Friday, September 25, 2015

I didn’t see that coming

I’m sure most of you were as shocked as I was when I read this morning that John Boehner is resigning not just as Speaker of the House, but is also resigning his seat in Congress. At the end of October, D.C. will be in his taillights. (At least until he gets his lobbyist job.)

I’ve never been a big fan and I never appreciated how he always seemed willing to stymie President Obama’s agenda, even at the expense of the country. But I do realize that things are never just black and white, and he was certainly beleaguered by his teabagger faction in Congress. I always got the impression that had he had a more reasonable—and sane—Congress, he might have worked with the White House to pass meaningful legislation. I could be wrong about that, but I did sense a glimmer of pragmatism in him.

There is much speculation about his abrupt departure, although it seems that he’s been thinking about this for a while now. I can’t help but think that the address that Pope Francis gave to Congress had something to do with it. Boehner was visibly emotional (I’m not going to bash him for that, either. I cry at the drop of a hat. Songs, commercials, Andy Griffith reruns, you name it.) and I have to wonder if Boehner heard what the pope was saying and finally thought, “You know what? I’m done with this bullshit,” and decided to call it a day and leave all the fractiousness and scheming behind him.

I read this story about Boehner's encounter with the pope and it does make me think that the pope’s visit (it was Boehner’s invitation, if I recall correctly) had a little something to do with it. I seem to remember a prayer I heard when I was growing up...something about “We pray that you place a conviction upon his heart, Lord.” I wonder if the Speaker felt a conviction upon his heart?

I don’t know how this will all play out. There is much delusion among the supercon teabaggers in Congress, who seem to think that if they dig in their heels, President Obama will cave and give in to all their demands. It hasn’t worked before, so I’m not sure why they think it will now with a different Speaker. They remind me of bratty little kids crossing their arms and clamping their mouths closed so they don’t have to take the medicine. News flash, folks: President Obama has figured out that all he has to do is pinch your nose shut until you open your mouth to breath, and then he dumps that medicine right down your gullet.

The supercons are celebrating tonight, but I think they don’t really have any idea of what they’ve done or what they’re in for.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Beth’s Music Moment: Duran Duran’s “Paper Gods”

Photo via Paper magazine
I’ve been super excited to write this review, and I’m even more excited that I can write such a positive one!

DD’s fourteenth studio album came out on September 11th, and I’ve listened to it pretty much nonstop since then. “Rio” may end up being their legacy album and the one that they are most known for, but this album is surely on the verge of being one of their best. At least in this humble fan’s opinion!

Before I get to a song-by-song review (yes, I am doing that, including bonus tracks), just a few words about Duran Duran. Although much maligned as a throwaway boy band, those of us in the know understand that there was always (and still is) much more to them than that. They managed to meld a punk rock sensibility with an infectious, bass-heavy dance groove. Add in some genuinely great lyrics on many of the songs, and you’ve got a band that inspired countless others and who still makes me dance. They were also fashion icons (still are) and quite good-looking (still are). That latter may be the understatement of the year. But beyond being ridiculously photogenic, they are talented musicians and songwriters who aren’t content to be an ‘80s nostalgia band. Thus a fourteenth studio album that is some of the best work they’ve ever done. If you haven’t listened to anything beyond their radio hits, you’re really missing out. Missing the (night) boat, one might say. (I made a DD pun!) The hits are great, too, but dig a little deeper to find some amazing stuff.

Simon Le Bon once said that they are the “band to dance to when the bomb drops.” There are a lot of bands and a lot of music that I love, but if death by nuke is to be my ultimate fate, I can’t think of any band I’d rather blow up to.

[clapping hands] All right! Here we go! For your listening pleasure and enhanced reading experience, you can stream “Paper Gods”. I highly recommend it!

  1. “Paper Gods” - The opening track is a long-ish one featuring a collaboration with British songwriter and producer Mr Hudson. A scathing commentary on our consumerist culture, the song makes a good point that we “bow to the paper gods,” and that it’s all “paper walls falling down, paper house, paper town.” But it’s still got a great dance groove to it! I’ve been reading that they are opening their most recent concerts with this song, and even before I’d read that, I thought that this song would be a perfect opener. A sort of Gregorian chant starts it, then Simon sings, then the rhythm section joins in...that’s what I’m talking about! Nice build-up to start the album or a concert.
  2. “Last Night in the City” - This song includes Canadian musician Kiesza. (Amazing how many new performers I learned about from this album!) It’s a great rave-up of a song, and Kiesza’s vocals are a lovely and soaring counterpoint to those of Simon. I could dance the hell out of this song.
  3. “You Kill Me With Silence” - A little bit of a slower beat on this one after we all shook our booties to the previous one. Simon hits some pretty awesome high notes in the chorus, and there is a super cool guitar solo towards the end. Well done, Dom Brown!
  4. “Pressure Off” - Holy shit. This is the first single and it came out a couple of months before the album release. The first time I heard it, I thought I was going to DIE. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit there, but I think I did clutch my heart! Nile Rodgers is all over this one, and he’s listed as one of the producers, along with Mark Ronson, Mr Hudson, and of course, Duran Duran. The chorus is infectious and makes me want to wave my hands in the air like I just don’t care! Janelle Monäe is featured and she just knocks it out of the park on her verse. If this song doesn’t get you moving, call the coroner, because you’re a dead mofo!
  5. “Face For Today” - Another up-tempo one, although it seems almost sedate after “Pressure Off.” Some nice keyboard from Monsieur Rhodes here.
  6. “Danceophobia” - And the dance hits just keep on coming! This is one of the funnest songs on the album, with a spoken word cameo by Lindsay Lohan—I’m not kidding! She does a great job as the doctor with the sexy voice who tells her patient that he’s got danceophobia, and “I may have to work on you throughout the night.” Great fun!
  7. “What Are The Chances?” - This one features John Frusciante, formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with some killer guitar. It starts off as though it’s going to be a complete ballad, but the beat is still there. Just a little slower. This is one of my favorites on the album because Simon’s vocals send chills down my spine. Around the 3:15 mark, he just soars, and then amazingly goes even higher. Blows me away every time! I’ve read that he worked with a vocal coach to “rebuild” his voice, and he learned how to relax and just let ‘er rip (I’m paraphrasing). Even before reading that, I was struck by how strong his voice sounds on this album, so it was cool to learn that he was working to improve his voice even more. He’s always had a distinctive voice, and this track showcases it perfectly.
  8. “Sunset Garage” - This is a happy little song (“Sooo...halfway drunk”) that makes me think of cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in a little convertible roadster. I love how Simon sings, “Whatever happens, we’re okay, hey, we’re still alive!” Yes. Yes, you are. And you can sing that to me in a convertible roadster on the PCH anytime you want to, Simon!
  9. “Change the Skyline” - Man, is that one tasty synth riff opening this up, or what?! This one starts off fast, but the chorus slows down a bit with more great vocals from Simon. The track features Jonas Bjerre, who is the lead singer of Mew, a Danish rock band. (I’ve heard of Mew but didn’t know Jonas Bjerre’s name until this album.) Another nice vocal collaboration between Bjerre and Simon.
  10. “Butterfly Girl” - Another strong cut that is just a great pop song. It is a little reminiscent to me of ‘70s pop (in the good way). This is another of my favorites on the album because of its positive message. “You can make it through tomorrow, set free your Butterfly Girl, and when you rise above the sorrow, you’ll be a Butterfly Girl.” More great wailin’ vocals from Simon and more guitar from John Frusciante.
  11. “Only In Dreams” - A slow-starting one that you think is going to be a ballad (and can I say enough about Simon’s vocals??), but then the rhythm section kicks in, with some great bass grooves from JT. Play that fuckin’ bass, John! “There’s a vampire in the limousine!” I don’t know what that means, but I love it!
  12. “The Universe Alone” - I’m not going to say much about this one at the moment because it’s going to get its own blog entry. I’ll just say for now that this song moves me as much as anything DD has ever done—even as much as “The Man Who Stole A Leopard.” (Ask Ken about my reaction to that song!) It’s also a great closer to the regular version of the album. More on this one soon.

Bonus tracks (from the deluxe CD version)*

  1. “Planet Roaring” - Fun keyboard intro that makes me think of Devo and a great chorus that makes for another tasty dance song. Guitar on this is attributed to Steve Jones. That would be THE Steve Jones, formerly of the Sex Pistols. He and John Taylor have been pals for a long time and played in a band in the ‘90s called the Neurotic Outsiders.
  2. “Valentine Stones” - “I don’t wanna be like the boys that you keep in tow, like your Valentine Stones.” How do they manage to make a song simultaneously menacing but danceable? I don’t know. But that’s Duran Duran.
  3. “Northern Lights” - Another slow starter and then the rhythm section and keyboards kick in. Man, this opening makes me think of Devo, too. More great keyboards from Nick and more guitar from John Frusciante. This song strikes me as kind of sexy and romantic. “If you want to stay tonight, write your name across the sky, nothing that I would rather like than see you in the northern lights.” Kind of a slow-jam sort of vibe here.

Bonus tracks (from the Target version)*

  1. “On Evil Beach” - Man, I love this one. It has a distinct reggae vibe to me, with nice tinkly keyboards, some funky distorted bass, and I’m not sure how to describe the drums—almost a steel drum sound?—but they add to the reggae feel for me. There is even an interjected “Hey!” in there every so often. Dare I say it? This makes me think of how the Clash melded punk and reggae. Yep, I said it!
  2. “Cinderella Ride” - I love this one, too! Once again, Simon’s vocals send me. So smooth, and yes, I’ll ride with you, Simon! “Rise up on sparrow wings, you shall be the queen of shrouds, the queen of helpless things.” Again, I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s lovely.

So there you have it. It strikes me that their bonus tracks are as solid as anything on the main album, but if they had to pare it down to twelve songs, they made good choices. I had been anticipating this album for months and what a wonderful thing to listen and realize that not only did it meet my expectations, it skyrocketed past them. I think I like this even more than 2011’s “All You Need Is Now,” and I’ve been listening to that in my car nonstop for months. “Paper Gods” debuted at #10 in Billboard’s top 10 album chart, the strongest chart position they’ve had in 22 years, so it seems that I’m not the only one who is diggin’ it!

To make this even more special, we are flying out to Berkeley, CA to see them perform at the Greek Theater on Oct. 2nd! It will be my first time seeing them live, and I am thrilled. You know this fangirl is going to be wiggin’ out!

Congratulations to Duran Duran for making a fantastic album and for having great success with it. I couldn’t be happier for them and I applaud them for pushing the envelope and taking chances with new music and new collaborations. They are stronger for it and my fandom continues unabated. Duran Duran 4-evah!

*The bonus tracks are not included in the stream I provided, but if you want to hear the songs, they are all available on YouTube.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I been searchin’ low and high

I looked under chairs
I looked under tables
I’m trying to find the key
To fifty million fables

~~ The Who, “The Seeker”

I don’t pretend to be a journalist (and I don’t play one on TV). I’m just a person who likes to write a bit here and there and throw some thoughts and ideas out. Blogging and social media have been great for that, but a recent trend really bothers me.

There are a lot of satire sites and fake news sites out there now. I often see people sharing these stories as if they are real. This bothers me. A lot. First of all, it puts me in a position of having to defend people I really can’t stand, like Palin (multiple Palins, actually), Bachmann, and others of that ilk. There have been many times that I’ve written something to the effect of “I can’t stand her either, but she didn’t really say that.”

A response I often get is “But it sounds like something she would say.”

Maybe. But she (or he) didn’t say it. That is important to me.

Second, I might be weird for not wanting to put words in people’s mouths, no matter what their political or religious affiliation happens to be, but I do feel that way. Probably because I hate—HATE, I tell you!—when people put words in my mouth. So I suppose I’m overly sensitive to see that happen and I have a pretty good bullshit detector.

I’m sure we all have that friend or relative who loves to circulate those bogus email stories. Obama refused to put his hand over his heart for the pledge of allegiance, Michelle racked up a $30K bill in a hotel, blah di fucking blah. You’ve probably seen a lot of those. It’s all bullshit, but there are people out there who still circulate that stuff. It pisses me off to see it coming from the righties, but it pisses me off just as much to see it coming from the lefties. Because it’s wrong. It’s not the truth, and it’s wrong to perpetuate these lies, no matter who they are about.

We should do better. We need to do better. Passing around false information is not helping us in trying to find common ground on which we can legislate and move our country forward. It is only inflaming and deepening what is already a huge (YUUUGE!) divide. Sharing stories without reading the full story is also a problem. There was a recent instance of someone sharing a completely false story on the basis of the headline, which was absolutely provocative. But when you click through and read the story, it said that it was an experiment to see how many people would share it without reading it and that the headline was an absolute lie. I’m sure the author was trying to prove a point, and the point was duly noted. In the meantime, people are sharing this story—without reading it!—which didn’t really solve the problem. It just added another false story to the other false stories that are making the rounds.

C’mon, folks. We can do better than this. The Internet and social media is a great tool, but as Uncle Ben Parker said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Read a story before you post it. If something seems like an outlandish or outrageous quote, check other sources to see if they are reporting it, too. Learn to recognize false news sites and satire sites. Finally, Snopes is your friend. Don’t blindly share articles because they fit your narrative. Take the time to read a little more and do more research.

Please stop making me defend people who I don’t agree with. It takes another little piece of my heart everytime it happens.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Catching my breath

Whew! After one big weekend with the house party, it took me a bit to get back to my usual tranquil self. Just as I was getting to that point, we were off for another weekend, this one in Chicago!

(It’s not that I don’t enjoy the heck out of these weekends and have a blast. I do! But I’m a classic introvert who needs time to recharge. That much social interaction is definitely fun for me, but it also exhausts me.)

After driving through a torrential downpour and apparently a couple of tornado warnings in the area, we were happy to get checked in at the hotel, the Majestic. It’s an elderly beauty in the Lakeview area, close to Wrigleyville. We’ve stayed there a few times and it’s a nice, reasonable place. Not as ritzy as some places we’ve stayed, but it’s got some great amenities, a gorgeous lobby, and it is in a lovely residential area. It’s fun to walk to Wrigley Field and check out all the apartment buildings and beautiful flowers that so many people in the area seem to put out in their small yards. It’s one of our go-to hotels!

We walked a few blocks in the rain to grab a bite to eat and had some great burgers and beers at Rocks. We realized that we’d been there there year before when we went up for a Cubs game with Tom and Diana. I don’t think I had a burger last time, but I sure enjoyed this one. It was quite good!

We weren’t out late, because the next day at noon was a Cubs game! It turned out to be a perfect late summer day and was made even better with a Cubs win. They almost let it slip away, but the Cubbies prevailed and they are still doing surprisingly well this late in the season. After the game, we went back to the hotel room to watch Notre Dame take on the Ramblin’ Wreck and we won THAT game, too. Again, Georgia Tech gave us a scare, but we hung on to beat them. It was a good sports day for us!

Then we hopped in the car and headed to a Chicago suburb to our friends Joe and Maria’s house. Other friends (George and Karen) were there, too, and it was so nice of Joe and Maria to have us over! (We all met through Bob, who did the house concert.) We had some amazing deep dish pizza—nobody does deep dish pizza like Chicago—and Joe shared some of his more interesting (and potent) beers. Really delicious stuff that is more like a wine than a beer. There may or may not have been an incident where it was determined if two people can fit into the trunk of a Corvette. (Yes.) Arcade games were played and it was a very fun evening!

The next morning it was back to the Bend and trying to get back to our usual routine. As always, we had a wonderful time in Chicago and look forward to our next visit! Now I have all week to recuperate and then it’s our first Notre Dame football game of the season on Saturday. The weather looks to be beautiful all week, including for the game, and I’m trying to soak up all the sunshine and warmth possible before the cool weather sets in. Tailgating will be happening this Saturday!

I’m sorry to see summer winding down, but it’s been a great one, and I’ll look forward to the next one. As always!