Monday, December 31, 2007

Exit, Stage Left: Obligatory Year-End List of Famous Artists Who Died in 2007

From the Chicago Sun-Times. This time of year we are inundated with various lists and all kinds of retrospectives. But it does interest me, nevertheless, to review and consider some of the names of some of those who have left the planet in the last year.


Some of the people on this list I have never heard of. Some I've heard of and don't especially appreciate, although I'm certain others do. Some I know of only marginally, and others I knew quite well through their work. Some I appreciated in passing, or for a season, and there are some whose artistic efforts made a significant impression on me, even informing my own artwork or understanding of life.

But, no matter who you are or what you've done, when it's your time to go, you go.

The beatings will continue until morale improves...

From a Washington Post article:

"...the industry (RIAA) maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer."

The Recording Industry Association of America continues to persecute and prosecute. While their efforts to fight international piracy are worthwhile and to be applauded, their domestic strategy of attacking consumers with outrageous lawsuits couldn't be more misguided. With CD sales tanking and the economy of the music industry at an all-time low, they continue to rearrange the deck chairs and throw the passengers overboard. This will only drive listeners away from high-quality music formats. It is bad for music, bad for artists, bad for listeners, and bad for business.

This RIAA faq page for "students doing reports" does have some interesting things to say and represents their viewpoint on all of this. Some of it is good, some of it is bad.

This is the same organization that tried to squash the home-based recording studio movement that was born back in the 1980's. They wanted to make it illegal for individual artists to produce music for profit from a project studio in a residential setting and they brought lawsuits on several home studio owners. Happily, with very limited success.

The RIAA is not really in the business of promoting art, though, in spite of their altruistic statements. Their real functon is to protect the monopolistic business interests of what remains of the dinosaur that used to be the American record industry.

We need a new paradigm. And it's coming.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gun control is hitting what you are aiming at.

Titular prepositional termination misplacements notwithstanding, this is still quite funny to me.

"At one point, Huckabee’s party turned toward a cluster of reporters and cameramen and, when they kicked up a pheasant, fired shotgun blasts over the group’s heads. "

Yeah, his aim is a little high. Then the article goes on to whine a bit about gun safety. Jibber-jabber.

Fred probably wouldn't have missed. Which reminds me of this hilarious video about Fred Thompson. Go check it out.

Pic at left from one of my favorite sites, "How Stuff Works" and their wonderful description of shotgun technology. A smart, fun, and useful website.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Monovision: Eye can see my brain.

The reason I am more frequently compelled to dramatically stare off into the middle distance is that, as a sufferer of progressive physical decrepitude, my view of both the distant, blue horizon as well as the teeming microcosm just inches from my nose has become increasingly blurry over the last couple of years.

This is, of course, due to the ravages of time and that fact that we live in a fallen world ruled more by entropy than by justice. Like most manly men, I scoff at my own geezerly weaknesses, squint, set my jaw, and just lean into the wind.

All of that to say this. Yesterday my optometrist said that I am becoming increasingly presbyopic, whereupon I snorted in denial and told him that I was, in fact, a member of the Wesleyan church just north of town. Anyway, he recommended something that sounded totally whacked at first, but I decided to give it a try since he is a doctor and all. We had been discussing my desire to wear contact lenses again and the possibilities for those occularly impaired at both the near and far reaches. He suggested a solution that he called "monovision".

So I now have a contact lens in my right eye that is optimized for distance and a lens in my left eye that is designed for reading and other nearfield activities. The doctor says I'll get used to it, that my brain should be able to adapt. And I'm always up for teaching my brain new tricks.

So far it's not really too uncomfortable, just a little weird. Honestly, it's like everything I look at is both blurry and focused at the same time...which it is, I guess. Anyway, I've been reading about it online today, just to be sure it wasn't something my eye doctor made up to get me out of his chair. This funny little article is by an optometrist who recently "went mono" himself.

Has anybody else out there tried this? What do you think?

"The Death of High Fidelity"

I deeply dislike Rolling Stone Magazine. When it comes to politics and cultural commentary, it is a worthless rag and always has been. Their writers and editors will go to whatever length necessary to be edgy or radical, eager and willing to completely disregard both common sense and elementary decency for the sake of selling a few more copies. You can tell that, politically, they swing so far to the radical left not because they necessarily believe it, but because they believe that they are supposed to believe it. Because they are Rolling @#~&%$*! Stone Magazine! Give me a break.

However, credit needs to be given where credit is due and much more often than not, their reporting on modern music is very, very good. This article on modern music production in the age of the MP3 is right on, except for the typo's. I have previously blogged on this at length because I think that the decline of technical quality in an age that is resplendent in technological achievement has taken a terrible toll on art in general and music in particular. It is a grim reflection on the poverty of our collective soul. One of the reassuring things about this article is that it suggests that other people are feeling the same way and that some artists, engineers, and producers are starting to resist the recording industry marketing forces that have exacerbated this problem.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

'Tis the season...

'Tis the season to be busy, but it is still a wonderful time of year. There is joy and excitement in the air. And, of course, if you happen to be shopping at the mall, there can be frustration and annoyance, too. But don't let it get to you.

For those of you who are working the front lines of retail, do whatever you can to keep your heart light. Don't let the long hours and the hard work, or the rude, demanding, and inconsiderate people suck the joy out of your Christmas. Don't let yourself get cynical or discouraged. Find comfort in remembering what this season is really about. Dwell on that whenever possible and pray for strength and a charity of soul. Drink plenty of water and eat a decent meal on your break. You'll make it.

Our shopping is nearly done, although we are still waiting on a couple of things to be delivered. As soon as those few straggling presents show up, the box we've prepared for my brother's famiy will be shipped to Virginia. It will arrive around the middle of next week, hopefully within a day or so of their return home from visiting family in Florida.

Today I have three rehearsals and a worship service. Tomorrow, Sunday, there are two more worship services and then, at noon, we deconstruct the main sanctuary and rebuild it for our Christmas Eve services. On Monday at 11:00 AM we have a tech rehearsal, then a dress rehearsal. Soundcheck is at 7:00 that evening and then we have Christmas Eve services at 8:00 and 11:00.

Christmas Day I expect we'll sleep in a bit and then head over to my parent's house around noon for a big dinner and some gift-giving.

I'm sure I'll say it again, but Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Great excitement, barely contained.

Remember this post? Well, of course you do.

Lord willing, next week I'll be ordering my MacBook Pro. Good things do sometimes come to those who wait.

To quote Sir John Gielgud, "I am very pleased."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pioneer Woman and Chex Mix

When I was a kid, my Mom would always make Chex Mix at Christmas time. Always from scratch and always the classic recipe that you can find almost anywhere, including on the Chex cereal boxes. It is one of the most intense synaesthetic memories of my youth. The smell of this stuff cooking is almost as good as the taste when it's done. Now, of course, you can make this any time of the year, but it is really best at Christmas. It just is.

And whatever that dreck is that they sell prepackaged in the stores nowadays and call Chex Mix? That ain't it. It takes about $25 groceries to do it right, but it is worth it.

Here is a link to a great version of this recipe, complete with pictures and detailed instructions on a blog called The Pioneer Woman Cooks. This is a sub-blog, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Confessions of a Pioneer Woman blog which is authored by this crazy woman that lives on a ranch out on the Oklahoma prairie somewhere. She is an incredible photographer, a very entertaining writer, and, by all evidences, a fabulous cook. She's got a lot going on and her blog is extremely popular with some posts generating thousands of comments. Yeesh.

I'm going to be making up a big batch of this stuff this weekend to take to church and I will be including PW's secret ingredient in mine, too. Yum.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ruminating on Red

This post by Sharon on, among other things, the color red and featuring her beautiful work "Petals", got me thinking again about something interesting that I recently read and reminded me of a book that I can wholeheartedly recommend if you are looking for a Christmas present for a musician or artist.

In Daniel Levitin’s book, “This Is Your Brain On Music”, in his discussion of the biology of how the brain organizes and categorizes the things we perceive into prototypes he tells how researchers used the color red in an interesting study. There is a tribal group in New Guinea, the Dani, who have only two words in their language to designate color, and those words really, essentially, only correspond to light and dark.

The researchers showed the Dani subjects chips with dozens of different shades of red and then asked them to pick out the best examples of this color, the chips that most effectively represent the definitive examples of the color red. Overwhelmingly, and in spite of the fact that their language does not allow for descriptive discrimination, the Dani selected the same red that Americans select in the same study. The results were the same for other colors that they couldn’t name, like green and blue.

From this work, it is theorized that there is a class of prototypical information that the brain categorizes, such as the principal color groups, that “are a consequence of our retinal physiology; certain shades of red are universally going to be regarded as more vivid, more central than others because a specific wavelength of visible light will cause the “red” receptors in our retina to fire maximally.”

In other words, there is a physiological component to how we understand color, in addition to such cultural notions as “fire engine red” or “candy apple red” that, uhm, color our perceptions. It is part of our design.

How does the way we perceive color relate to music? Until you read the book, you'll just have to trust me, it does.

My apologies to the color-blind. And the left-handed. And anyone else feeling neurologically disenfranchised this Christmas…the baby Jesus came to earth for you, too.

Dore's, "The Nativity"

(click to enlarge)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Country, but no Western.

Here's a blurb about radio formats. It's short, so I've reproduced the whole thing. It is Reuters quoting Billboard stats, so it is probably pretty accurate.

With respect to the content of the report below, from a stylistic standpoint, I think contemporary country music differs from much adult contemporary and mainstream pop radio only in detail. It's usually still got a bit of a twang, nowadays, but a lot of it rocks pretty hard. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I really like radio and always have, but I usually prefer the offbeat to the mainstream. There is so much repetition on most music stations and a lot of the music that is most popular is aesthetically repulsive to me. I like what I like and I don't like what I don't like. I really want to hear new things by new people on a pretty regular basis and, generally, that's not what radio is good at.

Typically, I like to listen to a couple of the local college stations because they are eclectic and less professionally programmed. I also like WTTS 93.2 FM, which serves the Indy area and only just reaches our area. They have an interesting, non-corporate driven playlist that is always fresh. They even have a show hosted by a guy, Phil the Listener, who is actually not a professional DJ, but just a guy. He plays whatever he likes. That would be great fun, wouldn't it?

But I digress, here's the article:


NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Country is still king when it comes to radio, but news/talk is closing the gap.

As of October, there were 2,054 country stations in the United States, which is up slightly from 2,049 a year earlier, according to M Street, which tracks such statistics. News/talk stations now total 2,026, an increase of 18 from a year ago. The number of news/talk stations has increased by nearly 500 in the past 10 years -- there were 1,567 in 1997. Country, by comparison, has lost more than 450 stations during the same time period.

Among current music-driven formats, country is tops, followed by contemporary Christian stations (920), Spanish (917), adult contemporary (666) and top 40 (495). Contemporary Christian stations are on the rise, up from 897 a year ago, as are Spanish-language stations, which tallied 819 at this time in 2006. AC is essentially flat, while top 40 is down 15 stations from a year ago.

Other formats that number more than 300 stations include "hot" adult contemporary (up eight stations to 392), alternative rock (basically flat at 385 stations), Southern gospel (up 15 from last year to 316) and rock (up nine stations to 300).

M Street began tracking rhythmic adult contemporary, a relatively new format that plays everything from Akon to Bee Gees and Michael Jackson to Janet Jackson, earlier this year and counts 27 mostly large-market stations in the format.

Reuters/Billboard - Friday 12/14/07

Blessings: Rural Mail Delivery in the Snow

"The United States Postal Service says 14 thousand rural route mail carriers across the country did not get a paycheck this week because of a glitch in the payroll system."

Happily, I am not delivering mail this year. That job was a blessing when I took it, and it was a blessing when I was able to let it go. I resigned my position as substitute rural carrier for the USPS a couple of months ago because I was just getting too busy with my real job. And, honestly, I was not looking forward to driving the backroads of Randolph county on days like today when the roads are icy and the wind is blowing snow like a white monsoon. It can be a very difficult and dangerous job. In the winter, your rural carrier really earns their pay so be nice to them. Give them a Christmas card and put some cookies or brownies in your mailbox for them this year.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

PSA: DVD vs. HD DVD - Compatible?

Public Service Announcement:

Today I needed to grok some low-impact, non-fat, lead-free, farm-fresh, semi-technical info about DVD's and HD DVD's and whether or not, or to what degree, the two formats were compatible. The bottom line is that you can play your DVD's on an HD DVD player, but not the other way around.

Here is a concise and easy-to-understand explanation of DVD and HD DVD technology at

Okay, now back to online gift shopping.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Jazz Christmas

Our church always cranks it up a notch at Christmas. Actually, we strive for as high a calibre of creativity and execution as possible every weekend, but we always try to do something extra at Christmas. Our primary motivation is that we recognize that this is the time of year when it is often possible to reach some people who perhaps are otherwise reluctant to cross the threshold. The presentation of the gospel through the lens of the biblical Christmas story can often facilitate the honest introspection necessary for an unbeliever or a marginal believer to recast their entire life in a new and profound direction. A direction that will lead them into the life eternal.

This year, we are producing a dinner theater performance entitled The Christmas Rewind combined with about an hours worth of music. The play is a hilarious spoofy retelling of the Christmas story with four actors and a narrator, characterized by snappy repartee and a dizzying procession of lightning fast costume changes. We are fortunate that we have some really gifted actors and technical folk who are doing an excellent job.

For the musical segment of the program, we are doing several special Christmas arrangements, including the one by my friend Mark Bovee, mentioned in the previous entry as well as half-a-dozen or so jazzed-up Christmas carols. We brought in some friends to play in our little pit orchestra. Jeff Reed, an outstanding jazz pianist from Indianapolis and Pat O'Neal, an area band director who plays jazz sax and flute. With Kevin McDonald on drums, me on guitar, and my buddy Steve Matthews (who is way too busy to blog right now) playing bass and leading us, it is really a fun group. And every one of those guys is a serious artist...I mean really good, professional players. I'm fortunate to get to hang with these guys.

The only unfortunate thing is that I just really suck as a jazz guitar player. First of all, I never play straight-ahead jazz except at Christmas. I just don't. I like jazz and I listen to it often, but I am really a rock-and-roll guy. My roots are rock, R&B, funk, blues, and other pop styles. I enjoy improvisation, but I just don't go for the jazz vibe usually. I could be a jazz guy, I should be a jazz guy, and I wouldn't mind being a jazz guy. In fact, I would love being a jazz guy. But, to date anyway, I just haven't put the time in necessary to make it happen. So I fake it. Actually, I know all the characteristic chord voicings and can play jazz rhythm guitar all evening long. But when it comes time for some kind of blistering solo through changes...I just sound like a rank beginner. For me, it's usually like tip-toeing through a mine field. When it's my turn to solo I find myself concentrating not on playing something melodic, but just on avoiding playing any wrong notes...and that, folks, ain't art. It also makes me sweat profusely until my 16-bars are done and I'm safely back comping rhythm.

In addition to not really having the right mindset, I don't have the right equipment. To really play jazz, you need one of these babies:

Now that is sweet. It is a Gibson L-5 CES. It's called having the right tool for the job. Admittedly, owning one of these babies wouldn't make me a jazz player any more than owning a power drill makes me a carpenter. But, hey, it would be a good start. At least I would feel more like a jazz player, which would help.

And even though my solos would still sound like crap, people would say, "man, that guy's guitar is beautiful."

That is one of the the best things about music. Regardless of how good you are and how much you know, just over the horizon is whole new unexplored territory waiting for you to venture in. Living forever is going to be so cool, too, because I'll finally have time to explore those unknown lands.

In heaven, I'll be a hot jazz guitar player. Until then, I'll fake it every chance I get.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

MBPYNHO: "It's For You He Came" by Mark Bovee

Music By People You've Never Heard Of - Christmas edition.

For several years now, one of my favorite Christmas albums has been "It's For You He Came" by my friend Mark Bovee. Mark is an excellent pianist as well as a prolific and accomplished orchestrator and arranger, as well. He has an impressive discography, but he is kind of a behind the scenes guy. Alot of his best work has been making someone else sound great. He is a very humble and gifted artist. His wife, Christi, is an outstanding singer, too.

There is a wide array of styles on this album, but it is decidedly jazzy in character, overall. One of my favorites is his Latin-jazz arrangement of "What Child Is This." At our church we perform this one pretty much every year, usually featuring my wife, Nancy, on the solo vocal. Silky smooth and slow-burning, like the orange embers in your fireplace on a cold winter's night.

You can listen to excerpts from this album and buy a copy here. They make excellent Christmas presents.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

PSA: Your printer cartridge is NOT empty.

Public Service Announcement

I just want to be sure everyone knows this. Just in case nobody has filled you in.

When your computer pops up a message telling you that your printer cartridge is almost out of ink, it is a big, fat, pernicious lie. You've got plenty of ink in there so leave it alone. Don't pull that old cartridge until the last page you print is all fadey and hard to read.

The people that make the ink cartridges are merely trying to get you to throw yours away early so that you'll buy more. They'll tell you they've got 8 kids and baby needs new shoes. They lie.

It is a scam. Kind of like insurance, atheism, and interest-free credit cards. Only not as bad.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

So many books, so little time.

This interesting essay about unwanted books is well-written and fascinating.

I love books, bookstores, and libraries. My mother is a librarian and worked for many years in the Dallas Independent School District, primarily at Phyllis Wheatley Elementary. My brother and I as children were initiated into the arcane lore of the Dewey Decimal System at a very early age. We both learned to read prior to kindergarten.

Mom also taught us, as well as our children, the correct way to turn a page and yes, there is a correct way. You carefully select the top page of your book from the upper right hand corner and tenderly draw your finger towards you along the edge of the page as you turn it. It's not hard, but it is specific and intentional. It teaches you to value not only the words, but to respect the physical repository itself, the actual book.

I love the crisp, fresh smell of a new book, both hardbacks and paperbacks. And I also like the musty smell of an old book, especially one that has perhaps not been cracked for decades. I have a small collection of antique hymnals that I love to read through from time to time.

I own quite a few books and, generally, I am loathe to part with any of them, even the bad ones. Some of my favorites are obscure, old novels like John Brick's The Rifleman and Piers Anthony's Sos the Rope. Some I read over and over, like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. For others, only once is necessary, like Neal Stephenson's excellent but exhausting Baroque Cycle trilogy .

I have a special bookshelf on which sits those waiting to be read. Currently in que we find Tony Dungee's autobiography, Donald Miller's Through Painted Deserts, Julia Cameron's The Right to Write, Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew, and, I think, some random John Grisham novel.

Like most bibliophiles, I have classics on the shelf that I need and want to read, and I have stupid, poorly written trash that I rather wish I hadn't read. I like what I like and I feel no compulsion to pretend that I like books that I don't like. I don't care for the writing of either Bill Bryson or Dave Eggers, for example, in spite of how popular they are. Some of my current favorite authors include John Scalzi, Neal Stephenson, William Blake, and Donald Miller. In the recent past, they have included William Gibson, Bruce Feiler, Randy Alcorn, and Michael Chabon.

My brother has the largest collection of science fiction and fantasy books that I have ever seen or heard of. And, of course, they are carefully organized and properly shelved . Mine used to be similarly arranged, but some maintenance is currently required. Fortunately, my mom doesn't come into my home office wherein my books reside.

I keep an ongoing list of books that I want to read and at this time of year, especially, I like to give and receive books as gifts. I also enjoy buying a new book at the airport, when I'm on my way to fly somewhere, knowing that I'll be held inert and captive for a couple of undisturbed hours. Except for my Bible, I seldom take any books with me when I travel, specifically so that I can indulge in this little spontaneous pleasure.

What are your favorite books? Either something you have recently read that moves you, or something you read in years past that has stuck with you in some way or another. Some books, read at the right time of life, can really shape the way we think and the way we see the world. What books do that for you?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Scenes from a funeral

Nancy's mom, JoEllen Hockett, passed away on November 16th at the age of 77. She had suffered various ailments for the last few years, but her passing was still rather sudden and unexpected. She was a sweet and hilariously funny woman, the best mother-in-law a guy could ever hope to have.

We've spent a good bit of the last 3 weeks flying back and forth to Texas to be with her dad, as well as attend the funeral at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Hillsboro.

Here is a picture of Roy and the four kids, Nancy on his left, Mary, Steve, and Ann on his right. This was the first time that all of them were together in the same place in over 20 years. Ann, an artist who lives in Portland, Oregon reminds me a lot of Nancy's mom. Steve is an antique arms dealer, collector, and restorer and he lives in Texas. Mary lives in Cambridge City, Indiana.

Here is JP with Camomile Swarts. Cam is Mary's daughter and she and JP were the only two grandkids who could make it. Cam is a schoolteacher in Portland and her husband, Charles, works for a company that builds high-tech parade floats. They have a wonderful young son, Bryce, who I've mentioned several times previously. Ann has several lovely young adult children, too, but it wasn't possible for them to come. None of the great-grand kids were in attendance, either.

This is a picture of Roy and JoEllen's four kids, plus the children of Patsy Ruth, JoEllen's only sister, also deceased. So, first cousins all around.

Nancy's dad, Roy, is a great guy. A wise and interesting man with some great stories who, at 81, is as keen as he ever was, I think. Among other things, he is a Navy veteran from WWII and a professional numismatist. We'd like for him to move up to Indiana, but he's not too interested at this time.

While we were in Texas, we got to eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant en todo el mundo. Danal's is located in Irving, on O'Conner Blvd., just south of Irving High School. Not far at all from the airport and easy to find. If you go anywhere near the D/FW area, you owe it to yourself to go there. They have their own salsa recipe and it is like no other - served warm, fresh, and savory. There is a special cooking area within sight of the dining area where a wizened abuelita makes the most amazing flour tortillas, right there and right now, and then they bring them to your table. It's not fancy, but it is the very best place I know of to eat authentic Mexican food. Get there if you can. You'll thank me later.

Nancy and JP on the flight home after the funeral. It was a redeye. We got in to Dayton a little after midnight. JP had a 3-hour drive back to IU/Bloomington for an 8:00 class. Nancy and I crashed about 1:30 AM.

Life goes on, doesn't it? We who remain adapt, adjust, and dwell a bit on how temporary all this around us really is and how fragile we really are. It will be our turn one day, all of us, to lay our bodies down to die. And I believe that is a good thing, a very good thing. We are built to live forever...but we weren't built to live here forever. I very much look forward to seeing JoEllen again on the other side.

Stevie Wonder and the Talk Box

My son forwarded this to me a couple of weeks ago and it is well worth the watching. Some vintage footage of Stevie Wonder and friends jamming on The Temptations tune, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone":