Friday, June 27, 2008

Glitter & Doom 2008

Yesterday, Brandon and I hit the open road, heading east to St. Louis to witness the spectacle that is Tom Waits. Jimmy Erlinger was kind enough to supply us with room and board during our 24 hour duration. Beforehand, we three--and his friends, Mike and Curren [sic, I'm quite sure]--stopped by Blueberry Hill for the single worst cheeseburger I've ever had. They were then kind enough to drop us off at the Fox Theater.

I'd never been around any other Rain Dogs before, particularly in a capacity such as this. Sure, I have several friends who are casual Tom Waits fans, but not to the extent that I've been over the past fifteen years. I've never felt such energy in the moments leading up to an event before. Because you can only describe this as an "event."

Further reading from The St. Louis Dispatch:

The stage at the Fox Theatre on Thursday night looked like some dusty, forgotten music room in an antiques store. Odd and old instruments stood and sat about, waiting for someone to throw them together into a performance.

Good thing Tom Waits showed up. Waits — one of pop music’s most unorthodox, indescribable and poignant singer-songwriters — played in St. Louis for the first time in about 30 years.

And he nailed it.

Playing more than 20 songs in two hours, the gravel-voiced Waits serenaded, assaulted, charmed and amused the crowd with selections covering the last 25 or so years of his 35-year career.

Defining Tom Waits, on almost any level, is far tougher than herding big cats.

His music could be called jazz-rock-folk-R&B-blues. But that leaves out the gospel, country, heavy-metal and classical influences. In fact, even "jazz" is vague, because his tunes can stir up hints of Dixieland, ragtime, big-band, bebop and improvisational avant-garde.

Saying he’s a musician leaves out a chunk of the puzzle. He has been in more than 20 films ("Down By Law," "Mystery Men," Francis Ford Coppola’s "Dracula").

And that voice? Local music critic Daniel Durchholz once wrote that Waits' voice sounds "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months and then taken outside and run over with a car."

Even though he has won two Grammys, Waits has never had a chart hit. A few of his tunes were popularized by far more, well, popular acts: "Downtown Train" by Rod Stewart; "Ol’ 55" by the Eagles; and "Jersey Girl" by Bruce Springsteen.

But all those things, mashed together like one of his songs featuring whistles, washboards, congas and a school bell is why Waits has developed such a dedicated following. (We’d say cult, but Waits, I imagine, would be highly agitated thinking that people viewed his works and anything near religious.)

Waits opened with "Lucinda" from his latest album "Orphans." But he seriously grabbed his audience with his second number, "Way Down in the Hole," which has gotten some well-deserved exposure as the theme song to HBO’s "The Wire" series.

With little pause between tunes, Waits stood alone at a microphone and growled out several more numbers until he strapped on an electric guitar and offered a blistering version of "Get Behind The Mule," which may have been the best song of the night.

But leave it to Waits to throw things into a completely unexpected gear. After kicking the audience into overdrive, he then sang "Day After Tomorrow," a slow, haunting ballad about a soldier waiting to come home.

"Day After Tomorrow" points out Waits’ strongest suit as a singer-songwriter — the searing personal side he infuses into his music. While this song is surely an anti-war ballad, what lingers in a listener’s mind is not the politics of the situation but the loneliness and fear of the young man at war.

Waits took the gear change to move behind the piano and play some slow-tempo selections, the best being a sweet rendition of the short (less than two minutes) song, "Johnsburg, Illinois."

During this portion, Waits spun a few yarns and drew the biggest laughs with his story about his "E-bay" addiction.

"I recently bought the last dying breath of Henry Ford," Waits said. "It’s in a Coke bottle with a cork in it. It’s sealed real tight."

"Think about it. How many of those are there?"

Just as the relaxed lounge-singer vibe had settled in, Waits returned to his electric guitar and pounded out a hard-rocking version of "Make It Rain," another highlight of the evening along with the menacing "16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought-Six" several songs later.

Waits’ encore started with the charging "Goin’ Out West" but then slowly mellowed to the melancholy "Innocent When You Dream," in which Waits invited the audience to join in singing along the final refrain.

"It’s such a sad old feeling, the fields are soft and green / It’s memories that I’m stealing, but you’re innocent when you dream."

Sweet dreams, indeed.

I was also kind enough to text message each song to Jeff, as it happened. He does a similar thing to me whenever he goes to see Rush. Just not to the capacity that I did:

Way Down in the Hole
Falling Down
Black Market Baby
All The World Is Green
Get Behind The Mule
Day After Tomorrow
Cemetery Polka
Hang Down Your Head
Lucky Day
Johnsburg, Illinois
Lost In The Harbour
Make It Rain
Lie To Me
The Other Side Of The World
Dirt In The Ground
What’s He Building In There?
16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought-Six
Rain Dogs

Goin’ Out West
Anywhere I Lay My Head
Innocent When You Dream

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin, RIP...It's No B.S.

I woke up this morning to the news of George Carlin's passing. I'm not necessarily the type of person to follow stand-up comedy, but Carlin was different. To me, he elevated the art form and, over the past half-century, looked at the world with a twisted sort of philosophy. I remember in college, offending more than a few people in my Philosophy class, after having played a sound bite of Carlin's "Invisible Man in the Sky" routine for a presentation I did on the existence of God.

I came across a 1985 collaboration that he did with animator Bob Kurtz, whose work you might recognize from the opening titles of the old Pink Panther films, among other things.

This cartoon is not family appropriate--but it is hysterical-- so be forewarned.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


The illustration, shown here, is not a dog but, rather, an elephant.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Drawing Children's Books & Potty Training

As many of you know, my seasonal allergies have been taking a toll, so I've been stranded indoors for the better part of my vacation time. The upside to this is that I've been hard-at-work, revising That Baby. I was at the point where merely opening the front door to fetch the mail had my eyes welling up. Lisa finally convinced me to visit an allergist and begin the process of weekly shots. Only a week into this and I'm already noticing a difference.

As of right now, we've begun the process of potty training Audrey. So here I am, once again, staying indoors. This is because we're at the "Donald Duck" stage. To those of you who may be unfamiliar, this is the process of foregoing the child's pants and diaper, thus lifting any form of "security." Security, that is, to all parties involved.

But, back to the children's book, Audrey's been a huge help. If anything, because she constantly wants to color, draw, scribble, etc., and would love nothing more than for me to join her. The only downside of combining "work" and "play" is that, for every satisfactory drawing that I accomplish for the book (I'm doing it all in crayon now, by the way), Audrey loves it and wants to "color" on it. So I've found myself handing her the "rejections" and then secretly tucking away the "final" versions. It seems to be working out okay.

Just like last year at this time, I've set myself a deadline. I'm hoping to have something to show by late July. Hopefully, Audrey will also have something to show.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No Time For Love, Dr. Jones

SPOILER ALERT! If you have yet to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and intend on doing so, you may want to come back to this particular entry later on.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of the prospect of a fourth installment in the Indiana Jones series. The "trilogy" concluded in 1989 and when Indy, his father (Henry, Sr.) and two sidekicks (Marcus Brody and Sallah) road off into the sunset, I was content in knowing that it would, more-than-likely, be the last time. The third chapter ended on a good note, shedding some light on our hero's past. There was really nothing else to say. And after eight years of obsession, I was ready to let the character become nothing more than a footnote in my childhood. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school, and Indy had pretty much been a constant throughout my "formative" years.

Since then, I've cringed at any talk of a possible "next" chapter in the series. The Powers That Be tried--and failed--with a TV series that chronicled the early life of our hero. Young Indiana Jones proved more of a history lesson than an adventure serial. And, besides, we don't need to know too much about our childhood icons. I think I gave the series in question about thirty minutes, within its first season, before I turned it off.

Flash forward to a decade or so later. The trailer for Crystal Skull appeared online and it just so happened I would be showing my students a documentary on that particular day. I had my MacBook hooked up to a dongle so I could project the DVD onto a wall. That morning, before school, I had the documentary ready to go when it occurred to me the trailer had been released online. I downloaded and watched it on the wall of my classroom, alone, in the dark, with the sound turned way up. Then I kept on watching it. As I repeated the trailer, other teachers wandered in and out to witness the spectacle. And throughout the day, before I began the documentary for each class, I showed the students the trailer. Few were interested, and none of them had even heard of this Indiana Jones guy. But I didn't care. For the first time in years, I was excited to see my old friend again.

Needless to say, I wanted to love it. For the first time ever, I avoided reading or listening to anything regarding a movie that I was looking forward to seeing. By the time I sat down to watch it, it had been out for a week or so. I was ignorant of anybody's reactions, good or bad. All I knew concerning the plot was that Marion Ravenwood was back, that kid from Transformers (which I still haven't seen, and don't intend to, thank you very much) was in it and might "possibly" (yeah right) be Henry Jones III, and it took place in 1957.

I wasn't necessarily disappointed. I'll admit, it was odd seeing my old friend fighting the Communists and running around with Elvis Presley music playing. As I sat through the first twenty minutes, I reminded myself that this isn't the Indiana Jones from my youth. This Indiana Jones was nineteen years older than I remembered him and, no matter what he did or how he did it, people were going to be critical.

The script, although unusual with its science fiction theme, was a pretty ballsy move on the part of the film makers. And, as I sat watching, and having no idea what kind of reviews this movie had been receiving, all I could think about was how negatively people have probably been reacting to it. But why not the science fiction? The Cold War? "Colonel Jones," working with the U.S. Government? Mutt Williams' (aka, Henry Jones III) resemblance to Marlon Brando. It's the 1950's. Indiana Jones screams "1930's." Perhaps Spielberg and Lucas were trying to teach us a lesson. Perhaps they were saying okay, you want another Indiana Jones? Here it is, but you're not going to like it.

But I join the minority when I say that I did like Crystal Skull. It wasn't, however, without its shortcomings. I believe the movie would have been much better received if the appearance of Marion--at about the halfway mark-- were a complete surprise. Her character is hinted at earlier on, but could have easily been dismissed as nothing more than a reference to one of the previous chapters (this movie is full of those) and the audience might very well have not considered Mutt Williams to actually be Henry Jones III until the appearance of Marion which, despite my having waited for it, still came with a bit of excitement. Did Spielberg and Lucas intend on word not getting out about her involvement?

Also, as many have pointed out, the film lacked the "heart" that Raiders and Last Crusade had. It seemed as though they had forgotten about what made the franchise so endearing to begin with. It's the same argument I remember having heard about Temple of Doom when it first came out. At the time, I was eleven years old and "heart" meant nothing to me. It was just a really cool follow-up to Raiders. Now, fourteen years later, I still hear that very argument, but I still love that movie just the same (if Temple of Doom is the "red-headed stepchild" of the series, then Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the "unexpected surprise" that appears long after the children have all grown up and moved out). Would my eleven-year-old self be as critical with Crystal Skull? Somehow, I doubt it.

At the end of the day, I just love the character of Indiana Jones. It was nice to see him again and I don't think there would have really been a way for me to have been too disappointed. That said, I believe if this truly is the "last chapter" in the franchise, Dr. Jones can retire with dignity. I'll emphasize the word retire.

Monday, June 02, 2008

"Not 'It'"

So far, summer with Audrey has been fantastic. Aside from our daily errands, art projects and taking advantage of by familiarizing myself with TV shows on DVD (Freaks and Geeks, anyone?), we often times get to squeeze-in a round or two of her favorite new game: Hide N' Seek.

Hide N' Seek--also known in some circles as "Hide and-go seek"--is a popular variant of the game tag, in which one or more players ("it") search for the other players ("not 'it'"), who have been given ample time in which to find a place to hide. The game starts with all players in a central location. The overall objective is to not be discovered by "it."

Audrey enjoys playing both roles in this scenario. She has, however, mastered the art of "it," having learned how to count to twelve. As "not 'it'," I've discovered many places, within our little house, that would serve as safe haven in the event of a zombie attack.

See also: aliens
See also: ManSharks

But when the tables have turned, Audrey tends to get overzealous and misses the point of what it means to be "not 'it.'" As the comic strip above illustrates, when playing the role of "it," I finish my counting, turn around and begin to take a few steps before Audrey jumps out and presents herself. Just once, I'd like to give chase.