Sunday, January 31, 2010

Second concert of the year

My second concert of 2010 was Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard playing their Jack Kerouac documentary songs at Turner Hall.  I'm familiar with Jay's music and Ben's, and was familiar with the idea behind this collaboration project, but hadn't heard any of the soundtrack.  That means it's tough for me to comment on individual songs, but I was definitely impressed.  Jay and Ben's collaboration doesn't feel quite like a band, but they seemed comfortable and relaxed on stage with each other.  The music and lyrics were engaging and fit together well.  I found it interesting that the role of "blistering guitar solo" in many of the songs was played instead by "blistering pedal steel solo" or "blistering keyboard solo."  The show was very short - only about an hour long, though it felt like they'd played longer.  (In a good way.)  Jay and Ben finished off the show with a cover of Tom Waits' "Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards)."  It was a nice way to be sent back into the cold January night.  A January that finally, finally, just might be drawing to a close.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Old Photo Corner 4: Party

So, here's what I know about this picture.  In back is my mom's cousin Diane.  The front row is a line of Diane's relatives: her uncle Elmer, her mom Angeline (my great-aunt), her aunt Dorothy, her aunt Jane, and her dad, Tony.  Judging from Diane's apparent age here, I'd say this was taken around 1965.

The question is, what are they up to?  I encourage you to click on the picture to view a larger version.  It's definitely a party, and it looks like a pretty great one.  A birthday party, perhaps?  I definitely see presents, but no holiday decor.  Can't quite make out what's on the party hats ... Tony's looks a little like a monkey playing cymbals.

Whose birthday?  Hard to tell.  The wrapped present is in feminine color, but maybe that was all the wrapper had handy.  The unwrapped gift could be cologne or perfume.  I can't imagine it was Diane's party, though her presence might suggest it was for one of her parents.  I see snacks on the table, including ... so is that actually a giant chocolate-glazed donut in a clear dish?  Plus, of course, the noise makers.  Seriously, the older generation knew how to have a party!  They have noise makers.  They are draped in streamers.  Plus the (possible-monkey) party hats all around.  I want to go to there.

The best part, though, is that it is within my power to find out the answers to some of these questions!  I can ask my mom to ask her cousin.  Anybody have any other guesses?  I'll report back.

Also see Old Photo Corners 1, 2, and 3.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First concert of the year

Califone, Sunday night, at the Hideout.  Sam and I missed most of the Golden Globes for it, but it was a worthwhile trade.  The band sounded great on the tiny stage.  They played most of All My Friends Are Funeral Singers as well as a other choice selections including "Pink & Sour" and my all-time favorite "Horoscopic Amputation Honey."  The band threatened B.B. King and Grateful Dead medleys, and teased both "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (cat version) and "Fly Me To The Moon," but nothing came to fruition.  Tim Rutili chatted about his dad's job (inspired by a vocal audience member) and unwarranted accusations of "talk-singing."  Surely a good musical start to 2010.  I look forward to seeing Califone again next month in an opening slot at the Overture, but I'm glad I went down for this intimate headlining set.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Work it out

As someone who was once really, really, really, really out of shape (I can't put enough reallys in there), then became reasonably fit, and now is in the middle of that continuum working back toward the fitter end of things, I can speak from a wide range of exercise perspectives.  I mean, aside from the "let's run a marathon this morning" perspective.  I recently Netflixed the Biggest Loser Cardio Max DVD on a friend's recommendation.  Doing that for a little over a week has reminded me about some things.  

Here's a bit of insight for the fit or even "sort of" fit: the reason extremely unfit people don't like to exercise isn't because they're spectacularly lazy.  (I'm not going to argue about how the unfit become unfit; let's just take it as a particular state of affairs.)  No, it's because that exercise sucks so very much.  You either forget or you never knew.  It's easy to think, "Oh, a nice brisk walk with a few hills is a fun way to get your heart rate up."  To the spectacularly unfit, that's a little slice of hell.  I'm not sure how to describe this accurately, because even a hard workout for someone who's in shape does not feel nearly as miserable as the most basic workout did when I was starting out.  It's a totally different experience.  Maybe I'm pointing out the obvious, but it's something I didn't really get until a couple of years ago.  What do you know: people who like to work out aren't completely insane!  It's not just unmitigated torture!  

Cardio Max reminded me of this, on a much smaller scale.  The first time I did it, I could have happily collapsed at the end.  The second time it was easier, and by the fourth time, it was fun.  My heart rate and respiration rate increased, I was sweating (wait, don't ladies perspire?), my muscles complained.  But I could keep going for quite awhile if I had to.  So, a good workout doesn't by default make you want to die.  And it's nice that it didn't take very long to get back into it.  Feel free to remind me of that when I move up to the next level.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2009 in review: Live Music

Okay, this is the last of the review posts.  The looking back has dragged on long enough, and really ... year-end summations are about the most self-involved posts you can make in a medium that's inherently self-involved.  But 2009 was a very good year for music and me, so here are the stats:

Total shows (counting each day of multi-day events): 63 (up eleven from 2008!) Performers seen for first time (headlining, in this particular incarnation): 8 (Viper and his Famous Orchestra, 7 Worlds Collide, Neil Finn "solo", Pronto, Liam Finn + Eliza-Jane, The Long Beds, The Avett Brothers, Dave Rawlings Machine)

Performers seen for the first time (support or other variety setting): 20 (Tortoise, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Freakwater, Joe Pug, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Akron/Family, Jonathan Wilson, Murry Hammond, Heartless Bastards, Dungen, Snow Patrol, Patty Loveless, The Daredevil Christopher Wright, Nicole Atkins, Jesca Hoop, The Latebirds, Punch Brothers, Josh Harty, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Mountain Goats)  

I avoided festivals for the entirety of 2009!  Which hurt me a bit in the "performers seen for the first time" category.

Seen most often: Wilco, Liam Finn, Andrew Bird, Neil Finn

A note on 2009 Wilco shows:
I didn't want them dominating the list below, because I saw so much good stuff last year.  But in all honesty, 2009 was nuts.  Saw many great shows, period.  Jody Stephens coming out for a cover of Big Star's "In the Street," the first live Feist guest appearance for "You and I," I "played" Jeff's guitar, saw Conan, early listen to Wilco (the album) at Hotel SnS, observed part of an album art photo shoot in Milwaukee,  "Happy Birthday" sung from the stage in Holland, a song dedication.  I might as well retire!  But I won't.  As lucky as I was in 2009, if I just see some plain old regular shows in 2010, that's more than good enough. 

(Other) favorite concert moments of 2009, in no order:

  • "Don't Be Scared" live for the first time at the Big Shoulders Ball on the eve of the inauguration, 1/19
  • LeRoy Bach performing "Special Day" and "Dad Says" at Hotel SnS, 7/10
  • Jayhawks with Marc, Gary, and Karen together again for the first time in fourteen years, 5/29
  • The Decemberists' multi-drum attack on "The Rake's Song," 8/5
  • Singing along with Justin Vernon and the rest of the Riverside for "Wolves," 10/11
  • KT Tunstall, Jon Brion, and Elroy Finn's bottle solo at the 7WC2 show, 8/16
  • Neil Finn performing my two favorite solo songs back to back, 8/18
  • Liam Finn bringing out Glenn Kotche for "Red Wine Bottle" and "Cinnamon Girl," 10/10
  • Chris Thile and the rest of the Punch Brothers covering Radiohead and The Cardigans in the Little Room, 11/20
  • U2 at Solider Field, "Ultra-f*cking-violet," 9/12
  • Scott Avett playing a kick drum about two feet from my face, 10/21
  • John Darnielle's improvised song, 12/16

Rock 'n' roll.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2009 in review: Books

Last entry I reviewed my 2009 in travel. This time (for the fourth year), books. Here's a list of the books I read in 2009, followed by some stats:

1. The Tales of Beedle the Bard - J.K. Rowling
2. Once Removed - Neil Finn & Mark Smith
3. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
4. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White
5. Stuart Little - E.B. White
6. Sad American Mythology - Ryan Adams
7. The Little Book - Selden Edwards
8. Feathers - Jacqueline Woodson
9. Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins - Emma Donoghue
10. Stalking Irish Madness - Patrick Tracey
11. Scattershot - David Lovelace
12. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - Kate DiCamillo
13. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
14. Voluntary Madness - Norah Vincent
15. The Trumpet of the Swan - E.B. White
16. R.E.M.: Hello - David Belisle & Michael Stipe
17. The World in Six Songs - Daniel J. Levitin
18. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
19. Long Way Down - Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman
20. Three Willows - Ann Brashares
21. When Will There Be Good News? - Kate Atkinson
22. King Dork - Frank Portman
23. Coop - Michael Perry
24. A Day on Skates: The Story of a Dutch Picnic - Hilda Van Stockum
25. That Lass o' Lowrie's - Frances Hodgson Burnett
26. The View From Mount Joy - Lorna Landvik
27. The Americans - Robert Frank
28. Amsterdam - Ian McEwan
29. The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd
30. Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
31. Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
32. New Moon - Stephenie Meyer
33. Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer
34. Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer
35. In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom - Qanta A. Ahmed, MD
36. Hands of My Father - Myron Uhlberg
37. Snark - David Denby
38. The Girl Who Could Fly - Victoria Forester
39. And Both Were Young - Madeleine L'Engle
40. An Acceptable Time - Madeleine L'Engle
41. Travels With Charley - John Steinbeck
42. Do Polar Bears Get Lonely? - NewScientist
43. The Small Rain - Madeleine L'Engle
44. A Severed Wasp - Madeleine L'Engle
45. Hiding in the Spotlight - Greg Dawson
46. The Crow Road - Iain Banks
47. Under Milk Wood - Dylan Thomas
48. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling
49. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling
50. The Hour I First Believed - Wally Lamb
51. The Host - Stephenie Meyer
52. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
53. A Corner of the Universe - Ann M. Martin
54. Angels & Insects - A.S. Byatt
55. The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet - Neil DeGrasse Tyson
56. An Echo in the Bone - Diana Gabaldon
57. Agnes Cecelia - Maria Gripe
58. A Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett
59. Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
60. Dragonfly in Amber - Diana Gabaldon
61. Voyager - Diana Gabaldon
62. Drums of Autumn - Diana Gabaldon
63. Fiery Cross - Diana Gabaldon
64. A Breath of Snow and Ashes - Diana Gabaldon
65. A Widow for One Year - John Irving
66. Nothing But Ghosts - Beth Kephart
67. Everything Beautiful in the World - Lisa Levchuk
68. The Mistress's Daughter - A.M. Homes
69. The Areas of My Expertise - John Hodgman
70. The Birthing House - Christopher Ransom
71. Twilight Children - Torey Hayden
72. Joys of Love - Madeleine L'Engle
73. American on Purpose - Craig Ferguson
74. Julie and Julia - Julie Powell
75. Moon Palace - Paul Auster
76. A Gate at the Stairs - Lorrie Moore

Total books read: 76. 
I read one fewer book in 2009 than I did in 2008.

By male authors: 30 (40%) 
By female authors: 45 (59%) 
By both: 1 (0.1%)

Previously read: 15 (20% - up from 2008's 4%)
Marketed for children/teens: 20 (26% - yow!)
Fiction: 55 (72%) Nonfiction: 21 (28%)
In 2009, unlike 2008, fiction ruled.  

Looking at these statistics, it's clear: for much of 2009 I was in the mood for light, simple, familiar, made-up stories.  Interesting.  (Of course, I didn't count all the New Yorkers I read.)  Maybe the busier I am with other things, the less I want to think deeply about what I'm reading.  Or, my patience is growing shorter as I get older?  I'm going to try to challenge myself a little more in 2010.  

You should definitely read: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and Coop by Michael Perry.  I was a bit late getting to The Poisonwood Bible, and I'm sorry I waited so long to read this enthralling book.  It is fiction, but not light or simple.  Coop is an excellent memoir; the latest in a line of excellent memoirs by Michael Perry.   He's one of the folks who make me glad to be a Wisconsinite, even if my hometown an hour's drive from Chicago bears little resemblance to his. 

Don't bother reading: The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.  I mean, unless you have a sneaking suspicion you might enjoy it.  Then go ahead, but be warned that they're like crack.  If crack included some awesomely horrible dialogue.  Also, prepare to spend a good week or two afterward supremely frustrated because Meyer has no current plans to finish her draft of Midnight Sun, which is Twilight from Edward's perspective.  Arg!  

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 in review: Travel

Happy new year! This is the first in a series of posts looking back at stuff I did a lot in 2009. Reading, traveling ... and seeing music. So, here we go, with travel:

States (and districts of Columbia) visited (not counting layovers):  10
Indiana, Maryland, Washington D.C., Illinois, California, Nevada, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Tennessee

New States:  0
Wow, bad showing on the new states front this year.  I didn't cross a single one off the list.  Which means...  

States left before I reach 50:  (still) 7
Louisiana, Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Rhode Island.  I was hoping to check Montana off in early 2010, but I don't think that's going to work out.  I still have hopes of hitting Maine sometime this year, though.  Maybe a business trip to North Dakota.  What else?  I'll have to wait and see.  Overall, though, I don't feel too badly about my failures in the new state field.  Because...

Countries visited: 5
England, Spain, Portugal, Italy, The Netherlands.  And all of them were new!  As always, my goal for 2010 is at least one more.  Maybe another new continent?

A note about travel this decade:

If you consider the decade to be "years in which the first numeral was 2 and the third numeral was 0," which most people seem to be doing, this was a huge travel decade for me.  Understandable, for me it spanned ages 20-30.  But before the year 2000, I had never been to a country outside the U.S.  Not even Canada.  Now I've visited sixteen countries on four continents: not too shabby.  Before 2000, I'd been to thirteen states.  Plenty of progress there, too, reaching forty-three.  

I don't like ranking best vacation spots or best trips; I see no need for those kinds of comparisons.  I've kept a blog since 2005, which means many of my experiences are already documented.  However, one earlier trip really deserves a mention: Moscow and Siberia, August 2001.  I will write about that sometime.