A Vaguely Remembered Dream

I was some kind of ambulance driver or medic. At any rate I was inside an ambulance although it was a kind of stage ambulance because the way the visuals were set up it was as one side of the ambulance was missing, thus allowing me to see inside from afar.

A dead Jennifer Anniston was inside.

Somewhere, somehow she got decapitated. I’m a little vague here, but it might have been me who cut it off.

Anyways there was this discussion between me and my nurse about whether or not you could sew a head back on and keep the patient alive. I said yes, but it had to be done quickly.

I got distracted by something and did not return to dead Jennifer Anniston for a few hours.

When I did return she was covered in some kind of sticky goo, like the gunk that covers sliced ham when it has run past its expiration date. A thin sheet covered her body and I removed it to reveal her chest. Because….well because she’s Jennifer Anniston and I wanted to see her boobies.

The eyes were open on the decapitated head and they kept staring at me. In a panic I closed the eyelids and began to realize that I just couldn’t save a dead Jennifer Anniston whose head had been cut off for the last several hours.

I awoke wondering if they’d still make a Friends reunion special.

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DVD Review: The Long Goodbye

Rating: ****

During a documentary extra on the DVD version of The Long Goodbye, director Robert Altman says they called Elliott Gould’s version of Phillip Marlowe “Rip Van Marlowe” because it’s like the iconic 1940’s detective character fell asleep for 30 years and awoke in the 1970s.

True to form, the opening scene shows Marlowe being jolted out of a deep sleep. Gould plays Marlowe like he has stumbled out of hibernation and is completely baffled by everything going on around him. He does, however, take it with a 70’s stoned indifference.

The film opens with interconnecting scenes between Phillip Marlowe and Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton). The soundtrack plays the same song through both scenes, but in completely different styles. Over Marlowe’s scenes the music is soft and jazz like, while when Lennox is on screen it becomes more edgy, more rock influenced. It is a brilliant way to introduce characters and give us a sense of who they are.

This is not Howard Hawk’s Raymond Chandler. Gone are the dark shadows, and production code of film noir. The sex and violence is no longer hidden under innuendo and suggestion. Here Marlowe’s neighbors are drug ingesting nudists. This is Altman’s subversion of a genre.

This is definitely a Robert Altman picture. There are plenty of trademark long shots, and overlapping dialogue. He is less interested in the Chandler story, than in a sense of style and the juxtaposition of classically moral 1930’s detective in the amoral times of the swinging 1970s.

The story loosely follows Raymond Chandler’s novel. Marlowe drives his friend, Lennox, to the Tijuana border only to return home to an apartment full of cops ready to arrest him for aiding and abetting Lennox, who is suspected of murdering his wife. Meanwhile Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt) hires Marlowe to find her alcoholic husband who has disappeared. Between the cops and the missing husband Marlowe is accosted by local gangsters who want the money Lennox owes them. The three stories meet and interconnect in an ending that is vastly different from the novel.

There is a wonderful scene after the cops arrest Marlowe and are interrogating him. It begins as the standard interrogation scene with Marlowe in a small room being slapped around by tough cops, while others watch through a two way mirror. Altman invigorates the scene by inter-cutting the two rooms together. While the camera is in the interrogation room, the two way mirror is always in sight. When the scene moves into the outer room, we see through the mirror and can hear the Marlowe conversation as it overlaps with what the watching cops are saying.

Elliott Gould is brilliant as Phillip Marlowe. He seems completely amiss from his surroundings, oblivious to all the things going on all around him. He keeps the Chandler wisecracks going, but sends the tough guy gumshoe routine packing.

Though not a film for noir or even Chandler purists, it is a brilliant piece of cinema. In subverting a genre Altman has created a new kind of detective drama. One that is humorous, thrilling and cinematic.

CD Review: Railroad Earth – Elko


To make a great live album takes several things. First, you’ve got to have pristine sound. I need to hear all the instruments playing clearly, and the vocals need to be right up front. I wanna hear the crowd cheering, but only sometimes. Give me audience noise between songs and if there is a particularly brilliant bit of playing, otherwise keep the crowd in the far, far background. I really have no need to hear that guy screaming his request for “Free Bird”.

Next I want a great set list. Nothing sucks the life out of a concert like bad song choices. For me, this means not playing every song from the newly released studio album. If I haven’t had time to absorb the new songs, what can I sing along to? Man, I dig that you’ve gotta promote the new stuff, just mix it in with the old. A perfect set list includes some new songs, the greatest hits, some obscure b-sides and a few choice covers.

Yeah, I dig covers. Nothing perks up a concert like hearing a cool cover of something you just weren’t expecting to hear. You get bonus points if the cover song is something totally off the wall or from a different genre even. Like Sam Bush covering Bob Marley, or bluegrass band Hayseed Dixie doing “Hell’s Bells”.

Bonus points go to reworking the melody of one of your old songs. Who can forget the laid back version of “Layla” on Eric Clapton’s Unplugged?

Of course all of these things mean bupkis if the music sucks. An absolute must for any live album is that the musicians have to be playing at the top of their game. I’m an old school lover of improvisation. I dig the crap out of long, interesting jams. Nothing is more boring than an uninspired noodle fest, but a good band can turn a song on its head and create something inspiring out of the air. And if you can’t jam, then crank up the energy and give me something raw. If the song sounds exactly like the studio cut, then why am I paying for a concert ticket, when I can just stay home?

To release a live album takes a certain amount of balls. It’s expecting the audience to pay more money for songs they already have based on your ability to play in the moment. On the road there is no studio enhancement, no overdubs or producers tweaking every note, every sound. It’s just the band, and their songs.

To release a live album after only three studio albums and 5 years together as a band takes a lot more than balls. Yet that’s just what Railroad Earth has done with their latest album, the double live disk Elko.

Railroad Earth is something of a cross between the Grateful Dead and Sam Bush. It’s bluegrass through a jam band funnel. They are old school songwriters who think nothing about jamming a song out for 15 minutes.

On Elko they meet all of my criteria for a live album except playing covers. Every song is an original Railroad Earth tune, and it doesn’t hurt the album one bit. Honestly, I’m not overly familiar with any of their studio work, but there is enough improvisation and jamming here to make each song unique and certainly different than anything you’re going to find on a studio album.

Together the sextet plays over twelve instruments including the banjo, dobro, mandolin, pennywhistle and flute (and that’s just Andy Goessling!) which come together to form a whirling, swirling soundscape. It’s music to get lost in, and get up on your feet and boogie to as well.

Out of the twelve songs on this album five of them clock in at over 10 minutes. Improvisation is the name of the game. Mostly the boys carry it off. In songs like “Seven Story Mountain” and “Colorado” the music stays fresh and remarkable throughout its long ride. Occasionally, the jamming gets a little repetitive, yet just as I’m about to get bored they bring it back get my feet a tapping and mouth smiling.

If I have a real complaint here, it’s that some of the songwriting isn’t all that strong. For sure many of the songs evoke a lovely rural image and a real joy for life. Songs like “Railroad Earth” and “The Old Man and the Land” create lovely images and evoke a sense like a warm sunny day. Yet a few of the tunes, like “Like a Buddha” or “Bird in a House” neither catch me in their lyrics or their melody. A song like “Warhead Boogie” is even quite silly with lyrics like:

They’re building lots of warheads/building them all around
They’re loading them up on pads/loading them up on subs
Flying around on airplanes/driving around on trucks
Driving around on trucks

Though, it must be said that the warhead certainly does boogie. With one of the strongest jams on the album, the music there, more than makes up for its flighty lyrics.

And in their defense, even the Beatles wrote a few less-than-stellar tunes. Railroad Earth is proving they can write some strong songs and be able to put on a live show worthy of a two disk album. As a lover of live music, Elko is a welcome addition to my collection.

Hot Topic: FM is Stereo

Due to time limitations and a general lack of anything to say of late, I did not participate in the most recent edition of the Hot Topic. And as is the way with these things, this weeks edition became the Editors Choice for the week.

From the occasionally troubled minds of this disparate flock of bloggers, the question of whether technological advances weaken our senses is tossed about, and I revisit the lost art of installing car stereos.

Plus, The Duke discusses the medical retraction of jewels, Eric admits he knows not what he does, and Mark ponders the value of internet-savvy refrigerators.

From: Bennett Dawson
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: FM Is Stereo

My lovely wife and I were talking about those “Top-Ten Hit CDs” from the sixties and seventies. You know, the ones that get hustled on those 30-minute late-night infomercials. Me saying that they’re really cool because “…those are all the songs that buzzed out of my candle wax-covered AM clock radio when I was a teenybopper…”

Back in 1970, dig?

My wife looked puzzled, trying to absorb a stone-age concept. AM clock radio?

Before I could explain, a sideways brain connection fizzled through my synapses, and I started wondering about “when did FM start broadcasting?” and “Do I actually remember that historic event?”

Yes folks, it’s sad but true. In 1970, FM was just like HDTV – meaning I didn’t have it.

This led to a brief discussion about the difference between AM and FM, and to my surprise, my wife couldn’t tell me the profound difference between the two. Now let me say that my wife is brilliant in her field of expertise, and knows many things that I haven’t a clue about. But she had a slightly different upbringing (she’s a girl), and was eight years further down the timeline than me. That being the case, FM radio was all she ever listened to.

“All the music was on FM, and AM was all talk radio and traffic and weather.”

She knew that FM stations “sounded better” in her car, but that’s about it. The “stereo” in the house sounded good because it had two speakers and besides, we paid more money for it than the clock radio, so it had to sound better.

She never truly realized that with stereo, each speaker has slightly different music coming out of it, two distinct tracks. I have no idea what she thought about the sound system in her relatively new Jetta, with speakers every few inches in the doors and body panels. ‘More speakers = better sound’ is what I’d suppose. Understanding that AM is one track and FM is two tracks was not part of her grip on aural reality.

She protests. “That’s not true!” she says. “My CD Walkman has different sounds for each ear, I just never wondered why or how.”

Lemme tell ya, my generation was intensely aware of “stereo” and knew exactly what it was. Dammit, we wanted stereo! Our first used cars (junker cars from the fifties and sixties) had an AM push button radio with one speaker in the dashboard. NOT cool.

So we installed a new FM radio under the dash (possibly a cassette or eight track tape player… woo hoo!) and two speakers in the rear window deck. We cut holes and ran wires and hooked up fuses, and then we cruised down the road grooving to ‘stereophonic sound’.

Nowadays, everything is pre wired with stereo. Teenagers don’t know how to run speaker wires, what channels are, or how a noise suppresser gets rid of the clicking sound coming from the ignition system. Hell, let’s be real – nowadays, kids don’t even know what an ignition system is. Technology has moved on and the inner workings of a car are as mysterious as the inner workings of a nuclear reactor. If your car breaks down, you use your cell phone to call a tow truck!

What other basic knowledge of ‘how things work’ has dropped from our pop culture? The home fuse box? Batteries? Pilot lights?

Have we morphed into an icon driven world, with no understanding of what lies beneath the shiny plastic logo-embossed surface? Is it really possible to take stereo so much for granted that folks have no understanding of what they’re hearing? Are we being blinded by science?

Or is this just yer standard progression of technology – unfortunately revealing that I’m one old, and somewhat obsolete fella?

By the way, while I was writing this piece, my 21 year-old stepdaughter called, and she has no idea what the word “stereo” means. “A synonym for sound system” was her best guess.

From: Aaron – Duke De Mondo
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: FM Is Stereo

This is all the intriguing in the world. Maybe we ARE those icon-driven hordes ain’t got a clue how the torch works but sod it, it’s sleek an’ white an’ the ladies wanna touch me when i got it in the paw.

I’m a software sort, yes, with nary a clue about hardware. I’m gonna go ahead an’ reveal the age, bein’ 23, an’ i can assure you i ain’t got the faintest a faints regarding how you might wire a plug. They TRIED to teach me, but imma go play a tune or two, if’n it’s all the same. Ain’t got a clue how the amp works, or the guitar, but i don’t especially worry.

Anecdotal aside – way back when, i remember my ex-fiancee tellin’ me that her then-ex-boyfriend used to come ’round to help her dad wire electrical stuff. I think most likely my nuts disappeared somewheres midst the liver (still in there, too, fish the fuckers out wi’ a coat-hanger is all a man can do). Felt like i was no kinda MALE if’n I couldn’t fix the telly.

Maybe it’s cause a buncha youngster-types, far more than used to, are headin’ in the direction a university an’ theoretical based stuff, as opposed to learnin’ trades an so on, which is where this kinda knowledge is handed down, i suppose. Maybe that’s not the case at all, maybe i’m just justifyin’ my bum-fluff an no-nuts.

Regarding stereo, it all made sense to me when i played Sgt. Pepper’s in the car stereo back when i was 13 or so, and realized i was only hearin’ half the record. Until that point i probably assumed somethin’ similar, that stereo just meant Better Sound. I suppose there comes a point when a society can forget about stuff like Mono and Analogue. The differences ‘tween these things probably only have any worth to the folks who live through the change-over.

From: Eric Berlin
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: FM Is Stereo

I think we’ve entered the age of the super-user, where we run every aspect of our lives — from brushing our teeth with an electric tooth brush to laying down with an electric blanket of an evening, and all the server-happy Internet play and work-related electronic tomfoolery in between — via technology of which we haven’t the foggiest notion.

Take the words I’m typing right now that cause letters to magically appear on my computer screen. I have a notion that when I type a “v”, a “v” appears, or that when I want to say “ultra tubular with consecrated cream cheese linings for upshot adornment of life-melted dude-scape” I can get that message across and feel quite certain I’ve made an ass of myself in the process.

However, I have no idea how the inner workings go. I imagine there are ones and zeros and electronic processes involved, but I don’t even have a fundamental understanding of the mechanical function behind an activity I sometimes spend 12-15 hours a day hacking away at.

And don’t even get me started with the mouse!

Sometimes I think about the Roman Empire and the descent into the Dark Ages. About how the art and technology devolved from one generation to another because everyone basically forgot how it was done before. Obviously, we’re not in that phase. We’re in a phase of astounding innovation and bedazzling art and sights to behold that would blow the mind (a la Scanners) of an 8th-century hombre right straight.

But what if we lost those folks who know how stuff works? What if they end up on the island in Lost (pushing that damned button every 108 minutes) or get herded to the Manhattan of Escape From…. fame?

It’s an interdependent world with all the good and bad trimmings of it, I suppose is the upshot.

That, and it’s utter gold to know a good mechanic who won’t rip you off.

From: Mark Saleski
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: FM Is Stereo

Ah yeah, so here we have another discussion where technology is concerned. More specifically the effects of “the march”.

It’s interesting that it’s mostly taken for granted that advances in technology are a “good thing”. For the most part, I suppose that they are. But then I hear about events like the recent Consumer Electronics Show where concepts such as “digital lifestyle” are touted. Sure enough, we get all of these home devices interconnected and talking to each other. But do we really want to?

This reminds me of back when I used to watch The Jetsons, where dinner consisted of a food pill. Gross. Perhaps even sillier than manufactured food is the very real Internet-enabled refrigerator. Oh yes, it’ll keep an inventory for you. It’ll notify you when it’s time to buy more eggs.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Some of this is an extension of what often happens during software development. Engineers, being the tinkering sort, can’t resist adding features and/or extra layers to things. The result? Bloatware. Sometimes useful, sometimes not. Ever notice how things like “digital lifestyle” are almost always promoted by men? I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Don’t take any of this to mean that I have the fear that these new technologies are going to complicate my life. They won’t, mostly because they’re not comin’ in my front door. No, I don’t need a digital book to take on vacation because the books that I do own work just fine. I can figure out when to refill my refrigerator using the analog method: the notepad attached to the freezer door. Music is still played through tubes and wire, because these nice digital files sound like crap.

So what do we lose when nobody knows how any of this newfangled stuff works? I’m not sure. In some cases, particularly when talking about media (books, music, etc.), it puts the consumer at one more remove from the artist. I don’t think that vinyl records are the ‘perfect’ medium, but the expansive liner notes allowed me as a fan to get to know the person at the other end. Sure, this can be done in the digital realm, but is it?

Ah, maybe Bennett’s right. Maybe I’m just old and obsolete.

P.S. In the middle of typing this, the guy in the cube next to me was ‘attacked’ by his Instant Messenger — he floated his mouse over it and it started playing a ringtone-y version of “My Humps”. Now that is an advance.

These bloggers have had their say, now it’s your chance to chip in!

Do you remember an “old way” of getting things done that seemed superior to the “newfangled” way? Do your friends sneer at your approach to fixin’ stuff, amazed that you’ve not a clue? Or are you one of those folks totally comfortable letting “specialists” deal with the inner workings of 90% of your world?

Tell us the truth, are you completely happy being a “user”, with no idea how these damned things actually work?

I Dreamed Last Night…

That I was in high school, but still the same age I am now. The dream started with me leaving my locker and headed to the first class. It was close to starting time and everyone was in a rush because if you weren’t sitting in your seat when the bell rang you were tardy.

The building I was actually in was my old Middle school building. As I’m walking I pass the library and there is a sign in front that reads:

Today’s Musical Country:
Argentina

And I wonder when they are going to pick a country that I like.

I rush to my classroom, grab a seat and just as I sit the bell rings.

There is a teacher’s aide at the front of the class doing roll call. The class is filled with students, some are people I went to high school with and they have aged appropriately. Some look like they should be in high school now and are strangers.

The roll call is odd because several students are missing and they come with explanations. Like I remember specifically one male was gone because he finished up last semester and quit to go elsewhere. This “student” was actually a guy who used to work for me but recently quit to go back to school full time.

During class I take off my shirt so that I am bare backed. This isn’t abnormal to the class but I start to feel awkward so I put it back on.

At some point somebody laughs at my math skill and I explain I haven’t had math class in 12 years.

Suddenly the dream shifts. I am no longer I class, but in my car driving in my apartment complex, except the complex is now enormous.

Oh and I’m completely naked.

I stop at my mailbox and check my mail, and find nothing. I’m aware that I’m naked so I’m looking around to ensure nobody is around to see me. I decide to make a dash to my apartment, but I can’t seem to remember where it is.

I started walking quickly up and down the complex looking for my apartment. Finally I decided I have walked to far and start to back track. Sure enough, I find it. However, my next door neighbor is out in the lot, blocking my way home.

I now have a short, white t-shirt on that I pull down to cover my boys. I decide it will be best to go back to my car and drive to my apartment. That way I might be able to make a short dash to my door before the neighbor sees me. That, or I can sit in my car until she goes back inside.

As I get into my car I realize there is a bag full of old clothes that I can put on.

My alarm then went off and I got up.

DVD Review: Harry Connick Jr and Branford Marsalis: A Duo Occasion

In support of their new album Occasion: Connick on Piano, Vol. 2 Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis played a gig at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Marsalis Music, in conjunction with Rounder records, has just released a pristine DVD release of that concert.

Both musicians fall under what I'll call the popular jazz genre. Connick is an accomplished jazz pianist. He grew up in New Orleans studying under such greats as James Booker and Ellis Marsalis. By age 18 he had moved to New York and headed his own jazz trio for Columbia records. Yet unlike many jazz musicians, he isn't afraid to delve into sheer pop territory like his Christmas records or the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack.

Branford Marsalis comes from a long line of jazz musicians. The Marsalis name is synonymous with great musical skill. Branford has lived up to his family name and is a well accomplished, Grammy award-winning musician. Yet he too has not shied away from the popular spectrum. For a number of years he was bandleader for the Tonight Show and he has performed with such popular rock bands as the Grateful Dead.

For this performance, the duo mostly leaves the popular music behind, sticking to a more strictly jazz format. However, Connick starts things off with his interpretation of the pop standard, "Chattanooga Choo Choo." A rather stilted, tonal version, I'm afraid.

I honestly expected to be a little disappointed with this performance. As a general rule I don't really care for duos or even trios. I like my music robust and full of interplay. I want to hear a multitude of instruments playing together to form a cohesive sound. Before I had even put this DVD into play I was already writing a review in my head stating that it needed some bass, more keyboards, and perhaps a cello or two.

After about the second song I had to rewrite my internal review for the two performers were filling out the music just fine on their own. The interplay was smooth, interesting, and fun. Nowhere did I miss the sounds of other instruments, just the saxophone and piano were ample enough.

Harry Connick, Jr was the leader here. Not only are the majority of songs his compositions but he is the only one miked for between song banter. He is a natural talker and showman whereas Marsalis tends to hide behind his instrument, letting his saxophone do the talking for him.

The music here is excellent. Both musicians are obviously having a great time performing together and have a long history of collaboration. They skillfully weave their instruments together, never trying to outdo or show each other up. Musically, it is easy enough to be background music for a dinner party and yet complicated enough to stand up to repeat listens with the lights turned off and the headsets on.

The concert was shot by award winning director Pierre Lamoureux in high definition video. It looks and sounds spectacular. The editing is smooth and exciting. Or as exciting as a jazz concert DVD can be.

Duo Occasion is a remarkable performance for fans of Harry Connick Jr., Branford Marsalis, jazz, and popular music alike.

Burn This

I finally got a DVD burner for Christmas. I’m actually way behind in this technology. I got a CD burner before anyone else I knew had one. I bought a DVD player when they were still $300 and you could hardly find a DVD to rent at Blockbuster or anywhere else. But the DVD burner I’ve been putting off. The burners and the blanks have been way to expensive for my married tastes (were I a single lad I’m sure I’d have bought one ages ago). I had also put it off because my computer didn’t seem quite up to the task of handling the huge amounts of data in a DVD. With the new laptop I’ve been salivating at the thought of a burner, but alas our time in France didn’t allow me to satisfy those desires.

Finally, I have been fulfilled. Well, almost. I have spent the last week trying to successfully burn a DVD. I plugged the burner in and installed the appropriate software. I selected a DVD to burn, Lost: Season 1: Disk 4, that was on loan from Netflix, and went at it.

Error #1: The disk is copyright protected. Seems DVD manufacturers don’t want us making copies of their movies. Crap. After doing a little research I get lost in the myriad of complicated materials available on the web. There is literally too much information out there for me to comprehend.

I give up and wait until I go to work the next morning. A coworker and I have been discussing my eventual foray into DVD burning for weeks and he has offered his services since he is an old school gadget man. He promises to give me some software that will bypass the copyright protection.

Error #2 The software works like a charm and I bypass the copyright protection without fail. I tinker with my burning software and tell it to rip the DVD to my hard drive. Simple I think, I’m an old school CD burner and immediately understand you get better copies if you first put the data on your hard drive. Lada di lada da, the disks is ripped with one complication: its like 12 gigs of data! Um my 4 odd gigs of blank disk can’t handle that.

D’oh!

I try a different method. I go directly into the DVD and try to rip only the movie, leaving out all the extras that come with a DVD nowadays. Double D’oh! It’s still like 6 gigs of information.

Ok, I go to my coworker again who promises to help out. He tells me that he uses an earlier version of my burning software and it has an easy way to compress the DVD data. I can’t for the life of me find this process on my software and my coworker burns me a copy of his version.

Minor Error #1: My CD/DVD ROM is on the fritz. The little button in the middle that holds the CD keeps popping off. Sometimes while in the ROM. I’ve had to struggle to get it out a few times. It will screw back on and that lasts four or five times. During my struggles I’ve broken a couple of prongs off of it, making it hold the CDs loosely.

I don’t know if this is the problem, or if it is something else, but I have the darndest time getting the burning software off of the CD. The computer keeps locking up mid stream. Several times I think I have it only to get errors while I’m loading the program. After a couple of long nights of fury, I finally get the thing executed and begin the process again.

Copyright protection removed, DVD ripped to the right size and then nothing. What the…? It just disappeared. A little window was up telling me where it was in the process of ripping and when it finished it asked if I wanted to save a log and then nothing happened.

I could find the ripped files but I couldn’t burn them singularly, or together. The software kept giving me grief over it. Finally I tried again.

Error #3After many cursings, sleepless nights, and rethinking my own mortality I tried again. Everything went smoothly. No copyright, ripped to the right size, started burning.

Hallelujah! I’ve finally got it, right? Wrong. Mid way, it gave me an error and booted the blank. Ay Carumba! A coaster. Tried a second time, but had to go through the whole process again. Why? I don’t know, but I said record again and it went through the whole ripping big again.

Guess what? Another coaster!

I’m thinking of throwing the whole thing into the Potomac.

I’ll keep you updated if I actually manage to burn something.