Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Heavenly Grace (In 1080p)

There are countless reasons why I was attracted to my wife, Sherri. She’s rockin’ hot. She has exquisite taste in Neil Diamond albums. She bakes a mean taco-casserole-thingy I lovingly call “Cheese Surprise.” And she’s full of redheaded spunk. Somewhere, I won’t say exactly where, on the list was the fact that she owned an off-the-hook TV and stereo system that I stood to inherit the instant I said “I do.” Included was a beautiful Sony 27” television, a 25-disc CD changer, very nice Pioneer speakers, and a beefy receiver. She bought the thing, which I shall now refer to as “The Behemoth”, in 1996. It was quite high end for its time and had to have cost close to $2000. It has served us well.

As time went by, technologies changed. Music was now being downloaded from the “World Wide Web” in a magical mystical format called mp3. In just 45 minutes I could download a whole song from this weird Internet page called “Napster.” I could then record those mp3 things on a CD with something called a “CD burner” in just 30 minutes time! Blank CDs only cost about $2.00 per disc and each recording would only fail once or twice. From start to finish we were simply looking at 10 hours of download time (which I could do while I slept) and 66 minutes of burn time, accounting for bad burns. And the CD only cost $6.00, including the failed attempts, which I so wittily called “coasters” (yarharhar!) The clear winner over the 10 minute drive and $12.99 at the record store. Right?

Time continued to pass, technology continued to improve, and equipment started to adapt. MP3 players, particularly iPods, made CD players obsolete. BOSE released speakers that were roughly 1/100th the size of our speakers and put out 10x the sound and 20x the clarity. Chips got smaller and so did the boxes that housed them. The Behemoth was fast becoming an outdated piece of machinery, much like the computers from the 60s that took up several rooms of space to house. Now my cell phone has more kung fu than those monsters.

A few years ago I saw my first plasma television and instantly thought, “where the hell is the rest of the TV?” I just saw a screen. Kind of like in the movie “Mannequin” when Kim Cattrall hears a stereo for the first time and says, “where do you hide the musicians?” I wanted to know where they were hiding the wizard that was making the screen glow. And it was brilliant! So clear. And this was just the beginning. Televisions were getting bigger and smaller at the same time. They are now at a point where you simply hang your TV on the wall, like a painting. I walked away from that television much like Wayne from his Fender Stratocaster, “you will be mine. Oh yes….you will be mine.” It was just a matter of time.

But our beloved Behemoth was an ox. For 12 years that sucker has plugged along. Sure, the inputs on the front were totally shorted out, the Reds were so bright that my retinas have been burned from my eyeballs, and it makes a terrifying “CLUNK” sound when you turn it on, but it still works. And as long as that TV works there will be no reason to replace it.

But then technology took another turn. The digital and HD ages started creating situations that were difficult for The Behemoth to survive, much less adapt to. Firstly, there was the announcement that all television broadcasts were going digital and older televisions would either need to be upgraded or buy a converter box that would allow the TV to get the signal. Secondly, media was being released at much higher quality levels that were designed for updated television sets. Try playing an XBOX game like Fable 2 or Banjo 3 on a 27” standard television. You need a freaking magnifying glass just to read the prompts.

I built up the courage and pleaded my case to my bride. It went over like a lead balloon. We talked about it and joked about it for close to a year. I begged and Sherri laughed. I’m sure it was cute to see me groveling and whimpering on the floor like a beaten cocker spaniel. However, during this stage of the game, all of our friends and most of our family had upgraded their TV sets and Sherri got to see them firsthand. And she was impressed. My position was strengthening.

This Christmas the planets aligned. The combination of some paltry inheritance money and Christmas cash from the parentals and Granny B set the stage for victory. Magically out of the blue left-field from nowhere, Sherri said “go buy your TV.” All she saw were scorch marks from my feet. I was gone…on my way to Circuit City.

The recession has not been kind to Circuit City. It is the most recent Old Yeller of the electronics industry…rabid and doomed. They’ve already filed bankruptcy and stores are being systematically shut down nationwide. So naturally this was a great time to take advantage. I was dead-set on a particular TV, a 46” Samsung. They didn’t have any in stock. In fact they had very little in stock, period. This was the day after Christmas and inventory was going out like crazy. While I was talking with the sales guy, someone brought a TV back that they got for Christmas. There was nothing wrong with it…it was just smaller than what they’d wanted. It was a 46” Sony and the sales rep asked if I’d consider it. We brought it out, fired it up, and looked at it next to the Samsung. I was well pleased. He knocked $200.00 off the price, wrapped it up in cellophane, and we loaded it up. Since then the unit has gone up $700.00 in price. I scored. Chalk it up to planet alignment yet again.

There is only one adjective appropriate when describing my experience watching my TV. Orgasmic. And I’ll no longer call it “The TV.” It deserves better than that. I shall henceforth call her “Grace.” Watching up-converted DVDs on Grace is heavenly. Experiencing 360 games on Grace is second only to sweet-sweet love. I am terrified to see how my body responds to Blue Ray on Grace, so I’m not even going to tempt that fate until I’ve learned to control myself during regular DVD viewing and XBOX games.

Grace is finally mine. And by the grace of Grace go I.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Please Pass the Crow

Opinions are like vacuum cleaners. Most everyone has one and all of them suck. One of the many radities of blogging is the ability to slather my opinion on myriad topics all over the screen with very little accountability and hardly any occasion to defend my stance. I can also invent wicked new words like “radities.”

When I was in 6th grade my sister came running into the house after school sobbing. She was wet, dirty, bloodied and bruised. She said a jr. high school boy had roughed her up and thrown her in the canal as she walked home from school. I darted out of the house and sprinted up to the canal. There he was, with a henchman, picking on more kids. He was noticeably older than I. And bigger. I got in his face, and he got back in mine. Without warning I threw my best Clubber Lang right hook, square in his mouth. I’d never punched anyone before, but I’d seen enough action movies to know that when you punched someone in the face they fell down unconscious and your hand never hurt. Oddly, this 14-year-old heathen barely flinched and my hand felt like I’d crushed it with a pin roller. He simply raised his left hand to his lips, wiped the trickle of blood, and smirked. His eyes narrowed in anger. Mine widened in terror. I pivoted and ran as fast as I could the opposite way. He caught me of course and proceeded to ground-n-pound my cranium.

Blogging is similar to my experience confronting the bully. I can take my potshots, share my oft-bizzare and totally inappropriate opinion, then turn and run…hoping the informed reader doesn’t catch me and beat me down with silly things like facts, dates, and proof. But in the rare occasion that such a thing would happen, or an event occurs that proves me wrong, I’m boy-man enough to sack up and admit my error. So today I come before you, a humble faux-hawked, bearded boy-man, admitting that I was wrong.

Some months ago I posted this opinion piece out of frustration. For those that don’t want to read or re-read it, I was venting about Utah being a red state and how completely FUTILE it is to vote democrat (for president) in the land of the beehive. I then ranted about how cause crusaders waste their effort. For example, a person that lives a vegan lifestyle due to animal cruelty is a complete and total joke. My choosing to not buy the T-bone already packed in cellophane on the butcher’s shelf is not going to save the life of that cow. It is dead. And one person’s effort to affect that industry is laughable. You cannot change the system. End of story, period, goodbye.

I stand corrected.

Last week I caught this story about a University of Utah student named Tim DeChristopher that single-handedly defeated the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in southern Utah. The guy waltzed into an auction of oil and gas drilling leases and picked up a paddle. He raised the bidding paddle as often as he could, purchasing 22,000 acres of land with absolutely no intention or ability to pay. Further, he effectively drove up the prices by bidding so that other entities paid up to three times the reasonable price for the land. Eventually, the fuzz caught on and federal agents removed DeChristopher from the bidding room.

There are a few serious issues now for the BLM. Like any government agency, there is a tremendous amount of red tape to clear up and policy to follow. There is no “mulligan” here. They can’t just say, “ok, well now that the punk kid is gone, let’s start over.” There are also winning bidders that don’t want to run the risk of losing their bids. By the time the red tape clears and the dust settles, the Obama administration will be in power…and that land just isn’t going to come back up for sale. These people want that land for drilling, and if they have to pay inflated prices…so be it. As geologist Jason Blake so eloquently stated in the New York Times article, “they were hosed.”

Listen, I’m no environmentalist. I’m not saying that I don’t love and appreciate the environment, because I do. But I’m not convinced that saving land near preserved areas is more important than independence from foreign oil. I’d LOVE alternative energy sources, but drilling is technology and equipment that we already have in place. Funding terrorism through Middle East oil is evil, and I want to get away from that.

I have got to give much love and respect to Tim DeChristopher, even though I don’t necessarily agree with his philosophy. As evidenced by this television interview, he is clearly well spoken, intelligent, and informed. He completely understood what he was doing and is fully willing to take on whatever action the system takes. It looks like he has an imposing legal team ready to defend him pro bono and it has been rumored that environmentalist groups may come to his side and actually purchase the land that he bought at auction, clearing him from any personal financial responsibility. This guy is a hero to environmentalists. He’s not MY hero per se, but he has emphatically proven me wrong. It is clearly possible for a single voice to be heard when the speaker is smart, persistent, and a little devious.

Well-played young man. Well-played indeed.

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Sink or Swim!" sayeth the Pirates of Cydonia

Hi, my name is Wounded Possum…and I am a pirate. YAAARRRR! Like it or hate it, I’m an avid rabid downloader. So let’s first address the elephant in the room and lay out the ethical dilemma behind music piracy:

True or False? Piracy = Theft
My answer? False, as illustrated in the diagram shown below.



Not only do I feel that piracy is not theft, but I believe music file sharing is the ultimate free advertising tool available to all artists…everywhere. A) It is no secret that the large majority of revenue from CD sales is never seen by artists and instead is gobbled up by record companies. Lyle Lovett has never seen a single red cent from an album sale through his Universal record deal inked out in 1985 (link). Those that DO actually profit from record sales see very little cash. B) There are several studies that show that record sales have greatly benefitted from The Piracy Era. The graphs shown here illustrate incredible spikes in album sales in the late 90s and early 00s, in the absolute height of the download age. Side note…I’ve never managed to win this argument against designers or artists. Their views on “intellectual property” are entirely different than anyone else’s. So if you are in this camp…I’m sorry.

After the initial boom and mass hysteria brought on by Napster and other early P2P file sharing services, the music industry panicked. Instead of indentifying the wave of the future, waxing its board, and hanging 10 straight to Profitsville, it decided to defiantly wade into the sea, beat its head against swells, and try to sue the wave. The mass foot-stamping chaos created by the music industry, and a VERY select few musicians, resembled a three-year-old rich kid going full-on Smeagol on the living room floor because his toy truck was Hasbro and not Tonka. It’s still a freaking truck…the source might be different, but the trucks are equally rad.

We, the people, saw the tantrum and reacted. Instead of using P2P as a new vehicle to preview and find music, we decided to snub the record label suits and pirate their product en masse. And by “we” I mean “I.” Bottom line, if I want to support an artist directly I’ll buy a ticket to their show. Or if it’s an indie artist on an indie label I’ll absolutely buy the disc. Indie labels take care of their people. A good percentage of my favorite bands are all taper-friendly anyhow and fully dig the digital revolution.

“Come and gather ‘round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown, and accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone. If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin’.” -- Bob Dylan

Everyone was slow to change, but those that have are reaping the benefits. iTunes, Amazon.com, Last.FM, Pandora, Napster, and shrewd individual musicians have all adopted ways to help experience music inexpensively or free. The times are a-changin’, and only the quick and open-minded will stay afloat.

I found this article today on Comcast.net news that addresses a new industry shift, thanks to the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. It’s no secret…I’m a gamer and a fake-plastic-instrument junkie. Last May I was in Chicago for the National Restaurant Association food show. This is the “who’s who” for any self-respecting industry player in the food business. Coca Cola had a ginormous booth with a couple dozen sales reps floating in the area, handing out frosty beverages. Additionally, they had set up a 50ish” flat screen television and an XBOX 360 with Guitar Hero. I walked past the booth and saw two fellow industry professionals battling out to “School’s Out” on medium difficulty and they were tanking. Hard. “Bong, bing, dang, crash, bonk.” Note after note. So I weaseled my way up toward the front of the small crowd that had formed and watched. As the song ended, one of the suits handed me the guitar and said, “Give it a shot, it’s kind of fun.” “Ok, I’ll give it a try.” I fired up “Knights of Cydonia” on expert difficulty and shredded my way to a 5-star, 94% finish. By the time the song was over I had a gallery of spectators that would rival Tiger Woods putting for the win on the 18th at Augusta. I handed the controller back to the guy, whose jaw was to his knees, “what, do you play this for a LIVING?” “Nope. I have a 6-year old kid that plays.” And I walked away.

Thirty something business professionals play video games. Guitar Hero is the new squash.

Musicians are now starting to greatly benefit from the fake plastic rocker (FPR) games. That article, again linked here, suggests some incredible statistics:

• Many songs' sales have more than doubled after release in one of the games through individual download sales.
• Bands control revenue, NOT labels, due to image likeness and licensing deals that apply to FPRs.
• FPR sales more than doubled this year, $1.9 billion in 12 months.
• Aerosmith made more money off the June release of "Guitar Hero: Aerosmith" than either of its last two albums.
• EXPOSURE is huge.
• Artists from Nirvana to the Red Hot Chili Peppers have seen sales of their music more than double after being released on the games.
• FPRs protect artists that release music straight to the games. You actually have to buy the music through the console instead of ripping and burning.
• Users have downloaded game-playable songs more than 55 million times, some free but most around $1.99 each, since the games launched, and new titles come out each week.
• Promoters have brought the game into the real world with a "Rock Band Live" concert tour. Concert tracking magazine Pollstar said 2,900 fans paid $25 to $36 each to rock the Event Center at San Jose State.

A fine display of change and ingenuity. The music industry has almost fully completed its shift from CDs to more interesting and accessible forms of product dissemination. The waters have grown. There will be many-a-sunken stone, but those that have started swimmin’ will remain dry, popular, and rich.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top 10 Albums of 2008

Holy Freaking CARP (intentionally misspelled) that last post was long...

My friend Scott and brother Derall recently made their list of the best 10 albums released in 2008, subsequently hitting me up to post mine. I made up a list, with my own twist, and posted it to Facebook. I'd like to now post it here so you all can see what this music snob is listening to currently. I'd also like to draw attention from the verbose epic post of yesterday. So...copied and pasted from Facebook, with links to download respective songs:

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Derall and Scott, the pressure is unbearable. Quite frankly, I don’t have much of a clue what was released in 2008. I don’t really stay on top of new releases and instead prefer to find my music through The Bible or friend recommendations. So here is my list of new music TO ME in 2008. Some of it was found all by my lonesome, and some was referred by Derall and Paul. But in any case, here is my top 10 list of albums for 2008:

10) Marching Band – Spark Large
Released this year, Marching Band suggests a combination of Belle and Sebastian rhythms and Kings of Convenience voices. At times very catchy, eclectic instrumentation, and fun vocals. Sometimes reminds me of The Shins. Check out Gorgeous Behavior.

9) Neil Diamond – 12 Songs
If you don’t like Neil Diamond, you have no soul. Scientific fact. This album was recommended to me a few years back and I just never got around to giving it a listen until this year. This is Neil stripped down and raw. All acoustic and very bare. Reminds me of late Johnny Cash, where all hype and image were gone and all that was left was music in the soul. Rick Rubin is a god. Oh Mary FTW.

8) M. Ward – The Transfiguration of Vincent
Yes I know, I’m slow to catch the M. Ward train. I’d been trying for a year or so with Post War and Transistor Radio, but nothing grabbed me. I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be impressed with guitar or vocals. Or both. Turned out to be neither. But the light finally came on this year with Transfiguration of Vincent, courtesy of the track Let's Dance. Minimalism at its finest.

7) Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
My favorite Bird track is actually “MX Missiles”, but this album just has to be given a nod for its aggressive eccentricities. Not typical Bird in my opinion. Very much outside the box. I love the violin touch in Spare-Ohs.

6) Martin Sexton – Live Wide Open
My first exposure to Sexton was from a live version of “I Thought I Knew Ya” courtesy of www.archive.org, aka The Llama. Blues rock at its finest, and Martin has got some serious vocal range. Hallelujah FTW.

5) Bishop Allen – The Broken String
This is where the list gets brutal, like Sophie’s Choice of which child to keep and which to send to the gas chamber. This band is awesome. I got to see them live at Kilby Court and had a great time at the show. Very upbeat and great instrumentation, i.e. ukalele, steel guitar, marimba, xylophone, and those little piano things where you blow into one end with your mouth and press the keys with your fingers. Rain is a great example of he BA hook.

4) Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Another band I got to see live this year. Many great things require some effort to appreciate, and Fleet Foxes took some effort for me. The recording clearly tries to evoke a baroque feel, so the instruments sound muted…but the harmonies are incredible. I mean retarded good. Several killer tracks to choose from here, but I’m going to go with Ragged Wood as my fav.

3) Great Lake Swimmers – Bodies and Minds
Unbelievable group here. Gorgeous vocals and very simple-but-lovely musicianship. Sometimes minimalist, but always pretty. I missed seeing these guys at Kilby this year and I may never forgive myself. Imaginary Bars wins as my favorite track from this particular album, but I’m including a link to their video for Rocky Spine from the album Ongiara simply for its hilarity and bass player's beard.

2) The Mountain Goats – Get Lonely / The Sunset Tree
I just can’t choose between these two albums, so I won’t. This very nearly made my #1 on the list. Brilliant, descriptive, quirky lyrics mixed with an odd voice that I just “get.” Almost always acoustic, usually odd, and typically stripped down, this band tells stories. Woke up New and Pale Green Things from their respective albums are songs I will NEVER tire of.

1) Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
One of the best tips I’ve ever had in the history of my musical lifetime was to check these guys out. Thanks Derall! I have no specifics or particulars. This is just a joy-filled sonic experience. Melodies and musicality. Each and every track is worth hearing and I’ve never once skipped a song when listening to this album. The best album in my word in 2008. I could make a strong case for “Detlef Schrempf” as my favorite from the album, but No One’s Gonna Love You is the track that really grabbed me first. I love the persistent little electric pulse throughout the song.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

P. Tyler Pearson vs. Clarinerd85

I stumbled upon a topic in the Amazon forums entitled “From a rookie music teacher: How do I get kids interested in more diverse music?” I thought it was an awesome topic but I found something in the original post to be a bit aggressive and controversial. It has since been edited. The original post, with edits, is found below:

Hello Amazon! This is my very first post in the forums, so I would like to take a moment to tell you a little about myself. I have just finished my internship for music education, and I will begin working at a K-8 school teaching elementary music and 6th grade music appreciation in January.

During my internship I worked at a high school for 8 weeks, and when teaching music appreciation, I had kids bring in their own music to share and occasionally tried to introduce them to something new. (A couple of kids also dared bring in something different, like Black Violin and Celtic Woman.) Everything was met with sarcasm, rudeness, closed-mindedness, and comments such as "Oh God" and "Why do we have to listen to this s***?"

Does anyone have any ideas on how to get 12-18-year-olds to open their minds and listen to music other than what is familiar to them?

[EDIT #2] Well, this has been fun. I guess in the future I need to be more careful about making a controversial statement. I left the original statement alone so people who want to follow the conversation, can. I seriously thought about deleting it though...

[EDIT #3] Controversial statement deleted! I am now in the process of studying the educational value and cultural significance of rap/hip-hop/urban music and how to expand upon it. I want to sincerely thank all of the people who have contributed to the discussion. Looking forward to hearing more of your ideas.

The controversial comment in Edit #3 was, “The music they brought in, by the way, was at least 90% rap and hip-hop. I'm sorry, but that isn't really music. Anyone can turn on a synthesizer and talk in rhythm. About the only true musical qualities that stuff has is beat and rhythm.”

My reply was on the 4th page of the thread, several people before me replied and took offense to the comment about hip-hop. I left that topic largely alone at this point, but wanted to share my ideas pertaining to the original question:

What an awesome thread. I am a huge believer in "good music" and I detest the argument that "music is relative, and if I like it that makes it good to ME." That is complete and total hogwash. There are very specific components of music that make it "good."

I will not get involved in the rap debate, but I will say this... Kids are drawn to to music with intense rhythms and beats because of the way it makes them FEEL. The reason your students are unable to explain the music they listen to is because they aren't paying any attention to it. They only know how the overall piece makes them feel and that's all they care about.

From a very young age I started to dissect music. I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel, Grateful Dead, and The Who. Ever since I have appreciated music on three different levels.

1) Musicality. Just WHAT is going on here? I listen for the bass line, rhythm patterns, and odd guitar work. I try and identify just what instruments are being played. Key changes, mood shifts, different tempos, atonal qualities.
2) Lyrics. Is there poetic value to what I'm listening to? Is the artist speaking metaphorically? What kind of emotion and social message might be behind what I'm hearing?
3) Vibe. Let's face it, music makes you feel things. What kind of mood or vibe is being put across here? Am I supposed to feel angry, aware, sad, or excited?

My suggestion is this, allow your students to dissect music. Bring in something somewhat challenging, but not impossible. For lyrical quality have them check out Dylan, Seeger, Cat Stevens. Play "Where do the Children Play" and divide the class into groups to come up with what they think the message of the piece is? For musicality allow them to listen to Peart or Ginger Baker or Gene Kruppa or Buddy Rich on the drums, Clapton or Page or Metheney or Charlie Hunter on guitar, Flea or Claypoole or Sting on the bass. There is some great video showing these master musicians at work as well. Encourage them to identify the various aspects that make that song what it is. Analyze the lyrics and the musicality of what they hear. Put on some Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young to showcase how the voice as an instrument and how vocal instruments can blend.

Then afterward, have them present THEIR music in the same light. Encourage them to pick out what is great lyrically about Lil' Wayne. What about the rhythm and beat is INTERESTING. Because there most definitely is a degree of perspective when it comes to music. They will most definitely have a different perspective and a whole new agenda when listening to music they've been hearing for years. And rap can be great. Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet" shares a social message just as strong as Dylan's "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." You and I might not get the message as clearly as others, but the political value is there. Chuck D has been hailed by myriad critics as being one of the greatest lyricists of modern times.

There was no reply from Clarinerd to my response. She must have missed it. After my post, many many more rap-lovers joined the fray, making some incredibly intelligent statements about why rap and hip-hop genres are most certainly “real music.” Clarinerd85 wouldn’t budge though. She made point after point about why rap is not music, but started to contradict herself in many places. I’m not a rapper, but I had to get involved. She was being incredibly closed-minded. I probably got a little too heated myself:

Clarinerd 85, Clearly you are very polite and articulate. You obviously know the music theory that has been taught to you. But it is also clear that "academia" has polluted your perspective as it has so many other bright minds. Just because you don't understand something does not give you the right to discount it. You are so quick to discount an entire genre of music that you just...don't...understand. I don't understand or care for country music, but I have the decency to not broadly label it as bad music. You have been contradicting yourself throughout this entire thread.

"Thanks Theresa. I hope to have them understand that as well, but even with people in this forum it's hard to get them to think outside the box a little bit. But I don't give up easily. :)" Hello pot, I'm kettle.

You openly dismiss a widely accepted genre of MUSIC as *not* being music, yet don't understand why people rush to defend it. You cite the fact that rap can be done without music as being a characteristic that makes it *not* music. Yet you have stated in this long and now-painful thread that the voice is an instrument. You wouldn't tell me that barbershop is *not* music because there is no backing music. And please don't say that "rap is different because there is no musicality to the voice, it's just spoken word." There are other genres of music that incorporate monotone patterns that you would defend to the death as being music.

There are avant garde, experimental artists that are TAUGHT at the collegiate level as being musicians that give no regard to rule or structure, yet that extreme end of the spectrum is no doubt accepted by you. So what then is wrong with the minimalist nature of rap? I learned of an experimental musician in college whose famous piece involved walking out to a piano, letting the pages of sheet music fall to the floor, bowing to the audience, and leaving the stage. That is taught in college. As music.

And let's be fair and responsible here. You are not saying that you don't understand rap music. You CLEARLY stated in your original post that rap music "is not real music." That is insulting to music as an art. Time and again you pull the "you clearly don't understand the point of the question" card, but your lack of regard to a fully legitimate, accepted, often-brilliant form of music has facilitated this justified hi-jacking.

The glaring fact, as I see it, is that until you are able to take your own advice and "think outside the box" you will never be able to reach your students and open them up to new things. You are trolling the Amazon.com forums. Did you think you would just get passive responses and nothing but brilliant golden advice? I'd suggest taking this discussion up with fellow academics who likely share your opinions because it doesn't appear that you are open to others.

She didn’t miss this one. She replied quite quickly:

Tyler, I wish you would have read at least some of the discussion before deciding to pass judgement on me or my alleged non-acceptance or misunderstanding of rap music. I have openly welcomed suggestions for rap music, and have spent the past few days on Imeem looking up songs and artists that people have suggested. I have also admitted -- many times -- that the problem could be I just have not been exposed to good rap music, which is why I wanted people to recommend what they like in the first place. (And you would be able to see that most people have said the Top 40's and commercial rap, which is evidently all I have ever heard, is a bad place to start.) As I told Jason, I am grateful for the links he posted, because I found them very helpful and eye-opening, and I have started keeping a list of songs that I could use in an academic setting (i.e. don't have words or themes that could get me fired). You are sitting here scolding me because you think *I* am the one that is not open-minded, meanwhile I am taking MY time off to do research and hear suggestions from other people on how to improve my already-successful course. What I do NOT appreciate is people telling me I should teach rap to the exclusion of everything else, which is not appropriate and that WOULD be closed-minded. How is that any different from teaching strictly Baroque music? Answer: it's not.

I hate traditional music-appreciation courses just as much as the next person, which is why I am spending time looking for new ideas. That is why I have done things like let my STUDENTS bring in music of their choosing, let THEM decide which artists they would like to research and learn about, and most importantly, let THEM create THEIR OWN music. I even let them bring in Rock Band a couple of times so we could discuss the musical intent behind the video game. Clearly, I am very student-centered. However, I also expect them to let ME teach once in a while. There's nothing wrong with me expecting my kids to expand their listening repertoire, just as there is nothing wrong with you, and others like you, who expect me to learn about rap.

One last thing: You completely took what I said about rap existing outside of music the wrong way. It was meant to be complimentary, not to say that it isn't music if there is no synthesizer in the background. There is something to be said about people who can maintain a beat and rhythm with no help from a machine. But I guess I will have to go back and rewrite that post since it didn't come across that way.

Now Tyler, if you want to offer suggestions to help me, please do. But if you are going to continue making accusations based on one line in a post that was written two days ago, and which I have learned a hell of a lot from since then, please don't reply any more. Besides, if you really think I'm trolling instead of learning, you wouldn't want to encourage me anyway.

The gauntlet had been thrown down. And she misspelled "judgment" which I reacted to like a shark smelling blood:

1) I've read the entire discussion. It started out as an interesting topic with great feedback. And has derailed into a (now) 7-page epic hi-jacking by the angry hip-hop nation, to which I do NOT belong.

2) You are not open-minded. You've repeatedly stated your reasons for claiming that rap is not good music. Hence your constant and repeated contradictions. "Rap isn't music, er maybe I don't know enough about it, er anyone can rap, er I just don't get it, er" on and on and on.

3) You have no sense of accountability in this post. You expect other people to conform to your standards simply because you are the OP. Early on in this discussion, someone got heated in the topic. You came down hard enough to force the poster to tuck tail and apologize. On a public forum! I was embarrassed. You respond to heated criticism with frank, heated, scathing responses. Instead of rewriting muddy thoughts and rationalizing awful broad-stroke stereotypes, you may want to swallow some of your preachy pride and genuinely apologize for offending the rappers on these boards. Or at the very least stop expecting people to behave. On the internet. /boggle

4) I offered my suggestions, see page 4. Many of them. Back when I thought this debacle had value. I can give you no true suggestions for rap to listen to, since I don't listen to it myself. But I don't have the audacity to tell strangers that it's not music...

5) Don't pretend that OP makes you the almighty dictator of what is and isn't said in this topic. You have absolutely ZERO right to tell people to not post. Face it...your research experiment is replete with epic failure. You may want to cut your losses, take the few tidbits of information you found valuable, and move along. For many like myself, the primary purpose of this post has been completely lost to the incredibly high lack of tolerance, understanding, and education of music foreign to you. If you don't want me to post, don't reply to my comments. Rest assured I will always reply to you.

6) I enjoy feeding floundering trolls. *lobs another sheep*

Pwnt. She had to quit at this point, right? That had to have crushed her soul. Not so! Clarinerd has some scrap in her!:

1.) It has been hi-jacked by a few people from the "angry hip-hop nation." Most people, however, have been very helpful, even if they don't agree with my original assessment of rap. I'm sorry those few people have made this painful for you.

2.) I stated originally that I felt rap was not a form of music, and later on put those thoughts into words. Not because I felt like someone should agree with me, but because I wanted people to point out what I was doing wrong. And they did. Clearly I do have a lot of learn about rap, and I am making the effort to do so. Isn't that what is important, even if you didn't agree with my original statement?

3.) I don't expect people to conform to whatever standards you think I am trying to enforce, but I am also not obligated to respond to people who choose to be rude. And if some of my comments come across as scathing, it's because I do not want to be treated that way. You're the one who said I was polite and articulate; now you say I'm scathing? Who's wavering now? :-\

4.) I found your post and reread it, and I appreciate you taking the time to give me suggestions. Just as I appreciate every other person who has given me suggestions to add to my listening repertoire or add to my curriculum. I am sorry that my original statement, which I have said is wrong, still continues to offend you. Really.

5.) I am so sorry that my asking you not to post any more offended you so much. Please feel free to post as much as you want. My "research experiment" has actually been quite helpful. As a result of this thread, I have found new music to introduce to my students, new links between rap and other forms of music, and new ideas to add to my classroom and curriculum. Not to mention it has motivated me to find the educational value of rap for myself as well as my students. That is a lot of information I would have otherwise not had. I'm sorry that my efforts to educate myself about rap music has come across as intolerant to you. I'm glad you will always reply to me... I learn a lot more from people who disagree with me than from people who agree with me.

6.) Bahhhhhhhhhhhh. ;)

Well-played. I have to respect her now. She is holding her own. I can either get vicious now, or back off. I was the only one getting nasty on the board, and I don’t want to look like the bully. So I backed off:

Clarinerd85, I actually really like you. You're smart, well written, passionate about music, and you stick to your guns. I think if we were to meet each other by chance in an airport during a painfully long layover, we'd likely enjoy each others' company. I'm sure we'd talk about music.

A) I'll not lie. This discussion has indeed become painful.

B) Well stated. I understand completely and rescind my previous statements about your closed-mindedness.

C) I think it's perfectly reasonable for a person to be polite, articulate, AND scathing. You've established quite clearly in text that you tend to respond to complimentary replies (within the framework of your expectation) with politeness and grace. You have also shown that when someone comes at you with something less-than-complimentary, outside of your framework, you drop a nice little hammer. I am the exact same way. In your follow up to my second post you implied that I didn't read the discussion, didn't understand what I did read, revealed that you hadn't read (or didn't remember, to be fair) my original reply, and asked me to shut up. Our styles of reaction are similar. When someone drops a hammer on me, I look for a bigger hammer to drop.

D) A clear, concise, and obviously sincere apology. A high-road example of open-mindedness.

E) I'm glad that you are getting good information for your class, because I really truly and completely hope that kids get a good musical education. There is so much more to the art of music than what we hear on the radio. I think you care about the kids and care about their education AND care about music.

F) This response made me grin. I'm a huge fan of smilies. Shows you have a sense of humor.

To sum up, I leave you with this. And I'll only state opinion. I think music is the tie that binds. It is a universal language that touches every soul in one way or another. It is unfair to blanket an entire genre of music as being bad, or even worse, not being real music. To be clear, I don't think you are doing that...but at first I thought you were. My wife is a Celine Dion and Barry Manilow enthusiast. I'd personally rather be kicked repeatedly in the groin by a rabid mountain goat than listen to anything by those two, but I can't label it as being "bad" or "not music." Even William Shatner's albums, which are very very bad, still deserve to be called "real music."

I wish you the best with your class. I'm sure you'll do great. And I'll be looking for Clarinerd85 in airports all over the country.

I could have dragged it out, but it looked like Ms. Clarinerd85 was extending an olive branch of some sort. She edited the original post and many of her more scathing comments to replies. And finally responded thus:

AA.) I'm glad you like me. I like you too. ;)

A.) If you think this is painful, try standing in front of 28 teenagers for the first time and asking them what they want to learn and how. That is a good reason not to let them bring weapons to school...

B.) Thanks.

C.) I didn't remember your original reply, no. But I did reread it, and probably will many more times.

D.) :)

E.) I sincerely and passionately care about all of my students and their education... otherwise I wouldn't put myself in this position to begin with. Thanks for acknowledging that.

F.) :D

FF.) Thanks for sharing. I really do appreciate you taking the time to share your views. See you at the airport.

Here endeth the flame war between P. Tyler Pearson and Clarinerd85. I call it a draw.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Scrooge Ain't Got Nuttin' On Me

Last year I was completely, totally, and overwhelmingly STOKED for Christmas. I’m not sure why. Ok, that’s a lie. “The family” was getting an XBOX from Santa Claus and “the family” was planning to play Guitar Hero until its fingers bled. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning to come. I had lights hung on the house by Thanksgiving and both trees were up and decorated before December 1st. I lived off of eggnog and ham. I had Christmas slush every night, a delightful concoction made from various citrusy fruits, Sprite, and bags of sugar. I watched Albert Finney’s “Scrooge”, “Christmas Vacation”, and “Ernest Saves Christmas” several times leading up to Christmas. I actually played Christmas tunes in the car and sang them out loud at work. It was the first holiday season since my young boyhood where I felt that kind of excitement.

How then is it possible for me to be so apathetic this year? The lights never made it on the house and the trees just went up yesterday, only 9 days before the big day. Christmas music on the radio nauseates me. I have no appreciation or patience for the frumpy rhinestoned sweaters the ladies wear at work. I haven’t once said “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas” to a single person. Even the late great Jim Varney, aka Ernest P. Worrell, can’t get me in the spirit.

Here’s an example of my humbuginess in action. My boss is not a big believer in sales team activities, i.e. sales meetings. Incidentally we rarely get a chance to bond together and spend time getting to know one another outside of “cookie talk.” Once a year the boss takes us all out to lunch…at Christmas time. Last week he sent an email asking for suggestions on where to do lunch. My suggestion was Charlie Chow’s and it looked like that was where we were headed. I was thrilled! The morning of lunch day, a co-worker sent out an email that said “In the spirit of Christmas and the time of ‘giving’, I suggest we forego our lunch and donate what we’d have spent to the Utah food bank or local charity. Your thoughts?” My boss responded, “I think that’s a great idea. What do the rest of you think?” My despair drove deeper and deeper, my frustration burned hotter and hotter as I read reply after reply, “What a wonderful idea!” and “I agree completely!” Well I didn’t freaking agree. I was pissed. I couldn’t even bring myself to answer. I didn’t want to lie and I didn’t want to tell the truth. I didn’t give a rat’s @$$ about helping the poor in that moment; I donate money on a monthly basis to help those less fortunate than I, what the HELL do you people do regularly to help feed mouths? Instead, you fair-weather losers want to pay your alms in public for the whole world to see and hijack MY Christmas lunch to support your pathetic fa├žade of giving and charity?! BOGUS! I was hot.

My boss called that afternoon and said, “I never heard back from you on the Christmas lunch.” “That’s because my opinion wouldn’t be popular, boss.” He laughed, “Well tell me what you feel?” So I told him, without all the detail of course. He understood and offered to bring in pizza for us while still making a charitable donation.

This isn’t like me!!! I grew up in a family that always did special things for people at Christmas time. I'm embarrassed that I thought those thoughts and was unwilling to do a really GOOD thing at an important and sensitive time of year. So what's my deal?! I'll venture a few guesses:

1) The death of Sherri’s grandma and subsequent fallout with the world’s biggest SCUMWAD all happened at the end of November when people first start gearing up for the Christmas season. It’s hard to get into the spirit when Sadness and Disgust have pitched tents in your heart.

2) The weather. It felt like September up until this past weekend when we were brutally blasted into mid-January. Bloody cold and icy snow. Compound that with the city of West Jordan’s complete lack of attention to snow removal in my neighborhood. Anger just made camp next to Sadness and Disgust.

3) A fair percentage of the world feels some economic strain during Christmas time and I’ll readily lump myself into that statistic. Paired with a lovely recession bordering on depression, financial stress can create some wicked ugliness. Worry just rolled up in the Winnebago to hang with Anger, Sadness, and Disgust. Sounds like a party.

4) Maidie is just now recovering from her 5th ear infection in 4 months. And she’s only 8 months old. Eric had so many this year that we were forced to put tubes in his ears and remove his Adenoids two weeks ago. We’ve had some seriously sick and grumpy kids the past few weeks, all close to the time of Yule. My company is also moving from a traditional health insurance plan to a high deductible plan with a health savings account; a plan that I don’t fully understand or endorse. Despair and Agitation are now stoking the fire at Camp Apathy.

Sadness, Disgust, Anger, Worry, Despair, and Agitation are all squatting in my apathetic heart. Not a lot of room at camp for Happiness, Joy, Giving, and Seasons-freaking-Greetings. I need a miracle on 34th street or some little girl to evict the squatters with her innocent “every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings” because as I see it now, the angels are having their wings yanked and torn off by bloodthirsty humbugs.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Image Overhaul

To kick off the new blogging season I've decided to massively overhaul my gnarly imagery, both personally and blogally. I've had a number of readers tell me that my blog was hard to read. Let's face it...stark white text on a dark black background with psychedelic swirlies in the periphery creates a laborious and likely painful reading experience. But I was proud of my layout! I'd created it from scratch and even made my little "Demented Dreamer" logo all by my onesie in Photoshop from a cropped picture of Talmage buried in the leaves. I didn't expect many people other than myself to read the thing and hey...I'm a psychedelic sort of dude. Sometimes I'd just pull up my own blog and stare at it whilst listening to Strawberry Alarm Clock. Now that I know there are actual readers that probably value their eyesight, I've decided to make it much more friendly to the occulars. I've also added a few new touches to the sidebar:

- A picture of The Possum himself.
- A list of blog followers, which at the current time fight in an army of TWO.
- A link to my latest tweet from Twitter.
- A link to the day's Woot. Those of you unfamiliar with Woot, this is something you need to check out. One deal for one day. Sometimes it's complete and total carp (l33tsp34k for "crap") but sometimes it's an incredible buy that sells out in a matter of hours. Once it sells, it's down for the day. This is not an ad! I'm just addicted to Woot and am looking to spread the addiction.

I hope you like the changes to the site.

Further, I've decided to overhaul my own personal physical image. My entire life, for the most part, I've parted my hair. Everyone parted their bloody hair in the '80s and my dad has parted his hair the same way since 1955. There are genetics at work here people. It wouldn't matter what the current hip style may be, no matter how nerdly and ghastly the part may look, if there is hair on my head and it is long enough... I'll part it. It's a force stronger than me, like gravity and love. The brush almost acts on its own, independently of my hand. So yesterday I went to Kristy at Salon di Jon and said "Cut me Mick! Chop this hair so short that a part would be a total impossibility!" And chop she did. When I left I asked her to style it in a groovy fauxhawk so as to get a nice little rise out of Sherri. To my surprise, my lovely bride quite liked the new doo. So I tested it today at work, and lo and behold...The Cookie Chicks dig it. So hey, maybe the hawk can stay.

You also probably wondered what Grizzly Adams was doing on my Blogger page. Well, believe it or not, the manly-looking bearded one is actually me! Every year I try and grow a beard for a few weeks to see if it's any less pathetic than the year before. And every year it isn't. This year it seems to be a little more full than 2007, but it's still not going to win me any Cat Stevens lookalike contests. But I don't care. When people ask about it I just simply say, "it's cold outside" instead of telling them the real reason, which is that I'm secretly and subconsciously trying to piss off my old man. I'd bet a dollar to a doughnut that he shakes his head and snickers the instant he sees me tonight at the dance concert, and at some point during the course of the night will discreetly mention that "appearance is crucial in the business world." Discreet huh? Why don't you just hold me down and go at my face with a weedwacker pop! Ultimately I leave it to you, dear reader, to judge. Sam Beam or Jim Beam?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Final Post, 2008

For all intents and purposes, this is my last post for the year. I’ve simultaneously been creating a book courtesy of Blurb that will be a collection of blog posts for the year. So instead of blogging based on a calendar year, I’ll create the Tylerean calendar system and make it start and end whenever I bloody well please. That way I’ll have my book before Christmas.

I think this was a successful virgin year for the blog. I’ve been able to vent, ramble, create, expound, hypothesize, rant, write, and rant. And write. It has been tremendous fun and I hope the wellspring of ideas and oddities doesn’t dry up soon. Thank you all for reading. In parting, I’d like to list some of my favorite comments from various readers over the past year:

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“You will greatly increase his chance of successfully becoming a productive member of society by eliminating He-Man from the show list. By the way, you would make a great teacher.” -- Brian (Post: El Destructo)

“You’re totally gay.” -- Paul (Post: Dress Shirt Shopping)

“Wow brother...that is a truly disturbing story. It somehow makes me feel much better about myself though. Thanks.” -- Sister (Post: Rotisserie Chickens and the Lost Ark)

“I have to agree with you. WOULD it matter if we voted Obama? (not that I would in a million years, but Hey---). Look at Mattheson. No one thought he would ever get elected because he was Democrat... or Mayor Rocky.... You're right about LDS and republicans though. My father-in-law once said that (Jason's mom's mom) Grandma Putnam would vote AGAINST Jesus if he ran as a Democrat.” -- Mandy (Post: Little Blue Spruce)

“Wow! I thought I would stop by to take a quick read and was really surprised to find what deep thinker you are. Your wheels must be turning 24/7. Have you always had so much on your mind?” -- Lisa (Post: Decadence Perfected – Redux)

“Come now. My dad wasn't that bad. I think you imagination and time has done something to your memory. Besides, he loves me and wanted to make sure that he did all that he could to protect me. No, I'm not mad/upset that you used your experience with my father on your blog site. I actually think it's very funny - your personal comments on the situation. Just remember this for your daughter(s).” -- Cori (Post: For Fathers of Daughters – Dennis Park at the Plate)

“I think you are being very harsh towards your parents. They are wonderful people who actually still have all of their teeth! Remember, we brought you into this world ... we can take you back out!” -- Dad (Post: Dentist Rant)

“Tyler, I just wanted to tell you that I check out your blog frequently and I think you are a fabulous writer. I can't remember exactly why I looked at your blog the first time, but I was so entertained by your post at that time, that I keep reading. I hope that doesn't bother you. But, for my entertainment purposes, I hope you will continue to use your blog as your creative writing outlet. And just for the record, my favorite post was the one about your junior high school teacher hitting your desk with the his ruler, flipping your math book over, and so on and so forth. You had both Chris & I almost crying we were laughing so hard.” -- Sara (Post: The Blogosphere – Empowerment, Endangerment, Entertainment)

“So....is Clay Aiken the man, or the woman? I'm betting on woman, just look at the picture you posted!!” -- Sherri (Post: Random Thoughts on a Friday)

“Put me down for a dozen Firework scented candles when you get that going.” -- Paul (Post: The Cynic and the Optimist)

“Your blog is always an interesting read, in fact my mom has linked over from my blog to yours and has become a lurker of Tyler's oddities. My dad and I were just talking about Prof. Pausch today. I want to put a little rock climbing wall in the basement and I kind of thought maybe that was too extreme but my dad used the example of Pausch drawing on the walls and said "that's what houses are for." So, I am going to do it!” -- Amy J. (Post: Lift Where You Stand)

“Amen to everything you said there brother. I was teased plenty, maybe because I never even tried the football thing.” -- Jason (Post: Piano – The Ultimate Chick Magnet)

“Tyler, I just read everything you posted about my dad to my sister and my dad right here in the hospital room. I laughed and cried. This is amazing what you have done and I can't thank you enough for your thoughts and your friendship with my dad. Everything you said is true about him and our family. He is a wonderful and good man. Trust me, we have wondered why as well. We are very grateful for every little bit we get each day and continue to pray for his full recovery also. I've never met you but I can tell how much you respect and love my dad. Thank you so much for this blog to pay tribute to him and help us to laugh (and cry). He'll be back, it'll just take some time. Please keep praying for him! THANK YOU AGAIN!!!” -- Jeny (Post: My Friend Levi)

“If Janice Kapp Perry and Michael Mclean should surrender their rights to their music to make it more affordable for you to listen to, why did I just pay 75.00 a ticket to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As a friend of a musician who spends hours and hours writing music, I believe the little he makes from "high priced" CD sales he well deserves.. and if I want to hear more music from him I have to pay the price or take the chance that he wont produce more music. ggeeeeezzz mormons are cheap.” -- Anonymous (Post: Filthy Lucre)

“Technically, English is getting in your way, not physics. Physics doesn't enter the picture until you have an actual force you want to describe as irresistable or an actual object you want to describe as immovable. :)” -- Jacob (Post: Dead Duck Delivery, Godzilla Snow Havoc, Unstoppable vs. Immovable, and Iocaine Tea)

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Followers

 

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