Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bookmarks for November/December 2006

Well, I have managed to do a little reading..precious little as far as I'm concerned. But until summer comes and I can spend my days with books, here is what has come along lately.

I came across Harry G. Frankfurt's On Bullshit (2005) in a stack of books my wife was assigned to read for a course designed for teaching students how to do research and write about History. Of course, the title caught me and as a professor of English who must read each year so many pieces that flirt, ignore, and presentiment the truth, I had to read the book as soon as she was done.

Perhaps what is most interesting about this book is Frankfurt, a professor of Philosophy, spends a great deal of time distinguishing bullshit (and those who produce it) from lies and liars. In doing so, he comes to an important conclusion: "The bullshitter...does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virture of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are" (61).

I recommend this little essay to anyone who cares about what is true as opposed to what seems right. If I can get it past those who might be offended by the title and use of what is considered by some to be cursing, I'll certainly consider making it required for my English 1302 classes (where argument and research are essential elements).

I have also read books by Lawrence Block (Hit List) and Robert B. Parker (Back Story). I have re-written my reviews for these books a couple of times and for some reason Blogger keeps losing this material, so I'm going to post this for now and try to get the reviews on later.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Before dismissing the small stuff
remember the kidney stone
as tiny as sand
can make a man believe
death is on the way.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


And the rain came
and the weeds grew stronger
but the grass thought
itself better. The rain
was quiet. Knowing.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bookmarks for September 2006

Not much for personal reading these days. Bogged down with the paying job. But a few things have come my direction....

Poetry Magazine. The double July/August "Humor Issue" is better than last year's. There were some fine parodies, a few attacks on Bush (who frequently provides paint to the palette of every humorist), and some interesting cartoons.

The September issue had a few fine pieces, but what struck a chord with me was Dan Chiasson's review of Mary Karr's Sinner's Welcome. There are two serious problems with this review. First, Chaisson uses his forum to attack religion in general. He writes, "Sinners are going to like it: in a culture where conversion-narratives, particularly if they involve a certain crucified someone, sell books, and elect presidents, Karr seem to have found another very marketable story to tell" (450). So Karr's faith is not genuine because the idiot president used religion to get elected? So Karr's poetry isn't good because she happens to profess to believe in God and actually allow her poetry to be colored by her beliefs and her spiritual struggles? In discussing Karr's afterward, Chiasson belittles religious people of every faith by misreading her intent and writing that Karr "presents her HBO-ready conversion in commodity terms" (451).

Chiasson further misses the mark when he writes of Karr's poems, "There has never been a style more gilded with workshop aptness" (451). Okay, maybe some of the poems read like they have been through the workshop wringer. But isn't it ironic that Poetry often features pieces decrying such work, yet the majority of what they publish (particularly from new poets) comes from just the same place.

Click here should you wish to read my review of the same book.

Finished reading The Best American Spiritual Writing. This seems to be an eclectic mix of genres that in some general way are about spirituality. Actually, most of the pieces seem to be personal essays and poetry, so I was mostly right at home. After wading through the forward and introduction, I found myself reading through "The Gift of the Call," an essay that might have had more resonance with me had I expected a personal testimony. Not a great start, but then I read "The Acusmata of Pythagoras" by Brian Blanchfield. Here, if nothing else, was something new. When I got to "Best of Intentions" by Harvey Cox (after some thoughtful poems), I was a little more into the book. I may have been biased at his focus on teaching and tolerance, but I think this piece is worth reading. "Sighs Too Deep for Words" is an honest account of Helen Gardner's spiritual journey summed up well by the subtitle: "On Being Bad at Reading the Bible."After a few more okay, but not terribly memorable essays, I found myself reading two moving pieces, Todd Gitlin's "A Skull in Varanasi, a Head in Baghdad" and "When the Candle Is Blown Out," by Natalie Goldberg. I liked reading, after these, the meditation on suicide bombers by Mary Gordon called "Appetite for the Absolute." I don't think I understood what I believe is the only short story in the collection, "Dr. King's Refrigerator" by Charles Johnson. I did like the essay "High Fidelity" by Bill McKibben about people who stay through many changes in their church over the course of their long lives. "Kierkegaard for Grownups," by Richard John Neuhaus, is particularly interesting and informative. I am still at a loss to understand the inclusion of Oliver Sacks' essay "Speed." I had read it before in the Best American Essays volume, and reading it again helped me appreciate it more, but I didn't see it as a spiritual piece of writing, even in the broadest sense. On the other hand, I found Huston Smith's "The Master-Disciple Relationship" and Kenneth L. Woodward's "The Passion's Passionate Despisers" to be thought provoking.

Probably the best thing about this book is that it contains some pretty good poems sprinkled throughout. Almost every one is a gem, most by notable poets like Scott Cairns, Philip Levine, and Charles Wright. On the whole I recommend the book, though I supposed some will pick and choose pieces more to their liking.

Next month, I hope to write about a book in Lawrence Block's "Keller" series and perhaps one of Robert Parker's more recent Spenser books. But who knows....

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Music notes for September 2006

I have waited a long time to get hold of Bob Curnow's L.A. Big Band playing The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays (1995). Now and then, KNTU will play a cut from this, but a single song only gets me thirsty for more. Finally it has become available on iTunes.
Just as with the Jason Vieux disc I reviewed recently, this project demonstrates what strong composers Metheny and Mays are. Standout songs from the Metheny Group repetoire, like "The First Circle," "Minuano," and "-It's Just-Talk" avoid what could be stale arrangements in the big band setting. The tunes sound fresh, as if they had been originally composed for this format. I also enjoyed the new setting for songs that originally appeared on Metheny's solo project Second Story: "See the World" and "Always and Forever." Here one can nearly hear that even when Metheny works around a simple melody, there is always an orchestra in this mind ready to sweep the listener into a joy that can only be expressed with the rhythmic nodding of the head. And "In Her Family" loses none of the grace that the original ballad retained, but hits with a powerful calm.

If you are a fan of big band music or a fan of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays (the musicians or composers), this is a project that you will probably want in your collection.
Those who love Jack DeJohnette the drummer should enjoy this little disc called Pictures (1977). It is a bit different from his work with Keith Jarrett's trio, and perhaps some of the seemingly free jazz or ambient type sections might be offputting, but I think this project is worth a listen. It is also nice to see DeJohnette the keyboardist, one who may not knock your socks off with amazing playing, but his sense of melody will show the discerning listener why he is such a great drummer.
Only two muscians: Dejohnette on drums, piano, and organ; John Abercrombie on electric and acoustic guitars. A fine mix.

The highlight of my musical month has to be the first release of a collaboration between Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau (Metheny mentioned in his podcast that another disc would come out early next year). I am not surprised by how much I like this disc. What is nice is that there seems to be a real collaboration of performance. Most of the tunes were composed by Metheny, but Mehldau doesn't sound like a substitute for Lyle Mays. Both players' individual voices are clear here without drowning out the other. Most of the tunes are performed by only Metheny and Mehldau; however two songs come with Mehldau's bassist and drummer. (Metheny says the next disc will be more quartet oriented.)Two of the songs were previously recorded: Mehldau's "Unrequited" and Metheny's " Say The Brother's Name." The new versions are fine, neither improving or diminishing the earlier performances. Standout cuts are, "Ring of Life" and "Make Peace." But everything on this disc is good.

Miscellaneous: I've come across a few old discs that have peaked my interest and been added to various playlists for my working and reading times. I revisited Metheny's Question and Answer, something that should be in every guitar lover's collection....And speaking guitars, check out the project A Guitar Supreme: Giant Steps in Fusino Guitar. This is a terrific compliation of performances, produced by Jeff Richman, of great players handing tunes either composed by John Coltrane (like "Naima" and the title track) or made famous by Coltrane's performance (such as "Afro Blue" and My Favorite Things"). Great stuff...Just added tracks from Thrush Hour: Music to Make It Through Your Day by Jeff Thrush (former sax ace for Steve Taylor's band) to my quiet time playlist (called "relax" for reference)... Maybe next month I can write more, like about an old Michel Petrucciani cd called Date With Time that I scandalously found for 99 cents, or Larry Carlton's latest, Fire Wire, or maybe a cool project from an interesting group: California Guitar Trio's Rocks The West.

But we shall see...or rather, hear.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Monday, August 28, 2006

Bookmarks for August 2006

Well, school is a startin' and so I need to post some thoughts on the last few books I've read.
Walter Mosely's Six Easy Pieces (2003) is another novel told through short stories, this time involving his long-time character Easy Rawlins. Easy is dealing with the loss of his best friend Mouse, and doing so isn't made simpler for him by the questions he has to encounter, one of which is whether or not Mouse is actually dead. He also is unsure whether his beautiful girlfriend is faithful to him, and though he is trying to just do his job as head custodian at Sojourner Truth High School, he keeps getting pulled back to the detective work in the L.A. streets where it is hard to tell who is innocent. Most of these stories were originally published in paperback editions of other books, and each stands alone just fine. However the connected narrative, for me, is much more satisfying.
47 (2005) is Mosely's first attempt at the young adult novel, and it is a winner. Here Mosely tells the story of 47, a young man who is destined to be a force for emancipation, not only for the slaves on his master's plantation, but also for those bound by the mindset of slavery. 47 meets another slave named Tall John who speaks and acts as if from another planet and who helps 47 to realize his real identity, not his name, but who he really is and is meant to be.

This book is one of the most fascinating novels for young people I have read in years. The deft weaving of history and science fiction is masterful, but what I think is most important is how Mosely provides his readers an idea of mental slavery that engages his characters. This is a powerful, uplifting story. If it does not find its way onto high school reading lists, then something is seriously wrong.

My main complaint about Mary Karr's Viper's Rum (1998) is that it is too short. There is only 45 pages of poems plus the inclusion of Karr's now infamous essay "Against Decoration." But what is here is certainly worth reading. I did find myself a little put off by a couple of the poems. Well, put off isn't really accurate. The word "squeamish" comes to mind, but that might not be quite right either. Poems like "The Wife of Jesus Speaks" and "The Invention of God in a Mouthful of Milk" are likely going to make the more conservative reader uncomfortable, but careful reading will, I believe, show these to be as thoughtful and as inspiring as the rest of the collection. I did not find myself as moved as I did with Sinners Welcome; however, this volume has plenty to recommend it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A "Review" of Wikipedia

This summer I have become a bit of a Wikipedia addict. For now, I won't get into why, despite some reservations about credibility, I sometimes get distracted from important work by the desire to look up articles about interesting musicians, not so famous writers, and esoteric ideas. Suffice it to say that I often start to look up something I want or need information about and end up reading for hours.

But something has come up over and over as I read that has bothered me more than a little. This is the problem of including in the external links section of many articles, particularly those on contemporary and modern poets, links to what are supposed to be "reviews" or "critiques" of work by these writers. The issue may be one of simple semantics. However noting the discrepancy between critical analysis and criticizing is really important because those who are likely to make use of such links are probably going to be high school and college students, many of whom do not know the difference.

In terms of literature and other arts, the word criticism concern close reading (or observing) so that finer details (hopefully significant ones) and important, thematic connections are noted. Admittedly this is a realm that is not popular, particularly since it is rather foreign to most young students and unimportant to most of them or any other person except to professors whose life work seems to revolve around these writers. However, the rest of the world usually hears the word criticism only in its negative context: at best a list of flaws in a particular work; at best a bunch of reasons it doesn't live up to one's particular tastes. But literary criticism is not always critical in the same sense.

A review can be critical, and many publications contain reviews that incorporate critical analysis. However a review is usually a way or recommending one either buy the book (or go to the movie or listen to a cd) or avoid the same based on criteria that are usually matters of personal taste. I've never met a reviewer that didn't claim to have good taste or high standards. There are reviewers who are able to set aside their personal tastes to recommend something that might appeal to other people (I'm reminded of Roger Ebert giving thumbs up to some children's movies that he only enjoyed nominally because he thought that children would like them.) And reviews come in many different tones, from the snooty, supposedly highbrow voice of one who speaks as if she/he is the harbinger of good art to the angry voice of one who cannot tolerate anything outside his/her limited experience (I have in mind the many, whining reviews of jazz albums on websites devoted to heavy metal. Why bother?). This latter is a form of snootiness.

Not all reviews or reviewers are snots, but we do have to keep in mind that a review is about two things: taste and value. A good movie reviewer is not just telling you why he/she thinks you should or should not see a movie, often using his/her personal viewing experience as a guide, but also because one can only see so many movies, and it costs quite a bit to go to the theater. (At least it does for someone like me.)

Okay, so what does this have to do with Wikipedia? Well, the problem is that many of the "reviews" or "critiques" found in the external links section of articles about poets are not reviews or literary criticism at all, but mean-spirited, sometimes personal attacks by writer/reviewer/poet Dan Schneider from the This Old Poem section (called TOPs) of his website. Here Schneider picks apart one or more poems by a poet he has taken a great deal of time and energy to hate, usually working to revise the poem to, presumably, make it better. He uses a scoring system to eventually demonstrate how his version of the poem is of greater quality.

Look, I must admit that despite my own differences between his tastes or values and mine, Schneider has some important things to say about the state of contemporary poetry. While it might make me feel squeamish to have him attack poets I happen to like, it is fair for someone who loves poetry to expect writers to work harder than they often do and not produce mediocre work. It does appear, in the more reasonable arguments, that Schneider's war is really with two things, the mediocre and a publishing industry that produces what Donald Hall calls the
McPoem. I happen to value poetry, and so I, guardedly, applaud Mr. Schneider's effort and energy, if not his presentation.

But these are not, as I said, reviews. Many of these pieces are really personal attacks on the writers themselves and often use words like "stupid" or "boring" in the way a college freshman uses them to describe a textbook he has had to read. In what seems to be an attempt to be honest with his readers, Schneider relates a story of the writer in question, sometimes telling how that writer has been rude or unkind to him (he seems to take a lot personally). Some of these tales, perhaps unwittingly, show Schneider as a person who enjoys being a jerk. And while parts of these "reviews" fairly demonstrate where he thinks these poems stand up or fail, many just are just complaints.

Let me make a few things clear. Dan Schneider has every right to write and publish/post what he thinks about poets and poems. EVERY RIGHT. And as I stated before, he makes good points now and then, points that not only deserve, but need, attention. But they are not reviews, and Wikipedia should seriously consider dropping them. I suspect that unless Wikipedia better evaluates such things, the rift between students and the academic world will only widen, a problem Wikipedia should be concerned about.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Music notes for August 2006

Three good CDs this month. My main complaint is that they are all too short.

Jaco Pastorius/Pat Metheny/Bruce Ditmas/Paul Bley -- Jaco (1974). Though I was feeling a bit unsure as I sampled this in CD Source, I went ahead and got it. The disc is on the free jazz side and though I have supposed expanded (or degenerated) my taste, I am sometimes cannot listen to such things. But this one is not wild and harsh going in a dozen directions at once. There is still a sense of harmony and each piece (many of them rather short) segues into the next, so there is a feel that the disc is one continuous piece. All but one of the songs was composed by Paul Bley (electric piano) or by his then wife Carla. It is difficult to hear where Metheny is playing, but when you do, the solos are pretty nice. Of course this disc also documents Pastorius in all his youth and energetic glory. I believe this was recorded around the same time as Pat Metheny's first solo record, Bright Size Life, on which Pastorius also shines.
I picked up The Jack DeJohnette Piano Album (1985) at the same time I found Jaco. Of course any fan of modern jazz knows that DeJohnette is one of the finest drummers in music, producing his own terrific CDs as well as his stellar work with the Keith Jarrett Trio. But many are not aware that he is also a mighty good pianist in his own right. This is, for the most part, an enjoyable trio project where Dejohnette gives up the drum chair to Freddie Watts who is ably supported by bassist Eddie Gomez. DeJohnette plays synthesizer on a couple of cuts. While the purist might complain, the only song the synthesizer really got in the way is on "Time After Time," the Cyndi Lauper song that seems to be a favorite among many jazz musicians. On this song, the synth sounds like one of those keyboards one bought for sing alongs at home. Otherwise this is pleasant cd, demonstrating DeJohnette's considerable skill on the piano and as a composer. Several of the songs are tributes to his wife and to other great musicians like Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans. In the liner notes, DeJohnette is quoted as saying about playing the piano, "I actually deal with it pianistically, not percussively as some people might expect." One listening to this disc could hear DeJohnette's strong understanding of what makes good music and perhaps even understand how that sense makes him a superior drummer.

I found Toots Theilemans' Do Not Leave Me (1988) at a garage sale and paid 50 cents for it. This is a disc that is certainly worth more than that. Here the greatest harmonica player in the world (and not a bad guitarist) is documented in concert in his native Belgium performing with Fred Hersch (piano), Marc Johnson (bass) and Joey Baron (drums). This set (not really a whole concert it appears) opens with Jacques Brel's classic ballad "Ne Me Quitte Pas" ("Do Not Leave Me"). This seems an odd way to open a concert, but it works here, setting a good tone with Theilemans' expressive harmonica. Next comes medley of "Blue 'N Green" and "All Blues" that clocks in at over twenty minutes. This is probably the highlight of the disc each player getting a chance to solo and wind around two great jazz standards. Next comes "Stardust," and then "Autumn Leaves." On the last two songs, "Velas" and "Bluesette," we get to hear Theilemans on guitar, the latter where he accompanies his trademark whistling and the former in a tasty quartet piece. The disc ends with the last song and the audience fading out, leaving an unfinished feel to the project. I wanted/expected more. However, what we have is most satisfying.

Brief notes concerning last months discs: The B.B King disc Spotlight on Lucille was fine, highlighting the blues master's playing, though some cuts seem to be cut out of other pieces. The Lee Ritenour cd Alive in L.A. was much more like real jazz than I thought it was going to be. I got a kick out of his tribute to the great Wes Montgomery. New Age Bach by Joel Spielgelman was exactly what I thought it would be. It was probably worth the buck I paid for it.

In the future: I have preordered an upcoming album featuring my favorite guitar player and my second favorite piano player. I am so excited, I'm scared.

Another note: I was sad to see that Robby Steinhardt had left Kansas (by mutual consent), but happy to see David Ragsdale back to take his place. Click here for a good interview with drummer Phil Ehart at Classic Rock Revisited.

Bookmarks for July 2006

Okay, so I said, I'd be reading mostly poetry, but I got a bit caught up in these books...
I know that Walter Mosely is a bestselling author, but even more people should read him than they do. Most people I know haven't, and I'm not sure why. He has written the fine series of mysteries around the character Easy Rawlins and some well received science fiction books and one adolescent novel (which I hope to read in the near future). He also has a series of books about the world wise ex-con Socrates Fortlow. I had read the second in this series, Walkin' The Dog, some time ago. Recently, I read the first, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. (Click the title to read an excerpt.)

The book is a series of linked short stories where readers watch Socrates wrestling with getting enough money to get by and with the moral and ethical questions faced by a black man and by the society he lives in. In the first story, "Crimson Shadow," he catches a young boy who has killed a neighbor's rooster. How Socrates handles this situation and tries to take care of this boy is not only touching, but speaks to the responsibility we all have to children and families in our neighborhoods. Mosely deftly walks us through Socrates' attempts to get a good, steady job in "Double Standard." We also see the role that guilt plays in a person's life and a hunger for redemption, not only Socrates' but that of the young man he wants to save, is a significant theme of the book.

The stories weave together nicely forming a novel that can easily be read at once or a little at a time. Mosely's well crafted narratives are thoughtful and real. Without sentimentality, this is a book of much needed hope.

Cherry is, I suppose, Mary Karr's sequel to The Liar's Club (click here for my post on this book). Where the first memoir focused on Karr's early childhood, Cherry concerns the years of middle school and high school. The book opens with a chapter about Karr leaving home, but the rest of the story is about the events which lead up to this moment. The book jacket describes the book as the "story of her tumultuous teens and sexual coming of age." I don't know about "coming of age," but sex is one of the main things this book revolves around. That and drugs and the usual problems of fitting in with people in a place one is not sure one wants to fit in.

I like many things about Cherry. I particularly like that Karr tells her story in her own powerful, honest way neither glorifying the era of "sex, drugs and rock and roll" (not that this time is any different) nor telling her readers "don't let this happen to you." Few writers focus on this time in one's life with such emotional honesty without going overboard in either direction. The story is what it is, and is powerful enough on its own. I also found myself strongly relating to her and her friends who read a lot and want more out of life than just the next dance. Further the book is funny where it needs to be and serious (without being maudlin) where necessary. I was particularly drawn in when I read passages where Karr tells of her own shortcomings as a friend.

A couple things bothered be about the book. I suspect that Karr's frequent shifts from first person to second person (speaking of herself with the pronoun "you") were meant either to create a kind of emotional distance from from whatever situation she was describing or to create a connection with the reader (a kind of you've been there too feeling). Karr is too smart a writer for gimmicks, but I found this a little distracting. I'm not sure everyone will feel this way, however. I was also a bit uncomfortable with the frank (though not graphic or pornographic) discussions of her sexual, really sensual, feelings. This is not a criticism of the book. These were not titillating or even unnecessary sections. I'm sure my discomfort largely comes from being a male and that I'm not used to such reading, particularly about women. Read the book, but be forewarned.

Madeline L'Engle's collected poems, The Ordering of Love, got better as I moved through it. Some of the pieces are really no stronger, well-meaning as they are, than greeting card verse that if you get you find nice because someone thought to put the words together and someone else thought well enough of you to send them. Some of these pieces would make terrific hymns. These poems will, undoubtedly, be inspirational to some. I even found myself edified by them. But many were not really good art.
Fortunately, not all of the poems in this collection are mediocre and banal. I got the sense that L'Engle, a writer of considerable skill and craft, learned more with each collection how to write not just a poem that expresses, but one that actually says something in thoughtful and cleaver ways. She is best in two areas: the sonnet and the monologue. The voice in most of the monologues are biblical characters. One sees encounters with God from a position that removes the distance created by time and the dry page.

Somewhere (I can't remember where) L'Engle wrote about the creativity that occurs in the tight form of the sonnet. Those in this collection do not disappoint. While I usually have a preference between traditional and free verse, L'Engle is much better in the stricter forms. In particular, the sequence written in 1966 (collected here for the first time) that addresses the death of her husband is striking in that while it is deeply personal, it plucks the common chords we hear in our hearts when grieving without resorting to cliche or the usual trite platitudes about God in his Heaven and all is right with the world. At times, she questions or rails at God, not with the voice of one losing faith, but of one who, like many pilgrims, has been faithful but has yet to see the fruits of their spiritual labor. These and other sonnets by L'Engle are rich, accessible, and thought provoking.

I've got three issues of Poetry, two books by Walter Mosely, and Karr's Viper's Rum to read and comment on. But that will have to be for next time. Until then, peace.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sports Notes for the first half of the summer

Last night, a Texas Ranger was awarded the most valuable player award for the MLB All Star Game. So I wonder where Michael Young will play next year.

Jerry Jones, it isn't too late to get me back to watching football this season. All you have to do is come to your senses and lose that sorry sack of crap Owens. The release of his "book" is only the beginning. Watch it sell poorly and then watch him blame someone other than himself for his "misfortune." The controversies that follow this guy are not good for football or any other sport. I'm only one fan, and I know you don't care too much what fans think, Mr. Jones. But I see no reason to watch any football whatsoever until this person is removed from the game.

Zidane. Gee whiz. Did you just have to do that?

Some otherwise exciting matches were marred by the presence of poor, poor officials. Zidane's idiocy notwithstanding, people were carded and sent off for some of the dumbest fouls, and often flagrant fouls went unpunished. I can't say there was some sort of conspiracy to help any particular side, just inconsistency and a disregard for the purposes of rules. Usually, I'm the one screaming at the t.v. set that an offense should receive a card, but almost all of the matches I watched was marred by such actions. For more, read Barry Wilner's interesting column.

Yes. I am upset that my Mavericks lost the NBA Finals. My pain is made worse in seeing the grinning mug of one of the world's most overrated and classless players, Shaquille O'Neal, as he held that trophy. And Cuban, I love ya, man, but chill...just a little.

For a cartoon that expresses much of what I think about O'Neal, click here.

Don't even get me started on the Stars' early demise. Here's hoping for next year.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Music notes for July 2006

Okay, so a dearth of posting here about music does not mean that I haven't been listening to anything new. I did post recently about the "new" Charlie Peacock disc, but haven't mentioned the other stuff that I've been listening to lately.

Just downloaded an album from iTunes by Jason Vieaux called Images of Metheny. This disc is growing on me. At first it bugged me a little that most of the tunes seem to come from the ballad side of Metheny's catalog, but as I realized this effort is a classical rendering of the great guitarist's ouvre, I found myself really enjoying what I heard. I guess what really bothered me is that two of my favorite Metheny songs, "Question and Answer" and "James" (played as two of five sections in a baroque suite), are given rather short attention. Don't get me wrong. I love the mellower songs. But I was not expecting so many.

As I keep listening, however, I see that these compositions lend themselves to the format really well. Vieaux has chosen well and performed these songs really well. The opening, "Every Day (I Thank You)" is particularly masterful. It is one of the few songs that was originally recorded with a saxophone, and I really like what Vieaux does with it. The aforementioned favorites, though shorter than I wanted, work well in their places in this suite, and do demonstrate not only Metheny's powerful abilities as a composer, but Vieaux's technique on the instrument.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that Keith Jarrett is probably my favorite pianist. I am particularly fond of his records of improvised concerts for solo piano. Not long ago, I was able to acquire La Scala (1997) The liner notes tell a story of a man who had worked at La Scala as a assistant to conductors and who had all Jarrett's albums who claimed that the concert he had just been to (which is recorded here) "was the strongest, most moving...musical experience he ever had." I can't say that the disc worked on me that way, but it is terrific recording. There is a short section (maybe a minute or so) in the second of the two parts where Jarrett seems to get lost in his improvisation, but mostly this disc presents the kind of playing that does move people. If you are the kind of musician that likes to now and then take out an instrument and just play whatever comes to mind, this disc will thrill you. The last track is a beautiful rendering of "Over the Rainbow" that should tell you why this song has been recorded so many times by so many people. In the hands of Keith Jarrett, it is fresh with every listen.
Gary Burton brings back guitar sensation Julian Lage from his Generations recording and adds more young, talented musicians on Next Generation, an exciting and thoroughly enjoyable release. Every song is terrific, but standout cuts for me include the Metheny penned "B & G," "'Ques Sez" (written by bassist Luques Curtis) and my favorite, pianist Vadim Neselovski's "Get Up And Go." I think it ironic that there is a song entitled "Summer Band Camp" here because the cover photo might lead you to believe that this is an album of people Burton hand picked from some sort of Camp audition. But this is a band that sounds as polished and tight as if they had been playing together for years. All the above mentioned youngsters stand out in some way on this disc as well as drummer James Williams. Burton, of course, is in top form, knowing when the back off and let others take the stand and when to allow his virtuoso playing to shine. This disc is a joy to listen to.

Speaking of virtuosos (or virtuosi), I do want to recommend An Evening with John Petrucci and Jordan Rudress (2004). Certainly fans of Dream Theater will enjoy this album of guitar and keyboard duets recorded in 2000 at the Helen Hayes performing Arts Center in New York, but others should enjoy it as well, since it doesn't really sound like two guys mimicking their main band (or bands), perhaps with the exception of cut "State of Grace," originally featured on Rudress' second Liquid Tension Experiment project). The duo play well together, creating an environment for each to stand out without always taking over the music with self-indulgent solos, but letting the tunes speak for themselves. There is one studio track, but it doesn't seem out of place because the music is what we hear. Thankfully, we don't have to endure much in the way of audience histrionics. But this is a live album, you can believe it. The sound is crisp as if these guys are playing right inside your head. Much fun from two terrific players.

So what else have I listened to/acquired lately? A couple of things I haven't listened to enough to feel comfortable commenting on, but here goes:

Two "best of" discs by Medeski, Martin, and Wood -- "Last Chance to Dance Trance" (1999) and "Note Bleu" (2006). I already liked these guys, hence my willingness to pick up two collections.

Lee Ritenour's Alive in L.A (1997). Admittedly, I haven't listened much to this, but so far, I'm not thrilled. It has a couple Wes Montgomery tunes, and I do like Ritenour as a guitarist, but the first impression wasn't positive. A little too much on the light jazz (or safe jazz, as I call it) side for me.

Spotlight on Lucille by B.B. King (1991). I haven't listened to this yet, but B.B. is the man (or at least one of them), so I know I have to get around to it eventually. The album appears to be collection of instrumental pieces from a variety of concert appearances.

What else is in the bin to talk about? The Yellowjackets Politics (1988), a compilation of John Coltrane ballads called Ballads, something called New Age Bach: The Goldberg Variations by Joel Speigelman (1988) I found for a dollar, and The Dallas Jazz Orchestra Presents Victor Cager. With a little prodding and some more time, I'll write reviews of these or whatever else comes across my ears. Here's hoping someone sends me the new Ralph Towner cd.


Sorry, I couldn't invite you, but I was throwing myself a little pity party. See I was not sure how many people were actually reading this blog and I have been realizing just how ignorant I am about how to get interested people notification when Monk Notes had changed. But don't worry, you didn't miss much. The party was mostly me sitting in a corner feeling sorry for myself, drinking Pepsi One and watching reruns of Seinfeld.

Anywho, I think I've solved the problem. I have a Bloglines button now on the page and if you are so inclined, you can click it and sign up. I hope the process isn't too complicated. If it is, blame Splenda.

I have also been wondering just who might be reading this blog on a semi-regular basis. I'm sure I haven't posted enough to make it worth while, but I also haven't had much to say (or perhaps I haven't been motivated to write regularly -- I blame the coffee and Kramer). Anyway, if you are someone who drops by now and then, do take a few moments to subscribe and also to send me a note to let me know you are reading.

Until next time, peace.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

This is mostly a test

I am testing something and reminding people to visit my other website: Wrestling Light. Hopefully people will soon be able to subscribe to the blog. We shall see.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Review of Charlie Peacock's recent jazz disc

Wrote and posted the following review for iTunes today:

Those who have enjoyed Charlie Peacock's music over the years and have even seen his work on other projects have to stand up and cheer for this release. Few could make good art out of pop music, even fewer in CCM. Now we can see why Charlie Peacock has stood above the rest. Peacock has the playing and compositional chops to impress any discerning listener. And it certainly doesn't hurt to have some fine players like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kirk Whalem, Victor Wooten, Ravi Coltrane, and Jerry McPherson helping him out.
The disc opens with the lively "When Diana Dances," a song I see has gotten some airplay on Sirius Satellite Radio. If your toes aren't tapping when you hear this song, then you aren't listening. Most of the album hit me this way. If you are looking for wallpaper music don't expect to get much done. "Frank the Marxist Memorial Gong Blues" is a nice slow number (despite its odd title) and leads nicely into "Bucketachicken." "London Twist n' Turn" and "Longing for Louis" should demonstrate why no genre of music is exclusive of others. My personal favorite tune is "Be Well Johnny Cash," a thought provoking number that sticks in one's head the way only a great composition can.
All of this release should have your toes tapping and make you smile with its unique melding of sounds and melodies that make some for fine contemporary jazz. (Even non-jazz fans should enjoy it.) I'm sure it will surprise a few CCM fans, but hopefully not in a bad way. Good music, like this disc, doesn't need a genre. It just is. Enjoy!
By the way, click the link above to go to the site and hear tunes from the album.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

More bookmarks for June 2006

Well, the end of the month comes and it appears that being home agrees with me because I have finished a few more books.

Whenever I read a poem by A.R. Ammons, I wonder to myself why I haven't read any books of his all the way through. Well, I just finished Ammons' The Selected Poems: Expanded Edition (1986), and I don't know if I have an answer to the question. As has been noted much better by a number of literary critics, Ammons was a nature poet; some have even gone so far as to see him as a transcendentalist. I can see that. Some have compared him to Frost, noting that he has a more positive vision of the natural world. I can see that too. Ammons sees into the minutest detail and finds that there is order and wonder amidst what the rest of us see as chaos. I admire that vision, even as I don't always understand the expression.

Many of these poems are quite powerful and engaging. I particularly like the tight, short poems. I also was taken by poems like the much anthologized "Corsons Inlet" and the new (to this book) "Easter Morning." However, there were a few poems that no amount of re-reading would enlighten for me. These were either syntactically difficult or had such attention to biology that I felt I needed to be an insider to "get it."

Overall, this is a fine collection, probably a good introduction to this major poet. I think I will try to read Garbage before the summer is out.

Over the past couple months, I have been making my way through The Best American Essays 2005, edited by Susan Orlean, and yesterday, I finally finished. As with all the book in the Best American series (and there a volumes covering many different kinds of writing -- click here to see a few), I found the collection daunting and interesting, and sometimes baffling. Certainly there is a representative variety of essays. As with any collection, one wonders why some pieces, even enjoyable or well written pieces, made the cut. But for the most part, this is a satisfying selection of writing.

Pieces that stood out for me are Jonathan Franzen's "The Comfort Zone, " "Dog Trouble" by Cathleen Schine, and David Sedaris' "Old Faithful." There were essays that surprised me because at first I didn't see why they were included, like "Skill Display in Birding Groups" by Bert O. States and Holly Welker's "Satin Worship." But these offered insights not only into the specific subjects they covered, but also into human psychology. I might not have seen these any other place but in a book like this.

Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook (1994) is an interesting and useful book for anyone who is genuinely devoted to being a good poet (and a good writer in general for that matter). There are too many who say they are poets or wish to write poetry,but who really just wish to place words on paper, depositing their emotions and really saying nothing. That person doesn't really want this book, but that person needs it.

There are a few chapters that could use some updating not because they are dated, but because the author needs specific examples. I suspect that Oliver does wish to get herself in trouble by by giving examples of poor diction. However, since I think the chapter on Revision is very important (since this is a step most beginning poets wish to skip), I think this section could be improved with attention to how a poem or two changed over time.

I say this not only because it is true, I think, but because one of the significant strengths of this book is how it uses examples of good poems, both classic and contemporary, to illustrate its points. I believe the beginning chapters "Getting Ready" and "Reading Poems" are particularly important. In the first, Oliver writes, "Writing a poem...is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind" (7). In the second chapter, she reminds us "Good poems are the best teachers. Perhaps they are the only teachers. I would go so far as to say that, if one must make a choice between reading or taking part in a workshop, one should read" (10). I am glad that she begins so well, and I don't think she contradicts herself when she speaks of workshops later in the book because she demonstrates when they can be valuable to a poet's development and also notes the importance of solitude.

Oliver's A Poetry Handbook is a book that could help writers of all kinds, but anyone who wants to write poetry (and even those who choose only to read it) should make this part of her/his collection.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Bookmarks for June 2006

Some of these books were actually read or started in May, but I'm just now getting around to writing about them. Will warn you, I plan to read mostly poetry this summer, so that's what I will likely write about.

When I re-read a poem right away, it typically this means that 1) the poem is so dense that I just can't figure out what the heck is going on, 2) the poem is so simple that I don't know what is going on, or 3) I was so tired or distracted that by the time I got to the end I knew I had missed something important. But I found myself re-reading many of the poems in Dick Barnes' collection A Word Like Fire simply because they were so good, so strong that I could not go on to the next without experiencing it again. In fact, there were poems quoted in whole or in part in Robert Meezy's forward that I ended up reading several times for the simple pleasure of enjoying Barnes' startling images and thoughtful metaphors. (For a link to an essay that quotes from this forward, click here.) Barnes has been neglected, I think, for a couple of reasons. He was a religious poet, not one that proselytizes or is pious or dogmatic or self-abasing, but one that had a clearly sacramental vision of the world. Further, he did not write from the academic/workshop molded model. He crafted his poems carefully and revised them to make them work well. But Barnes did not seem not wallow in obfuscating language or imagery that is only clear to the college professor. Further, he apparently was not a self-promoter.

We have ignored this valuable contribution to American Literature far too long. Read this book and see if you don't find yourself cheering infinite possibilities for humans in the universe and railing against a poetic establishment that has fed on the products of its incest.

In a previous post, I mentioned Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr. This is another book by a religious poet that I fear is going to be ignored simply because the writer is a person of faith (though her celebrity may bring it more attention than Barnes' work). Karr's vision, like Scott Cairnes', is brutally honest and real. One gets the impression that when she writes about the resurrection of Christ, she hasn't had some vague experience that the rest of the world cannot possibly share (though they are expected to). And these are not all poems about religious experience, though some are certainly about moments in the life of a person working out her own salvation, practicing faith in every sense that work, "practice," denotes.

For a link to the University of California at Berkeley's Lunch Poems series, where you can hear Karr read poems from this collection, click here.

For some reason, Karr's The Liars Club passed me by when it came out and so many people were reading it. I had recommended reading Sinners Welcome to some friends and colleagues and they said, "Oh yeah, didn't she write...?" I felt foolish, but then I quickly got hold of the book and took a couple days to make my way through it. Now that phrase, "make my way," isn't intended to imply that the book was bad and difficult to get through. It was difficult to get through because it is so honest and blunt and while I find Karr's honesty refreshing, it is sometimes also rather painful. It isn't bleak all the way through because Karr tells of the tough times with the direct (not flat) tone of one who has (mostly) come to grips with a difficult childhood where as a child one doesn't always know that life is difficult, but does know more about pain than children in supposedly healthy families. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading Cherry.

I stated at first that I was planning to read mostly poetry this summer. For those thinking of coming back to see what else I've looked at, I also plan to read Mary Oliver's Poetry Handbook, some short story collections (at the moment, I'm thinking of Chekhov and Chandler). I also am slowly finishing The Best American Essays of 2005.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Poems read in class during National Poetry Month 2006

For the past two years, I have tried to read a poem a day at the beginning of each class during April as a celebration of National Poetry Month. Below are some of the poems I shared with my classes.

Poetry Marianne Moore April 3
The Little Ways That
Encourage Good Fortune William Stafford April 4
Bank Fishing for Bluegills *
Ted Kooser April 5
One Art Elizabeth Bishop April 6
Ode to the Cat Pablo Neruda April 7
Happiness Mary Oliver April 11
Words for Worry
Li-Young Lee April 12
Photograph of My Father In
His Twenty-Second Year Raymond Carver April 13
Inspiration Karol Woytyla April 17
“A night full of
talking that hurts” Rumi April 18
Visiting the Master * Stephen Dunn April 20
“When I have fears that I
may cease to be”
John Keats April 21
Conversation in the Mountain + Li Po April 24

I copied this into the blog (the publish from Word feature not working on my computer right now). Most of the links here are on the wonderful site for The Academy of American Poets. (Sadly Poets.org has no page for Raymond Carver, despite my pleas with them and offers to write it myself.)

* Poem not here, but the poet does have his own webpage.
+ Not the same version I read to my classs, but nice nonetheless.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bookmarks for April/May 2006

The end of the Spring semester has seen me get too busy. I barely had time to read for myself. I did re-read Crime and Punishment for my World Lit course. I carried a volume around with me during this time, reading when I could between taking kids to Scouts, soccer practice, and choir rehersals. And people kept looking at me funny or making comments about how dull they think the book is. However, this is, quite simply, one of the greatest novels ever written. One should read it and be afraid that there is a little Raskolnikov in all of us. Hopefully we find the Sonia in there too.

What I did manage to read was Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr. (Click the link on her name to read the fine title poem.) More on the book (and her memoir The Liar's Club) later. April was National Poetry Month, and I did try to read a poem each day to my classes. I kept a list with a few links, but I think I saved it on the computer at work. Maymester kept me busy after Spring was over, but I did get a start on some more books.

Hopefully I'll blog a bit more as the summer gets a rolling. Until then, peace and joy.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bookmarks for March 2006

With National Poetry Month coming, I thought I'd mention a few volumes I have read recently.

One of the reasons I wanted read Philokalia is that the author, Scott Cairns, is a former professor of mine. I took his Creative Writing seminar one summer in grad school. I think I learned a great deal from his workshops, and since his book The Translation of Babel was published that year, I also read his poems. In my copy of this book he wrote: "With great hopes for your own poetic project. Let John Donne and his Lord be your muses." He knew how much I liked and were inspired by poets like Donne, Eliot, Herbert, Hopkins, and the like, but I didn't know how much the traditions of these poets meant to him, even after reading this book and The Theology of Doubt. With Philokalia, much comes clear.

Philokalia (2002) collects poems from the above mentioned volumes, Figures for the Ghost, Recovered Body and some "new" pieces. I very much enjoyed re-reading the poems from the other collections as well as those I was encountering for the first time. On the
Zoo Press website, one finds (in addition to a nice selection of poems from the book) the following: "As Larkin was perhaps the only true atheist poet of the 20th century, Cairns may be the only true spiritual poet of the 21st." I'm not sure the latter is quite true, but I have yet to encounter a living poet who writes so adeptly of the sacramental vision of the world. These verses will not appeal to everyone who calls him/herself a Christian, but they should. Cairns' Christianity is bolder and more realistic than some have taste for, but it is also more grounded and heartfelt without being sentimental. Some of these poems smacked me hard at the same time they edified. For example, consider the ending "Possible Answers to Prayer":

Your answers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you --

these must burn away before you'll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passion.

Edify means "to build up or increase in faith, morality, etc." (Random House College Dictionary). It does not mean "make you feel better about yourself." Cairns' poems edify in the truest sense of this word and further.

Ted Kooser wants to bring poetry into the lives of everyday people, a difficult and laudable task. As Poet Laureate, he travels the country reading and discussing the subject. He writes a column, "American Life in Poetry," which is distributed free. In an interview with Writer's Digest, he advises "budding poets": "Get a regular job that will pay the bills." One gets the impression from his work that he has worked what my father might call "a real job." (Kooser did work in the insurance business.) Another way he is able to bring poetry to the masses is that he writes accessible, beautiful poems about everyday life that, if we stopped long enough to look at it, is far from boring.

Delights and Shadows (2004) won the
Pulitzer Prize, and while it is not the most striking collection I have read of those who have earned the acclaim that comes with this award, it is well worth the reading. Kooser reminds me of a cross between Robert Frost and Raymond Carver. I'm sure that comparisons to first, an American icon, will get me a few angry emails. And the people at Norton do not even seem to know that Carver wrote poetry. But consider that both wrote deceptively simple poems charged with the electricity of common existence, and you will see what I mean. Kooser isn't as good as Frost (Frost did write a few stinkers one should note.) at capturing the inner life as it is mirrored in the outer world, but he is very good. For example, look at these last lines from "Old Cemetery":

The dead must have been overjoyed

to have the world back to themselves,
to hear the creak of trailer springs
under the weight of the cooling mower
and to hear the pickup turn over and over
and start at last, and drive away,
and then to hear the soft ticking of weeds
springing back, undeterred, in the lane
that leads nowhere the dead want to go.

Like Carver, Kooser's poetry is economical. He told Writer's Digest that he "revises a poem of say, 20 lines, perhaps 30 or 40 times." That practice shows in these usually short, packed verses. Few are longer than a page, and many may seem to be mere pictures or vignettes, but are really snapshots that strum the strings of our own associations and difficulties. Further, these poems do address feeling, but not feelings. That is, they touch on what is deep in ourselves, what moves us, not the "getting out" of emotion. A nice example is the final poem of the collection, "A Happy Birthday," where the speaker celebrates the last still moments of the day: "I sat by an open window/and read till the light was gone and the book/was no more than a part of the darkness."

Here's hoping that our days end so peacefully. Reading Delights and Shadows may be just book for such evenings.

C. K. Williams' The Singing was perhaps the most challenging of the three volumes I read in the past month, but that is because I was rather tired and stressed when I first read the book. I found myself re-reading passages, not because they were difficult, but because I knew they deserved my full attention.

As in Repair (my personal favorite of his books), one finds the long, rhythmic lines that sing the reader into a state of near contemplation. But there are also shorter, lyric-like lines that are equally as effective. Williams a master of the well crafted line and stanza. Also, many of these poems are personal without being confessional or maudlin. I was particularly taken by those pieces where the speaker of the poem has encounters with strangers and looks inward as in the title poem and "Lessons." There are also poems about the encounters Williams has had with other poets and artists, such as "Oh" and "Elegy for an Artist."
I can only stomach sequences from someone as crafted and skilled as Williams, and here he does not disappoint. I found myself particular moved by the "Of Childhood the Dark" as well as "War," "Fear," and "The Hearth." In these pieces, as with the rest of the book, our hearts are challenged and made a little freer.
So what am I doing for National Poetry Month? Well, I will continue a tradition I started a few years ago by reading a poem each day to begin each class. No analysis. No "literary" discussion. Just experiencing the poem. Also, I have been asked to read one of my own poems for a program at Eastfield. If you are looking for something to do, let me suggest visiting The Academy of American Poets or Poetry 180. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

So long NFL; Hello reality

I am here stating publicly that I will no longer watch NFL football games. I recognize that the stand I have chosen to take is not likely to make a difference, but I am not boycotting the NFL per se. I am not saying that if the Cowboys get rid of Terrell Owens that I will watch again or that if the league finally does what it should have long ago to get rid of people like him. I am not holding my fandom hostage. I think I'm through with football for a very long time.

I have been a lifelong Cowboys fan. I have supported them during the good times and bad times. I have never been able to afford tickets. The only game I've seen in person was a preseason game and my ticket was a present. But I've watched faithfully since I was about five or six years old. Some of my fondest memories are wrapped up in watching my team: my step-father and I screaming at the television and only agreeing on the fact that the Steelers committed pass interference in the Super Bowl; my friends and I meeting on Sundays after lunch to scarf down Myron's chips and salsa while we rooted our boys on; people at work laughing at me when I predicted that the 1-15 Cowboys would win the Super Bowl within three years.

When Tom Landry was unceremoniously booted, I quaked with anger and thought I should find something else to do with my Sunday afternoons. But I stuck with my team. When Jimmy Johnson was fired right after winning the Super Bowl, I was aghast, but decided to hope for the best. When Bill Parcells came on board, I was excited at our chances, though sad that players, media and an egotistical owner fired others for not doing a job well that they were not given the opportunity to do.

I have supported the Cowboys even when favorite players got in trouble with the law or did things off the field that did not sit well with my sense of morality. When decisions were made that seemed to come from an un-aired episodes of The Outer Limits, I still watched, hoping. I've always been uncomfortable about the "America's Team" tag, and I do not have any illusions that players, coaches, and owners were more moral at some point in the past. I know it is a business. What I cannot stomach any longer, is that it is a business that tells the fans what to admire and love. It reminds of those punk rocks bands that would spit on and otherwise abuse members of their audience. It is not just Jerry Jones that has spit on me. It is Paul Tagliabue (sp?), the league itself, and those who make their money on the drama even as they discuss the likely consequences.

The signing of Terrell Owens by the Dallas Cowboys is not so much a sign of the beginning of the apocalypse as it is a sign that football is not really a game. I'm sure that he will make the team better. People who love Mr. Owens say that when the team wins the Super Bowl, then everyone will like him and say the move was a good one. Likely this is true. But I won't be there to see it because I don't care anymore how many more games the Cowboys win. I am troubled by an institution like the National Football League that allows such people to continue wreaking havoc. One might as well detain drug dealers for a short time and just give them a million dollars to poison lives in a different neighborhood.

But we (fans) have given fallen sports figures second chances over and over and over. We do not learn our lessons. We indulge criminals and destructive personalities and wonder what went wrong. However, I believe we need to imagine what would happen if we could do what Owens does in our own lives. We'd likely be fired the first time. Eventually we would not even be allowed in the business or field we pursued, no matter how talented we are. This isn't just about Owens getting away with something that I can't, but let's consider what this means. Already most children cannot distinguish the difference between families on television and the families they live with. Thus, I have seen child after child expect things from their parents and teachers that are outside the realm of reality in some cases or a outside the boundaries of a working society. More and more adults treat each other, their co-workers and bosses, their spouses according to the reality they prefer from situation comedies, soap operas, talk shows and pornography. What does it say about our world when a man can be criticized as a team wrecker, but continue to be allowed to rove about inflicting his damage? Those who get paid to criticize Owens and agent (or as I like to think of him, the demon without), may say that Owens shouldn't play or should be forced to behave, but they continue to give him attention. They continue to make sure that his face, his initials, his attitude are before us. We bitch, but we still pay him.

The infamous
Ty Cobb knew he could hold out for more money because people who loved him knew he was a great player. Those who hated would pay to boo him. Either way he and his team would win.

But I'm not paying any more. I'm taking my business elsewhere.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Music notes for January 2006

Sorry for the short notes this time, but much to do...

Octavarium by Dream Theater -- A bit disappointing, but growing on me. It is okay, I suppose, for the general fan of metal/hard rock, but I expect better from this group. However, the epic title track is fantastic.

East/West by Bill Frisell -- I enjoy this two disc set, but had trouble hearing parts of it. The idea is interesting (live sets from two different coasts and two slightly different groups). But it reminds me of a bootleg I got hold of a few years ago where long passages seemed to be nearly silent.

Reissue of Wes Montgomery's Smokin' At the Half Note -- The original is one of the greatest jazz recordings of all time. This version, remastered with some material that had been originally left off, is even better. How anyone could think leaving off Montgomery's versions of "Misty" and "Impressions" is beyond my understanding. My only problem is the talking. There isn't banter between musicians here, which might have been interesting, but mostly someone that sounds like he took his job of introducing the band too much to heart. Shut up and let these cats play!

Spread Love Like Wildfire by Down to the Bone -- Funky. Really, really funky. I enjoyed this.

Possibilities by Herbie Hancock -- I'm surprised this disc isn't turning Herbie Hancock into a major pop star. It is fun to listen to, and while I prefer a more straight ahead jazz thing, this should be generating a larger audience.

It's On Tonight by Brian Culbertson -- I got this by accident, and it feels like one. This smooth jazz thing is like reliving a car crash right after a train wreck caused when an airplane fell out of the sky.

Bookmarks for January 2006

The semester started and life got a little nuts, but here goes:

Wilda gave me a bunch of books, mostly mysteries, last time I was visiting her and Granddad. Recently I picked out the stack Jonathan Kellerman's Blood Test (1986). The story centers on Alex Delaware, a psychologist who helps locate a boy who has disappeared, with his family, from the hospital where he is being treated for cancer. Despite some flaws in the narrative (namely a sub-plot that just appears and disappears whenever it is convenient and a murder that seems to have taken place without the reader being told about it, as if a chapter is missing), this could be an interesting read.

My problem with Blood Test is that it demonstrates much of what is wrong with modern psychology (or rather, modern psychologists). The professionals are self-centered, judgmental people who cannot tolerate anyone who see the world through a different lens than them. Drawing particular ire from Delaware is anything related to religion. Kellerman sets up the usual straw men and women so readers can draw the conclusion that anything religious is harmful at least and corrupt at best. There is no single character or moment where anything valuable in religion is considered. The attack is not very subtle, and not at all fair. But I've not known many in the business of psychology to be honest or fair about this subject. There is an almost religious fervor in their need to eridacate all spirituality.

I've only read one other book by Kellerman, Monster, and I did like that book quite a bit. I certainly hope this novel is not indicative of his oeuvre.

The January issue of Poetry contains an interesting "Exchange" between Meghan O'Rourke, J. Allen Rosser, and Eleanor Wilner on the subject of Women's Poetry. They discuss what women's poetry is and whether we even need the term. They also discuss how the category, if it is one, has changed since early anthologies devoted to poetry by women. Normally I'm put off by such conversations, usually being made quickly and painfully aware that I am an outsider, perhaps even an enemy just because I am male. However, I found this well worth reading. It is the beginning of what is an important discussion in the larger set of debates concerning various categories of literature.
I hesitate to say this, but I do wonder what this might have been like with one male voice added to the mix. I'm not saying it should have happened, but I would like to have heard not just a male's ideas on this subject, but the reaction to his ideas from the other members of the panel.

As for the poems in this issue, I did like both poems by Mary Karr. I'm happy, as I noted in the previous Bookmarks, when I see honest spirituality addressed so beautifully. I think I'm becoming a fan. Here is a link to more of her work published in the archives of the Poetry website.

I was confused (and sometimes disappointed), on the other hand, by some of the other poems, most notably Thylias Moss's "The Subculture of the Wrongfully Accused." I must admit, however, that I may just not be used to how she has written. It likely deserves more energy than I orginally put into reading it.

The Slow Reads: Did finish Coles' The Call of Stories and have been mulling my way through a book of stories and plays by Anton Chekhov. Have finished three of the little volumes inside. My favorite piece so far is "The Black Monk."

Saturday, January 07, 2006

If cheating is okay

If you are going to say that Cheating is not only okay, but good, then…

don’t sue the doctor who botches your “routine” operation because he hasn’t developed critical reasoning skills…

don’t get mad at the mechanic whose explanation for screwing up your car is intended to blame you…

don’t blame the “times we live in” when you find yourself in jail because the lawyer you hired couldn’t find a good defense strategy on the net…

don’t complain when your spouse is unfaithful because she or he just isn’t interested in what you have to say…

don’t be surprised when your best friend trusts a complete stranger with his or her darkest secret, but leaves you completely in the dark…

when your leader (boss, minister, president) takes your group (company, church, country) into a dangerous situation that requires your sacrifice and only benefits him, hold your head up high so the snipers he paid to train years before can get a clean shot at your head…