Hal An Tow" at the top of my lungs to the fiddler while the double-necked-electric-mandolin plays, but Tempest simply can’t be a nightly event, can it?

I love live music; probably for the same reasons that I love face-to-face conversations over telephone or internet conversations, or why I prefer sitting around a table playing Dungeons and Dragons instead of sitting at my computer playing in a MUSH. Far too much happens in a personal setting, in a one-on-one situation, that simply cannot be conveyed through a stereo, telephone, or computer screen. Music, just like conversation, is a form of communication; and to get the full message that the musician is trying to get across, you really need to sit up close to them, watching their movements and facial expressions, just as communicating by e-mail will never convey a full message.

Please, though, don’t think that I’m trying to make a point here or anything. This is my personal journal, and I simply ramble on. Perhaps I could tell you more, if we met face to face.