Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning

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Fun. As an adult, I can “do” that. Mario Karts on Nintendo, that’s fun. Mario Karts against family and friends is even more fun. Whirlyball? Oh yeah! Halo on X-box live… well, it would be fun if I could find someone to shoot before I’m scored on someone else’s kill count.

But there’s also an exuberant type of fun that I haven’t really had since maybe college, the type where it’s just pure play for the enjoyment of the moment. Looking at the cover of Liam Finn’s first solo CD, "I'll Be Lightning," there’s a hint of that type of fun...leaping through the air in winged flight… Or maybe he’s just being goofy, but at his age, I suppose that’s fun too.

Liam is the son of Neil Finn, of some celebrity by way of the group Crowded House. Today, Neil Finn writes very intelligent lyrics and marries them to superbly crafted music, usually anyway. The son? He learned a lot on his father’s knee. Or guitar. Or drums. Unlike dad, he’s not so methodical about getting it perfect, but takes in the moment for what it is.

Liam plays almost every instrument on the CD, and throughout there is a playful enthusiasm. Whereas his father stops with what sounds “just right,” Liam often reaches beyond the boundaries of expected norms, taking different instruments to different places, and reeling them back in again to serve the piece. He has enough pop sensibility that in most cases, the melodies are memorable, and you find yourself tapping your feet as you listen along. He uses Abbey Road-era Beatles’ vocal harmonies to perfect several of his songs, while using it to keep others accessible when instrumentally they wander off the beaten path.

Lyrically, he usually speaks to uncertain relationships, with an honest approach and candid observations. “Remember when you made another friend and I knew what he was up to, but I know that I can trust you; Eventually I ached with jealousy and I don't know what came over me.”

His lyrics can become obtuse at times, but there’s enough verses to pull a theme together, and there are poetic moments as well, such as “Night is just the day giving in.” Throughout, there’s something optimistic, and if he occasionally throws in something that detracts, he gets high marks for trying. And besides, there’s too many artists who play it safe. Overall, this is a musician at play, with the best of instincts.

Recommended tracks: “Better to Be,” “Fire in Your Belly,” “Energy Spent,” “Remember When.”

4 Stars.

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Virtual Nothings

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There was a time when finding new music and living on a budget meant visiting some out-of-the-way "used record store." In high school, this meant traveling with a friend from Lynchburg, VA to Roanoke, VA, about an hours drive. Yep, you had to go to the big city for such worthy intentions. Even in college, it meant a trip out-of-town for the "really good stuff." But you never knew where you might find something good - even a tobacco shop might include a stack of used gems, or, more typically, a gem buried amongst the Pablo Cruise and Leif Garrett rejects.

At these stores, other musicologists could quickly be distinguished from their Top 40 counterparts by both the sleight of hand flipping through troughs of albums and the familiarity with album covers which allowed such quick dismissal of the vast majority.

Those opportunities are becoming a distant memory. "Change" is a constant. I accept that. Most "change" occurs for good reasons. In the marketplace, it happens because something is improved, more cost effective, or more desirable for untold reasons. Admittedly, albums had ample flaws. They were bulky to collect. The covers faded over time with friction. Vinyl warped in heat or by storing horizontally for too long. With repeated plays and in the absence of cleaning, they began to lose a portion of the sonic spectrum and, if particularly mistreated, would hiss at their owners. Accidental impact to the record player, the furniture on which it rested, or even a heavy thump on the floor, caused the record player needle to scratch the vinyl, making a permanent reminder for a moment of carelessness. "Pops" were bad. "Skips" were the worst. The LP, (long playing record), allowed a maximum of about 50 minutes of music, 25 minutes per side. For all its faults, records in their various speeds and sizes served us capably for about 80 years.

So, when compact discs were released, the upgrade made sense. As CDs took a quarter of the physical space, improved audio significantly, doubled the possible music content, and were less sensitive to mishandling, the marketplace spoke. This was definitely for the better good, even at the loss of a poster in George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass," faux concert materials in The Who's "Live at Leeds," a working zipper on the Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers," or changing pictures in windows as a sleeve was removed from Led Zep's "Physical Graffiti." The album art that was the packaging took a hit, certainly. But we paid for the music, not the cover. With change, "that was then, this is now" holds. I certainly didn't see albums being recycled as clocks and women's purses, but here we are.

Enter .mp3s. Virtual nothings. There are no insert booklets to dissect, so no lyrics, recording information, artist information, or included photos or artwork. Musically, digital is digital, so no improvement there, but then, it didn't need to improve. The packaging? Bowing to the demands of a green world, nonegoodbyeadios to art and presentation.

I have an i-Pod. It's slick. Small, portable, easy to use, ergonomic, simple to operate. Who can find fault with that? For 99% of its musical content, it's okay if my computer crashes. I have the songs "backed up" - not on another hard drive or memory stick, but on CD...yes, the CD, the latest soon-to-be anachronism. I can enjoy the best of both worlds, convenience on the go and the pleasure of analyzing the physical when desired.

I'm not so old that I can't see the future. New CD's at music stores? No need, forget about it! Just go worship at the altar of I-tunes or one of the lesser gods, and your needs will be met. Used-CD stores... Sorry kids. It's a waste of gas to get there, and you can hack what you want from the Net. Musicians don't mind; they want you to steal their work because its best that they get no proceeds rather than to let the evil corporations get most of it. [Returning to subject...] eBay will be the last commercial repository for the archaic spinning platters of music.

Ah, but for now! Each Tuesday, I can go to Best Buy and look for new releases, typically at a discount price. If the release doesn't fit the "average sale window" criteria of the big box store, the flotsam and jetsam can always be found at the big river, Amazon, whose current sweeps by my house.

But the times they are a-changin'. Peaceful coexistence, it seems, is passé. CD racks are becoming an island of misfit toys, and some holes are sprouting in the dikes. What's causing this? A cursed, "we will assimilate you" form of the digital download. This nefarious rascal has enough corporate swagger to actually insert itself into a CD bin - Hello? That's made for CDs, not something...else. It's called "The Platinum Music Pass." It's basically a credit card to download the .mp3 files for what would otherwise be known as an album or a CD, but with additional (bloody daggers in the backs of CD collectors) bonus content in both audio and video. Sadly, the Army Corp of Engineers is... immersed, we'll say, in other matters.

So please, don't taunt us dinosaurs. We know we're doomed; we just want to forage for a little bit longer in our native habitat. We suffer enough with pimple faced teens offering help finding something sorted alphabetically. Allow us our space in our remaining days, and let us leave with dignity when the last bin is emptied.

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Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs


"Digging in the dirt, to find the places we got hurt.” – Peter Gabriel

We’re complicated. A toy may bring about pleasure for a time. A solved puzzle may bring satisfaction. A completed project may bring fulfillment. But, more or less, these have little to do with the higher amplitudes of human emotion: love, sadness, joy, anger, etc. These are not derived from things or activities, but relationships. This isn’t to say that, oh, watching the nightly news or reading a work of fiction cannot cause an emotional response, but the peaks and valleys of our experience come from relationships with others.

This, of course, is fertile ground for art in all of its various forms. In music, whether it’s “Muskrat Love” or “Silly Love Songs,” (or zillions of others), we tap our toes, sing along, and have “life is good” thoughts. At times, however, sounds and lyrics can mislead. The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is an observation of a command and control relationship, yet when asked, most would probably remark that it is a wonderful love song about caring. Similarly, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” lost every bit of its anti-war sentiment in the big beat and radio-ready tune. Most would remember only its chorus and think it a patriotic song. We prefer happy things, and we sometimes color things in improperly to make it so.

So what happens when a band releases a collection of music with rather dark observations about mature relationships which are unfulfilled or failing, where it isn’t possible to color between the lines? I’m guessing they make fans of critics, and fans become critical. Death Cab for Cutie’s “Narrow Stairs” is such a CD.

In this outing, Ben Gibbard explores the valleys of relational experience. The listener is not asked to remain sympathetic, yet each narrative is clever enough to invite consideration of both the situation and the honesty of the moment. And the moments are carefully chosen, avoiding more typical targets (divorce, hate, revenge) in pursuit of the insightful (defeated acceptance, unnerving possession, self-imposed isolation).

What the Police failed, “I Will Possess Your Heart” realizes. The song has a fairly muscular instrumental introduction that lasts several minutes. While good marketing sense would suggest something tuneful or bright, the music here is not engaging. The repetition of the bass line and tone of the additional layers provides a dark, controlling mood that ultimately becomes perfectly suited to the menacing determination of a relationship within the lyric. As art, it succeeds, but it’s a curious choice for a single. Perhaps the Police compromised their ambition for cash.

“Long Division” is an unusual but suitable metaphor for relationship differences that will never work out evenly. “Talking Bird” speaks to a relationship that should fly the coop but remains in a state of discontent because the known is safer than the unknown. “Your New Twin Sized Bed” describes the security and potential loss found in an unwillingness to risk a new relationship following the demise of the previous.

Each song has its own lyrical interest, and the overall set is a remarkable creative achievement. The problem, as with most Death Cab songs, is that though the music is well paired with the themes, there’s little that makes one want to listen frequently. Having reached to a higher level here, the challenge remains to provide an abundant tunefulness to their ambitions. If they can, they may yet turn out a masterpiece.

3 Stars.


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Paradise and Entropy

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It has not gone without observation that the 2nd law of Thermodynamics (Entropy, things tend towards disorder) can typically be observed in all areas of life. I know some would argue a narrower application by the definition, and that to some, such things really matter.

Entropy predicts that all energy available to do work will ultimately be spent, at which point the universe becomes one even temperature ("heat death"), and no one will particularly care as we will have left the scene long before. Nevertheless, it's a sticky point as many find or reject the theological implications as it brings about questions of destiny as well as origin. If all the usable energy is being depleted, then there must have been a point when the gas tank was full. Nevertheless, I'm quite comfortable with taking everyday observations and saying, "yep, entropy!"

Examples? Light-bulbs fail (which, by the way, I could swear never happened when I was a kid), lawnmower blades become dull, death as a process ultimately begins at conception, socks become worn through, book pages become yellow, model Republics become victims of enabled greed, etc. Each requires additional energy into the system for them to be maintained or returned to proper working order, else... disorder remains.

Yardwork fits neatly into this observation. I mean, aside from peer pressure and neighborhood association covenants, what's the point of mowing the yard? You're just going to have to do it again. Exaggeration, yes, but it's an expense of heat energy for no ultimate gain.

My father-in-law crafted our back yard. I didn't appreciate how much work he put into it until after we bought his house and lived in it for over a year. The "clean" deck as he maintained it requires considerable expense of heat energy, thanks to numerous trees which share not only their shade but their droppings. The back yard, a sloping 30' drop to a river, requires constant attention to prevent weeds, new trees, vines, falling debris, etc. from taking over what was handed to us as... a very beautiful backyard.

Arriving home yesterday from work, I heard a storm was coming and looked at the radar map. There was a big dark red splotch (hello, storm cell!) just north of where we lived. Whew, just missed us!

Then I clicked the motion button. The red spot wasn't skirting us; it was about to find its home on top of us. Within a minute, it was raining. In two, 1/4" hail. In three, we're gathered in our basement watching through a sliding glass door as the trees criss-cross the sky in the high winds, hail is pinging off the metal side door, and various objects (limbs, leaves, cows and other livestock) fly by. Enter the fresh scent of pine, resulting from mass breakage of limbs typically due to, depending on the season, ice or wind. Imagine a bulk container of PineSol being dumped in your yard.

And leaves too: The leaves and small limbs in our front yard actually began their journey from our backyard, and came over the house.

We got leafed!:

Our lower deck, aka the leaf basket:

The day after. Keep in mind that the day before, there was a little undergrowth, but the ground was still predominantly brown from pine needles and leaves from last fall.

We were fortunate not to take damage to the house. Our yard is truly wrecked, and I do not even want to think about the hours and expense that awaits in returning to Paradise. I'd rather puzzle over entropy and use the required energy instead on, oh, air-conditioning will be just fine.

Three quick observations:
1) There's nothing like a storm and a loss of power to meet your neighbors. The streets were alive within minutes of the storm's passing.
2) No power, no readily available food. Out we go, over branches, under trees resting on power lines, dodging fallen debris in the roads... for what? Well, a good meal, but one accompanied by TVs at each table (where, as it happens, our neighborhood would be featured later). But what evil lurks in the heart of a suburban restaurant? The finals for American Idol. Heat death, where are you?
3) Upon our return, it's amazing how tired everyone can become when there is no electrically generated entertainment available. Off to bed goes the family. I did enjoy some time in the dark, stretched out on the leather recliner, with my i-Pod. The highlight of the shuffle play, before interest faded to yawns, was "A Song for All Seasons," by a 70's progrock band called Renaissance. Recommended for the adventurous with an ear to listen.

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Iron Man

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I grew up on comic books, both Marvel and DC. I also suffered mightily with every attempt to convert colored panels of action to various TV series. "Wonder Woman," "Incredible Hulk," "Spiderman" (with an awful pasty-white web)... even the old George Reeve's "Superman." Well-intentioned all, but they didn't compare with the imagination.

Then came special effects (thank you, Star Wars). Not that it helped the Christopher Reeves version of Superman. Ugh.

Skipping forward 25 plus years, computer generated graphics now rule both theaters and television. When casting and plot work out, you get triumphs like the Spiderman and X-Men series. When they do not, you get Hulk, Daredevil, and most of the Batmans. But the special effects can more than capably fill in the gaps between panels showing a fist connecting to a villain's face ("POW!") and the same villain crashing through a wall due to the force ("ARGH").

Which brings us to the first entry
of this year's Summer movie fest, "Iron Man." This was a second tier comic book series, which is obvious as the favorites have all had their turns.

Marvel comic-book series were set apart from their DC counterparts in two ways - a darker and more dramatic graphical look, both in characters and backgrounds, due to artists such as Jack Kirby, and soap opera lives interwoven with the heroics in each issue. Basically, DC was clean; Marvel was dirty. There was room for both.

Iron Man is a different type of super-hero for Marvel. He does the usual things we've come to expect... He has an "origin," his powers (or smarts, in this case) are framed by some event that casts a moral accountability, and, of course, good triumphs over evil.

The difference is that, in this case, he (Tony Starke, a gifted inventor of military weaponry) is unapologetically selfish, and rather than facing personal demons that might threaten the remaining cast of Marvel heroes, he flaunts them. It also makes for great entertainment when the lead is perfectly suited for the task (Robert Downey, who is probably thanking his lucky stars for this role) and when amongst all the possible angst that could be portrayed, someone finally remembered the comedy potential in a comic.

In a comparative sense, Superman is boring. We love "good" in real life. But, when it comes to our fiction, the imagination isn't fulfilled by good, it's stirred by evil. Follow the thread through current art, movies, television, books. It takes increasingly deeper shades of "evil" to shock us as we pass each benchmark of the previously forbidden or taboo. From "Equus" to "Silence of the Lambs," the crimes become more heinous, and the only challenge is to imagine how such things can be psychologically explained. And it's true in movies, where there are no longer technical boundaries to visually present the worst things imaginable.

This movie doesn't seek to blend the lines between good and evil, thankfully. Both are painted clearly in their respective corners. But even following an implausible crucible of morality change, Iron Man is a flawed hero, and in most things, unrepentant. Do we settle now for heroes that revel in their imperfections? If "too err is human," must we accept the same in our fictional heroes? Conversely, as artistic boundaries expand further into immorality, do we settle for lesser degrees of "good" in real life? Do we excuse more?

Well, we find heroes as we're able. In "Iron Man," we can relate to wanting to do better today than we did yesterday, and that's a good thing.

My final thoughts on the movie were further influenced a week after I watched it, when my daughter returned from her (dreaded, by me) first date. Despite the imagined horrors that could be revealed, it would be improper not to ask, "So, how was your date?"

Her eyes opened wide with excitement... (uh oh, she really likes the snot-nosed brat teenager)... smiled wide (dagger in my side!)... "Dad, Iron Man was amazing!" Good answer, kiddo. A heroic performance, indeed, Tony Starke. Thank you.

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Sun Kil Moon - April

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The first 4-5 months of each year, I can't help but notice that new releases of music (of interest) are few and far between. By April, a quiet desperation for something new has triumphed over budget considerations.

Over the years, there have been occasional rewards for buying a CD based on cover art or a vague recollection of a favorable review. Peter Gabriel's third self-titled release or Mike Scott's Still Burning are two that come to mind. This does, however, involve an element of risk, as there have surely been more duds than finds.

So we come to Sun Kil Moon. There's not anything in the name or cover art that would suggest "buy me! I'm good!" But, there's that vague recollection of something I read somewhere, it's another slow year for quality music, and the plastic wrapped sucker is just sitting right there on the new release cart before being placed in the bins.

SKM is a critic's darling, which is often a buzz term for "don't waste your money." Guilty. At the first hearing, I can imagine the Fivebucks Coffee crowd entering a hip basement arts lounge... poetry on Thursdays, music on Fridays and performance art on Saturdays (also wine and cheese night)... and finding a deeper "meaning," bowled away by something in the performance that speaks to the standard artistic byline of purpose and merit... "it represents a period of change in my life."

An observation can be true and cynical at the same time, no? Aside from academic pursuits, art in all its forms is not about pointing fingers at the artist. Appreciation is truly in the eyes (or ears) of the beholder.

Music, like other artistic expressions, should have some effect that moves one into... a memory? comfort? aspiration? joy? Though I'm certain it's insufficient, I'll condense the possibilities into a deeper understanding of "something." In some fashion great or small, it should cause or reflect change in one's own life as well.

My wife, herself an artist, hears music, as opposed to listens to it. She has never been able to fathom how I can sit and "listen" to something, which in her world, should be playing in the background while involved in another task.

It's hard to explain for those that don't also listen... dissecting a song by instrument, delivery, structure, production mix, tone, mood, word, ambition, emotion, message, triumph... failure. This is not a knock against her. Observing a large, highly priced, paint-splashed canvas, I can only marvel how "it represents a period of change in my life" resonates with so many. Each to his own.

Music can succeed at a number of levels - lyrics can be any number of things... insightful, funny, amusing, poignant, narrative, personal... these are some that I appreciate. And the music? dramatic, emotional, enlivening, appropriate for the lyric, artistically compelling, every instrument or note in the right place... Perhaps. I tend to value a CD where the artist is true to their own conceptual ideas, not bowing to corporate expectations or controlling producers.

Fair enough then. What have we here? Musically: minimalist, sparse, focused, repetitive. For those that enjoy songs with a big beat or an exploding guitar riff, this isn't it. For those that enjoy vocal deliveries that stretch beyond one octave, look elsewhere. Finger-picked acoustic guitar dominates, with accents from cymbals, drums, and a dark repetitive electric guitar lines. None of this is bad, but it sets a very low-key tone.

... which then must be appropriate for the lyrics. The vocal styling is the same from song to song... starts a little low, goes slightly higher, and fades out in the musical mix. A lyric sheet would likely help, because at times I can tell there is something good hidden here. I just can't decipher it. The delivery is so depressingly offered that it is often unintelligble. If I paid for the artist's freaking book that includes the lyrics to all his songs, then maybe I would get somewhere. I assume a complimentary copy was sent to the published music critics to warrant the value they noted here. Learn from another of my mistakes. Don't bother.

Suggested track: "Moorestown"
2 stars.

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"all that mother jazz"

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May 13th marked the release of the Frank Sinatra postage stamp, a day shy of the 10th anniversary of his death. I've paid scant attention to Sinatra over the years, other than whatever Christmas jingles are seasonally thrust upon me. That said, the commute home from work in the afternoons is a trying experience as red traffic lights only provide exclamations to the brake lights in front of me. Rock & Roll and... road rage?

About a year ago, I decided to try something more relaxing, and first set upon Sinatra at the Sands. And after a couple decades of exploring about every musical genre (except rap and country), I was hooked. "I've Got You Under My Skin" has to be one of the silkiest love songs ever, and "Luck Be a Lady" exemplifies "Vegas Cool." A dozen or so Sinatra/Rat Pack Cd's and two biographies later, I'm still hooked.

All in all, his five decades as a celebrity offer a murky reflection of what matters and what does not. He was often brutish and vindictive, or worse, yet sang songs
 that belied his personality. Even in an era where the media were accomplices as often as not, his public demons were just that... public. Some year soon, they will be forgotten except by those who choose to go look for them, but the celebrity will remain.

This speaks of an irony. Many people find satisfaction or fulfillment in helping their fellow man, and, no doubt, more should. There's an assumed eulogy for "he who helped others, always to be remembered as a good man." Yet, it seems, for the superstars amongst us, we can look past that. I don't think this speaks to cultural morals devolving; it's just the way we are. A blemished Hero is better than none at all, and we all need our heroes.
I've been to Las Vegas three times in recent years. Frank Sinatra Boulevard is a surprisingly inconspicuous road, running parallel to the Strip. The Sands was imploded to make way for "bigger and better," the Venetian. Big bands have largely left the fabric of entertainment considerations.

Yet one wonders with all that is Vegas, how many people are searching at some level to experience Vegas as Sinatra did?

If they are, my observation is that Vegas cool is now much harder to find.

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Words to Live By

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As a music enthusiast, I have enjoyed the Decatur, GA published Paste Magazine which in finding their niche, has expanded to film and culture (filler) as well. But it's primarily about tunes, and it includes a (awesome, interesting, ho-hum, etc. depending on the month) sampler CD of music I probably wouldn't hear otherwise.

My formative years were based on the Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1979 edition. This well-worn nugget was written by a variety of reviewers, and it had a sensible rating system of virtually all rock/pop albums to date, which at the time might be measured from Elvis to Talking Heads or so. As a mental help, these definitions have carried with me through the years, though quoted from the source text below.

5 Stars meant "Indespensable: a record that must be included in any comprehensive collection."
4 Stars: "Excellent: a record of substantial merit, though flawed in some essential way."
3 Stars: "Good: a record of average worth, but one that might possess considerable appeal for fans of a particular style."
2 Stars: "Mediocre: records that are artistically insubstantial, though not truly wretched."
1 Star: "Poor: records in which even technical competence is at question, or which are remarkably ill-conceived."
And lastly, the dreaded square block (think Osmonds...): "Worthless: records that need never (or should never) have been created. Reserved for the most bathetic [sic] bathwater."

(See title above!) With book in hand and used record stores galore, I got eddukatd. Sadly, Rolling Stone is now no more vital than the latest in celebrity perfumes, so there is a place for Paste.

Paste has demonstrated a changing vision that earnestly seeks to arrive at a destination the editors believe is out there, but haven't been able to find. In the course of this development, they recently retreated from assigning ratings to their CD reviews. Hogwash! My first reaction was what kind of reviewer is afraid to assign a rating? A bad review may literally mean a change of career to the musician. Are they wimping out?

On the other hand, it might seem that the reviewers were getting too close to the artists, as they focus on independent label music, primarily. They gave 4 stars (with unknown definitions) to many artists who were definitely in the 2-3 star category.

What does this mean? Must I now actually read a full review to see if it might be of interest? Nope. I just skip to the last paragraph, where even if they were afraid of assigning a rating, they're still forced to offer an opinion.

Oh, and Steve Winwood (review below) is 3 stars, at best.

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I can go to Las Vegas, and eat at the Atlanta Bread Company. I can return to Atlanta and enjoy Seattle's Best Coffee. I don't blame corporate greed. People come up with an idea, and if it's a good one and properly executed, it multiplies on its own or by imitation.

Last week, I thought I was introducing my son to Five Guys (burgers and fries), a chain exploding in the Atlanta area that was founded in Washington D.C...except my son ate there on his one visit to D.C. a year ago with my dad. And so it goes... As each chain opens a location ever closer to my house, I suppose I'll have the world at my fingertips.

When I was young, one of those favored spots to stop when otherwise being forced to ride along on parental errands, was Wingard's Rexall Drugs. It had a fine comic book selection, but it was somewhat out of the way, and we didn't go often. Drinkard's Drugs usually won out, which was okay as it had the superior Matchbox car selection, in a fine carousel display, back when they were sold in boxes.

Anyway, in our search for non-homogenous lunch retreats at work, we came upon the Rexall Grill in Duluth, Ga. It's a meat and potatoes kind of place and popular among locals, with a nostaligic glimpse of the past, which, of course, are possibly traits which will lead to a franchise. (Sorry, Cracker Barrel, you're too corporate).

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My second Radiohead concert was my son's first concert experience. I'm not sure how he'll remember it, but probably awkwardly in that he didn't share in the brews, cigarettes, and profanity-laden admirations that surrounded us.

When I began going to concerts (Doobie Brothers, 1979), I recall the age group being no more than 10 years older than me. Radiohead, it can be said, is also enjoyed by those soon to be "elderly." For some, I can't imagine what enjoyment was to be had, as it was a standing affair throughout for all there.

Radiohead is a band built to rock, and completely firm its desire to separate from traditional rock forms and experiment. Some may view it as avant-garde or perhaps pretentious. I view it as enjoyable, but it's a type of music that doesn't lend itself to a jam, singing along, or dancing. So the judgmental factors come into how tight the band is, and how the songs are presented. The stage had a dazzling movement of lighting, with dangling strips upon which lights shown in all sorts of colors and patters, backed by a widescreen panel of five cameras showing what each band member was doing. Visually, it was very enjoyable and orchestrated to match the mood and tempo of the music.

What did I learn about Radiohead? Nothing I didn't learn the last time. Yorke has a sense of humor, but comments to the audience were disappointingly few. The band was on its mark, however, when it came to playing the music.

My son enjoyed the show, and hopefully he'll be a concert buddy for a long time to come.

Set-list: all i need, there there, lucky, 15 steps, where i end & u begin, nude, pyramid song, optimistic, arpeggi, national anthem, idioteque, you and whose army?, reckoner, everything in its right place, bangers 'n' mash, bodysnatchers, videotape.

Encores: the gloaming, talk show host, just, faust arp, how to disappear, paranoid android, house of cards.

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Life Marches On

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...and so it happens that I pick up my daughter at her high school following the Symphonic Band spring concert. Typical pleasantries from a dad seeking to stir trouble:

"good concert?"
"miss any notes?"
"anyone screw up?"

But now, following an unwelcome announcement upon the return of the band from a trip to Chicago a couple weeks ago (long bus trips and teenagers...bad!), I'm forced to politely ask, "and how was Dennis?"

Dennis is her first boyfriend, which in my vocabulary, is translated "snot-nosed brat teenager." Her reply was a wide smile that up until then had surely been reserved throughout her entire life only for Dad.


That same Chicago bus trip was to have arrived back at midnight. My wife and I were in Las Vegas for a wholesale craft show, so the in-laws were picking her up. They had a phone call saying that the buses were running late and would return around 1:00 a.m. My father-in-law, bless him, went to pick her up. And waited. And waited. Until 2:30 a.m. when they finally rolled in.

The reason? The seniors (just the guys, of course) in the drum line decided to have a contest! (Seniors =mature, right?). They all took ex-lax, with the contest of wills being who could hold it the longest. Did I mention they arrived 2.5 hours late?

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Steve Winwood - Nine Lives

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My kids will never know the satisfaction of
sliding a fingernail along the edge of an album cover, slitting the plastic, and soaking in the "new album" smell. For quite a while, I thought that as went the vinyl, so went that particular enjoyment.

Not so. The "aroma" is from the paperboard used in the album cover, and some artists use it today in their CD cases. Steve Winwood's latest, refreshingly, brings back that pleasant memory.

The first track has a repetitive acoustic blues guitar line, but it sounds...good. Good vocals, crystal clear audio. The second track, "Fly" does much better, with a good tune, strong voice, and music reminiscent of his days at Traffic, including organ and flute. We move quickly to the focal track, "Dirty City," which features Eric Clapton, who appears to do his best work (of late) on other people's songs. It's a mean guitar sound, and perfect for the song.

Eric and Steve played at last year's Crossroads Guitar Festival, covering some Blind Faith songs, and sounded really, really good. I hoped that, in some way, this release would be inspired by that. However, after "Dirty City," the tracks basically groove on a latin percussion section, which is well enough, but each song plays out without a memorable lyric or a hook... and possibly for too long.

It's a shame, really. I saw Winwood in concert in 1992(ish) - possibly the worst concert I've ever attended. The songs were played by the note to their recorded versions, and if you wanted him to say more than "Thank you," you were occasionally rewarded with "very much." Nine Lives does have some life to it, but I'm left feeling he still owes me one.

Rating: 3 Stars

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What's in a name?

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Roger Waters (from Pink Floyd) released a song called "Amused to Death" some years ago. It can be seen as an observation that we tend to amuse ourselves to our untimely end, not merely as a diversion, but, possibly, as the ultimate priority that travels with us. Consider all the obligations, chores, confrontations, and commitments avoided in order to pursue our own pleasures.

When, societally, our needs (food, shelter, clothing) become taken for granted, and we have the capacity for getting many of our "wants," there lies the risk of becoming consumed by our desires. There are justifications - "while I have my health," "we only live once," "because I can afford it," "because I like to," but at what point do we become completely selfish?

Is it: at birth if one takes to Original Sin? An observed or inherited behavior from our parents or peers? The logical outworking of Western media and worldview?

This blog will be one of my amusements, I hope. But rather than marking time to my passing, I hope it points to living meaningfully, in the moment. Time will tell.

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