Thursday, December 18, 2008

12 Days of Chrismas Music, finished

Apologies to all for the delay on my part in completing The 12 Days of Christmas CD's. Aside from unexpected time constraints, I was surprised at the pile of CD's on my desk that I had to filter through to get to the last 5 of the 12. I had not expected the balance of my "choices" inventory to be so high.

8) Blind Boys of Alabama's Go Tell it On a Mountain is the only "spiritual" choice here, not because there weren't other possibilities, simply limited by the self-imposed number 12. Excellent vocals as usual from BBOA and great songs choices. I'll even put up with "The Drummer Boy", the most pain-inducing Christmas song ever. If there were a way to legislate that song out of being, I'd be on the phone 24/7 to my congressional representative.

9) The Anonymous 4's Christmas Music from Medieval Hungary which is not really Christmas music but 20 antiphons. Which is o.k., since the Anonymous 4 members are Susan Hellauer, Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Johanna Rose and therefore, not anonymous. This CD is great for hearing in the background as you sit buried in a comfy chair, egg nog in paw, staring at the light patterns developing on the ceiling above your Christmas tree.

10) Yule be Misearable is a collection of various Jazz and off kilter songs performed by a variously talented group of musicians including Ramsey Lewis, B.B. King, Spike Jones, and Louis Armstrong. Holds up incredibly well under constant play, even Spike Jones' "My Birthday Comes on Christmas".

11) This is a toss-up between Dean Martin's Christmas with Dino or Philip Aaberg's Christmas. I love the low key of Aaberg'CD and marvel at how quickly the nerves de-jangle and blood pressure drops, all positive things for music to do.
Dean Martin, on the other hand, was a marvel of creation. I know of no other singer that could sing so effortlessly and effectively. His ability to insinuate a laid-back attitude to his song renditions were the perfect embodiment of "cool". His "Baby, It's Cold Outside" would keep any warm-blooded woman at the house, peeling him a grape. "I've Got My love to Keep Me Warm" sets the scene for fireplace, cocktails, shag rugs, and a night of "Ho. Ho. Ho"'s.
For the fun of it, I'll lean on ol' Dino for # 11...although Aaberg's CD is absolutely gorgeous. You have the urge for a blanket when his notes-of-many-spaces solo piano-playing starts.

Let me end with
12) The Beatles' White Album. "Has he been smoking that mistletoe (don't ask) again?", you may be wondering. Back in the day when Vinyl was King (and Queen, and Prince, and Duke), I received the White Album as a Christmas gift. Rather than playing ANY Christmas music that year, I parked the two vinyl lp's on my Heathkit teak wood needled phonograph and played these albums continually. By late January, the lp's had lost their intense black gloss and were turning a whitish gray scarred look. Are there any traditional Christmas songs on the album? Nope. Any song suggesting holidays? With the exception of the tongue-firmly-in-cheek "Back in the U.S.S.R", nope?
But, these days, whenever I hear any song from this album the first thing that is conjured up is Christmas in New Jersey, a unique state of mind most difficult to explain.

For other more thorough reviews, click here, here, here, and here for Whisky Prajer's views on the aural Christmas cheer.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Statistically speaking you BETTER like this

For those folks out there (and I am certainly in your un-named company) who, in some distant point in time, thoroughly enjoyed the pursuit of the perfect Christmas gift but have now been ground to a soppy pile of dust with gift lists that are ever-changing or requests that are greyish in their description (thus causing you grief of immense size come the 25th when the "grey matter" is opened and sad sighs are released) comes this site as pointed out by Ashlee Vance of the NYT.

After logging in, you enter your filter pattern for products, say Electronics or Jewelry. Then you click you dollar preference range and, voila! Your statistically analyzed choices are presented. If the gifted has complaints on the 25th, you can enlighten said sad-ee as to logic of statistical analysis. If the disappointment is not completely quashed, at the very least a healthy dose of math-driven drivel will dry up the tears.

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Drivin' 'n Thinkin'

This article in this week's New Yorker was an eye-opener. Next time one of those long haul carriers smokes by me doing 80 mph, I'll be wondering if the driver has a pad of paper on one leg, a calculator on the other, doing some figuring as to the dimensions of Little Boy.

I think I may have to start eating at truck stops. They must be serving up a whole bunch of brain food there these days.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Delusional Self-Gazing

Jim, sitting over there in PA at SerotoninRain, open-armed offered a great idea for a post.
Seven Posts About the Same Thing
A great way to relapse into past doings with hopes of reviving interest in one's navel-gazing. I'm all for that navel-gazing, especially these days as it keeps my eyes from tearing up each time I look at any financial news.

So, how about a hop, skip, and a jump down the Croatia memory lane?

A few years back, before financial meltdowns quashed any plans or even dreams of foreign travel, the fam had a chance to visit the Land of Croats.

Getting into the right mood for a trip there was difficult. I know my mojo had been on sabbatical, but my fjaka? Well, I'd become too much of an American, sorry to say and to realize, to possibly ever retrieve it.

Thank goodness, there were distractions to keep me from wallowing in that loss. Frankopanska torta, a hallucinogenic drug disguised as a cake was a welcome reprieve.

The natives, as friendly and non-critical as I remembered them, were also there to uplift one's mood.

My of my many cousins, a raconteur of the highest order, made sure we were parked at various cafes' umbrellaed tables while he regaled us with tales of business and travel.

Once our inhibitions had been loosened with rakija and vino, everything was possible. Even visitations back to the sartorial splendor of Speedos.

And when everything came together? Speedos, rakija, wine, and food? Well, that meant we were in Ston, enjoying a particularly fresh meal.

Ziveli to all and to all a Good Night!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Instructional Video

For those of us late to the game, this video (sponsored by, IMHO, an unlikely retail emporium) is painlessly instructive while letting us know that there is a house for us all.

However, in the continual "Pour it on the guy" joke style of this decade, this video keeps filling the shelf of humorous self-loathing. So, when is the matriarchal rule coming?

Dual Bag, 2008's synonym for "tool". Use it carefully.
Original non YouTube version is here.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Repentent Curmudgeon's Christmas Music List

Over at a fellow curmudgeon's site, Mr. Whisky Prajer has linked to a list of the top ten Worst Christmas related songs. A list, I might add, that seems to have been compiled by a sack of wet-behind-their-deaf-ears youngins who haven’t tromped around the earth long enough to have been truly and permanently injured by songs of Christmas past.

Trying to prove that old dogs can be persuaded to go through the motions of new tricks, I'll remove my curmudgeon crown and list my version of the Top 12 Christmas Albums. A completely subjective list, for sure, but a stack of CD's that have been listened to over innumerable holiday seasons without producing even one Gringe Cringe. For all of the curmudgeons out there? Well there’s hope, still, for those of us whose hearts have not completely frozen over. Of course, by producing this list, I’m assuming that the natural tendencies of curmudgeon-dom will come out. So, I would be disappointed if one of you didn’t leave a lump of coal in the comment section.

Here's the list, in no particular order of preference although...

...1) Charles Brown's Cool Christmas Blues is my all time favorite. Almost always appropriate. Always soothing and calming in the storm of conflicting celebration. I swear that the room temperature goes up and that I smell wood burning when I put this CD on. His piano playing is sublime; his voice divine. THE CD that can be played over and over without annoyance coming in on its little reindeer hooves.

2) Dave McKenna's Christmas Party (which is the same as his Christmas Ivory release) is an album of many interpretive possibilities. It’s simply the recently departed Mr. McKenna’s two hands and one piano. No vocals at all. Great background music that sooths the beast in us all at family gatherings and, yet, a deeply involving album that will have you pushing the pause and back buttons frequently so as to hear certain passages over and over. As with all of this playing, Mr. McKenna combined a touch of subtlety with a show of left hand force that made a "fist in a velvet glove" an earful.

3) Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas. What more can I add to most everyone’s accolades? Listening to it immediately brings back memories of parked in pj’s on wall-to-wall carpeting entranced by a musical cartoon with kids singing with way-too-big mouths (because there’s so much joy in kids, only outsize mouths are possible to release said joy-age) and philosophizing about the Spirit of Christmas. We were little Wittgensteins and Santayanas preparing for dolthood.

4) Dovetailing with #3 is Cyrus Chestnut's take on "A Charlie Brown Christmas", titled….A Charlie Brown Christmas. This CD is not the entire Guaraldi album re-done. Other selections like "The Christmas Song" and some Chestnut compositions are interspersed with choice songs from Guaraldi.

5) Rhino Records, as usual, comes up with a compilation that is tasty and oft-played. Blue Yule offers up some gems by Eddie C. Campbell, a few from Lightening Hopkins and John Lee Hooker, and an old favorite from Canned Heat. There’s humor, sadness, and certainly a tug on the blues here. Scratchy songs will make you think you’re playing vinyl on your CD player while most of the songs cry of having one’s baby home. If you aren’t hugging your significant other after listening to this album and promisin’, "Baby, I’ll change my ways....starting with next year.",’d better hope that Santa delivers that heart you’ve asked for this Christmas.

6) Maxjazz is a small record company out of St. Louis that consistently puts out great-sounding CD’s of artists that should but don’t garner national fame and attention. LaVerne Butler is a particular favorite and Rebecca Martin, another. They offer two holiday records. Eric Reed’s Merry Magic is understatement personified. If you like your holiday listening to be solitary on occasion, this one’s a great pick to hole up with.

7) The other MaxJazz CD offered is a compilation of Christmas cheer as performed by a cluster of artists from the label. MaxJazz Holiday is a fabulous display of the vocal powers of LaVerne Butler, Carla Cook, LaVerne Butler, René Marie, Christine Hitt, Phillip Manuel, and Mary Stallings. If you want to get an idea of the vocal talent of the MaxJazz singers stable, this is a great CD to listen to. Bruce Barth’s arrangements and piano playing are unique in the presentation of traditional Christmas aural fare.

Tomorrow, the balance of the Twelve Days of Christmas Music Favorites will be completed.

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Monday, December 08, 2008


(from NY Times, 12/08/2009)

Things are getting truly weird. From today's NYT, "God's Bailout" points out Detroit's pulling out all the stops on resurrecting the Big Three.

Can goat sacrifices be far behind? Yes, there are goat-centric repair options available.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Among the many interesting things that the Thanksgiving week provided, a date in Pittsburgh with my daughter at a Squirrel Hill theater had us sitting in a sparsely filled projection room struggling through "Synecdoche, New York". To say that the movie and its involvement is "interesting" is to state that the current economic clockwise turn around the bowl of financial ruin is "concerning". Want to get your mind off of, well, off of anything? Then, go see this movie. Purported to be 2 hours and 4 minutes in length, I dare you to honestly tell me it did not feel as if you spent an entire weekend trapped in the multiple shades of meaning and of reality that Charlie Kaufman has concocted. "Synecdoche, New York" is similar to his other films in that the movie feels abnormally longer than more traditional films and there are points of ending that crop up at least 5 times during the movie...only to go on to the next possible ending point. One feels completely exhausted, puzzled, put off, exasperated, stupid (I know I missed most of the off-the-cuff references to theatrical points or written works. I'm sure if there were any theater types in the audience there would have been more laughter, although that laughter would have been at points in the movie where the rest of the audience sat puzzled and weary.)
The movie starts off slowly but distinctly in the Kaufmann method. Obituaries, green poop, a house of clutter and low-key mayhem all quickly set the mood for the mental heebie-jeebies you'll be scratching your head about. I'm not giving away anything to state that the movie's about a theater director, his miniature (as in VERY miniature) painting soon-to-be-departing spouse, and a daughter. The setting is mainly Schenectady, and this film does no touristy service to that city, and NYC. Schenectady and Synecdoche are close in pronunciation, but not comfortably so. As the few patrons lined up to buy tix for this movie, it was interesting to hear how many folks totally blew the pronunciation of the movie, including yours truly. The best course of ticket purchase was taken by an older woman behind us who had most probably heard all of the pronunciations of "synecdoche" possible before stepping up to the counter. "One ticket for that New York movie", she stated with full confidence that what she did say was of proper pronunciation. All the rest of us? Well, we were already feeling uncomfortable from the simple purchase of entrance, which was the starting point of our growing tumor of discomfort, as the movie unfolded. Wikipedia notes that "The use of synecdoche is a common way to emphasize an important aspect of a fictional character; for example, a character might be consistently described by a single body part, such as the eyes, which come to represent the character. This is often used when the main character does not know or care about the names of the characters that he/she is referring to." If a single "body" part is the synecdoche here, it has to be the ego of the main character, Caden Cotard (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, excellent in his massiveness of purpose in regards to such a loser of a human being). If the synecdoche is something else, I beg you, my faithful readers, to enlighten me....
....and while you're at it, please, PLEASE explain to me what the heck that ever-burning house Hazel bought and blissfully lives in is supposed to mean? Are there moments of clarity and definity? Absolutely, but then the movie ebbs on, muddying the point (if there ever was one, one thinks) and throwing in an uncomfortable amount of funerals and body doubles and body triples. Confused? Go ahead. See the movie. And don't wuss out and wait until it comes out on DVD, so that you can play back sections over and over until you (may) understand.
No, be brave. See this movie in a theater where all is continual forward movement and feel your brain hurt from the jumps, sharp turns, and dead-stops that "Synecdoche, New York" puts you through.

Rare is the movie that stays with you long after the viewing. Rarer still is such a movie that also provides no temptation to see it again. Ever again.

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