The End Of An Amazing Adventure

Marcia, Katelin and I watched the final episodes of Adventure Time this week, and were happy with how this most unexpected gem of a television show went out on a high note, all these years on.

So many amazing characters, such an outstanding example of patient and profound world-building, as fine a work of visual art as you’ll find on any screen anywhere, and with a nearly ridiculous level of internal consistency and re-engagement from characters major and minor throughout its run; check the plot summary and episode connections of just the final show, here, to see what I mean in that regard, if you’ve already watched it and need to know what you might have missed.

I envy those who may not have been following along with Finn and Jake and PB and BMO and Marcy and others all these years, and who can binge the imminently watchable 12-minute episodes at leisure and in order in the months or years to come. When you do, holla my way. This is one of those shows that’s truly better when you talk about it with enthusiastic fellow fans, and I will miss our family’s “Wow!! Did you see it??” texts between Des Moines and Chicago every time new episodes aired, especially ones that advanced one of the many tangled plot lines in a meaningful way.

I’m not a big TV person and don’t have many shows that move me deeply, but this was one that I truly loved, and its absence will create a hard-to-fill hole for me.

One of many best bits in the final montage of the sublime Adventure Time

September Morn

Holy moly, how did that happen, and where did the summer go???

(Well, actually summer started late in Chicago, and it’s as hot and damp here right now as it’s been all year, so maybe we’ve just shifted the season forward a couple of months, along with the summer storms . . . )

But, regardless of what the weather is weirdly doing, the calendar says it’s September! School’s back in session! Leaves are (conceptually) beginning to brown! Days are getting shorter! Turtlenecks are being brought out from under the bed! And so forth and so on! Makes me feel like I need to recap some summer stuff, so here goes . . .

1. Between rain showers, we caught five great sets at the 40th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival over Labor Day Weekend, always a signature event for us here. Among the legends, we saw Ramsey Lewis (who received a city proclamation on the date of what was said to be his last Chicago performance)(!) play a deliciously accessible set of his usual pop standards interpreted with brilliant piano arrangements, and then we caught Maceo Parker, who repeatedly noted “I do not play jazz” over a great set of funk and soul classics; Maceo impressed as much as a vocalist, bandleader and front man as he did on his alto sax, so that was a nice surprise in terms of the flow of the set. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society was probably the biggest surprise for us, not being familiar with the 18-member jazz orchestra, not Argue’s compositions. We’ve since rectified that situation and added his studio recordings to our archives. While Marcia was still in Des Moines, I caught Nicole Mitchell’s Mandorla Awakening, though Mitchell herself was absent due to a family emergency. A very, very cool set with highly unusual instrumentation, including koto and theremin; cellist Tomeka Reid served as fill-in band leader, and she was a delight, as always. Finally, we caught local stalwarts the Sabertooth Organ Quartet playing a six-part suite to celebrate their 25th anniversary on the scene, and it all went down good and interesting, especially some choice bits with baritone sax and Hammond B-3 organ dueling at the bottom end of the sonic spectrum. Mmmm, nice!

2. Every year I say I am going to travel less for work, and every year, it doesn’t quite seem to work out that way as I find it hard to say “no” when asked to attend various conferences and events in our professional community. Three-quarters of the way through 2018, I’m at least keeping more density in the Midwest region per my travel map below, though that will shift outward a little before year end with trips to Vancouver, Mystic, Charlotte, Philly and Albany.

3. I am not posting weekly (or more) about the 2018 Tour des Trees anymore (for now), but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still support this year’s campaign: we are just as hair below $340,000, and we will continue fundraising through October 1, so you can still make a difference in what our 2019 budget looks like, here. One of the final pieces of the campaign was a wonderful picnic in Northeastern Ohio the week before Labor Day, and I was glad to be able to join the team there for good eats and good company and good fundraising. Local film-maker Jeff Reding of FilmMag Productions even came out and shot some video for the day, which was nice; you can see his mini-documentary of the picnic here.

Aštuoni

Eight things, mostly unrelated, as the end of the year looms:

1. When I did my Top 20 Albums of 2014 list, I noted that one of the perils of completing the list in early December was that sometimes awesome things came out in the last year of the month. I will include such items in my 2015 list, but I do feel compelled to note that AC/DC’s new album, Rock or Bust, is just dynamite, and certainly would have placed highly on my list had it come out a month earlier. AC/DC have a history of following career highlights with catastrophes, so just after Highway to Hell turned them into global superstars in 1979, singer Bon Scott died of misadventure, and just after 2008’s late career highlight Black Ice, founding guitarist-songwriter had his career tragically cut short by premature dementia. Each time, though, AC/DC rebounded like gangbusters, issuing Back in Black in 1980 following Scott’s demise, and now unleashing Rock or Bust as the first spectacular record of their post-Malcolm career. The record is filled with great songs, is strongly produced, and is short and punchy at 37 minutes, which is a perfect length, really. Angus Young and Brian Johnson (Scott’s replacement) have been incredibly gracious and thoughtful in their interviews for the disc, too, and prominently displaying the “Young-Young” songwriting credits one more time (whether Malcolm really contributed or not) was a class act. Bravo!

2. I have been playing in the same fantasy football league for over a decade, with but one title to my name, prior to this year. This is Superbowl Weekend in our league, and I somehow backed my way into the title game, despite playing eight different quarterbacks over the season, and not really having many superstars. Things looked bad at 4:00 today, when my opponent (my friend Mike, who I’ve known for 25 or so years, and who has whipped me like a red-headed step-child in uncountable sports wagers over the decades) prepared to unleash Andrew Luck on me. But then . . . Luck ended up imploding in a spectacular fashion, eventually being benched in the third quarter. Going into Monday, I’ve got a pretty safe lead, two star players in hand, and Mike only had a kicker left to score. So I’m not counting my chickens yet (Marshawn Lynch has missed most of the first half with a stomach bug, uh oh!), though Yahoo gives it a 97% probability that the Tuesday Morning Quarterbacks trophy will be flying to Iowa next week. I’m optimistic, but guarded.

3. Marcia and I broke in our Christmas present early tonight: a new hot tub, to replace the one we inherited when we moved to Iowa, and which has caused us problems (and expenses) pretty much since day one. The new one is smaller, lighter (it took six guys to get the old one out), and more energy efficient, and it was great to sit out in it tonight after a couple of months doing without. This is the third one we’ve owned, and I still find 30 minutes of high temperature soaking each day to be one of the greatest cures for whatever ails me. Plus, it’s quality time when I get to sit out in it with Marcia, especially in the winter when we don’t have golf time together each week. Good times. Merry Christmas to us!

4. Pete and the Pirates, a really great English pop-rock quintet, appeared on both my 2008 and 2011 Album of the Year lists, and then seemed to have disappeared from view for longer than is generally considered healthy for a band’s viability. Since blowing up the household playlists earlier this month, I have heard a couple of Pete and the Pirates songs on the new year’s playlists, and I finally went to the Google Box today to see whatever happened to them. Turns out three-fifths of the band started a new group called Teleman, and they actually issued their first full-length album in 2014. Huttah! I grabbed it tonight, and on first listen, it sounds great, offering recognizable Pete and the Pirates elements with some newer, more experimental, turns tossed into the sonic mix. I look forward to getting to know it better over the coming months!

5. I don’t watch a lot of television (sorry, it’s a fact, even though I know I sound like a pretentious twit whenever I say it), but Marcia and I have been enjoying binge-watching some great BBC comedies in recent months. We both adored The IT Crowd and Spaced, and I really liked The Mighty BOOSH, though Marcia did not care for its over-the-top weirdness quite as much as I did. (Imagine a cross between a vintage Sid and Marty Krofft kids show and The Young Ones for a general idea of the on-goings therein). We are currently in Season Two of Peep Show, a series which has included a large number of laugh out loud moments to date, even though both of us generally don’t like the types of TV humor that are designed to make audiences squirm with discomfort. All of these shows are readily available in a variety of streaming or DVD formats, so if you’re looking for a last minute gift, or a way to while away the time over the holidays, any of these could represent a wise choice.

6. I posted my most-listened-to songs of 2014 a couple of weeks ago, and whenever I update that list, I also fold it into a master list that I’ve kept since I bought our first iPod in 2007. Over the ensuing years, the following artists canons have been the most played ones in our house, so this probably represents the most comprehensive amalgamation I can offer of what it sounds like where we live. I suspect there aren’t a lot of households who match it very closely:

  1. Paul McCartney (Solo, Wings, Fireman, etc.)
  2. Stephen Gaylord (Gay Tastee, Beef, Wasted, etc.)
  3. The Bee Gees
  4. Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson
  5. Christian Death
  6. Andy Prieboy and Wall of Voodoo
  7. David Bowie
  8. Frightened Rabbit
  9. The Residents
  10. Gnarls Barkley and Cee-Lo Green
  11. Tragic Mulatto
  12. Clutch
  13. Wire
  14. K. Sonin and Che Guevara T-Shirt
  15. Shriekback
  16. Dälek
  17. Husker Du
  18. The Monkees
  19. The Pogues
  20. Mos Def
  21. Karl Bartos and Kraftwerk
  22. The Fall
  23. The Gods and Toe Fat
  24. Liz Phair
  25. ABBA

7. I just learned that there’s a new Napalm Death album due in January!! Good news about the favorite band. They will be touring the States early in 2015, so I’m hoping to either catch them while we’re in Florida or in Lawrence, Kansas later on the route. Watch this space for updates and reviews!

8. Marcia, Katelin, John (Katelin’s boyfriend) and I went to the Big Four Challenge in Des Moines last night, an annual event that brings Iowa’s four Division I Basketball Programs (Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Drake) under one roof for a night of good, clean partisan fun. Iowa, ISU and UNI have all been ranked in the Top 25 this season (ISU is still there), so it was actually a national-caliber event. The outcome is just as I would have desired: ISU beat Drake (we live near Drake, but have adopted ISU as our Iowa team to follow), and UNI beat Iowa. The latter game was of particular satisfaction to me, since I always like watching Mid-Majors beat schools from the Power Five, and I also like seeing ex-Siena coach Fran McCaffrey (who now coaches at Iowa) lose, since he was a particularly obnoxious ex-UAlbany foe when we lived in New York. We had purchased nosebleed seat tickets, but got an upgrade from a friend with an unused set of tickets near court-side. A fun night out, with great views of some great college talent.

Colluvies

 1. I traveled to New York City in 2008 to see what I have since assumed was going to be my last King Crimson show, as mainstay guitarist Robert Fripp announced his retirement from live performance soon after that tour wrapped up. The show was wonderful, as was the mobile fracture subset of the Big Crim, ProjeKCt Two, that I had caught in 1998. (My P2 review is here at Crimson’s Discipline Global Mobile [DGM] site). So imagine my delight and surprise when, in 2013, Robert Fripp announced that King Crimson was on the move again, with a new seven-man, three-drummer line-up, including four of the five players I saw in 2008 — Fripp, Tony Levin, Gavin Harrison and Pat Mastelotto — plus Jakko Jaksyck from the 2011 KC ProjeKCt album, A Scarcity of Miracles, plus returning sax man Mel Collins from the early ’70s Crimson lineup, plus former Ministry/R.E.M. drummer Bill Rieflin. Wow! I have been eagerly monitoring Robert Fripp’s diary and the DGM Live pages waiting to see where they’d play, so imagine my shock a few weeks ago when the Crim announced that they’d be opening their tour in, of all places, Albany, New York . . . which I left in 2011 after 19 years in the market! Auggh!! Why you do this to me, universe?!?! No fair!!! Fortunately, Crimso are playing two gigs in Chicago (a mere six hours away), and Marcia has agreed to be a Prog Rock Warrior Princess and accompany me to one of them . . . on top of our agreed-upon-trip to Chicago to see YES! She’s even committed enough that she’s asked me to put a selection of YES and King Crimson songs on her car iPod to prepare her for the adventure. What a gem! What a wingman! How lucky am I, right? I love the road trips, I love the music, I love my wife, so this is about as good as it gets for me!

2. We had a great opening night of Shakespeare on the Lawn at Salisbury House last night, with perfect weather, a super crowd, and a nice sponsor preview Garden Party where we unveiled our plans for transforming the grounds of the property. I did a few TV spots in advance of the show, and I like this one best, as it features a green-screen sneak scene (ooo! I like the sound of that accidental alliteration/rhyme!) by our presenting partners at Repertory Theater of Iowa of this year’s production, The Merchant of Venice:

3. While Marcia and I were on vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the paradisaical Villa Amarosa, I read a relatively recent work of fiction by Christopher Priest called The Islanders, which had been “Recommended For You!” by my Kindle. And what a great recommendation that was: this book is completely my alley in terms of its subject, its presentation, its structure, its use of language, and its general, over-arching weirdness. I’ve been finding myself thinking about and re-visiting it, mentally, for the past few weeks, and may decide to give it a full “Five by Five Books” treatment at some point soon, if just to get the thoughts rattling around out of my head. It’s pretty rare for a new book by a new (to me) author to resonate with me so deeply, though I suspect that this would be a “love it or hate it” kind of book, with more people leaning the latter way than the former. Are you intrigued enough to give it a shot? (Katelin is reading it now). If so, let me know what you think!

20 Favorite Animated Television Series

I like cartoons. A lot. After watching a new episode of the exquisitely wonderful Adventure Time last week, I got to thinking about some of my other all-time favorite cartoon series. After mulling the list for awhile, I share links to snippets from the 20 cartoon series that most moved me over the years and once upon a time, below. I limited the list to actual cartoons, e.g. shows that were drawn or painted, rather than being created with stop motion, puppets, Claymation, or other 3-D techniques. I also limited the list to shows that ran originally in television series form, rather than things like the classic Looney Toons or Tom & Jerry cartoons that ran as standalone theatrical shorts before they were compiled into blocks of Saturday morning fare. Some of these overstayed their welcomes (I’m looking at you, The Simpsons and South Park), but when they were fresh, they were great. Some of these are undoubtedly guilty pleasures or Generation X nostalgia moments, but I love them nonetheless. What were (or are) your favorites?

Ten Statements

Refute, support, disregard, disparage?

1. Blasting a boom box from your bicycle or your golf cart on a quiet bike trail or the peaceful back nine makes you a selfish, contemptible jerk, wholly deserving of scorn, from everyone.

2. Modern American academia’s obsession with and approach to “group work” is absurd, as no “real world” manager will ever randomly pick six people from different departments in the company, not assign leadership within the group, task the members of the group with secretly evaluating the performance of the other members for management, and then expect them to deliver meaningful work product.

3. Living to be 96 years old in order to see Halley’s Comet again is a totally worthwhile aspiration.

4. If you only know the band Modern English for “I Melt With You,” then you are missing some really special stuff: their albums After the Snow and Ricochet Days are exceptional, beginning to end.

5. Just because you fight a giant doesn’t mean you get to win.

6. Abacab was the last great Genesis album release, because it was the last one that sounded played, not programmed.

7. The ideal of “citizen governance” is admirable, but in reality, there are certain skills that are required to fulfill the responsibilities of elective office, and if you lack them, it’s very hard to vote for you, no matter how earnest you are, or how much you love your grandchildren, or how much you like to volunteer at church socials, or how many trivia nights you won while a member of the local young professionals group.

8. Since Breaking Bad ended, Adventure Time is the best show on television, although the one-hour Metalocalypse special this weekend may well match it.

9. If the extraordinary Krautrock band Can were still active in 2013, they might come up with something as awesomely mekkanic as Che Guevara T-Shirt’s “Cop Show.”

10. Revive the dying vine, restore the ruling line . . . then contemplate the whims of fate, until the next decline.