The Coin Bottle

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Constant change is here to stay.  Literally.  At least, so far.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated coins until curiosity, need, or whim has led to me to break the piggy bank.  This has resulted in cash at several year intervals for a John Deere self-propelled mower (which lasted 20 years), a Ruger 22 rifle (which continues to operate just fine), a wooden bench swing (which doesn’t last to this day), and… something else.  Maybe it was a credit card payment, but I hope it was something more lasting.  I think I used the funds for vacation spending at one point.  Whatever.

Coins just come to me.  Much of my life on the road involved drive thru breakfast and lunch. “Here’s the change,” (not including my as yet unidentified clogged arteries).  Since then, well, any cash transaction usually results in change.  I tend to use cash less and less, but the change still arrives.  It shows up in my car, in my couch, on countertops, in my desk drawer at work, and,of course, in my pockets.  Then there’s my wife’s contributions when she gets tired of lugging coins around in her purse (and I thank her for her contributions).  It’s got to go somewhere, so it may as well go into my piggy bank.

Truth be told, I don’t have a piggy bank.  I don’t want one.  Instead, I have a large, stylish, wide mouth bottle.  And, recently, I began to worry about the stress on the curved glass from the weight of all the accumulated coins.

Yep, coins.  Lots of them.  And buried in there somewhere is filler material, also known as coin rolls.  Yip. E.  That’s the unpleasant aspect of coin accumulation.  Almost as unpleasant are the bank tellers who smile at me while I’m waiting in line while earnestly Pennies_1hoping that fortune does not deposit me at their window.  I’m sure there’s a cash drawer reconciliation headache at the end of the day.  But hey, its my money, even if the bank doesn’t like it.

There you go.  Rolled coins, in a shoebox (their natural habitat).  $276 worth. But, truth be told, that’s not all of it.  Why?  Because I have another place to put coins, and I tend to segregate most of the quarters.  Voila:

Cha-ching!  Another $140 (it was full).

But still, that’s not all.  Because, well, I hate rolling pennies. It takes a lot of effort, and where’s the return?  I don’t think I’m alone iPenniesn this.  Besides that, I ran out of penny wrappers.  In any case, I dumped them into shoebox #2.

At our local supermarket, there’s a machine that will do the work for me.  It’s one of those machines in the front of the store that I’ve never actually seen anyone use.  It will accept all coins, count them and pay the total less 9.something %.  I’m not willing to pay that for nickels and up, but pennies?  Yeah, fine.  And especially after my wife got tired of seeing the box of pennies sitting on the table for days, then by the fireplace for days, then on another table for days…. until she put it in my trunk, where it slid around while I drove.  Okay, I’ll turn them in!

A better blogger would have taken a picture of the machine.  I wasn’t thinking along those lines. I was just trying to funnel pennies into the tray, clear the resulting jams, get my cash and depart under the cover of night.

There’s a good ending to this episode.  If you want cash back, you lose the percentage. But, if you accept a gift code to various retailers, you get full value.  And here’s how it all comes together nicely.  Being fond of music, CDs and concert tickets do have related costs.

So far, I have $416 added to my concert funds, and with the contributions of the coin machine:

photo

I now have $32.50 to buy CDs from what I affectionately term “The Big River,” the sole remaining major tributary of physical CDs.  It works for me.  Note that there were three dimes mixed in, which leaves 3,220 pennies I didn’t have to roll.  Rock on!

And finally, here’s the transition to whatever point I’m making.  The concert money?  Deposited into my bank account where I’ll pay for my tickets, bar bills, etc. via my Debit Card.  The pennies? Converted to an electronic credit from which CDs can be deducted.

I keep getting all this change and converting it to electronic funds.  What’s the point of cash? 

The Aite Group released a study in January, 2011 indicating that cash use will decline 17% through 2015, a net reduction of $200 Billion in physical money.  That will still leave $1 Trilion out there (U.S.

Frustratingly, the Federal Reserve releases regular studies regarding non-cash payments, but I can’t find a comparison for cash vs non-cash payments.  Less scientifically and reflecting on experience and observation, non-cash payment must be ruling the marketplace.

And to toss dirt on the grave of physical money, the U.S. Mint in its 2009 Annual Report indicated that pennies cost 1.6 cents to produce and nickels 6 cents.  (Interestingly, the Mint can change the metal content of $1 Dollar coin metal composition without outside approvals, making it extremely profitable to manufacture).

Regardless, one has to wonder whether changing commercial transactions, the costs of manufacturing, and the sleeze factor (germs on coins and banknotes, apparently not seriously investigated since 1972), whether the piggy bank will go the way of the album, the clothes line, film developing, and the arcade.

In the meanwhile, you can still see how it used to be done in the good ol’ days, while they’re still here.

http://www.usmint.gov/mint_tours/index.cfm?action=vtShell

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Radiohead – The King of Limbs

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Never were truer words spoken by Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s writer/singer, than in the second song of this CD, “Morning Mr. Magpie.”

Good morning Mr. Magpie
How are we today?
Now you’ve stolen all the magic
Took my melody

At least we have an explanation for this unimaginative, tired even, release from Radiohead.  Mr. Magpie, you’re not welcome here.  We want the melodies back.

Yorke’s lyrics have become less and less important over the past decade, merely providing consonants and vowels for Yorke’s vocals that are increasingly heard as just another instrument in the aural mix.  It’s not a bad one, certainly, especially when he has something to say.  But, as Yorke’s solo CD The Eraser made abundantly clear, his voice needs “something” more than unfocused electronic sounds to provide life to it.  In The King of Limbs, his lyrics don’t make the task easy for his band mates.  As an example, the entire lyric of “Codex” is listed below.  It reads well as poetry, but as far as evoking a tone, a refrain, a melody (never mind providing sufficient lyrics to support a full song)… no.

Sleight of hand
Jump off the end
Into a clear lake
No one around
Just dragonflies
Flying to our side
No one gets hurt
You’ve done nothing wrong

Slide your hand
Jump off the end
The water’s clear
And innocent

The water’s clear
And innocent

There’s certainly no fault to be found with drummer Phil Selway, who delivers snappy percussion throughout the CD.  However, with this in place, the rest of the band doesn’t build from there.

Bassist Colin Greenwood contributes where there’s enough to work with, at least.   There is no true rhythm section here, because while the songs certainly have a beat, a “rhythmic” approach doesn’t leap to mind.  To be fair, Greenwood provides the only identifiable hints of song structure on two of the three that have more than a cocktail napkin’s worth of lyrics, “Little by Little” and “Lotus Flower.”  Otherwise, he’s left with dropping a note here and there, or maybe even several in row.  It’s hard to work in a vacuum, poor guy.

Meanwhile, guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien are MIA.  Sure, they’re in the background twisting dials, making electronic squirks or other effects that ultimately don’t matter.  Have they lost interest?  Or were these new squirks that I don’t fully appreciate? Hmm.  Or, were they not invited to the studio and sampled into the music from recorded bits over the last decade?  The King of Limbs is missing its trunk.

The King of Limbs is a detached work.  Each “music” track could generally be used for any of Yorke’s songs; they don’t follow or provide a tune, largely.  Would anyone notice if they mixed the track and the vocal in concert?  Would they care?

And Yorke’s delivery is detached as well.  Detached from exuberance, passion, pointedness… anything, really.  It’s mostly an exercise of taking each word and stretching it over multiple beats.  They’re so few, and they have so far to go.

Radiohead is loaded with talent and has demonstrated they can deliver high level rock music as well as approach the extremes of the music forms.  But there’s nothing new here, and it’s disappointing that when they finally seemed to be plying their explorations to more accessible songs (specifically their last outing, In Rainbows), this can be summed up as an unnecessary outing that should boast another title, perhaps “Exit Music (for a Band).”

Okay songs: “Little by Little,” “Lotus Flower”

2 of 5 STARS

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Good Seats… For a Price

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As a fairly frequent concert-goer, I’ve clearly developed a preference for Variety Playhouse and similar small venues in the Atlanta area.  Variety was originally built in WWII for movies, and it retains that character today, with 750 movie style seats, plus standing room for an additional 400. 

Tickets are General Admission, and if you get there early, you can decide whether you would prefer the lower seats, the balcony seats, or to stand at the stage front.  The fact that cameras are allowed at most shows is just a bonus.  Prices for all tickets are the same, even the bad seats are good, and, clearly, “the early bird gets the worm.”  Tickets are typically $20 – $30.  “Reasonable,” says I.

Then there’s the larger places where concerts become “events.”  The Fox Theater.  The Tabernacle. Chastain Amphitheater.  Lakewood Amphitheater.  Verizon Amphitheater.  The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center.  The Arena at Gwinnett. Philips Arena.  The GA Dome.  Tickets for these venues are sold exclusively through Ticketmaster/LiveNation, and I won’t stoop to join the blogged-to-death indignations against associated printing, shipping, and '”service” fees. (Oops. I just did).  But so-called primary markets like TM strike deals with the venues and promoters to sell the tickets.  Pricing generally seeks to maximize revenue while minimizing empty seats.  Everyone gets a cut.

General Admission just isn’t done.  I think everyone desires the best seats possible at the price they’re willing to pay, and in order to get those tickets, one has to know the exact moment that tickets go on sale, because it’s a competition.

For whatever reason, Ticketmaster usually opens their sales at 10:00 a.m. on Fridays.  And when the clock chimes, the experienced buyer will already be logged in, at the correct page, and repeatedly clicking “Find Seats” until the sale is “on.”  Despite a history otherwise, there remains an expectation of finding a great seat… only to find that you can buy Row W, in the wings.  And for a hefty price.  Is it worth it?

Maybe.

It depends on what you want from the experience.  If you want to hear live music with friends, have a beer or two, and maybe dance in the seats, the particular seats you’re in don’t matter very much.  If, though, there’s a particularly gifted instrumentalist or an artist that you would truly like to see in some detail, you can’t do that in Row W (unless the venue has live video screens).

For The Moody Blues last year, I was ready to buy at the appointed hour.  I don’t recall exactly, but at less than a minute into the sale, the “best seats” option was far enough back that I logged out in disgust.  (To be fair, in that specific case, it was later revealed that the first 30 or so rows were reserved for a Public Television fundraiser, at elevated but charitable prices, of course).  But the experience is a common one.

What gives?  

There are other means of buying tickets, and they’re costly.  In street terms, they’re scalpers, but in the internet age, they’re more politely known as the secondary market or ticket re-sellers.  Concert promoters are all too aware that some percentage of the buying population is willing to spend potentially significantly more for the better seats.  Why else would Ticketmaster acquire re-seller Ticketsnow.com?  If you can’t beat/profit like them, join/buy them.

For those getting Row W at 20 seconds into the sale, you can’t help but wonder if there’s not a conflict of interest for Ticketmaster in holding back tickets for their more lucrative re-selling outlet.  Or, for that matter, that a savvy venue operator doesn’t have a special “in” for specified seats at any show for resale and personal profit. Well, I wonder, at least.  After all, it’s a big business.  Primary and secondary markets are billion dollar industries, and there’s going to be those who don’t play nice.

There are other .com vendors, of course. 

  • The well publicized StubHub. 
  • The not so publicized Stub. 
  • Seathound. 
  • Ticketliquidator (they turn tickets into cash). 
  • Coasttocoasttickets.  (virtually all web re-sellers have national ticket offerings).
  • Gotickets.  (I’d rather they arrive than go, but that’s me).
  • Goodseattickets (they don’t have any great ones?).
  • Justgreatseats (they don’t have any that are just okay?). 
  • Frontrowtickets (they’re not quite so exclusive as the name would suggest). 
  • Here we go… Thebestdamntickets. 
  • And, of course, don’t forget eBay.

So, if, for example, you were looking for tickets in a given section, you could go to these sites and find what you’re looking for.  Okay, I rarely blog without pictures, so I’ve chosen an upcoming event that I have no interest in.  It’s Bon Jovi, at the 18,000+ capacity Philips Arena. 

First, let’s go to Ticketmaster, now well after tickets have been on sale, and see what’s what.

list prices

Good seats – $135 ea.  The nosebleeds, $25.  That’s classic rock at 21st century prices. Okay, let’s see what’s left to be had. *click*ticketmaster

Okay, the best available seats are Section 317, Row R… Check the map… and, hey now.  That’s almost directly behind the stage!  Shouldn’t they drop a curtain so people don’t get stuck there?  Still, for $30 per per ticket, you can at least say you saw Bon Jovi, or at least his back side.  Or top.  That may appeal to some, but not to me.  So, let’s see what “our friends in the business” can offer.

From hockey experience, I happen to know that Section 204 is very good – it’s a balcony section but with a straight-on view to the stage.  Besides that, I’d rather sit on an incline in a balcony rather than in row whatever on a flat floor.  Stubhub!

stubhub

$300 per ticket, or $600 if you want to share the experience.  Ouch.  But that’s life in the big city!  Perhaps seeing whether Bon Jovi has thinning hair isn’t so bad.  Next!

allgoodseats

Allgoodseats.com has, hmm. Same section, same row for $184.  It pays to shop around.

Various others:204 - 3

204 - 1

204 - 2

Well, dang.  And the beer isn’t going to be a bargain, either.  But if you want a better view, it’s yours for a price.

But, some people don’t want “better.”  They want “best.”  So let’s go check out the floor seats, directly in front of the stage.  That would be Floor Section 2 (in pink), depicted below at right.

floor seats

The bottom entry, *cough*, indicates  $1243 per ticket?  For row L?  Yeah, we’re in a recession.  Maybe I can save a percent or two.  On to the next site!

shop around 1

 

 

 

 

Ha!  Saved $200 for myself and my date!  But, seeing how surfing the internet doesn’t have tolls, let’s try another:

shop around2

Win!  Only $1050 for two tickets, plus it’s two rows closer!  It’s a jimdandy bargain!  And, let’s see (scratches head while calculating), that’s only $390 above face value each!

And there we have the root of my problem with Row W.  Profit.

Feeling adventurous, I spoke with a smaller purveyor to see if I could find out the inside scoop.  To hear it said, the reselling business is really not (quite) as sinister and corrupted as my frustrations would leave me to believe.  But when I mentioned that it’s a competition, it very much is.

There are people who buy the good seats with the sole purpose of profiting from them.  It’s a business, not just a college student trying to earn a few $ for an escape from a meal plan.  Just the name, www.bonjovitickets.biz makes that abundantly clear. 

The art of buying tickets for profit is to have:

1) Sale Knowledge.  This is often not the moment Ticketmaster starts selling, in their own terms, “to the public.”  There’s all kinds of hold-backs, for the promoter, radio station giveaways, friends of the band… whatever.  For the rest of us, if you have a credit card, you’re probably aware of associated “Concierge” services that allow you to buy tickets Pre-Sale.  Or, perhaps you have the inspiration, as I did with the Moody Blues, to check out an artist’s official website.  Yes, loyal fans (as evidenced by your arrival on their site), also have access to reserved premium seats… at inflated prices still, but usually includes extras).  But buying tickets before they go on sale is a no-brainer for those expecting to make bucks.

2) Artist/Venue knowledge – Let’s face it, parents aren’t going to pay a whole lot extra to take their kids to see Barney on stage.  But a long time fan of Eric Clapton just might.  Geographically, Bon Jovi proves that Atlanta is a city rich for plunder.  Big name acts + big cities = $$$.

3) The power of networking – Sure, individuals can sell their own tickets on most of these sites with some fees, but people who intend to resell them also post them across multiple sites, increasing the exposure and the likelihood of sale.  There’s commissions all around.

4) Technology – I hate deciphering the goofy string of characters that I have to type before seeing the seats option.  It’s a pain and it slows me down.  And that’s just as it is intended, so that an automated bot can’t multi-core process the best seats from the system in seconds.  But today’s technological hurdle is just someone else’s pet project to overcome.  Ah, computers… 

5) The power of large numbers – with estimates of more than 1,000 resellers, and (remembering that this is a billion dollar business) with some resellers employing up to 100 people who are trying to buy the same tickets… Yeah.  Row W in the first minute of the sale.  Sorry about that.  The article linked above even points out that even ticket buying is being outsourced to India and Mexico.  Profit, remember?

And not that I want to encourage even more competition for the seats I want, but a Google search shows tips, books, and YouTube videos on how to become a professional scalper.  Sorry, re-seller.]

Meanwhile, thank you, Variety Playhouse. 

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Robbie Robertson – How to Become Clairvoyant

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A critic's darling.

How else would you explain the attention given To Robbie Robertson’s new release?  Appearances on Letterman, The View, Jools Holland?  Even an NPR review.

Who is this guy?

The necessary introduction in any venue is that Robertson played in a band that most (middle aged) people have heard (“Rag Mama Rag,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”) but a band of which they have not heard.  Right?  The name of that band?  The Band.

You can read the linked Wiki article if you want, but in short, they backed Bob Dylan when he went electric, at once offending many of Dylan’s fans but bringing a mature, creative backing band to greater attention.  They are partially credited with laying the foundation for what is now “Americana” music, with a good helping of traditional, acoustic instruments (never mind that 4 of the 5 were Canadian).  But they were successful in blending rock, country, gospel, blues, etc. into songs that formed a solid groove through a disk.

In the late 60’s they released two superb albums, Music From Big Pink and a self titled album, before mediocrity became associated with each follow-up.  Their last hurrah was The Last Waltz (1976), recorded for theatrical release and starring many guest musicians of the era in winning versions of their own and others’ work. 

Robertson, then, wrote most of The Band’s better songs, sang a few, and ably played lead guitar.  He re-emerged in 1989 with a self-named release, well written and well produced (though now sounding dated by virtue of tired U2 treatments).  Like his previous track record, he then followed with a great idea that failed to deliver (Storyville) or were more personally meaningful works that were completely forgettable.  Now, 13 years after his last clunker, he’s released something much better…

… for long time fans.  Sure it’s listenable music to an unfamiliar audience, quite listenable, actually.  But it’s the lyrics that set this apart from his songs over the last 20 years.  Robertson has always been known as a story teller, and this CD reads like a logical extension of his work with The Band.  A couple of the tracks even sound like he had a 70’s groove in mind (“When the Night Was Young” and “The Right Mistake”) in part due to the complementary backing vocals from Angela McCluskey, who unfortunately isn’t featured on more of the disc.

The production values are excellent but at the same time muted.  Robertson, , as would befit a story teller, is more successful in context as a narrator than a singer himself.  He has a raspy, whispered, gravelly or similar throaty voice that, while limited in range, offers ample expression to his own words.   However, he no longer has the volume to rise above the din of the instruments.  Accordingly, the music has to lie low, whether the band is in full momentum or even during a lead guitar duet (as opposed to a duel).   It’s all good, but the mood is affected, likely positively for those who appreciate Robertson’s gifts and frustratingly for those who would prefer more evident musical payoffs. 

Eric Clapton contributed to 7 songs in a reserved manner, with the only strike against being one of his too-common repetitive saccharine riffs in “Fear of Falling.”   Robert Randolph’s pedal steel shines in its two opportunities (“Straight Down the Line” and “How to Become Clairvoyant” (a difficult phrase for a chorus if ever there was one).  Tom Morella (from Rage Against the Machine) shows well in a tribute to guitarists (“Axman”) as well.  

Lyrically, themes include weathered idealism, the juxtaposition of the spiritual and the worldly in music and in life, the excesses of touring, the breakup of The Band, and the (futile) desire to foretell among others.  Also included are two instrumentals which neither add nor detract, but from song to song and in total, the CD contains a generous 54 or so minutes of music.  It should be noted that the “bonus” disc included in the Best Buy version isn’t either generous or a bonus.

Recommended Songs: “Straight Down the Line,” “When the Night Was Young,” “The Right Mistake,” & the title track.

3 of 5 STARS

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No Goal, No Gain

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I do not enjoy going to the gym.  Still, I congratulate myself on having gone to the gym, sort of regularly, over the past two years.  Sometimes, my appetite for chicken wings won’t wait until later.  You know how it is…

My first gym membership came when I was in my 20’s, when I realized that I no longer was burning through calories absent the recreational opportunities of college life (racquetball, Frisbee, intramural sport).  Meh. There wasn’t anyone to play with.

Gym #2 resulted from the general realization that I was 1) getting older 2) eating at Lipids-R-Us during frequent business travel and 3) wanted to play with my kids as they got older.  Unfortunately, the gym seemed to cater to those who spent an hour choosing their attire and makeup before going to their social workout.  Ciao.  It wasn’t for me.

Gym #3 arrived without fanfare.  Playing with the kids turned out to require only finger dexterity for video game controllers.  Still, one’s weight takes on a measured reality of slow addition, and the word “limber” finds context only on a Scrabble board.

Excuses aside, the reasons for quitting a gym usually involve 1) no apparent improvement, 2) budgetary constraints, 3) lack of priority and 4) physical discomfort.  Oh yes, and putting oneself in an “uncomfortable” environment.

My wife and I anted up beaucoup cash to hire a personal trainer for our first three months.  Nothing spells commitment more than cash.  I’d like to say I regret the outlay, but I don’t.  When you pay someone, you make it a point to show up on time.  You form an attendance habit.   More importantly, being put through the paces familiarized us with the various workout equipment.  This isn’t a small thing.  As literally everyone else in the gym obviously knows what they’re doing, appearing uncertain invites the silent judgment of the masses as being unworthy.

Or, perhaps that’s just a curse of being analytical, as follows:

1) The iconic iPod reigns in the gym.  People are tuned out, and, considering the music rotated through the sound system, this is a good thing.  I’d estimate fully 90% of those not in a group workout environment are isolated sonically.  Conversation?  It’s really not the place for it.

2) People don’t work out with their eyes closed.  Eyes have to look… somewhere.  I’ve become less judgmental of those who check themselves out in the mirror.  Sure, there are some with bulging muscles and veins who perhaps love themselves a bit much.  But for most, mirrors provide the most likely means of positive feedback… eventually.

3) Actual eye contact is… well, I’m not sure.  It’s not exactly frowned upon, but it is carefully considered in the design of the workout space, in that machines are almost uniformly ordered so that everyone looks forward, such as in a classroom.  Looking at other people, then, is usually done from the aisles for the purpose of identifying which equipment is available.  Otherwise, it’s like being with people in elevators, airplanes, or subways.  Don’t stare.  It freaks people out.

4) But that’s eye contact.  Regardless of the gym, and mine includes people of all shapes, sizes, and degrees of fitness, there will be some who want to be looked at elsewhere.  And, it’s hard not to do so.  Like in Las Vegas when I can’t help but wonder if someone’s companion is personal or paid, I’m left to wonder at the motivations of wearing bikini style gym “workout suits,” form-fitting anything, and glamour make-up.  Sure, “if you have it, show it” plays a part, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a secret language being shared amongst the glamour crowd, which, obviously, I’m not in.

5) Hygiene – Properly exercised, people sweat.  People hold onto handles, sit on seats, press touchscreens, lay down on benches, etc… There’s ample sanitary wipe dispensers, but few actually use them.  Workouts and hygiene?  Fail.

6) Rarely do I detect perfume or cologne, thankfully, but I have to admit that it makes sense to brush your teeth before going to the gym.  As a good workout requires oxygen, both inhalation and exhalation are required.  For the latter, yeah.  Colgate.  Workouts and dental hygiene?  Win.

7) Beginning an exercise program also creates a workout for the brain.  Not only do you not want to do those 15 curls, but you lose track of how many you’ve already done.  Work at it long enough, though, and counting becomes part of the subconscious.  When you do upwards of 50 repetitions, this is a good thing.

There’s other things I could comment on, like how the unlikeliest of people, based on shape, can jog for miles, or how others can ride a stationary bike and never drop a bit of sweat onto the book they’re reading, but I’ll move on to some kind of point.

I don’t feel better after a workout.  I begrudge “the waste of time,” including travel and resulting shower.  However, I hate when I skip a week, because not only is motivation lost, but pain is increased from quickly diminished strength.

But, overall, I feel much better when I’m not in the gym, and that’s worth something.  A the saying goes, “no pain, no gain.” 

That’s not exactly a motivating rally to jump into fitness of any sort.  I am, in my opinion, in a pretty good place.  I lost some weight, I’m significantly stronger, and I no longer feel tightness or hear odd sounds when stretching or bending.  All of that comes with exercising 2-3 hours per week and no particular goal in mind.  All said, I don’t look much different.

And to that point, I’m rephrasing common parlance to “no goal, no gain.”  I have a friend who has been participating in the USMC Mud Run the past two years.  It combines things I liked when I was a kid, or things I would have liked had there been the opportunity and a permissive parent.  Now, hey?  Why not? 

Having reviewed various footage on You-Tube, I’m motivated to get stronger and to work on what I really dislike… endurance, because I want to succeed at it.  4.3 miles, 32 or so obstacles, 4 person team, timed event…  Yeah.  October 15th, here I come.

And, just like that, the routine of what I’ve been doing at the gym suddenly has context.  More reps, more weight, farther distances…  I have a place to go, and I’m not there yet.

And there better be one fine (and clean) T-shirt waiting at the end.

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Al Di Meola – Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody

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A friend in High School loaned me Elegant Gypsy, a 1970’s jazz fusion album by a young guitarist named Al Di Meola.  It was different from the music that I listened to at the time (now mostly referred to as “classic rock”), but it was adventurous in its tones and shied away from the standard pop formulas that it appealed to the part of me that liked progressive rock music (Pink Floyd, Genesis, Renaissance).  A couple years later, two live discs made me a fan – Tour de Force – Live, which was an electric guitar jazz fusion showcase and Friday Night in San Francisco, an acoustic tour de force with two other fleet-fingered guitarists, John McLaughlin and Paco DeLucia.

Di Meola soon ventured into other guitars and sounds, and I lost interest, until I finally had an opportunity to hear him in concert a year or so ago.  The music that he played then, and during his follow up tour this year with the same band, is largely what is recorded on this CD.

I don’t listen to enough jazz or “world music” to be able to dissect this CD as much as I might prefer.  I do know that I don’t need a lot of this type music in my collection – in fact, this one should suffice nicely.

Di Meola plays an acoustic/electric guitar, and literally with the flip of a switch, the sound moves from acoustic to an effects-laden electric lead.  He doesn’t use both modes in every song, and it’s possible that holding with one or the other might be better suited for a particular song.  But when he goes electric, those who favor a rock edge to the music will be pleased, even if immersed in songs that share nothing in common with popular music, and, perhaps, little with what most would refer to as jazz.  His fret work, as always, is blazingly fast, even if occasionally distracting from the tone.  In concert, that’s awesome.  On disc, maybe.  Maybe not.

Otherwise, the guitar maestro works within varied styles (salsa, flamenco… I don’t know what else) that help the CD avoid a static lulling to sleep that comes to mind with mid-tempo jazz.  While my preference for supplementing the core rhythm section would be piano or keyboards, the accordion is used heavily both in carrying melodies or alternating leads with Di Meola’s guitar.  This might be off-putting to some, but the playing here will not bring to mind any vaudevillian connotations.

All said, this isn’t elevator music, by far, though to some instrumental music may wear thin by the 70th minute.  Likewise, it’s not so lost in music theory that it fails to connect.  The instrumentation is mixed, melodies are beautiful at times, and both the playing and recording are superb. Radical Rhapsody is not demanding of one’s attention in the background, yet still appreciated.  But more importantly, if one cares to listen, there’s plenty of richness in the details to enjoy.

Recommended Songs: “Gumbiero” and “Destination Gonzalo” (There are no songs suitable for a general purpose iPod playlists; it’s best taken as a whole).

3 of 5 STARS

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The Manatee That Wasn’t

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