Monthly Archives: December 2010

MMX-ing

12/30/10

2010 should be ashamed of itself; it should be taken behind the shed and thwacked with a shovel. It should be jumped in a dark alley and relieved of its wallet. It should be picked last for dodgeball, left in a car with the windows rolled up during summer, and allowed to run down cement stairs with scissors, knitting needles and a cactus.

Sure, there have been worse years for the world, and no doubt worse years in the future, but 2010 went all out to turn almost all countries not named China into trembling wrecks. It waterboarded America’s economy. It unleashed tsunamis, destroyed a whole country with an earthquake, dished out bizarrely terrible weather, swine flu, and a Republican-held House. A hole was punctured in the Gulf of Mexico that had serious scientists discussing a tidal wave of fire and oil destroying the southern part of America. All 2010 was missing was a space shuttle disaster, or it could have had the EGOT.

On the personal side, at least for us, it has been a struggle buttressed by some really awesome things. I’ve already dished some of the harder parts (excluding something that happened after I wrote those blogs), and I had the worst depressive freefall since I started drugging myself to make the noonday demons leave me alone.

And yet, we sold a great show idea to ABC and are working with some producers who are smart, insightful and trust us. And then there’s the Lulubeans, such a shiny, absurd, awesome beacon of lighthouse lumens that any year with her in it can’t possibly be that bad. Anymore, I just long to inhabit whatever dreamscape she’s got going at any given moment.

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It is because of this, or perhaps the ludicriousness of 2010, that I can finally say this: despite the laundry list of bad shit, despite America’s politics going down the fuckin’ toilet, despite hope being all but erased from the progressive landscape, and the environment becoming a sick, morbid joke… I don’t really care. I still obsess over music and writing and friends and technology and philosophy and all the things we discuss here, but 2010 taught me a lesson in letting go. Because, you know, it offered so much to let go of.

And so we bid adieu to a crappy year topping off a shitty-ass decade, which lends new meaning to “happy new year”. We’re all really in need of something different, so it is with revitalized energy that I wish you all a very happy, and very new year.

spiritus mundi

12/22/10

Do not read the news; there are things there you were never meant to know. Do not dwell on our lack of community, or that we look at each other over vast spools of wire stretched taut by longing; we are all doing the best we can, given how little we know.

Culture moves on without us, whether we like it or not. You can choose never to be left behind, but it takes a lot of running, and a lot of detours, a lot of wondering if the next big thing is only big to people who are still small.

I don’t belong to a country anymore – I have come to recognize it as arbitrary as my religion. I have shrunk my fraternity down, dried my sorority three sizes smaller, and now I only belong to the cult of my family, and the greater penumbra of friends. Many of these I have seen through storms, and others I know only through an ambient loveliness; even a closed circle can be infinite.

It is to all of you, whatever warmth I can possibly radiate through these pixels and through the many years, that I say thanks and send compliments. These pages I write are bad at so many things, you know, but they have never failed in making me feel part of something larger. Even if for a second, and that’s long enough.

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see you next week!

it’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know

12/21/10

Christmas Songs That Are Awesome:

1. Skating – Vince Guaraldi Trio

2. Ah, Bleak and Chill the Wintry Wind (Camilli Quartet version)

3. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) – Nat King Cole version

4. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Judy Garland version from “Meet Me In St. Louis”)

5. The Little Drummer Boy (Bing Crosby & David Bowie duet)

6. Gabriel’s Message (original Sting recording, early 1980s)

7. O Holy Night (Cartman’s version)

Honorable mentions: “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Silver and Gold”, “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “Away in a Manger” (British version)

Christmas Songs That Are NOT Awesome:

1. The Little Drummer Boy (by anyone else)

2. Mary, Did You Know

3. Silver Bells

4. All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth

5. Frosty the Motherfkn Snowman

6. Holly Jolly Christmas

7. O Christmas Tree

Dishonorable mentions: “Away in a Manger” (American version), “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”, “Santa Baby” (sorry SLS!)

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album found on the farmhouse turntable when we moved in

and the druids sing in pentatonic joy

12/20/10

You are now living through the shortest day of the year. It may be the shortest by only a few seconds, but it’s the shortest nonetheless. Where I am, in upstate New York, the sun will only be about 19 degrees up in the sky at noon. With the lunar eclipse, this all augurs very well for us. I am thus allowed to grant you one Christmas/Candlemas/Yule/Wild Hunt present for surviving thus. You have stored your seeds, smoked the meat, canned the harvest – what is the one thing else you want?

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the touch, the feel

UPDATE! (12/16)

Due to overwhelming response, I’m going to leave this blog up over the weekend – get your orders in for Xmas, folks!

12/15/10

Okay, I know it seems like Family Appreciation Week here on the blog, but my sister has just started something that I think is truly fantastic, and I’m immensely proud of her. Together with Jon, they have created a new company called EverPresent that sells BEAUTIFUL, REUSABLE WRAPPING BAGS FOR EVERY KIND OF PRESENT. She’s been doing them for our humongous extended family for years, and decided to go national.

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Wrapping paper has always made me kind of sick; even when I was a little kid, I’d look at the living room after Christmas and feel a twinge of disgust when we threw away 400 pounds of paper. When I was a teenager, I started doing what Kent did and wrapped everything in newspaper, but it turned your hands black and looked like shit.

Now we’ve got Michelle’s bags, many of which have been in rotation for five years. They still look awesome and… I don’t use the following word very much… “festive”. They come in five sizes, and one of the benefits is this: nosy little brat kids (like me at 6) will find it harder to suss out what’s inside.

Environmentally, it’s a no-brainer for obvious reasons. For those of us who wrap poorly, it’s also a no-brainer. There are ten different fabrics, so there’s no creepy uniformity under the tree. And this is only the beginning – she’s getting designs for all the different holidays, and birthdays as well.

So don’t go buy more rolls of felled trees destined only to be ripped and discarded! Support the home team! WOO-HOO!!!

charon expects his coin for that one

12/14/10

Let’s get this mid-week going with a depressing FLURB sound, shall we? Today’s question will be the following: what was your most massive, unqualified, gigantic failure? I mean, sure, it might have been valuable as an education, and you might have met a ton of cool people through it, and you can’t imagine it not happening, but taken at face value, what thing of yours failed the heaviest?

Mine? I made a movie about a house I used to live in. You?

this is the dawning

12/13/10

We’re stuck in LA for a few more days, but that didn’t stop the appearance of St. Lucy on her special day this morning – truly neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night can stay this courier from delivering her saffron buns and coffee on the 13th of December:

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Actually, she didn’t have time for the dough to fully rise before kindergarten, so Tessa vamped with “saffron toast” which was pretty damned good in its own right. Lucy’s always been proud of the part she plays each December, and rightly so: in Sweden, the right to play Santa Lucia in each town is so hotly-contested that even the boys are wondering “why couldn’t Lucia be a guy?” They’re tired of being the stjärngossar (star boys) walking behind Lucia as she delivers her lussekatter to the townsfolk, as I’m sure you’d be too.

Another fascinating tidbit if you’re a spaz like me: St. Lucy’s day evolved from much darker, pre-Christian celebrations that were centered around the winter solstice, and the struggle for “light” itself to come back into the world. To many people of early Northern Europe, it was the longest night of the year, even though the actual solstice is eight days later.

However, if you look at sunrise and sunset times around mid-December, you’ll notice they vary by only a few seconds, certainly nothing an ancient Norseman could have calculated. To them, it was close enough for jazz.

Speaking of light, I have oft waxed melancholic about having to spend so much time away from New York, but every once in a while, you have to appreciate California’s small miracles. This was taken on Sunday, 78 degrees, while a monster snowstorm pummeled the country’s midsection:

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Even better, a pod of dolphins came to frolic in front of us – a joy to watch, but almost impossible to photograph with the same feeling:

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On these shortest days, when our hemisphere is tipped so far away, the path of the sun is so shallow that sunsets take forever. Just as we were about to leave, I took one last picture of the sun’s final flicker, and a dolphin happened to say hi.

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click to see closer

’twas joseph and his fair la-dee

12/12/10

Part of being tangentially Mormon – besides the vague adolescent fears about masturbating and the odd desire for lots of kids – is a deeply-imbued belief that you might be able to slack on some holidays, but Christmas is a full-tilt BALLS-OUT EXTRAVAGANZA. Much to all of your annoyance, I’ve already explained the awesomeness of way too much crap on Xmas, but my extended cousins always pushed it further, into the realm of “puttin’ on a show” (even if the show was for the other relatives who weren’t currently singing).

My mom was born into this world, and emerged with the usual penchant for holiday performance, but happened to become one of the most brilliant songwriters for young voices on the planet. Mix those together, and you got her album “Child of Light”, a terribly gorgeous collection of Christmas songs – pretty stunning, given my Mom’s religious commitment wavers somewhere south of “pagan”.

Recorded right around Y2K with family members and professional session musicians, it holds its own with any Xmas mix you’ve got. 25 songs, mostly traditional (the good ones like “Bring a Torch”, “We Three Kings”, “Gabriel’s Message”, etc.) and some originals, my brother Sean directed the singers, and it never gets tiresome.

Because today was a special day for my mom, I’m going to post one of my favorites from the album – and because I’m a pretentious music major, I’ll point out exactly why I love it so much. This is “Shepherds Band”:

Shepherds Band.mp3

:00 Okay, so this one’s a capella, which (in Christmas terms) usually ends up in crazy jazz 6-part harmony, but here we get the straight-ahead theme stated clarion clear, with four parts (SATB). This is my mom’s forte, finding an element of the Christmas story that is completely without treacle and not done to death, and working magic on it. In this case, it’s a number of young shepherds with different instruments, coming to play for the Christ child.

:32 “Now my old bass harp / has a terrible warp…” This is awesome, since my mom is always railing on slant-rhyme in lyrics, and people who try to rhyme plurals with non-plurals, etc… yet she breaks her own rule here to superb effect. I love the different shepherds each bringing their screwed-up instruments to play for the baby, playing on the nativity theme of “world-changing events set in deeply humble places”.

:47 Note the bass singers bring the bass harp, and don’t sing the “tune”, they sing the harmony as the tune, which is cool. I also like the subconscious nod to “Meet Me in St. Louis”.

1:14 “The best I can do / Is a note or two” sung by the baritones about their trumpet comes true at 1:20 when they sing the two notes a fourth apart, the two notes an old trumpet would play.

1:43 The women get short shrift here as both altos (drum) and sopranos (flute) share a verse, but my mom tends to follow a rule that states “no verse shall ever be exactly the same”. Even the chord underneath is different right here, a way to make the song more interesting without upsetting the listener – a trick used by George Gershwin and the Beatles, to namedrop a few.

2:08 Now, this is why I wanted to write stories and songs. Every other human on earth would have switched the lyrics around to keep the kid awake and go out on a boisterous ending. It is a “band”, after all. But she ends with “… and we’ll sing him a lullaby”… which forces the shepherds to play their instruments as quietly as possible to a sleeping baby, ending the song in the exact opposite way it started.

Only my mom would write a Christmas carol about a shepherds band of instruments while explicitly omitting an actual band of instruments. And I understand my musical analysis is completely unnecessary (and might even get in the way) but she turned 79 years old today, and every once in a while, you have to specifically state why you think your loved ones are awesome.

That album of Christmas songs is tied up in a couple of different plans, but if something isn’t figured out soon, I’ll take matters in my own hands and sell it here as downloads during the holiday months. My mom is still kicking ass, still writing for school music books, still traveling around the country despite battling macular degeneration to a draw, but some things are too wonderful to let languish.

In fact, I’m also putting the song “I Saw Three Ships” from the album below, which has a string quartet arrangement I wrote in a beach house in North Carolina as Hurricane Fran barreled towards the coast. Not that you could tell, or anything:

I Saw Three Ships.mp3

Anyway, happy birthday Mom! We – and I – love you!

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Lucy and her grandma, last Christmas