Friday, February 27, 2015

Love, Logic, and Why I Don't Write Dystopia: Some Rambling Thoughts on the Occasion of Leonard Nimoy's Passing

When The Wife and I were on our honeymoon, one of the stops was the Boston Museum of Science. I'm always a fan of science museums. During our visit, we saw a movie in their OmniMax theater. I don't remember what the movie was, to be honest, but I do recall a bit at the beginning of the show, when the lights dimmed and a voice sounded over the speakers, which said something like this:

Good afternoon! The movie will begin shortly, but before it does, we need to properly calibrate our theater's sound systems for use. To do this, we have enlisted the aid of a person who grew up in this very neighborhood. You may find his voice familiar.

This was followed by a beat of silence, and then another voice said:

Hello. Who put the BOMP in the BOMP shoo BOMP shoo BOMP; who put the RAM in the RAMALAMADINGDONG.

The second voice, the "local kid made good", was Leonard Nimoy's. I think most folks in the audience recognized that voice before he actually said "This is Leonard Nimoy"; his voice was, actually, one of the most familiar I ever knew. Gravelly and distinguished, that voice was, and Nimoy knew how to use it, which words to emphasize and where to pause just ever-so-slightly for effect.

I don't remember a time when I wasn't aware of Leonard Nimoy on some level. More precisely, I should say that I don't remember a time when I didn't know who Mr. Spock was. I remember Star Trek episodes very early on, all the way back to the first house I ever lived in. Trek was my sister's thing, but I remember vague images from it. The most specific one I have is at the end of an episode called "Friday's Child", when, at the end, all is well and the female guest star's character has given birth, and observing Dr. McCoy making baby talk to the kid, Spock asks why baby talk is a thing at all.

A lot can be said about Nimoy and Spock, and a lot has been said about Nimoy and Spock over the years. Most fascinating to me was Spock's arc through the six "Original Crew" movies, from his attempt in The Motion Picture to purge himself of emotion to his own resolution of the "Kobayashi Maru" test to his rescue to his work to put his own brain back together (interesting that no fewer than three major Trek stories, one episode and two movies, devoted large amounts of time to putting Spock's brain and mind back together), and finally to the confident, competent officer we saw in The Undiscovered Country. In that film, when Kirk and McCoy get in serious trouble and are arrested, Spock just calmly assumes command and immediately begins the investigation to find the evidence to free them. Through that film, Spock acts with a calm acceptance that the truth will come out, that they will find the evidence, and that they will find it by searching for it calmly and logically. It is of a piece with his line in the film about the need for faith, to trust that "the Universe will unfold as it should".

My personal favorite Spock moment comes at the end of what is certainly one of the very best Trek episodes ever, "The City on the Edge of Forever". Knowing that if he allows Edith Keeler to live, the future will change and Starfleet and the Federation will never happen, Kirk stops McCoy from pulling her out of the path of the oncoming car. McCoy rages at Kirk:

"You deliberately stopped me. Jim! I could have saved her! Do you know what you just did?!"

And Spock -- ever calm, ever logical, ever accepting of what must be -- simply says:

"He knows, Doctor. He knows."

Nimoy knows that he can't express sadness in that line. He cannot express heartbreak or the awfulness of the choice that Kirk has just had to make, and all the same, Nimoy conveys that Spock knows these things. He knows these things, he knows that they are real, and he does not belittle them in any way.

Since I've no memories at all of a time before Star Trek, it's fair to say that it -- along with Star Wars, obviously -- are the biggest influences of mine in terms of my notion of what the world will look like, hundreds or thousands of years in the future. Will we always face problems and struggles and very real difficulties? Absolutely. But I don't believe in dystopia. I cannot, will not believe that there is a future in the offing when the world is wrecked and everything is in ashes and only a very few are living well while the rest of humanity exists in dimly-lit squalor. I cannot, will not believe that, and that's why I cannot, will not write it.

I believe that whatever difficulties and challenges we eventually face, we will do it from a brightly-lit viewpoint where it's always clear how far we've already come. I believe that when we take to the stars, our ships will be beautiful and that they will explore with grace, and that we will confront our futures with logic and science as well as warmth and a twinkle in the eye that's always there.

Why do I believe those things? In large part, because of a teevee show and some movies that Leonard Nimoy starred in.

After his long and prosperous life, Leonard Nimoy now belongs to the past. But he'll always be a part of my "Undiscovered Country".

Bad Joke Friday

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Something for Thursday

In addition to The Wife's birthday, yesterday was also George Harrison's birthday. In his honor, here is a song he wrote: "Here Comes the Sun".

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Happy Birthday My Love

Hurry up and pay for the popcorn.

Today is the annual date on which we celebrate The Wife having completed one more trek around the Sun as a passenger on this odd planet of ours. Some years ago, I posted the list below, which I have now amended and supplemented. Before we get to that, though...I've come to believe, for some reason, in the "infinite universes" notion. There are alternate universes in which she and I never met, or where we met and never dated, or where we met and dated and never married, or where we met and dated and married but never moved to Buffalo...well, you get the idea. I can't imagine that in any of the universes in which we never met, I'm any happier than I am in this one. There are things that we have faced that I wish had turned out otherwise, and there are probably other universes where they did. For this universe, though...I am unspeakably happy that she is at my side and I am at hers, as we face all the glories and demons this universe has to offer.

UPDATE: An annotated version of this photo appears on my Flickr stream, here.

She and I actually had our first date just four days before her birthday, on February 21, back in 1991, so each time her birthday rolls around, it also means that we've been together in some fashion for another year. She has now been in my life for eighteen twenty-four years. Here is the official Byzantium's Shores celebration of The Wife, in my typical form: a list. This list first ran in 2009, so this is a long-overdue updating of it: One hundred-plus things about the woman I married. Memories, observations, things I love about her. In truth, I could probably write ten of these lists and still be less than half done.

1. Her hand fits perfectly into mine, as though our hands were fit for each other.

1a. That said, there's a good chance that she prefers the dog to me.

2. The first time she saw Star Wars was with me. And ET.

2a. The first time I saw Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were with her.

3. She used to keep an aquarium before a bunch of moves made us give up the fish. Maybe we'll do that again someday. But when we started dating, she had two fish, named Ken and Wanda, named after two memorable characters from A Fish Called Wanda. When Ken went belly-up, she called a friend and solemnly informed her, "K-k-k-ken d-d-d-died." (One of the movie's running gags is Ken's stuttering.)

4. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but I've converted her from someone who hated coffee into a regular coffee drinker.

5. For reasons passing understanding, she has always found Erik Estrada attractive. She and I used to have arguments over who could best the other in a fight: Agent Mulder from The X-Files or Ponch from Chips. (I think Mulder would have blinded Ponch with the beam from those giant blue-beamed flashlights he and Scully were always toting, and then beaten him into submission with his eternally-able-to-get-a-signal cell phone.)

6. One of the first things we cooked together was Spanish rice, which is to this day a comfort dish of ours. The first time we made it together was also the first time she'd ever cooked with actual bulb garlic, as opposed to garlic powder. The recipe called for a clove, but she thought the entire head was a clove, so into the rice the entire head of garlic went. That was the best Spanish rice ever.

7. A few years ago she baked a Bundt cake for The Daughter's birthday, but the damned thing stuck in the pan, resulting not in a ring but a mound. So she just mounded it up, glopped the frosting right over the top, and called it a "Volcano Cake". Now, every year at her birthday, The Daughter says, "Remember the Volcano Cake?"

8. Our first date was to see Edward Scissorhands. So, Johnny Depp's been there since the beginning, from Edward all the way to Captain Jack Sparrow and beyond.

9. We used to go out for chicken wings and beer every Thursday night. We didn't even miss our Thursday night wing night when The Daughter was born: her birth was on a Saturday, and we left the hospital on Tuesday, so at the tender age of five days, The Daughter entered a bar for the first time. This may have made us bad parents, but I don't think so. A girl's got to know how to handle herself in a bar, right?

9a. She's not a huge fan of when I post photos of her sleeping.

Yes, I will get yelled at for this, but she's so cute when she sleeps...even when it's during her favorite teevee show!

10. She insisted on breastfeeding both The Daughter and Little Quinn, which in both cases required lots of pumping. Especially in Little Quinn's case, since he was never able to eat by mouth. Every drop of breastmilk that entered his body went in via the G-tube, so for as long as her production held up, she pumped six times a day.

11. I'll probably never completely understand how much of herself she sacrificed in fourteen months to keep Little Quinn alive and progressing. It seems, in retrospect, that every free day she had was given to him.

12. That same instinct in her kicked in again when Fiona was in danger. She didn't question the necessity or possibility of spending months flat on her back with her feet inclined, if that was what it took. If commitment was all that was needed, Fiona would be here today. (Of course, if commitment was all that was needed, Little Quinn would be here and Fiona wouldn't have happened.)

13. We used to associate certain teevee shows with the snack foods we'd eat while watching them. NYPDBlue was always chips-and-salsa. ER, when we still watched it, was often good ice cream. Now, good ice cream has been transposed to Grey's Anatomy.

14. "Our" first teevee show was LA Law.

15. Subsequent teevee shows of "ours" included ER, Mad About You, The Pretender, Profiler, CSI, Firefly, and more.

16. On our first Internet account, we set up our combined e-mail identity after the two main characers on The Pretender. We were "Jarod and Miss Parker". People familiar with the show wondered what that said about our relationship, since Jarod and Miss Parker aren't allies. In fact, Miss Parker was initially a villain but as the show went on her character became much more complex.

17. She started roller blading, got me hooked, and then promptly stopped roller blading. Now she prefers biking.

18. It was almost without warning that I met her parents for the first time. We started dating late February 1991; a couple of weeks later was spring break, for a week, so I came home to Buffalo. At the end of that week I tried calling her, only to learn from the old lady she was renting a room from that she wasn't home because of a death in her family. I remembered her saying something about a sick grandfather, and that's what turned out to have happened; her grandfather had passed away from Lou Gehrig's Disease. When I got back out to school, her entire family was there. So I met the future in-laws on the spot. Luckily, I seem to have made some kind of decent impression.

19. Our first long trip together was from Iowa to Idaho, to visit her family, a couple of weeks before school began in August of 1992. She had already graduated college, but I was in my senior year. While we were out there, the infamous Ruby Ridge Incident was taking place twenty miles down the road, so all week there were National Guard vehicles on the roads and helicopters overhead.

20. I am forever amazed at her ability to take some fabric and create a garment. This skill of hers looks like magic to me.

21. Her first pair of overalls were a gift from me. She thought the whole thing was goofy – maybe she still does! - but she wore them for years until at one point they became too small for her, and then a short while later they became too big for her. We didn't start wearing overalls together until we'd been dating for about a year.

22. Back in the 90s, on two different occasions, we picked out Persian kittens. Both were wonderful cats, both are gone now, and we miss them both dearly. The first was a beautiful tortoiseshell Persian named Jasmine; the second was a red Persian named Simba. Both died in the year preceding this blog's launch.

23. Adopting Lester and Julio was The Wife's idea. I'm still unsold on these two giant lummox goofballs.

24. The Wife also took The Daughter to adopt Comet, when The Daughter was only two.

25. Shortly after The Wife moved to Western New York to be near me, she adopted a cat from the shelter she named Lilac. That cat never really liked me all that much. Lilac died a few months after Little Quinn passed.

25a. She is directly responsible for all the animals with whom we currently live.

Indulging Lester

Why they invented hotel rooms

Julio's favorite position

Cats and Wife. (And my left shoulder)

Snowmageddon '14, continued

Day 59: Clear wife, blurry dog. #100DaysOfHappiness #NewDog

The Wife is unimpressed with Julio's uninvited advances. (Notice Lester in the background.)

26. She loves to laugh, particularly at my expense. She is convinced I don't think she's funny, but that's just not the case.

27. Things with which she has a deft touch include: a pair of scissors, a needle and thread, a kitchen knife, the mixer, bread dough, a screwdriver, a lug wrench, and a shot glass.

28. It irritates her that The Daughter has inherited my tolerance for sunlight -- I tan, whereas The Wife burns.

29. The Wife likes to read, albeit not quite as much as I do. She always has a book going, and she reads every day.

30. She never used to use a bookmark, until I finally decided I was tired of watching her flip through a book looking for a passage that was familiar to her so she could find her place. I bought her a bookmark.

31. She loves nuts – except for walnuts and pecans, which I love. This makes it occasionally difficult find good brownies and similar items in bakeries, since many people default to putting pecans or walnuts in their brownies or other chocolate cookies.

32. When I first met her, she was a huge Anne Rice fan and read most of what Rice wrote until she decided that Rice's output wasn't interesting her much anymore. Since then she's read a lot of other authors, including a lot of unfamiliar names whose books I've plucked from the stacks of offerings at library book sales over the years. Interesting how obscure even the bestsellers of yesteryear eventually become, huh? Currently she really loves Gregory Maguire, the Wicked guy.

33. When we first met, she was a Washington Redskins fan. So of course, the first Super Bowl we were together was the one where the Redskins knocked the Bills on their collective arse. Oh well, at least she hated the Cowboys.

34. She prefers her KFC "extra crispy", where I'm an "Original Recipe" guy.

35. Movies that are particularly meaningful or nostalgic to us, in addition to Edward Scissorhands and Star Wars are Dances With Wolves, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, Singin' in the Rain, and the James Bond movies.

36. For some reason we didn't take any pictures when we were on our honeymoon or when we were on our vacation to Disney a year later. I think we were between working cameras at those points...but lately I really wish we'd have addressed that at the time.

37. Things we did on our honeymoon to Cape Cod, Boston, and New Hampshire: road a boat out to sea to watch the whales; visited the New England Aquarium; ate dim sum in Boston's Chinatown; bought lots of kitchenware at an outlet strip (don't laugh, we still have some of that stuff); visited the Boston Science Museum. While doing two days in Boston we stayed at a hotel about forty miles out and road the train into town; on the second day, on the way back, we fell asleep on each other's shoulders.

38. Our first argument as a couple resulted from a common misunderstanding between people when one is from Iowa and one is just living in Iowa for a while. I told her we'd meet for dinner, so she showed up at noon and got annoyed because I wasn't there. Well, duh! I said "dinner", not "lunch". Except, remember, she's a native Iowan, which means instead of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner like most (ahem) normal folks, she ate breakfast, dinner and supper. Thankfully, I've converted her since then. Whew!

39. Our first wedding anniversary saw us spending a week at Walt Disney World. What a wonderful time that was! Even if she managed to rip her toenail out two days into the trip, thus requiring me to push her around in a wheelchair the whole time after that.

40. She had long hair when we started dating, and I had short hair. Now we've reversed that.

41. Before we started dating, I had a beard. When I became interested in her, I shaved it so I'd look better. Then, I learned that she likes facial hair. So I grew the beard back a while later.

42. Foods I've tried because of her: asparagus, squash, rhubarb, grapefruit, and more that I don't recall.

43. She loves George Carlin.

44. She bought me my first cell phone, and my second cell phone.

45. When we were at the Erie County Fair in 2001, she wandered off to look at the Bernina sewing machines. When I came by ten minutes or so later, she was in the process of buying a Bernina sewing machine. I didn't complain; I just stood there, kind of looking shell-shocked.

46. Leading up to our wedding, she rigidly adhered to the notion that the groom should not see the bride in her wedding dress until she comes round the corner to walk down the aisle. So I didn't see her until she came round the corner to walk down the aisle.

47. Starting a family was her idea. Not that I was against it; I figured we'd get there eventually. She just picked the "eventually".

48. She picked The Daughter's first name, so I got to pick her middle name.

48a. And now, this:

Old Photos of Little Quinn

49. Since Thanksgiving Break at college was only a four day weekend, I didn't go home for T-giving my junior year; instead, I spent the weekend with her. We went to see her extended family out in Storm Lake, Iowa, which is on the other side of the state. Since she has family over there on both sides of the family, we ended up having two Thanksgiving dinners that day. Some part of me is still full from those two meals.

50. Iowa delicacies that The Wife and I share are pork tenderloin sandwiches and broasted chicken.

51. Some of our early dates were sufficiently cheap that we had to look for ATM machines that would dispense cash in five dollar denominations.

52. She bought Simba, the above-mentioned red Persian kitten, while we were on a shopping trip to Erie, PA. She fell in love with the kitten as soon as she saw him in the pet store; we then spent the rest of the day walking around the mall with me listening to her as she tried to talk herself out of buying him. (Persian kittens are pricey little buggers.) Finally, while we were at dinner at Red Lobster, she decided to pull the trigger.

53. Before Little Quinn, the most heartbroken I ever saw The Wife was the day we finally had to end Simba's life. His kidneys were in failure.

54. Great gifts she's bought me through the years: my current winter coat, a cupboard-full of drinking vessels of all types, candles, incense burners, the Star Wars original trilogy on DVD, my anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings with paintings by Alan Lee, my star sapphire ring, my current wristwatch, and many more.

55. The first thing she ever gave me: a stuffed bear, around whose neck she tied a lavender ribbon. I think she doused it with perfume. I named that bear "Bertrand", after philosopher Bertrand Russell.

56. The first thing I bought her: a little two-inch high figurine of a laughing Buddha. I think this confused her a bit.

57. Despite my best efforts for a while, she's never much warmed to baseball. That used to bother me, but these days that doesn't bug me much at all. I'm pretty cool to baseball myself now.

58. For a few years we went to Cedar Point each fall. We haven't been there in a long time, but I always found being there with her in the fall, in the cool air, pretty romantic. I loved riding the Giant Wheel after dark, sitting up there with her hand in mine, looking out over Lake Erie.

59. At Cedar Point, she decided that she liked this one coaster that does loops, so I stayed on the ground while she rode it. I'm terrified of those things.

60. Why don't we play mini golf more often? We both love mini golf. The Daughter loves mini golf. What gives?

61. One day in 1996, we were eating lunch in Buffalo when we had "The Discussion". Any guy who's ever been dating the same girl for a period of time measurable in years will know what "The Discussion" is. So I agreed, it was time for us to take the "next step". Later on, while she was having her eyes examined at LensCrafters, I bopped over to Penney's to buy her a ring. I chose a nice emerald one that looked really pretty. Sadly, they didn't have it in her size, so they had to order it, which would take three weeks. So I figured, OK, I'll get the ring in three weeks and make this thing official. Yay, Me!

62. The next day, she proposed to me.

63. Three weeks later I showed up to get the ring. They had it, but they couldn't find the paperwork, so some poor guy at the pickup counter at Penney's spent his entire lunch hour trying to find the paperwork so I could give my already-fiancee her engagement ring.

64. I don't remember exactly when we picked out her wedding rings, but we each have an Irish wedding band, and each ring is set with the other person's birthstone. So my ring is set with four amethysts, which is her birthstone; hers is set with four sapphires, which is mine.

65. For years I wore my ring incorrectly. Apparently there's one way to wear an Irish wedding band that signifies being married, and another that signifies being single. I was wearing mine the "single" way. I was alerted to this by a guy I worked with at The Store; he said, "Yeah, you're telling all the women that you're available." I replied, "Yeah, and I'm beating them off with a stick."

66. On our honeymoon, it was important to her that she at least get to dip her toes in the Atlantic Ocean. So she did. The water was very cold, though.

66a. She replicated this moment years later when we took a trip to the Jersey Shore.

To the sea!

66b. We returned two years later.

The Wife enjoys a bit of quiet. #CapeMay

67. It always bugged her mother that she saw Niagara Falls before her mother did. Later we took her mother to Niagara when she was out for a visit.

68. During the summer of 1991, when I was at home and she was still in Iowa, she came to spend a week with me. I took her to Buffalo and to Toronto, on the way to which we stopped to see Niagara Falls for her first time.

69. She was really confused the first time a Japanese tourist asked her to take his picture in front of the Falls.

70. At the time our beer of choice was Labatt's. It's pronounced "la-BATS", but we had a family friend at the time who liked to say it "LAB-uhts", which is how I said it at college just for fun and habit. So when she visited me that summer, we went to the bar where this friend hung out, and he was so impressed when she ordered a "LAB-uhts".

71. Our favorite mixed drink in college was the sloe gin fizz. A few years ago I tried making these again, discovering that her tastes had changed and she now found them sickeningly sweet. I like them still, but yeah, they're sugary. (And pink. When I told a friend at work who knows everything about liquor that I'd bought some sloe gin, he laughed and said, "Oh good! Now you can make pink drinks!")

72. She taught me the right way to do laundry.

73. I taught her the right way to crack open crab legs so as to not mangle the meat.

74. Our first major mistake of parenting was taking The Daughter to a fireworks display on the Fourth of July in 1999. The Daughter was all of fifteen days old. This was the big display in Lakewood, NY, which is right on the banks of Lake Chautauqua. The Daughter did not respond well to the fireworks detonating right over our heads; the sounds were bad and for years afterwards The Daughter was very scared of loud sounds.

75. We always say that we should go camping. We never actually do go camping. We need to do more camping.

76. Once for dinner I made some frozen cheese ravioli with sauce, a favorite meal of ours that we hadn't had in a long time. She said that she was looking forward to "eating some cheesy goodness". Unfortunately, the raviolis were a bit on the old and tough side, and the cheese never got nice and melty, so after the meal, she commented, "That wasn't really cheesy goodness."

77. She likes eggs over-easy. I'm not a big fan of those, but I try to make them for her when she's getting over being sick.

78. She makes fun of my over-reliance on boxed mixes in the kitchen.

78a. I'm much better about this now. Her main kitchen complaint about me is that I make way too big a mess when I cook.

79. In 1993, when Cheers aired its final episode, she bought pizza for my roommate and I.

80. She only swears when she's really annoyed.

81. She is not happy that her nine-year-old, fourth-grade daughter is now the same shoe size as she is.

82. A while back she had her hair colored a brighter shade of blond than is her natural color. It was awesome.

83. Before that she experimented with red. I've tried talking her into doing that again, but no dice.

84. When my aunt met her the night before our wedding, she made a comment to the effect that I was to be commended for adding blond hair and blue eyes to our gene pool.

85. The Daughter has blond hair and blue eyes. So did Little Quinn.

86. I'm not sure there's a variety of seafood she dislikes.

87. I love the way she looks when she's just come home from work and changed into her PJ's.

88. Adopting Lester and Julio was her idea, but she claims the upper hand on that anyway because she was helping out my mother.

89. For some reason, The Daughter and I like to bring up at the dinner table the fact that The Wife, as a kid, had to help the family out on Chicken Butchering Day. I don't know why.

90. She thinks Orlando Bloom is really attractive. I don't see it, myself, but you can't argue these things.

91. For my birthday in 1992 she drove me to Dyersville, IA so I could see the Field of Dreams.

92. If I want to spoil her, all I have to do is buy her blush wine, cashews, olives and chocolate. Cake helps, too.

93. She spoils me by looking the other way when I go to Borders; by making me waffles or French toast or Spanish rice; by cleaning the kitchen after I've messed it up; by indulging my love of pie; and a thousand other ways.

94. I'm always game for a pie in the face, but I'm pretty sure nobody pies me like she does. Or better.

If you can't be ridiculously silly with the person you love, you're doing it wrong! Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!! #ValentinesDay #pieintheface #overalls #splat #SillinessIsAwesome

Splat! The meeting of Pie and Face

Patrick Starfish is surprised by my fate. #PatrickStarfish #pieintheface #overalls #splat

95. I know I've found the perfect girl for me when she describes our Thanksgiving in 2006 as being perfect because, after dinner, we went to see Casino Royale. In her words: "We had a big turkey dinner, and then we watched James Bond kill people."

96. We both love laughing at David Caruso on CSI Miami.

96a. Sadly, CSI Miami is long gone, but now we thrill to the adventures of Team Machine on Person of Interest, of Castle and Beckett on Castle, and we enjoy Alton Brown's delicious brand of pure evil on Cutthroat Kitchen.

97. One time last year we were at the Y, and she got so engrossed in what she was doing that when I approached her, she didn't recognize me at first.

97a. She loves lilacs.

Rochester Lilac Festival. #LilacFestival #Rochester

98. Maybe this is a personal failing on my part, but I can't bear it when she cries. It kills me inside. But I'm trying to get better at this, since as Gandalf said, "Not all tears are an evil."

99. I wish we were living lives that didn't include so many tears.

100. I love her more than I did last week at this time.

101. Number 100 on this list will be equally true next week at this time. And the week after. And so on.

102. She makes me happier than I thought possible.

103. She...oh, I guess that's where I need to stop. I love you, honey!

Chilly morning at the Farmers Market. I had to buy The Wife a coffee. #wife #EastAurora #wny

Day 65: Tried taking a photo of my Beautiful Wife looking at Taughannock Falls, but she turned her head toward me at the last second! #100DaysOfHappiness

The Wife, with horse. #eriecountyfair #Wife

Pumpkinville: Happy wife, irritated Daughter

Erie County Fair: A couple

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

You mean, like those non-educated idiots working at Montoni's Pizza?

For some unknown reason, I've been reading Funky Winkerbean for a number of years now, despite the fact that it's awful. It's probably the only real instance of "hate watching" I have. That term came about mostly in reference to teevee shows, with the idea that there's a show you hate and watch anyway because the act of hating it is just so much fun. That may be why I've hung in there with Funky Winkerbean for so long, watching Tom Batiuk write awful storyline after awful storyline with the apparent notion that he's creating humor and insight; the strip is like a little piece of a tire fire every morning, and really, reading it only takes about nine seconds (with another nine to think about how terrible it is), and then it's on to the next thing. I usually read it in the morning before I even get dressed, while the coffee is brewing.

But no more. Last week came an installment that made me realize that I have no more use for the strip. It expresses a point of view that I find ridiculous and insulting and condescending, and with this, I've decided that Mr Batiuk's terrible strip will take no more of my time, tiny though that investment may be.

If you're curious, the installment that ended my reading of Funky Winkerbean for good is mocked, and rightly so, by The Comics Curmudgeon here. One less comic strip in the morning, oh well; I guess I'll use the extra time to study the art in Cul de Sac more.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Answers the First!

It's that time! I do this twice a year on my blog: I take questions from all comers. Details at I answer the questions there, but feel free to ask them here! #AskMeAnything #overalls #AmWriting

Well, I didn't get a whole lot of questions for Ask Me Anything! this time around, but hey, you can still ask things, folks! Put them in comments (preferably on this post, as I like to have things in one spot), but also, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and good old e-mail are fine.

A fellow who goes by Astohart on Instagram, who is also a fan of overalls, asks quite simply: Why do you like overalls so much?

Well, this could take a while, so might as well go grab some food! I'm sure I've posted something very similar to this before, but I'm feeling lazy right now (it's Monday evening and I'm waiting for dinner and I've just finished a rum-based beverage as I write this), so here's the short version:

First of all, there's the most important thing: comfort. I don't care how cool something looks; if it's not comfortable, I don't want to wear it. I find overalls very comfortable to wear. That's the most important thing. I've never understood the whole "Look good even if it hurts to dress that way" thing, whether it's women in tall heels or neckties. (Formal wear is something different -- when you need to look really, really, really good, then I think it's OK to dispense with comfort a bit. I don't attend many formal events, though.)

Second of all: I genuinely like the way they look. I really do, which is probably fairly obvious. Overalls can look frumpy and "farmerish", but they don't have to look like those things, and anyway, what's so wrong about looking like you work for a living? Why should looking like farmer be a bad thing? Show me a successful farmer, and I'll show you a person who works his or her ass off and is almost certainly smarter than you and competent in many, many things. But I really do like the way they look. (I also think they tend to really look good on women and I deny from the rooftops the notion that they are "unflattering", but that's a series of thoughts for another day...although I've probably commented on that in the past anyway!)

I generally don't have a lot of use for "fashion" as a general concept. Sure, trends come and go, but I rarely find myself looking back at photos of people from, say, the 1980s and thinking, "Geez, people looked really dopey back then." I am always amused when someone says something like "Overalls should stay in the 90s where they belong!", because it reveals how little they know. Overalls weren't just a 90s thing; they may have become really prevalent then, but they were quite common in the 1970s and less so, but still 'acceptable' and common enough, in the 80s. It was only in the 2000s, when the predominant fashion notion of "everything must be tight and clingy and reveal every single curve or contour of your body" took hold, that overalls really got pushed away.

Third of all: pockets. Pockets are cool. I don't actually use the bib pocket for anything, usually, except to occasionally carry my phone up there. But the regular pockets on overalls tend to be very deep and well-made. So there's that.

Finally, when you're not wearing overalls as a uniform for doing physical labor, I find that they add a sense of whimsy to your outfit. I find them fun to wear and I think they look fun. Someone posted on Twitter a while back that they're like wearing a hug, and I can't disagree with that! Overalls are comfy and warm and fun and they're unique without being outlandish and I like the way they look. That about sums it all up!

(Oh, and I almost forgot: you never have to worry about plumber-butt. That's huge.)

Roger, as always, has a bunch of queries, some serious and some less so. Here's one: What topic in this blog that you've written about have you TOTALLY (or partially) changed your mind about?

Huh. Well, I remember being convinced eight or nine years ago that Tom Brady was never going to win another Super Bowl and would likely only play four or five more years after the 2006 season or thereabouts; I was clearly as wrong as is humanly possible of that. I don't recall if I ever pontificated back in the first years here about my dislike of The Beatles, but I've certainly done the Full 180 on that.

And then there's the Iraq war. I never actually supported it, but I was more willing than most to hold my nose and go along with it, stating my fear that even if things went really really well and we were in and out of there quickly, that what might come afterward in terms of ruling that country might well be worse and we'd be back there in twenty years. Well, we weren't in and out of there quickly, the whole thing was a colossal mess and blunder, and from the looks of ISIS, we'll be back there a hell of a lot sooner than twenty years. So there's that.

But hey, at least we got to the bottom of Brian Williams lying, eh?

Another Roger query: You posted on National Pie Day last year, but not this year. Are you no longer a pieist?

Perish the thought! I just never got around to posting this year, for whatever reason. A pure oversight. Maybe I can achieve redemption on this year's Pi Day, 3/14, because this year it's 3/14/15, which means that Pi Day is actually on the first five digits of Pi! That might be worth celebrating. I'm not sure how to incorporate a pie in the face on this one, though. Suggestions, class?

More to come!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

No, John Williams did NOT rip off Dvorak.

UPDATE 2/7/19: This post, for some reason, must rank highly on some Google search index or something, because it's been a relatively consistent driver of traffic to this blog ever since I posted it, nearly four years ago. I have closed off commenting for this post because the only discussion that has ever really occurred here has been people showing up to assure me that yes, John Williams really does rip off everybody under the sun, and in all honesty I'm not interested in entertaining those discussions anymore. That said, it does strike me as interesting how many different composers of wildly varying background and voice Williams is accused of "blatantly stealing", and how many times a specific piece by Williams is said to be a clear rip from half a dozen specific earlier works. It's a heck of a composer who can clearly steal four or five different pieces (or so I'm told) just to craft one theme for a Harry Potter movie, innit? Anyhow, here's the post.

This is one of the trustiest of annoying old chestnuts. What happens is someone hears Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 (titled "From the New World") for the first time, encounters the opening bars of the fourth movement, and immediately races to the computer to post the revelation for the ages that "OMG! John Williams totally ripped off Dvorak's "New World Symphony" for the theme from JAWS!" This is the most common example of a thing that John Williams has ripped off, but there are a lot of them. A partial list of composers from whom Williams is obviously a plagiarist includes Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Wagner, Korngold, Steiner, Prokofiev, and Penderecki -- in addition to the afore-mentioned Dvorak.

By comparison, here's the Dvorak, and here's the Williams. The similarities between the two are, to put it kindly, extremely superficial. Both start with low strings intoning a note, and then the note a half-step above it, and then the motif is repeated a few times. But Dvorak repeats it loudly and uses all the lower strings and goes at a quick tempo, building quickly and bringing in the rest of the orchestra before getting to his main theme. He also stays quite clearly in the same time signature.

Williams, however, starts off with similar notes...but slower, and much softer, and lower -- I'm not even sure if he uses the cellos at all. It might be just the double basses at first. And then his insistent rhythm starts with those punching chords at off moments, so you're not even sure what the time signature of the piece is. Williams's sound is insistent and mysterious and somehow both mechanical and not -- pretty much the opposite of what Dvorak does. And yet, "Williams ripped off Dvorak!" is one of those zombie nonsense notions that always comes back, despite being complete nonsense to anyone who bothers to pay attention.

In cases like this, for years I've been recommending a wonderful essay by Leonard Bernstein called "The Infinite Variety of Music", which appears in the book of the same title. The essay is actually the script of one of the wonderful episodes he used to do for the educational teevee program Omnibus. In this particular episode, Bernstein described how composers are able to create an astonishing variety of musical works from just thirteen notes of the Western tuning system, by reducing things even further and showing how a number of great composers wrote amazing pieces, many of which are very familiar, by using as their main motif the exact same four-note melody. It's a worthy reminder that there's a lot more to music than just what the notes are, and I've always found that essay to be a good remedy against the over-used canard that this composer or that composer ripped someone else off.

Of course, the problem with recommending an essay like that is that it's in a book that isn't always readily available...but I've recently discovered that the audio of that very program is on YouTube, with the musical examples helpfully included so you can see what's going on as Bernstein speaks. I can't recommend this highly enough. It's certainly worth the 48 minutes to listen through. No, Bernstein doesn't specifically address Dvorak or Williams (in fact, this program was likely recorded while Williams was still a studio musician and Steven Spielberg was a kid), but it does suggest a good way of listening to music to evaluate such silly claims.

Here's the video:

Really, give it a listen. It'll make you better at listening to music!

Sunday Burst

Weird and nifty things!

:: The Day the Clowns Picked the Wrong Brothel.

:: Everybody's linked this, but there's a reason for that. So if by some chance you haven't seen it, check out Dr. Phil with all the dialog removed and just the reaction shots remaining.

:: Finally: A man, a woman, and an observatory. Given the subject matter of The Song of Forgotten Stars, this article has some resonance for me.

More next week!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Something for Thursday

So there was a composer who wrote an opera, and this composer was so lackadaisical that he didn't finish the overture until literally hours before the first performance. This is what happens when you put off important jobs to the last moment, so here is the resulting overture. Listen and mock the poor composer's memory!

Oh, did I not name the composer? It's Mozart, and the opera in question is Don Giovanni, one of the operatic masterpieces of all time.

Mozart finished this overture the day before the premiere.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Laying Pipe (a post about 50 Shades, and that's not the metaphor you're thinking of)

I can snark a lot about 50 Shades of Grey as much as anyone, and I continue to be kind of oddly convinced that it says something about America that a book and its resulting movie about a fetish that involves pain and torture and bondage and the like is a runaway hit and that very fetish is socially acceptable while people who dress up as fuzzy animals are somehow giant weirdos, but that's not what I'm thinking about tonight. I read this article about EL James's writing process as she was writing 50 Shades, and I have to say, I admire her on this basis.

Lots of people view writing as some sort of quasi-mystic activity when you go into some sort of creativity-trance and receive the wisdom of The Muses that you might channel it into words on the page, and that ideas for stories come from some sort of magic realm beyond our universe, and that writing is basically an impenetrable thing that can only be understood by poets and word-shamans. Then there are others -- and it is mainly to this camp that I belong -- that view writing as a job, that it's something you just do, much as you would paint a fence or sand the floor or wax the cars. Now, to be fair, sometimes it does feel to me like the former, but usually when it comes down to getting the damn words on paper, it's the latter attitude that gets me through.

That's why I find it wonderfully refreshing to learn that EL James did a lot of her work on her morning commute, and she did it on a Blackberry. The only time she could find when she could really write was a time just loaded with distractions and stress, and the only tool she had to do it with was really a woefully inadequate tool for writing a novel. But she played it as it laid. She showed up and got the job done, in the crappy time she was able to find for herself, on a crappy tool. She did the work, and I salute that.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

So, uh, how you doin' today?

(Busy and somewhat annoying day in progress, ugh!)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


So, I have a lot of overalls. Probably too many, but shhhh! Don't tell anyone I even partially admitted that. But yeah, I've got quite a few pairs of overalls. Blue, Hickory striped, white, black, green, brown, and even a couple of pairs that I dyed purple. And now I have a pair of herringbone overalls! Color me excited!

First official wearing of the new herringbone overalls, wheeee! #Huzzah #overalls #herringbone #Key #vintage #dungarees

There they are! The brand is Key, which are distinctive for the bib pocket that peaks in the middle and has a snap enclosure on one side, and for the green diagonal label that reads "KEY Imperial -- Aristocrat of Overalls". Key also matches the green label with accent stitching that's also green, on the pencil openings and the watch-fob button-hole thing at the top of the bib. I already own three pairs of Keys, one in blue and two in Hickory stripes (one of which is one of the pairs I dyed purple). So what's this about herringbone?

From a distance, they look like they're either Hickory striped or just a light grayish-blue. It's when you get close up that you see the pattern:

New overalls detail, with closeup on the herringbone weave. #overalls #herringbone #Key #vintage

Lots of tiny blue-and-white stitches, alternating diagonally up and down. They look really cool, and I'm thrilled that I finally spotted a pair in my size on eBay. I never knew this fabric existed until I saw them while in college in Iowa, back in the early 90s, and I did get a pair way back then, but that pair was quite a bit larger than these, as I was quite a bit larger back then than now. I ditched that old pair years ago, and only decided some months ago to start looking for a new one. The problem was that Key (and other manufacturers) stopped using the herringbone fabric a long time ago, so herringbone overalls are increasingly difficult to track down. Nevertheless, my search finally came to an end a couple of weeks back. Huzzah!

Even better was that I got a really nice price on these, and they were new with the original tags still attached. For vintage overalls, that's especially sweet.

New overalls, main tag. Gotta love tags on vintage denim products! I wonder how they arrived at the 79.8% figure. #overalls #Key #herringbone #vintage

That tag is pretty interesting. The "79.8 percent tougher" figure, for instance -- how did they determine that, I wonder, and how did they come to that level of precision? And the little hole through which you can view the "Original Keyweave Denim", as if you can't see it all around the tag! Advertising and sales claims from earlier times are always interesting to behold.

Anyway, I'm thrilled to have this rather unusual type of denim represented in my overalls collection. I look forward to wearing them out and about...perhaps paired with a burgundy sweater and my blue star-map scarf. Overalls are life!

New herringbone overalls! They don't make 'em like this anymore. I've been scouring eBay for a pair of these forever, and I finally scored. New with tags, even! #Huzzah #overalls #herringbone #Key #vintage

Sunday, February 15, 2015

So here's a new wrinkle on things....

On a discussion board at, there's a thread devoted to positive articles about the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. And wouldn't you know it! My "Fixing the Prequels" posts get a mention!

And then it gets a little strange. Seems that at least a couple of fans over there don't think I love the Prequel Trilogy enough. I can remember this happening two other times since I started writing those posts, and it always feels a bit odd to encounter folks who take me to task for insufficient Prequel-love. It's almost always the other way 'round, and in all honesty, we're talking about a world in which "You like the Prequels!" is a shorthand for "You're a dummy and you have no idea what you're talking about and we can remove you from any discussion of movies at all!"

So, what's the basis for my insufficient Prequel-love? One person says this:

The Byzantium Shores fella is a bit peculiar, in that he includes the PT in his 50 favorite films list, yet proceeds to eviscerate all three of them via rewrites.

I don't think I'd change a frame of my fifty favorite movies--that's why they're my favorites. They absorb and envelop me, without discernible imperfections. (I've never watched The Maltese Falcon and thought, "Gee, this Bogart/Lorre exchange is a bit on the dry side. I know what'll spice it up!")

And then another replies thusly:

Oh, yes. I find that a bit strange and a little distasteful, as well.

"I love this film, but I'd change this, and this, and this, and this, if I could!"

It's somewhat like saying, "I love my girlfriend, but if this were different, and this, and this, and this, she'd be heaps better."

Some love.

Uh-huh. OK. I see what you're getting at here...but...well, I'm sorry, but this is just dumb.

The idea being expressed here is that if you really really really and truly truly truly love something, that means that you can never think it's flawed in any way. To love something is to be of the belief that it is perfect. I don't think I'm unfairly reading these two quotes, either -- the first person says that his "favorite" films work on his "without discernible imperfections". And then the second person agrees with that goofy bit about "I love my girlfriend but...." nonsense.

First of all, if what I do in those posts can be described as "eviscerating" the movies, then I hope these folks never watch the Red Letter Media guy in action. Or pretty much read any randomly selected article about the Prequel Trilogy, ever. "Eviscerated"? I went out of my way to point out nearly each and every thing I loved about those movies in those posts, some of which were big things and some of which were tiny moments that got ignored by the haters. Many of my tweaks are just that: additional lines of dialog added into scenes I leave otherwise intact. I don't even counsel the removing of the infamous "I don't like sand" line from Attack of the Clones. I said it many times while writing those posts: my goal wasn't just to highlight the bad but to also shine the light on the good, of which there is a lot in those movies.

More importantly, though, is this business of "loving" the movies. I would hope that when we talk about how I "love" my wife and how I "love" a movie, we're talking about two different notions with the word "love", because otherwise, it's just creepy. But let's unpack that a little anyway, shall we? Because the fact is, I love my wife despite some real flaws, and I know that she loves me despite some gaping holes in my character. Love does not render one blind to flaws or imperfections. Love means that the flaws and imperfections are not enough to derail the love itself. That these two don't seem able to grasp this is rather distressing.

I'm reminded of something Leonard Bernstein once wrote, in an essay about Gershwin. He cast this particular essay as a dialog between himself and a friend (a Broadway producer, if memory serves), and at one point, Bernstein lists a lot of flaws in Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. He takes the work to task for basically being a collection of tunes stitched together with cadenzas and other kinds of rather unconvincing transitional material, and he sounds rather harsh in doing so, prompting the other guy to remark, "Wait a minute: you've performed the Rhapsody any number of times and have also recorded it on several occasions. Don't you like it?"

"I adore it," Bernstein replies.

"Then how can you take something you adore and riddle it with holes?"

Bernstein then says, of the Rhapsody in Blue, that despite its glaring flaws he adores it because "What's good in it is so good that it's irresistible." And that is generally how I feel about the Prequel films: they are flawed. They are bumpy and uneven. They have moments that fall flat, They even contain scenes that are downright bad. But you know what? I still love them. I love the Prequel Trilogy because what's good in them is so good it's irresistible.

I love a teenage figurehead queen deciding that she's not going to be the easy target for the bullying Trade Federation. I love the slightly rogue quality in Qui Gon Jinn. I love that the Jedi never realize there's even a threat until way too late. I love how Palpatine hides in plain sight and executes his plans almost in full view. I love that Anakin's fall from grace is brought about by his desire to clutch tightly on things he loves, almost echoing what Leia Organa would later say to Grand Moff Tarkin: "The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers." I love that Anakin's wrong choices will frequently mirror choices his own son will face decades later. I love planetwide cityscapes and battles in the rain with bounty hunters. And I love that a Gungan ne'er-do-well finds redemption on the battlefield, even if his arc is somewhat mishandled by too many trips to the comedic well.

I love a lot of other things about the Prequel Trilogy, and I don't have to pretend that its missteps aren't real to still find them, on balance, to be engaging, fun, and moving films that draw me in emotionally every time I watch them.

Friday, February 13, 2015

How the USA is trying to kill you!

A map that explains it all:


Bad Joke Friday

(To get this one, you may need to say it out loud.)

The world’s first therapist actually lived in Ancient Egypt. His clients would come in and talk to him about all of their problems, people from all walks of life— scribes, merchants, priests, even the Pharaoh himself. The Pharoah’s appointment was from 1 to 2 every Wednesday, but he liked to talk so much that the appointment always ran over into his 2 PM client’s slot. The therapist didn’t mention it at first, because it WAS the Pharaoh, after all, the living incarnation of Ra, and he had no desire to be disrespectful, but after weeks stretched on, he politely told the Pharaoh that, while he didn’t want to interrupt him, he did tend to go over time. Fortunately, the Pharaoh was very understanding and said, “If I go over time by ten minutes, just let the next person in, even if I’m in the middle of a sentence.”

Sure enough, at his next appointment, the Pharaoh was in the middle of talking, when the next client knocked on the door and said politely, “Can I come in? Is someone in there?”

The therapist called back, “2:10! Come in!”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Something for Thursday

Sometimes you need Big Russian Romanticism to get you through the cold times....

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Re: Brian Williams. How big a deal is this, and should network news anchors be vested with "trust" to this degree?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ranking the Bond Songs!

You know what this blog needs? More lists of things ranked in reverse order of how much I like them! So here is a ranking of all the James Bond theme songs.

Before I start, a brief proviso: by “theme song”, I mean, “song that plays over the film’s opening credits”. This is necessary because there are some places where the particular movie’s most memorable song plays at some other point, and in some latter cases, the films have multiple songs. So that’s my definition of “theme song” for this post, and even that definition will have an exception or two along the way.

Why do this? Well, as I noted in a post a while back, I’ve been listening to a podcast about the Bond films, so this lore is often fresh to mind in some way. I remember an LP album I had when I was a kid that had all the Bond theme songs on it, up to For Your Eyes Only, if memory serves. I played the hell out of that album, which I got when I had only seen a few of the Bond films at all; thus I came to know some of the songs before I saw the films. I found “Under the Mango Tree” from Dr. No particularly baffling and un-Bondlike, but...well, anyway, let’s get started! I’m going in reverse order here, and as in all such lists, I find that my bottom group and my top group are pretty well set, and everything in the middle is changeable.

23. Quantum of Solace (Jack White and Alicia Keys)

This is just a nothingburger of a song. It goes nowhere, it does nothing. Listening to it is outright unpleasant. I can’t say much more than that about it. It actually opens promisingly, with a bass line that calls back to the opening guitar smash of the previous film’s song, Casino Royale, but the vocal lines are awful and there is no real melody at all. I was glad when the opening credits were done running when I saw this movie.

22. Die Another Day (Madonna)

I gave some thought to whether this song or Quantum was my least favorite, and this one wound up not quite dead last because the song’s disjointed nature actually does mesh fairly well with the disjointed nature of the film’s credits sequence, which depicts a captured James Bond being held captive and tortured for more than a year. I can accept the song’s nature on that basis, but still, it too is just plain unpleasant to hear.

21. Goldeneye (Tina Turner)

As I look over the list of all the Bonds, it appears that Pierce Brosnan really didn’t fare well in the theme song department. This song suffers in a number of ways, first by not being very tuneful (I’ve seen the film any number of times and I can barely summon up the melody in my head), not memorable in the lyrics department, and it’s written in such a way that it really doesn’t do much justice to Tina Turner’s voice. I’m not the world’s biggest Turner fan, but I don’t think this song does her any favors.

20. Dr. No (special case)

This feels slightly unfair, since the very first Bond movie underscores about half of the credits sequence with nothing other than the James Bond Theme in its original incarnation. That’s pretty cool. But eventually the Bond theme fades out, and it’s replaced with some calypso-sounding percussion (again, not bad), but then a very bizarre calypso rendition of “Three Blind Mice”. This ends up referring to the three blind assassins who start the plot off in the first scene, but then these fellows are never seen again and the whole “Three Blind Mice” thing ends up just seeming weird. The whole effect is pretty disjointed.

19. Moonraker (Shirley Bassey)

Bassey did three Bond themes, and here’s the last. She sings it gorgeously, so the problem here is the song itself. It’s a very slow, ponderous ballad that just slides by without leaving much impression at all. The Bond films did a string of slow songs for themes in the late 70s and early 80s, only two of which really worked. This isn’t one of those. It’s telling that they recorded a faster, kind-of discofied, version for the film’s end credits.

18. The Living Daylights (a-ha)

Lots of people always assume that the producers were trying to capitalize on a-ha’s short-lived MTV popularity here, but it’s worth remembering that the Bond films are made by Europeans, and a-ha was a much bigger deal over there. They actually had a long career in Europe which you’d never know about if your view of the music world never extends beyond the American top-40 list. This song is OK, but it’s not especially memorable, it’s not even the most memorable actual song from the film, and John Barry didn’t like it all that much, so he didn’t make a lot of use of it in his score.

17. Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow)

Another instance of the producers grabbing a contemporary popular name for the song, this one is again an OK tune, but again it’s not especially memorable and it doesn’t fit the rest of the movie. The problem here is that composer David Arnold drew a lot of melodic inspiration from the other song in the movie, by kd lang, which was supposed to be the main title song in the first place but ended up getting bumped to the end credits. It does fit the TRON-esque credits sequence, but that’s about it.

16. The Man With the Golden Gun (Lulu)

I have a soft spot for this song because it’s so goofy in the lyrics department (“Love is required/whenever he’s hired/he comes just before the kill!”), and because John Barry did a lot of neat things in the actual score using this song as inspiration – some terrific action writing, for instance. The song’s got a good beat to it, but ultimately it just feels like it’s trying too hard. It feels almost like a parody of a Bond theme song.

15. A View to a Kill (Duran Duran)

After Golden Gun, we’d go ten years before another up-tempo Bond theme. This song just reeks 80s pop to me, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s a fun listen and the melody pops up in the score, which listening to the song the first time isn’t something you’d initially think possible. I mainly rank it down this far because the lyrics make absolutely zero sense. Seriously. You could sing a Sarah Palin speech to this tune and have as coherent a set of lytics.

14. You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra)

It’s gorgeous and lush and Nancy Sinatra has a wonderful voice. The problem is that it might be too lush, at times feeling repetitive. This song comes after the Bond films have been ratcheting things up in the song department, and though I like it a lot, it’s not my favorite thing in the world.

13. Octopussy (Rita Coolidge)

Another in the string of slow ballads that dominated the Bond series right around the time I was starting to cultivate my 007 fandom. Notably, one of the few times the song doesn’t use the film’s title in any way, which I suppose was the right decision to make, since I doubt anyone really felt like taking on the challenge of using “Octopussy” in the song. It’s a nice ballad and I like it, particularly the little guitar licks toward the end, and I love Coolidge’s husky voice. But for Bond, the song may be just a bit too nice.

12. Licence to Kill (Gladys Knight)

This is a weird song. I like it a lot, actually, and like the movie itself, I think it’s terribly underrated. The song goes on a bit too long, but I dig the way Knight really sinks her teeth into it. It’s a good Bond-type of ballad, even if it tries to rip off Goldfinger a bit with those big opening chords.

11. Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey)

Yes, Goldfinger doesn’t even make my top ten. I know, I know – it’s the most iconic of all the Bond theme songs, but iconic or no, I simply don’t like it all that much. It’s good, but like the movie, I think too much is made of it.

10. From Russia With Love (John Barry)

Unusual case here. FRWL has an honest-to-goodness song, with a singer and everything (a fellow named Matt Munro), and it’s really quite good. It starts off almost sounding like a lounge song, but it gets bigger and bigger and at the end it’s pretty dramatic. Problem is, it’s only heard during the movie’s end credits. For the opening credits, we simply have a John Barry instrumental arrangement of the same song, as the credits are projected over the undulating features of a belly dancer. That arrangement is pretty awesome, though, starting with very fast and staccato chords in the brass. The arrangement really sets the tune for some action and adventure in an exotic locale. That instrumental is terrific stuff, and would later be quoted by David Arnold in his score to Tomorrow Never Dies.

9. Diamonds Are Forever (Shirley Bassey)

My favorite of the Shirley Bassey songs. This ballad is haunting and evocatively scored, with that wonderfully mysterious open and some nifty 70s synth stuff in the middle. John Barry even gets in some of his trademark staccato brass stingers in the midst of this lush bit of mysterious romanticism. I love this song. Too bad the movie doesn’t rise to its level. (Or anywhere near it, really.)

8. The World Is Not Enough (Garbage)

This is one of those Bond movies that no one much talks about, which is a shame because it’s loaded with good ideas and good performances and is pretty much done in by the ridiculous inclusion of Denise Richards as a complete nothingburger of a character. This song is really quite good, too, in my opinion. I don’t know anything about the band Garbage other than this song, but this is just a terrific Bond song. David Arnold does some Barry-esque things with the sound (brass stingers, again), the chorus is ear-wormy as hell, and the overall sound is one of exotic mystery. This is a deeply underrated gem of a Bond song.

7. For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton)

Here’s some Bond trivia for you, next time you’re in a bar and you need a James Bond fact to stump people: What’s the only Bond film in which the theme song’s singer appears in the titles sequence? That’s right, it’s FYEO! Cool, huh? Yup, Sheena Easton is right there on screen, belting out this early 80s ballad. And it’s a good one, with some exotic sounds from the synths, and lyrics of the oft-used “lonely woman singing to the secret agent who has come to save her” genre. This is a terrific song.

6. Casino Royale (Chris Cornell)

The Daniel Craig reboot era begins with the blood-soaked gunbarrel animation giving way to this hard-driving rock song. It’s really a nicely-crafted film sequence, in which Craig’s Bond appears in two separate black-and-white sequences, one of which is muted and quiet, the other of which is harsh and loud and garish – and then this song kicks in with driving opening chords and explosions of color as the titles begin. As for the song itself, I like it a lot. It’s got a very ear-wormy aspect to it, and it sounds like a new version of Bond while still being Bond.

5. Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney and Wings)

Once upon a time I hated this song, but over the years it has relentlessly climbed up my list. It’s a very different kind of Bond song, really – John Barry was not involved in this film, and so the sound of the music is quite different. LALD starts right off with Paul McCartney singing, and then we get those wonderful smashing chords when he reaches the words “Live and let die”. I had a problem for years with the fact that probably half the song is instrumental, but all that stuff works. To this day, though, I can’t quite get behind the weird funky middle section (“What does it matter to ya? When you got a job to do, you gotta do it well!”), because it’s just so weird and out of place. It’s very McCartney-esque, as sticking mismatched sequences into the middle of songs is something he likes to do, but I still don’t care for that tiny bit. Still, this song is terrific. Not enough to redeem the movie, though, which is by far my least favorite Bond movie ever.

4. Thunderball (Tom Jones)

Oh, this wonderful, weird, gonzo song! Listening to it, you can just hear the producers telling John Barry, “We need a song even bigger than Goldfinger!” So out comes this strange number, in which Tom Jones sings ever-so-lovingly of the world’s most narcissistic and misogynist asshole. Seriously, listen to the lyrics and imagine what it would be like, to be in the company of a guy like that. But Jones sells it, doesn’t he? Just don’t ask what it means to “STRIKE [bum bum bum bum BUM] like THUN-DER-BALLLLLL.” (For added fun, listen to Jones’s voice as he holds that last high note and imagine the colors his face turned before he finally collapsed into unconsciousness.) This song is like the movie: bloated, over-the-top, and huge. It makes the most liberal quotes from the James Bond Theme itself, and...I just love it to pieces.

3. The Spy Who Loved Me (Carly Simon)

The song is titled “Nobody Does It Better”, and it’s just an outstanding song – so good that it’s probably been overplayed through the years, and it’s a staple of many a karaoke bar. The film’s music score is a regrettable mishmash of disco-sounding crud, but this song is outstanding, quite easily the best of Roger Moore’s films. Just the way Carly Simon sings it is amazing: in the first verse she sounds small and hesitant, backed by little more than a piano, but then she gets to “Baby, you’re the best”, and as she sustains the word “best”, her voice seems to double in size, and it keeps growing and growing throughout the song. I’m not the biggest fan of the movie, but this song is fantastic.

2. Skyfall (Adele)

Adele may be the first person to ever do a Bond song where I thought, “I’d like her to do more of them.” This is the Bondiest of the Craig songs, with its lush sound, its big vocals by a big-voiced singer, and even its way of making almost-coherent lyrics out of a made-up word (“Skyfall”). It’s a wonderful song, and it even goes so far as to suggest the film’s somewhat downbeat ending in its constant references to the sky falling and tumbling and such. I really like it.

1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (John Barry)

I suppose this is no surprise, coming from me, is it? I make no apologies. This movie’s opening titles sequence is scored not with a vocal song but with a driving instrumental by John Barry that doubles as the film’s main action-sequence music. It begins with Barry-esque staccato stingers in the brass, and then there’s a driving downward pounding motif my bass synths before the main melody kicks in with an amazing rhythm in the background. It’s the perfect music for the film’s ski-chase sequences, and it musically suggests speed and danger as well as anything Barry every wrote for a Bond film. I’ve always been amazed that the producers made no attempt to convey the film’s “Bond-ness” through the use of a song, but rather just gave the job to John Barry, who then delivered perfectly. No piece of music, other than the James Bond Theme itself, screams “007!” to me so well as this one, which is why I put it at the top of the list.

(At some point I’ll look into some other songs and musical oddities from the Bond films.)

Monday, February 09, 2015

Sentential Links!

Wheeee! Linking some new blogs (to me, anyway) and blogs that I've bookmarked or linked forever but for whatever reason (usually laziness or lack of time) I simply haven't checked much in a while.

:: The negative is that I have been the subject of body shaming and bullying recently and I feel like I need to have a good talk with you all about the importance of watching your language and the way you talk to people. (Cut it out, people. Just stop.)

:: I swear to you, I don't think I've been in a better mood than I have been today since I last ovulated.

:: I.

Am one with a giant Ponderosa pine tree.



Blessed and grateful?

For certain.

:: I am over the moon about my debut novel entering the big, wide, world! The unfolding of our own personal stories parallels the publishing of a book in so many ways. For me, it’s just like this gigantic, lean back in the chair, moment of awe. It has been a freaking roller coaster. And you’ve been along for the ride.

:: At a little distance, love
emerged, entirely.

:: But there is so much about the wal-mart experience that is highly unaesthetic and makes me think, "This could be so much more pleasant."

:: He was not a perfect man -- the more I find out about him, the more I realize that -- but he had the courage to stand up for his principles at a time when it would have been far easier for him to back down, and he also had the bravery to stand up against authority in an age when such a thing was not only just not done but tended to be life-threatening as well. These are not bad traits to admire, even in a man whom many might otherwise find less than admirable.

More next week! Or not. You never know.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Ask Me Anything! (A reminder)

Hey! Remember this?

It's that time! I do this twice a year on my blog: I take questions from all comers. Details at I answer the questions there, but feel free to ask them here! #AskMeAnything #overalls #AmWriting

That's right, it's time for Ask Me Anything!, the February 2015 edition! Feel free to tweet your questions, or ask them on Facebook, or on Tumblr, or in e-mail, or in comments on this post. Bring 'em on!

Sunday Stuff!

Your weekly dose of small amounts of linkage to carry you on....

:: I confess to being weary of Hollywood's incessant need to "reboot" things, but I must also confess to being mildly intrigued at the notion of rebooting Columbo, that wonderful working-class detective in the crappy coat who covered up his brilliance with an "Aw shucks" style. It would depend on the casting, of course, but I'd be interested.

:: Twelve-year-old humor alert on this next one! A lot of companies auto-generate their e-mail addresses for employees by taking some specific combination of letters from the first and last names. This occasionally has some unfortunate results. (I just love when the IT guys respond "Uh, we can't change it." I'm always amused when IT people say that they simply "can't" make the computers do what they want. Nobody can just go in and delete on e-mail address and manually add another one? There are no provisions for this?)

:: Want to see pictures of kitties captioned with quotes from HP Lovecraft? Sure you do.

More next week!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Something for Thursday

Whoa, I'm awfully late with this one...anyway, here's a bit of science fiction film music. As great as Jerry Goldsmith was at his best, I had trouble with the last decade or so of his career, because a lot of the time I found his work...well, boring. He still wrote some gems in that period, though, chief among them the score to Star Trek First Contact. The action writing in that score is pretty good, but the real meat-and-potatoes comes in the music he wrote for the film's depiction of First Contact, the moment when humans first meet representatives of an alien race (in this case, the Vulcans). The theme he came up with for that is just a wonderful musical depiction of maturity, which suits the film perfectly as the moment of First Contact is the moment when humanity starts to really "grow up". I once had a guy tell me, on some message board or some such, that this music sounds of "mournful farewell", and I couldn't possibly have disagreed more. This is music that, in my ears, drips with lyrical optimism. I just love it!

Here's "First Contact", from the film Star Trek First Contact.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Will you be reading To Kill A Mockingbird II: The Mockingbird Strikes Back (not the actual title)?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

A snowy field in Clear Lake

Today is the anniversary of The Day the Music Died, as it's come to be known: the day that a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all three musicians. Sheila O'Malley has an excellent post on the subject; check it out.

I went to college in that area, actually: Wartburg College is in Waverly, IA, which is roughly an hour's drive away from the Mason City and Clear Lake area. For people in that part of Iowa, The Day the Music Died isn't just a tragic day in the history of rock-n-roll, but rather an important and sad part of local folklore. I drove through Clear Lake a number of times, with various friends on a number of road trips, and though we never went out to the field where the plane went down, we did drive by the Surf Ballroom once or twice.

I also remember watching American Graffiti when I was in college, and there's a line in that movie -- I think the Paul LeMat character, the hot-rod race driving guy, says it -- to the effect that "music's been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died". This in reply to someone's positive opinion of the Beach Boys. The movie was set in the early 1960s, of course, but even though it was made in 1973 or so, the passing of Holly, Valens, and the Big Bopper was still a reasonably fresh memory, only 14 years gone. That sounds longish, but this year, 9-11 will be as far in the past. I'm not sure what my point here is, other than to note that memories of events that are history to us were once fresh wounds and became scars, in time.

Anyway, it's always worth reflecting on the stars that pass before they really got a chance to shine with their full brilliance.