Stupid Cardinals

The NFL’s oldest franchise (yep, that’s right, look it up) knocked Marcia’s Vikings out of the playoffs yesterday with a last-play, fourth-down touchdown, eliciting a thrilled response from their players and fans, and an even bigger ovation in Green Bay when the Packers and their fans realized that they were gonna get into the playoffs after all.

I wonder, though, this morning how the Cardinals and their management are feeling: had they missed that last play, they would have been the only 3-13 team in the league and earned a first draft pick next year. Now, they’re in a four-way tie with Oakland, San Diego and the Giants at 4-12. I don’t know how the tie-breakers work in such a case, but they could go three places in lower in the draft next year than they would have with a last second loss. Unexpected consequences?

Books and Music

Christmas is always a great time to get boxed sets or greatest hits albums that you wouldn’t necessarily buy for yourself during the rest of the year. I got some good ones from Marcia and Katelin this Christmas, and then I went and bought a couple more myself with a little bit of bonus money I got from work.

Indulging one of my guiltier pleasures, I got Shine Like It Does, the two-disc INXS retrospective collection, issued after Michael Hutchense’s unfortunate demise. Say what you will, but they were (and, I guess, are again, with a new singer) a nigh-unto-perfect pop-rock band, with hooks to kill for, honed sharp by years of playing together in Australian pubs. “What You Need” is an amazing piece of crunchy pop, and while everyone’s heard it so many times now that familiarity has probably bred contempt, it really sounded amazing and unique when it hit the airwaves back in the mid-’80s. Nothing else sounded like it, and few things do to this day. I’m also very fond of “Not Enough Time,” not one of their big hits, but a great, great emotionally intense song nonetheless. “The Stairs” is good, too, and the hits sound great when you crank ’em on the car stereo. Guilty, yes, but very pleasurable.

I had also just finished reading Lynyrd Skynyrd: Remembering the Free Birds of Southern Rock by Gene Odom right before Christmas (a good book, written by their security director, who was on the plane when it went down . . . talk about a harrowing first-hand story), but didn’t have any of their stuff on CD (and I always like listening to bands while or right after I finish reading about them), so I got The Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd 2-CD set, since that’s got pretty much everything you need to hear by the pre-crash band. No surprises there, except for how good the guitars sound in the CD mix, and how much better their stuff has aged compared to other Southern Rock bands of the era (Allman Brothers excepted, of course).

Guadalcanal Diary was my favorite live band for a period in the ’80s, and their second album, Jamboree, had never been issued on CD domestically until this year. So I got that, on a two-fer with their debut, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man. Great records, both of them, by a criminally underappreciated band who had the misfortune of making guitar rock in Northern Georgia at right around the time that R.E.M. was breaking big, so they always got painted in the music press as an addendum to the R.E.M. story, although they deserved much better.

Camper Van Beethoven’s Cigarettes and Carrot Juice compiles their first three indie records with the Camper Vantiquities odds-and-sods collection and a previously unreleased live album. This one makes me really nostalgic, because Camper Van Beethoven were so unique and cool and special when they first broke college radio in the years right before “alternative” became a programming genre. Another amazingly unique group who did things that no one else was doing at the time. Much, much better than anything the group’s members have done since, including Cracker, the most famous post-Camper band. Very affordably priced too: five CDs for about $35 at Borders, a bargain by any stretch of the imagination.

Mike Oldfield’s Boxed compiles his first three monster-selling records (Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn) along with the Collaborations disc. The whole thing’s a bit self-indulgent and wifty, but its best moments (most of them on Bells and Ommadawn) still sound fresh and spry today. Back in the pre-digital days when it was actually reasonably difficult for one person to record and play all the instruments on an album, Oldfield created stunning symphonic works with amazingly intricate layers and textures; the 90-guitar army on Ommadawn has to be heard to be believed. (And for those who aren’t familiar with Oldfield, Tubular Bells provided the key musical themes for The Exorcist, if that gives you any sense of how powerful they were). Also, this version of Tubular Bells features a remixed “Sailor’s Hornpipe” ending section, with the Bonzo Dog Band’s Vivian Stanshall drunkingly strolling through a Victorian mansion describing the things he finds there. A rare moment of scintillating humor in the progressive rock canon.

On the book front, I got Kraftwerk: I Was a Robot by Wolfgang Flur, which looks to be a brilliant read. I’m weird in always being interested in the members of bands who aren’t generally perceived to be the major members. In Kraftwerk, most people focus on Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter, but I’ve always been interested in the other two members of their seminal era: Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flur. Kraftwerk weren’t quite as good before they joined, and weren’t quite as good after they left, so they must have brought something to the mix, but if you read the officially sanctioned bios and books, they get little mention. In fact, Ralf and Florian actually sued Flur to suppress publication of this book when it was originally issued in Germany, which makes it all the more potentially interesting to me. What were they afraid of? We’ll find out, as soon as we finish reading My Eyes Mint Gold, the excellent Mervyn Peake biography by Malcolm Yorke.

Curse you, big tree!

Somebody sent me a picture of the big tree. It’s nice enough, but I need to get one with a person in it to give a sense of scale. For perspective, the cinder blocks in the wall are eight inches high, although in this picture they look like standard bricks. They’re not. They’re big. It’s a big tree. And I hate it so very much, sitting there looking all smug and pretty, like it’s the nicest, sweetest, easiest thing in the world. Trickery! Trickery!

Top Ten Albums of 2003

1. Wire, Send (Pink Flag)
An awesome return from one of the most eclectic, eccentric and powerful bands of the past quarter century. Experimentation and weirdness never kicked ass this hard.

2. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (La Face)
The most excessive, over-the-top sprawl of too-much-of-a-good thing by popular artists since Guns n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion, only with much, much higher quality control, and the single of the year in “Hey Ya!”

3. Steely Dan, Everything Must Go (Reprise)
Loose and tight at the same time, as the world’s most anal studio geeks let their hair hang out just a bit, producing their best record since Aja in the process.

4. Kraftwerk, Tour De France Soundtracks (Astralwerks)
Twenty years after the single “Tour De France,” the world’s second most anal studio geeks round it out with a tour de force of old school electronics and ultra-modern post-electronica.

5. Electric Six, Fire (XL)
The biggest, stupidest rock record of the year, built around a lyrical construct that somehow manages to blend sex and combat into a cohesive whole, good for dancing or making war.

6. Turbonegro, Scandinavian Leather (Burning Heart)
The second biggest, second stupidest rock record of the year, built around a lyrical construct that somehow manages to blend sex and denim into a cohesive whole, good for dancing or pillaging.

7. Warren Zevon, The Wind (Artemis)
Jeez, how can you not include this one, a sweet and sour goodbye to (and from) Mister Bad Example himself, just as the Grim Reaper was finally about to run him down in his Clownmobile.

8. Ween, Quebec (Sanctuary)
The “brownest” record Ween’s issued in quite some time, preserving the solid production techniques of White Pepper, but mating them with the weirdness of Pod; a welcome return by producer Andrew Weiss.

9. Jethro Tull, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (Fuel 2000)
The best record they’ve issued since Songs from the Wood is actually a like-minded affair: pastoral, heavily acoustic, introspective and wise. The best Holiday Record of Year, bar none.

10. Fleetwood Mac, Say You Will (Warner Bros.)
This would have been my Record of the Year if they’d cut it in half, eliminating most of Stevie Nicks’ material and preserving Lindsay Buckingham’s work. Still, that’s what the “skip” button is for, and his half of the album still beats most everything else out there.

Kids and Pythons

Marcia gave me the DVD bonus edition of The Kids Are Alright for Christmas. It’s one of the greatest rock documentaries ever made (about the Who, for those who don’t know it), bar none: lots of concert footage, sure, but from a variety of different sources, well-mixed, so it doesn’t get boring like, say, The Song Remains the Same or The Last Waltz. (And, yes, I know I’m committing heresy by saying anything less than stellar about the The Last Waltz . . . but it’s fine in excerpts and small doses, and dull if watched from beginning to end, so there). The Kids Are Alright also offers some great interviews, and the bonus material is superb and insightful, too. Without putting too much thought into it, the only other rockumentaries I can think of that touch this level of sheer educational greatness are The Filth and the Fury and Gimme Shelter.

I’m also getting ever closer to the opinion that at their prime, the Who may well have been the greatest, most perfect rock band in music history. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts, sure, but the parts themselves were each extraordinary on their own as well. I’ve always been a songwriting snob, so I’ve always discounted Roger Daltrey to some extent since he didn’t write his own material, and since his solo albums were quite weak, for the most part, but in context, and with his band, he was such an extraordinary visual and vocal presence, perfect at what he did. As I’ve ranted before: just listen to the Who and the Limp Bizkit versions of “Behind Blue Eyes” back to back, and hear the difference between a master and a charlatan.

Got The Pythons book, too, the great big coffee table style autobiography of Monty Python. It looks to be a great read.

On sports:

North Carolina State won its bowl game, as expected, kicking the snot out of an inept Kansas, a truly second-tier football school from an over-rated conference: The Big 12. Navy plays this week, and they’re matched against Texas Tech, another second tier football school, again from the over-rated Big 12. Go Navy, stomp BCS!

In fact, though the first eight Bowl Games, the non-BCS schools are more than holding their own against the BCS teams:

BCS Conference Results so far:

Pac-10: 2-0

ACC: 1-0

Big 12: 0-1

Big 10: 0-1

Big East: 0-1

Total BCS Results: 3-3 (.500)

Non-BCS Conference Results so far:

MAC: 2-0

WAC: 2-0

C-USA: 1-3

MWC: 0-1

Sun Belt: 0-1

Total Non-BCS Results: 5-5 (.500)

In head-to-head competition between BCS and non-BCS teams, it gets fuzzier: Bowling Green (MAC) beat Northwestern (Big 10), while Oregon State (Pac-10) beat New Mexico (MWC), so it’s an even match so far. But . . . that’s a victory, of sorts, for the non-BCS schools, since you can’t argue that they can’t hang when they’re going .500 through the post-season to date. One other interesting point: that the Pac-10 is doing the best so far of the BCS schools, since it gets routinely snubbed even within the BCS as the weak sister: witness, this year, USC sitting out the BCS Championship Game, even though they’re ranked number one in both human polls.

Such a crappy system. Everyone should have just watched the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl last week, where St. John’s of Minnesota (the team who beat RPI a week before) upset Mount Union for the Division III Championship. No argument there about who’s the champ, and a great game to boot.

Ouch

My hands. My back. My arms.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Stupid tree. Stupid big tree.

I slept terribly last night, I think because my body was seething with lactic acid from overstressed muscles or something, and I kept having weird fever-style dreams all night long, and I’m getting a scratchy sore throat which makes me think there might be something sickness-wise to follow.

In one of the fever dreams, people kept telling me that there was something haunting the upstairs of a house we were visiting. Katelin, who was sleeping upstairs, told me she had seen and heard weird things. I poo-pooed them all, and went out to dinner, then was playing with a RC vehicle in the parking lot for awhile that somehow made things that were put in it disappear, then came back and walked up the stairs of the house, not thinking about what people had told me. I heard something behind me, though, and looked up at the landing, and there was a very, very angry and frightening female spirit there, who changed shape and grew as I watched, and said something about me being blind, and then I realized there was a woman’s body lying next to me on the stairs, and then I yelled “Holy Shit!”

Thing was . . . I didn’t just yell that in the dream, I yelled it in real life, too, waking Marcia up and probably scaring the crap out of her in the process. I guess that’s what extreme physical strain can do to a body. I have a feeling I’ll sleep soundly tonight. At least I hope so. Marcia probably does too.

Later that same evening, with a very, very sore body . . .

The giant tree is up at the C+CC, and I’m going to be paying the price tomorrow morning unless I take a bath in Ben Gay tonight.

It was about 23 feet tall when it arrived, a foot or so taller than the one we put up last year . . . but this one was much fatter around the bottom, and it had been cut a couple of days ago and laid on its side, so it had a lot of snow and ice inside and on the boughs that we couldn’t really get off before we got it into the building and let it melt. Note well that snow and ice add weight.

With four big, strong, reasonably beefy guys, we spent about two hours trying to get it vertical, and failed. I’m estimating its weight at about 800 pounds total, so we could lift it horizontally (barely), but raising the top and then holding it vertical was a bigger chore. I finally got the chainsaw out and took about three feet off the bottom, and we were finally able to get it lifted and wired into place after another hour or so, and lots of ropes and pulleys and whatnots, but my hands are a mess, and my arms, back and legs are still shaking from the exertion.

How big around was it at the base, even after we cut off three feet? I bought several packages of tinsel that were 40 feet long. A whole piece of that tinsel only went about 80% around the base of the tree, so I figuring the circumference at the base was about 50 feet, which means the diameter (of the boughs, not the trunk, obviously) is about 15 feet across . . . almost as wide at the base as it is tall, in other words, a great hulking mass of a tree.

Of course, that all means that it really looks quite spectacular. I’ll take a camera in tomorrow and get some shots for perspective (we decorate it simply: gold tinsel and red glass balls) and post them here. Or, if you’re in the Capital Region, you can come see it at one of our holiday services. Think about how proud your parents will be if you tell them you actually went to church this year. And, no, you don’t have to be Catholic. I’m not, and I’m the Director of the place, for perspective.

Lists, Lists, Lists (well, actually just two lists):

Just submitted my end of year lists to Metroland and the Village Voice. For the first time in a decade, I didn’t do live lists, since 90% of the shows I saw in 2003 were at the C+CC, and it seems kinda cheesy to vote for shows that I booked myself. But here’s what I submitted:

Top Ten Albums of 2003

1. Wire, Send (Pink Flag)

An awesome return from one of the most eclectic, eccentric and powerful bands of the past quarter century. Experimentation and weirdness never kicked ass this hard.

2. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (La Face)

The most excessive, over-the-top sprawl of too-much-of-a-good thing by popular artists since Guns n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion, only with much, much higher quality control, and the single of the year in “Hey Ya!”

3. Steely Dan, Everything Must Go (Reprise)

Loose and tight at the same time, as the world’s most anal studio geeks let their hair hang out just a bit, producing their best record since Aja in the process.

4. Kraftwerk, Tour De France Soundtracks (Astralwerks)

Twenty years after the single “Tour De France,” the world’s second most anal studio geeks round it out with a tour de force of old school electronics and ultra-modern post-electronica.

5. Electric Six, Fire (XL)

The biggest, stupidest rock record of the year, built around a lyrical construct that somehow manages to blend sex and combat into a cohesive whole, good for dancing or making war.

6. Turbonegro, Scandinavian Leather (Burning Heart)

The second biggest, second stupidest rock record of the year, built around a lyrical construct that somehow manages to blend sex and denim into a cohesive whole, good for dancing or pillaging.

7. Warren Zevon, The Wind (Artemis)

Jeez, how can you not include this one, a sweet and sour goodbye to (and from) Mister Bad Example himself, just as the Grim Reaper was finally about to run him down in his Clownmobile.

8. Ween, Quebec (Sanctuary)

The “brownest” record Ween’s issued in quite some time, preserving the solid production techniques of White Pepper, but mating them with the weirdness of Pod; a welcome return by producer Andrew Weiss.

9. Jethro Tull, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (Fuel 2000)

The best record they’ve issued since Songs from the Wood is actually a like-minded affair: pastoral, heavily acoustic, introspective and wise. The best Holiday Record of Year, bar none.

10. Fleetwood Mac, Say You Will (Warner Bros.)

This would have been my Record of the Year if they’d cut it in half, eliminating most of Stevie Nicks’ material and preserving Lindsay Buckingham’s work. Still, that’s what the “skip” button is for, and his half of the album still beats most everything else out there.

Top Five Singles of 2003

1. Outkast – “Hey Ya!” (La Face)

2. Electric Six – “Danger! High Voltage!” (XL)

3. Turbonegro – “F**k the World (F.T.W.)” (Burning Heart)

4. Johnny Cash – “Hurt” (American Recordings)

5. Chemical Brothers – “The Golden Path” (Astralwerks)

LOTR

Man, man, man. Just back from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Wowzer. What to say? Spectacle. Drama. More Spectacle. Big Moments. Little Moments. Sweep. Drama. Spectacle. Big. Big Big Big. Big. The three-plus hours went really quickly, which says a lot, since I’m of the “no movie should be longer than 90 minutes” school of thought. An awesome wrap-up to the greatest movie series in film history, Star Wars or The Godfather or Bill and Ted be damned.

One thought, since there’s so many thoughts about the movie floating around online already: I think Bernard Hill as King Theoden did a really superb job in an under-discussed role. He had one of the most effectively emotional scenes in The Two Towers (burying his son), and delivered a coupla scene stealers in Return of the King as well. Give that man a “Best Supporting Actor” nomination.

Which begs the question: will anybody get an acting Oscar nomination this year from Return of the King? Ian McKellen got one as Gandalf for the first film in the series, nobody got any for the second film. I guess the obvious nominees, if anyone gets a nomination, this year would probably be Sean Astin (Sam) or Viggo Mortenson (Aragorn) or McKellen again. Although I’d go with Hill for a supporting actor nomination and Astin for a lead actor nomination.

Just as long as Peter Jackson wins Best Director and the film wins Best Film, that is. I can’t see any other movie competing at this level this year.

Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel.

It was bonanza buffet time at the birdfeeder this morning, with four blue jays, a pair of cardinals, a pair of doves and countless little nondescript birds hopping around the ice picking at the seeds that had fallen out of the feeders. Only thing that coulda improved the viewing was if a couple of crows stopped by. Crows rock. Hawks rock, too, but when they show up, it’s usually to eat the little nondescript birds. When my mother was here at Thanksgiving, we had a nice little carnage scene as she sat eating her breakfast. Nature’s tough, she is.

No squirrels, today, though. Probably too cold for them to be out. I’ve never figured out why people put so much karmic time and energy into squirrel-proofing their bird feeders or raving about the squirrels coming to eat there. Why do people like birds, but not squirrels? They’re both nice to look at, when you can get close enough to them to see what they’re up to (and our feeders are about five feet from our kitchen window, so we can get pretty close). The bird vs. squirrel thing reminds me of the old joke about dolphin-free tuna: so the dolphins are saved, but what about the tuna? Why do we like dolphins more than tuna? Why do we like birds more than squirrels? I guess I get the dolphin thing (mammals are more appealing than fish), but not the squirrel thing . . . since squirrels are mammals, and are as clever and charismatic as birds are, if not more so.

The word “squirrel” starts to look really weird when you type it too many times. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel.

I need some coffee.