Friday, November 21, 2008

He Swims With The Chickens Now

Happy weekend, everybody.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dancing About Architecture, Part MMXXXVVIIII

Earlier this year, this album was re-released in a deluxe edition. My immediate, knee-jerk reaction was that I didn't want the deluxe version, but I did want the original album, the one I had and enjoyed and treasured as a kid. By the time I got it, in fact, I was playing catch-up: Glass Houses had come out and produced a couple of monster hits, and the hits off the previous albums were dripping out over the gunwales of the airwaves. So I decided, after getting Glass Houses, that I had to have this as well. I also had to have 52nd Street . Shortly after that, I got ahold of Songs in the Attic, and, with that, considered my collection of Billy Joel complete at the time.

(More about that at the end.) So I got these for my birthday. On the day I actually went out and ordered them, I suddenly found myself wondering if I didn't, in fact, want the deluxe edition of The Stranger, but that was 44 bucks and the original format was 18 I think.

And I feel like I made the right decision. These are two albums that come form a period in Joel's career when he was really, really making albums. These are concept albums in the purest sense of the term. They don't tell a narrative story, or even narrative stories, so much as they set out examples of concepts. The Stranger is all about coming into adulthood. "Movin' Out," well, pretty obviously, is about rejecting stereotypical notions of grown-up success; "The Stranger" is about confronting the world of adult eroticism, although I kind of felt as a kid, and know now as an adult, that he's exagerrating a bit: we don't all have masks we put on when we want to get kinky. Plenty of us a re capable of getting kinky without any kind of formal assistance at all.

And on and on. If you know the album and the songs on it, you'd probably pretty much agree. Except, well . . . I guess I oughta qualify: these songs are all about young adulthood. "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" is about watching other people's lives run off the tracks and wondering if your own is not far from the same fate. "Vienna" is about that moment when you feel like you have made it: you have leaped onto this strange precipice known as adulthood, and sooner or later, out there on the horizon, lies a first big vacation. "Only the Good Die Young" is about tempting someone into the ring of adulthood who had been daunted into thinking the trappings of adulthood were sinful. "She's Always A Woman" is about realizing that people can be very different within intimate realtions than they seem to be in public. "Get It Right the First Time" is about that moment when dating goes from being a ritual to a requirement: it's not just about making this one connection right now. There's more at stake suddenly. "Everybody Has A Dream" is about the realization that being in a mature, commited relationship is, in itself, something of a fantastic notion. Gee. I wasn't going to do that, but lookit there, I did. Knocked it down song by song.

52nd Street is about escape. Escape into a lover's arms, another part of town, maybe even a part of New York that only exists insofar as people are willing to believe in it; escape from the lie-telling real world, escape into music (both "Rosalinda's Eyes" and "Zanzibar"), maybe even escape into a relationship that is as painful as it is pleasureable ("Stiletto," duh). When I first got the thing, I remember thinking I was gonna have problems with it based solely on the cover: Billy Joel doesn't play the trumpet. But then I listened to it and thought, "Nah. Billy can pretend he plays the trumpet if he wants to."

(Also, I have walked the length of 52nd Street, and I never did find the wall he is leaning up against. Not to say this picture wasn't taken there; it could have been around some corner I didn't see, or they maybe painted it since then. Or maybe I just missed it. Cause, New York, y'know?)

So now I have in my Billy Joel collection, The Stranger, 52nd Street, Songs in the Attic, and The Nylon Curtain. I will probably have to buy a copy of Glass Houses one of these days. And I will most likely end up getting a copy of Turnstiles. It has been argued by many that most of what you'd want from Turnstiles is on Songs in the Attic anyways, but I have to disagree, if no other reason that "New York State of Mind" isn't. And that's something I think I ought to have available. Because, New York, y'know?

PS: I followed my listening of The Stranger with Leonard Bersnstein and the New York Philharmonic performing Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition and Night On Bald Mountain. Which seems very oddly appropriate.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There Is No Movie Of The Day

NOT BECAUSE I am not in the mood for a movie per se. I watched the latter two thirds of Hot Fuzz, then the first part of Deep Impact, before concluding that I simply was not in the mindframe to sit through the meat-hammer that is Deep Impact, and then caught The Good German in time for lunch. But I will probably switch to something stupid like Law & Order before too long. Stupid only because I have seen them all twice. But I am still a sucker for that show. Good New York porn.

Today's lunch is potstickers & lemon grass chicken wraps with ginger sauce, hoisin sauce, and Chinese mustard, which is something I have determined I will never do again. Chinese food should come from a restaurant. Period. At home, I don't have a wok, if I did I couldn't get it hot enough to operate properly, and if I could I wouldn't be using it enough to properly season it. So what I have here, frankly, is fine enough. But it isn't . . . right. Alright. That's that: you either know what I mean or you don't. De gustibus non disbutandum, largely because at a certain point it's impossible to describe why you like or dislike what's on the plate.

But the real reason that there is not movie of the week-- aside from my inherent fickleness-- is that it is almost my birthday.

This year, the Wifey decided that rather than hand her a list of CD's and stuff, I could go ahead and go on a spree at Amazon, handing me the arbitrary limit of 100 bucks. Which is great: I ordered the stuff, and it came in most of a week before my actual birthday, which means I get to listen to the stuff this week and go do something else on the actual day. Whatever my faults, I am amazing easy to please.
So yesterdays's selection, for my listening pleasure, was The Alan Parson's Project's Eye in the Sky. This is one of those albums I owned way back when; I bought it on the strength of the hit single title track and defended it to all who told me it was a rotten piece of ofal that would damage my soul. This is the musical equivalent of a novel written by a literary critic. Alan Parsons is a noted engineer and producer, most noted for working with Pink Floyd at the heighth of their prowess. His chief collaborator, Eric Woolfson, is a singer-songwriter-producer-etceteragrad. And the album sounds alot like what you would expect from guys who know how it's done. Most of the numbers are extremely well done, others seem over-written, or over-producted to the point of sounding like aural mush. But it's a good thing to hear in its entirety. It is very much a concept album, not inasmuch as the songs all confront a singular theme or tell some kind of narrative story, but rather inas each track represents a particular kind of aural layer in the overall cake. And if that's not a murky and ineffective metaphor, I don't know what is. It's very easy (and was done often back in the day) to think of this as Pink Floyd Lite, largely because it is.

But the real treat here was the bonus tracks. Now, these days I don't go in for bonus tracks much. I have a copy of Santana's Abraxas that I have to jump up and turn off because they included a bunch of crappy live tracks at the end. And all studio versions are supperior to live versions, unless, and I mean this, you are Cheap Trick, in which case the exact inverse is true.

In this case, the bonus material is alternately illuminating and ridiculous, almost precisely. The real treats are the first two bonus tracks: a demo version of the opening theme, "Sirius" (if you're a sports fan you know it: it's that piece that goes "Bow-dow-burkr-dirkr-bow-dow-burkr-dirkr"); and a version of the ballad "Old and Wise," voiced by Woolfson, which perfectly illustrates the fact that if a ballad is written broadly enough, it doesn't matter who sings it. But the real treats were the last two bonus tracks, an instrumental re-working of several of the albums themes and an orchestra rendition, respectively, which go on for freakin' ever.

The next offerings will be Billy Joel's albums 52nd Street and The Stranger, and then after that Leonard Bernstein & The New York Philharmonic's performances of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and Night on Bald Mountain. Oh, wait; what was that I said about live versions?

PS: Oh, year: and Brad Paisley's Play, which I have already read the liner notes for.

PPS: But now, I am watching The History of the Joke with Lewis Black. So pretty much everything else will have to wait.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Reaction Shot

SO YESterday, in a cele- bratory mood, I threw caution to the wind and ordered the rib platter at my favorite local joint. Although it made for a pricey meal-- about 35 bucks after over-tipping my pal/waitress/barmaid Holly-- it meant that today I had about a third of the rack left over for lunch, which I supplemented with fried dumplings with hoisin sauce and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Delish.
The movie of the day was Michael Clayton, which I love. I mean, Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and Syd Pollack, God rest his soul. Oh, and of course, Michael O'Keefe, whom you probably don't remember as Danny Newnan in Caddyshack. And, well, hell, everybody else. Great performances. I love it. I don't care if the sourcework is bullshit, which it may or may not be. And when I say "movie of the day," I mean that I watched the latter half this morning over my coffee, and then it was on again when I got back from procuring beer for lunch.
Yesterday's celebratory mood was due to the election being over. I was ready for it to be over weeks ago. And yeah, my guy won-- I voted for Obama-- but it's not like I had been out marching in the streets; I just voted, that's all. I was just glad it was over. 2000, anyone? And then we re-elected the dumbass in '04, despite the fact that everybody knew we were waging war on the wrong country for no good reason anyone was able to unearth, so that didn't help much. Which brings me to my analysis of why McCain lost: Obama was good, but the real problem was that McCain simply wasn't nasty enough to get the Republicans energized.
And Palin, after all, is really too dumb to be effectively nasty. Not only is it hard to trust that she believes anything, it's impossible to tell whether she knows what she is saying or is just reading cue cards.
And this is me after the election is over. Over and done, no bitching, no recounts, just done. Yay democracy. Oh, and we had a near record tunrout, something over 60% of eligibles voting? Yeah. THAT I like. Thus the celebratory ribs.
And then there's this. In case you don't feel like clicking the link, or in case the story's no longer there or whatever, basically a family in Pleasanton, CA, had their Obama sign razored, their tires slashed, and their house spray painted with profanity. AFTER the election.
I'm an American. I'm a patriot. I believe that this is the greatest country on earth. But crap like that almost makes me wanna move.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Another One You Won't Read


The sun shines bright on a clear fall day;
The leaves are turning, the breeze is cool.

I shall stroll through the grass to let my shoes collect the dew;
I shall peer through green trees at the clear blue sky.

I shall count the true things, one two three
I shall thank God for what is good
I shall lament to God for what is ill
I shall pray for the wisdom to know between.

Today is a good day to remember absent friends
And recall fond memories.
Piper Laurie is alive and well
Somewhere in America.

It is important to remember that some beauty
Is less than skin deep; an image, an impression,
A passing glance at a face you seem to recall
From sweeter, darker times.
Other things are more permanent, deeper
Than they appear. It is an accepted fact that many truths
Are bitter fruits of hard experience. But I hear laughter.
I hear such laughter.

Today is a good day to remember
That life is long, that love is strong,
And that there are no wolves at our door.
I shall run the back roads, and I shall watch
God’s pastel go from green to fire to fawn.
Piper Laurie is alive and well
Somewhere in America.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Shocking Development

I am not a country music fan. In fact, it would be more than fair to say that I am a country music foe. My usual reaction to hearing country music, in fact, is "Who is this @#$%er, and why hasn't he/she been taken out and shot?"
The exceptions to this rule are many-- Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings, some Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, and, of course, Jerry Reed-- but up to the present, Mssr. Paisley has not been on this list. Not that I actively don't like his stuff, just that, up to now, I have not been exposed to enough of it to pry him out from the rest of the legion of twangheads. That said: I am buying this album. Because, well, damn. (You can get a pretty good idea of what's on it by using Amazon's preview player.) I could blather on about this, but really, go listen.