A 17th century blogger …

I’ve been reading the diaries of Samuel Pepys, as posted online in blog format. Pretty fascinating (and often mundane) stuff. Pepys (pronounced peeps) was the father of the modern British navy, but he also had a habit of writing down everything he did, day in, day out. His writings start on New Year’s Day 1660 when he was 26 and run for nine years, filling six 282 page notebooks. The New York Times had a review of a recent Pepys biography, and that’s where I first read of him. When I saw this online diary, I started reading it and got hooked. A lot of it is the mundane stuff of everyday life in the 17th century (“From thence to my father

So Many Roads …

I don’t lack for Grateful Dead CDs. But I wanted a set that compiles their best live performances. I have several of the Dick’s Picks series, but I wanted something that combines the best SONGS, not necessarily shows. After a little research, I settled on a box set, So Many Roads: 1965-1995. I’m generally not a fan of box sets. Unreleased tunes generally aren’t released for a reason. And I’m not terribly interested in rarities and alternative takes. But this one looked promising. Lots of live performances. A few from the studio. I slapped it in the six CD changer in my truck (along with Cafe Tacuba’s first album) and listened for several weeks. Overall, I like it. But there are several spots where I find myself repeatedly reaching for the “skip” button on the CD player.

— Surprisingly, I really like the early selections, circa 1965, including “Can’t Come Down” and “You Don’t Have to Ask,” Both of which didn’t made it into the regular live rotation. They’re an interesting chance to hear the Dead in its formulative stage.

— A 1988 version of “Playin’ in the Band” is everything I love about the band. It stumbles out of the gate, with Weir bungling lyrics, but then it picks up steam and starts chugging forward only to dissolve into total, beautiful chaos. This is what space was supposed to be. Not some prefab chunk of sound that is tucked before or after the drums. The great thing about Dead shows was knowing that Apollonian order could dissolve into Dionysian frenzy at any moment, and being there to revel in it when it did. This version of “Playin’ in the Band” fits the bill.

— I catch myself skipping everything that has Brent Mydland singing lead on it. I never liked him much in that roll, though I love his keyboard work. (I’ll never forget his sound during “Sampson and Delilah” at one particularly serpentine Civic Arena show in the early ’80s; it echoed in my head for WEEKS afterward.)

— Don’t have much use for disc 5 at all. I’ve always found “Terrapin” to be somewhat tedious, and most of the ’90s Dead I’ve heard was as listless as Garcia himself during those years.

— Surprisingly (again), the long Pigpen blues jams don’t do it for me. They get repetitive and start spinning their wheels. I really think I like him much better in the context of their more psychedelic sound.

In the end, I guess I need to get into recording my own CDs and put together a few CDs with my favorite live tunes. This set is good, but it wasn’t really what I was after.

That Old Ace in the Hole

Just finished Annie Proulx’s latest novel, set in the Texas Panhandle. As always, she does an incredible job of painting characters. Her sense of the grotesque rivals Flannery O’Connor, and her ability to weave words into living people never fails to amaze me. “He had a sharp Aztec nose, fluffy black hair and black eyes like those in a taxidermist’s drawer.” Love that image. She seldom reverts to cliche in her similies and metaphors. She also does a great job of portraying Panhandle Texans, warts and all, without turning them into caricatures. My one disappointment was the end of “That Old Ace in the Hole.” It felt sort of anticlimactic, perhaps too “tidy.” I actually dreamed a different ending last night. Then, in a dream within a dream, I awoke and realized the “new” novel ending I’d just dreamed was the real finish, and that the disappointing ending was the “Hollywood” ending used for the movie version. Guess I’ve been watching too many bleak anti-Hollywood films on IFC and Sundance.

Regardless, I highly recommend the book, and all of her works. Great stuff. She’s definitely my favorite contemporary writer.

Ho ho humbug

Thanks to Tivo, I’ve been watching all those Christmas specials that used to hypnotize me as a child. In fact, I watched Charlie Brown bungle the big Christmas tree purchase multiple times, at the urging of Anita’s 4-year-old daughter, Emma. The Grinch, Frosty, Snow Miser/Heat Miser … it brought back a flood of Christmas memories. It’s amazing how much these images and sounds are intertwined with my recollections of Christmas past. I remember sitting up late, watching Christmas specials on our little black and white TV, waiting for my postman father to return home late from delivering holiday mail. Most vividly, I remember that Norelco commercial, with Santa riding an electric shaver across the snow.

I guess that says something about the commercialization of Christmas. I was also amazed at how this was a recurring theme in many of the specials. Charlie Brown already was hitting commercialism head-on in 1965. The Grinch made his pitch in 1966. I wonder what they

Dear Saddam …

Haven’t added anything to this in a long while. This one is worth checking out. Apparently, someone managed to hack into the e-mail account that Iraq uses for Saddam Hussein. This story from Wired details some of the mail that’s been sent to Saddam. Some of it’s totally amazing — offers of how to create chemical weapons to use against the U.S., etc. Sometimes I wonder …

TV for recovering Catholics …

After persistent recommendations by my Mad Pig brother, I decided to tell Tivo to fetch me a few episodes of Father Ted on BBC America. I’m hooked. Great show that takes aim at everything. I’ve now set up a season pass on Tivo (that’s a feature that records all episodes of a given show, regardless of what time they air). If you like British comedy, give Father Ted a shot.

The body speaks …

“(I)t isn’t the government’s job to mandate patriotism. To me, mandating a pledge of allegiance to a government is something Saddam Hussein would do.”

— Jesse Ventura, quoted in New York Times Magazine (8/18/02)

The interview is packed with several other Jesse gems. Gotta love the guy’s willingness to speak his mind.