Friday, July 31, 2009

What I'm Listening To Today - Mike Doughty and Soul Coughing

I used to listen to Soul Coughing like crazy when I was in college in the late nineties. Then they broke up, and I basically forgot about them. I still listened to their CDs, but I never considered what they might be doing these days.

Then we did the Broken Mirror Story Event, and one of our entries was inspired by a song by Mike Doughty, the erstwhile singer of Soul Coughing. I had to run out and check it out right away.

I loved that band so much, and it was almost as if they had new albums that I'd not heard yet. Mike Doughty's stuff is much less electronic and sample based. Instead, it's almost always got acoustic guitar throughout, but I like it just as much. It's still really good.

So this playlist is some of my favorite Mike Doughty songs as well as some of my favorite Soul Coughing songs. Check it out if you've never heard them before. You may find something you like.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

We're on our vacation in the middle of the Canadian heartland, driving across an endless prairie, and my daughter speaks up from the back seat.

"We can't go to the ocean to swim."

"What is that, Kiddo," I ask.

"We can't go to the ocean to swim, because I would be afraid to go in the water. I'm afraid of sharks."

I'm nonplussed. We're not going to the ocean anytime soon; we're in Alberta, probably 500 miles from the closest salt water; and what did this stuff about sharks come from?

My son speaks up, "She's still afraid of Jaws."

It turns out that, while playing at a friend's house, my two older kids, nine years old and seven years old, watched Steven Spielberg's Jaws. My seven-year-old didn't make it all the way through the movie, but she was able to watch the terribly disturbing opening skinny dip/shark attack scene.

I didn't see that movie until I was probably 15 years old, and I was very disturbed, what can my poor little seven-year-old be thinking? This was the same movie that kept a whole nation away from the beach for at least a summer, and, in many people's cases, more. What can that poor little girl be thinking that she would randomly bring it up more than a week after watching the movie and more than 500 miles (oh wait it's Canada, 1000 kilometres) from the beach.

We are going to California to visit family next summer. I hope she's over it by then, because I'm planning on taking them to the beach.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Murphy Brown's Law

I don't know if everybody else's life is like this, but if it isn't then why does Loki, god of mischief, hate me so?

Here's an example for you. Today, I'm heading out the door to work, and I realize that there are no leftovers for me to take for my lunch. I've got to make something, and fast. I look in the fridge, and figure that the quickest thing I can do is whip up a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches.

I grab the ham and cheese from the fridge, and the bread from the cupboard. I'm going to need some mayonnaise on these sandwiches if I want them to be edible. So, I grab a butter knife to spread it, and the mayonnaise bottle from the fridge. Except the last person who used the mayonnaise just set the lid on top instead of screwing it on. The lid pops off the mayonnaise, and the bottle plunges to the floor. When it hits, about a cup of mayonnaise splatters across the kitchen floor. So much for being quick, now I've got to get out some paper towels and scoop/wipe this mess up.

But it doesn't end there. I get the sandwiches put together, and head to the pantry to grab some Ziplok bags to put the sandwiches in. I try to pull two bags out of the box that sits on the top shelf. I get one, but in trying to get the second one out, the box falls of the shelf, hitting the ground, and spewing its contents across the floor. Now I've got about 50 Ziplok bags to clean up. I grab them all fairly quickly, but they resist being shoved back into the box. Several of them slip out of my grasp, and I've got to pick them back up. Finally I wrestle them back into the box.

I put the sandwiches in my lunchbag, and start tossing the ingredients back into their places in the cupboard and refrigerator. I'm done right? Not quite. When I toss the ham and cheese into the fridge, they dislodge a bag of shredded carrots from its perch. It falls to the floor and spills its contents too.

Is it Loki? Is it Murphy? I don't know, but it's my life.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Children Just Don't Understand

It seems like every person I've ever known who has a screwed-up life, be they my own friends or celebrities or whatever, always blames their messed-up life on their parents. Their parents didn't show them enough love, didn't take them to enough ballgames, didn't buy them enough popcorn at the ballgames that they did take them too, and so on. I wonder how many things these parents did for these nasty kids out of pure love, that they never even knew about or understood.

The reason I wonder is because my daughter lost her tooth yesterday. Back when my oldest son lost his first tooth, my wife, in a fit of spontaneity, gave him not only a dollar for the tooth, but also a box of Junior Mints. This established a precedent for our children. From then on, they would wonder what the heck happened to the Tooth Fairy, and why wasn't she doing what she's always done if they only got a dollar and no candy. So, in an effort to help our children's youth last as long as it can, we've always given both a dollar and some kind of candy treat. (Why the Tooth Fairy is giving candy is a topic for discussion all on it's own. Shouldn't she be promoting good oral health, which eating candy is not a part of? Or maybe it's a nefarious purpose. She wants the kids to lose more teeth, so she can wallpaper her living room with them, or whatever Tooth Fairies do with these teeth they collect).

Anyway, I was editing on the podcast last night. I was determined to get it done before I went to bed. I'm heading out for vacation at the end of the week, so I was running out of time. I ran out of gas somewhere around 1am, but I was still a ways from being done. I kept at it, because I was determined, and finally, bleary-eyed and utterly wasted, I finished editing at 2am. I went to my bedroom, undressed, and just as I was about to hop in bed, I realized that I hadn't taken care of Tooth Fairy duty. I put my clothes back on, and bleary-eyed and utterly wasted, I drove to the 24hr gas station to get her the candy that was expected to come from Fairyland.

I hope, someday, when she thinks it's cool to hate her dad and blame all her ills in life on me, she thinks about things like this, and understands just how much she is and was loved.

Seeing her face first thing in the morning as she marched into our bedroom at 7am to show us what the Tooth Fairy had brought made it all worth it, though. I only wish I hadn't been too tired to open my eyes for more than a split second to look before falling back into a fitful slumber.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who Put The Alphabet In Alphabetical Order?

This morning, I hit play on my iPod as I was heading out the door to work, and it revealed to me a new feature. If you hit play without telling it to play anything specific, it takes everything on it, organizes them alphabetically by artist, and plays them all. I had my iPod loaded up with all the singles that I've collected over the years for songs from as far back as the '50s to the present. It loaded up A-ha's "Take On Me," and started playing.

The only thing I couldn't understand was that right after All-American Rejects, it played ? and the Mysterians doing "96 Tears." I'm no expert, but in everything I've ever seen alphabetized, numbers and symbols came before the letter A. How did it get shoved in between The All-American Rejects and "My Boyfriend's Back" by the Angels?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Finding Nemo



So we've made it to my number one favorite Pixar film of all time. What is it about this movie that so enchants me? I've talked a lot with Rish about it, and, as we've said on the podcast a lot, it's the heart that makes it so great. I think Finding Nemo has the most heart of all the Pixar films.

I rounded up the kids, and, once again, we sat down to watch the next DVD. The first thing that strikes me with this film is the absolute beauty of the film's score. After Coral is killed, and Marlin holds Nemo's egg in his...uh...fin, Thomas Newman's theme swells. Everytime I hear that music, I feel an unusually strong emotion. I don't really know how to describe it. I'm willing to bet that it's the same kind of feeling that an artist gets as he looks at the works of Van Gogh or Rembrandt or the feeling a soccer player might get as he watches the video highlights of Pele or Ronaldinho. That piece of music is sublime in its beauty. All the emotions that Andrew Stanton subjects us to through the course of this film are summed up in that 30 seconds or less of music.

I've always been susceptible to the power of music. So it's no surprise that Newman sucks me in right away, but it doesn't stop there. "First Day," the song that accompanies Marlin and Nemo's journey to school is magical, "Field Trip," the song that accompanies the schools trip through the reef makes me feel the same wonder that Nemo is feeling, "Mr. Ray, Scientist," is a memorable tune, "Lost," really evokes the terror that Marlin is feeling as he desperately tries to follow the trail of the motorboat. I could go on and on (that's generally what I do), because there are something like 30 tracks on the soundtrack, and I haven't even passed number ten yet. I'm sure you get the picture.

The soundtrack to Finding Nemo (and later Wall-E as well) inspired me to go out and get other soundtracks that Thomas Newman has done. The very well known theme to American Beauty is also by Newman. As well as the simply gorgeous music for Road To Perdition. But I've even got the soundtrack to movies that I don't even particularly like, like Meet Joe Black, because Newman penned the music. These days, Thomas Newman is my favorite composer. John Williams may have more great scores to his credit (I own ten times the number of soundtracks by him than any other), but when Newman reaches a similar age, they may well be equal.

Finding Nemo is a smorgasbord for the eyes. The backdrop of the coral reef is rendered with loving care, and art, to rival any that has been created in...hell in human history is put on the screen. I know we have a tendency to venerate things from the past while downplaying the worth of things from the present, so I'm sure most people reading this blog will consider what I just wrote to be hyperbole at its finest, but I really do believe that. Michaelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are no more beautiful than the images rendered by the animators behind this film. This is not your average lowbrow cartoon here. Anyway, I said it, and I won't take it back.

Now, Finding Nemo probably had the worst trailer of any Pixar film. Let me sum it up for those who don't recall it or never saw it. Marlin and Dory talk a little about their predicament, and they decide that they need to ask for directions. Since Dory is forgetful, Marlin decides that he'd better be the one to ask. He goes and finds the school of fish that likes to form themselves into shapes and do impressions. As they start to give him directions, Dory comes swimming in and scares away all the fish. She laughs, oh it's so fun, and Marlin is frustrated. He begs for a bigger fish to swallow him.

I saw that trailer, and groaned. First of all, I'll admit I'm not a big fan of Ellen DeGeneres. I'm not a hater, by any means, but I don't think she's very funny. This trailer only reinforced that for me. Ugh, every line she spoke was irritating. I saw this trailer and thought, "Oh no, I think this movie may not be for me." I don't know what it is about Pixar's ad campaigns, but it seems like every time I see their promos, I fear that the film will be that first Pixar dud.

I went to the movie anyway, of course, because, well, I was already a hopeless fanboy by this time. Monsters, Inc. had ensured that I would be there for Finding Nemo on opening weekend. I remember going with my kids, and my daughter, who was only about two at the time, threw a fit in the middle of the jellyfish field crossing. I was so irritated to have to carry her out and miss part of the movie, because it had been so good so far. I gave her to a stranger and said, "here, you can have the kid, she's yours," and went back to my seat. Just kidding, but I might have considered it. Pixar is an obsession, you know.

Ellen DeGeneres was actually great in this film. She didn't grate on my nerves at all. The stupid lines that she uttered in the trailer were not a part of the film. Her character, which seems like the kind of character that could be off-putting, was loveable instead. Short term memory loss is not, in my opinion, a good flaw for a character to overcome. It's not something that people can relate to. It's a rare thing, like Narcolepsy or Abetalipoproteinemia. And, on top of that, it's a disease, basically, not a character flaw. It's not something you can change by your willpower alone. But they made it work. The friendship that she forges with Marlin is what it takes to change her from a complete scatterbrain to a somewhat useful companion. And, on top of that, her memory problems make her seem child-like, so she makes a handy stand-in for Marlin's son.

One of my favorite moments in the movie belongs to Dory. It's when we near the end of our journey, Marlin thinks it's the end of the line. He saw Nemo floating upside-down in the bag, and is certain that he is dead, and all this epic quest he's been on was for naught. He says goodbye to Dory, but she realizes what their friendship means to her, and is desperate for him not to go. She explains his importance in her life, and begs him not to go, but he is unmoved, and leaves her behind. Marlin may have been unmoved, but I definitely wasn't. I was totally impressed by the level of emotion that DeGeneres put into those lines. Her pleading and desperation was so moving to me. It wasn't the first time that the film brought tears to my eyes, but it was one of the many.

As a parent, I relate a whole lot to this movie. Dads get an awful lot of abuse these days. It seems to me that nobody in the world likes their father anymore. Fathers are all deadbeats anymore...or maybe that's not true, but they just play it that way on TV.

But being a father is hard. It's gotten surely a little easier as times have changed and we're to the point that most mothers are working as well as fathers, but it's still a hard job, and it's not a job you can be fired from (well, not really). Here you are, nothing more than a big kid yourself, but now you have beautiful, innocent helpless children that depend on you. They rely on you to supply them with their needs. Seeing the disappointment in their eyes when they are told that they can't get a toy or even a little candy bar because there isn't enough money, is a really hard thing to watch for the person who is supposed to be the one who provides that money.

I feel like I'm living in fear every day of letting the people I love most down. There are men out there who are ultra-capable. Men who will always have great jobs, and never lose their self-confidence. Men who know that their children will never lack for anything. I'm most definitely not one of those men. I can't do a lot of things well, and with the economy getting sourer and sourer, I live in constant fear of losing my job, and having to come home and look in the big eyes of my children and tell them that they're going to have to tighten their belts, because we'll be out of food soon.

It's hard to be responsible for someone. My wife could get by, but my children need me, they depend on me one hundred percent, without even knowing it. It's no wonder that there are so many deadbeat dads out there. It's so much easier to quit and run away than to keep going sometimes. It seems like that's all we hear about in the movies anymore, so it's nice to see the (almost unheard of) father who never quits on his child and will do anything for him.

As a father that lives in constant fear of failure and its consequences, the most resonant scene in the film to me is when the pelican, Nigel, is talking to Nemo about the adventures his father has been going through to find him. Nemo; who has never had a very high opinion of his father, considering him timid and overprotective; hears Nigel say that his father took on a shark. "It couldn't be my father," he says, "my dad's afraid of sharks, he would never have taken one on."

Then Nigel looks at Nemo, and with a flair meant to put the same respect that he feels for Marlin into the heart of his son he says, "I heard he took on three." Every man wants to be that father that is idolized by his child. Marlin already deserved it for having brought this kid up on his own, but his feats of bravery in the search for his missing child are what finally convince Nemo just what kind of a father he has. It's a beautiful moment, and my eyes mist up everytime I see it.

I could go on and on, I suppose, (this is already nearly as long as my last short story) and talk about the lesson that Marlin, the father of the film, learns. You have to let go and allow your children to grow up. It's a hard lesson to learn. Especially these days, when your child could be kidnapped by a psycho, or hit by a driver who's texting her friend about how awful the dress that Celine Dion wore to the Grammys was, or get buried in loose dirt at the construction site he was playing in, or get involved in any number of society's ills from drugs to sexual promiscuity to skateboarding. The news has stories every night about children dying in this accident or that accident. I remember the freedom that I had growing up, and compare it to what my children have to deal with, and it makes me sad. As Sting told us, "If you love someone, set them free," but when are they old enough to do that? Anyway...oh shoot, I wasn't going to go on and on about this.

So, now you know that Finding Nemo is my favorite of all the marvelously clever and creative Pixar films. To be the best of Pixar, it really has to be a great film, because every Pixar film so far has been a triumph. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend you do so. You may not have the same reaction to it that I do, but you'll still not be disappointed, no matter what. It's a great film.