How I spent last winter

When I heard Google Maps made it easy for someone who doesn’t do source code to do his own annotated map, I knew exactly what I had to do.

This map (with comments, links and photos) where I spent two and a half weeks last winter, thanks to Google Maps’ surprisingly detailed pictures of Torino.


Post #350: A good Colbert-style joke

Yes, this is my 350th post. And to celebrate, I’m going to have a good laugh at the good and ugly — not bad — of the Internets.

Start here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which published a hysterical letter to the editor. It’s a conspiracy theory — the liberal Congress wanted to perpetuate the global warming hoax, so it pushed back the beginning of Daylight Savings Time so that March would be warmer.

(Stop. Make sure you read that — if not the full letter, at least my synopsis, which doesn’t do it justice.)

How would the blogosphere react to this?

A few people figured it was a lost cause to explain that Congress didn’t actually gain control of time and space, so they explained that the DST law was passed before the Democrats gained control of Congress. Some were a little hostile, at least at first. Even Boing Boing.

But some people figured it must be a joke. And Snopes, bless their hearts, gets to the bottom of it. Snopes also shares some of the livid reactions in subsequent letters but is kind enough not to print their names.

The story has a good subplot — the headline. As you can see, it’s misspelled — “Daylight exacerbates warning.” (As a former copy editor, I feel the pain here, especially because changing the “n” to an “m” would mean the headline wouldn’t fit.)

Among the snarky reactions (you’ll have to go to that “misspelled” link and pop open the comments — it’s #2):

“And I guess one of the first caualties of the new ‘journalism’ take of todays media was the proofreader/spellchecker. Which since most Writing Programs on the computer have them built in – should be a given.”

Accept that eye don’t think a spellchecker wood have cot “warning.”


DVD review: Blue Man Group, The Complex Rock Tour Live

After seeing an amazing Blue Man Group show last month, I asked for and received a Blue Man DVD for my birthday. My family rocks.

It only takes a few minutes to realize that no DVD can possibly do the live show justice. The show is an overwhelming assault on your eyes and ears. It’s not quite the same watching on a computer screen, particularly on the titletrack The Complex, which loses a bit of power when you’re not immersed in it, feeling the office drone’s despair as he tries to escape.

And the DVD seems designed not to give everything away. It’s basically the music and only the music, not all the sketches in between. That’s a little disappointing in the sense that I would’ve liked to see how the 2003 show documented here differs from the “Megastar” show I saw.

So given all that, you have to judge it for what is is — an introduction to Blue Man Group shows rather than a complete replication of the experience.

Judged on that standard, it’s quite good. With the Blue Men and full band — guitarists, vocalists, drummer and THREE percussionists (I only saw two) — there’s no shortage of interesting visuals, and the music is a good mix of professional polish and raw live energy.

The DVD also features the singer I didn’t get to see — Tracy Bonham. And she’s just wonderful, particularly on Baba O’Reilly. It helps that she can pick up a violin and play the last bit.

Bonham isn’t the only vocalist to record on the Complex album who is featured here. Peter Moore, who was also in the live show I saw, replicates his songs as well as those they recorded with Dave Matthews and Gavin Rossdale. He easily bounces between personas, and his Jon Peter Lewis hair gives him an extra layer of innocence that works for the show.

And Venus Hum, the band that helped the Blue Men redo the disco classic I Feel Love, appears in full force. Lead singer Annette Strean has a big powerful voice that belies her appearance. Think Lisa Loeb’s perky, playful twin sister, and you get the idea.

Given a choice between buying the DVD and seeing the show, see the show. If you can’t see the show, enjoy the DVD.


Hey hey, we’re the Hall of Famers!

Phred passes along a few comments from Peter Tork on the Monkees’ case for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. Tork, in case you don’t know your Monkees lore the one who could play several instruments — as opposed to Mike Nesmith, who could play guitar and write songs, and the other two, who were singers who had to learn drums and percussion.

Tork says Rolling Stone editor-for-life Jann Wenner is The Man keeping the Monkees out.

Here follows a quick debate on whether Wenner is right:

They couldn’t play their own instruments!

They did in their live shows and on their later albums, particularly after Nesmith demonstrated his wall-punching skills to Don Kirshner.

Besides — I don’t recall any of the Ronettes sporting Stratocasters, and I don’t think they’ll hold it against Run DMC that Run didn’t play the riff in Walk This Way.

They were pre-manufactured!

Again, the Ronettes. And yes, the Sex Pistols.

They didn’t write their own songs!

Nesmith and Micky Dolenz did a lot more writing than some of the bands in the Hall.

They had no lasting impact!

Anyone over the age of 30 can hum Last Train to Clarksville. They pioneered an early form of the music video. In fact, Mike Nesmith played a hand in the next step of video evolution.

Well … they’re not New Yorkers like Blondie, the Ramones or Patti Smith. And they’re not bluesmen and old Sun Studio guys we pretend to like so music historians think we know something.

We’re aware of that. But this is not the Greenwich Village Hall of Fame, it’s the ROCK AND ROLL Hall of Fame. And it’s in Cleveland. Look it up on Mapquest.

OK, fine. At least they’re not progressive rock guys like Rush and Yes.

Yeah, we’ll talk about that next week.


Song review — Rush, "Far Cry"

As longtime readers here will know, I’m a dedicated Rush fan. I’ve seen them live four or five times, and I have at one time or another owned every studio release except the debut Rush and the third album Caress of Steel, which was hurried out for some reason I should probably know.

Since becoming a convert in late middle/early high school, the release of the first single from a new Rush album has been something special.

– The chilling Distant Early Warning, with the heavy synths and the Strangelove-style video.

The Big Money, whose electric-drum bombast didn’t detract from the nicely intertwining riffs and playful lyrics

– The breathtaking Force Ten, which sounded like a passing hurricane and ended with an ominous sound, as if another storm were brewing

Show Don’t Tell, not one of Neil Peart’s best lyrics (and not one of Rush’s better albums, despite AllMusic’s inexplicable 4.5 star review) but an intriguing mix of riffs

Dreamline, another powerful show-stopper in the vein of Force Ten

Animate, opening with a funk-rock beat and a chugging rhythm that sets the backdrop for a meditation on gender roles. Hey, only Rush could explore this sort of territory in a power trio.

Test for Echo, an abrupt mood-swinger that’s probably the weakest of this batch and not as memorable as two other songs (Driven, Resist) on the album of the same name. It was a little disappointing, particularly after an unprecendented (almost) three-year gap between albums for a band that usually cranked them out every 1.5-2 years.

One Little Victory — apologies to LL Cool J, but we will call this comeback. Rush hadn’t recorded in almost six years, with the band very much in limbo after Neil Peart lost his wife and daughter within a year’s span. It was fitting that the song opened with a full-throttle drum assault that only Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher can approximate. Even without the backstory, the song simply outrocks just about anything ever recorded … anywhere. When you add in the context and appreciate the understatement of that “little” victory, it’s amazing.

Five years have passed since then, and Rush has had fun being a band again. They’ve gone heavily into the DVD format with the R30 retrospective and the live Rush in Rio. They recorded an album of rock standards called Feedback. They’ve toured, they’ve rested.

And now, they’ve recorded another album. You don’t have to dig around or wait for the radio to play the new single — just go to their site and look for Far Cry.

It’s … not that good.

I’ve listened three times in three weeks, and it just hasn’t grown on me. Neil Peart joked that the last album was “all the things you hate about Rush,” but this song actually fits that description. You could even say it’s all the things we hate about Dream Theatre or other prog-rock bands that approximate the musicianship and complexity of Rush but never quite turned their technical ability into good songs.

Far Cry starts with a turgid guitar-bass drone, slamming the same chord over and over in an unpredictable rhythm. That’s a prog-rock cliche, and it’s a bad sign. Worse, it’s repetitive — it sounds a little too close to the Vapor Trails standout Peaceable Kingdom, which made far better use of it by contrasting it with the hopeful, atmospheric chorus.

A problem I had with Vapor Trails — though it’s a far better release overall then Presto or Test for Echo — was that the sound was far too thick. Too crunchy, to borrow my kid’s terms. At times, I was convinced I had a defective copy that couldn’t possibly have been mixed properly.

Far Cry has the same problem throughout. It’s not an accessible sound, and any hooks are buried in the mix.

Thematically, it just doesn’t go anywhere. The song meanders from one section to the next, with nothing holding it together. That negates one advantage Rush always had over Yes — Rush generally has a better idea of where its songs were going, while Yes sometimes devolved into this: “OK, Steve, you can play a three-minute solo now, then it’s Rick’s turn, then we’ll restate the opening riff just so people remember what song this is, then Steve plays the slide guitar …”

(Hey, I kid because I care. I love Yes, too.)

I’m sure I’ll like at least a couple of songs from this album. But this is undoubtedly the most disappointing opener Rush has ever released. Even Caress of Steel, the only truly bad Rush album, had the blazing Bastille Day to kick things off.

music, videos

Boys Don’t Cry … the band

Quick post today before I get to a long day of Annoying Stuff I Have To Do:

From VH1 Classic this morning, one of those songs that I hadn’t thought about in 15 years or so but can recite from memory upon hearing the first bit. It’s Boys Don’t Cry’s I Wanna Be a Cowboy.

If, like me, you had repressed all memory of this campy drum-machine, spoken-word hit and its preposterous fantasy video, take a look …

You can also see it at the keyboardist’s site.

It’s such a random song that I’ll have to go with random observations:

1. I guess the main difference between seeing this at age 16 and seeing at age 30… (cough) … is that I now see a cowboy-themed video and immediately start looking for gay subtext. I’m not sure they get any closer than “Camping on the prairie / Plays havoc with my hair.” Today, I guess we’d call that metrosexual subtext.

2. I like the way the woman in the video smiles even as she yells “help!” A lesser actress would have made it seem more like an actual hostage situation and less like a bit of silly — possibly kinky — fun.

3. Lemmy is in this video. Let me repeat … Lemmy. The guy from Motorhead who strums his bass like a guitar and spits out Ace of Spades plays the bad guy. As Butt-head said, “He’s Lemmy. He can be in any damn video he wants to.”

4. Boys Don’t Cry’s Wikipedia entry currently makes this claim: “The song has been described as the perfect musical realization of a spaghetti western movie.” By whom?

5. Also from Wikipedia: One guy worked with a couple of Yes-sters, including Jon Anderson, and two guys sued Paula Cole over Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? I’d have sued her over I Don’t Want to Wait for attempting to refashion grammar in own image (it’s “say a little prayer for ME,” Miss Precious). Rolling Stone, though, says it wasn’t Cole’s fault.

6. Oh, they also sued Kid Rock. No word on whether they sued Jerry Seinfeld for saying “I don’t wanna be a pirate!”

7. The lead singer remade the song a decade and change later.

This was followed by the Rush video for Limelight, one of several from the Moving Pictures/Signals era in which someone figured they’d just run cameras while the guys were in the studio and do some fancy split-screens. And maybe splice in some shots of Geddy on stage in a cape.