Best of 2013

Saturday, 21 December 2013


Here are some of my fa­vorite songs that I lis­tened to this year. Click the im­age to down­load a ZIP file or get it here.

David Bowie

Monday, 4 November 2013

I used to play a pi­rat­ed copy of “Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?” on my DTK 386 back in, say, 1994. This was when “pi­rat­ed” meant you just copied the files on­to one of those 3.5″ flop­pies that AOL sent in the mail every two days. Since it was a pi­rat­ed copy, I didn’t have the Fodor’s Travel Guide that you were sup­posed to use to an­swer the fi­nal ques­tion to move on to the next lev­el. It was al­ways “What State is on page {foo} of the trav­el guide? Me be­ing me, I made a list of all 50 States, and slow­ly worked my way through via guess­work un­til I had most of them down.

Now if you re­mem­ber this game, you had to track down crim­i­nals based on con­tex­tu­al clues left be­hind as to who they are, and where they are go­ing. It as­sumes some lev­el of ge­o­graph­i­cal and pop cul­ture knowl­edge. Geography I had down. Proud win­ner of the 8th grade ge­og­ra­phy bee, here. Pop cul­ture… not so much. One of the con­tex­tu­al clues was a David Bowie cas­sette tape. You had to know what kind of mu­sic he made. I nev­er could re­mem­ber. (it was “rock”).

A year or so lat­er and I start get­ting mail from Columbia House and BMG. Notice I didn’t say junk mail, be­cause for me, Columbia House and BMG were pret­ty much my sole method of ob­tain­ing mu­sic that was new to me. I got in­to Led Zeppelin, Stone Temple Pilots, 311, and, on a whim, de­cid­ed to find out who this David Bowie per­son was. You could say I was shel­tered. That would be very tact­ful of you. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars sound­ed like a good start, be­cause I was and am still a huge sci­ence fic­tion nerd. It ar­rived, and, just a bit through the half way point of the open­ing track “Five Years” my mind was blown.

The al­bum it­self was near­ly 25 years old at that point, and there’s lit­tle young me, poleaxed. I couldn’t tell you how many times I lis­tened to it. And every month, when my BMG or Columbia House mail would ar­rive, I’d get more Bowie. This was a good time for it, even though I wasn’t aware, I was get­ting the re­mas­tered Rykodisc ver­sions that were chock full of out­takes with dif­fer­ent lyrics, or rare live per­for­mances. I still have them all: Diamond Dogs, The Man Who Sold the World, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups. Those al­bums all re­ceived mad play time. Low, Lodger, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, and Let’s Dance sig­nif­i­cant­ly less so, though now I have a more ma­ture ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what’s go­ing on in those al­bums.

Earthling came out in 1997. The first al­bum of his that I had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to pur­chase in its nat­ur­al mi­lieu. I have to ad­mit I had ba­si­cal­ly no idea what was go­ing on with that elec­tron­i­ca drum & bass mad­ness. I still don’t. I’m okay with that. It’s a great al­bum for zon­ing out on a road trip. 1997 is, in­ci­den­tal­ly, the year I went to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Minneapolis. I got a chance to do a lit­tle shop­ping at a big city record store. On that trip, I picked up Bowie’s Outside. Certainly his most macabre, grotesque, baroque work. The least ap­pro­pri­ate Bowie al­bum to pick up while in town with a ton of Catholic teenagers. Incidentally, on that trip I al­so learned that Tolkien cal­en­dars ex­ist.

I man­aged to see him in con­cert, on the Area 2 tour with Moby, when he was tour­ing for his al­bum Heathen (in my opin­ion, his best work in these lat­er years). I ea­ger­ly picked up Reality in 2003 when I was work­ing in New York, and I re­mem­ber play­ing it on the Bang & Olufsen sound sys­tem owned by the fam­i­ly I was stay­ing with at the time. The first song im­me­di­ate­ly called up mem­o­ries of the 2001 World Trade Center at­tacks, and the whole al­bum it an amal­gam of songs sift­ed from Bowie’s long ca­reer and new work.

For years I’ve been un­able to de­cide which al­bum I like best be­tween Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs, but I’ve fi­nal­ly de­cid­ed that Diamond Dogs is my fa­vorite al­bum. The 8 – 9 min­utes of Sweet Thing/​Candidate/​Sweet Thing Reprise is my fa­vorite chunk of mu­sic.

The ver­sion from David Live is amaz­ing:

And I re­al­ly like the al­ter­nate lyrics to Candidate (re­leased on the afore­men­tioned re­mas­tered Rykodisc re­lease):

Bowie has been a con­stant in­trigue and chal­lenge to me as I’ve grown old­er, and he’ll con­tin­ue to be as long as he keeps putting out al­bums. I learned about Jean-Michel Basquiat by seek­ing out the movie made about him mere­ly be­cause Bowie played Andy Warhol. I dis­cov­ered the hor­ri­ble sack-swing­ing fas­ci­na­tion of his role in Labyrinth, and de­vel­oped a lit­tle crush on Jennifer Connelly. I be­came a fan of Nicolas Roeg af­ter watch­ing The Man Who Fell to Earth. I’ve be­come a fan of just about every band he’s ever cov­ered.

David Bowie was my gate­way from small town Indiana to the rest of the world. This young dude car­ried the news, so hey, man. Thanks.

Bruckner & Adams with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Once again, I was giv­en the op­por­tu­ni­ty to at­tend a per­for­mance of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra. This time it was at Blossom Music Center, there was a Meet the Musicians pan­el be­fore the per­for­mance, and a chance to meet the fea­tured vi­o­liniset, Leila Josefowicz, dur­ing in­ter­mis­sion. We were al­so plied with wine & hor d’oeuvres at both times; so, you know, bonus. The per­for­mance fea­tured pieces from John Adams and Anton Bruckner.

In my pre­vi­ous post, I com­plained a bit about the lack of rea­son­ably priced tick­et op­por­tu­ni­ties to see the Orchestra and a lack of young folks. In the run up to at­tend­ing this per­for­mance, how­ev­er, I learned that see­ing the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom is a fam­i­ly tra­di­tion for fam­i­lies all over the Northeast Ohio area; that’s a se­ri­ous perk of liv­ing near Cleveland. Growing up in the mid­dle of nowhere Indiana, there was nev­er an op­por­tu­ni­ty to see some­thing as spe­cial as the Cleveland Orchestra. It’s def­i­nite­ly some­thing I’ll be tak­ing my son to in the fu­ture. The acoustics at Blossom are ad­mirably suit­ed to lis­ten­ing to the Orchestra, from any van­tage. At Severance Hall you sit in­side the mu­sic, at Blossom it wash­es over you.

I re­al­ly en­joyed the Meet the Musicians pan­el; hear­ing from Frank Cohen (clar­inet), Amy Lee (vi­o­lin), Stephen Rose (vi­o­lin) and Paul Yancich (tim­pani). Frank in par­tic­u­lar was charm­ing and had some great sto­ries to re­late about grow­ing up at­tend­ing or­ches­tral per­for­mances. All of the mu­si­cians spoke a bit about up­com­ing per­for­mances and their thoughts on the pieces and be­ing part of the or­ches­tra in gen­er­al. When it was time for ques­tions I asked if any of the mu­si­cians could ex­pand on their for­ays in­to play­ing in non-tra­di­tion­al spaces, like the Happy Dog or in Ann Arbor, MI. Amy Lee has been ac­tive in that area and men­tioned that some or­ches­tra mem­bers have been try­ing to find a place to play on their night off dur­ing their up­com­ing trip to New York City, but were hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ty find­ing a venue that would be cool with it. That’s re­al­ly stu­pid of you, New York.

Our box seats were top notch (of course), and the chance to kib­itz as the more mu­si­cal­ly knowl­edge­able asked Leila Josefowicz ques­tions dur­ing the in­ter­mis­sion was an added bonus to what had al­ready been a won­der­ful evening. Post-in­ter­mis­sion was spent on the lawn with dozens and dozens of fam­i­lies and the sounds of Anton Bruckner’s 9th Symphony. It was a per­fect evening for clas­si­cal mu­sic. Many thanks to the Cleveland Orchestra for the in­vi­ta­tion.

An Evening with the Cleveland Orchestra

Friday, 21 January 2011

On Thursday evening I had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to see the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra per­form two works by Béla Bartók and a cou­ple of bonus works by Japanese com­posers. The tick­ets were free on the con­di­tion that I write about my ex­pe­ri­ence. It was Blogger’s Night. I had a great time the last time I had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to do some­thing like this, with Opera Cleveland & their pro­duc­tion of Falstaff, so I was anx­ious to get my first glimpse of Severance Hall & the Cleveland Orchestra in my 7 years liv­ing in Cleveland.

Concert Preview

I didn’t do a lot of home­work on any of this be­fore go­ing, but I did see that there was a con­cert pre­view about 20 min­utes be­fore the con­cert pre­view start­ed. My friend & I, brav­ing the ridicu­lous weath­er, ar­rived just af­ter the be­gin­ning, but I learned enough from the lec­tur­er that I felt that I had some­thing to hold on to and look for while lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic. I’m not a clas­si­cal mu­sic afi­ciona­do by any stretch, so I’m hop­ing to use that ig­no­rance as a strength in writ­ing this. I felt that the con­cert pre­view was im­per­a­tive for some­one, like my­self, who is un­fa­mil­iar with the mu­sic but wants to learn more about it. The pre­view was held in the Reinberger Chamber Hall at Severance Hall, a beau­ti­ful room filled with amaz­ing wood­work.

The Performance

The ac­tu­al per­for­mance be­gan short­ly af­ter the pre­view end­ed. Our tick­ets were high up in the bal­cony, but when you’re lis­ten­ing to an or­ches­tral per­for­mance, I don’t think where you sit is that im­por­tant. What is im­por­tant is that you’re ac­tu­al­ly in the venue when the per­for­mance starts. I had ducked out for a mo­ment to get a quick drink and in the in­ter­im missed the be­gin­ning. Then I found out that you’re not al­lowed back in once the mu­sic has start­ed. Thankfully a help­ful ush­er led me to a very high door and snuck me in so I could see a great ma­jor­i­ty of Toshio Hosokawa’s Woven Dreams. Watching the or­ches­tra was like look­ing at a slide un­der a mi­cro­scope, lots of or­gan­ic move­ment in con­cert.

The next piece, Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2, was (nat­u­ral­ly) less dy­nam­ic to watch, in­stead the great acoustics of Severance Hall made it seem as if the mu­sic was welling out of the very air. This piece was my least fa­vorite of the evening, al­though I don’t have any re­al rea­sons why that’s the case.

I re­al­ly en­joyed the sec­ond half of the pro­gram. Toru Takemitsu’s Garden Rain was well named, each in­stru­ment in the heav­i­ly-mut­ed brass en­sem­ble were rain­drops in the show­er. The evening fin­ished with Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, which I was look­ing for­ward to for its Hungarian folk mu­sic in­flu­ences. I was not dis­ap­point­ed. I know that Cleveland has a strong Hungarian im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion (I’d nev­er heard of pa­prikash be­fore I moved here), and it was kind of neat to know that the per­for­mance I heard was al­most 75 years to the day that it was first per­formed.

A Suggestion

I think there were a cou­ple hun­dred emp­ty seats in Severance Hall for this per­for­mance, and that’s a shame, be­cause every con­cert that the or­ches­tra puts on de­serves to be de­liv­ered to a packed house. I al­so no­ticed that the age of the crowd tend­ed to­ward the far side of mid­dle aged. I think it would be great if Severance Hall al­tered their tick­et prices a bit to at­tract a younger crowd. The cheap­est reg­u­lar ad­mis­sion tick­ets are $31, which is cov­er to a rock show and a night of beers for a lot of my friends. Extending the stu­dent dis­count to any­one un­der 30 would be a great way to get a younger crowd (many of which I know would like to ex­pe­ri­ence or­ches­tral per­for­mances and learn more about art mu­sic (a term which I find very trou­ble­some)) to fill the emp­ty seats and build a younger base of con­cert-go­ers for the fu­ture. I cer­tain­ly know I would have gone to see the or­ches­tra a few times in my 20s if I knew I could have picked up a tick­et for $10 when­ev­er a per­for­mance was up­com­ing.


I had a great time, en­joyed lis­ten­ing to and learn­ing about the mu­sic, ogling the beau­ty of Severance Hall and see­ing a side of Cleveland that was well-renowned but un­known to me.

The Witness of These

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

You do not con­sist of any of the el­e­ments — earth, wa­ter, fire, air, or even ether. To be lib­er­at­ed, know your­self as con­sist­ing of con­scious­ness, the wit­ness of these. If on­ly you will re­main rest­ing in con­scious­ness, see­ing your­self as dis­tinct from the body, then even now you will be­come hap­py, peace­ful and free from bonds. You do not be­long to the brah­min or any oth­er caste, you are not at any stage, nor are you any­thing that the eye can see. You are un­at­tached and form­less, the wit­ness of every­thing — so be hap­py.

Astavakra Gita as trans­lat­ed by John Richards

Great thanks go to Robert Millis & his doc­u­men­tary The World is Unreal like a Snake in a Rope, a trail­er of which you can see be­low.

Much re­spect al­so to Matt Wascovich & Scarcity of Tanks for be­ing the draw. Their newest al­bum, Bleed Now, is fun­da­men­tal­ly awe­some.