Monday, January 29, 2007

When does Mike Judge get his turn?

News is that J. J. Abrams (of Lost / Mission Impossible III: Mission Impossibler / A Very Special Felicity / Alias fame) and - to me, even better news - Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, brooding Angel, Firefly and its feature movie Serenity) are set to direct episodes of The Office coming within the next couple months.

Having just screened Serenity with my wife (foolishly thinking that because it was daylight, she would not wake me up in the middle of the nights with fears of hiding or encroaching reavers) the other day, I've of course had the sadly maligned Whedon on my mind. Knowing that tv shows don't allow a lot of creativity for the director of the week, it may be nothing more than a fun lark for the two, as it seemed to be for Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, and many movies which only distract from the brilliance that is Groundhog Day) a few months ago.

Just to be on the safe side, I won't invite my wife to watch The Office any time soon.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Music 2006 - Miscelloonyous

These albums didn't quite make the cut, but I think they deserve an honorable mention. And if not by me, than by whom?

Honorable mentions of 2006:

The Choir - O How the Mighty Have Fallen
You can almost say that again. But not quite, as this is almost a return to form for the ethereal, poetry-laden rockers. Not quite the masterpieces that were Circle Slide (one of my favorite of all time) or the heavier Speckled Bird (with an unfortunate-looking cover), yet still mighty good and solid. Old fans will cherish it, and hopefully they'll sell more copies than the extraordinary Mr. Buechner's Dream double album by Daniel Amos. If you're into spiritual expressions of life that neither pander nor preach, but rather sympathesize with saints and sinners all. But mostly sinners. "Thank you please / don't swing your shovel at my head, friend / No, I truly won't appreciate / that sound / When you tell me, I surely should / atone for my sins, / I hope you know / the fate of the proud."

Bob Dylan - Modern Times
It always takes some time for him to get through my system. I'm still figuring this one out. Which is partly why I like him. Heck, even a simple song about Noah and some animals sounds like it isn't a simple song about Noah and some animals. And this album covers redemption and brokenness like nobody's business but the prophets, which are sadly missing in Hell's Kitchen, New Orleans and in the nation's armpit. Here's looking at you, Cinci.

Danielson - Ships
He gets by with a little help from his frinds. One of the more peculiar acts in the indie scene, Daniel Smith and Co. (usually family w/ a few sidekicks - most famously Sufjan Stevens) have always played outsider artist with tree and nurse uniforms - serving as walking, styrofoam metaphors for the healing of the nations through Jesus. As to how Danielson differs from his protege's work, everything around Ships seems to urge on and further. Xylophones, piano keys, drum kits, snares, triangles, even the strumming of guitars and banjos, the whole surrounding is every bit propulsive and percussive, as if life itself is a seemingly random series of poundings that, sounded together, is positive, life-affirming and quite harmonic. Multi-layered virtual choirs don't drown out, but rather emphasize his weird screeching falsetto (for some reason, it works for me, where Brian Wilson's recent attempts don't). And there's some catchy, catchy songs on this trick.

Dissapointment of the year:
The Roots - Game Theory
Jurrassic 5 - Feedback
Or am I just missing something? Was I just let down by past, too-superior works that these affairs just seem middling by comparison? Or are they actually, truly mediocre?

Overhyped piece of crap of the year:

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
Held steadily in late '70s/early '80s Springsteen. Every song is redundant, serving warmed over lyrics of lame parties and trying to get into some doped-up girl's pants. If my life was this boring, I'd wanna be the Boss, too. Makes me wonder what the lives of those who love this album are like? They can't all be that bad, can they?

Monday, January 22, 2007

I've got one of those nasty colds. I'm always such a wuss when it comes to this stuff. (My wife's pregnant and without sleep, carrying a splitting headache - but she endures) I stayed home today to take care of grading and all the rest, but I can barely get my head around this nasty business.

But, what can I say? My - and my town's - prayers have been answered. The Bears are going to the Super Bowl! They are WHO WE THOUGHT THEY ARE! And I'm already sick of the people at for wanting nothing to do with the Bears crushing victory, everything to do with washed-up Parcells quiting Dallas (b/c, apparently, Dallas has given up on him), and mourning the Saints' loss.

Dude! This is Chicago! We're going to the Superbowl! And only twenty-one years after our last visit! With a minority coach! Against another minority coach! History, babies!

And, once again, a proud papa city gets to watch its team embarrass the national media and its Bear-skeptical prognasticators!

Bear Down!

Now, back to grading.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Top 6 records of 2006

There is no particular order to these CD’s. The order is almost always arbitrary, and since all of these records were exceptionally good (though not spectacular), they all get equal treatment – for the most part – and a lot of spins on the old iPod.

TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain

Like my favorites from last year, Arcade Fire’s Funeral and Sufjan StevensCome on, Feel the Illinoise, this was a multi-structured and -layered, genre-crosser/bender that defies industry and audience expectations. But big deal, right? Hundreds of indie releases come out every year that do the same, if not more so. The difference is, this semi-concept record (about personal – and therefore social, cultural and political – war), with its thematic riffs, ROCKS! If Peter Gabriel released a contemporary record with Genesis and some session players from Stax – who are required to mute their instruments – and kept most of the songs under five minutes, this is what it would sound like. “I was a lover / before this war.”

Pigeon John – Pigeon John and the Summertime Pool Party

“Who rocks the mic / who rocks the mic / What?” The MC who never seems to take himself seriously – after all, this is the guy who invented the Pigeon Dance (where he puts his fists on his skinny ribs, struts his pelvis forward and furiously flails his arms from the elbows back and forth) to lift up his spirits, and his audience – tackles subjects as forbidden to mainstream rap as God’s benevolence in an uncaring and dying world, lust, loneliness at the clubs, and his wife. And he does it with flair, humor, a penchant for sunny and childlike melody akin to – though not copped from – Eminem, and hooks that would do his heroes (which he’s listed as various as A Tribe Called Quest and Phil Collins) proud.

Over the Rhine – Snow Angels

“All I ever get for Christmas / is blue.” Although not the classic that Drunkard’s Prayer was last year (#3) or the double-disc Ohio before that, this has the makings of one of the classics of neo-Christmas music. As I’ve said before, the pleasant surprise is in how they’ve combined the something old – in this case, Guaraldi-inspired songs (the shuffle “Goodbye Charles” and “All I Ever Get for Christmas Is Blue”), a Marley-inspired song (“New Redemption Song”), lullabies for lovers (“Hush Now, Baby” – which, like “NRS”, combines images of the apocalyptic redemption with maternal care), and adult love songs ala “It’s Cold Outside” and “Santa, Baby” (the scandalous, Cole Porter meets R. Kelly “North Pole Man”, the retro “Snowed in with You”, as well as the rocker “Here It Is”) as well as a remake of "Jingle Bells" (“One Olive Jingle”). The resulting nostalgia is heart-warming on these cold Chicago nights, and it helps that my wife’s becoming an Over the Rhine fan. This one goes up there with the Charlie Brown Christmas album.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Long Walk to Freedom

Most of this isn’t new, culled as it is from Paul Simon’s Graceland and the Simon-produced Shaka Zulu. The difference is the newer production and the cameos. Fortunately, their recycling is good enough to top my list of favorite listens through the year. The joy is evident and transcendental, witnesses to God’s love, their love, and their native South Africa’s long walk to freedom.

Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere

From the wordplay of the name of the group and the album, to the beautifully inspired compositions, to the soul and gospel influenced singing, to the ubiquitous thumping two-note bass-line / irresistible groove that begins the hands-down single of the year, I can’t get enough of this album. I know just about everybody else can, but they’re idiots.

Mars IllPro*Pain

I was going to list this as an honorable mention. But then I listened to it one more time. Loud. I have to admit, it's a bit of a let-down after the two-year anticipation legal woes kept this album on the shelf. And although it's not as good as their other, more recent albums - I'm thinking specifically of their remix, BackWaterProphets - it still boogies, swings, bites and punches with force largely unmatched in underground hip hop. "Heaven Scrapes the Pavement" rocks the mic and "More" lets Ahmad Jones (of soul/rock/hop outfit 5th Avenue Jones) out of his cage while they all opine for justice and something more out of life than its brokenness insists is possible.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Our heavenly Papa Bear,

Who art in Halas Hall (and everywhere else),
Super Bowl champions be our name.
Superdome be come;
May your will be done
in Miami as it is in Chicago.
Give us Sunday our Devin Hester return touchdown;
And forgive us our Rex
As we forgive our Bretts;
And lead us not into temptation
As we trash the Saints -
For yours is the riots, champagne and bragging rights
for the next twenty years!


There ain't no hollaback, gurlll....

Ok, I've already done that song. It's bananas.

I've been busy trying to post out grades (which includes grading nearly everything from the last year), trying to get some sleep (good news is, I've only had to go out for a craving raid once - unless you count running across the street), dealing with a radioactive class setting (0r sometimes two) and trying to set up a schedule for next semester. I can't really complain. Everybody's fine (for the most part) and we're surrounded by good friends and good family. But I just don't seem to have enough time anymore.

I've been downloading cheesy singles recently ("Take on Me", "We Built this City on Rock & Roll", "Working for the Weekend", "Saturday Night", "Saturday Night's Allright for the Fight", "Getting Jiggy with It"). That's about it. But Micah's got the beesnix posted on his blog. We loves us some piano man.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Crown 'em

Happy Martin Luther King day.

In celebration, I'm going to Phoenix with some of my friends. Wanna tag along?
So, lemme get this straight: A man dedicates his life to the practice of non-violence to turn on the conscience of a nation. Not everybody honors his legacy. And here's a song by people who say that they'll honor his legacy by threatening the life of ignorant law-makers.

Only in America.

Turn a cheek. You just might save a life.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Marble ceiling

I don't know much about the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Yet, in terms of how sexually segregated the United States is (certainly in terms of power positions), I wish her all the best.

But to say that she's the most powerful woman in the legislature may be a just a bit underwhelming, considering Newt Gingrich's claim some 14 years ago. He claimed that the Speaker of the House - who sets the agenda for the largest legislative body (after all, for all the revisionist talk, neither the Supreme Court nor the President can actually make laws) in the most powerful nation in the world - is arguably the most powerful person in politics.

And then he proved it - for better and for worse. 

Here's to hoping Pelosi can cause some damage.  But in a positive, reinforcing way.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Does Lex Luthor know about this?

This either missed Kansas by a couple thousand miles...

or it's astronaut poop.

Either way, someone should inform the Superfriends.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hardly on schedule / but always on time

On the second listen, I'm liking Nas' tribute/memorial to his culture, Hip Hop Is Dead. Like the Transformers, it's more than meets the eye. I regret that only now is someone at the top proclaiming the same message that backpackers and undergrounds have been ripping for well over a decade now. Yet, having Snoop over for another spit, exhorting to "Play on Playa", adds a level of complexity, if not stupidity. Same could be said for guest producer /-rapper / Michael Jackson pal / Fergie discipler Will. I. Am on the title track. (Who lays out a leftover beat from BEP's Elephunk.)

In this day of cannibalistic music trends (where, again, barely-talented teens with nothing to say run and ruin the urban radio) Nas, like Nat King Cole, wants to be remembered as "Unforgettable" too. Nas seems to want to eat and heave his cake.

Yet, for all his sparse beats, Nas ends on an a capella "Hope", with a female Greek chorus sounding out that "Hip hop will never die." "You a hustla' / you ain't a rapper / get ya paper / but this s*** is real." Even his laugh seems to condemn his old rival, now executive producer and guest MC Jay-Z (who guests on the conscience-tweaking "Black Republicans" where both boast about their money, power and connections while reflecting what that means for them as Black Americans - as well as what it means as mainstays, tops and power-brokers in the cannibalism.)

The chorus ends in a cypher-praying against the wind of radio and and self-destructive trends:

"I pray hip hop stay / live, hip hop, live / give, hip hop, give..."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The state of grace, pt. 1

There's a lady at my church that doesn't act much like a lady. At least, in regards to me and - therefore - in my estimation. In a few instances, she has very openly assaulted my character, once to me a few years ago, once to a close friend about a year ago and then again to my face less than a year ago (after we got back from a church retreat, wherein, she confessed, her opinion of me hadn't changed) and then again last week, indirectly, to my wife.

My opinions of her opinions (and, of course, extending to her) were pain-stricken and grievous. Each attack of hers (save the last one to me) brought great defense from great and well-meaning people who gave great testimonials on behalf of my character (which, I must admit, isn't always so great, but certainly not worthy of trashing). Each attack also hurt and infuriated me, to various degrees.

My conundrum raises in this topic, this key turning point of human relationships, this sphere where Jesus meets geopolitics meets the common man meets the hard heart meets the Middle East meets Northern Ireland meets Auschwitz meets the cross: forgiveness.

As little as my church puts into liturgy (sometimes much to my chagrin), in our practice of the Lord's Supper we find one important and oft-repeated rule spotted and highlighted by our pastor. If you have bitterness or unforgiveness or hatred in your heart directed at a fellow worshiper (and by this he explicitly means someone in our small church), before you take this cup, go to them and make it right.

On one of these ocassions, she eyes me, slowly makes her way up some five steps and leans to me. She confides that she never much cared for me or trusts in me (but she doesn't know why), that she had actually prayed against me (!!) and that during a recent church leaders' retreat, she didn't gain any new confidence in me.

I didn't know I was on trial.

And I didn't know (and really still don't know - nearly a year later) how to handle that. She didn't ask for forgiveness. She didn't offer it. If anything, it was opportunity for a fresh wound, a tearing of the flesh on an old knee-scraper I hadn't really considered since I originally hit the ground. So, I leaned to my friend, a big burly dude, and just flooded his shoulder with my tears. He still doesn't know what it was all about. Then again, neither do I.

This memory was violently returned a little while ago, when the same opaque charges were made against me to my wife.

I have a student at my school who does not act much like a student. From every appreciable view, he does not come into the scholastic setting to learn, to better himself, his options or his surroundings. He also does not come into the classroom to even pass time (which, unfortunately, is what many of our students do do).
He comes - from everything that I can sum up - to disrupt. Actually, to be the center of attention.

And since I am his teacher (and understandably have a desire to be that center myself) we are often at odds, often butting heads and comments. It's a grand and vulgar chess game that we play.

And I want to believe in him as much as I want to believe that every student can and should learn. I just believe he doesn't want to - he's not convinced that it is right for him, not at this stage in his life. And in the meantime, anyone who dares get in his way is his exasperated victim.

Being one of his teachers, I see him five days a week for an hour and a half a piece. His classmates, on the other hand, are surrounded by his anxious (and usually destructive and self-serving) energy for approaching five hours five days a week.

But I'm the one in power, if tenuously. And, I'm white (although he knows that I'm partially Latino). So, I'm a racist to him. Never mind that that label goes against every fiber of my being. Never mind that I've spent countless hours examining my heart and my nation's fiber in dealings with race relations. I know I should ignore it. I know that he's merely trying to goat my herd. But it hurts at a level deeper than nearly any other label can hurt. And he consistently does it.

What do I do with people that constantly hurt and then act as if they've been victimized? I know that I'm not perfect in my actions or reactions to them, but should I allow such things to be as if it's the natural and right way to interact? Should I forgive those who don't lament or acknowlege their evils? Should I continually and blindly turn my cheeks, to the extreme that my flesh may be worn and torn from my puffy face?

If you like the Beatles, then you would like TV on the Radio

I'm just getting around to listening to some late editions - possible contenders for my list of favorite albums of 06.

Tell me what you think. Anybody out there big fans - or detractors - of:

  • TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (I'm really, really digging this album.)
  • The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (Despite all the hype and Springsteenyness, I'm enjoying the energy on this.)
  • Nas, Hip Hop Is Dead (O my. So much cursing.)
  • Derek Webb, Mockingbird (I mean, besides Wasp Jerky.)

  • Pigeon John, ... And the Summertime Pool Party (OK, actually this is making the list, point-blank. But I'd still like to know what people are thinking.)
  • Fred Hammond, Free to Worship (It's been too long.)
  • Bob Dylan, Modern Times (Had this one for awhile. But it's so long and meandering... Kind of like some of my posts.)
  • The Choir, O How the Mighty Have Fallen (Circle Slide is one of my favorite albums of all time. I have a fear that this won't live up. cf. Fred Hammond.)

Just about every color but yellow works

On the other hand, the new Blogger(TM) looks conspicuosly like the old.

I'm gonna try to put some current lists on the sidebar (y'know MySpace and Xanga have easier-to-update and more picturesque list features. But then again, I don't want Blogger to be MySpace or Xanga).

I'm grading. I'll post shortly. Hopefully.

Oh, Amazon listmania here.

Feel like a gaw-danged kid here...