4.08.2011

Another SITE Ends: Self-Restrained Aggression, Praise vs. Criticism, Cheesus Strikes Again, Galli on Substitution, DFW on Addiction and Self-Help, 3eanuts, Richard Ashcroft

THE NEW SITE: On Monday we will be launching our new website, www.mbird.com, which will be an integration and significant upgrade of everything we've been doing and have done thus far. We could not be more excited!! Hopefully there'll be very little that needs to be done on your end, i.e. this site/blog will redirect to that one, including all links, and everything that's here will be there as well. Of course, it means we'll be moving over the weekend, so there may be a few hours here and there where everything is down. Commenting will be turned off tonight at midnight (and back on Monday morning). Please bear with any broken links while we make the switch. For those of you who subscribe via a feed, check back to this address on Monday if your reader doesn't show our latest entries then.

This is a super exciting development and probably a long overdue one as well. We've loved this little blogspot, it's certainly treated us well, but I'm sure you'll agree that it's time to "up our game." See over there! Now, on to my final blogger entry... sniff sniff:

1. A Scientific American podcast/article brings to light an interesting study on the correlation between self-control and aggression, which ties in to JDK's conference talk about the thin line between threat and promise (recording coming Monday!), ht JD:

Past studies have shown that exerting self-control may increase irritability and anger. But the new research found that the increased aggression brought on by self-restraint has a much broader effect. The researchers studied different types of self-control and the subjects' subsequent behavior. For instance, participants who carefully controlled their spending of a gift certificate were more interested in looking at angry faces than fearful ones.

Dieters preferred public service ads that were framed in threats, such as "if funds are not increased for police training, more criminals will escape prison." Subjects who picked an apple over chocolate were more irritated by ads that used words like "you ought to" or "need to,” which sound controlling. They were also more likely to choose to watch a movie with a theme of hostility over other options.

2. Also on the social science tip, an absolutely fascinating/vindicating entry on the Harvard Business Review blog, "Why Does Criticism Seem More Effective Than Praise?" - emphasis on the "seem" - which draws the connection between the "regression to the mean" and our genuinely mistaken conclusions about criticism, ht NW.

3. Conference speaker Mark Galli drops yet another bomb over at Christianity Today with his thoroughly sympathetic recent column "The Problem with Christus Victor," (a fitting rejoinder to his excellent conference talks on chaos and control - did I mention they'll be up on Monday?!), rightly and pastorally guarding against the tendency to reject substitution as the model for atonement. Bravo!

4. A top-to-bottom fantastic article by Maria Bustillos on The Awl which takes David Foster Wallace's private papers, which were just donated to the Ransom Center at the University of Texas (clear eyes full hearts), as a jumping off point to discuss his relationship to AA and depression and his own talent, among other subjects. Read the whole thing:

Much of Wallace's work has to do with cutting himself back down to size, and in a larger sense, with the idea that cutting oneself back down to size is a good one, for anyone... The love his admirers bear this author has a peculiarly intimate and personal character. This is because Wallace gave voice to the inner workings of ordinary human beings in a manner so winning and so truthful and forgiving as to make him seem a friend.

The article includes a priceless quote, apparently from Wallace himself, talking about his own experience in recovery:

Six months in Granada House helped me immeasurably. I still wince at some of the hyperbole and melodrama that are used in recovery-speak, but the fact of the matter is that my experience at Granada House helped me, starting with the fact that the staff admitted me despite the obnoxious condescension with which I spoke of them, the House, and the l2-Step programs of recovery they tried to enable. They were patient, but they were not pushovers...


People at Granada House listened to me for hours, and did so with neither the clinical disinterest of doctors nor the hand-wringing credulity of relatives. They listened because, in the last analysis, they really understood me: they had been on the fence of both wanting to get sober and not, of loving the very thing that was killing you, of being able to imagine life neither with drugs and alcohol nor without them. They also recognized bullshit, and manipulation, and meaningless intellectualization as a way of evading terrible truths—and on many days the most helpful thing they did was to laugh at me and make fun of my dodges (which were, I realize now, pathetically easy for a fellow addict to spot), and to advise me just not to use chemicals today because tomorrow might very well look different.

5. Thanks to some detective work by the great Caleb Maskell, we've unearthed an interview with Verve singer Richard Ashcroft from 2000 in which he makes his religious convictions explicit:

" I can't pin myself on any fixed religion, really. I'm just one of those sad, early-century people who just drifts around and picks up a bit of this and a bit of that. Cuz we are a scanning culture. We are turning over local drug culture and we suck in as much as we can in that given time that we are given, you know. So really, I don't know. It's a celebration of Jesus Christ. But whether that means I'm with the whole [malarky] that happened after he died, or left us, who knows... But I'm intrigued by all that, by religions, I'm intrigued by Jesus Christ. It's all fascinating.

This blogger maintains that pretty much all of Ashcroft's solo work is criminally underrated, both musically and, yes, as a laudable example of spirituality done right in rock (he very well may be the rightful heir to Mr. Dark Horse himself). Instead, it's overshadowed by haters who wish he'd record Storms in Heaven over and over again. Sigh...

6. In TV, have you been watching Mildred Pierce on HBO? Not personally being much of a Todd Haynes or Kate Winslet fan, I've been pleasantly surprised by how superb it is. A harrowing study in mother-daughter dynamics, not to mention the self-seeking underbelly of the American/Hollywood dream, with some stunning setpieces. Think Chinatown by way of Betty Friedan and The Omen. And don't forget, Friday Night Lights: The Fifth Season came out this week on DVD, a full three weeks ahead of its debut on NBC.

7. Conference follow-up: Beyond the recordings, if you enjoyed the delicious food, we invite you to "tip" our chef Edward Crouse by backing his very cool new Kickstarter project "Between Folks and Forks". If it takes off, who knows - he might forgo culinary school abroad and serve us again next year...

8. Finally, in "humor", the inspired 3eanuts showcases the bleak worldview underpinning Schultz's classic strip. Or, as the force behind the site puts it: Charles Schulz's Peanuts comics often conceal the existential despair of their world with a closing joke at the characters' expense. With the last panel omitted, despair pervades all. Ht WV:


P.S. Don't miss FailBlog's "Bible Study Fail." Bye Bye!

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4.07.2011

Wendell Berry

I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.

I have no love
except it come from Thee.

Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.
- Wendell Berry

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3.29.2011

Leah (Or Whatever Leah is for You!)

Roy Orbison's heart-wrenching song about love and loss, the lengths any tragic hero will go to for what will actually kill him in the end, or leave him/her in the pits of loneliness and despair. Reminiscent of such a depiction of addiction, where "any kind of behavior that willpower has proved insufficient in controlling or curbing--workaholism, manic-depression, compulsive exercise, obsessive parenting, road rage, to name just a few--offers a relevant glimpse into the problem of life." To further dampen the eyelashes, check out Chris Isaak's version.


 

"I gotta go deep and find the ones just right,
I'll bet my Leah will be surprised tonight
I'll place my pearls around the only girl for me:
Leah

"But something's wrong, I cannot move around.
My leg is caught, it's pulling me down.
But I'll keep my eyes shut tight, for if they find me,
They'll find the pearls for Leah.

"And now it's over, I'm awake at last,
Old heartaches and memories from the past,
It was just another dream about my lost love,
About Leah."

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3.28.2011

March Playlist (plus Brian Wilson)

Pretty heavy on the Britpop this time - be warned! 

1. April Fools - Rufus Wainwright
2. Delirious Love - Neil Diamond and Brian Wilson
3. The One You Can't Have - The Honeys
4. Mine Smell Like Honey - REM
5. Don't Look Back - Teenage Fanclub
6. You Bowed Down - Roger McGuinn
7. Lift Me Up - Jeff Lynne
8. Blame The Machines - Duran Duran
9. Everyone Says 'Hi' - David Bowie
10. Wake Up Boo! - The Boo Radleys
11. Where Did It All Go Wrong? - Oasis
12. You Know My Name - Chris Cornell
13. Silence Is Easy - Starsailor
14. The Maker - Daniel Lanois
15. Opus 40 - Mercury Rev
16. Trains To Brazil - Guillemots
17. Tonight's The Kind Of Night - Noah & The Whale
18. Helplessness Blues - Fleet Foxes
19. The Shot's Still Ringing - Embrace
20. Caught By The River - Doves

Bonus Self-Promotion Track: My personal blogging activity will be pretty restricted this week, given all the very exciting things going on with the conference and new website. But if you're absolutely dying for some new material (I pity the fool!), you could do worse than checking out yours truly's recent sermon on the theology of the cross as it plays out in the music and life of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, entitled "You Still Believe In Me." Catch a wave:



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3.25.2011

Another Week Ends: Ugly Anthropomorphism, Shaken Manchildren, Big Love, The Church's Cognitive Dissonance, March Madness, and the MoneyQuest for Happiness

Doing my best to fill in for DZ, who is currently gearing up for next week's conference.

1) A great article from the Times this week, discussing the recent tendency of creaturely films ("Rango" etc) to capture the creature in all of us:

THERE is a special kind of appeal to stories that lead us to the far boundary of the human and allow us a glance at what is on the other side, where the wild things are. What often comes into view out there is a projection of something buried deep within. That wolf in the bed, in grandma’s clothes, embodies some threatening animal emanation of the self, sexual or otherwise, lurking in disguise in our cozy domestic enclosures. Those invaders from outer space, preying on our cities, represent our own predatory, destructive urges in monstrous, alien form. And we can’t forget the vampires, whose cold glamour places them at the busy intersection of love and death, where our longings chase their morbid shadows.
The lizards, rodents and other creepy-crawlies that populate its desert landscape are far more grotesque to behold than traditional Disney fauna, but their ugliness only adds an extra frisson to the film’s charming anthropomorphism. We might recoil and squint at first, but by the time “Rango” is over, the reptiles are as cuddly as bunnies or the fish in “Finding Nemo” or the ants in “A Bug’s Life.”...And also as human.

2) This piece entitled "Men May Be Jerks...But Women Are Insane", explores the laws and demands of gender identity in today's "manchild culture," from a woman's perspective. For a laugh, The Onion, too, has something to say (ht JS).
[CONTINUE READING]

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3.23.2011

Weds Morning Rock N Roll: Nick Lowe And Dave Edmunds Were Born Fighting

Last week's long-awaited reissue of Nick Lowe's classic 1979 Labour of Lust record brought to light a previously unseen documentary about its recording, "Born Fighters." At the time, Nick was a member of Rockpile, a group whose one album under their own name tells only a fraction of their story. In fact, the closest corollary one could find would probably be the Traveling Wilburys, in that their short-lived collaboration was incredibly fruitful, with the creative juice overflowing into a number of other successful ventures. Over the three year period from 1978 to 1980, Rockpile (Lowe, Dave Edumunds, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams) were responsible for Edmunds' hit albums Trax on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary, Lowe's Labour of Lust, their own Seconds Of Pleasure, as well as most of Micky Jupp's Juppanese and Carlene Carter aka Johnny Cash's stepdaughter's Musical Shapes. Plus, if you're keeping track, you know that Lowe also found time to produce Elvis Costello's Armed Forces and Get Happy!! during that stretch. The stuff was just pouring out of them! And oddly enough, it's ALL exceptional...

Whenever such artistic explosions occur, it's important to take notice. If the documentary is to be trusted, it would appear that fun (and mutual love of bar music) was the chief motivating factor. Go figure. You can watch the whole thing on youtube... in 12 parts. But it's definitely worth the time/hassle, especially if you enjoy no-frills rock n roll with a raised eyebrow and a New Wave edge. I was especially surprised by how well their music has dated, considering what else was popular at the time:



The Rockpile project produced many gems, particularly from the pen of Nick Lowe, but none greater than "When I Write The Book," a song about regret and failure (and human bondage) that is somehow as fun as it is bittersweet:
[CONTINUE READING]

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3.21.2011

Conference Preview: Encountering the Gospel in Worship

The following preview comes to us from Alex Mejias of High Street Hymns who will be leading a breakout session Friday morning entitled "High Street Hymnody: Encountering the Gospel in Worship". For more info about the fantastic work that High Street Hymns is doing, go here. To register for the conference, here

“They [the righteous] praise only God’s grace, works, words and power as they are revealed to them in Christ. This is their sermon and song, their hymn of praise.”
- Martin Luther

In Colossians 3:16, Paul encourages the church to, “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you… teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” In doing so, Paul reveals power of music to shape the body of Christ in the Gospel. Paul S. Jones writes that, “musicians and preachers actually share in the ministry of the Word.” As those who are entrusted with the music of church, how are we proclaiming the Gospel and enabling spiritual formation through song? How are we not doing so?

During our time together, we’ll look at both the theological and practical side of corporate song in the Church. Drawing from the Church’s rich tradition of hymnody and liturgy, we’ll explore some possible ways of encountering the Gospel through music.

p.s. Church musicians are invited to drop in and join us for this special session, free of charge. Just be sure to email us at info@mbird.com to reserve your spot.

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3.18.2011

Another Week Ends: Japan, Facebook & Divorce, Preschool Litigation, more Galli on B(h)ell, The Beach Boys' Smile, Community

1. Two very moving additions to the coverage of the disasters in Japan. First, if you can decipher the google-translation, there's the story of a woman who sacrificed her life to warn a village of the impending destruction here. And two, the footage that made this all very real to yours truly. If it doesn't get you on your knees, nothing will (be sure to stick with it to the end):



2. An amusing report in the Guardian about Facebook and divorce. If ever there was an excuse to take a potshot at lawyers for having a shallow view of human nature...:

A 2010 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) found that four out of five lawyers reported an increasing number of divorce cases citing evidence derived from social networking sites in the past five years, with Facebook being the market leader. Two-thirds of the lawyers surveyed said that Facebook was the "primary source" of evidence in divorce proceedings, while MySpace with 15% and Twitter with 5% lagged far behind.

A spokesperson for Facebook said: "It's ridiculous to suggest that Facebook leads to divorce. Whether you're breaking up or just getting together, Facebook is just a way to communicate, like letters, phone calls and emails. Facebook doesn't cause divorces, people do."

The NY Times Magazine had a similarly Zeitgeisty take on divorce this past week too, which is worth it for the candid quotes on depravity/original sin.

3. Speaking of the Zeitgeist, there's the outrageous but evidently very real "Mother Sues Preschool For Damaging Her Daughter's Shot at the Ivy League." ht JD. 

4. For those of you interested in the ongoing Rob Bell-univeralism saga, conference speaker Mark Galli's review of the Bell's Love Wins book appeared this week, and it is very much worth your time. Galli rightly places Bell in the context of Protestant liberalism, not in order to callously write him off as such, but in an attempt to discuss the heart of the matter, which as always, has to do with atonement/justification:
[CONTINUE READING]

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3.16.2011

Voodoo Child: Classic Rock, Celebrity, and Idolatry

A fun NYT article about a link between celebrity and idolatry: In trying to discover why somebody would pay $959,500 for Eric Clapton's signature Fender Strat named Blackie, or thousands still for a "replica" of Blackie, a team of researchers at Yale have theorized that the same urges that drove our ancestors to magic and voodoo make us think that the celebrity artifacts are somehow "contagious" (though you might instead be thinking of "The Pearl of Great Price" if you love rock-n-roll!). The article is short and worth a quick read- especially for anybody who a) loves Clapton, b) loves a celebrity, or c) needs a primer on the subtle mechanics of idolatry.

The researchers asked people how much they would like to buy objects that had been owned by different celebrities, including popular ones like George Clooney and pariahs like Saddam Hussein. People’s affection for the celebrity did not predict how much value they assigned to the memorabilia — apparently they were not buying it primarily for the pleasant associations. Nor were they chiefly motivated by the prospect of a profit, as the researchers discovered when they tested people’s eagerness to acquire a celebrity possession that could not be resold... The most important factor seemed to be the degree of “celebrity contagion.” The Yale team found that a sweater owned by a popular celebrity became more valuable to people if they learned it had actually been worn by their idol. But if the sweater had subsequently been cleaned and sterilized, it seemed less valuable to the fans, apparently because the celebrity’s essence had somehow been removed.

"That is a belief in what is also called imitative magic: things that resemble each other have similar powers. Cultural practices such as burning voodoo dolls to harm one’s enemies are consistent with a belief in the law of similarity,” Dr. Newman said. “An identical Clapton guitar replica with all of the dents and scratches may serve as such a close proxy to Clapton’s original guitar that it is in some way confused for the real thing. Of course, the replica is worth far less than the actual guitar that he played, but it still appears to be getting a significant amount of value for its similarity..."
[CONTINUE READING]

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3.09.2011

Tender Are The Ashes

Happy Ash Wednesday... from Honeybus:

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3.07.2011

PZ's Podcast: Tanz der Vampire

This is about some very talented proselytizers for death, or should we say, living death.

In 1966 Roman Polanski released a haunting and brilliant little film entitled The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me but Your Teeth Are in My Neck. It was supposed to be a comedy. In 1997 Jim Steinman, of Meatloaf fame, and Michael Kunze created a German-language musical version of Polanski's movie, this time on stage, in Vienna. Polanski directed, and it was called Tanz der Vampire ("Dance of the Vampires"), which had been Polanski's original title for his movie.

The musical version, which Americans didn't see because its translation to Broadway flopped, is an extremely deft thing. You cannot shake the 'hook' of "Knoblauch" ("Garlic"), nor the overwhelming dark romanticism of "Totale Finsternis" ("Utter Darkness"). Steinman's soaring melodies and Kunze's either-or philosophy of death -- which works from ideas implicit in the 1966 film but takes them over the edge -- are unforgettable. They make you want to jump off a cliff, straight into the undead embrace of Count von Krolock; and thereby join his army of missionaries who long, with unstillbare Gier ("unquenchable desire"), to "eat your soul".  

However, Tanz der Vampire is not funny. The reason it's not funny is that it means business. It is one serious musical! Its over-all effect is so completely bewitching, the tunes are so catchy and so elegantly done, the rich colors and splendid voices -- tho' it's mainly the songs -- are so impressive, that it makes you want to sign up.

Polanski's 1966 movie is a delight, tho' again, if you see it more than once or twice, the current of its flow starts to take you somewhere. Like the 'Sarah' and 'Alfred' characters in the story, you may not want to go there. But you'll find yourself wanting to. The 1997 musical actually takes you there, and it's not Strawberry Fields.

Podcast 38 looks at "Tanz der Vampire" as an evangelistic exercise.  It is not neutral. Its makers are 'proclaiming'! They're inviting. "Tanz der Vampire" is an altar call.

Though I love Jim Steinman's music, and you will, too, I'm glad it flopped.  

Episode 38 of PZ's Podcast is dedicated to Ethan Magness. Ethan was the first person I met who loved "Tanz der Vampire" as I do. Ethan and I met one day "high in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains".

[Ed. note: You may be surprised to hear Steinman (brilliantly) plagiarizing one of his masterpieces in the following riveting/insane/awesome performance of "Totale Finsternis"... aka Bonnie Tyler's truly immortal "Total Eclipse of the Heart"]:

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3.04.2011

Another Week Ends: Grace & Cutting, Depression & Recession, David Foster Wallace, Burned-Over Generations, Greg McElroy, Supernatural, Arcade Fire

1. Continuing this past month's unexpected foray into gender-related topics (i.e. here, here, here and here), Christianity Today published a doozie of an article earlier this week on its Her.meneutics site, "The Gospel of Grace for Women Who Self-Injure". A couple lines from the conclusion (ht DB):

I’m not surprised that self-punishing behaviors occur among Christians. And this is not to blame the church. For legalism — and I would argue that this is what these behaviors are at their core — comes in guises both religious and secular. The desire to control the destiny of a few moments, if not our lives, is a fact of the human condition. But it is a fact that directly opposes the gospel of grace. 

Also female-related, from Medical News Daily (aka Captain Obvious: The Journal) is "Mean Girls and Queen Bees: Females Under Threat of Social Exclusion Respond by Excluding Others First".

2. On the male side of things, and following-up the Man-Child post, Time reports on the impact the recession appears to be having on rates of depression among men, challenging the accepted finding that the condition is more prevalent among ladies, ht TB.

3. Speaking of men and depression, it's been a big week for David Foster Wallace. The New Yorker published an excerpt of his new book The Pale King, "Backbone". To compare the published version with the version he read publicly a few years prior, go here. I also came across a terrific discussion/defense of his fiction by Rebekah Frumkin on The Common Review, entitled "Our Psychic Living Room", which includes a variation of one of our favorite quotes from the man himself via a 1996 interview (ht CR):

The sadness that [Infinite Jest] is about, and that I was going through [when I wrote it], was a real American type of sadness. I was white, upper-middle-class, obscenely well-educated, had had way more career success than I could have legitimately hoped for and was sort of adrift. A lot of my friends were the same way. Some of them were deeply into drugs, others were unbelievable workaholics. Some were going to singles bars every night. You could see it played out in 20 different ways, but it’s the same thing. . . . I get the feeling that a lot of us, privileged Americans, as we enter our early 30s, have to find a way to put away childish things and confront stuff about spirituality and values.

4. By way of self-promotion, Modern Reformation just published "Compassion, Creativity and Connecting with a Burned-Over Generation" by yours truly, which outlines some of the thinking behind Mockingbird, in case you were curious. I'm proud to say I was able to sneak Axl Rose, Michael Jackson, Whit Stillman, Oscar Wilde, Stuart Murdoch, and David Foster Wallace into the party. UPDATE: Mod Ref has been kind enough to unlock the article, so it's now available in its entirety on their site, for free! For more Reformation goodness, be sure to check out their considerably more tricked-out sister site, The White Horse Inn, and then head over to New Reformation Press to hear Rod Rosenbladt's stunning new must-hear sermon "Christianity in Five Verses." It's raining Reformation!
[CONTINUE READING]

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3.03.2011

Thursday Afternoon Rock N Roll: Josh Ritter's "To The Dogs Or Whoever"

Robbie Robertson once said that "The Weight" was about the impossibility of sainthood. This song is too:



Oh bring me the love that can sweeten a sword
A boat that can love the rocks or the shore
The love of the iceberg reaching out for a wreck
Can you love me like the crosses love the nape of the neck?

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3.01.2011

What Noel Gallagher Is Not Supposed To Feel

Today brings the release of the first post-Oasis project from a Gallagher brother, the debut album by the Liam-led Beady Eye, Different Gear Still Speeding. And you may be surprised to hear that the record is really pretty good, at least on par with Oasis' 2009 swansong Dig Out Your Soul. So what better week to reappraise Oasis' underrated fourth album, the quintessentially hungover Standing on the Shoulder of Giants? When it was released, the expectations were astronomical - Oasis were still the biggest band in the (rest of the) world, albeit weighed down by/wrestling with the question of how to follow-up the relative "failure" of Be Here Now, a record which has rightly come to symbolize the utter hollowness of 90s Britpop hubris/excess. If you're Noel Gallagher, you toss your brother a few swagger-anthems and spend the rest of the disc getting introspective. There's always been a moral undercurrent to Gallagher's tunes, usually covered up in melancholy, but it's never been as prominent or sincere as his trio of regretful masterpieces on SOTSOG, "Gas Panic," "Where Did It All Go Wrong?," and "Sunday Morning Call" (not to mention the closing prayer, "Roll It Over"). They're all surprisingly thoughtful ruminations on foolishness, mortality and hypocrisy, from a guy known mainly for his incredibly brash self-belief.

The specter of a Roman Catholic upbringing rears its head all over the place, especially in "Sunday Morning Call," in which Noel comes as close as he ever has to a Romans 7 'despair in the flesh' moment: "In your head do you feel/ What you're not supposed to feel?/ And you take what you want/But you won't get it for free/ You need more time/ Cause your thoughts and words/ Won't last forever more/ And I'm not sure if it'll ever work out right." Not exactly the So-Sally-Can-Wait singalong that fans were hoping for. Indeed, instead of glorifying rockstar mythology with slightly obscured platitudes, as he ingeniously did on their first three records, SOTSOG weighs the cost and comes clean about the consequences - and does so with humility. No wonder it didn't sell all that well.

On the next record, Heathen Chemistry, an exhausted Noel retreated from the confessionalism, relegated his more personal statements to Bsides ("Just Getting Older," "Idler's Dream" and "Shout It Out Loud") and handed over the reigns to his bandmates, effectively throwing in the towel. With a few notable exceptions - he is Noel Gallagher after all. But here's to hoping that his forthcoming solo record taps a similarly vulnerable vein:
[CONTINUE READING]

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2.28.2011

PZ's Podcast: The Yardbirds (For Your Love)

EPISODE 37

This is about The Yardbirds, the British Invasion avant-garde band that brought us hope, instinct, and, finally, a Stairway to Heaven. The band, which existed from 1963 to 1968, was our first exposure to
Eric Clapton, then Jeff Beck, and then Jimmy Page -- all guitar gods, but Page had worked with Joe Meek, so he really was touched with deity.

My talk gives the basic facts about The Yardbirds, scores their searing songs, such as "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl", "I Ain't Got You", "Heart Full of Soul", "You're a Better Man than I", "Shapes of
Things", "Evil Hearted You", "I'm a Man", "Over Under Sideways Down", "Stroll On" (sublime!)), "Little Games", and "Goodnight Sweet Josephine"; then tries to understand what made them great.

I believe several of The Yardbirds' best songs live at the edge of insanity. These songs, especially their guitar breaks, are always just about to go out of bounds. With the exception of "Stroll On", which actually does go out of bounds -- just like the Joe Meek production, his wildest, entitled "Crawdaddy Simone" -- The Yardbirds get right on the verge of wild and uncontrolled chaos.  I think you have to love them for this.  But don't take my word for it. The songs are all a kiss away, a click away. The material's been out for years.
[CONTINUE READING]

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2.23.2011

February Playlist

1. (It's Good) To Be Free - Oasis
2. Nowhere Man - The Replacements
3. V - Golden Smog
4. Don't Carry It All - The Decemberists
5. Everything Is Free - Gillian Welch
6. Revival - Deerhunter
7. ONE - Yeasayer
8. Behind The Mask - MJ
9. Isolation - Joy Division
10. Car Song - Elastica
11. Everything Will Flow - Suede
12. Someone To Talk With - Mark Olson and The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers
13. Up Above My Head - The Jayhawks
14. Campers In Control - The High Llamas
15. Sound Of Free - Dennis Wilson
16. Let It Shine - Brian Wilson
17. Pray For The Many - Roger Joseph Manning Jr.
18. Nothin' Will Ever Change - L.E.O.
19. Chinatown - The Move
20. The Beat Goes On - Beady Eye

Picking up on a theme...?

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2.18.2011

Another Week Ends: U-Bending Happiness, South Park Religion, Charlie Sheen, Louie CK, Friday Night Lights

1. From one of the December issues of The Economist, some interesting findings about "Age and Happiness". The main discovery being the "U-Bend" - i.e. the finding that people are happiest in their youth and old age, and least happy in between. The most relevant section for us has to do with "the death ambition" (ht VH):

Maybe people come to accept their strengths and weaknesses [as they grow older], give up hoping to become chief executive or have a picture shown in the Royal Academy, and learn to be satisfied as assistant branch manager, with their watercolour on display at the church fete. “Being an old maid”, says one of the characters in a story by Edna Ferber, an (unmarried) American novelist, was “like death by drowning—a really delightful sensation when you ceased struggling.” Perhaps acceptance of ageing itself is a source of relief. “How pleasant is the day”, observed William James, an American philosopher, “when we give up striving to be young—or slender.”

2. A great overview on Slate of South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone's dealings over the years with religion. They've certainly not shied away from the topic, as their upcoming Book of Mormon musical boldly drives home. Parker has always seemed to be the driving force, so it's a shame they didn't interview him, but nevertheless [vulgarity warning - duh]:

What Parker and Stone do isn't religion-bashing. It's religion-teasing. And it's born more from fascination than disdain. "I'm an atheist that admires and likes religion," Stone told me in an interview. He describes the new musical as "an atheist's love letter to religion." If you had to classify Parker and Stone's world view, you might call it Hobbesian absurdism.[CONTINUE READING]

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Against This, I Cannot Fight

I love classical music. It calms me, it always has. So, when my little Q man was born and all he did was SCREAM (okay, unfair...maybe 2% of the time he 'tried' to sleep), I quickly developed a habit of turning on the classical music...for me, really. So, more often then not, if you stop by our house in the middle of the day you will typically hear classical music (and, maybe, me yelling over the top of it...).

However, when I work out, it's a whole different story in music genre. Out goes Bach and in goes Rage Against the Machine; out with Mozart, in with Tool. Out with calm and in with energy. Now, since I've gotten married, my music purchases have reduced to nothing, so I highly depend on others to introduce me to new "work-out-worthy" songs. My brother-in-law left some cd's he had burned in our van, and I took to listening to them. And came across a few songs that I deemed worthy. One in particular caught my ear, so to speak: Jem's "Come on Closer".

This song, simply put, is alluring. It draws you
in. The effervescent high pitched notes play like candy on your musical tongue. You can't help but think that the introductory notes are the same notes that follow fairies around. They are sweet and enticing, "Come closer" they beckon..."come a little bit closer..." And you do. Add in the soft voice of Jem, assuring you that this is fine, this is good, this is what you want, this will make you happy. You are completely drawn in by the siren call.

But if you listen just a bit longer, the song unveils it's more primal undertones...the bass kicks in and, as the listener, you feel the lurking beast. And it's you that is its target. The song is not evidential sweet pixie dust of tinkling fairies looking only out for your benefit and amusement, but the alluring candy path leading Hansel and Gretel to the witch's oven. But you are already in and now the face of the beast has been revealed; however, you are powerless to fight it. It has won. And it doesn't back off, victorious; it remains and waits, lurking about you:
[CONTINUE READING]

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2.17.2011

Willing to Sympathize

Thesis 14 of Martin Luther's Heidelberg Disputation: Free will, after the fall, has power to do good only in a passive capacity, but it can do evil in an active capacity.

One of the greatest rock 'n roll songs of all time is also one of the most controversial.  Especially in the day and time it was written and recorded, "Sympathy for the Devil" by The Rolling Stones rendered the Christian subculture aghast and continues to do so up to this very day.  Mockers gleefully play it as a middle-finger tribute to Christianity while believers sheepishly admit they love the song with eyes lowered and feet kicking the dirt.  Seeing past the instinct to be reactionary (the threat to identity) always seems to bear fruit and, in this case, it bears much.

Luther (in the thesis above) discusses the active and passive capacities of the will with a strong pessimism about the former.  The Bible is rife with descriptions of the human race trying to be "as gods" (Gen. 3:5), bumping and crashing into each other at high speeds with maximum density.  It is as if the serpent's temptation is continually re-playing itself throughout history.  "The snake inside every man" as Robert Mitchum says in the great movie The Enemy Below.  The story of human interaction in the race toward self-deification.

It is here where Mick Jagger and Keith Richards firmly place Lucifer in the song:
[CONTINUE READING]

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Sweet Emotion on American Idol?

Not being a huge American Idol person, or post-Rocks Aerosmith fan, everything in Jon Caramanica's article in this past Sunday's NY Times, "Steven Tyler Escapes From Idolatry," was news to me. Those of you who've seen the episode in question can tell us whether it was indeed a lightning-striking instance of grace on TV or a carefully played media-moment (or both, as the article suggests). But there's an unmistakeable note of Nazareth here - in regards to Mr. Tyler, that is - of folks being caught seriously off guard by his charisma/character/kindness, of their preconceptions being exposed for what they are (myself included), not to mention the sheer unexpectedness of grace, ht CW:

Fame isn’t all gold, honey and massage oils; it’s also the successful navigation of a steady stream of unlikely and uncomfortable situations. At this, the first few weeks of the 10th season of “American Idol” have proved, Steven Tyler is an unalloyed genius.

The moment when Mr. Tyler, one of this season’s new judges, claimed the show as his own came during the third night of auditions. Chris Medina tried out with a muscular version of The Script’s “Breakeven” after telling the story of how his fiancée, Juliana Ramos, suffered a brain injury that left her in a wheelchair, able to move her left arm and little more. After he sang, he brought Ms. Ramos in to the audition room at the judges’ behest. By any measure it was difficult to watch, testing the viewer’s urge to turn away, to wish for a speedy change of scene.

Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez introduced themselves to Ms. Ramos, but Mr. Tyler took charge. “Hi, girl,” he said, shaking her hand. “I just heard your fiancé sing, and he’s so good.” At this point, as she teetered back and forth, he was gripping her shoulder and staring at her comfortingly: a rock, a confidant, a seducer. “You know, because he sings to you all the time,” he said, leaning in to her, stroking her hair, kissing her warmly — all with tenderness — then whispering in her ear, “That’s why he sings so good, because he sings to you.”

It was a stellar embrace, the sort of practiced sincerity that’s one of the wages of extreme celebrity. Except that, over time, it can shake free of its dishonesty, as was the case here. In that moment Mr. Tyler was both deeply practiced and deeply humane. It made for a stunning display of kindness unusual not just for “Idol,” but for all of popular culture in matters of dealing with the severely disabled. [CONTINUE READING]

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