Monday, May 11, 2009

UK Trip Photographs!

UK Trip Photographs!

You wanted it, and you've got it! More pictures of England and Scotland than you can shake a crumpet at. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Time on Earth

Time on Earth

Moses writes in Psalm 90, “The years of our lives are seventy; or even by reason of strength eighty… they are soon gone, and we fly away.” We live in a time where everything is seemingly immortalized in film or on record. With ever improving and expanding media technology, moments of time are becoming easier to capture and reproduce over and over again.

Whether it was Michael Jordan at the slam dunk contest, the Moon Landing, or the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, the last 100 years or so have been captured on film, and are now readily available at any time for anyone with an internet connection to replay over and over again. The nearly universal fixation that some of these recorded events created amongst American and international audiences has given credit to the notion that their memory is both of extreme importance and lasting significance. Things of small importance often get placed along side or overshadow things of greater significance.

It’s no wonder that since the advent of television, our culture has increasingly embraced and placed a high value on youth and beauty, or, “cool” as one might say. If you want an audience and you need to sell advertising, get the best looking people you can find. I can’t help but think that all of this has made us a bit unwilling to cope with aging and mortality. There seems to be little popular value set on the wisdom of years. Furthermore, there seems to be little recognition of the fact that these things will pass away, and then what will become of them?

This all hits home with me when I look at many of the rock musicians which have meant so much to me. Rock music especially creates this illusion of endless youth. While I tend to prefer older, wiser, more refined artists to young upstarts, I can’t deny that I am often drawn to those older artists as they were in their younger years as much or more than the way they are now.

This weekend I saw U2’s concert film U23D with my wife and some friends. Beforehand there was a preview for a new movie/documentary about The Rolling Stones. No one can deny that age has cought up to the Stones. Yet this fact was made painfully obvious by the footage of a young Mic Jagger from the 60s telling an interviewer he never thought the band would last two years, much less become a popular success.

This prompted me to consider a question I’ve considered before: will the Stones ever die or will they just getting older and older, and when they do die, what effect will it have on the Baby Boomer generation who have embraced their seeming (in some strange way) agelessness? All of this put me in a somber mood for the actual film about U2.

The Stones may have a 20 year head start on U2, but as cool as U2 still looks now, before you know it, their faces will be saggy like Keith Richards’ is. Will they still continue to tour as old men, putting on an act which is more suited to those in their teens or early twenties? More importantly, what would my reaction as a fan be if, say tomorrow, The Edge dies in a car wreck or Adam Clayton is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Sure, maybe Bono lives to be old and grey and turn grunge songs into gospel tunes like Johnny Cash did in his older years. But eventually, Bono’s years are gone and he will soon fly away.

One of my new favorite bands is Crowded House. After not releasing an album since 1993, they released a new album last summer called Time on Earth. As if original drummer Paul Hester’s suicide in 2005 wasn’t enough to remind me of my inevitable end, I couldn’t help but notice that singer Neil Finn’s formerly pristine voice was a step lower and a bit more gravely than it was in 1993. I shook my head and thought to myself, “I hate it when that happens, but I guess everyone gets old eventually."

Another of my favorites, Genesis, have been touring again with Phil Collins for the first time in 15 years as well. For some reason, I had been debating in my mind today whether or not it would be a good idea for them to try to record a new album. There is something about the band that exists in the past - twenty or thirty years in the past - which seems like it could be ruined by a modern recording experiment.

As I watched Bono belt out classic U2 songs the other night, I was watching for the moments where his voice just didn’t hold up like it did in the days of Rattle and Hum. Ironically, Bono sang a near perfect rendition of the ode to his deceased father, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, nailing the song’s climactic high notes. However, his voice didn’t fare quite as well on the concert closer With or Without You. I realize it was the end of the show. But the album recording of With or Without You is one of those moments on record that was near perfect. That moment is gone, and one day, Bono’s voice will be also.

This isn’t to demean Bono or U2, or suggest that they should hang it up. The band is still great, and I look forward to what they will produce as they continue to age gracefully. It’s to remind others of the fact that the here and now is passing, in spite of the illusion of immortality that recorded media often presents to us. I also have to remind myself that many of these things I find so important are not that significant. Age is to be valued because with it comes wisdom. And rather than assuming that youth is superior to old age, we should look to those with life experience to guide us.

Moses tells us to look to One who is everlasting, and seek the wisdom that comes only through the knowledge of Him: “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

And I must be wise somehow
Cause my heart’s been broken down
It’s so far to fall
And so hard to climb
Nothing sadder I know
Than the passing of time
You won’t forget me, you won’t forget me...
- Neil Finn

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I'm Sure I'm Behind the Times

I'm Sure I'm Behind the Times


I'm not sure what's going on here. I think I'm exploring the universe. I may just be high. Trippy but cool if you've got a few hours to kill.

And we ain't got no brains and we ain't got no hearts
It's just that wild old wind that tears us all apart
We're the scarecrow people, have we got lots in common with you
And if you don't start living well, you're all gonna wind up scarecrow people too

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Finally Got Something to Say

Finally Got Something to Say

In this article about the Bill Belichick videotaping incident, the following statement is made:

Why is the situation worse than people think? Because the NFL is on the precipice of blowing its status as the country's favorite sport. The whole NFL enterprise is in jeopardy from that single word: cheating. It's the most distasteful word in sports. And now the Patriots have brought the word into the NFL.

The topic of credibility in sports (both professional and collegiate) is receiving a lot of attention these days. Between Barry Bonds' and other baseball players steroid and HGH usage, college boosters paying amateur athletes, basketball referees betting on games, and now the New England Patriots using video to possibly gain an illegal competitive advantage, it seems like now more than ever, the sports world is filled with individuals using dishonest means to succeed.

ESPN has run several articles on their website, and done specials about the topic on TV. Just read any public internet chats on the topic, and you'll see that the general public seems to despise cheaters in sports. It seems, that the concept of players, coaches, etc. breaking rules in sports is viewed by the public as one of the lowest things a person can do.

Now, whether or not there is any more cheating in sports today than there ever has been is debatable. It may not have always been steroids or video cameras, but one would have to be naive to think that cheating hasn't been going on since sports were invented. Or that even some of the "great" players and teams throughout history never cheated or bent the rules to gain a competitive advantage. The leg-whipping 49ers of the 80's is one example that immediately springs to mind.

The question I'm pondering is this: why, in our relativistic society, is cheating seen as such a terrible thing?

Think about it for a moment. America is growing less interested in absolute truth. People do not want a universal law telling them what is wrong and right. We even reinterpret our man-made laws in order to make them fit into our current cultural understanding of things. What is it about a game, who's rules are in one sense completely arbitrary, that makes people so upset when someone cheats?

Obviously, people invest themselves in sports in such a way (whether by fanaticism, gambling, or fantasy sports) , that they feel personally wronged if a player cheats. But the outcry against Barry Bonds, for instance, strikes much deeper than that. Bonds breaking a record doesn't really harm anyone but the record keepers. Why is everyone so morally outraged about supposed cheeting, if we don't really see things as ultimately right or wrong.

One thing I will admit, is that while philosophically a large portion of America is relativistic, practically the large percentage are probably not. Isn't it interesting though, that everyone still uses a moral standard. But the interesting thing about the world of sports, is that when one enters into it, they find several things that Christ intended for his church.

1. They find a concrete set of rules and a code of conduct which govern the sport, and an authority who upholds justice: a touchdown will always be worth 6 points, the home team always gets the last at bat, and it's never legal to tackle a player as he pulls up for a 3-pointer. The Bible gives us an ethic to live by that the unbelieving world does not have.

2. They find a community of fans who are united around a common goal. Some of them even dress up and go to worship together on Sunday afternoon. The church should be a family of believers united in their worship of their common savior.

3. They have a hope of "victory." This is deceptively fleeting and hollow, just ask how many Red Sox fans feel more complete now that their team has won the series in their lifetime. There is always next year (this from a lifelong Cubs fan). While they do not have the promise of victory that the Church has, I can't help but think that in some small way, sports fans believe they will overcome and transcend as their team attains victory.

Sports create a fantasy world of sorts which meets the innate needs of human beings for structure, purpose, balance, fairness, justice, and community. Cheating, ruins the illusion of fairness, justice, rule of law, and honesty which the arbitrary rules of Sports create.

Hey, I may just start updating this blog thing more often!

You can bend my ear
You can talk all day
Just make sure I'm around
When you've finally got something to say
- Toad the Wet Sprocket

Friday, August 03, 2007

For Those Not Previously Aware

For Those Not Previously Aware

This is the token of my pledge to marry The Way-Above-Average Allison!

In case you're wondering, she said, "yes." :-)

She took my hand and said let's go together
You and me against the world
And so we stuck it out through still and stormy weather
And so we tumbled down the years...
- Marillion

Monday, June 04, 2007

Climb Aboard Human Folk!

Climb Aboard Human Folk!

Occasionally people ask me what's going on, and occasionally I tell them. Actually updating my blog has become a whole other occasion, and a quite rare one at that. I am happy to report that my kitchen smells much better than it did the last time I posted. I have managed to happen upon some varied and exciting CDs in the last few weeks, so I thought I'd fill you all in on the wonderful details. Anything else you'd want to know about me can be found on Facebook. :-)

Marillion - Somewhere Else and Radiation

I've decided that if there is one album that you should buy this year, it should be Marillion's new release, Somewhere Else. It's an all around fantastic album that showcases all of the classic Marillion qualities and introduces some new chapters in the ever expanding Marillion catalog of sounds. Since receiving it in April, It's been in my CD player ever since.

Then, last week I aquired Marillions 1998 release Radiation. This album has been maligned for its sub-standard production values. I came in expecting it to be bad, but not this bad. It sounds like an un-mastered garage demo. But after a thorough examination, I've decided the songs on this CD make it as good as any other disc Marillion has written. This will go on my short list of "CDs that I'd pay good money for a quality remix version" along with Rush's Vapor Trails. It's also been described as Radiohead-esque by the kind of critics who don't actually listen to the CDs they review. There are a few parts that sound like Oasis and the Beatles, but I don't hear any Radiohead on here, with the exception of the purposely stripped down sound.

Speaking of Radiohead, Marillion did decide to cover The Tourist on Somewhere Else and rename it The Last Century for Man. Go buy this CD, but skip this hysteria tinged global warming doomsday track, and go straight on to the intriguing closer Faith. "Feel inside the atoms where the science breaks down/ If you don't believe in love, you'd have to make it up." This makes an interesting segue into:

Rush - Snakes & Arrows

Rush returns 5 years after the aforementioned Vapor Trails with this very strong release. Vapor Trails was mastered very badly, and many many people complained. Snakes & Aarows, by contrast is the best sounding Rush album since 1993's Counterparts. Musically, it's kind of a mix between Counterparts (my personal favorite Rush album) and 1989's Presto (an odd but cool Rush record). There is a lot of acoustic guitar here, a very solid groove from our favorite drummer Neil Peart, and the usual excellent bass playing of Geddy Lee. Alex Lifeson, on guitar, is busy being the unimpressive Alex Lifeson we've come to expect over the last decade. But that's OK, I've never listened to Rush because of Lifeson's guitar work.

But one reason I do listen to Rush is because of Peart's lyrics. I have nothing but respect for his gift as a lyricist. I've always been able to take his agnostic materialism with a grain of salt and appreciate his existential humanism. At least he always seems like a nice guy. He really drops the ball on Snakes & Arrows though. He's gone off the Richard Dawkins deep end I think. He goes so far as to equate the Christian right with Islamic Jihadists. Apparently evangelism is just as bad as suicide bombing in Peart's blindly egalitarian worldview. The real offense of Christianity is that it contradicts "my own moral compass" and threatens human progress because, according to Peart, it, "resists all science." Apparently, Peart is dissapointed that vestiges of this backwards thing called religion still inhabit the globe, "It's a far cry from the world we thought we'd inherit," and its, "like we're back in the Dark Ages."

All this to say, I understand Peart's beef with false religion, and especially those "Christians" who really do act as hypocrites. What is very interesting is Peart's statement in the song Faithless, that: "I don't have faith in faith, I don't believe in belief. You can call me faithless... But I believe in love and that's faith enough for me." Much like in the song Ghost of a Chance from Rush's Roll the Bones album ("I believe there's a ghost of a chance we can find a way to love"), Peart takes an existential leap of faith in this concept of "love" that can be a possible good. Certainly, Peart's worldview, with all its bravado about being rational and materialistic, is very much based on faith. So, much like Marillion in Faith, which admits that science breaks down at a point and is insufficient to answer all questions, here Peart is admitting that he has to make up love in order to make his life worth living. It's kind of sad, especially after the events Peart talks about in his book Ghost Rider.

XTC - Apple Venus Vol. 1 & Wasp Star: Apple Venus Vol. 2

I've been wanting to explore XTC's catalog outside of Nonsuch for some time now. My initial impression of these companion albums is that they proved a fear of mine to be true. It seemed like Nonsuch was so borderline saccharine in its near perfection that more of the same would simply be artificial and indulgent. Some of the quirky lyrics and overtly Beach Boys arrangements are worn a bit too thin between these two discs. They could have combined the two volumes and made one outstanding work. Volume 1 is largely orchestral, and exquisitely beautiful in some parts. Volume 2 contains more of the upbeat rock based sound that made Nonsuch so catchy. As it is, we have two discs lacking variety and containing a bit too much filler. Still, I have to say that this band is very creative and refreshing to listen to. It's a sign of a group's skill at writing and arranging when they can pull off an album of mostly orchestral arrangements that doesn't sound trite. So go ahead and climb aboard human folk, I'm really starting to like this little known band.

Hooray for Be-Bop Records and Tapes!

As if this couldn't get much longer, I wanted to close by stating how much I love used CD stores, and how much I regret the trend away from the hard CD format towards MP3 downloads. I picked up a couple of rarity CDs by the Gin Blossoms and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Sure, each only had about 5 songs on them. But it was fun to be able to collect songs I didn't own yet, and have an actual CD to keep in my collection. It would have been much easier to download Till I Hear it From You, a hit Gin Blossoms song that doesn't appear on any of their full length studio recordings. But it was more fun to find it as a B-side to the Follow You Down single, which included two other Gin Blossoms songs I didn't own.

The Toad CD was a live acoustic performance from 1994 at a radio station in Atlanta. I had no idea this existed, and it's very cool to have, especially since the band isn't together anymore. Another trend I sort of dislike is bands that release all of their live shows on CD. Another trend I sort of dislike is bands that release all of their concerts on CD, as Pearl Jam has done for some time now, and apparently Genesis will do on their upcoming tour. It just seems to water down the collection of "official" releases, and make it less interesting to try to collect those rare recordings of a band on some European radio broadcast or TV show.

My golly that was long! If you made it all the way to the end, you get a prize! (My deepest respect and admiration)

Are you joking?

No I'm just fine
You take Nanci
For me Loretta's fine
No, I've changed my mind
I'll take Nanci
For you Loretta's fine
- Toad the Wet Sprocket

Friday, May 11, 2007

That Hideous Stench

That Hideous Stench

For a long, dark week did The Stench reign in terror over it's unwitting subjects. All the land was troubled and forlorn till one arose from his meager quietude to challenge The Stench's power. Armed only with valor, anti-bacterial chemicals, and an apple cinnamon air freshener, our hero set out to face what he knew could be his final end.

Under cover of night, our hero stole quietly into The Stench's lair. At first, he thought he would not be able to stand from the strength of it. It was so pungent and revolting, that even to this day, it's memory still burns in his mind, so much so that he fears he will never be free of it.

Long into the night the battle raged. Both sides traded terrible blows, for The Stench was no willing victim. It's fury was truly awesome to behold. Yet our hero's determination could not be assuaged. With all of his might, the hero leaped upon his enemy and hewed away at his hideous, armored flesh. Caring little for his own life, but only for the death of his foe, our hero reigned blow upon blow down upon The Stench.

Just as our hero felt he would not be able to sustain his fight, The Stench recoiled in great pain and agony. With a mighty howl, The Stench collapsed to its knees. Then suddenly, before our hero's astonished eyes, The Stench disintegrated and was seen no more. On that day did our hero swear to never allow such evil to rise again in power, and did set out on a quest throughout the known land to find and destroy all such stock from which The Stench did arise.

In season, out of season
What's the difference when you don't know the reason
In one hand bread, the other a stone
The hunter enters the forest
All are not huntsmen who blow the huntsman's horn
And from the look of this one
You've not got much to fear...
- Genesis