Nov 23

Lights, and more lights

Oh, sure, today, when I have to be inside, it can be 20 degrees warmer and sunny. Isn’t that just the way of it? Of course it started out cold, ’tis the season, somehow. But by the time midday rolled around, by the time we got to campus, we were assured a beautiful day. And I got to spend the rest of it under fluorescent light bulbs.

Which was usual, but also mildly amusing today: we talked exclusively about lighting for film and television today. Hard light, soft light. Three-point light systems, key lights, fill lights, back lights. Four-point light techniques. High-key lights, low-key lights, silhouettes. The inverse square law (Intensity = 1/Distance-squared). Reflectors, infusers. I had compiled 10 pages of good notes to share.

And then, I did it again in a second class.

After which, I met up with a few colleagues and we went out for dinner. Italian. We talked, among other things, about music, and nostalgia. It was delightful.

I had the opportunity in that conversation to talk about the Re-Listening project, but I did not bring it up. There was an almost natural spot for it to fit in, and while I could have wedged it in, I let the moment pass. I’d much rather tell you about it, dear reader.

As you recall, the Re-Listening project is where I am playing all of my old CDs, in the order of their acquisition, in my car. These aren’t music reviews, but a fun jaunt down memory lane, a good excuse to put some music here and, of course, a good way to pad the site. Today we’re back somewhere in 2004, listening to the debut album from Los Lonely Boys. You’ll remember “Heaven,” which went to the top of the Billboard AC charts. So they had good airplay. They appeared on Austin City Limits and who all knows where else that year. A lot of people bought this record, it went double-platinum in 11 months. Willie Nelson raved about them. (This was recorded at his Pedernales studio.) And that part, and that single, are why I bought the CD.

That song won a Grammy.

And, friends, of all the records you might purchase on the basis of one song getting airplay, this is one of the better ones. I haven’t listened to this in a while, but when it came up for the Re-Listening project I was struck, once again, by the musicianship, and the joyful nature of it all. Also, the harmonies are pretty tight. But, first, you have to hammered by that blues guitar.

Also, this band is not a one-trick pony.

Most prevailing memory of Los Lonely Boys, we were at a small dinner party the year after this record was released, and a few of the songs made the playlist. That night was the night when our little clutch of grad school friends started considering The Yankee and I a couple.

Mostly, this whole album demands a drink with a lot of condensation on the glass.

This album settled comfortably in the nine spot on the Billboard 200, and finished on the 2004 year-end chart at number 44. In a display of it’s staying power, it was on the year-ender for 2005, at 85. More albums followed in the next decade — some with big commercial success — and a ton of touring. They just wrapped up a national tour, in fact, but they’ll be back on the road in January. Check them out of if they come near you.

Nov 23

Punches on ice

So many leftovers. Somehow they all made it into the refrigerator, which is, right now, more full than it has been since we moved. It’ll be a week of turkey and sides for me, and no complaints.

Today we went across the river to catch a hockey game. It was the homestanding Flyers and the Rangers, which drew a large crowd all their own. There was almost as much red, white and blue as black and orange at the Wells Fargo Center.

And the Rangers fans went away happy. They’re team won 3-1.

I might be bad luck for the Flyers. They’re 1-2 when I am there for a game. The win was in … 2007.

We’re there for Gritty, basically.

After the game, I ducked back in from the concourse to see what was happening with everyone walked away from the rink. Those video ribbons, it turns out, go all the way down to the ice. I wonder why. Aside from maintenance, what would be the purpose? And why lower it after a game?

On the way back home, we enjoyed splendid views of the sunset.

After which we started on the leftovers — didn’t make a dent, really — and eased into the second half of this lovely long weekend.

Nov 23

We have company, we also have a bike ride, markers, music

My in-laws came in last night, right on time and as expected. We were waiting for them in the garage, to hustle in all of their stuff from the rain. Rained the whole drive, they said. But, other than precipitation, reduced visibility and traffic, it was a good drive. They’ll be spending a few days with us over the holiday, and we’re happy to have the company.

So happy that we spent a little time with them last night before going to bed. And a little time with them this morning and early this afternoon, before going on a bike ride.

We offered for them to go along with us. We have the bikes; we could make it work. But they politely declined.

So we set out for a quick 20. My lovely bride invited me to go longer, if I want to, which I did. I did the first eight miles or so in this nice windbreaker that I’ve had for several years now. It was, if I recall correctly, a present from the in-laws. But, today, I started to think that this technical windbreaker might actually be technically functioning as a parachute. It was a headwind, but still, I could not turn my legs over.

And, too, we were right on the cusp, today, of needing a light jacket, which means that, after some time at flailing about on the bike, it didn’t seem like I needed a jacket. The opposite condition, in fact, seemed to be the case. So I took that off because, by then, I was losing a lot of ground. (Jacket as parachute.) I spent the next 12 miles yo-yoing off The Yankee’s back wheel. But feeling stronger because I wasn’t pedaling against my clothing. So, occasionally, I would take a pull off the front.

So we did one of our usual 21-mile routes. She went back to the house and I continued on. I wanted to do that first leg of the route again, into the headwind, to see if it felt different. (It did.) Also, I wanted to turn around at the other end to ride with the wind at my back. I wanted to see how fast it would push me. (It did.)

Over the course of the ride I set four PRs on Strava segments, all of them with the wind to my back, or in a crosswind. Some of them are impressive compared to the previous bests, but none of them overly impressive compared to the rest of the people on Strava. Some of my splits were actually impressive. And it wasn’t until mile 37 or so, when I was already plotting out the easiest way to get to 40 and get back inside, that I remembered: tomorrow, we have to go run.

So I finished with 41 miles on a cold, damp day, and felt my quads all evening. They’re only just beginning to explain how they’ll complain tomorrow.

This is the 17th installment of We Learn Wednesdays, where I ride my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. Including today’s installment we’ll have seen, I believe, 35 of the 115 markers found in the Historical Marker Database.

And, today, we visit the home of Abigail and Elizabeth Goodwin. They were Quakers, daughters of William Goodwin, a farmer who manumitted all his slaves during the American Revolution. Abigail and Elizabeth were founding members of a local Female Benevolent Society, dedicated to aiding the poor, infirm and elderly.

Historians know more about Abigail (1793-1867) than Elizabeth (1789-1860). More of her letters have survived. Abigail was written about in a book published by one of her contemporaries, a railroad conductor. Also, they had a nephew who wrote about them in his diary, which has also made it into the archives. They lived here. Their home was the first site in the state to be included in the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program.

This house joined the Underground Railroad in 1838. Here’s a part of one of her letters, writing to William Still:

I have read the President’s proclamation of emancipation, with thankfulness and rejoicing; but upon a little reflection, I did not feel quite satisfied with it; three months seems a long time to be in the power of their angry and cruel masters, who, no doubt, will wreak all their fury and vengeance upon them, killing and abusing them in every way they can – and sell them to Cuba if they can. It makes me sad to think of it. Slavery, I fear, will be a long time in dying, after receiving the fatal stroke. What do abolitionists think of it? and what is thy opinion? I feel quite anxious to know something more about it. The “Daily Press” says, it will end the war and its cause. How can we be thankful enough if it should, and soon too. “Oh, praise and tanks,” what a blessing for our country. I never expected to see the happy day. If thee answers this, thee will please tell me all about it, and what is thought of it by the wise ones; but I ought not to intrude on thy time, thee has so much on thy hands, nor ask thee to write. I shall know in time, if I can be patient to wait.

Still was a businessman, a writer, historian and civil rights activist. His own records show that he helped 800 or more slaves in their quest for freedom. Abigail and Elizabeth had a hand in some of those, as well.

If those walls could talk, their tales would have listeners. Still today, the home of Abigail and Elizabeth Goodwin, a key stop on the eastern route of the Underground Railroad, is a private residence.

Let’s drop in on the Re-Listening project. You’ll recall this is where I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the order in which I acquired them. And, today, we are firmly back in 2004, with “All That We Let In,” the ninth studio album by the Indigo Girls. It climbed to a respectable 35 on the Billboard 200.

Generally well received by critics, this record was their third in a row that settled in the 30s. They’re 19 or 20 years into their career, here, and there’s all of the earnestness and activism that people that knew them came to expect. A lot of reviews point this out, but those are reviewers and, I’d argue, not people who spend a lot of time thinking about any one given band. You just can’t take that part away from this duo, even if you wanted to. It wouldn’t be them if you did. So people noted or complained about that, but

There’s a CD+DVD version of this record, the DVD has six live songs. I think I’ve played it twice. But the CD gets a lot of spins.

I think I bought this without knowing what anything on it would sound like. In my mushy memory, it was nighttime when I put this CD in the player and heard the first notes from track one.

I was already in love with every musical thing Amy Ray did by then, and this record didn’t hurt. Track two was hers.

“Tether” is on this record. And here’s a performance we saw at the mother church, The Ryman, this summer.

One of my favorite songs in the catalog, and this is no easy call, is “Dairy Queen.” It’s the string action, the stuttering percussion, all of the accentuating instrumentation and, oh, I dunno, pretty much every word they wrote down and sang into microphones here.

And then there was “Cordova,” just so starkly beautiful. I knew someone who lived in a small town named Cordova. This was not about her, of course, but it’s easy to put people into songs when you have flimsy excuses like that.

Carol Isaacs is all over this song on the record. She’s playing the piano, the B-3, the penny whistle and, I think, the ocarina.

They brought the energy way up to finish the CD, it’s a full band effort: Isaacs, Clare Kenny, Brady Blade and some other guests, like John Holmes and Joan Osborne, appear on “Rise Up.”

I didn’t see the Indigo Girls in 2004, but we will see them again soon, and we’re excited about that.

And I’m almost as excited about the next installment of the Re-Listening project. We’re going Tex-Mex, and we’ll do that Friday, or Monday. Care to guess who it might be?

Nov 23

Never good with a carpenter’s square …

It was a rainy day, cold and dreary, but that was just fine. Attention was needed inside, anyway. I busied myself putting some things in the basement and checking on the plants that are under growth lights down there. (Some are doing well.) I moved a few things around upstairs. I cleaned my share of the stuff off of the guest bed. I cleaned the guest bathroom.

All of that and many of the other quotidian chores of the day. It allowed me to ponder the etymology of the word quotidian. (I don’t normally think of etymology, but it’s a fun word.) It comes from French, and old English.

The version we use goes back 700 or so years, “something that returns or is expected every day.” And that sounds about right, for regular ol’ housework.

I also did a lot of grading, because grading needed to be done. Later this week, if I spend another hour on it, I’ll be all caught up. I intended to do that today, but I distracted myself by rearranging the shelves in my office closet.

I used the old step stool. I made this, I believe, in the 7th grade. It was the first or second project we made in shop class. It was the most basic carpentry-by-numbers project. My woodworking skills aren’t especially great today, but they were even less so then. No patience for sanding, had a difficult time cutting anything square, and no patience: the usual strengths one must possess. But, decades later, this is still in good use.

While I was never very good in the shop, my grades were better in the classroom. This, I think, is the only one of my wood shop projects that survived the years. Quite the functional souvenir. I wonder how many of my old classmates still have these step stools somewhere.

A few years ago, I made another stool, a different design, but not much better. It does its primary job, though, giving you couple of feet of extra height. Maybe it’ll work for about the same length of time.

I must return to the Re-Listening project, because I am behind. The Re-Listening project is pretty simple. I am playing all of my old CDs, in the order in which I acquired them, in the car. Then I’m writing about them here, irregularly, it turns out. These aren’t reviews, because who cares? But, it’s another way to pad out the site, I can play and enjoy some music and, occasionally, some memories. I am eight discs behind in terms of writing about them, and I have resolved to listen to a few of those over and over until I catch up here.

So let’s catch up, a bit. We go back to 2003, when I picked up the 2002 Maroon 5 debut. “Songs About Jane” was released in 2002, and it was re-released in October 2003 when it was getting some traction. I have that one, it seems. Five singles were put on the airwaves, and pushed and pushed into radios. The record topped the charts in Australia, France, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and reached the top-ten in 17 other countries. It peaked at number six here, selling nearly 2.7 million copies in it’s first year and change. Millions more were moved around the world. It was certified as platinum in 15 countries, and was a multi-platinum debut in eight of those.

Everyone, then, had this record. Let’s talk, then, abut the acoustic EP. It was recorded in New York City in January of 2003, and I have that for some reason, too. It sits right next to the debut in my CD book.

“The Sun” was on the record, but it was not a single. So, if you’re one of the four people who listened to pop music in the oughts who don’t have this record, maybe you don’t know this song.

There’s also a Beatles cover on the EP, which seems an anachronism for this band and time. But it’s pretty good.

Entertainment Weekly called it faceless pop.

From their crisply played but blandly facile songs to a weak-kneed cover of the Beatles’ ”If I Fell,” Maroon 5 cement their reputation as kings of the new faceless pop. Remember when Journey and Styx were derided as generic corporate rock? In retrospect, Steve Perry and Dennis De Young were idiosyncratic oddballs compared with Maroon singer Adam Levine, whose voice sounds more grating than usual without the much-needed studio gloss.

The reviewer might have gotten all of this right, in retrospect.

I remember playing these in Florida, on a 2004 trip. I surely played these discs a lot because, even though I haven’t listened to them in a long, long time, I remembered every key modulation when I played them for the Re-Listening project. But none of those bring to mind big memories. It was probably just a lot of back-and-forth to work music. But that trip to Florida was a fun one.

Tomorrow, we’ll return to the Re-Listening project, and we’ll find ourselves once more in 2004 with two terrific albums.

But, for now, I must return to the Thanksgiving preparations.

Nov 23

I helped make the best program in the country

I haven’t written in this space about IUSTV since we left IU in June, but I think of them often. I have had a few brief text chats with former students, and spent a Saturday afternoon on a lovely and long Zoom call with the young woman now at the top of the station’s org chart, a four-year IUSTV member, the sort who’s really going places in a hurry. I have read IUSTV’s website and watched some of their shows. (After seven years of being so close to the product — 935 scripted episodes of TV and video productions across 15 original programs, 328 podcast episodes and almost 300 hours of live streaming — watching as a consumer is an interesting experience.)

This is something of coda.

Tonight, I received a bit of happy punctuation on my seven-year tenure there. The College Media Pinnacle Award winners for 2022-2023 were announced and IUSTV got good news. Hoosier News Source was awarded second place. This is the winning episode they submitted for consideration.

The merely tolerated organization that no one wanted — always a sore spot for me for obvious reasons — has gone national. And in my last year working with them, they went right to the top. Second place! In the nation!

It gets better. Hoosier Sports Nite was named the top sportscast in the country.

Best of ’em all.

I was lucky enough to see all of this in person, coaching and coaxing and cheering them on. And I was even more fortunate to see this. Not only were the news and sports divisions doing this good work. They were helping each other. They were building a sustainable culture, one that can serve the organization well for years to come. They were graduating. They were getting (great!) jobs. Now they’re winning national awards.

I’m so proud of all of those young men and women. And I’m selfishly glad they got this sort of recognition with programs I was a part of.

I will, of course, take all of the credit.

I went out for a ride in the late afternoon. Before I set out, I saw this tree at the top of our driveway. This isn’t my tree, so it isn’t my problem — presuming the leaves fall straight down and stay there.

That shadow in the foreground? That one is entirely my problem.

It was a 25-mile ride. A simple get-out-and-ride after a bunch of grading and vacuuming and doing dishes and whatnot. It was a good ride, the first 15 miles, anyway. I had one split that was 22.15, which is pretty fast fofr me. And then the 15 to 20 mile stretch was nothing but headwinds. It was like pedaling through gravy.

Later, I was out enjoying the last of the best light of the day. Those brief moments between the full day and the lull of the evening. The sun and the earth have conspired to rotate into that brief relationship where the light is different, but only for a heartbeat.

In that bit of magic, that regular old example of celestial mechanics, you want to absorb the event. I want to photograph whatever the light is dancing on. It’s a matter of timing, then …

And sometimes you get photobombed.