Monday, May 26, 2008

Post-Indiana Jones thoughts

My buddy Shep-dawg, Shep-dawg's wife, and I just went and saw the new Indiana Jones tonight. I'll admit I wasn't too hopeful going into it, having grown up with the original trilogy and having a firm idea in my mind of Indy as a particular person, and now having to face him as an old man.

However, it wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be. In particular the first thirty to forty minutes (in which our hero survives kidnapping by Russian agents, a running fight through the same warehouse featured at the end of Raiders---and a not-to-subtle nod to the treasure he uncovered in that episode---and the sudden splitting of atoms) was pretty good. Heck, I've seen worse (such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or The Mummy 2).

Anyway, a few thoughts (WARNING! SPOILERS BELOW!):

1. Even though she's made a career out of convincing portrayals against type (an elf, an English queen, the late, great Kate Hepburn), it's just a little hard to buy Cate Blanchett as a Russian dominatrix. Hopefully this won't be the first in a series of compromises for the sake of commerce. I know, I know, artists have to eat too, and the "best" and most interesting serious parts aren't exactly as common as the throwaway action film bit-parts. Still...

2. Apparently Lucas and Spielberg didn't want to risk having our aged Mr. Ford try to maintain the audience's interest on his own. Why else would they throw in Cate, Shia, Karen Allen (see #3), Ray Winstone, and perpetual loony-type John Hurt for good measure? Actually it seems that this is something that has increased over the course of the previous three movies. In Raiders it was mostly a contest between Indy and his French antagonist; the other actors were simply there to hold their places. In Temple of Doom, we had comic relief from Indy's Chinese sidekick, and the romantic tension with Kate Capshaw. In Last Crusade, it was almost as much about Sean Connery's character as it was his son's. If they go for Indiana Jones #5, then it will probably swell to Oceans 11/12/13 proportions, with half-a-dozen or more side players supporting Indy (and probably mostly getting in the way, much like the above actors did in this one).

3. Regarding Karen Allen? Well, to put it politely, age hasn't been kind to her. There, I said it. So shoot me...

4. Indiana Jones #4 ends with...a wedding? Hmmm; well, I guess if Lucas and Spielberg really want this to be the last one, then we might as well tie up that particular loose end. If they try to go for a #5, though, then they'll probably have to do some lame Oceans 13-esque plot manipulation to get the wife out of the picture for the action...'cause, I mean, Karen Allen as a viable sidekick on another adventure?...Naw, I don't think so...

5. The closing scenes suggest the faint possibility of Indy's son stepping up to the plate for the next run (if there is any). Hopefully, not; Lucas and Spielberg would do well to leave this thing alone for good.

When Temple of Doom came out in 1984, Lucas mentioned in an interview that he chose the particular time period for the storie(s) (the 1930's) because the non-Western world still had a great sense of mystique and romance about it back then. I would argue that this is no longer so; the Internet, globalism, and international commerce seem to have shrunken our world to less-than-mysterious proportions. Thus, in an age where high-tech computer systems can tell us more about ancient civilizations in five minutes than we could learn in a lifetime through maps, books and traipsing through the jungle, the old-fashioned archeologist Indiana Jones really doesn't seem to be all that relevant anymore.*

Still, we go to see him at the movies anyway. Maybe we're all incurable romantics at heart, even in the 21st century.

* Famous last words, probably.

Friday, May 23, 2008

When it pays to pay your dues (musically)...

In this month's issue of Paste, Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard had an interesting comment in an essay about a meditative retreat he made recently to Big Sur, California. Future rockers, take note:

I can unequivocally say that I'm so glad we were one of the last bands to break before the Internet got crazy. We actually had some time to develop. I hate hearing people say, "I went and saw this band---everybody's saying they're really great---but I went and saw them last night and they weren't any good live." You know why they weren't good? Because they've never done more than five shows in a row, and now they're two weeks into a tour---their first national tour. They don't know how to get to the shows, they don't know how to sleep right, they don't know where to find food. They don't understand how to make a set list somebody cares about. You can't blame these bands for not being great yet. We were terrible when we first started playing.

So it does seem that there's a price for the instant celebrity that YouTube affords.

Of course, he's quick to add:

...But I don't want to go back to that period where we were literally eating mustard sandwiches in West Texas because we didn't have money.


Monday, May 19, 2008

A short musical diversion...

First came the jug...

Then came the jug band...

Then came the electric jug band (circa 1966)*

* The jug is the whittle-whittle-whittle-whittle sound you hear floating in the background, underneath the guitars and drums.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It keeps me in the 21st century...

Those of you who know me well know how I incline towards
the older and the historical. I've never been able to explain
why this is or how exactly it got started; I just know that
that's who I am.

This fascination with older things spills into my music choices
as well. If you were to look at my CD collection (not my
iTunes; see post #2 below), you would probably be amazed
at the fact that between 80-90% of the titles predate 1980.
Turning from the collection towards me, you'd probably start
to see less of a normal person and more of something
resembling a a caveman...or a dinosaur . You might even see
Steve Buscemi's obsessive-compulsive character from
Ghost World...(God, I hope not)...

But all is not lost! There is one thing that keeps Dan, to
some degree, firmly grounded in the 21st century:

(Forgive the Fiona Apple cover; it was the only image
I could find online. And no, I never went to Lilith

Paste Magazine is an Atlanta-based indie music
rag that's been in publication since 2002. I came
across it through my once-passionate pursuit of
all things related to that perennial Athens-based
fave, Bill Mallonee and the Vigilantes of Love.
(Bill and VOL had their last few albums primarily
distributed by Paste).

Paste is what Rolling Stone once was, before the
latter succumbed to its own delusions of grandeur:
an honest, contemporary music/film/theater/art
periodical that refuses to kowtow to the gods of
almighty commerce. You won't find laudatory
interviews with the brainless denizens of MTV,
complete with the requisite t&a shots to titillate
the college- and under crowd; articles about
current events written by self-important talking
heads; reviews of recent albums by artists who
should have done us all a favor by hanging it up
long ago (Nickelback, Velvet Revolver, et al).
What you will find is some very good writing
about little-known artists, albums you could
kick yourself for not having heard of, coming
trends that won't be heralded by the usual
sources (and departing trends that are helped
to the door with a boot in the backside)...and,
most importantly, music worth listening to, in
the form of an enclosed CD (usually 20 to 22
tracks per issue).

There is the usual fare (which no one is calling
"alternative" any more, and has yet to be
definitively labelled as anything in particular) to
be sure, but there's plenty more as well:
balls-to-the wall rockers, acoustic ballads,
ethereal soundscapes, pop tunes, soul records
that could just as easily have come out of Stax
in the mid-60's, fusion pieces, jazz (of the non-
"easy listening" variety), blues, country that
ranges from tart, low-fi and tangy to evocative
and wide open...just about everything. Even
hip-hop (if that's your really ain't mine.)

The one thing unifying these two-dozen tracks
is quality. You'd be hard-pressed to give any
issue's CD a spin and conclude that this song
or that one should have been left off. Best of
all, everything is new; no reissues or classic
remasters here. Good taste is getting harder
and harder to come by, but thus far it seems
that Paste still has it. And hopefully, will have
it for years to come.

Pick up one the next time you're in the local
Borders or Barnes & Nobles, preferrably
before we enter the coming "age beyond
bookstores" (when all of this will be a fond
memory). Open yourself up to the possibility
of being pleasantly surprised in an increasingly
unpleasant world.

If nothing else, it'll keep you in the 21st

Kicking myself...

I just realized I misspelled the name when I first entered it. Instead of "blog", it's "block". I guess I was thinking too fast, and typed in the -ck part of reckon at the end of the -blo part of blog.

Oh well, too late to change.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

At least Pat Boone was straightforward about what he did... often has some really great, thought-provoking articles. And this one's just too good to pass up:

Sometimes, in my more irreverent moments, I have to wonder how much fun Heaven will actually be, if this is the best we can do.

Monday, May 5, 2008

What next?

In these troubled economic times, the
insurance industry provides employment, if
not satisfaction, for which I ought to be more
thankful than I sometimes am. Having had
almost a full year (2001) of unemployment,
I can testify to the fact that an unenjoyable
job is better than no job at all.

Still, it's not exactly the sort of thing I'd love
to be doing for the rest of my life. But for the
longest time, I didn't have a clue as to what
I'd rather do. As of now, though, I have no
fewer than three options before me, all equally
attractive; the toughest thing is figuring out
which one to follow through on:

Firstly, there is getting a master's degree.
Considering how little the average bachelor's
degree means in the modern world, this is
almost a necessity if one wants to stay just
a step ahead of underemployment. It would
also look better for another job I'm sure that
I would enjoy, if they'd only hire me: the
National Park Service.

The biggest fear here is, "What if I
spend a lot of time and money on this, and it
doesn't change anything?" It's hard to see it
not changing something, even if it's my own
perception of life, but, worry being the
constant companion he is...

Secondly, my little rock-star fantasy could
come to fruition: after two years of rehearsing
every week and playing around every once in
a while, there seems to be a consensus towards
trying to make our little endeavor something
that we could make a living off of. Right now,
the obvious thing to do is try to get more
bookings, some CD sales, and some kind of
media exposure; later, depending on how well
that does, the question of "O.K., do we all pack
in our day jobs?" would be inevitable. Thankfully,
we're not there yet (there I go clutching at
security again).

But...what if we do this another two years and
nothing comes of it? Will I regret having spent
that time schlepping all over creation, stuffed
into clubs with postage-stamp-sized stages,
trying to reach people who would probably
rather be left alone to drink and brood?
Odds are we won't "change the world"
through song; heck, we probably won't even
record a hit single. Will I consider that
lost time?

(It's funny; right when I got out of college,
and could hardly play a lick, this is what I
wanted to do, inspired by a Buffalo Springfield
bio, no less (!) But I didn't know where to
start, nor, objectively, was I competent
enough at playing to reasonably expect it
would work. Now that I've got twelve years
of playing under my belt, a reasonable amount
of competence at it, and a group to do it with,
I'm hesistant. Screwy, ain't it?)

Thirdly, I could follow an idea I got last fall
and try to write a book. It would be non-fiction
(no surprise), and with a historical theme
(again, no surprise), and would give me
perhaps the best chance to make a semi-
permanent impact on the world (since
professors die and are forgotten, and bands
break up and fade out of least
until VH1 subjects them to the humiliation
of strained reunion concerts and Where
Are They Now? specials).

But...I wonder if I'm really cut out to do it.
"Who are you kidding?" my mind asks, in
strident tones. "You...a writer?!? You haven't
written anything since college term papers...
and even those weren't all that good! You
took all of one English class...and yet you
somehow think you're qualified to tell the
world in print something that's worth
knowing?!? Stick to insurance!!"

Faced with these three choices, the immediate
temptation is to try to do them all: research
for the book (and write it in my spare time),
while playing in the band most weekends and
studying online for a degree. The reality,
though, is that this kind of coordination can't
last indefinitely; something has to give if
you want to keep your sanity...or your meager
social circle. Or, I could hope that someone
else writes the intended book, and that the
bandmates suddenly change their minds and
opt to keep things non-committal, leaving only
the degree option open; that would
certainly simplify things.

But that wouldn't be as much of a challenge/
adventure, now, would it?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

31 is...

I turned 31 back in January, which didn't feel any different from 30, except for an extra year. 30 is of course one of those milestones of life, at which certain things are supposed to have happened that are considered to be milestones on the road of growing up. I'm not sure that I ever had a definite idea of what 30 was supposed to look like when I was younger, but I guess the usual life goals would apply:

1. Married with kids;

2. A well-paying job that was also enjoyable;

3. Some sort of permanent residence (although I don't know if I was distinguishing between an apartment and a mortgage payment in my own mind);

4. Plenty of well-connected, fun and interesting friends to hang out with; and

5. Whatever else would fit with that age, being middle-class.

But, oh, how life throws kinks in our grand (or vague) plans! The reality of 31 is a good bit different. But rather than gripe about what hasn't worked out, or trumpeting what has, I figured I'd just list everything that came to mind about being at this point in my life. This include the good things, the bad things, and the indifferent things, and is by no means exhaustive.

So, 31 is:

An 8-hour a day, 40-hours-a week job that thankfully
doesn't require going into Atlanta to get there.

A closet full of collared knit shirts (mostly blue),
button-ups, Merrell slip-ons, khakis and jeans.

A paid-off, used 2001 Ford Focus that has required
more service work than my previous two cars combined.

A realization that 11 p.m. is now bedtime, and that
midnight is "way late" rather than (as it was in college)
"just getting warmed up".

A realization that the 33 to 34-inch waist of high school
and college is long gone, that the 35-inch waist of adulthood
is probably here to stay, and that if I don't start learning the
wisdom of "moderation in all things", the 36-inch waist
may be the new, unwelcome (permanent) replacement.

A dry period in my dating life, which has never been well-
watered anyway: two girlfriends in college (less than half
a year each), one at age 22 (old college semi-flame), one
at age 29 (less than a full year), and a lot of unattachment
in between.

A suspicion that I might very well spend the next 5, 10,
or 20 years going to bed alone.

A social circle that consists of four fellow singles (one of
whom lives out of state, one in another country, and one
with a limited calendar of availability), two married couples,
and little else besides.

An immediate family that has assumed ever greater
importance, if for no other reason than to have people
to do fun things with.

A nice lump-sum in the bank (CDs and money market
accounts) that isn't quite equal to a down payment on a
house...and, unless the market continues its downward
slump for the next three or four years, might never be.

A bachelor's degree that has so far availed me very little,
other than at least keeping me out of the unemployment

Two nieces and one nephew that have convinced me that,
even if I never produce any offspring of my own, uncle-hood
ain't too bad.

Two electric guitars, two acoustics, a Line-6 modeling amp,
Fender heavy picks...and pages upon pages of lessons,
most of which I haven't gotten to yet.

A blues/rock band that lets me live out my little rock star
fantasy...without feeling the need to shred.

A working computer, and time to surf the 'Net.

The satisfaction of having two videos on, the
technological lump.

A profound knowledge of how expensive central heating
in a three-level leased house can be, and the knowledge
that, if worse comes to worse, I can get by with sweaters
and a space heater.

A realization that reading, which I positively detested in my
childhood, TV-junkie years, is now one of the most enjoyable
things I do.

A realization that, the older I get, the more it takes to impress
me...about anything.

A Thursday-night Bible group that has shattered my earlier,
arrogant belief that younger leaders (mid 20's) cannot
possibly effectively disciple older folks (me being one of the
older ones); easily, the highlight of any week.

A job that pays enough to pay the bills, isn't especially
enjoyable (but isn't intolerable either), and that I can leave
behind when I leave the office.

The knowledge that I'm only a few thousand dollars
short of paying off my student loan...and thus being
completely debt-free.

The satisfaction of Sunday afternoon naps, and weekday
evenings hiking around Kennesaw Mountain.

The confidence in knowing that, if John Adams, the all-
but-forgotten 2nd President of these United States, can
manage to get his own miniseries, then maybe there is
hope for all of us "also rans".

The realization that Christians often scare me more than
non-believers do, even though I count myself amongst
the former.

The joy in knowing that despite the above, God's truths are
still inviolate.

Keeping busy on weekends by doing housework,
volunteering at Kennesaw Mountain, and waiting for my
"big break", if there is one.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is 31.

How about you?