Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: Posts and Pictures

Here's a small selection of things I wrote in 2015 in this space.

Buffasaurus Rex (Mainly because I like the pun in the title)
On story Bibles
On screws (seriously.)
Ranking the James Bond Theme Songs

In which I am accused of not liking the Prequel Trilogy enough
I really love the vintage herringbone overalls I bought!
No, John Williams did NOT rip off Dvorak.
Why The Wife is the best person ever

Farewell, Leonard Nimoy
Outlines are bad, bad things (except for when they're not)
A pie in my face for Pi Day
A dog and donuts

On Hank, my Internal Editor
A vignette from the airport
Farewell, Geoffrey Lewis
On the ethics of "tanking"

Brief thoughts on Holocaust Remembrance Day
A dollop of whipped cream is NOT A PIE.
My Top Ten Letterman moments
On waffles

Farewell, James Horner
On bleaching a pair of blue overalls white
Revisiting Paddle to the Sea
Keeping ahead of the Smiths: Thoughts on the Minimum Wage (politics here)

Life after football and failure: Aaron Maybin
Phil Spiderman
That time I finally got to wear overalls to the County Fair!
A tiny park and its graffiti

The Saxhole of Chestnut Ridge
Predicting the 2015 NFL season (badly)
My own Staff of Ra
In which I explain the plot of Octopussy

Christophers we should honor instead of Columbus
Thanksgiving in NYC, part 1
Thanksgiving in NYC, part 2
Black Friday in NYC

I also continued posting music to the Something for Thursday series, and I resurrected both the Bad Joke Friday and Saturday Symphony posts (both series will return next week).

Finally, here's a smattering of my favorite photos from the last year. While I honestly can't call myself a "photographer", I do find taking pictures to be an engaging activity that may well flower into full-fledged hobby status this coming year. I'm certainly not lacking for subjects to photograph, from simple snapshots of myself doing the writing thing to various natural and/or urban landscapes as I explore places (often with this big, funny greyhound at my side). As always, more of my photos reside on Flickr, and following me on Instagram is always a good idea! (Funny thing: as of this writing, I still haven't posted the last of my New York City photos, kind of because there's some part of my brain that thinks that that trip isn't fully in the past as long as the photos aren't up. My brain is weird, man.)

My 2015 favorites, part 1 #2015faves

My 2015 favorites, part 2. #2015faves

My 2015 favorites, part 3. #2015faves

Pie in my face for Pi Day, 3/14/15. #pieintheface #overalls

My 2015 favorites, part 4. #2015faves

My 2015 favorites, part 5. #2015faves

My 2015 favorites, part 6. #2015faves

My 2015 favorites, part 7. #2015faves

My 2015 favorites, part 8. #2015faves

My 2015 favorites, part 9. #2015faves

My 2015 favorites, part 10. #2015faves

My 2015 favorites, part 11. #2015faves

And finally, my 2015 favorites, part 12! #2015faves

Thus ends the Annual Retrospective. Here we go, 2016!

2015: I've had better, I've had worse

So, 2015 is almost done. This was a pretty strange year. A lot of people I know and love seem to have had a less-than-stellar year in 2015. Mine wasn't bad at all, but at the same time, it wasn't the year I was hoping it would be.

Time for the annual retrospective!

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn't read as much as I wanted. This vexes me somewhat. Part of it was that I completely bogged down on the Larry McMurtry novel Lonesome Dove, which I started early in the year and found myself pushing through. I don't know why, really -- I liked the book, but it never seemed to develop that kind of forward motion that long books often need. I had a tough time with that book and I never really got back in the groove, reading-wise. I read, but not enough.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

A few more coworkers, and a dear friend from work became a grandmother.

Did anyone close to you die?

My parents lost a sixteen-year-old cat today. She was in poor health and it was her time, but...damn. Sixteen, for a cat? That's something.

What countries did you visit?

Never left the country. We hope to visit Toronto in 2016 sometime. (Fictional departures? Oh, I had those by the hundreds!)

What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

Same as last year: More readers for my books!

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting The Wisdomfold Path out, like I set out to do. That's pretty big. It's an actual series now!

What was your biggest failure?

I'm still flogging away at the "Lighthouse Boy" novel, and GhostCop (not the actual title) still doesn't have an actual title. I need to come up with one, since I'd like to get that book out this year.

What was the best thing you bought?

Maybe this:


I've been wanting a better camera for a while, and with our NYC trip looming, I splurged and bought this. So far, I'm loving it.

Whose behavior merited celebration?

As always, The Wife and The Daughter. My friends and family in general.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Apologies in advance for those offended by such talk, but: My God, Republicans, would you folks please return to Planet Earth?!

Where did most of your money go?

Food, new camera, books (of course), jewelry for The Wife, cool stuff in general. A big trip to NYC.

What did you get really excited about?

Releasing The Wisdomfold Path, the trip to NYC, and Star Wars Episode VII.

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Happier, I think. It's hard to remember my specific state last year at this time, but right now, life is on a general upward trend, I think.

Thinner or fatter?

Thinner. I continue to lose weight at the rate of a few pounds a year, which is nice and sustainable. I have pairs of overalls that I can actually wear now, which is awesome.

Richer or poorer?

Richer, a bit. Now, once the world realizes what it's missing by not reading my books....

What do you wish you'd done more of?

As mentioned above, reading! Not the best year for reading. And I only got one pie in my face this year (which I self-administered for Pi Day).

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Wasting time on the Internet. It's really way to easy to get snarky, and I finally took the step of blocking a few folks on Facebook who do nothing but make me indulge that part of my personality. I also sometimes indulge an old love of soap-opera bullshit, which led to me join in a few pile-ons that I now realize I should have avoided like the plague.

How did you spend Christmas?

My sister was in town, so we had the whole family! It was a lovely time.

Did you fall in love in 2015?

I fall in love on a daily basis. (Yes, that’s my stock answer!)

How many one-night stands?

Now, that’s not the kind of question a gentleman answers! (Another stock answer!)

What was your favorite TV program?

Brooklyn Nine Nine and The Musketeers were major discoveries this year; we love both of them wildly. We did try Outlander and we were actually enjoying it, but along about the fifth or sixth episode it took a really violent and rapey turn, and we gave up on it.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I don’t like hate, but...well, I'll just leave it at that. I don't like hate.

Would that certain people running for President liked hate a little less.

What was the best book you read?

The Dead House, by Dawn Kurtagich, and Missing Reels, by Farran Smith Nehme.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

I don't know that I discovered anything this year. John Williams wrote an amazing score for The Force Awakens, though.

What did you want and get?

More scarves! And a really nifty pair of vintage Key herringbone overalls.

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

What did you want and not get?

A new air compressor at work (I can get one, I just haven't pulled the trigger yet); the BB8 remote control toy (I really can't justify spending over $100 for that); and I didn't get pied by anyone else this year, again (particularly not by my beautiful wife), for various reasons of opportunity being lacking. Alas!

What were your favorite films of this year?

By default? Star Wars Episode VII, even though I had some vexing problems with it.

What did you do on your birthday?

I worked, again! Then I took a few days off a week or two later. We skipped our annual fall Ithaca trip this year because of our NYC trip in November.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

I should just stop answering this question. It's all-overalls, all-the-time. I'm wearing overalls as I write this.

What kept you sane?

Writing, and lots of hikes and nature walks with the dog!

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Trevor Noah has done a very good job, stepping in for the departed Jon Stewart, and my crush on the brilliant Jessica Williams continues. Over on HBO, John Oliver is turning in great work. I continue to find Adele fascinating.

What political issue stirred you the most?

I don't know, pick one. Our absurd response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Climate change. Our insistence that policies that work beautifully in other countries, solving problems that we have now, can't possibly work in our own country. Our ongoing insistence that the Free Market will one day bring us all to economic Shangri-La, and the appalling reaction to even mild increases in a minimum wage that should have gone up even higher.

Who did you miss?

No one, really. This was a year for meeting great people, not losing them.

Who was the best new person you met?

All of them. Seriously, I couldn't begin to pick just one.

If you take selfies, post your six favorite ones:

Not a bad day to be alive! 😊 #longhairdontcare #overalls #vintage #HickoryStripe #lee

Dressed for a day of a little shopping and a lot of writing! #overalls #vintage #Key #herringbone #burgundy #plaid #scarf #ootd

I love cool windy days. #Ahhhh #tiedye #overalls #BlueDenim #ootd

Nature walks with Cane, at the Knox Farm State Park. #EastAurora #KnoxFarm

I'm sorry, you were trying to write? #Lester #CatsOfInstagram

Properly celebrating Pi Day with a pie in the face!

(Yeah, that's seven, not six. Oh well.)

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015:

There really is “no place like home!”

And the usual ones: Read a lot, write a lot. Go for walks and look at sunsets. There are amazing places within two hours of where you live that you've never seen. Take all the pictures you want. Learn new things and try new stuff. If you have a dog, take him for walks. Buy books for your daughter, even when she complains that she likes to pick her own books (let her do that, too). Nothing fits your hand so well as your lover’s hand. Eating out is fine, but learn to cook things, too. Have a place to go where they know you and what you order. Don’t be afraid to revisit your childhood passions now and again; you weren’t always wrong back then. The only way to play the Long Game is to wait. Overalls are awesome, it’s OK to wear double denim, and a pie in the face is a wonderful thing!

And as always: Make good art.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

You know, every year when I pick a song, I don't choose it for lyrics that have anything to specifically do with the year I'm just completing. I choose a song that seems to me a part of the time, either a song that I found that year or a song that became meaningful to me that year, and when the latter happens, it's not because of any exact correlation between the song and something that happened in my life.

With that, here's my Meaningful Song for 2015.

It's knowin' that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleepin' bag rolled up
And stashed behind your couch

And it's knowin' I'm not shackled by forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some lines
That keeps you in the back roads
By the rivers of my memory and keeps you ever gentle on my mind

It's not clingin' to the rocks and ivy
Planted on their columns now that bind me
Or somethin' that somebody said because
They thought we fit together walkin'

It's just knowin' that the world will not be cursin' or forgivin'
When I walk along some railroad track and find
That you're movin' on the back roads
By the rivers of my memory and for hours you're just gentle on my mind

Though the wheat fields and the coal mines and the junkyards
And the highways come between us
And some other woman's cryin' to her mother
'Cause she turned and I was gone

I still might run in silence tears of joy might stain my face
And the summer sun might burn me till I'm blind
But not to where I cannot see
You walkin' on the back roads by the rivers flowin' gentle on my mind

I dip my cup of soup
Back from some gurglin', cracklin' cauldron in some train yard
My beard a roughenin' coal pile
And a dirty hat pulled low across my face

Through cupped hands 'round a tin can
I pretend to hold you to my breast and find
That you're wavin' from the back roads
By the rivers of my memory ever smilin', ever gentle on my mind

All right, 2015, thanks for your service. 2016, you're up! Let's see what's out there. Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

It's Christmas Eve. May your Christmas herald the coming of wonderful things and peace in your lives.

Here's Stevie Nicks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

Here's some Christmas music I remember from my childhood...or music that feels like I should remember it from my childhood.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

Well, time for some equal treatment. We all have Christmas songs that we hate, so here are a few that I can't stand. Enjoy! Maybe. (And if any of these is your most favoritest Christmas song ever, well...sorry.)

(My loathing for the Chipmunks knows few bounds. These next two are almost as annoying to me.)

(As versions of this go, this is probably the best. Still doesn't ring my bell. Ha! See what I did there?)

(This next song is just Godawful. I'd link Patton Oswalt's commentary on it, but that's a bit too R-rated for my blog.)

(I don't like this one because it's really dull, and yet for some reason, this is the only version of this song I've heard this year!)

OK, I got that out of my system.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

We all know the words, right? And hey, even if we don't, who cares! Here are a few favorites from Japan.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

Goodness, today was so busy I forgot to post this entirely. But it's still today! Here's the Band Perry, one of my favorite discoveries of this year.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Bad Joke Friday (Star Wars edition)

Sorry -- the holidays and our recent NYC trip pushed this feature out of my mind. I'll probably let it rest until the new year, given that Christmas and New Year's Day are both Fridays this year, but for now...

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

Yipes! Sorry to be late with this, but my computer decided to update this morning, so I had to restart and watch it update when I would have been picking out a Christmas thing. So here's today's Christmas thing: "The First Noel" as sung by Annie Lennox (whom I believe to have the best pure voice in popular music since Freddie Mercury).

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"Let's get the shit kicked out of us by love!" (a repost)

(Goodness! I wrote this post almost seven years ago! But I stand by every word: Love Actually is the best Christmas movie ever, and I will entertain exactly zero debate on this point.)

So. Love Actually. This is one of my favorite movies, so I'm going to wax poetic about it for a while (with spoilers, by the way). Some people watch A Christmas Story and It's a Wonderful Life at Christmastime; for me it's My Fair Lady (which I haven't watched yet this season) and Love Actually (which I have). The other day Mrs. M-Mv posted her own appreciation of the movie:

I know that many folks dislike this film -- too long, too sentimental, too... something. Everyone has a suggestion for a storyline that needs to go or a character that could be deleted. Even Roger Ebert: "I once had ballpoints printed up with the message, No good movie is too long. No bad movie is short enough. 'Love Actually' is too long. But don't let that stop you." [Emphasis added.]

I, on the other hand, think the pace, the narrative, and the characters are practically perfect in every way. Moreover, I think the film wears well: I've seen it at least six times since it was first released -- more, if you count all of the partial viewings -- and it's funny, sweet, and effective each time.

That's true, isn't it? I have yet to read a critique of this film that fails to mention the "fact" that it is just too long of a movie. Heck, even the movie's director, Richard Curtis, seems to feel that it's too long; in his filmed introductions to the deleted scenes on the DVD, he says something along the lines of "Well, the original cut was three-and-a-half hours long, so if you think the two-and-a-quarter-hour version is too long, it could have been worse." But I heard that and thought, paraphrasing the movie's Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, "Who do I have to screw around here to get to see the original cut?" I've never found Love Actually too long; in fact, it's one of the rare films that leaves me wishing I could spend more time with these characters, in their world.

I want to know if Harry and Karen repair the damage to their marriage that Harry caused with his near-miss of an affair.

I want to know if Sarah ever gets another chance with Karl, or if she ever manages to find love in a way that still allows her to care for her brother.

I want to know how the PM's relationship with a staffer turns out.

I want to know if Mark ever finds love after his impossible crush on Juliet plays out.

I want to know how Sam and Joanna fare as kid loves, and how Daniel and Carol make out as a potential couple.

I want to know if Colin ever matures beyond his need for impressive sex with American girls.

And I'd love to see a biopic of aged, battered old rocker Billy Mack, who late in the movie admits that his life, though lonely, has been a wonderful life.

Few movies seem as full of real people, to me, as Love Actually. That's a testament, really, not just to the writing, but the entire production, because the movie by its nature has to rely on its actors and editors to make the whole thing really come to life. Since each story in the movie is basically told in miniature, each cast member is put in the position of having to knock each scene out of the park. Luckily for the movie, they accomplish this.

So no, I don't think Love Actually is too long; not even close. And I think that beneath its exterior, which makes it look like the schmaltziest, mushiest romantic comedy ever made, the film is surprisingly insightful about how some relationships work when they're based on love.

The film's masterstroke is this: not everybody gets a happy ending. And, thinking about it, you realize that the movie is aware of an even deeper truth: that nobody gets an ending at all, save one, and that's the big ending, the one that really ends everything.

When we first meet Daniel (Liam Neeson) and Sam (Thomas Sangster), they are at the funeral for Sam's mother (and Daniel's wife). [Daniel is actually Sam's step-father, which raises other questions about Sam's life: has he already lost one parent, or were his parents divorced with his mother then marrying Daniel? We never learn, and for the purposes of the story in Love Actually, it really doesn't much matter.] Daniel is devastated, as is Sam, but it soon turns out that Sam's got another problem of his own: he's in love, probably for the first time in his life, with an American girl in his school who doesn't know he exists. When Daniel finally gets this out of Sam, shortly after the funeral, it's in a scene where the two are sitting on a bench, and Daniel finally appeals for Sam to tell him what the problem is, even if he can't help the boy. We're as surprised as Daniel is when Sam bluntly states, "Well, the truth is, I'm in love." Daniel and Sam spend much of the rest of the film, when they're onscreen, working out the details of how Sam can win Joanna's heart. It's a beginning that only comes out of a horrible moment of ending.

Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson) are middle-aged married folks. Harry is the boss of what appears to be a non-profit or something like that; Karen is the housewife who basically keeps everything at home going, doing the cooking and cleaning and making the lobster costume for their daughter who has just been cast as First Lobster in the school's Nativity play. ("There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?") Their marriage seems staid and dull, but not unfeeling; even so, Harry finds himself responding to the advances of his new administrative assistant, a comely young woman named Mia. They never have a physical affair, but Harry indulges the attraction to the point of buying Mia a gold necklace for Christmas, which Karen finds out about. When the film reaches its last scene, Harry and Karen greet each other somewhat warmly but cautiously, and nothing really is said of what is going on with them: are they divorcing? Was Harry away on business, or were they separated? Are they working on it, or is it ending? We don't know.

And then there's Mark, who serves as his best friend's best man in a wedding at the beginning of the movie. His problem is that he is himself desperately in love with Juliet, the bride who is marrying his best friend. This is hard for him to cope with, so his way of compensating is to treat Juliet very coldly, to the point where she thinks he hates her – until she visits him one day, hoping to find some good footage in the videotapes he'd made of the wedding, and realizes that all he taped that day was her. Late in the movie this plays out in a fairly charming scene that could give pause, as Mark admits to Juliet his love for her. Was this the right thing to do? It's tempting, I suppose, to say that he should never tell the wife of his best friend that he loves her, but I don't see it that way. Mark knows that he owes Juliet an explanation, and he knows that he has to find a way to be around her and not act like an arse, and he further knows that there's no danger that he's going to be coming between his friend and his friend's wife by doing so, because he knows them. Mark knows that Juliet is not going to love her husband one bit less, so he knows that what he's doing is not a potential act of abetting adultery. His is an act of reconciliation, and as he walks away, he says to himself: "Enough. Enough now." He's put himself in a position to move on, and it's a totally right thing for him to do, even though if someone else were to try the same type of thing, it might well be disastrous for all concerned.

The most notable unhappy ending, though, belongs to Sarah (Laura Linney), who works for Harry and has been in love with their office's graphic designer, Karl, for "two years, seven months, three days, one hour and thirty minutes" (half an hour less than the time she's actually worked in that office). Harry finally sits her down and tells her to do something about her crush on Karl, since it's Christmas and apparently everybody in the office knows already. Sarah's eyes light up briefly with the sense of possibility. The problem, though, comes in the person of Sarah's brother, who is institutionalized with some unspecified mental illness. Sarah is the only one to take care of him, and she does, out of an intense sense of duty (their parents are apparently long deceased). Her brother calls her on her cell phone constantly, usually to talk about problems that she really can't help him with, but she takes each call anyway – including two that come the very night she is finally trying to seize her chance with Karl. It's an awful moment that she faces: the two are in bed, beginning foreplay, when the phone rings; Karl says, "Can you help him right now?", and when she shakes her head, he says, "Then maybe you don't answer it." But she can't bring herself to do this, and she answers, telling her brother that she's not busy at all. The moment passes, and as far as this film goes, Sarah and Karl never get together.

Sometimes in our lives, our various loves come into conflict. The love people have for one another can't be exercised because of the love they have for their children; or, as with poor Sarah, her love and desire for Karl – her desire for a life of her own, even – is pushed back because of her love and duty to her brother. One friend of mine hated the movie, mainly for this particular plot point, but I found it entirely realistic. I've known people who have made these kinds of choices in their lives.

Of course, I wouldn't be so enchanted with Love Actually if the movie wasn't so wickedly funny. There isn't a scene with Billy Mack (Bill Nighy), the aging rocker, that doesn't leave me grinning at the very least. There's the wonderful moment when the Prime Minister has to literally go door-to-door looking for someone, at one point being exhorted by a trio of little girls who have no idea who he is to sing Christmas carols (the look on Hugh Grant's face when the PM discovers that his own bodyguard has an amazing singing voice is priceless). There is one hilarious moment after another.

Lastly, Love Actually is a beautiful film. So much of the movie seems to actually sparkle, and the music is, for a typical selection of romantic-comedy music, mostly wonderful stuff, including two gorgeous love themes by composer Craig Armstrong.

As a conclusion, here's the opening scene to Love Actually, with a brief monologue by Hugh Grant as the PM. Love actually is all around.

I don't know of a scene that better sets the tone for what's to come in a movie than this one -- so much so that I almost want to turn off the computer and watch the movie again right now.

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

Here, edited into one helpful suite, are the three major love themes from Love Actually! Which is, of course, the best Christmas movie ever (a point which will not be debated).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

I wasn't a terribly big fan of my seventh grade English teacher, but one good thing she did was make us watch Scrooge, the musical version of A Christmas Carol, with Albert Finney as old Ebenezer. Of course, being the jaded world-wise young man I was then (translated: know-it-all little schmuck), I made fun of the movie without realizing its charms. Here's one of the songs, which erupts when Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Present, who turns out to be fond of life.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

I don't always believe that the first version of a song is the best, but in this case...yes, it is.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

I had already posted yesterday's Daily Dose of Christmas when I learned that it was Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday, so I missed the boat there. I hope he doesn't send his heavenly goons after me for posting these on the day after!

Anyway, here's Old Blue Eyes. A few times, actually.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Symphony Saturday


Johannes Brahms is one of the giant figures of late 19th-century music, and his symphonies are of sufficient import that they tend to fall into the "No classical music collection is complete without them" category. I personally consider them as such: they are amazing, tremendous works that look back to Mozart and Beethoven (and earlier) with their skillful handling of form; they combine moments of muscular defiance with heartfelt lyricism; they have moments that want to linger and other moments that propel the listener with such force that it feels as if Nature herself is taking a hand.

Brahms was, at heart, a classicist, and his music stands in high contrast with the other dominant school of thought in Western (and German) music at the time, the fiery Romanticism of Richard Wagner. Brahms and Wagner were rivals, and even though it was Wagner who "won out" by having the greatest influence on the history of music as it unfolded after both men were gone, Brahms has never been forgotten, and indeed, as the pendulum inevitably began to swing back the other way after Wagnerism began to give way, Brahms's music found even greater acceptance.

Brahms himself was a troubled figure. He never married, and it's almost certain this is because his lifelong love was actually Clara Schumann, wife of his good friend, composer Robert Schumann. Some of his music is deeply spiritual (particularly his German Requiem), but his known religious beliefs bordered on pure agnosticism. Brahms was musically conservative, and yet there are moments of his that sing with the voice of any of the Romantics, and in his works live the spirit of the Viennese woods that he loved deeply. He had a reputation for being a gruff and introverted man, and yet the friends he made were fiercely loyal and lifelong.

Brahms's First Symphony, in C-minor, was one of the works he found most vexing in its composition. It took him over twenty years to compose it, from the first sketches to its premiere performance. Why did it take so long? Well, Brahms was a perfectionist (to the point that he personally destroyed some of his own works), and there was social pressure on him as well, applied by his musical contemporaries, for Brahms to basically pick up where Beethoven had left off. Even for a musical genius who would achieve his own place in the pantheon, this was probably too much to ask of the man, and the result was the tortured creation of a First Symphony that saw some material rejected and reused in a piano concerto, other material unused outright, and a twenty-year journey of composition. Did it pay off? Indeed it did, and not just because an over-excited colleague introduced the work, upon its long-awaited first performances, as "Beethoven's Tenth".

The symphony begins with a fascinating introduction as the high strings and winds pursue a melodic line that climbs upward, while the lower strings and winds undertake a line that marches downward (both doing this as the timpani pounds a relentless drumbeat in the background). The result is a work that starts with two lines pulling against one another, and a mood of tension from the opening bars. Leonard Bernstein used the opening bars of this symphony in a televised lecture on conducting and the issues that face the modern conductor, many years ago; these bars pose a number of such problems for the conductor to solve. The two lines have to be balanced so as the create the right sense of tension, the tempo must be right, and so on.

The first three movements of this Symphony are amazing, but for me, the real magic comes in the fourth and final movement. Again, an introduction that creates tension and mystery -- but this time, suddenly, it's as if (and I hate using metaphors like this in discussing music, but sometimes it can't be helped) the clouds part. The horns sound a call that, according to Brahms, is an echo of an Alpine horn call he once heard while walking in the woods, and it certainly sounds like that. Then, after the horn call is finished, the high woodwinds repeat it (listen for the single trumpet in the background here, sounding just four descending notes, in a spot that Chicago Symphony trumpeter, and personal hero of mine, Adolph Herseth once claimed as his favorite spot in all of music). Then the low brass sounds a chorale theme that sounds almost liturgical in nature...and the movement's main section begins, with a major-key melody whose resemblance to the famous "Ode to Joy" theme in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has inspired much comment over the years.

This last movement is one of the grandest movements of symphonic music that I know. It is a model of power and majesty, perfectly cast with not a single note out of place, and when the payoff finally arrives at the end -- with the orchestra's entire brass section sounding out the Chorale theme in a magnificent fortissimo -- the effect is as overwhelming as any I know in music.

Here is the Symphony No. 1 in C-minor, by Johannes Brahms.

Next week: The sunniest of Brahms's symphonies, the Symphony No. 2.

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

I've never been able to decide if I like "The Twelve Days of Christmas", or if I find it really irritating. This version's pretty fun, if you happen to have been a brass player at some point in your life.

Heck, you often can't go wrong with comedic versions of "Twelve Days"'s a version Johnny Carson did (embedding is disabled, so you have to follow the link, and excuse the awful video as it's a rip from an old VHS tape -- sound is fine, though).

And then there's this:

I include that mainly for the fact that they incorporate two of the "Chicken Dances" from Arrested Development.

And then, of course, the Muppets:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Something for Thursday

Cheese. Pure, unadulterated, joy-filled cheese.

Here are The Three Tenors.

Your Daily Dose of Christmas!

Here's a band I love, even though for some reason I haven't listened to them in a bizarrely long time: Blackmore's Night, performing "Good King Wenceslas"!

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Where were you when you heard that John Lennon had been killed?

(For me, it was the next morning. I can't remember if I heard it first on a Good Morning America kind of show or not, but I remember that my father drove me to school that morning for some reason, and that the news was on the radio. At the time, I honestly didn't know anything at all about the Beatles.)

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

Time for a repeat of a song I use every year at some point: Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne", that achingly beautiful song that's barely a Christmas song but yet perfectly captures that certain wistful part of the season, when no matter how well your life is going, you can't help but think back over choices made and others not.

And, of course, the true story behind the song.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Question about Ads

Is anyone experiencing a problem with ads playing when I embed YouTube videos? Somehow my Google account has become eligible for "YouTube Red", which means (among other things) that I never have to watch ads when I'm viewing YouTube while logged into my Google account, which is pretty much always. So I have no way of knowing what ads are running for people who are not logged in while watching the videos here.

I'm honestly not sure what I can do to solve this problem, but I would like to know if it is a distraction with a high annoyance factor.

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

I used to hate early music, but I find my appreciation for it growing slowly. Here is the Boston Camerata with "Adeste Fidelis".

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Black Friday in New York

Continuing the adventures in New York City! On Black Friday, we didn't do much by the way of shopping until late. First up was one of two things that had been on my Must-Do list: Visit the Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium. This was indulging the Little Kid Space Nerd in me, I fully admit! And imagine what flitted through my heart when we walked in and saw the Hayden Sphere looming above:

Museum of Natural History

Such a fascinating place -- all the displays about things that I've been interested in for almost literally as long as I can remember.

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

Fascinatingly, those planet models are to scale: If the Hayden Sphere is the size of the sun, then that's how big the planets are. There's another series of walking displays around the lower perimeter, showing the size of increasingly tiny things: If the Hayden Sphere is the size of a single raindrop, then this is how big a common cold virus is -- that sort of thing. This whole place was amazing.

The upper portion of the sphere itself is the Planetarium, where we saw a show about dark energy, narrated by Neil DeGrasse Tyson himself. I could sit through a dozen planetarium shows in one day, to be quite honest. It was our great luck that the Planetarium had just reopened after several months downtime for refitting: the dome was rebuilt to make the seams between the sections almost invisible, and the seats and projection systems were upgraded. To my surprise, there was no Big Bug-Eyed Projector sitting in the middle of the planetarium, which is a traditional fixture of such places (this kind of thing, if you're wondering what I'm talking about). Projection seems to be handled from a series of projectors along the boundaries of the planetarium. The show was amazing and very well-done. There's another theater in the lower half of the Sphere, but we didn't attend that one. Instead we moved on to the rest of the museum.

Much of the museum is dedicated to the kinds of taxidermy-based diorama displays that I'm sure we all remember from our youths. This museum's dioramas are some of the best I've ever seen, but in all honesty, a little of that kind of thing tends to go a long way with me. There were still some cool things to see, though.

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History

We spent some time in the Hall of Gems and Minerals, because rocks are cool, dammit.

Hall of Gems and Minerals, Museum of Natural History

Hall of Gems and Minerals, Museum of Natural History

Hall of Gems and Minerals, Museum of Natural History

Hall of Gems and Minerals, Museum of Natural History

That last is pretty fascinating: it's a piece of a much larger meteorite, about the size of a small car -- and it weighs 34 tons. That blew my mind. The signage illustrates the engineering problems they faced just displaying the thing in the Museum: it sits on support posts that extend down through the basement floor all the way to bedrock.

After the museum, it was time for another touristy stop: Rockefeller Center.

And that place is every bit as gorgeous as it looks on teevee and in the pictures.

Rockefeller Center 2015

Rockefeller Center 2015

Rockefeller Center 2015

Rockefeller Center 2015

Rockefeller Center 2015

Rockefeller Center 2015

Rockefeller Center 2015

Rockefeller Center 2015

Watching people skate at Rockefeller Center is one of the most unexpectedly wonderful things that we saw on this trip. It was just...sheer, beautiful happiness, from the family that was skating together...

skating the young woman in the wonderful scarf who couldn't let go of the rail.

Rockefeller Center 2015

After Rockefeller Center, it was off to find dinner. We wound up at a burger joint called 5 Napkin, where we had a terrific meal in a dining room made up to look like an old meat market:

Food of NYC

And then, where else to go on a Friday Night in New York City than...TIMES SQUARE!!!






The coolest thing was that everywhere we went that day, nobody was pushy, nobody was in a bad mood. It was as if the thousands of people in our company were all just...happy. Even in Times Square, there was no shoving, no rancor...everybody was relaxed and having a good time. Everybody was. I've no idea if it's always that way or if was just a function of the season (and the presence of cops everywhere), but this entire trip was almost entirely free of anxiety.

So ended our third night in New York City. Two nights remained....