Sunday, October 26, 2014

are they better than others?

The Eleven watch Tim's Vermeer the other night and it led to some discussion about artistry. One problem right off the bat is that I love Vermeer, always have, so the movie can be a bit of downer when you realize that it's premise - that Vermeer used a bit of technological sleight-of-hand - is more than likely true. What this led to was a spirited discussion of artistry, composition, and what is, no doubt, an endless debate about greatness. If an artist of grand repute (maybe not repute, but whatever) isn't quite what we may have been led to believe, is the underlying work somehow less creative?

I've immediately revisited my long lost "Milli Vanilli Treatise": Does the fact that who we thought was singing the song negate the quality of the song?

Sure, it's not great stuff by many standards, but it's pretty catchy, right? People were burning records when they found out they were lip-syncing (in fact, didn't even sing on the record), which doesn't seem to be much of an issue these days. I think half of the recording industry is full of people who hire songwriting talent - bring back the Brill Building!  - and then overproduce the 'records' and live shows. There's a lot of Milli Vanilli going on these days, we just seem used to it. So, does the fact that Vermeer composed his portraits and them probably used some form of optics to create them somehow violate what we consider great talent? Is the work less beautiful? Do we still believe, as we did/do with Vermeer, that there are actual genius who can see / hear / create beyond the capabilities of their peers?

We  know there are shortcuts in painting and recorded music (and in live musical performance in many cases), so are the two equal? Painting isn't normally done live so what may happen behind the scenes remains (or so it may have seemed ) a mystery. With musical performance we can ask to see or watch a performance to somehow validate skills, with caveats like minimal amplification and electronics. What about writing? Certainly there loads of great writers - Shakespeare being in question - that may or may not have written everything we assign to their genius. Does it matter? Is Hamlet less amazing if we find out it was penned by someone else?

What do I think? I still believe there are geniuses out who walk amongst mortals. Whether they are songwriters, performers, artists, or authors. Some may have an (unfair?) advantage of life lessons that can be encompassed in song or work. Some may have an ability to compose scenes and imagines in a way that no one else can manage. I think I'm aware of technology and tricks, and I'm okay with it.

sibbilance sibbiilance...ah, nevermind.

"Includes the 3 most popular blades (fine, medium ribbon, and ultra coarse) as well as a fourth slicer blade."

This is part of the description for a box grater that X had (broken) and now needs a new copy. I'm trying to come up with the list of ten most popular blades - and the seven that didn't make the box grater cut (ha ha). "Yes dear, I love this box grater, but I was really hoping for one with the large ribbon blade."

I went to see show a Sixth and I in D.C. last night, and couldn't be more disappointed in the outcome. Rarely do I feel like I'm suffering through something - I now have the feeling anew. The performance is hard to gauge, but that portion seemed to not be a contributing factor - the sound man needs to be fired. Probably needs to pay a fine for the shit he put out there. I've never heard such a complete pile of noise at a concert, particularly with an artist who thrives on vocals, lyrics, harmonies, etc. The only things you could actually hear were the 100x too loud drums and the way overamped bass guitar. Voices were completely lost. Banjo lost. keyboard - dude might as well have been sitting in the audience with us. Awful. Listen, I've been in that venue many times and sat in the exact same spot - exact spot - and the sound in the building is excellent. Sound mixes have been excellent. This was pure garbage. Also, worst guitar techs I've ever seen - hey dudes, why don't you stand stage left and stage right in the lights and sight lines and tune fucking guitars all night. Maybe you can crouch down and go back and forth across the front of the stage during songs. Hey, maybe you can not have the guitars ready on time for the the next song....hacks. It really makes me wonder about how few really good road sound engineers there are out there these days. This wasn't some 1,000 CD selling act - they are on a sold out tour across the US - and more will no doubt suffer. Unbelievable.

Find. I'm going to cut the lawn, once I get the damn kids of it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I've had any number of discussions about the teaching of history in American schools. It's not like I went to some down-on-its luck high school where there weren't high quality teachers and solid course offerings. Those course offerings, though, were coarse - and a lot of it was just repeated at the college level. Such amazingly deep subjects like America Before 1865 and America After 1865.

What gets taught - drilled, roted - to youth is a timeline that looks something like this:

Columbus and the Pilgrams to America (at about the same time) > Revolutionary War and cruddy details > Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin > Slavery > The Civil War > maybe a mention of Teddy Roosevelt > Pearl Harbor / WWII > the Kennedy assassination and other Kennedy stuff  > Vietnam >  Nixon / Watergate > Reagan > Some stuff up until the first Gulf War.

That's it, don't kid yourself. It's too easy to look back at what we may have read and learned since our high school or college days and think that we learned it way back when. Or, to think that our educational institutions weren't better or different than the majority of what's out there. We didn't learn anything in context to the events across the rest of the World. What was the state of the rest of the World during the Revolutionary War - and by that I could easily just mean the Western World since we don't spend any time learning about Asia. Africa? Nothing. I'm always amazed and full of wonder to listen to X riddle out some historical figure and associated time period through a process of costume and fashion. "Well, the collars, fabric, and hairstyles indicate the blah blah period, so the Han Dynasty would have been in power in China." I think that she can sort history by looking at someone's pants. But, that's exactly how history should be learned: what aligns with what across the globe.

The reason I'm back on this subject is because I've starting listening to Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast. Brilliant. He's got tons of episodes, but I'm into the ongoing series he's doing on WWI, Blueprint for Armageddon. It's absolutely stunning. Each podcast is over 3 hours long - he's just posted the fourth in the series - and they are addictive. It's the way history should be taught, even if this is a very specific period you get the idea that there is so much a student could take from just that four-year period and extrapolate associated subjects that provide areas of understanding and research. I can't recommend it enough. Of course, I have two hours of driving a day so I've got the time.

I'll eventually go back and listen to his other Hardcore podcasts, and probably his Common Sense offerings. Sometimes you find what appears to be the most amazing thing.

By the way, Columbus and the Pilgrams didn't come over together. Who doesn't know that?

from darkness

It's a bit of a music and show assemblage these days. We covered the Wilmington / Dennan gig already. I'm slated for Angus and Julia Stone on Saturday night with a friend. We have theatre on Friday night at Signature Theater, and I still need to talk a bit about Brandi Carlile's show
 at the Barns at Wolf Trap a few weeks ago.

Carlile's now complete Pindrop tour gave us her and the 'band' (Twins plus strings) playing small theatres with no amplification. Nothing was plugged in aside from some Edison lights strung about the stage. As she relayed during the show, they'd been thinking about a tour like this for any number of years and finally managed to pull if off - perfectly. There are only a handful of artists with the chops to do this, and by artist I include the Twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth), and the wonderful string trio they brought along. You have to have serious oomph to play and sing in a room that holds 285 people - it's not for the meek projection. Carlile easily carried the room with her voice.

Last winter we had a power outage that started in the late afternoon, and as the sun was dipping down I was heading out the door to work. I'd gathered some 'hurricane lamp' candles and two flashlights as I was compiling what I needed for my workaday in the wilds of southern Maryland. All these beacons were gathered on the table and I pointed at them as I let the only teenager in the house know that , "There are candles and flashlights here on the table. You may need them as it gets darker. Your mother won't be home for a few hours."

"I don't need them. I want to maintain the integrity of my night vision." Okay pal, good luck with that plan.

This show was a bit like that teenager's dream: integrity of the music. I was in the front row of the balcony and as I checked out the room pre-show, I wondered just how the instruments and voices would carry. Clearly, they had a plan and had done the legwork (or studywork, or booking work...) to know that the 6 or 8 venues on order would provide the sound and clarity needed for the show. It all harkened back to seeing a bluegrass show - in particular, Steve Earle and the Del McCroury Band in London - that first showed me, with amplification in that case, that movement and projection is / was how musicians actually control who or what is out front: moving to and fro the microphone. I felt like I felt like Carlile was telling me that "we don't need amps, we want to maintain the integrity of the music." And that they did. It took half a song to realize that your ears adjust almost immediately to what level of sound is provided. Granted, it won't work in a 1,500 seat venue, but it will work in anything up to 300-400 in a designed venue. The notes and voices were so crystalline and pure that the next thing you realize is that all the electric-y stuff - wires, amps, volume knobs - each take away a little bit of the integrity of music. Don't get me wrong, I'll line up just as quickly for a rampaging Slobberbone show in a bar as I will for Brandi Carlile. But, this was pretty special. Damn, I wish I could sing.

Oh, if you're wondering how the night vision thing ended, it ended in the dark. X got home two or three hours later - illumination lost to the blinded - with a lone teenager declaring, "Where is everyone, I can't see anything! I've been here in the by myself for hours!"

Integrity indeed.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

wilmington, redux

X thinks that the return to Wilmington was for the sole purpose of righting the dining wrong from our last visit. Sure, we did have reservations at La Fia this time - and yes, it was very good - but there was an interlude for music (Brett Dennen), and a return to the overly comfortable Hotel du Pont.

La Fia turned out to be exactly what I'd hoped: great atmosphere, excellent food, hip views of Market St. We opened with an order of scallops and the tart/quiche special, mains were gnocchi for both, desserts were the caramel pudding and the pumpkin creme brulee. Here's a great tip for restaurants out there that serve gnocchi - don't overdo it, especially with butter. I know that it's easy to think you'll get some taste with butter, but it simply drowns out whatever fresh tastes you're hoping to blend. Across our entire meal there was a welcome lack of butter, oversalting, and trickery used to hid mediocre cooking. After all, sauces were invented way back when to cover up bad product - stay away from it. Everything was excellent and they hit the killer in/out points perfectly: good bread, good coffee. Hey, it's the first and last impression you'll give me so why give me crappy dohack on the way out the door. I will never understand crap coffee. If you are even in Wilmington, I can hook you with where to say, where to eat (dinner and breakfast), and cool places to hang out.

The show was an acoustic shindig by Brett Dennen at Wilmington's World Cafe Live. We've been the WCL in Phlly, and the Wilmington venue is quite similar - at both places we had front row balcony seats, and at both shows the digs were good. I've gotten to the point where nice seats are more important that the great rock n' roll lifestyle. Well, unless Slobberbone is playing a bar near me. The show was great once Brett coyly put the 'talking' crowd in shape via some humorous ju-jitsu. Anyway, he's a much better guitar player than I expected, and as great a singer as I knew:


Monday, September 15, 2014

fare thee well...

We all have a few things in our lives that hold the center; you know, your favorite music, favorite lines of code, and favorites sandwiches. The Eleven swung by Song Que today - on a lark - to grab a #9 sandwich, one of the great sandwiches of the day. It's actually a banh mi, the #9 being a barbecued tofu version. They also have the best taro bubble tea around, and that's saying something considering it's located in Eden Center, the midst of the Vietnamese community. I guess something called us there on a Monday afternoon, and what luck, since they are closing after today. The deli is owned by a relative (I think a brother) of the same family that runs Four Sisters in Falls Church. It has long been a favorite deli not only for the sandwiches and bubble tea, but myriad fruits and offerings that you don't see anywhere else. Sad to see them pull up stakes, but glad we had dozens of great sandwiches there.

Off to quiz for the evening. We are three-member team these days so we've tumbled back to our lower top ten position when we make it out. I'm drinking a mug of Brain Food tea...this may work out.

L. is back from Victoria. Maybe I'll have her guest blog since she won't blog on her blog. Blog on your own blog! Here are some shots of her and the birds of prey she was hanging around with in Victoria.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

tap tap tapas

Last week the 51 ventured out to the pastoral wilds of northern Virginia. It was planned, no worries. We were destined for a morning visit to Red Truck Bakery – our second visit – in order stock up on whatever might be on offer. Last visit it was the rum cake; this visit it ended up being a lovely lemon cake, two focaccia loaves for dinner, and a few snacks. Even though the bakery was pre-planned, what drove us outside the Beltway was strawberry season, particularly the pick-your-own operations. We targeted Hollin Farms for the mid-week visit. The farm sits in an amazingly beautiful valley surrounded by some early Shenandoah low mountains; a valley full of orchards and vegetables. We ended up with eight-and-half pounds of berries that primarily served the house as strawberry shortcake. We’ll certainly be back out later in the season for peaches and pears.

Mid-week took the 61 to Woolly Mammoth for The Totalitarians – a pretty hilarious yarn about politics based in Nebraska. When one of the leads points out that it has the only unicameral statehouse it harkened back to my youth. Well, that and the huge state capitol prop, mentions of Broken Bow and Blair, and what was a general Nebraska vibe. Since we also marry up activities we were forced to down tapas and awesome drinks at Jaleo. It’s not hard to spend two-and-a-half hours eating and gabbing in a place like that; probably our most reliable destination in D.C.

Moving toward Vermont….only ten days.

Oh, there they are…

Saturday, May 24, 2014

i was spinning 'round a dead dial

I’m constantly amazed at how much I enjoy listening to radio shows. No, not “The Big Party” morning show blasting out of Omaha on 94.1 FM. Listening to Prairie Home Companion or This American Life when driving home from work stills puts me in a solid state of mind. Give me some David Sedaris with a story and I’m doing just fine. There is a local show in D.C., The Big Broadcast, which is four hours of old radio serials and which seems to align the shows with my drive so that I always get replays of “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar”on the way home. I’ve become quite fond of Johnny Dollar, but am still amazed that the idea for a show about an insurance investigator on the road solving ‘crime’ actually came to fruition. The tagline….”"the transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account — America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator,” is priceless. Action-packed expense account? Sweet. Of note, it’ll be pretty sad when Car Talk wraps up next year – what I know about cars, and that’s precious little, I learned from that show. Sort of like what I know about religion I learned from Dogma.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


I drove by an auto shop the other; a shop I drive by often and always think about giving my custom. The Versa that I use for commuting needs a tune-up,  just a run-of-the-mill tune-up that will probably sort a few little things that bother me. The shop, Japanese Auto Repair Specialists, was at one point named the “Best in Arlington,” so that’s promising. What I wonder is this: are Japanese cars any different these days? There must have been a time where Japanese cars were built with square screws and trapezoidal axels because ever since I was young there have been Japanese auto specialists. I don’t actually understand how the original Honda Civics and Datsun B210s differed, but I am willing to bank that there’s precious little separating the mechanical needs of a Camry and a Lumina (do they still make those?). On the other hand, there is clearly something different in working on a Mercedes, primarily what appears to be a massively inflated exchange rate.

We are in the dead zone run-up to the summer’s vacation in Vermont. Not quite close enough to do serious menu and packing planning just yet. I think the three-week mark is when it all starts coming together. The plan is up through eastern NY start – the Binghamton/Schenectady route – and then ferrying over to South Hero. Return will be via Vermont so that I can bowl. We do have to sort which kids are flying up and back since Galactica can’t comfortably carry what are now five adults.

Last night, as you do, we gathered the gang and went to pick up a pile of rock out in Vienna. Someone was feeling a bit lost at the cube of bricks have gradually disappeared from the driveway. There was a deal on hundreds of pounds of stones that seem to be destined for a corner rock border. This was a perfect scenario for having three teenagers accessible. Didn’t take long, and we all got ice cream afterwards...