Get well soon Benecio!

My car is sick. I went to start it after work last night and it was having none of that. The poor engine sounds like it's almost going to make it but never turns over. I tried getting a jump, hoping it was an obvious and easily solved problem like a battery. It was not.

I won't bore you with all the details of getting it towed. Let's just say it took up a good part of my day. Now, I'm just waiting for a prognosis. My best case scenario is it's a problem that is easily diagnosed and can be repaired for under $300. As Tom Petty said, "the waiting is the hardest part" and a dark spot in my brain keeps conjuring up nightmares of bad transmissions and thousand dollar repairs. Hopefully, I'll have a verdict in the morning.

So in an effort to get my mind off all this automobile badness, I present to you some recent things I've stumbled across that make me happy. If you are an attractive upstanding citizen, they might make you happy, too.
  • Television Without Pity - I hate reruns but I love reading this web site's recaps of recent episodes of all your favorite TV shows. It's especially handy for shows like Lost, which is full of secret little clues you might have missed.
  • One Red Paperclip - This was just a featured blog on the Blogger homepage. It's a sweet little story of a Canadian dude who starts with a paperclip and hopes to make trades until he gets a house. The journey is fun and the trades are endlessly fascinating.
  • Ricky Gervais' Podcast - The perfect source for your weekly dose of monkey news. It's one of the most popular podcasts on the interweb. It features the guy from The Office and his buddies sitting around and talking about stuff. If you don't want to deal with the webpage, get the podcast from iTunes.
  • The Arctic Monkeys - The hottest band in England right now is this group of young guys from Sheffield. The buzz around them is ginormous and this New York Times article makes them sound like messiahs. I was skeptical of the buzz until I heard them playing on Morning Becomes Eclectic. Great lyrics and fun music. Like Franz Ferdinand but much better.
  • Class Matters - The New York Times did a big series abut the state of class in America that I only caught a couple installments of. This book is a collection off all their work and it paints an interesting picture how where we are born affects everything we become. Read it now!
  • Snap Shirts - I just ordered one of these and you can, too. The company scans your blog and makes a list of the most popular words in it. They call it a "word cloud." It only scans the first page of your blog so it's better to have all the posts displayed before you have the cloud made. You can order a shirt with my blog on it here. It's also fun to make clouds with other blogs you like.
So there you are. Some sights to help you forget your broken car or sad, empty, meaningless life. For me it's a way to fill the days until Oasis comes to town.


They're trying hard to put me in my place and that is why I've gotta keep running

I've been a little behind in blogging lately so I thought I'd take the next two albums on Declan together. I decided to do it before I even saw what they were, but it doesn't hurt that they're a pretty good match. First is Be Here Now by Oasis, followed by Beatles For Sale by the band that Oasis always wished they were. How nice.

I have to tell you that I have tickets to see Oasis when they come through Cincinnati in March. I've never seen them in concert before and while it feels like I kind of missed the boat, I had to see them for nostalgia's sake. C'mon they're going to playing right down the street!

I'll be a happy camper if they dust off some of the tunes from Be Here Now. It's probably my favorite Oasis studio album. It was mildly popular but not nearly as overplayed as their earlier albums. Plus, I bought it right before I spent a semester in London during college. It reminds me of all the excitement leading up to that. And it reminds me of London. Not too shabby.

Oasis never really strived to be the Beatles from Beatles For Sale. They're a little too clean cut on this 1964 album. A lot of it sounds like filler but I still enjoy their cover of Buddy Holly's "Words of Love." If you only had money for one Beatles' album, I wouldn't recommend this one. In fact, if you only had money for five Beatles' albums I'm still not sure this makes the cut. Need six albums, though? Then I have the CD for you.


My mind is full of several things resembling a thought

I know I was a little harsh on Teenage Fanclub when I listened to A Catholic Education and I feel bad about that. It's just that everyone has spent years telling me that I should love Teenage Fanclub but I just don't. There's a certain style of airy British pop that I've never really liked. It's the same reason I was never a big Stone Roses fan.

I can see how I might like Teenage Fanclub in today's album, 1991's Bandwagonesque. It has more of the guitar hooks and harmonies that I love so. The lyrics are nice, but all the tunes are these mid-tempo ballads. Nothing really takes off so once again I'm left with the feeling that I really, really want to like this band - I just can't.

At least I don't hate them anymore.


Off to the flicks with the piddle in her nicks

This is my 200th blog post! Yes, I know you are awed by my incredible blogging powers. I sure am. But alas, we must move on if I am ever to make it to my 201st post.

Declan's selection today is the last album by Wings, 1979's Back To The Egg. The whole thing is kind of a mess, but that doesn't mean I don't like it. I mean I remember listening to it a lot in high school - most of the songs reminded me of my bathroom in Michigan for some reason. But I have acquired a certain tolerance for McCartney's 1970's inanity. After years of subjecting myself to Wings albums, I've grown immune to insipid lyrics and overblown power chords, so I don't recommend Back To The Egg to the less experienced.

As I was looking up info on the info, I ran across this 1979 review from Rolling Stone. It's one of the meanest I've ever seen:

In keeping with the fractured nature of Back to the Egg, I offer the reader a multiple-choice ending to this review, with the suggestion that he or she consider combining all of the following:

(A) This album is nothing more than a slipshod demo by an aimless band. If it had arrived unsolicited in the offices of Columbia, it would have been returned in the next mail with a terse "No thank you."

(B) I can think of few other prominent rock musicians who'd have signed their names to this kind of drivel. McCartney's gross indulgence is matched only by his shameless indolence, and Back to the Egg represents the public disintegration of a consistently disappointing talent.

(C) Paul McCartney (how does this man sleep?) has been plagiarizing his own material for years now, and he's finally run out of recycled ideas. With a few key word changes, the lyrics that began this piece could end it on an appropriately grim autobiographical note.

I don't think Back To The Egg
is that bad, but I can imagine the frustrations after years of so many bad albums. Let's see McCartney got busted for pot in 1980, which lead to the breakup of Wings. His 80's solo career gave us such solo hits as Press To Play. I guess it doesn't get much better. At least there was "Say Say Say."


Life is so sweet 'cause I let it be

I picked up Rearviewmirror, Pearl Jam's greatest hits at the library and it's been making think a lot about grunge lately. I think it's been overlooked and often written off as a fluke and that's a shame.

It's true that bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Alice in Chains begat bands like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and Yellowcard which doesn't help their legacy. But I'll argue until my face turns blue that grunge has nothing to do with the rap rock that spring up later. You can get musical inspiration from bands but that doesn't mean you're the next Kurt Cobain.

In fact, I think that's the problem. What was great about grunge was the anger tinged with an interesting combination of humor and self-loathing. Fred Durst can sing about the bitches all he wants but that's boring anger. I like Eddie Vedder's anger better.

Maybe I'm just a product of my times but listening to all those old Pearl Jam songs that I hadn't heard in years was really refreshing. They still sound great and they stand out as a little island of excellent music that everyone loved. As the music world becomes more and more fragmented (I told someone that Nouvelle Vague was "A French electronica group doing bossa nova inspired covers of 80's new wave songs.") I like to think that there could be another movement that touched everyone. I just hope it has nothing to do with American Idol.


I'm glad I got that off my chest. Now it's back to the "backs." Today's album is Back To Me by Kathleen Edwards. I first heard the young Miss Edwards when she opened for Guster at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati in 2003. She was drinking shots of Makers Mark between songs and telling stories about how much her band likes Cracker Barrel.

I don't remember the music being great but my curiosity was piqued. I bought her first album, faller, and enjoyed it immensely. So when her second album was released to mediocre reviews, I hoped the experts were wrong. Unfortunately they weren't. Back To Me isn't terrible, it just lacks the swagger and smirk of her first album. We've all heard of the sophomore slump, so I just hope this is a textbook example of it. I eagerly await a third album to see if Kathleen Edwards can get her groove back.


Some people say love is blind, but I think that's just a bit short-sighted

Perhaps no music in my collection is more British (but not necessarily sad) than Billy Bragg. I LOVE the guy, but it would probably never work out between us.

See, I adore all his funny, awkward love songs but I'm probably not socialist enough for him. It would lead to all kinds of exhausting political discussions and that is about my least favorite thing on the planet. So I'll just have to continue being a fan who often skips over the protest songs. Sorry, Bill.

Back To Basics is actually a collection of early albums and EP's that have been thrown together to create a 21 track musical collage of loveliness. Like funny love songs? There are some great ones here ("A New England", "The Saturday Boy"). What about some fits pumping tunes for all you Reds? Oh yeah ("Which Side Are You On?", "The World Turned Upside Down"). Overall, I always recommend Back To Basics as a great intro to Billy Bragg. So if you're curious about this guy with the crazy accent whom I love so much, go spend some money and buy this album. It'll at least be good for a laugh or two.


I love you 'cause I need to, not because I need you

I thought I'd kick off the B's with a two album review. They're related anyway, so it kind of fits.

First there's B-Sides 1980-1990 by U2 and it's not so distant cousin B-Sides 1990-2000. Once again, my friend Josh is the main reason I own either of these albums. During some point in our many days of hanging out in California he decided it was terrible that I owned The Best Of 1980-1990 album by U2 but had failed to buy the deluxe limited edition version that came with a whole extra CD of b-sides. Mix that with the fact that he is a U2 completist and didn't own a copy of The Best Of without the b-sides and a purchase was born.

One day he showed up at my place with the brand new 2 CD version of The Best Of and demanded that I give him my old greatest hits album in return (not that I cared). So now I was a more educated U2 listener and he was a more complete completist.

By the time The Best Of 1990-2000 came out, I knew better than to buy anything less than the deluxe version. So that's how I own both b-side bonus CD's. I'm not sure they've changed my life but I do like some of the remixes on the 1990-2000 album. They're great for the gym.

Speaking of great for the gym, I am hereby recommending Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team for all your workout needs. You'd think cheerleaders clapping along to rolling drums and 70's guitars would be more annoying than motivational, but you'd be wrong.


She drank beer with Coca-Cola

I've spent the day getting ready for my Letter B party and listening to my very last A album, Awake is the New Sleep by Ben Lee. It's nice but I think it's a little too cute sometimes. Do yourself a favor, though, and buy "Catch My Disease" from iTunes. It's a great song and it stands out far ahead of anything else on the album.

Must go party. On to the B's!


Live your life filled with joy and thunder

For a stretch of time, between 1990's Green and 1994's Monster, every R.E.M. album seemed to fit my life perfectly at the time they were released. They're like little capsules, the soundtrack of my life for those years. They're perfect.

1992's Automatic For The People falls right in the middle of that window. It's another album that seemed maybe too sad at first (like August and Everything After) but that was before I fully embraced sad. It didn't take too many Michigan winters before I realized that "Shiny Happy People" isn't always the song you want to hear.

Everyone raves about "Nightswimming" and "Everybody Hurts" but "Sweetness Follows" has to be my favorite song on the album. It's terribly sad but tinged with hope; my favorite kind of sad.


Actually, my name is Austin Powers. Danger is my middle name.

I'm listening to all three Austin Powers soundtracks today mostly to save you, gentle reader, from reading about what is essentially the same album three times. It will also help me get the "A" albums out of the way in time for my "B" party on Friday. I have my priorities.

Just for the record, the three Austin Powers soundtracks are (in order of release):

Austin Powers: Original Soundtrack (April 29, 1997)

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me: Music from the Motion Picture (October 26, 1999)

Austin Powers in Goldmember
(July 16, 2002)

All the music on the soundtracks can pretty easily be divided into four categories:
(1) Old songs
(2) Covers of old songs
(3) New songs recorded in a style that makes them sound like old songs
(4) Background music and songs actually used in the movie

That's not to say that there aren't some good things on the soundtracks. Many of the old songs and covers are really good. They are songs from the era that have been overlooked like the Lightning Seeds cover of "You Showed Me." And Dr. Evil's version of "Hard Knock Life" is one of the funniest things I have in my iPod.

I think the first Austin Powers soundtrack is best, but perhaps a little long. It was only on that album that they felt obliged to include some of the symphonic background music from the movie. I don't really need it.

The other two soundtracks start to sound like rehashes of the original. There are enough good songs to sustain them, but the shine is a little worn.

The soundtracks did make me want to have an Austin Powers marathon sometime. I love that guy!


There are days that the whole country remembers. Most everyone can tell you where they were on September 11, 2001 or what they were doing when they heard that the Challenger exploded. Some dates don't matter to everyone, though. For me, several of my friends and a small town in Northern California January 10, 2001 is one of those unforgettable days.

I'm not going to explain it all here. The short version is a crazy guy with a gun killed a bunch of people in a little town which made it very exciting (and sometimes scary) to work at that little town's newspaper. If you want to know more, go here.

I spend a little time ever January 10th thinking of that day and I imagine that most of the great people I worked with at the paper do, too. It's interesting thinking of all of us scattered all around the country remembering an event that was pretty small in the whole scheme of things. But I think it had a pretty big impact on our lives. So here's a tip of the hat and clink of the glass to everyone at The Union that day. You did some good work.

On a side note, I also consider January 10th, 2001 as the day I met my friend Josh. I'd actually met him before but he'd only been working a couple days when the shooting happened (it's sort of how I consider October 31, 1999 as the day I met Shawn - it's just the first time I really got to talk to him). Anyway, that means we've known each other for five years now. It's strange because it feels like I've been putting up with him for a lot longer than that.


It's almost everything I need

It had to be late 1993, because it was fall but my friend Dayna hadn't graduated from high school yet. She's a year older than me, so if I can remember her being around, I can usually put a date on something. I was driving around East Lansing enjoying the freedoms of my newly acquired license and listening to the radio loudly as is always my wont. I don't remember the name of the station, it might have been "The Edge" or some other suitably hip name bandied about for alternative music radio in those days. I can remember where I was when I heard the song for the first time, though. That I know for sure.

The DJ announced that he had a new song from a new band that would be in town in a couple weeks. They were called Counting Crows and the song was "Mr. Jones" and I was in a 1984 Buick Skyhawk driving north on Hagadorn Road towards Grand River Avenue. I'm not sure where I was going, but I remember being grateful for the absurdly long light the intersection is known for. I was completely entranced by the song. It was so different from all the Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam songs usually filling the airwaves of alternative stations. Adam Duritz wasn't angry, he was sad. And thus a love was born.

I have to admit, I was a little upset when I bought August and Everything After a few weeks later. Few of the songs had the jangling guitars and upbeat sound of "Mr. Jones." In fact, it struck me as mostly slow and droning. But as autumn settled in, I found that slow and droning could be perfect for an incoming Michigan winter. It soon fit my mood perfectly.

So while I have regularly listened to this album all over the country, August and Everything After will always remind me of autumn in Michigan - except for the song "Sullivan Street" which reminds me of summer in New York City. It's funny how these things work.


Coming tomorrow: Super triple soundtrack day!


It's the words that we don't say that scare me so

Many people consider Armed Forces to be Elvis Costello's best album so perhaps I've ignored it for too long. I've always enjoyed certain songs from it (like "Oliver's Army" and "Green Shirt") but I rarely listen to the whole thing. I choose to blame my car.

You see, before I had a cushy office job, I would listen to most of my music while driving along narrow mountain roads in God's Country. I sometimes drove 100 miles a day so I had plenty of time for listening. But there was something about Armed Forces that wasn't good for driving. "Goon Squad" would come on and the incessant keyboards would startle me from my groove. I just couldn't take it.

Tonight, though, I listened to Armed Forces with headphones. Elvis' voice popped from one ear to the other and whispered little lines I'd never heard in my car. I fell in love with him all over again (Damn you, Diana Krall!). It was magic.

Vampires make me sleepy

When I was in New York in early November, Josh's girlfriend gave me a book to read. She said it was her favorite book of the year and she had an extra copy. It's The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and I've been hearing a lot about it lately. At 656 pages, though, it's not something I could get through in a couple days.

Plus, vampires make me sleepy.

Seriously, I've fallen asleep in the middle of every vampire movie I've ever seen (and I never fall asleep during movies). I could only read about 15 pages of The Historian every night before I found myself passed out and drooling all over the book.

Things picked up nicely in the end and I'm proud to say that, two months later, I am finally done. It's been strange taking so long to read a book (I usually get through one every week) but I have to say it was a nice story. I just wish it didn't make me so tired.


It's just a couple of hours until the Bengals kick off their first playoff game in 15 years. Earlier in the week I had no hope that they would beat the Steelers today, but as the game nears I can feel the hope starting to bubble through me. Maybe they can do it. Maybe they can keep the magic alive. The whole town has gone crazy for the team and it's been really fun to see. I'd hate for that to be over.

I guess that's why they play the game.


Singles remind me of kisses, albums remind me of plans

I have a theory that everyone on the planet within a certain age range owns a Squeeze album. The often popular choice is Singles, but their 1980 album Argybargy has to be number one. Why? For a long time, every record store in the country had several copies of Argybargy in a cutout bin on sale for about $5. That's hard to resist.

Even though I'm a big Elvis Costello fan, I have little patience for New Wave music and after listening to "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)" and "Another Nail in My Heart" I'm pretty much done with the album. I can't complain, though. I probably only paid a few bucks for it anyway.


It's official I'm a pimp, 'cause my name glows

Everything I know about hip hop I learned from a white boy from North Dakota. I had almost no interest in rap before I met Josh (although I did buy a Young MC album in middle school). Slowly, he gave me a few things to listen to and after a couple years, even if I didn't like everything I heard, I could at least appreciate it.

So to honor the northern roots of my hip hop appreciation, I listened to Josh's 2002 mix CD, Are You Ready?, whilst ice skating in beautiful downtown Lawrenceburg, Indiana tonight (just don't ask Josh to ice skating at Rockefeller Center with you because he won't - even if you offer to pay).

The skating was the best we've had in awhile and the hip hop tracks were a nice accompaniment. Even the little kid that asked me what kind of iPod I had seemed impressed. I let Jeff listen to part of "Numb" by U2. Everyone was having fun.

Are You Ready? is my second favorite Josh mix CD. I especially love "Young Boy" by Clipse even though it scares a lot of people. Then again, that's probably why I like it.


You've come to love me lightly

I've had a subscription to Rolling Stone since I was 13. When my current subscription expires in 2007, I'm going to look into getting a lifetime plan. They're not very expensive ($100?) and I like the idea of receiving the newest issue of Rolling Stone when I'm in a nursing home. All the old men will be my friend when there's some hot chick on the cover.

I think the magazine I've had a subscription to the second longest is Jane. I started reading it in college and the $10 a year fee is a small price to pay for a few chuckles. It won't change your life but it's a fun spin on all those How To Win A Man Cosmo type mags. The vaunted Jane of the title just left, though, so I'll get back to you on that.

Every once in awhile Jane falls in love with a musical act. They have a mention of them in every issue and they make them sound like the coolest kids in school. For a while it was the White Stripes (before everyone else had heard of them, of course) and then for a brief period it was the girl hip hop group Northern State. A couple years ago, Jane went bananas over Interpol.

Now my usual reaction to all this fawning is to do everything to avoid the group that they're all excited about. If I give in and check them out, I feel like an ignorant Midwesterner who is listening to the band "that's all the rage in New York." Well, New York, I don't need you. I have Bright Eyes!

And that's how I choose to ignore the White Stripes longer than maybe I should have. It's also why I didn't get my first Interpol album, Antics, until this summer (it was released September 28, 2004 according to Mr. Amazon).

Surprisingly, I feel similar about both groups. They do good music, but I'm not sure it's for me. Antics has some nice moments, especially the song "Evil", and I listen to it more than anything by the White Stripes. But honestly, New York, I'm not sure what the fuss is all about. You should check out this band called Bright Eyes . . .


I think this is album number 43 I've listened to so far and if everything goes as planned I will officially be done with the letter A by next Friday. To celebrate that milestone and welcome letter B, I'm having a party. There will be B themed drinks (like beer and bourbon) and maybe some bruschetta. Anyway, I need some help.

I'd really like to get a video of the Sesame Street beetles singing their famous song "Letter B" to show at my party. If anyone out there in internet land can dig that up for me, I'll be eternally grateful. Email me if you have any leads.

It seems like yesterday

Do you remember how I said Texas was overrated back in September?

This is why I don't work for ESPN.


Stretched out on the tarmac six miles south of North Platte

Andrew Bird has a lot to say. He likes to try and fit it all into one song, too.

Hey, I'm totally one for lots and lots of lyrics, but sometimes Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs bombards me with so many words that I feel a little beat up. It's exhausting - and fun.

Andrew Bird's album was on a lot of people's top ten lists last year. When I found it at the library last week, I had to hear what all the fuss was about (he's another guy who played at the Southgate House last year that I missed. The list is endless). On first impression, I was overwhelmed by all the words. But on a second listen I'm really starting to like it. I might even have to make room on my own top ten list.


While you make pretty speeches, I'm being cut to threads

The other day I finally bought the fancy pants headphones I've been wanting for Declan and they dutifully arrived from Mr. Amazon on Saturday. Somehow, I felt they might change my life. Maybe I had not really been hearing music the way I should. Maybe things would sound completely different.

But actually things sounded pretty much the same - just more intricate.

The new headphones let me hear clicks and sighs, switches and breaths. The music sounds a little more organic. I can hear the people behind the tunes.

It took probably the most inorganic piece of music I own to help me realize that. Today's album, Amnesiac by Radiohead, can sometimes sound like it was made without human involvement at all. I don't know what goes on in the mind of Thom Yorke but it seems like a dark place where computers rule the Earth.

I've been a huge Radiohead fan for years but I have to say they lost me a little with the releases of Kid A and Amnesiac. Where they making crazy music just to see if the critics would still think it was genius? I don't know. All I know is that is always strange and often unlistenable.

So today was interesting. As I listened to Amnesiac with my new headphones, I got it a little. The sound was beautiful. There where whirrs behind my left eye and chimes in my right ear. Noises traveled around and Thom's haunting voice filled the spaces in between. Nowadays critics call it groundbreaking but what I really think they mean is "trippy."

So while Amnesiac will continue to be toward the bottom of the list of my favorite Radiohead albums, I will give it some credit. I'll be sure to bust it out when I want to take advantage of the full spectrum of stereo fun that my headphones can provide, and also when I want to feel trippy.


I'm practicing your name so I can say it to your face

2006 has been good for me so far and I hope it's been good for you. I've read more than one story about how 2005 really did kind of suck and I have to agree. It might be one of those years that we look back on with a cringe. Well, at least it's over.

My first sign that 2006 will bring good things was today's album from Declan. At first, American Pie: Music From the Motion Picture might sound like a dud, but it's really very good. This is not really the season for it (it's the perfect goin' to the beach album) but I had fun dancing around the house and listening to it (while I imagined I was goin' to the beach).

The soundtrack is filled with great tracks by bands that I would probably never buy a whole album from but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy one of their songs. My friend Jeff points out that while "Laid" by James was featured prominently in the trailers for the movie it is absent from the soundtrack. Sad but true. Don't worry, Jeff, there's a catchy little Goldfinger song on there for you instead!


I'm late posting this because I just got back from seeing The Producers. I saw it mostly because I wanted to go to the movies but didn't want to see anything sad. This time of year that can be difficult but I just didn't have the energy for Munich.

Anyway, The Producers was great! It was way more fun than I imagined and I liked it a lot more than the original (which I saw for the first time last week). I'm a big fan of Nathan Lane so that helps. Just go see it, you'll have fun.