July 30 – August 6, 2015

This is the thickest part of the work year for me. It’s not the most stressful — that comes in early spring, when we’re alternating between worrying whether we’ll have enough projects, and worrying whether we can source the right candidates to staff them.

This is just good old fashioned 10000 things happening at once stress. Printing posters, corralling interviewers, advising 16 interns on career decisions, making travel arrangements, dealing with a jillion little details, all culminating in a quick 3 days in Armonk, NY next week. And then the long low fade into fall, which isn’t really all that long or slow.

Friday night we watched Wet Hot American Summer (for the first time). It was . . . OK. It was fine. Light summer comedy for a Friday night. Pretty forgettable, but definitely diverting in spots. We don’t have Netflix but even if we did, I don’t know that we’d feel the need to dip into the new series.

Although given the recent news about Netflix bumping up their paid parental leave to a full year, maybe M & I should consider re-subscribing just to support that.

Sunday night we watched Ride With the Devil, the 1999 Ang Lee movie based on a really great book, Woe to Live On, by Daniel Woodrell, whose later novel, Winter’s Bone, was made into a much better movie. RWTD did a reasonably good job of compressing the events of the book into a movie, but it failed to fully capture the remarkable voice that Woodrell gave to his narrator. Plus it had a really heavy orchestral score that just weighed it down.

RWTD starred Tobey Maguire, leaving me once again to wonder why people like him & continue to cast him in movies. He’s so damp. I guess I liked him in The Ice Storm (because I remember liking everything about The Ice Storm) but that’s about as far as it goes.

Tomorrow night we’re seeing Kamasi Washington in a small rock club down the street. I have high hopes for magic; you’ll find out next time I find the time to sit down & write. Could be a couple of weeks, though.

Oh! One other thing — yesterday I was ruminating in the morning about the seeming precipitous decline in narrative pop songwriting after the end of the 1970s. That decade was shot through with all kinds of crazy bona fide pop narrative hits, from the country side (“Harper Valley PTA”, “Ode To Billy Joe”), the folk side (“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”), the confessional singer-songwriter side (any/all Harry Chapin) to the, um, pop showtunes of “Copacabana” and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”.

But not long after the end of the 70s, things kind of dried up on that front. Sure, there were a few mini-narrative arcs (some Twitter friends mentioned things like “Jack & Diane”, “Fast Car”, even “Don’t You Want Me,” but none of them had the narrative-as-prime-factor that those earlier songs did.

We did a lot of chatting back and forth, talked about the rise of hip-hop (which is packed with narratives, everywhere, from the 80s to now) and the fragmentation of “pop.”

But the thing that really stuck with me — and seemed to hit closest to a workable hypothesis — was the notion that the rise of music video, starting with the debut of MTV in 1981, shifted the narrative role from the lyrics, to the visuals in the videos. So many early MTV video hits were fully-fledged narrative films, and at a certain point perhaps it even became preferable for the music to abandon narrative so as not to interfere.

July 30 – August 6, 2015

December 10-11, 2014

Noting this here so that I’ll have a referent when I look back in 50 years or whatever: The CIA Torture Report was released this week.

Photo from the Durham Herald-Sun, by Bernard Thomas

That’s a photo from the protests Wednesday night at Southpoint Mall, showing the [white] trucker who literally tried to drive right through the crowd of protesters. The cops took him into custody but then apparently just hung onto him for a bit & then drove him back to his truck.

Thursday night I went to see the Brad Mehldau Trio at Baldwin Auditorium at Duke, part of this season of Duke Performances.

I’m not a jazz critic. I don’t get paid to listen to or write about jazz. I have seen a fair amount of jazz as an adult, from fairly straight/classic to pretty fucking skronky, and a lot of stuff in between. But honestly, I approach it as someone who wants to be moved emotionally, and someone who wants to have his mind expanded by the pushing & bending of melody, harmony & rhythm. I don’t bring a lot of intellectual baggage to the experience.

What this means practically is that 99% of the jazz we listen to at home was recorded between 1955 and 1965. And I don’t really feel too bad about that.

What this means at a lot of jazz shows I attend is that I get really tired of bass and drum solos ;-)

My commentary about loud sets in Baldwin from October still holds true. I was (again) in the 4th row, directly in front of the piano, but there were times during the set when I was getting so much of the drummer that the piano was nearly inaudible. In that room I think you’re probably better off sitting further back, or in the balcony, and just relying on the PA mix.

(Which is too bad, because it’s otherwise a great room, acoustically.)

Anyway, Brad Mehldau. Really remarkable ability to play straight blues, to improvise melodically, and then meander further & further & further afield while still maintaining the slenderest of threads back to the chord changes. The set-closing cover of “Since I Fell For You” featured a 5+ minute piano solo that was utterly brilliant in that way.

December 10-11, 2014