Known Johnson

January 13, 2007

HOA

Filed under: General — Tom @ 10:32 pm

I was previously under the impression that HOA stood for “home-owners’ association,” but now I realize it actually stands for “horde of assholes.”

If you’re not already aware, would like to make HOAs DOA. I think they do nothing good for society and just in general make life a homogenize, boring experience in every neighborhood. So what if one of your neighbors is messy? Does that really drag down the value of your entire neighborhood? So what if one of your neighbors paints his house an unseemly color? That just means he/she’s an individual. I’ll tell you what, I’ll take the quirky neighbors who paint their homes pink and green over the dozens upon dozens of identical tan nightmares that we’re stuck living in right now.

And I miss trees – big green fluffy trees filling the air around neighborhoods. HOAs are putting height restrictions on trees so never again will we see neighborhoods with gigantic trees that make the places seem inviting. No, instead, we’ve got these horrible, short, sparsely-leaved trees that barely provide any shade, all thanks to HOAs.

This rant is inspired by the latest move of our HOA. Because we live on the corner of our street, I was particularly curious what a giant hole dug on the street corner was about. When it was filled in and sprouted a tall metal sign post – but no sign – I grew even more curious. Today my curiosity has been sated, but my anger has been fueled. A sign has finally been attached that reads “No on-street parking in (our community) HOA.” Let me restate that for emphasis: no on-street parking ever. Not “during the hours of _____,” like any sensible people would ask. Just no on-street parking ever.

Let me paint you a picture: neither vehicle that Alissa and I own are full size vehicles, yet they barely fit in the garage because home builders now undersize their garages in order to scrimp a bit more and make you think your house is a bit bigger. We are one of the few families on the block that actually parks their cars in their garage – most people use their garages as storage because – you guessed it – homes don’t come with any usable storage. That’s right, we don’t even have usable attic space for storage. We were actually told not to use our attic for storing anything, but I’m not stupid – I know that if it can handle the weight of a dozen fat construction workers, it can handle the weight of our Christmas decorations. But that’s all that will fit up there anyway. So most people stick it all in the garage and leave their cars in the driveway. But here’s where it gets fun: the driveway isn’t long enough for even my mid-size truck. It sticks out over the sidewalk, and two cars can’t be parked side by side if you want to get into the driver’s side of the one whose driver’s side door is on the inside of the two. But we have it easy compared to our neighbors – they have FOUR cars and a son that comes over frequently (and often stays overnight, making it FIVE cars.) There is a delicate and beautifully orchestrated juggling act that goes on when one of the cars inside the garage needs to get out.

So the question now is where the hell are we supposed to park?! If we don’t park in our driveways, say if we have more than two cars using the driveway, like if there’s a party or just friends over, what shall we do? Oh, that’s right, we’ll just use the parking lot. Doh! We don’t have one! There is no parking within one mile of our neighborhood, so what exactly do they expect people to do? Can no one ever come over again? I guess that’s the answer because they’ve provided nothing to help us here.

The other unanswered question is just what happens if someone does park on the street? A fine, I assume, probably on the homeowner in front of whose house the car happens to be. But that leaves a bigger question: how can anyone claim to know for certain that any car parked in front of any house is definitely the responsibility of the homeowner? There have been many days I have come home to find random cars parked out front of our house. Those people certainly weren’t visiting us, but going by this, I’d assume that I would likely find a fine from our HOA at some point in the near future. How would I even fight this?

The best thing about the HOA is that most of the time, the people on the boards of these things don’t even live in your neighborhood – but they may own property in it, meaning they only care about preserving the value of some property they’ve invested in but don’t really care whether they make life a living hell for the people who do live there. And it looks like they can pretty much do as they want, whether you like it or not, whether it’s actually for the good of the people or not. They are evil.

What I’d really like to know is, does anyone actually like HOAs? I’ve never once heard a single person say they like having an HOA, never. Yet they’re everywhere. You can’t find new housing without finding an HOA, which is exactly why when Alissa and I start looking for a new house, we’re looking at older housing that does not have HOAs. Someone out there must like these things, however, or they couldn’t possibly exist in the first place. I know they must have seemed like a good idea at one time, but it’s pretty obvious that they only serve to bolster the egos of those that run them, and make life for most of the people under their reign pretty damned miserable.

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January 11, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives – 2006 Spotlight, Part 2: Jazz

Filed under: Best of 2006,Music,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 2:10 pm

I took a breather from jazz for a while, it seems, and missed out a bunch of great releases. I’m still catching up and still have some notable releases to pick up. That doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on which of last year’s releases that I did pick up were the best, however. Read on:

  1. Bill Frisell/Ron Carter/Paul Motian: Frisell heads back to his jazzier roots with this collaboration after years of exploring Americana, or, more accurately, it seems that drummer Motian and bassist Carter steered him toward jazzier material. That said, Frisell is still typical Frisell, but we get to hear him in a less wheat-fields and dirt-roads setting and more of a smoky jazz club sounding atmosphere, where his typical twang has some interesting textures to work against. Let’s hope this trio works together more (there is a fantastic little downloadable EP of four leftover tracks from these sessions available on Frisell’s website if you can’t get enough that comes highly recommended.)
  2. Dave Douglas – Meaning And Mystery: Another year, another great Dave Douglas release. The trumpeter may have made a slight mistake in releasing this solely on his Greenleaf imprint on the Musicstem website early in the year rather than through traditional routes, keeping it out of more ears than it deserved to reach, but it finally made its way to stores in the fall. Like many of my favorites of the year, I found myself initially slightly cold to this one – and then I warmed up very nicely to it. It’s a true grower. Given time, this thing spawns deep roots. It may not quite live up to predecessor, Keystone, but it’s cool soul may just burrow a little further under listeners’ skin.
  3. Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau – Metheny Mehldau:Quiet and reserved as Metheny Mehldau may be, my first reaction to it was damn. Cool, beautiful and quiet, this primarily duet-based album features the pianist and guitarist Metheny together for the first time in one of those matches that seem a little worrisome at first – are they too similar, will their styles simple ooze together and produce nothing of note? – and proved to be a perfect match. They function almost like twins – finishing each other’s musical sentences, complimenting each other in ways that couldn’t have been imagined. Things get even more interesting when Ballard and Grenadier from Mehldau’s trio appear for two tracks to turn up the heat – a setting that is promised as the second Metheny Mehldau album sometime early this year. I can’t wait. I’ve already got a slot in my best of 2007 list open for it.
  4. Branford Marsalis – Braggtown: Marsalis can burn it up with the best of them, and I typically love that most about him, but this time around it’s the haunting and lyrical “Hope” that has snared me. That’s not to say there isn’t hard-edged material, because there is – “Black Elk Speaks” is angular avant-garde, “Blakzilla” gets your blood pumping – but the heart of Braggtown lies in its quiet work, and the “Hope” sets up the listener early on for the quiet darkness that surrounds these pieces. It’s a two-faced album, almost – you get two distinct sides of Marsalis’ Quartet and that’s what makes it so compelling and dynamic.
  5. Ornette Coleman – Sound Grammar: It’s astounding that Coleman could come back after 10 years and sound this fresh – time is clearly good to this man, creatively-speaking. Sound Grammar ranks among Coleman’s greats when most musicians are just cranking out music because that’s all they know how to do. If you ever liked Ornette, you’ll love this.

The best of the rest

  • Nels Cline – New Monastery: Part of the fun of guitarist Cline’s work is getting to answer the question “What next?!” This time around it’s almost straight-ahead jazz in the form of a tribute-of-sorts to one of his heroes, Andrew Hill. While Cline takes Hill’s compositions as starting points, that’s all they are – Cline lets his muse and his band take things in wild new directions from there. It’s safe to say that I’m going to be chewing on this one for some time.
  • Kenny Garrett – Beyond The Wall: While it doesn’t reach the heights that Standard of Language reached, Beyond The Wall comes pretty damned close. Holding it back are some unfortunate uses of vocals that, frankly, completely grate on this listener’s nerves such as in “Qing Wen,” where the title phrase is repeated so often that it’s nearly impossible to ignore and enjoy Garrett’s impressive sax playing. Were it not for a few tracks like that, this would have been a near-perfect album.
  • Brad Mehldau – House On Hill: I’m a Mehldau fan, and as such, this wound up getting plenty of play and wound up a favorite of the year. Despite that, something’s missing, something vital, and seeds of that were sown in this trio’s previous outing, Anything Goes, which also lacked a certain something. Both albums were recorded in the same sessions and as such, these are, in a way, “outtakes,” if that name can apply in a case like this. Following these sessions, drummer Jorge Rossy left the band to be replaced by Jeff Ballard, who recorded with continuing bassist Larry Grenadier and pianist Mehldau to produce last year’s fantastic Day Is Done. So what is missing? Fire, burning amibition, I don’t know . . . it’s just not quite as vital feeling. Maybe it’s just that much of the material feels so similar. I’m painting a much worse picture of it than I should – this is, after all, being listed among my very favorite albums of the year. That’s the thing – it still is. All of the elements of a typical Mehldau album are there – his chunky, complicated chording, the fantastic drumming, thoughtful bass lines making their own melodies . . . but as an entire piece, the album just lacks that great oomph that makes me go damn when it’s finished that so much of his other material has.
  • Jamie Saft – Trouble: One of 2005’s more interesting album’s was Saft’s exploration of John Zorn’s latest material in the Masada song book, Astaroth: Book Of Angels. This time around, pianist/organist Saft chose the work of Bob Dylan as his source material. Along with Greg Cohen on bass and Ben Perowsky on drums, the trio bends and twists Dylan originals in sometimes radical shapes, but most intriguing is when former Faith No More/Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton and Antony (of The Johnsons) sit on one song each to color them with their own unique traits.
  • David S. Ware – BalladWare: Recorded after a grueling tour in 1999, for some reason this remained hidden away until 2006. You’ll be scratching your head too when you hear it – not only is it an unusually restrained performance from Ware and his band, it’s one of their most beautiful, too. While they may focus on ballads, this doesn’t keep the band from diving deep into improvisation that takes them far into unknown territory. A great starting point for beginners due to the band letting up on the intensity a bit, but also extremely rewarding for demanding longtime fans.

Rules to live by, #2

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:00 am

When in desperate need of using the restroom, do not be a gentleman (or woman) and let someone else go in before you. You may find that this person you were so kind to has just been given the last open stall – and you now have to go all the way to the end of the building to use the other restrom and find another hopefully open stall.

January 9, 2007

You’ve always wanted your favorite band to play at your party

Filed under: General — Tom @ 3:53 pm

. . . or wedding, or whatever, well, here’s how much they might cost. If you’ve got cash to burn, $75-100,000 will get you an absolutely aggravating night with James Blunt, or you can scrimp and get a great night of smart indie-pop from matt pond PA for a mere $7,500-10,000. I do notice that Trey Anastasio is listed at $25-35,000, but that might just be to cover his bail.

January 8, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives – 2006 Spotlight, Part 1: The Rest of the Best

Filed under: Best of 2006,Music,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 1:01 am

No numbers, no ranking, just the best of the best that rock had to offer in 2006. My number one pick can be found among the Blogcritics list (where there’s a good discussion about them) or on my site, but, of course, I can’t live on just my number one alone. Here’s the rest that dominated my ears in 2006:

  • Built To Spill – You In Reverse: After a long break, Doug Martsch stormed back with his band for an unlikely comeback that is stronger than anything else the band has ever released. While it’s not necessarily anything “new” from Built To Spill – if you’re familiar with the band, everything here is going to sound familiar, too – but it’s all done perfectly and with such raw abandon and emotion that this could almost be considered their best performance on record. You would be hard-pressed to find better straight-up, driving guitar rock than “Mess With Time” or “Conventional Wisdom” this year, and if album opener “Goin’ Against Your Mind” doesn’t grab you, well, you’re just dead inside.
  • Calexico – Garden Ruin Sometimes bands make a big change and it just leaves you thinking “Why, why?!” This time out, after a strong, pleasing EP with Iron & Wine, Calexico decided to emphasize the “north of the border” sound and de-emphasize the horns that gave them such a tantalizing Southwestern flavor. In writing, this sounds like a disaster – “the Calexico horns,” as they are often called, are a key part of the appeal – but once the album was given time to find a spot in listeners’ hearts, the more straight-forward pop-song format worked extremely well. Calexico still manages to write dark, dramatic songs with an emphasis on the cinematic and the exotic. The songs are just slightly more accessible this time around.
  • Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood: I found myself initially disappointed with Fox Confessor, and I haven’t quite grasped why. Case has made a fan of me with her Loretta Lynne/Patsy Cline vocals set in modern alt-country surroundings, but this album threw me at first. Perhaps, being swept up in the thrill of finding Case with Blacklisted and The Tigers Have Spoken, it was impossible for her follow-up to surprise me. Fox Confessor ended up being a sleeper for me – I bought it, listened repeatedly, and didn’t find it evoking a deep love that her previous albums had, and it wound up sadly shelved and ignored. But then it slowly started working its magic on me, first by snagging me with the hooks of “Star Witness” and its lilting, soaring melody, and then uncovering genuine perfect pop songs sprinkled all throughout the album – they’re just more subtle than her previous albums would have you prepared for. This was a very strong contender for that number 1 spot by the end of the year.
  • Cheap Trick – Rockford: This was, without a doubt, my main “go to” album of 2006. When I was scrounging for something to listen to and just didn’t know what to turn to, when I needed a lift, when I was in a good mood, when I was in a bad mood, whatever the occasion, this album was it. Rockford delivered every time. Full of exactly what you always hope for in a Cheap Trick outing – incredible hooks, great, catchy songwriting, and Robin Zander’s incredible voice. There isn’t a flaw on the damned thing. I had a hard time not calling this album of the year, actually.
  • The Church – Uninvited Like The Clouds: Like Neko Case’s Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, this was a surprise: an album that didn’t immediately grab me, then worked its way under my skin over a matter of months.

    The Church has managed to maintain an amazingly solid career for a band whose biggest hit, “Under the Milky Way,” was nearly 20 years ago. With a few minor stumbles in the 90s and some drug problems in the past decade, it doesn’t seem like the band should be so vital, but in the past few years, they’ve turned out some of their best albums in well over a decade. Steve Kilbey’s chant-styled vocals may not be for everyone, but if you ever enjoyed the Church, now’s the time to check back in on them.

  • Def Leppard – Yeah!: No one would have expected a Def Leppard album in 2006 to be good enough to be on any list, let alone an album of covers by them, but here it is, 2006 and they’ve done a killer covers album – the best thing they’ve released in nearly 20 years. What makes it work best is that the covers are primarily songs that weren’t hit singles, unlike most covers albums that rely on songs that everyone knows so well that instant comparisons are impossible to live down. Here, it’s possible to just let the obvious fun the band had creating this album overtake you instead of mentally A/Bing theirs with the originals. Serious fun.
  • Bob Dylan – Modern Times: Sure, he’s starting to look like a creepy, cranky old man, but you’ve never heard a creepy, cranky old man turn out music quite like this. Picking up where the infectious and strangely jubilant “Love And Theft” left off, Bob continues to just sounds like he’s having fun, and that’s fun for listeners.
  • Jeremy Enigk – World Awaits: Another little surprise – I didn’t expect that much from Enigk’s second solo album and it wound up pretty much blowing me away. If you’re familiar with Sunny Day Real Estate, you already know what to expect – I’m loathe to apply the term “emo” but SDRE was at the heart of the genre before it become corrupted by what it’s become today, but this is emotional rock, full of heartfelt declarations and grandiose movements. However, there are moments on this album that approach prog-rock excesses and for that I’m appreciative – Enigk clearly allowed his muse to take him where he needed to go and the end result is one of 2006’s most beautiful rock albums. Don’t miss it.
  • Keene Brothers – Blues And Boogie Shoes: The first of two Pollard releases to make it into my “best of the best” list (and that’s of seven Pollard-associated releases in 2006,) the Keen Brothers might just be the best and most successful all around. Named so because of his association with former Guided By Voices band member Tommy Keene (no, they’re not brothers,) this project focuses on extremely catchy hard rock, with Keene turning in some of the best guitar performances you’ll find on any Pollard release, and Pollard cranking out some incredibly catchy tunes. This ranks up there with some of the best GBV releases, believe it or not.
  • Mike Keneally Band – Guitar Therapy Live: The best way to experience Zappa alum Keneally is live and finally he’s put out a the perfect live document – a CD and DVD set (the previously available Half Alive In Hollywood is currently out of print but has never been a favorite of mine, but it it is supposedly being remastered in the coming year for those who are seeking it.) This set also features him at the top of his game with arguably his best band, featuring his best music (although I might argue that Wooden Smoke, an acoustic album, is truly his best album, but that’s another matter.)
  • Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris – All The Roadrunning: A match made in heaven – Knopfler’s throaty rumble and Harris’ angelic lilt seem too perfect and, in places, the album comes across a bit glib in nature, but when it works it’s absolutely wonderful.
  • Ray Lamontagne – Until The Sun Turns Black: I admit it. For whatever reason, I find myself drawn to Van Morrison-esque singers, yet I don’t particularly enjoy Van The Man himself. Add Lamontagne to that list. There’s something hypnotic about the darkness that surrounds this album, and it’s not just the black album cover – the music is dramatically draped in low strings that compliment Lamontagne’s husky, smokey voice. Modern, yet timeless, Until The Sun Turns Black feels like the kind of album that will never get old.
  • John Mayer – Continuum: And here’s the other big surprise of the year. Not only am I surprised that I even bought a Mayer album, I’m shocked that it rocketed up so quickly to the top of my most-played list. Aside from a few sore-thumb songs, the album is a mature artistic statement of love lost and found, hope and yearning, and growing up, and contains some of the tastiest guitar in any pop album I’ve heard all year. Completely unlikely and almost completely satisfying.
  • Mission Of Burma – The Obliterati: No one could have predicted that this post-punk band, formerly a one-album wonder in the 80s, would return in 2002 and turn out two albums that blow away their groundbreaking debut. Nor could anyone have said that they’d manage to one-up themselves with each of those three albums. But they did – The Obliterati is by far the band’s most mature and most intense piece of work.
  • My Brightest Diamond – Bring Me The Workhorse: One of two huge surprises for me this year, a complete unknown turning in an album that absolutely enslaved me. Vocalist Shara Worden is gifted with one of those voices that doesn’t seem possible in indie rock – deep, rich, and operatic. Every review will point out that she’s actually a trained opera singer, but you can ignore that – she doesn’t sing opera, but it’s obvious she has the ability to blow away just about every pop diva dominating the top 40. She just chooses not to. What she does do is enchant listeners with a mix of dark modern dream pop with the sensibilities of a Nina Simone or a Billie Holiday, much as Portishead’s Beth Gibbons does with a slightly less capable voice. There’s no telling how she will fare with fickle audiences, but one thing is for sure, if Bring Me The Workhorse is merely a debut album, this is a stunning beginning to a career for music aficionados.
  • Tom Petty – Highway Companion: There’s nothing even remotely “new” sounding about Highway Companion, but it doesn’t matter at all. Some artists you just want more. Petty wisely picks up where Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open left off, providing another album of lush ballads and driving rock.
  • Robert Pollard – From A Compound Eye: Pollard’s “first” solo outing (that is, first after leaving Guided By Voices at the end of 2004) finds him diving headlong into a full-length prog-rock epic. It’s a big, difficult, often ridiculously convoluted smorgasbord of just about everything Pollard can do – which is why I’m apprehensive to recommend it to everyone because unless you know what you’re getting into, this might be way more than what the casual listener can handle (I’d direct them to the Keene Brothers release, frankly.) But patient, adventurous listeners will be rewarded with an epic that reveals its reward little by little – for every difficult twist, there’s a deliciously Who-esque turn around the next corner.
  • Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped: In what seems like a bit of a trend in 2006, bands returned with albums that may not have done anything “new” and yet somehow managed to absolutely kick ass, sometimes all over their previous releases to the point of almost rendering them unnecessary. They’re no longer “youth” in anyway, but that’s the case with Rather Ripped. Sonic Youth, already on a high after Sonic Nurse, stepped it up a notch and turned out one of their best performances while managing to actually sound mature. What’s more, the subject matter often gives grown adults something meaty to chew on. Jim O’Rourke may have jumped ship in between albums, but they gained back that hunger that makes young bands sound so fresh and exciting.
  • TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain I have been saying for some time now that if you want to hear where rock can go, listen to this band. Opening track, “I Was A Lover,” alone demonstrates the avenues that rock has yet to fully explore with its stuttering drum machines, sampled guitars and horns, and Bowie-esque vocals. This is the sound of the future.

Coming soon: the best of the rest. They didn’t quite make the cut, but they’re still good albums and they deserve some extra attention. And you don’t want to miss my picks of jazz and metal, either.

January 7, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: The Best of 2006

Filed under: Best of 2006,Music,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 3:28 pm

This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to spotlighting the best releases of 2006. Rather than a simple list, I’ve decided that it would be more fair to pick out those releases that will continue to provide enjoyment for years to come – because putting numbers next to names really doesn’t mean anything when it comes to enjoyment. These are the things that, when it comes down to it, just depended on mood as to which I prefer rather than what was truly better than what. However, one in particular stood out above the rest, and today is dedicated to solely to that release:

  1. Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards: Somehow, 30+ years on, Tom Waits has done the unthinkable – he’s managed to turn out a set of essentially lost songs that winds up being one of his most stunning and beautiful pieces of work. The amazing thing about Orphans isn’t just that it’s beautiful – it’s consistently great, which stands as a testament to not only Waits’ quality as a musician and writer but to his choices as sidemen.

    What makes Orphans best-of-the-year is that not only is it one of the most exciting releases of the year, it’s one of Waits’ best releases, period, a feat not too common among box sets, and especially not of rarities sets. Sourced from disparate places and covering a considerable amount of Waits’ career, each disc can stand on its own but the set taken as a whole flows like a big, beautiful epic.

    Like the best of Waits’ music, Orphans presents an oddly beautiful look at a ramshackle world filled with compelling characters often of the most disturbing sort. They beg the listener back to revisit them again and again because the stories and the music continually reveal new details. Orphans is something truly special.

Check back in coming days for further installments!

A semester of the Little Gym

Filed under: General — Tom @ 2:26 pm

One of the odd things I’ve noticed about going the Little Gym is that, while we go there every week, we don’t know anyone in the class. And neither does anyone else. It must be a strange fact of raising a child this age that your world is pretty centered entirely around her and everything else around her is just a blur because I have seen few others with children this age reaching out to anyone else. My thought was, before we began attending these classes every week, that it would be the kind of place where the kids would go do their thing and the parents would have a bit of a breather, but it’s the exact opposite: the parents seem to spend most of their time trying to get the kids to do whatever tasks are on the menu of the day, and the kids just want to play. There’s no time for interaction of any type.

That said, having gone there for something like 18 weeks or so, we’ve noticed a couple of interesting “characters” in class. The kids, for the most part, are all good – kids this age really are all good. It’s the parents who are the odd, weird, sometimes disturbing ones. I’ll leave out names to protect the possibly innocent.

The first couple is a completely mismatched pair. You know how most couples just seem to somehow look right together? Not these two. He is late 30s, early 40s, a big, burly, Italian-lookin’ type – giant stomach, balding, dark-skinned, intimidating. She is early 30s, sandy blonde, fragile, the kind of woman that looks like she really likes candle stores. And I see absolutely no interaction between the two – you’d never guess the two were married, let alone neighbors. And yet she’s pregnant, seemingly eternally pregnant because it feels like she’s been about 7 months pregnant since we started attending these classes back in September. I maintain that their daughter is closer to 3 years old than the maximum age for this class, which is 19 months or so (and I realize that quite a few kids in this class are older than this and are probably waiting until this semester is over to move to the next one.) She’s a cute kid, to be sure, but she is obviously older – not only does she look much, much older, but I frequently hear her parents ask her what color something is and she’ll yell out, loud and clear, “Blue!” “Yellow!” “Green!” I’ve heard little out of a kid at the ages of most of these kids that amounts to more than “buba-buba” when the teacher brings out the bubbles at the end. I’m telling you – 3 years old, and these parents are those types that like to keep their kid behind because it makes her look so superior. But that’s not all, no, it’s not enough that she’s obviously way older, but when they encounter another child in class, the father will always say to his daughter, “Watch out for the baby” and “baby” always comes out in a condescending tone. Always. It was one of the first things we noticed about this family. And the glares. The wife always stares with some kind of nasty judgmental gleam in her eye. I don’t know what she’s thinking or why, but, hey, I’m not the one with the way-too-old kid in the baby’s class.

And then there’s the father who seems to be obsessed with Mardi Gras. His daughter is a jovial, gangly little girl who looks like she’s going to be about 6′ 10″ when she grows up. For whatever reason, he calls her “Sister,” and does so so often that I don’t even know what her real name is. Given the chance, she pulls up her shirt neck-high to anyone who happens to be nearby. This happens every class, and every single time this happens, he says something along the lines of, “This isn’t Mardi Gras, Sister, put your shirt down!” It sends shivers up my spine. Creepy.

And then there’s the mother who dresses her little girl in what appears to be period clothing. I’m not sure if, when she comes to class, she travels through a time tunnel, but it seems as if the two of them are coming out of about 1910 or so, or perhaps they live in some unknown Amish territory on the outskirts of town. Strangely, mom, who appears to be single, often arrived in attire completely inappropriate for any kind of physical activity – short dresses with low-cut tops were frequent when the weather was warmer – but I got a real kick when they came to class with a man in tow who I can only assume was either the daughter’s father or mom’s boyfriend, and mom’s clothing was drastically different that day. Most of the time, mom spends class showing moves to her daughter on the various child-sized pieces of gym equipment and then looking around to see if anyone noticed. Yesterday she brought a weird friend/relative to class who decided to take the “gym” in Little Gym seriously and practiced yoga and other workout moves, such as rolling around on one of the little balls the kids play with (and I mean little – a 12″ ball.) We’re kind of hoping she doesn’t show up the next time.

There’s always an assortment of parents with cameras who spend more time behind the camera than watching out for anyone else, sometimes even getting in the way of other kids. Cameras, surprisingly, are actually allowed in class, and if you could see how these people acted with them, you’d be surprised too because it gets kind of dangerous when a parent would rather get a shot dialed out right than move to keep your kid from getting hurt. And that’s the amazing thing I see time and time again – a stunning lack of care for other people. Children are amazingly resilient but that doesn’t mean that we can and should allow them to go stumbling over each other and us. Accidents happen, but accidents due to being stupid are inexcusable. Just like drivers blindly changing lanes, backing up without looking, or just generally disobeying common traffic laws, people need to look around and pay attention. What gets tiring week after week is just watching people stumble over the children we’re supposedly in class for their betterment. It’s not the kids who need the most attention. It’s the parents that could use the most training.

Ode to past joy

Filed under: General — Tom @ 12:05 am

You know, I used to get to write really good things in “event” cards at work (save for bereavement or other “sad” cards, because even I’m not that low,) but apparently my humor is just not appreciated anymore. It seems like the cards come to me last so I don’t get a chance to go off on one of my tangential, sometimes meaningless rants – because by the time they come around to me, there’s very little room left to say anything more than two or three words. Granted, I guess maybe it’s slightly rude to do something weird, but come on – how meaningful is “Happy birthday” 40 times over on every single card? I took extra time out of my day to say something specific and unique and special. Who knows, someday those weird little inscriptions I left could be worth lots of money. Maybe.

January 6, 2007

Erik Friedlander scores extra points today

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 2:56 am

Years ago, when BET Jazz was actually a jazz channel and not just “J” as it’s called now, I ran across this fascinating live performance featuring a very odd quartet – a bassist, a sax player, a percussionist, and a cellist, of all things. This was unusual music – jazz, but worldly, fiery and dangerous but also dark and sultry. I was hooked instantly. But what was it? As is often the case on BET Jazz, it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re watching unless you tune in at the very beginning of the show. Luckily, at the end, the credits revealed enough for me to decipher that this was cellist-extraordinaire Erik Friedlander and the group, I would find out later, was his band Topaz.

At the time, I didn’t find much about the guy available, so I grabbed what I could – a copy of Topaz happened to be at Zia one day and that’s about all I found for years until Prowl came out in 2006. Unfortunately, the Topaz disc was not the audio equivalent of what I’d watched on BET Jazz – and I wanted whatever that was really bad.

For whatever reason, I never really investigated further – and that’s unusual for me. I’ve enjoyed Prowl and Topaz a lot, but for some reason never checked out Friedlander’s site like I usually do for most artists I get into, nor did I go seeking out every other recording. For whatever reason, these two just happened to be enough for the time being. However, something buzzed in my brain the other day and I happened upon his website for the first time where I noticed something called Skin there – a live CD that was, unfortunately, out of print, but the blurb urged readers to check out the DVD. The proverbial lightbulb went on and I checked out a trailer that was so helpfully linked there and, once it loaded, I knew instantly that I was finally seeing what I’d been seeking for years. As it turns out, BET Jazz had simply been airing an edited-for-time version of Skin and it had been available all along at Erik’s website. What’s better, it’s been available there for $9! I quickly ordered a copy.

Not three days later I received a lovely manila-colored puffy package in the mail, much bigger than I expected bearing Erik Friedlander’s name in the return-mail address. I tore it open and found not only the DVD but also a free shirt and a hand-written card from Erik himself. Now I’m not a big autograph guy, but I am a big customer-service and fan-oriented artist guy, and I think this is awesome – he is easily the world’s leading jazz cellist, a dude who frequently hangs out and records with John Zorn, and has recorded on dozens of popular albums that you probably don’t even realize (a short list: Paula Cole, Maxwell, Joe Jackson, Wynton Marsalis, Alanis Morissette, Ricky Martin, and Clay Aiken – and there are dozens upon dozens of lesser known jazz and avant garde elite that could be named off as well.) Unless you’ve been keeping your ears plugged, you’ve likely heard him somewhere and just didn’t know it. And he took some extra time to do this.

I’m genuinely thrilled when an artist takes a moment out of his day to go the extra mile like that – it speaks volumes about how much the music means to him that he actually packs these things himself and, in doing so, doesn’t just shove them in the envelope and send them off. This is someone for whom the music is not only the notes but the connection to the listener, and this listener made a connection deeper than just the music today.

January 5, 2007

I’m already begging you to watch: Knights of Prosperity

Filed under: TV — Tom @ 4:20 am

. . . because it’s probably going to be in trouble pretty quickly. My record of falling in love with great comedies that the masses won’t watch, for whatever damned stupid reason, is practically infallible, so it’s inevitable that ABC’s new Knights of Prosperity is doomed from the start: I love it.

First off, it’s got Donal Logue, who won me over as the endearing loser at the heart of The Tao Of Steve, but whom most know from the series Grounded For Life (can’t say I ever watched it,) and he’s just one of those actors you can’t help but love. Here he plays Eugene, a down on his luck janitor who decides to change the direction of his life after one of his coworkers dies on the job while cleaning toilets with him. When he’s turned down for a loan to start his own business because he has no savings and no education, he hatches a scheme while sulking at home in his tub. Watching a frothy E! channel piece about Mick Jagger’s excessive home located nearby, he decides that Mick can stand to do without some of his money. He recruits a jumbled ensemble of friends to help him with the task which had originally given the show its name: “let’s rob Mick Jagger.”

Thankfully lacking a laugh-track, the show works because it’s cut almost like an indie film, and in places reminded me of Office Space‘s comic timing, and throws in some jumps to little choreographed moments between scenes of the Knights walking in their cheap screenprinted t-shirts. The show is also gifted with subtle comic writing, such as when the group is discussing their name and Rockefeller Butts (Kevin Michael Richardson) suggests “Batman,” his suggestion is shot down with a simple, “Maybe we could try something plural.” The show is peppered with dialogue like this and if you’re not paying attention it slips past quickly – which is why most of the audience will probably tune out before truly giving it a chance.

Unfortunately, the show’s fate is more due to scheduling than just viewers – it’s time slot on Wednesday nights puts it right up against CBS’ hit Criminal Minds (which is why ABC moved Lost to the next time slot.) It can be saved. Stranger things have happened however – perhaps getting the word out early can get some of you to check it out now rather than in a few months when its fate is all but decided or, worse, it’s already been canned. Give it a chance – it’s more than worth it.

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