Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bettye Lavette - Talking Old Soldiers

Claire recently scored a load of second-hand CDs through her thrift store job that were all much better than the usual thrift store fare. It`s a bit sad, actually, because someone unloading such a good collection probably means a death in the family.

One of the great CDs was Bettye Lavette`s `Scene of the Crime`. Ms Lavette has quite a history. She started singing at age 16 with the hit `My man, he`s a loving man`. She soon recorded the soul classic `Let me down easy`and recorded for a number of Detroit labels before signing with Atlantic-Atco.

Atlantic recorded the album Child of the Seventies in 1972 and made the completely inexplicable decision to not release it. She kept singing for years.

In 2000, a French soul aficionado finally released Child of the Seventies as Souvenirs, which began her comeback. Things really got rolling with her 2005 album I`ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, which was hugely popular with critics and fans.

You might have seen her at the Obama inauguration, dueting with Jon Bon Jovi.

Here she is doing a cover of the Elton John song `Talking Old Soldiers` that is bang on. Enjoy.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Émilie Simon

I have a confession to make. I'm 35 years old and have been a purchaser of music for about the last 23 of those years. Until last week I had never purchased an album by a female artist. I'm not exactly sure why that is. I have purchases some individual songs, but no woman artist has impressed me to the point where I felt I needed the whole album.

This changed when I bought Émilie Simon's The Flower Book. I've been at least dimly aware of her existence since 2006 when Holly gave me a copy of the Thievery Corporation album Versions. The song on the album which stuck most vehemently in my craw was Émilie Simon's Desert. It's highly agreeable trip hop, but the most distinguishing feature is her voice. If you were to draw a triangle and label the vertices "Ice cream sundae," "blow job," and "Raphael's The School of Athens," Émilie Simon's voice would be near the barycenter.
I know what you're thinking: "Greg, you're just a sucker for hot french chicks." To which I can only fairly respond touché. In point of fact, it has pissed me off to no end that people have had music careers because of their looks or what they'll do in a producer's office and not their actual musical acumen. That is not the situation here. This album is catchy, musically interesting, and at times highly emotive. Instead of degenerating further into embarrassingly incoherent yummy noises, I'll let the music speak for itself.
FlowersDesertFleur de SaisonDame de LotusDreamland


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My Life as a Pepsi Addict

My name is Rufus and I am a recovering Pepsi addict. I was powerless before carbonated and caffeinated sodas, often blowing through five or six dollars a day on Dr Peppers, Mountain Dew variants, or my drug of choice, Pepsi Cola. Like a nerdy computer programmer, I was seldom seen without a soda of some sort, or as they call it here in Ontario, “pop”. When I went to France for six months, the closest convenience store went out of business, two events I’m convinced were related.

It all stems from my childhood. My mother drinks an incredible amount of Diet Coke each day, which is a step up from when we were kids and we always had Coke Classic in the house. I guess my switch to Pepsi was teenage rebellion, but I’ve probably had three “pops” a day, at least, since I was sixteen. I also remember regional variations, like “Teem”, and Claire will attest that I still mourn the loss of Surge.

I’ve heard for years about how sodas aren’t good for you; each one has four teaspoons of sugar, or more often these days, copious amounts of corn syrup. They give you cavities and make you fat and impotent. I used to find this very irritating. After all, I did give up cigarettes, binge drinking, and most drugs. What’s the problem with pop?

But, I’ll admit that living in a town with a great number of older diabetics (Hamilton has a diabetes center), has had an impact. I’ve been “scared straight”! Also one reaches a point when approaching middle age in which you either change your bad habits or live with them forever. I was more determined to change a habit than improve my health, frankly.

Compared to quitting smoking, quitting pop was a tremendous ordeal. I don’t believe that “cold turkey” works, and so I’ve really just weaned myself down to a single weekly Pepsi. Believe it or not, just the first day was miserable. Making it through 24 hours without a Pepsi, something I’d not done for about 20 years, was agony; my head pounded, my heart raced, and I pretty much felt like I was trapped in a closed elevator. After I did that, however, it was easier to add a second day, and a third, etc.

My timing might be good. Last time I was in upstate New York, everyone was up in arms because the state wants to add a “sugary drink tax” to sodas. The voters are outraged. Of course, the state has a longstanding budgetary shortfall that everyone complains about too; while the voters rise up in outrage every time the state tries to raise taxes or cut any entitlements whatsoever. Last time I was there, people were protesting an idea to cut trash pickups to every other week. I guess my point is that American voters are crybabies.

But, as for pop, I’m on the wagon. Or, at least, I’ve become a “social drinker” instead of a “problem drinker”. I don’t know when someone’s going to give me a plastic chip, but it’s good to know that an aging dog can unlearn an old trick. Now, I just have to cut down my Internet usage to a reasonable amount.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen...

Sorry for the absence. I've been quite busy establishing the League of Ordinary Gentlemen branch office. Here are some highlights:

Some of this stuff is repetitive of posts here, although I think all of them are rewritten and changed in some way. Over at the House of Horror, I reviewed Slime City Massacre, the movie we were extras on.

Oh, and there's still the matter of the dissertation. So, there's been no rest for the wicked.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Alexander McQueen (1969-2010)

It's very sad to be noting this, but Alexander McQueen, who I've been raving about here for a little while, and following for the last several years, has apparently committed suicide. It's hard to explain why he was such an impressive designer. Fashion is a business that maintains an aura of innovation, while spiraling through about four or five basic trends over and over. So when a genuine visionary comes around, it's like firing a flare into a foggy sky. Sure, many of his clothes would be unwearable in the ordinary world; but then you might not want Dali to design your house either. There's still something exciting about a designer with a key to the dreamworld. It's too bad he's passed out of this less exciting realm.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

Thinking like an Academic (and not)

So far, I've been enjoying my trial period at League of Ordinary Gentlemen. And I think it's been going okay. It's hard to tell: they might be getting dozens of "cancel my subscription!" emails that I don't know about. I do have to say that I am enjoying blogging about "academic" topics without having to think like an academic. It's a bit like making a jailbreak from my day job.

Now, when I say "thinking like an academic", I don't mean a matter of being more intelligent than the average bear. In fact, I have not found that academics I know are significantly more intelligent than civilians. In some areas, of course, they're actually a bit less savvy. But, there is a sort of professionalization of thought that goes on when you're in academia. You learn to get your footnotes in order, so to speak. I don't know that your actual cognition improves; but you develop a certain amount of expertise on a particular subject and know when you are sufficiently informed to speak on that topic in a scholarly way, and when you should keep quiet.

Therefore, in "real life", there are really only about four or five topics that I would feel comfortable speaking about in a lecture hall or at a conference. When my area of research pulls me into a new direction (always happening!), I have to head to the library and nail down the 'textbook answer' about that new topic. If I had to, say, discuss Madame Bovary in an academic context, I'd really feel like I was obliged to first hit the stacks and learn about Flaubert, French literature, and what has been said and thought about the novel, before I wrote or spoke about it. I would probably feel guilty if I just read the novel and held forth on it based on my own responses. And I think that guilty conscience is what I mean when I talk about "professionalization". Academics tend to keep their intellect zipped up, if you know what I mean!

What's good about blogging on the Iliad or Plato is that I am a complete and utter novice; a pisher! A poseur! A beginner. I have to think about these books in a non-academic way, just in order to get anything done! My life would be a shambles if I was trying to learn ancient Greek right now, and I think I might be looking at the books in a different way. For me, reading the "great books" is like learning about a foreign culture through immersion. It's like being plunked down in the middle of a Moscow supermarket and having to get something done. The fun of it is taking stabs in the dark and getting to hear what other people have to say. On occasion, I've heard from actual scholars, although not as much as I'd like.

It's problematic, this academic habit of making people study everything for years before they can write on it, while teaching undergrads a little bit of everything. On one hand, this system has produced some of the best scholars in the world. But, there's a tendency for academic writing to be so narrow and specialized that you have to go through six years of grad school to read it! This causes there to be a gap between "popular" books and "academic" books, and it's hard to tell if that gap isn't really a matter of snobbery and university press protectionism. The end result, however, is that less and less civilians want to commit themselves to the humanities, which are really accessible to all people, but which we like to pretend require some specialized "higher" knowledge. The humanities seem arcane and obscure to people, when they actually take human beings as their subject matter.

I don't mean to bash academics once again- what I'm trying to suggest is that it's not a matter of snobbery or protecting a monopoly, as much as a matter of ingrained, professionalized insecurity. None of us wants to be called out for being ill-informed on a topic. But this makes it hard to achieve the sort of interdisciplinarity that everyone in the humanities talks about wanting; and it also makes it hard to relate to young people who often want to talk about academic subjects without first getting their papers in order!

If we're going to think freely, I think we need to spend more time thinking without first getting the proper scholarly clearance. The Internet seems as good a place to start as any.

(Note: Reworked notes on The Iliad here. Notes on Bach's cantata 82 coming soon, in spite of music being one of those areas in which I am a complete pisher.)


Milk in bags, eh?

This video is currently going around the Internets and it perfectly captures the exotic and offbeat customs of Canadians- we can get milk in bags here. That's pretty much the extent of Canadian exoticism, if you exclude poutine. I do remember staring in wonder at the milk bags when I first moved here, or at least giggling. For the record, Claire and I usually buy cartons of milk. So, we're barely Canadian.


French for Today

I haven't done these for a while because it's been a while since I learned a new one that I liked. However...

Biner (tr verb)
1. To hoe, to cultivate, to work over the soil.
2. To say two masses in the same day.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Over there...

Consider this fellow I drew to be pointing in the direction of League of Ordinary Gentlemen, where I posted a rewritten and expanded version of my post on Aeschylus's "Suppliant Maidens". See what you think of it!


You know... for kids.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Movie Notes: Crazy Heart (2010)

I had never heard of this film when Claire suggested that go see it with our friends. Apparently, the film has sent "Oscar buzz" buzzing around Jeff Bridges, for his lead performance as an alcoholic, somewhat washed-up country singer. Indeed, he gives a remarkable performance in the film. I actually had to remind myself after the film that Jeff Bridges can usually enunciate quite well- I'd so accepted his slurred speech as normal. He's also quite believable as a singer. The songs, by T-Bone Burnett, are exemplary country in the 70s "outlaw" style.

It's hard to make a movie about an alcoholic; either he's dead or wrecked at the end, or he cleans himself up. Barfly is an exception in that not much changes for our drunken hero. This movie works because the hero pulls out of the downward spiral in an unexpected way. I also liked that the characters clash throughout the film, but none of them is really a bad guy. Maggie Gyllenhaall is especially good: as usual, she makes the world seem a bit brighter every time she's on screen. Robert Duvall is good as ever; he was also a producer on the film, which is based on a novel by Thomas Cobb.

I am always glad to see movies about human beings interacting with one another, as opposed to fighting zombies or blue alien cat people. If I have one gripe it's that the independent movie about a sullen loser facing his failings is becoming as much of a cliche as the vapid CGI blockbuster. I'm not sure how long Hollywood can survive making only huge "tent pole films" and small-budget portraits of dysfunctional people. Shouldn't there be something in the middle? What about something like Serpico? Do they make those movies any more?


Image of Hamilton

For some reason, I found this decommissioned school building fascinating. You can't quite tell from this picture, but someone still mows that lawn, although the rest is falling apart. Why?


Monday, February 01, 2010

Today a blog, tomorrow the world!

Heads up: I have introduced the canon-blogging project at Ordinary Gentlemen: "Allow Me to Introduce Myself..." Feel free to head over and make comments, even if they're of the 'cancel my subscription!' variety.