Ketchup Makes Good Things Better

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Sometimes, my curiosity triumphs over indifference when it comes to life’s minor mysteries.  While some may argue for Ranch dressing, I firmly believe that ketchup is the perfect condiment.  Ketchup makes good things better.  IMG_1090

Let’s start with the obvious.  French Fries.  I happen to like French Fries, regardless of the societal condemnation for these nonessential nutrient or, more tangibly, my impending arterial blockage.  Just add ketchup, and fries become a superlative substrate for the tangy tomato paste that I (and millions and millions like me) favor.  I have also tried fries with Ranch dressing, not as a first choice, of course, and the fries remain quite tasty, but ketchup is the obvious Oprah’s choice. 

To give Ranch dressing its due, it is better for some foods, such as cucumber slices or carrots.  Want ketchup with those?  Well, no.  So perhaps Ranch dressing wins a competition for being a better utility player.  But I’m generally careful with my words, and I’ll stick to my guns: “Ketchup makes good things better.”  You see, I don’t harbor dislike for cucumbers or carrots, but neither would I qualify them as good things.

So what brings me to this piquant subject?  Ketchup is a weird word.  You know this is true, because you’ve thought the same thing.  Only, you left it to me to make you aware of it.  So, who came up with a name like that?  It’s certainly not a Madison Avenue product, and I’m not aware of any Ketchup Center for the Arts, Ketchup Library, Ketchup Civic Center… Obviously, there was no founding Mr. Ketchup behind this great success story of our times.   Yet, the name is certainly singular in that when someone says ketchup, you know what they mean.  And it sells:

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Yep, lots of yummy ketchup.

As large as the shelf space is, when I’m in an unfamiliar store, I prefer not to project myself into a U2 video, humming “I Still Can’t Find What I’m Looking For.”   Sure, the Grocer’s Handbook ordains that ketchup be located on the 2nd to 4th row from the produce section.  But, hey, those are long aisles, and if I want exercise, I’ll walk to the McDonald’s register rather than taking the drive-thru.  That’s why they make signs.

Voila!

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Yes, well, what is up with that?  Catsup?  At least Ketchup is phonetically correct.  “Hey, cat. Sup?”  Or, “Hey, why do you throw your cats up?” (To see if they land on their feet?).  It’s so wrong.

And there’s a reason for that.  Well, there’s at least the hint of a reason, from that storehouse of real, likely, probable, or possible truth, Wiki.   It’s Canadian English.  I didn’t know that there is such a thing, and, if so, I suppose catsup is their final stab at the 500 pound gorilla to their south.  If there’s English in the world, everyone knows it’s American English.  They snuck it all the way down to Georgia.  Perhaps the person who made the above sign was trying to establish some northern credibility to Atlanta’s underwhelming hockey team, the Atlanta Thrashers. 

Anyway, having come this far, and very much pleased with this North American sensory indulgence known as ketchup, you deserve to know the truth.  Like everything else, we imported it from China.

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Al Di Meola – Live @ Variety Playhouse

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After twenty plus years as a fan, it’s a treat to have the opportunity to see Al Di Meola two years in a row.  Having moved well beyond his jazz fusion years, I still IMG_1330thought it worthwhile to bring my kids (and my son’s friend) to this show to see a phenomenal guitarist even though I wasn’t certain that they would care for the music.

So, you just never know.  We arrived early, buying tickets when the box office opened and, from appearances, none too early based on the number of printed tickets remaining on the counter.  A line had already formed, a full hour before the doors opened.  So, we set off through Little Five Points, Atlanta’s alternative neighborhood, for a quick head-spinning tour for the kids and a Little Five Points Pizza for all of us.  IMG_4281This is the second time I’ve been there, and the atmosphere exudes the “hole in the wall” approach that I prefer for pizza (or barbeque).  The coziness, the accumulation of odd things on display, and, most importantly, the aroma of years of pizzas saturating the fabric of the building figure prominently in my appreciation.  But, I had to wonder about the bloodshot evil eye that overlooked our table… would it mess with our evening?

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Nah.

Al Di Meola remains one of the most engaging and conversational musicians during a concert.  He spoke at good length before playing, and he interacted frequently with the crowd during the show.  This establishes an unusual measure of good will, in his case, even before the concert begins.  There are many reasons to see a concert, and one of the unspoken expectations is that the audience generally wants to like the artist, not just the music.  Yet, so many artists fail to make any attempt to connect. 

Di Meola returned with the same band that toured last year, World Sinfonia, less keyboardist/accordionist Fausto Beccaslossi who had provided an instrumental foil.  Therefore, this performance provided even more opportunities for guitar solos, which is, after all, why people come to see him.

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He began with at least several songs from his new CD, Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody, but I’m not familiar enough with his music to name the songs.  Styles varied, from Latin, flamenco, classical and jazz, often within the structure of a song.  He played his acoustic/electric guitar, which, with a switch, provided a completely different voice to each piece.  His fingers are amazing to watch, both for speed and general dexterity as they move across the frets.

Al Di Meola, in my experience, is the only virtuoso guitarist that uses sheet music during his concerts.  I’d imagine there were a few in the front rows a bit put off by the obstructed view.  Plan ahead folks.  He plays so many notes and such exotic (my son’s word) scalesIMG_4306, it’s understandable to have a reference.   His intricate guitar work was, on the one hand, amazing, yet on the other it was often disruptive to an overall groove – at times seemingly speed for the sake of speed.  On occasions when he played off of long time percussionist Gumbi Ortiz, or otherwise when his left shoulder dipped into a rhythmic movement, the sections were more melodious and accessible.  In other words, when he feels the music, I tend to like it better.

In the second set, he ventured into, I think, a medley of songs from his earlier recordings, including the jazz fusion work which brought him initial acclaim in the 1970’s.  In that playing his electric guitar brings him to his feet, it also largely freed him of reading sheet music, leaving him to feel the music.  In short, when he plays guitar from memory, chances are the song has a more appealing groove.

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The encore included three songs, opening with an acoustic song offered to those suffering in aftermath of the Japanese earthquake.  He then delivered extraordinary performances of “Race with the Devil on a Spanish Highway” and “Elegant Gypsy,” the former of which he had not played for 20 years.  In terms of familiarity and accessibility, he closed on a very high note.

An Al Di Meola concert is a sure bet for an enjoyable evening, regardless of musical preferences.  For those fearing a “boring jazz concert,” this is more of a celebration of musical styles by a band that is a joy to watch.  In that two 17 year old boys and a 19 year old young lady enjoyed music which was new to them, the evidence is strong.

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A free download of the first song from his new CD is available currently HERE (lower left hand of page).

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James McMurtry – Live at Eddie’s Attic

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I’ve seen James McMurtry twice, last at The Five Spot, which I’ll remember as my least favorite concert spot due to a lack of air-conditioning, not that the band complained or gave a lesser effort.  McMurtry seems to be one of the hardest working musicians around, touring constantly and booking small bars that may hold up to 200 people. 

This time around, he was performing at Eddie’s Attic, a venue that is a fixture in the Atlanta music scene and one that I had yet to visit.  Notably, this was a solo acoustic tour, leaving his bassist and drummer in Texas.

As is usual for my concert outings, the evening began with a pre-show beverage, this time at a nearby bar, the Brick Store Pub, which features a variety of Belgian beers on draught, among others.  The pub is located in an old brick walled historic building among others similarly converted to restaurants, boutiques, and retailers, nicely sectioned off from street traffic.

The downstairs of the Pub features a large semicircular bar with tables around it, open to a two-story ceiling. Upstairs, there are more tables and a smaller bar with the Belgian draughts.  The low ceiling, woodwork, and display of odd beers and glasses provide an inviting ambience. My friend had one of the Belgians, and I opted for a Lost AbbeyLost and Found.”  Lost Abbey is highly regarded brewery from California but new to the Atlanta market.  My last search for any of their beers demanded too princely a sum.  This beer was 1) cheaper and 2) excellent, with a very complex flavor that evolved during tasting, endingIMG_4277 with a flavor of caramel and roasted malt.  Unfortunately, the beer demanded more attention than I had time to give, because…

… I came for a concert, after all.  Meeting the rest of our group, we then proceeded to Eddie’s Attic.  Although we had reserved a table, our reservation indicated that this did not reserve any particular table.  First come, first served.  We arrived about 45 minutes prior to the 10:00 show (McMurtry’s second for the night), and we found the bar all but fully occupied.  Oh well.

But sometimes, all is not as it seems.  When the show was first announced, our plans were made quickly and someone, Mr. Piper, stepped up to make the reservation right away.  I’d guess we were the first to do so, because, surprisingly, two tables at the front of the stage had reservation cards with his name on them.  There didn’t appear to be a bad seat in the house, but… these were definitely better.Eddie banner

Kudo’s to Eddie’s Attic.  The sightlines are good, the sound system was clear, the servers are efficient throughout the show, and the audience is asked not to talk during the performance so that those who came to listen to the artist could do so without murmurs (or drunken requests for “Freebird!”)

McMurtry played for about an hour and a half, including songs that he seems to sing every night – “Red Dress,” “Choctaw Bingo,” “Levelland,” “Too Long in the Wasteland,” “We Can’t Make it Here,” etc.  Although there were a couple of songs with which I wasn’t familiar, I was hoping for new material as it’s been three years since his last CD.  That’s not to say I was disappointed.

I’m a fan of electric guitars, but acoustic presentations leave more sonic space for other sounds.  On solo acoustic, McMurtry seems to be at his best.  The absence of other instruments leaves more sonic space for his vocals, and though his musicianship is superb, his lyrics are the draw. 

McMurtry doesn’t have the widest vocal range, but he doesn’t need that for the music he makes.  Not nearly as nasal as Dylan, he does carry a similar straightforward manner of expressing himself, largely odes to those disenfranchised by the (conservative) powers that be – the government, the rich, big business,…  Whether or not you agree with him, he is particularly gifted at writing observational stories that wrap current events and the unfortunate into a whole, often with biting wit.   On this occasion, when every pronunciation could be clearly heard, it’s clear that whether on record or singing a song for the 1,000th+ time, McMurtry holds to his convictions from the first telling to the last. 

In the two previous shows, there were several fans who sang along during their favorite songs, but this audience bought in fully, laughing at his quips and enjoying both his pointed and exaggerated lyrical pricks.  Whether it was the later show, the intimate setting, or the solo performance, it worked.

As for his guitar work… even up close, McMurtry makes it seem simple.  He mines similar notes from song to song, yet each song sounds different.  As the highly regarded Mr. Piper said, a guitarist is only good as his right hand, and McMurtry’s was on the mark, alternately picking a base line while strumming or finding other notes.  As is appropriate, there’s as much attitude in his playing as there is in his lyrics.

McMurtry for whatever reason has never benefited from the “next big artist” tag that came to him early in his career.  It’s unfortunate that his own press kit feels the need to mention that he’s the son of (famed) Western author Larry McMurtry.  For music lovers, though, that means he remains both affordable and convenient, frequently at a venue near you.  Otherwise, find guidance in his typical closing:  “If you’re ever in Austin on a Wednesday night, come see me at the Continental Club.”  A good time.

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Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

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I rarely listen to the radio, for music anyway, so when I heard Mumford & Sons on the Grammys, I didn’t realize that they had released their nominated CD, “Sign No More,” one year earlier.  “Little Lion Man” was apparently a brief rage that I missed.

I liked their enthusiastic performance, though, and my wife was familiar with a couple of their songs… and it doesn’t take much to persuade me to try a new CD.

The band seems to be categorized as Brit-folk, in that they’re from England and they play instruments associated with traditional music, including banjo, dobro and mandolin.   That’s not to say that this is Appalachian music with an English accent.  Lead singer Marcus Mumford’s vocals don’t hint towards anywhere specifically.  His voice actually has a raw edge to it, that works well both in making whispered tones audible and in leading their rock tendencies.

What’s that?  Rock tendencies in Brit-folk?  Yes, many of the songs, particularly in the first half of the CD, break out in fits of aggressive attitude that is welcome to these ears.  Songs like the title track, “The Cave,” and “Roll Away Your Stone” keep the feet tapping.  Good stuff.

Now, what’s that he’s singing about?  First, Mumford is a good songwriter.  The inserted booklet includes all the lyrics, and the evidence is that much work went into the diction and the rhymes.  That’s a good thing.

“Little Lion Man” has drawn most of the attention for this band.  The lyric is someone obtuse but hints at understanding of always falling short of one’s potential, possibly father to son.  The chorus is catchy in tune, and earthy in it’s measure:

But it was not your fault but mine

It was your heart on the line

I really f*****d it up this time

Didn’t I, my dear

It’s a curious lyric for something that has received airplay and attention, and it’s even more surprising in context of the CD as a whole.

Those voting against assign poor marks for metaphysical overtones, which might be oppressive to those beset with a God problem.  It’s clear though, that Mumford is the one experiencing difficulties in faith.  The Christian hears themes of grace (“It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, but the welcome I receive with the restart,” guilt and its barrier to reconciliation, failure to resist worldly temptations, the soul, and even judgment (“Because death is just so full, and man so small.  I’m scared of what’s behind, and what’s before.")

 

And all of this without claiming a verse.  The themes are observable to all who experience life, though, and most should be able to identify with the lyrics, should they pay attention.

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die

Where you invest your love, you invest your life.

Unfortunately, the second half of the CD, except for “Little Lion Man,” doesn’t sustain a musical interest and requires effort to keep attention, despite lyrics that are as carefully crafted and expressed.

Recommended Songs: “The Cave” and “Roll Away Your Stone”

3 of 5 STARS

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Guns and Shows

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Watched any of the news from the Middle East lately?  It seems that everyone (that makes it in front of a camera, anyway) owns serious military gear for the offending occasion du jour.  Not only can they afford assault rifles, but they’re also equipped with full wardrobes of ready-to-war bullets.  On the one hand, it’s alarming that Islamic societies seem to sprout arsenals whenever the news finds them.  On the other, it’s sad that weapons are so visibly a part of their culture. 

In America, we’re not altogether different.  Though, we tend to keep our guns under wraps and generally refrain from firing rounds aimlessly into the air due to a well grounded sense of gravity.   

When I was growing up in South Carolina, my dad had a wall mounted rack for his double barrel, .12 gauge shotgun.  I vaguely remember him taking it go hunting once or twice, or, more specifically, cleaning it afterwards.  I hardly touched the thing, but when words came to a head with other kids in Elementary School, “my dad’s double barrel, .12 gauge shotgun” brought a formidable line of defense to my cause, even though not literally in hand.  Of course, those were the days when rifles frequently were hung visibly in the cabs of pickup trucks and kids (or at least Cub Scouts in uniform) were allowed to bring pocket knives to school.  Today, well, there’s zero tolerance for such things.

But guns were common.  All the boys in my neighborhood had BB guns, and we’d go trekking through the woods picking out random targets or lining up tin cans.  Shooting wasn’t something that we did very often, but it was an occasional and pleasant diversion from biking, skateboarding, football, fishing, flattening pennies on railroad tracks, damming a creek to form a swimming hole, building forts and whatever else we did when we were told to “go play outside” without supervision. 

Bigger kids played with guns too, and we’d occasionally collect spent shells at a public trash dumpster site where guns were shot at times when we were never present.  This short exploration was basically a contest along the lines of “Wow, look at the size of this shell.”

But it was all fun and games – and responsible.

It wasn’t until I was in High School in Virginia that a friend introduced me to a “real” gun, a Dan Wesson .357 magnum revolver.  After setting our retired French books on a limb, we took aim and blew a smallish hole through the front cover that deceptively disguised the departure of the pages behind it in a cloud of confetti.  It was a serious gun, for a serious person.  After B.B. guns and .22 rifles in Boy Scouts, this was a different experience in target shooting.

Early into my working career, I went to a Gun Show with my mentor, obviously an enthusiast.  Despite the Police Officers at the entrance and the security checks of all entering weapons (unloaded and secured from firing), I entered what was a strange and somewhat frightful world. 

There were a few collectors of antique or military guns, there were shooting enthusiasts, there were hunters (fathers with sons).  Still, there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me… knit shirt, jeans, and sensibly boring haircut.  The majority, in various forms and fashions, looked like the types of people that Dirty Harry confronted as targets.

I’ve since bought a serious gun.  Theoretically, it’s for home defense purposes.  The scenario would be this:  awaken at strange noise, identify intruder, press “Pause.”  Find the key to the trigger lock, locate the gun.  Unlock the trigger.  Find correct ammo in drawer.  Insert ammo into the magazine  and the magazine into gun.  Cycle a round into the chamber and approach to “can’t miss” range.  Hit “Play.”  Actually, shoot gun at intruder, then hit “Play.”

It’s not a game, though, a golf club or baseball bat would be more immediately helpful.  But, for me, there is a sense of peace that comes from knowing that I do have access to a gun should one be needed, never mind the target shooting.

A friend who I’ve taken to the range on several occasions decided (finally) to purchase a gun.  There are ample gun stores in Georgia, but  why go to a gun store when you can go to a place with multiple sellers in a competitive environment?  Thus, a Gun Show.  People would question the “Show” aspect must also recognize that civic centers host a variety of events, including jewelry, computer, coin and stamps, or toys, for example.  Each is followed by “Show” when advertised.  In each case, people pay for dealer tables; it’s implied that they want to sell their products.

To be fair, I’ve been to other shows over the years, usually exiting with ammunition for which any discount fails to make up for the admission price.  But that’s just the practical reason to going.  Weapons have an allure for me that I can’t quite understand.  And unlike the stores where you have to ask to hold each gun that’s displayed in a cabinet, gun shows encourage gun handling… even if they’re daisy chained together with wire.  Never been? Let’s take a peek.

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That’s part of the main floor area.  There are other dealers on the main floor and around the mezzanine of the Civic Center.  Sure, there’s some redundancy, but there’s also variety.  Hunting rifles, WWI and WWII weapons and collectibles, revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, semi-automatic rifles (many with cosmetic appurtenances that qualify as Clinton-era evil features), shotguns, body armor, ammunition, knives, knife sharpeners, reloading dies and equipment, holsters, purses with discrete built in holsters… and so on.  (Don’t forget to hover your mouse over the pictures for the inside scoop).

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Overall, I thinkIMG_1302 the caliber of the crowd has changed in recent years and definitely since my first gun show in 1988.  Is it because of a shifting societal more away from gun ownership? No.  Is the NRA dying on the vine of political incorrectness?  No.  Are there fewer… let’s see, skinheads, street thugs, rednecks, bikers (the bad kind, not the suburban mid-life crisis variety), drug runners, gangs, neo-Nazi wannabe’s or other disturbing societal fringe elements?   Don’t know, but I doubt it.

My opinion?  Guns are expensive.  Sure, you can buy less expensive guns, but, generally speaking, new pistols vary from $500 to $1,000.  Hunting rifles?  About the same.  Do any custom work for accuracy or fit, though, IMG_1304and prices increase significantly.  Assault styled weapons?  Usually $1,500 or more.  That’s a lot of disposable income in an economy that’s not yet willing to freely dispose.  But there is ample interest.  Parking lots were full, and the middle aged crowd was buying.

In any case, my friend did make a purchase, a serious weapon for a serious person.  His identification was verified and his background checked through the appropriate database.  The required paperwork was completed.  And the next day, he was to follow up with lessons in firing, handling, and care of his new possession at a local gun range… as responsible people should.

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The F*** Word

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Yeah, that word.

I first heard that word when I was about 5 years old, hanging out with my buds in the billiards room at Lander College while my dad taught his classes.  I wasn’t enrolled at Lander, but I got an education there, the kind of education that was in every way superlative to the pre-K school that I hated (I was a Pre-K dropout).  My continuing education program extended through subsequent summers between the Elementary School grades that the government forced upon those of my age.   College is where the real learning is at.

What did I learn?

  • No one is impressed when you strike a ball and it goes into a pocket.  You have to use the cue ball first.
  • I learned that Bluebird Grapefruit Juice (cocktail servings) looked eerily similar to Bluebird Orange Juice.  It’s not all roses in the ol’ pool hall. image
  • I learned that invoking my Dad’s name brought legitimacy to my claim for my right to exist. 
  • I also learned that size and age doesn’t matter.  When you demonstrate that you can, in fact, sink a ball by first hitting the cue ball, you get invited to play doubles as the need arises amongst the comings and goings.  In my upperclassmen years, many actually wanted me on their team, because I practiced every day and was, by their reckoning, pretty f***in’ good.  Losers.
  • Oh, and my vocabulary expanded.

And so it was that I became capable by age 7 or so of assembling vast streams of properly joined expletives.  I didn’t dare reveal my genius to my parents, but no one in the neighborhood could compete when I chose to apply myself.

In the 7th grade, I had a particularly good English teacher who taught us how to diagram sentences.  I didn’t necessarily enjoy the process, but visually looking at how words fit structurally made sense, and the regular vocabulary tests proved that while I had a rough idea of what many words meant, the details were exacting enough to convince me that I was not expressing myself as capably as I had thought, even if people understood it anyway.

magnifying-glass.jpgThe F*** word, properly examined, doesn’t work for me.  To begin with, the casual observer understands that the word refers to a particular sexual act.  Most of those knowledgeable in such matters would very likely characterize the experience as something pleasurable.  Yet, it’s the opposite that is intended when the F*** word is used.

Beyond the nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, direct and indirect objects, participles, etc., let’s look at interjections.  Yes, amongst other definitions, an interjection is a term in grammar, to wit: 

a. any member of a class of words expressing emotion, distinguished in most languages by their use in grammatical isolation, as Hey! Oh! Ouch! Ugh!

b. any other word or expression so used, as Good grief! Indeed!

When you’re working on a project at home and drop a small part through a crevice or lift your head into an obstruction, you might utter, “Heavens!”   No? 

Actually, the likely interjection, at least in more civilized times, was “S**t!”  Yeah, that’s another word I couldn’t' say around my parents.  Or other adults.  But, I get that one.  I won’t bother defining the term, but when used as an interjection, there remains a reasonable correspondence between the cause and the utterance.  Neither is held in high regard.

Well, how about "Damn!”  Well, yes, that one works also.  It’s still not parentally approved at age 7, but it has a biblical basis that calls forth a heap of justice on the offending event.  It’s the thinking man’s curse word., whether he thinks about it or not.

The F*** word?  What the F**** is up with that?

See?  Where’s the context?  It doesn’t work!

Well, the biased proponent of the offending term might also note that the F*** word can also be used as a verb, adjective and adverb.  Other expletives suffer in comparison to that utility.  But where does that get you?

“I F***ed it up.” 

Sorry, you lose.  The context still doesn’t fit.  Think about it.  For those who began saying “I screwed it up” before “elevating” themselves to the F*** phrase, what exactly has your experience with screws included to be so reviled?  They’re pretty F***ing useful, I say (doubly proving my point).

And so it came to pass that I understood that when people use bad words, to some extent, it indicates a lack of thoughtfulness, diction, and/or effort to say exactly what it is they mean to convey.

That was then.

A little closer to now, in 1993, Sir Paul McCartney, a man who has certainly profited from his prose, wrote “Big Boys Bickering.”  In either a bid for relevance or to give an edge to his pop flavor, he included the F*** word in what from the start was a completely forgettable song.  Chorus as follows:

Big boys bickering,

That’s what they’re doin’ all the day

Big boys bickering,

F***in’ it up in ev’ry way, ev’ry way. (my edit)

At the time, McCartney said he used the F*** word because he had never used it in a song before.  It certainly increased his stature, eh?  It was banned on the BBC, where he hadn’t been so respectfully banned since 1972, when he released “Hi, Hi, Hi,” a nice little rocker about getting hi (sic).

Does the culture reflect the people, or do the people shape the culture?  Do the arts reflect societal shifts, or do artists push societal change?

In the 2011 Grammy Awards, there was a fine performance by a Brit-folk (yes, there is such a thing) group named Mumford & Sons, intriguing enough that I bought their CD (which I’ll review shortly).  Standing in stark contrast to both the music (which conjures Appalachia with attitude) and the lyrics (which frequently point to the transcendent), is “Little Lion Man,” the most popular iTunes download.  Again with the chorus:

 

But it was not your fault but mine

It was your heart on the line

I really f***ed it up this time (my edit, again, sorry!)

Didn’t I, my dear

The F*** word seemingly approaches mainstream acceptance.

Moving, then, to the Grammy winner for Urban/Alternative Performance (and also nominated for record of the year and song of the year), we find Cee Lo Green’s “F**k You.”  (no edit needed!).

Yes, my uninformed readers, that’s the name of the song.  And to say that it’s featured in the chorus would be to understate the repeated, joyful immersion in the phrase as it is celebrated in a Motown rave-up that resurrects the long dead spirits of Detroit.

For those that want to 1) witness our entrance to post-modern civil discourse or 2) revel in a snappy put down of gold diggers, click as follows:  The entertaining video below or the alternate “spell it out for you” Video.  Oh, and the s**t word is just a bonus.

You know you want to click this.

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Lucinda Williams – Blessed

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I’d decided a couple years ago that I was done with Lucinda Williams.  Though infrequent, her 1990’s releases were amazingly honest and musically honed, all but perfect expressions of the considerable somethings that Williams has to say.  After what many regard as her creative masterpiece, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998), she seemed to lose her way, plying her perfectionist ways to lyrics that seemed to matter less.  With West (2007), the complexity of the arrangements, while beautiful, were eventually revealed as a balm over what lyrically connected less.  I stopped listening.  And, with Little Honey (2008), a bit of happiness in her life, not apparent in much of her writing, resulted in a decidedly mixed bag.

Or, maybe I was done with her because she makes no effort to be likable in concert.

Still, when she’s at her best, she’s very enjoyable, and it’s hard not to take a peek, so to speak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed surprises as a more than solid return to form, very much the album fans would have expected following Car Wheels rather than Essence (2001), which remains a testament to the difficulty of remaining inspired.

The immediacy of Williams writing draws the listener in.  Her songs are about her and the way she feels about another person.  Certainly the words are crafted carefully, but they’re never filtered.  It’s authentic.  And when she’s on her game, as she is here, she’s pretty straightforward lyrically and musically in making her message clear.

“Buttercup,” seemingly a sweet suggestion, opens the CD with a fairly typical, for Williams, kiss-off of another poor choice in guys.

The first time I saw you / you made me melt

The last time I saw you / you hit below the belt

You might have a beautiful mouth / you might have beautiful eyes

But sooner or later it all goes south / When you tell too many lies

“I Don’t Know How You’re Livin’” tells a dispirited flip side of a committed investment in bettering another, only to find that the person won’t respond.

The theme of loss continues with “Copenhagen,” where a place becomes forever associated with the news that someone close has died.

“Born to Be Loved” sounds like a message of hope and purpose that needs to be shared, but each stanza reflects on the opposite poles, bringing a sense that the person hearing the message may already be too bloodied to rise up.

Only questions remain in “Seeing Black,” musically and lyrically reflecting the angst and exasperation following a friend’s suicide. 

Want more?

“Soldier’s Song” reflects on the dichotomy, as expressed within alternating verses, between the routines of the family life left behind against the soldier’s immersion in the frightening abnormalities of battle.

“Blessed.”  Ah, blessed.  The inserted lyric booklet includes photos from people in all walks of life holding signs reading “Blessed.”  Maybe they all are.  I hope so.  The lyrics point to people across bipartisan sympathies, citing examples that speak to the good that exists if we stop to pay attention.  Or listen to the lyric, while tapping your foot to a building lead guitar.

Not alone in a brighter light, this is followed by “Sweet Love,” a sincerity for which Hallmark pines.  The music similarly doesn’t seek a sheen, but shines in its authenticity.

“Ugly Truth” is one of those songs that Williams excels at, putting someone at the receiving end of a lyrical rifle shot, without the popcorn and butter flavoring that makes “You’re So Vain” easy to digest.

The repetitious nature of “Convince Me” counters the verbal plea for comfort, suggesting a request that can’t be met.

If that bodes of a reckoning, “The Awakening” hints not of a judgment day, but a point at which a love will move her beyond the sins of her past to living anew.  The music in this song affects a funereal tone, all the while building to the dramatic change that would unfold at such a time.

Fittingly, the CD closes with “Kiss Like Your Kiss,” a moment, at least, beyond the worries and mistakes.

For those who wonder why someone would want to listen to so much negativity, it’s Williams’ authenticity and ability to express herself that is rewarding.  This is not one of those CDs where a couple of songs should be thrown into the iPod playlist while the rest wither away.  By and large, the songs aren’t structured for single enjoyment.  It’s a work as a whole, one that should be experienced while focused on the lyrics for a time, which may eventually lead to a song or three that should be carried with you.  It’s focused, rich and affecting… or, Lucinda Williams at her best.

Favorites: “Seeing Black” and “The Awakening”

4 of 5 STARS

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Unknown (2011) – Movie Review

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Unknown is a question of identity.

Sure, Robert Ludlum all but defined the “Who am I?” action genre with his Jason Bourne series, but it’s premise that is frequently revisited both in fiction and in movies regardless of satisfying outcomes. 

Here, Liam Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a name you’ll hear frequently.  He’s a biotech researcher who suffers amnesia resulting from an auto accident (what else?), driven by a taxi driver who mysteriously leaves the scene, in a foreign land (to play to the “stranger in a strange land” tension),  without his passport or other identification (which smart people usually retain on their person when traveling abroad), and which was accidentally left in a briefcase at the airport (of course).  Within minutes, the premise is conveniently laid out, all in a manner with which the viewer can identify.  And Neeson is very effective at capturing the reasonable, “Uh oh.  What would I do in that situation?” ethos.

Then our assumptions unravel as his wife denies knowing him, and our logic becomes tested.  The plot is not overly impressive.  It’s a standard good guy being chased by bad guy scenario, with the reasons withheld until the end…because otherwise it would be a bore.

There were three satisfying elements to the film for me.

1) Action.  These scenes are well done, even if seen before.image

2) Tests of character judgment.  We understand Dr. Harris to be an authentic, respectable, concerned person with whom we identify.  Can a knock on the head (absent brain damage, which has been proven elsewhere) change a person’s morality?  Did it?   And how do we assess his chosen investigator (played by Bruno Ganz, seemingly an unfortunate victim of the film editor), a prideful but sympathetic veteran of East Germany’s Stazi?  And lastly, amidst international simmering regarding illegal immigration issues, how do we overlook this bias when it comes to the resourceful, taxi driving Gina?  Do attractive and blonde out-merit arguments against those breaking the law?

3)  When dealing with a question of identity, who better than to enlist Sherlock Holmes?  No, he doesn’t make an appearance, but the fallacy of so many movies is that either things don’t quite add up or that they’re resolved by the introduction of an imaginative “fix it” plot device that leaves the audience rolling their eyes. Sure, there are some quibbles, but in the large, the plot resolves itself neatly within the Holmesian quip, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

This is a film that can be enjoyed in the theater or at home.  It’s main shortcoming is that, like most action movies, it doesn’t bring anything to the genre that demands a revisit. 

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