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

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

‘On your yellow bucket seat’

Today was Copeland Cookie Day in my classes. (And so was Monday.) Dr. Gary Copeland was a professor of mine. He retired soon after my cohort, and he passed away not too long after that. He didn’t get enough time with his beloved grandchildren, and no one got enough time with a widely beloved man. He was a giant of a scholar, a sweet-hearted man who always did a lot for his students.

In one class, he’d bring cookies, put away the syllabus and talk about whatever seemed important: conferences, papers, dealing with colleagues. A lot of the most important things we learned came from that non-class.

Because of that, that’s why I have a Copeland Cookie Day. I bring in snacks, put aside the plans and, for a few minutes, we just talk about industry, courses, war stories, whatever.

After classes were over we went for a run. It was too late in the day for a run. It was too late, which made it too cold. So I only did a quick mile, but I did see this part of the far side of the sunset.

I need to find my running gloves. And start dressing better than shorts and a t-shirt. ‘Tis the season, and all. Only, I have no idea where my running gloves are. I knew where they were, in a drawer, right by the refrigerator. But that was in the old house. And that was in June, in the chaos of packing our stuff when the packers no-showed, and when it was the middle of summer when gloves weren’t exactly a priority.

Where are they now? No idea, but mother nature is a necessity.

Since we’re at the beginning of the month, let’s look at the year’s cycling graph.

The blue line represents mileage I would accrue if I road seven miles a day, a basically arbitrary number I picked at the beginning of the year when I started this spreadsheet. Seven miles, on average, seemed doable.

Then I added columns, and lines, for nine and 10 miles per day. That’s why those three lines are nice and steady, daily projections are consistent, steady, reassuring.

But that purple line, that’s the one that reflects my actual mileage.

As I say so often, I need to ride more. Tomorrow, then.

But tonight, we dive back into the Re-Listening project. I’m playing all of my old CDs in the car, and in the order in which I acquired them. Right now, we’re in the summer of of 2003, when Guster’s “Keep It Together,” their fourth studio album, was released.

This is the first Guster album where the Thunder God, Brian Rosenworcel, played on a drum kit rather than his legendary hand percussion.

A bunch of musician’s musicians — Ron Aniello, Ben Kweller, Joe Pisapia, Josh Rouse and more — appear on the record, which peaked at number 35 on the Billboard Top 200. Thirteen tracks, I like 12 of them, and I love 11 of them. It’s a record that comes up a lot for me, and so the flashes of memories span, well, two decades now.

This is the first track, which was a trippy departure to hear as the first sounds on the thing.

“Careful” was released as a single, and it went to number 30 on the charts.

This was the lead single, which the label released before the album. “Amsterdam” climbers to the 20 spot on the charts. The band said, and you could never tell if it was a joke, that they wrote this just to get the label to fund a trip to Amsterdam for the video.

I think it was a joke.

Someone told me that this song reminded them of me. All melancholy and what not. I’m not sure if she didn’t understand the song or the word melancholy. Apparently, all of the guest musicians were allowed to record one pass (and only one pass) on this song. They didn’t hear the song before they played, or told chords or instruments. I don’t understand how that would even work out, but it’s a triumph. And not about a melancholy me.

“Jesus on the Radio” is now a crowd favorite singalong. They usually do this on stage as unplugged as possible, and if you look around on YouTube tons of fan videos have been uploaded. It’s odd that the band hasn’t done more with that fervor, he said mischievously. Here’s a version with Pisapia (who toured as the fourth member for seven years) on banjo.

There is a high quality version on the “Guster on Ice” DVD, also featuring Pisapia.

Here’s a more recent version, from four or five years ago, long after Luke Reynolds joined the band.

And, as the O’Malley family proved, most anything in your kitchen can be a percussion instrument.

Not just the O’Malleys, but all of their musical fans cover it and record it and upload “Jesus on the Radio,” too. And a few years ago the band made a supercut, and somehow, despite the changes in tempo from version to version, it mostly works. Except for that one.

I could do this all day. And I usually do, on Jesus on the Radio day, March 16th. I actually have the t-shirt. It was a Christmas gift a few years back.

Here’s the title track.

I could do this with the whole album, but I’ll wrap it up with a version of “Come Downstairs and Say Hello,” a thoroughly underrated song when it gets going, and, here, with symphonic accompaniment.

You will discover, about three minutes in, why the Thunder God is so named. It’s one of the few times on that particular record when he went back to his roots. (As I recall he was basically learning how to play a drum kit while they produced this record, partly to change the sound of the record, but, I think, also to give his hands something of a break.) Also, in the second half of that version, the brass, and certain of the strings make it sound absolutely triumphant. I wish they hadn’t come into the song until then.

I have the T-shirt featur that song too. I guess I should finally buy a Guster Is For Lovers shirt, to solidify my OG cred.

Original Guster cred, that is. I go back to the spring of 1997, when Guster Is For Lovers was one of the two things they sold.

Nov 23

Happy Halloween

I dressed as … me. Early in the day I had a Texas shirt on. Now I am wearing a Maryland shirt. I dressed as four percent of the United States. No one asked me, but I have categories for Halloween costumes. I would obviously fit in the not-wearing-a-costume category. Sometimes that one is also labeled the forgot-entirely category, or the “What do I have sitting around that I can justify as a lame costume?” category. I think costumes are for children, but at the same time, I don’t begrudge adults who have a lot of fun with it. (Some people have more than one costume and I admire how they spend their abundant free time.) Enjoy yourself, I say. But, if you’re over 15, leave the candy for the kids.

It’s a hard line approach i have to Halloween, let me tell you.

Much of today was doing busy personal work. Things like reorganizing my wallet with newly activated cards. Important work like watching half-hour long training videos for work. Valuable stuff like planning Thursday’s classes.

Much of that was a great casting about today. Rending this and gnashing that. But finally, here late in the evening, it all started to come together. Which means I will tomorrow have to lay things out a with a little more definition.

Other things today … lessee. A few, a tiny few, yard things, for it was overcast and damp and cold. And then I walked around delivering mail. Our carrier had a rough day of it yesterday. Three things for neighbors two houses up the street one direction landed in our box, and a magazine destined for someone two houses the other direction landed in our box. So I had to walk those things to the appropriate places.

Then the Canada geese flew overhead.

They were heading southeast by my reckoning, never a bad direction to go.

I also put a card in the mail today, all a part of the now regular test to see if things will arrive in anything approaching a timely fashion. When it came down to a post-2016-post-2020-post-everything, not many people, really, thought the mail would be the everyday thing that lost its reliability. It makes sense if you’re paying attention to the Postal Service, a big concern with many, and big, problems — but who pays attention to the Postal Service?

I am overdue in returning to the Re-Listening project. And we need to do some catching up, lest we fall behind like the postal service. Remember, if you can recall back that far in reading here, that the Re-Listening project is the one where I am listening to all of my old CDs, in the order of my acquisition. And I’m writing about it here to share some music and the occasional memory. These aren’t reviews, but they are fun little trips down memory lane.


I’ve somehow accumulated some of the less pleasant associations with this record, so I’m not going to dwell on that here. The music was good, so I guess i played it a lot, and there it was in the background, or the foreground, when things happened. As will happen. But, when I played “Waiting for My Rocket to Come” the other day, I was pleased with how well most of it still holds up.

Jason Mraz’s debut was released in 2002, and someone burned a copy of it for me sometime in 2003. (Or maybe I burned it from a library copy. It’s impossible to say, and it doesn’t matter. It sold 500,000 copies by the end of that and has since been certified platinum. There was the hit single, a top 40 introduction to all of us.

The record peaked at 55 on the US Billboard 200. And it climbed all the way to number two on the US Heatseekers Albums chart. Only Finch, a post-hardcore emo band I don’t recall at all, kept it from the top spot that May. I wonder what I was doing in May of 2003.

It seems like you should remember the yesterdays that were only two decades ago, he digressed.

It’s an impressive record. Tracks four, five and six are so distinct and different from one another, that you can forget he’s a young guy here, and that this is his first record.

Though, I’ll grant you, “Curbside Prophet” feels pretty dated 20 years on.

Mraz had all kind of success after his debut. His third record hit number three on the chart and was certified four times platinum. His fourth made it to number two, and spawned another top 10 hit. At least two more records made the top ten on the albums chart. He’s also won two Grammy awards. Most of which I had no idea about. But one other album should show up later in the Re-Listening Project.

It will probably happen before he goes on tour again. If you want to see Jason Mraz live it looks like you’ll have to wait until next summer.

Up next is Diana Krall’s sixth studio album. I picked it up because I knew some people would like it, and because it was another opportunity to add a little complexity to the collection. This is a jazz and bossa nova tribute record with a lot of great standards. All of which Johnny Mercer has to show up. And, sure enough, here’s the Johnny Mercer track.

This one proves the critics’ point. Diana Krall is almost a singular pianist and an incredibly accomplished singer. But it all gets swallowed up by string arrangements.

Yes, there’s a Hoagy Carmichael number. Actually, a Carmichael and Jane Brown Thompson number. And there’s a story. Carmichael wrote the music, inspired by a poem palmed to him anonymously while he was back visiting IU. The poem said J.B. Carmichael put the initials on the sheet music, but it took more than a decade to solve the mystery. Jane Brown Thompson died the night before the song was introduced on radio by Dick Powell.

That story made it onto an episode of “Telephone Time” a mid-1950s anthology drama series. Wouldn’t you know it, that episode of “Telephone Time” is one of the few that haven’t been uploaded to YouTube.

The title track is a Burt Bacharach standard.

The album topped the Canadian charts, won a Juno and a Grammy. Also, she’s wearing nice shoes in the cover photo.

Diana Krall is still performing. And if you want to fly south, like those geese, you can catch her touring in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia all this month.

In the Re-Listening Project installment, Thursday probably, we will once again discover how Guster is for Lovers.