Sunday, December 31, 2006

Online, with new monitor.

Sitting down with my new 19" flat screen that I got for Christmas, one of the first stops I made was to the Times home page where I watched Saddam being walked to the gallows. Imagine my horror when I found myself watching the man's confused, terrified expression and feeling sympathy for the doomed sadist. Amazing, truly amazing. I mean, I know exactly how blood soaked his coat tails were--if anyone was a candidate for court ordered hanging, it was Saddam.

But watching that video is still emotional. Even with him, a state-sanctioned killing for something other than self-defense is still murder. It's depraved. I mean, either human life is sacred or it isn't, and just because a person has lived as though life is anything but sacred, I don't see how that gives us the right to abandon our principles. And I don't think it is "soft on crime" to think that--it's more a question of having higher, nobler expectations for man.

I'm sure my opinion would be different if I had more of a direct human connection to the suffering Saddam caused in his life, but this is how I felt watching the video. I'm rather relieved the Times site didn't show the actual hanging itself, and I hope I resist the urge to find it on Youtube.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Anxiety of Influence, cont.

I don't recall thinking of William Christenberry when I took this:But the resemblance is there. Except his is much cooler, of course: I know next to nothing about Christenberry, though I suppose I could take the time to read the introduction to his latest monograph, but his pictures are enough. He's one of the people who, when I saw their photographs for the first time, made me think "Oh, so that's what I've been trying to do." I felt the same way when I first saw Harry Callahan, The Americans, and Anne Geddes. Just kidding about that last one.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Just made a connection . . .

Something about this picture from Halloween looked familiar when I first saw it. I think I just put it together:Diane Arbus is not my favorite, but you can't always choose your influences, I suppose.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday morning

Looking at this picture of today's breakfast, I realized how satisfyingly empty my Sunday mornings can be. Waffles, heavily sweetened coffee, and the worst sections of the Sunday new york times, represented here by the Style section, featuring Dita Von Teese no less. It's the most worthless section, but for some reason, this is inevitably my sunday times roster:

1. Style section, especially the Bob Morris column and "A Night Out With" and usually a few wedding announcements. Always look to see what the brides do, then the men. Trying to think of a way to turn it into an orange-juice drinking game.
2. Arts & Leisure, skipping past the theater stuff to get to "Playlist." Today's was a little obscure for me so I browsed and skipped it until later.
3. Skim the Book Review to see if any authors I like are featured. (The Architecture of Happiness is reviewed today, so that was nice)
4. The Magazine, in this order: letters, Deborah Solomon interview, Ethicist, and then I peter out half the time. Today, though, is the year in ideas issue, which makes for some great reading.
5. Week in Review
6. Front Page, section A.

Now that I look at it this way, it's clear that my priorities are a little on the frivolous side.

My delivery person actually delivered me (a) the entire paper, and (b) the correct day's issue, so things look up. Now back to the ideas article; it always makes me feel like all the world's problems will be solved in the first few months of the next year.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Monkeysquirrel Awards 2006, Music Edition, Part II

5. Grizzly Bear--Yellow House

I picked this up just because so many people on the Animal Collective message boards seem to like it, so I'm far from being an early adopter. It's kind of a little less-morose Iron & Wine maybe, and maybe a little part of the whole freak folk scene that the NYT wrote about a couple of months ago.

4. Cat Power--The Greatest

I wasn't in with Cat Power from the very beginning, but I have been crazy about her ever since What Would the Community Think?, and, I dunno, she's just incredible. The music keeps getting better, and keeps changing, unlike what some friends were saying about Pernice Bros. the other day. Moon Pix may still be my favorite, but not by much. One thing that has to be impressive about Chan is that there has been so little, if any, backlash against her--usually, when you have some alternative-like act achieve some popular success you will have a small school of folks making a name for themselves by dissing 'em, but it's just not happening with her that I can tell.

I think my wife might be the only person who doesn't like her, but it's for personal reasons that trace back the humiliating show we saw at Second Story in Bloomington a while back. She was sitting behind us during the opening act and when it was her turn she starts whining "I don't wanna go!!!" Very sad set, but somehow it charmed me; I probably thought it was cool to see an artistic breakdown in person. I've always wanted to have some kind of artistic meltdown, but don't have any art, no way to express my tortured soul.

3. Boards of Canada--Music Has the Right to Children

I know it's an old record, but this is a list of my favorites for 2006, and I didn't hear it until this year. It was one of those "where have you been all my life?" moments and a "this is the kind of music I would make" moment all put together. It's so good that I think my favorite moment, the moment that I remember most vividly, from the Belle & Sebastian show I saw this summer with C, Joseph, and Kimberle was when "ROYGBIV" was played from the cd before any band had even taken the stage. It was loud, the front of the stage was packed with the tallest crowd I had ever seen a show with (my natural advantage as a tall person eliminated!), and everyone up there just stopped their pre-show milling about and talking to listen and bob their heads to the song.

2. Fiery Furnaces--Bitter Tea

This one took me awhile, and I admit that there are a couple of tracks that I have to skip every time I listen, but part of that is because I can't wait to get to the really great songs. The album first clicked for me on a drive from the Petoskey area of northern Michigan over to the Leelenau peninsula, which is a fairly pretty drive, so that may have helped.

This is their most melodic record, which should make it the most appealing to the general public, but I don't get the feeling that it broke them out at all. One problem may have been their releasing the wackier Rehearsing My Choir before this one--people might have heard that one and assumed they'd lost it.

1. The Liars--Drum's Not Dead

I don't even know what to say. I want my music to come in album sized chunks--forget this new age of "the playlist" (one more bad trend the iPod is starting)--and this album is one great chunk of awesome. What a gift for description I have. It feels like something new, that's all. It's actually reminding me of when Loveless came out, seriously. I know, it's too soon to say that; I'm still in the honeymoon phase with this record. I should settle down, but really. This was #1 for me this year by a long margin.

*Conspicuous in their absence from this list awards:

3. Gulag Orkestar--Beirut. Quite a fun record and what's his name has this amazing voice, but there are only 3 songs at most that I keep coming back to.

2. Joanna Newsom--YS. I don't get it yet, though everyone else in the music world seems to. I thought her last one was super, so it's not like I don't get harp music played by women who look and dress like cute little elves. Maybe I'm not trying hard enough.

1. Yo La Tengo--I am not afraid of you . . . . How could Yo La Tengo not be on this list? Probably because this album sounds too much like a playlist for me, jumping around in style and up and down in quality. What I like is records like Painful and President Yo La Tengo, these records where you would turn it on and just be in one mental place for an hour or whatever. First time I heard President YLT was with my friend Christian and we were outside on his patio on a cold December night because his gf didn't like loud music and didn't want him smoking inside but the record was so awesome that I didn't even care when I discovered later that my car had been towed. Well, that's probably not true, but I like to remember it that way. I wish they could make records like that again.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Winter Light

Personally, I think it's worth the cold to live in that low winter light for a few months--it feels like you're standing on the edge of the earth all day or something. In the winter, the sun is this low punt, tumbling at you, right at you, all day long.

Winter Light is also the name of one of my favorite Bergman films. As a kid, I used to imagine making a movie where nothing really happened, where it was all silence and and light and people not talking, and then I grew up and found out the Bergman had already done it.

This winter light in the picture up top is at the St. Joseph Tree Farm, the best of both Christmas tree worlds. You can wander the fields looking for a cutter, and then you can go back and pick out a tree they have cut for you already and plop it into your (or your friends') truck. Pure, sweet anticipation is what days like this are for me. That's the truck of our pals Mike and Michelle there, with Michelle in one of her frequent poses as she explains something interesting to her hubby.

And here's Mike with B.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Monkeysquirrel Awards 2006, Music Edition, Part I

It's December 1 as I start this, the date that marks the end of my musical year. I sat down to do my musical accounting for the past year, and here is how it broke down for me. Not a bad year, better than 2005, I think, which is funny because it's rather poppy in places, which usually means they have a short shelf life for me. However, I think I will still be listening to of lot of this list a year from now. Here are the first five of my favorites for this past year.

10. Peter, Bjorn, and John--Writer's Block
This is one of the poppy ones, but it has a quirky Scandinavian sensibility, and I'm getting this feeling now that there are all kinds of Swedish and other Nordic kinds of bands out there that are really good. Is "Nordic" the same thing as "Scandinavian"? I always lose track of what all countries are up there. Anyway, it feels like a new musical frontier for me or something. I think the Concretes are one of these bands that I would like if I heard them, for example. I have a sense for these things. And I have an even better sense for what bands I like when I actually hear their music. This is one of those, kind of rousing introvert-anthem kinds of things.

9. Rose Melberg--Cast Away the Clouds
I feel like such a wimp for liking Rose, but I can't help it. I mean, this is the most fey kind of "I'm so sad" girly singer songwriter stuff . . . but it feels so right. It helps that she plays most of her songs with chords I can figure out. She writes these songs with melodies that sound so obvious that you can't figure out why you haven't ever thought of them yourself even though you never think about writing music though you always think it would be nice to be able to say that you have written a song--but how do you know if it is any good? You don't. You're filled with doubt. Maybe it's your parents' fault. Maybe they should have encouraged you more, but it's too late for that; you're of the age when you are supposed to be able to encourage yourself, and you do, but it's for little things like getting out of bed and flossing and not wasting time on the internets.

8. Belle and Sebastian--The Life Pursuit
Any year they produce, the album pretty much has to go on the list somewheres. Liking this album so much bothers me a little though because even though it's so good, great even, and restores a faith in B&B that had started to wane, it at the same time is not the same Belle that put out those first two records or so. They're too confident and slick and capable to make that record now, which is a little sad. But still, what an awesome bunch of songs this is.

7. J Dilla--Donuts
This is the only record of it's kind that I've ever even heard, though I think it's its own little genre: samples with beats. So, I really should try to find more discs like this out there because it just rocks, if that's the right term. Too bad he died. Cancer, I think.

6. Bonnie "Prince" Billy--The Letting Go
Like Belle, this had to be on here somewhere, but what's surprising is that it's not in the top five. This might be his nicest set of songs since I See a Darkness . . . have I told you I met Will Oldham . . Twice!! Yeah, I probably I have. I always tell that story (those two stories!!). Will always finds some great obscure (to me) chick back up singer on all his records, and the woman on this one is one of my favorites. She has an ancient, ballad-like sound to her voice. It's wonderful.