Monday, September 28, 2009

Email to Nowhere

"Solar System". Ballpoint pen on yellow pad, late September 2009.

Three small observations from my workday that would have ordinarily made it into random email correspondence with various people, but which I trapped instead for later blogging:

* * * * *

On I-5 this morning I saw a panel truck labeled "A.L.F. Solutions" and my first thought was, "So that's what he's up to nowadays". The thought seemed more apt once I could make out the smaller description of the business written below its name -- "Handypersons Extraordinaire!" -- since that ungainly motto could plausibly draw a prerecorded laugh if delivered with some enthusiasm in the ALF voice. Meanwhile I don't believe I've ever watched more than three consecutive minutes of ALF in my lifetime, so I don't know why I should have any coherent thoughts or opinions about the character at all.

* * * * *

Since listening to a recorded lecture series by Seth Lerer on the history of the English language, I keep paying attention to the accumulation of words in the landscape -- mostly during the early, contemplative, semi-bored part of my morning commute from Kyle's place through Dundee / Newberg / Tualatin north towards Portland. There is some minor joy to be found in unpacking the strongly Anglo-Saxon roots of some shop names ("Newberg Hardware") and identifying the French or Latin source of others ("Lewis Audio Video"). More generally it is remarkable when you look for it how much of the world we've labeled with names of things, words for things.

* * * * *

William Safire has died; other than that I remember his NY Times columns in the run-up to the Iraq war as supremely dishonest in their reasoning and statements of supposed fact, my main impression of his work at the moment comes from Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, which makes the double-fisted political invective that Safire wrote for Spiro Agnew during the Nixon administration seem pretty breathtaking, and not in a good way. And I will note that Safire's Full Disclosure is an agreeable read, both for its loopy vision of the global political landscape of the mid-80s, as imagined in the late '70s -- the Arab-Israeli bloc! the "Chi-japs"! -- and for its insistence on putting implausible etymological observations into the mouths of its characters. It also remains the only novel I have read to date in which a premier of the USSR is killed by a wild boar.

Double Bologna, Double Cheese, and an Egg... and a Diet Coke

My living-in-a-hole over the weekends method of existence certainly has its charms, since I was greeted today, having not been on the internet since Thursday afternoon, with a mountain of emails of varying degree of importance, and a mixed bag of things that I should at this point be taking care of. Hence the random-ish blog post, since I feel like my subconscious is still working out its game plan for how it is going to tackle the various tasks set before it for the afternoon. In fact, just now, I even wandered away, briefly, from writing this post. Time management, one assumes, is a learnable skill, but I don't think I've ever learned it. I do occasionally, when shit really hits the fan, make a list, thereby making it happen.

But no list today.

Part of my internet avoidance, which happens, really, during the week as well, since I'm in class Wednesday & Thursday evenings, starts Wednesday afternoons. Which means that I missed basically all of the coverage of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. I heard about some hippies dangling themselves off a bridge (excellent use of city landmarks for the purposes of global annoyance, there), but other than that, really heard nothing. I did read one article about Pittsburgh in the Washinton Post online, which was nice since one of my new colleagues down here is originally from Cleveland, so it's nice to be able to say to her "Ha, Pittsburgh's housing market is way more stable than the rest of the rust belt. Take that!" I also learned that Allegheny county is the second oldest-average-age county in the country, second only to Miami-Dade, which means that I have lived in the two oldest counties in the country. I have obviously done this because old women love my hair in a way that no other humans do (this marking the 1,064th post in with I've blogged about my own hair).

It was also a socially active weekend, though, and apparently most of my friends were following, at least to some extent, the G20 in Pittsburgh. Like, Saturday night, I was out getting tacos with a couple friends, when one of them said "Hey man, what's going on in Pittsburgh, with all those riots?!?" And I was like, "I dunno. We have riots all the time. Nothing special." Then I took a bite into my "vegetarian" taco, which turned out to be a fish taco, and, tasting that wrongness, immediately spat my not-shy bite back out into my hand, much to the dismay of my table-mates, though they were quickly understanding once they saw the error made by the well-meaning tacorista. Basically, a lesson in "this is what happens when Pete accidentally starts to consume meat." Which is interesting, since I'm mostly, hypothetically, a politico-intellectual vegetarian, so shouldn't necessarily be made sad about flesh being bitten into but not swallowed.

So, regardless of what went on in Pittsburgh, those protesters really should've focused their efforts against Primanti Brother's. Given all the studies about red meat and global warming, talk about environmentally unfriendly.

Friday, September 25, 2009

...Will Make You Jump, Jump (With Laughter)

Portland's cultural offerings don't usually inspire envy in my siblings but Kyle and I at least got to make Pete jealous by seeing David Cross at the Newmark Theater last night. And Cross, it should be said, does a really funny live comedy routine.

Kyle and I both left the show a little surprised at how physically funny he is on stage. And I'm not sure why that was surprising to me, since he did enough physical comedy in the twin pillars of his television career, Mr. Show and Arrested Development -- especially as Tobias on A.D. in which his every move brims with almost balletic awkwardness. I know less of his stand-up, and that mainly from audio recordings, so maybe I just wasn't associating the man in person with what I've seen on TV. At any rate, he really sells it when he pretends to romp around the stage hand-in-hand with a useless product he saw in SkyMall, or imitates the junkies in the park next to a methadone clinic near his home who can't stand upright but never take a knee, or whatever. So it's fun to have this reaction like, Oh, he can do that in real life too. Makes sense.

It's tempting to just try to summarize all the funny parts of his show (including the sort of corny set piece with an audience plant who pretends to be a deaf sign-language interpreter telling his own jokes) but that would be lame, right? I will add that he varied his on-stage presentation a lot -- breezily anecdotal; fake-innocently offensive; politically angry; incredulous at one or another consumer-culture found object -- which I think kept his act's energy up, especially after an extended, enjoyable but only mostly-comical rant about the health care debate and a couple of major religions at about the halfway point of the show.

Also, I'm still curious about why whenever I go to a stand-up show at a theater (which I have done exactly twice in my life) there's always a little cloud of fog-machine output on the stage. My guess is that it's supposed to recall the idea of being in a comedy club (which we're not) full of people smoking cigarettes (probably also not the case these days). Or maybe the meager stage presence of a table, a mic stand, and a person is deemed too visually uninteresting to stand up to the unimpeded glare of the stage lights. I will probably never know; uninformed ruminations on questions that I'm too lazy to seek out actual answers to, this is what the Internet is for.

(The reluctant computer geek in me wants to point out that this marks our blog's 1K post milestone, if you count them like you do computer memory, in that this is post number 1064. But instead I should probably stop entering time-delayed posts from earlier today and finish packing for camping. Happy weekend, all.)

Truth to Power!

Via all-purpose Pittsburgh sports blog Mondesi's House, here's a pretty great picture, made possible by the G-20 summit being held in Pittsburgh while the Pirates play their worst baseball in (literally) more than 100 years:

Yes, comrade! Stand up to our corporate fascist overlords! The world must learn the terrible truth about the Pittsburgh Pirates!

I'm particularly fond of the equine leavings visible in front of the riot cops: I've started listening to an audio edition of Bruce Weber's recent book about umpires, As They See 'Em, and in his introduction he lays out a definition and history of "horseshit" (perhaps with an unacknowledged debt to Harry Frankfurt) as a long-established, generic term of disparagement within professional baseball, indicating worthlessness or poor quality. As in, "That was a horseshit call, ump," or possibly "Selecting Bryan Bullington with the first overall pick was a horseshit draft strategy". So the literal stuff adds a whiff of symbolism to the photo.

Happy Shostakovich Day 2K9

It seemed to you that he is "frail, fragile, withdrawn, an infinitely direct, pure child." That is so. But if it were only so, then great art (as with him) would never be obtained. He is exactly what you say he is, plus something else -- he is hard, acid, extremely intelligent, strong perhaps, despotic and not altogether good-natured (although cerebrally good-natured).

That is the combination in which he must be seen. And then it may be possible to understand his art to some degree.

In him, there are great contradictions. In him, one quality obliterates the other. It is conflict in the highest degree. It is almost a catastrophe.
- Mikhail Zoshchenko, describing Dmitri Shostakovich to a friend in 1941 (as quoted in Shostakovich: A Life by Laurel E. Fay)

That character sketch always reminds me of Shostakovich's 4th symphony, the last of his works in his early, more Soviet-modernist style -- a supersaturated, high-contrast collage of the comic, tragic, and grotesque, elements which Shostakovich blended with increasing thoroughness in his later works. Here's a good clip of the first several minutes of the 4th, performed by Valery Gergiev and the Unattributed YouTube Bootleg Orchestra. On this topic it's also worth mentioning Gavriil Popov's Symphony No. 1, which, Alex Ross notes in The Rest Is Noise, Shostakovich baldly raided for his 4th's large-scale structure and tone.

Anyway, many happy returns of the Shostakovich Day; may all your contradictory qualities obliterate each other. Kyle and I will be marking the 103rd anniversary of the composer's birth by going camping at the coast this weekend. Unless in order to mark an occasion you actually have to have it in mind when you make your plans.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bears 17, Steelers 14

Well, it wasn't Matt Capps' fault but the Steelers did lose to Chicago just now, 17 - 14 on a late Robbie Gould field goal after the usually reliable, paper-towel-dispenser-destroying Jeff Reed missed two attempts of his own in the game. My thoughts are about what they usually are after regular-season losses, i.e. blah; whatever; go get 'em next time. Someone should find a screen grab of Jeff Reed on the sideline from the CBS broadcast, though; he looks like he just accidentally killed a puppy.

Bright side: Kyle and I spent the afternoon eating homemade baba ganouj and baked brie with figs (all delicious) while she read the Internet and I yelled at the teevee for three hours. This turns out to be a surprisingly satisfying way to spend a Sunday afternoon as a couple.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Are You Ready For Some Mashed-Up Pittsball?

This is the sort of thing that, out of modesty and/or embarrassment, I would normally leave for Jack to put on the blog later without my explicit permission. But he's in Utah for a long weekend and this took up too big a portion of my e-mailing time for the week, and has too short a shelf-life, to let languish in my private correspondence with him (the topic of conversation was Pirates players who could theoretically be Steelers). So: I expect this accurately predicts, in its own way and at a high enough level, how the Pittsburgh pro football and baseball franchises will perform in their games this weekend, as the Steelers visit Chicago and the Pirates, what, host San Diego or something? Anyone out there still paying attention?

* * * * *

Pirate Matt Capps Somehow Blows Late Steelers Lead As Bears Win, 18 - 17
(for publication on Monday, September 20, 2009)

For most of four quarters yesterday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked like they were rerunning a gutsy, come-from-behind win that their fans had seen many times before. But last year's familiar, championship-winning script took a shocking plot twist on the Bears' final drive, when Pittsburgh Pirates manager John Russell inexplicably inserted closer Matt Capps into the game.

The Steelers and Bears traded first-quarter touchdowns and entered halftime tied, 10 - 10. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers offense sputtered in the third quarter while Bears QB Jay Cutler spearheaded two long drives ending in field goals to lead, 16 - 10, with 4:30 left in the game. As he has so many times, though, Big Ben orchestrated a late drive down the field, finishing with an eight-yard touchdown toss to running back Mewelde Moore. The Steelers defense took the field before a stilled Chicago home crowd with 1:35 left on the clock and a narrow 17 - 16 lead, hoping to put a cap on the game.

But Russell decided to put a Capps in the game instead.

Capps' brief, unhappy cameo began inauspiciously when he hit Chicago left tackle Orlando Pace with his second pitch. Then, to explosive cheers from a Soldier Field crowd that had been deflated into near-silence only minutes before, running back Matt Forte crushed a first-pitch, eighty-eight mile per hour fastball into the second level of stands above the Steelers end zone for a two-run home run.

It was Fortes' first walk-off homer in his season-plus as an NFL ball carrier. Capps tallied his sixth blown save of the season, his first in a non-baseball opportunity.

"It's been that kind of frustrating year for me, in a couple of different sports now," Capps said after the game from his stall in an otherwise empty visitors' locker room at Wrigley Field. "I wanted to just burn that first pitch past [Forte] -- as a football guy he's used to a bigger ball, a really entirely differently shaped ball -- but I just didn't get the velocity on it that I wanted."

"I thought the location on that pitch was actually pretty good, low and in," said Russell, who declined to comment on a heated exchange with an apoplectic Mike Tomlin immediately after the game. "Give credit to Forte, he read the situation right and had time to grab a bat and get a piece of the ball."

"I wouldn't call it a mistake pitch but it was the kind of pitch that a good batter is going to hit," Capps said of the ill-fated fastball. "Or a good running back too, I guess."

Russell defended his decision to go to Capps, who has been an uneven performer this summer, in a critical situation in which the Pirates were not playing. "Look, Cappy's had a tough year. He'll be the first to admit that," Russell said. "But he's our guy and I trust him enough to give him the ball late in the game. I don't care what kind of ball or what kind of game it is."

Capps became the first Pirates player to record a loss for one of Pittsburgh's other professional sports franchises since June 6th, when then-Pirates pitcher Ian Snell, whom Russell started unexpectedly in place of Penguins center Sidney Crosby in game five of the Stanley Cup Finals, surrendered four first-period runs to the Detroit Red Wings before head coach Dan Bylsma benched him. The Penguins went on to lose that game 5 - 0.

In their seventeen consecutive seasons of losing baseball, the Pirates have now contributed as well to fourteen losses by other professional and collegiate teams in Pittsburgh, including three by the Steelers (most infamously in the 1998 AFC Championship Game); two by Pitt's women's basketball team; one in the Pittsburgh Riverhounds' inaugural home game; and one by Carnegie Mellon University's small-size entry in the 2003 RoboCup robot soccer tournament in Padua, Italy.

How do the Steelers feel about the Pirates' epic losing streak as it bleeds over into other sports?

"I just hate it this way, man," said tearful wide receiver Hines Ward in a decidedly angry Steelers locker room. "To play fifty-nine minutes of Pittsburgh football and then lose because of one minute of Pittsburgh baseball. You know, you never see Deebo go out there and [mess] up a Pirates game." Ward referred to a 2006 Pirates match against St. Louis in which Steelers linebacker James Harrison unexpectedly sacked Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter for a safety in the sixth inning. The Cardinals won that game 9 - 2.

"It's a tough way to lose a football game," offered a more conciliatory Roethlisberger. "I know I left some points out there today. I have to get better, we have to get better in the running game, in the offensive line, in the baseball team down the street. I would say especially on the baseball side of things."

The Steelers organization has repeatedly acknowledged the Pirates as one of its most glaring weaknesses, going so far as to sign over their first-round selection in this April's draft, Evander "Ziggy" Hood, to the Pirates. Hood struggled in three relief appearances for the Pirates' low-single A West Virginia affiliate before undergoing reconstructive surgery on his throwing arm in June. He is scheduled to resume pitching in 2011.

"There's no doubt about it, the Pirates have to keep getting better," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said late Sunday after emerging from the Heinz Field office of Art Rooney II, following what Huntington characterized as an "animated but productive" meeting with the Steelers president. "Pittsburgh is a great sports town, especially now, with world champion football, champion hockey. As our core of young guys keeps getting better and we keep adding talent, we look forward to a day not too far from now when the Pirates can go out there and win a lot of baseball games for the sports fans of Pittsburgh."

Huntington added, "And, meanwhile, not lose too many of their other kinds of games."

Miami Livin': Automotive Edition

Yesterday was a landshed day for me, here in Miami. A watermark moment. I drove a car! And guess what?!? I drove again today! Crazy, right?

One of my good friends is out of town for a long weekend, and in exchange for my driving him to/from Miami Inte'nati'n'l Airport I have his car! Not that I have big plans for it. I mostly used it for its main purpose already, which was driving my two spoke-busted bicycle wheels to the bike shop for repair (big parenthetical:

back in Rhode Island, Dad and I learned that when bicycle spokes break for no apparent reason--the way one of his bicycle's spokes broke while I was riding it--specifically, when they snap at where two spokes cross each other, rather than at the wheel or at the hub, it is often the case that many of your spokes will also break within a relatively short amount of time, since spokes all get put on the wheel at the same time, so their rates of corrosion-leading-to-failure will be the same. At the time, I had something of an epiphianic moment re: my own bike (handed down to me from an uncle via Dad, a '70s vintage affair, a bicycle worth more in parts on the vintage refurbishing market than as a whole used-but-rideable thing, it being a tall-man's frame of never-futuristic weight, with pretty sweet and totally desirable everything else) was having the exact problem! Here I thought it was ineffable universal bike karma causing my bike problems, but really it's just that my wheels are in need of re-lacing (getting an entirely new set of spokes put into the wheels).

The problem, as you might guess, is that getting one's wheels re-laced ain't cheap, since it costs for a relatively time-heavy labor plus all the spokes multiplied by two, for both wheels. If a person's wheels are nothing special (my wheels aren't special (but more on this...)), then it's oftentimes cheaper just to by another set of not-special wheels rather than bothering to re-lace the busted ones. Which I looked into, since I had a sizable discount coupon with a well-known online bike part shop, but here's how my not-special, unmatched-pair, wheels are special: they are outmoded! Bicycle wheels switched to a different sizing back in the '80s. Dedicated atavist that I am (typewriter, pocket watch, record player, and a never-acted-upon impulse toward wearing some kind of men's hat being the obvious indicators), I actually like rocking out on the vintage tip, but they don't make these kind of wheels anymore, generally. A few companies still make 'em, but they're always a special ticket item. So, buying a new wheelset, which involves special ordering via the aforementioned shop, also isn't cheap.

So in the meantime, I try to get by replacing one spoke at a time (though today at the shop, the guy broke a second spoke while trying to true the wheel after replacing the first one, so they're pretty much tired of my one-spoke-at-a-time methodology -- plus, now, they can't completely true the one wheel, for fear of setting off the finishing-move cascade of spoke snapping, which keeps the wheel slightly wobbly, which is both aesthetically unappealing and also distributing the weight slightly wrong and therefore contributing to the eventual snappage of more spokes), trying to eventually not pay too much money in total. But that bubble of money-spent is getting steadily blown towards the spikes of utter illogic, so I'm not sure what my next will be.

On the one hand, I'll be moving, almost certainly, in May, back away from the city this post bears the name of, which would be good timing for stripping the bike for parts, taking the money, cutting and running from the frame--as attached as I have become to the Special Road Racer (it is special), it may not be worth it to travel with it. On the other hand, it seems foolish to sink more money than I have to into a bike that will never be anything but outmoded (if of sweet vintage-dom). So I could, potentially, spend a fair chunk more money now to buy a new (or new to me) road bike more copacetic to modern times, more or less committing to bringing it with me wherever I move to. Choices, choices, choices...)

And I just now, while writing this blog post, managed to get a ride to where I'm going tonight, so I won't have to drive it any more than I've had to (I would feel hypocritical if I suddenly had a car for a weekend and, like, drove it all over the place).

And, in a totally unrelated field (except that when I get shouted at by strangers, it usually happens when I'm riding my bicycle--well, the shoutings-at that I'm about to unfold both happened at a standstill, so its not really related), I have recently been the victim of strangers in Miami telling me that I look like Napoleon Dynamite. Which sucks. I don't look like Napoleon Dynamite. But, my hair, on its way back to long, is back to looking "big". And being a white guy with big hair and glasses (and I don't wear dork glasses, I wear Costco-middle-aged-man-glasses) in Miami, apparently, is enough to get you mocked. The only glimmer of positivity in this recent ordeal is that Napoleon Dynamite is skinny, so maybe, now (since, full disclosure, I'm not quite as fat as I was, say, 4 months ago) people look at me and see "skinny-ish dork with stupid haircut" rather than "fat fuck with stupid haircut".

Such is life: Miami life (guitar riff).

Monday, September 14, 2009

This Week in Poetry

Hey You! Out there! Is your last name different than mine? Are you a good writer? You are? Then you should consider submitting your work to Gulf Stream Magazine. It's submission season again, and we're always looking for quality work. Is your last name the same as mine? Just submit it under a pseudonym! Hooray!

In other news, not that there's been much news, my time is mostly dedicated these days to working on my manuscript (yes, say "manuscript" (or that whole sentence, for that matter) in the most obnoxious tone of voice that you can imagine). Which doesn't bear much conversation (not on the blog, anyway), but, given that it mostly involves me obsessively revising the output of my first two years of graduate school, reminded me today of a particular insight brought up several times on various commentary tracks of episodes of The Simpsons on DVD:

due to the nature of their writing process, apparently, jokes written for the Simpsons (at least back when they were funny, anyway; for all I know manatees are writing everything on Fox nowadays (not just Family Guy)) had to be funny upwards of thirty times to make it into an episode. Even if jokes got uproarious laughter for weeks and weeks, if they started to fall flat, they would oftentimes be replaced.

I thought of this because I've read my own poetry, not thirty times through yet, but a bunch of damn times, but then last night, while tweaking Version 3.3 of said manuscript, I suddenly decided that a poem that I hadn't even considered cutting up to this point just wasn't good enough and I took it out. And it almost certainly won't ever get back in there; it just feels like a very final decision, as though it's strange that I hadn't noticed by now that it shouldn't be in there.

And maybe it's a fine poem; it seems well-constructed enough, but just, like, it isn't good enough. Which is perhaps interesting additionally so because of other poems that are still in the manuscript that aren't as finished-looking and will still be substantially revised--they will eventually be better, and even though this other poem was "finished" it just isn't good enough, or just doesn't fit. Interesting (at least mildly so).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Steelers 13, Titans 10

Pete's text message just now:
Good game, wards fumble aside. I made mistake of hosting poker during game- lost my money.
Nate and I can second most of that, although we were in Milford at the Seven Seas Inn, with Stu and Andrea, enjoying delicious lobster rolls and then gradually downing three pitchers of beer while the Steelers did what the Steelers did, which is to say winning in unnecessarily stressful style.

Oh, I'm happy that Hines Ward didn't have to see himself blow the game with a fumble. Let's hope Troy isn't too badly hurt, though. (How many one-armed interceptions can one man make in a career? Is there a record for that?) Other things I'm happy to see, in approximate order of importance:
1. Daniel Sepulveda landing a couple of punts inside the 10 -- viva la differance!

2. Aaron Smith blocking a field goal = awesome;

3. Stefan Logan running back the opening kickoff for more than 3 1/2 yards;

4. Keyaron Fox coming up with a heads-up fumble recovery and a couple of big tackles;

5. James Farrior notching the first big sack of the year, steaming up the middle to belt Kerry Collins;

6. The final big pass play going to the rookie, Mike Wallace, proudly wearing a number 17 that no longer belongs to Mitch Berger.
Now, all we need is a running game, and we're set for the repeat.

Nate and I are living it up in New Haven, by the way.

Friday, September 04, 2009

(New) Haven Is a Place on Earth

New Haven is in fact a place on earth that I haven't yet visited, except to stop off there a couple of times to pick up Jack on my way up I-95 from D.C. to family beach vacations in Narragansett. This will be rectified next week, though! I'm taking a redeye to Newark tonight to meet up with the hermano gemelo in New York City and then, on Sunday, finally head to Yaletown, The Glittering Gem of Connecticut, The City Of Other Nicknames I Just Made Up Right Now for a visit. Nothing big on the itinerary -- Labor Day hanging-out, watching the Steelers opener in a bar, going out for pizza. If I convince at least one of his friends that I actually exist that will apparently be a win. Should be a good time!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Stolen Bodily by the Phonograph Trust and Piano-Player Combination

Here's a great cultural artifact, some verbiage from an example letter created for composers to send to their congressmen circa 1908, as copyright bills we appearing in the Senate. ("Kindly use this matter and write a similar letter in your own style to the Members of Congress in your State. If you are not an author or composer, write as a sympathizer to the cause. Do it now.") Compare and contrast to copyright-related verbiage spun off from the music industry in the present day. (Now and then I do learn something fun at work.)
As one of your constituents and a resident of your State, I beg to trespass your time to explain my interest in the bill and the crying necessity for such legislation.

Under the present copyright law, made and passed before phonographs, graphophones, talking machines, automatic piano players, etc., were thought of or invented, an author or composer is protected in his publishing and dramatic rights, but absolutely no provision is made at protecting him from having his works, his creations, the result of his talent and ability, absolutely and literally stolen from him without his permission, consent, or even knowledge, and without one penny remuneration, by manufacturers of mechanical devices.
. . .
As matters now stand, what is the result? I see my compositions--as does each and every other author and composer in America--stolen bodily by the phonograph trust and piano-player combination, and ground out daily from thousands of cylinders, disks, and rolls, without paying me or any of us one single, solitary penny, and in addition daily reducing the sales of sheet music, and therefore constantly reducing royalties on the sales of my publications.
Obviously we've got an opposite situation now, with copyright protection that's too strong. But at least it's keeping college freshman from staying up nights in their dorm rooms, punching pirated copies of Metallica piano rolls.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

RIP Erich Kunzel

Via Andrew Druckenbrod, I see that Cincinnati Pops director Erich Kunzel has died. The Cincinnati Enquirer's obituary gives a sense of how prolific a conductor he was.

I feel it's worth mentioning because a couple of Kunzel's Cincinnati Pops recordings were a big part of my entrance into listening to classical music (this should be the case for Jack and maybe Pete as well but I'll un-presumptuously stick to the singular first person, mostly). I know only a few albums from his rather massive discography on the Telarc label but I've always found them aptly programmed and well engineered, no small thing if you're looking a bit blindly for collections of frequently recorded fare. The rendition of Berlioz's Rakoczy March on Kunzel's "Pop & Pizazz" album was a minor epiphany when Jack and I listened to it for the first time after getting it (I think) as a 14th-birthday gift from our grandparents -- we knew the piece already from an anonymous, sub-budget level, two-disc collection of The Great Marches but Kunzel's much snappier recording woke me up to this idea of, "Hey, the performance has a lot to do with whether a piece of music is actually any good to listen to or not." It also helped set the tone for what we listened to in the house or on car trips when Jack and I were 14 and 15, namely a light-orchestral slurry of Sousa marches, Strauss waltzes and miscellaneous 19th-century excerpts that exasperated our mother more than any kind of popular music we could have dragged home. I also have a lot of fondness for "Symphonic Spectacular", which gave me my first dose of Shostakovich's music (the "Festive Overture", a charmingly bombastic little piece that improbably opened me up that composer's much deeper body of work, which has been my most enduring cultural interest over the past 14 years or so), back at a time when I probably would have listed Tchaikovsky's "March Slave" among the top five works in the history of musical composition.

A couple of other isolated, high school-vintage Kunzel album memories: I have a pretty strong sensory association between his Henry Mancini greatest-hits set and being in our friend Eric's basement during an overnight visit -- we had picked up the album at Ross Park Mall, I think, that afternoon in between school and a marching band show -- trying to get its gummy "Peter Gunn" track to play back correctly on his family's Gateway PC. Also, in ninth or tenth grade Jack and I bought our friend Nick (then aspiring to be a Naval officer; currently in fact a Naval officer) an album of military movie themes. The CD's traditionally cheesy cover art features a painting of a warship; Nick was in art class with one or the other of us; we predicted before giving him the gift that a rendition of the cover art would show up in his sketch book eventually. In fact within a couple of months Nick made a pretty sizable oil painting based on it.

Within about three years of that I started to hear Kunzel's interpretations as too lightweight and soft-edged (i.e. too quintessentially pops-orchestra in style) for regular use but it still works for me as an occasional listen. And I don't think you really lose affection for work that had an early, formative impact on your current tastes.

Misdrunk Misdialing

Transcription of wrong-number voice mail left on my work cell phone (which I rarely turn on) on Wednesday, 8/26 around 10:45 pm Pacific time:

TIPSY MALE VOICE: [Male name redacted], I apologize for calling so late, but I am good and drunk and good and wantin' answers. So, uh, at your leisure, sir, call me... You can absolutely, um... [pause] Do whatever you want.

There was no follow-up message, so I'm left to assume that the anonymous caller either sobered up and thought better of this line of inquiry, or called the right number later and got the answers he needs.

Modern technology continues to be a sometimes questionable means of bringing people together.