Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Terrible itunes shuffle combinations

Sometimes itunes puts two songs next to each other and I stop what I’m doing to marvel at how cool it sounded – especially when they crossfade into each other. Its not always so great, though. Today it went from “The Steward of Gondor” (from the wonderful soundtrack to The Return of the King - where Pippin sings that mournful song to Denethor) directly into “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5. Worst transition EVER.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Banner - The Real Christmas

Here is a short Christmas play for families that Laura and I wrote that was published in the latest issue of the Banner.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Top CDs for the year

It’s too early to do a best of the year list so I’m not. But I have been thinking about which CDs have stayed in my player throughout the year. You see, its one thing to listen to a CD and to like it but it’s different to keep it on the stereo and in your car CD player for weeks on end only to put it back after a brief rest. So I looked back over the year and thought about the CDs that hung in there for me. There are a couple.

Before I hit those that stayed in my player let me mention a couple that didn’t – CDs that I like but, for some reason, didn’t see much time in the player. The biggest disappointment in this regard is The Word is Live by Yes. Theoretically I like this album – or rather this set of three discs – a lot. I reviewed it favorably back when I got it this summer but it just didn’t spend much time in the car or in the stereo. The same is true of the Cream Albert Hall album. Again – I like it a lot (see my review) but just don’t play it much. I wonder why?

But now on to the good stuff. The winner – by a LOT – the album that I listened to more over the past year than any other by a long shot: How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb by U2. Is it U2’s greatest album? Maybe not but I just like all the songs and I never seem to tire of it. Second place isn’t quite so obvious but I think it would have to be Add to the Beauty by Sara Groves. I gave it a pretty favorable review and it has continued to grow on me.

Finally, three more albums that I spent more than the usual amount of time with, X & Y by Coldplay (my thoughts on Coldplay), Chaos and Creation in the Backyard by Paul McCartney (my review) and Back Home by Eric Clapton (even though I gave it a luke-warm review in September).

These are the CDs that I actually listened to most this year. I’m struck by how predictable I’ve become.

'Alias' Over in May

Disappointing. Zap2it - TV news - 'Alias' Over in May

Alias was one of two shows I watched consistently. The premise is completely preposterous but yet, from the very first episode, they had me. I liked the way the show had multiple layers happening, especially in the first year where every mission was two missions in one - an SD6 mission and, at the same time, a secret CIA mission. The intrigue and overall coolness of the show made it a can't-miss for me. And I haven't! Not in four and a half years.

They tried to reinvent themselves this year and I think things were going well. I like the new characters and especially like the way the missions are more team focussed instead of just Sydney. I like Rachel (the new spy) a lot and I also like not having a clue what Sloan is really up to. But this year they were struggling with ratings and there just wasn't enough momentum to keep it on the air. I knew the cancellation was coming. It was pretty widely predicted - but I'm still not happy about it. At least this way the writers can bring the series to a conclusion knowing it will be the end.

Its a good thing there are DVDs of past seasons - I'm in the midst of watching season four now!

Friday, November 18, 2005

U2 Vertigo Live in Chicago 2005 DVD

I went right out and bought the U2 Vertigo Live in Chicago DVD on Tuesday when it came out but needed three days to watch the whole thing because of a busy schedule. Now I’ve seen it I can’t wait to see it again.  Having seen U2 in concert in Chicago four months after the filmed show I must say that I agree with some critics who suggest that they got better as the tour went on – which is hard to believe when watching this because the video is outstanding.

What really struck me in watching this time, though, since I had much more distance (and a lot less adrenaline) than seeing them in person was how U2 uses their repertoire the way a painter uses color.  They make a concert experience that has different “acts” – an opening act, an angry political act leading to an inspirational call for unity, love and compassion.  (The transition from “Pride” to “Where the Streets Have No Name” gave me chills, even on video and when, in the intro to “streets” Bono talks about “everyone” echoing the recorded words that opened the show it reminded me how much these guys think about the show as a whole.)  For the encores we have the Zoo section followed by the spiritual section.  The show has a different feel than the Elevation tour in that, even with some of the same songs, the placement in the show gives the set a different vibe.

The DVD itself is great and, while there are a couple of things from the show I saw that I wish had the same impact on video that it did live (the opening, for example) I am very happy with the way the show was presented.  By the way, the single disc (read “cheaper”) version is all you really need.  The bonus disc stuff is not really worth it.  But I would gladly have paid the two-disc price for the one disc version – it’s that good.

Monday, November 14, 2005

New Jersey searches for a new slogan

Having grown up in NJ I can appreciate a good NJ joke when I hear it. In all seriousness, though, New Jersey is looking for a new slogan, as reported in this article. Among the entries:
  • "New Jersey: You Got a Problem With That?”
  • “NJ: How You Doin’?!” And
  • “Most of Our Elected Officials Have Not Been Indicted.”

Between Hipsters and God, There's Sufjan Stevens

Here is an article that I quite enjoyed. It is about Sufjan Stevens who I am starting to figure out a little bit thanks to my kids' insistence that he's not as bad / weird / strange as he appeared the one time I saw him in person. With a band playing along he's supposed to be quite something. I find "O God, Where are You Now" from his Michigan album to be haunting and beautiful.

My favorite line from the article is: "That the impulse to look for hidden meanings should seem incompatible with Christian art is a sign, both of how far Fundamentalism has dumbed down the religion it claims to represent, and how much intellectuals' defensive response to Fundamentalism has left them deaf to the spiritual traditions it distorts and suppresses. "

Thanks to "C" at Scatter o' Light for pointing me to it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Christmas plays for Children

Just because I know that some people will be searching for Christmas Plays for children, I want to mention again that The Very Best Gift of All, the latest in the series of Christmas plays that my wife, Laura, and I have written is now available from Faith Alive Publishers.

Televangelist Robertson warns town of God's wrath - Yahoo! News

This article tells of Pat Robertson's most recent public statement regarding how a town in Pennsylvania is going to incur God's wrath because they voted against intelligent design candidates for school board. Pulease. Clearly, according to Robertson, murderers, theives, abusers of various sorts - all these people - are bad and some day God will "get" them BUT it takes a vote against intelligent design to really get God's attention.

It sort of makes you wonder if Robertson really thinks that God is intelligent.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Tony Bramwell's Beatle book discussion continues

Over at this "Bob's Bloggery" post from last August there is still a discsussion regarding Tomy Bramwell's book Magical Mystery Tours and just how scripted the film A Hard Days Night actually was. I contend that Alun Owen, the scriptwriter, wrote a script that sounded just like we imagined the Beatles sounded, based on what I have read and heard (on the DVD of the film, for example) and one anonymous commenter suggests that the script was written afterward to match the mostly improvised dialogue. I'd love comments from people with information other than Bramwell's book or the AHDN film to chime in.

Leading Quietly by Joseph Badaracco – early thoughts

I’m just about one-fourth of the way through the book Leading Quietly by Joseph Badarocco. Badaracco is a professor at the Harvard Business school.

There is much for me to like in this book. In fact he had me at page one when he wrote
“…the most effective leaders are rarely public heroes. These men and women aren’t high-profile champions of causes, and don’t want to be. They don’t spearhead ethical crusades. They move patiently, carefully, and incrementally. They do what is right – for their organization, for the people around them and
for themselves – inconspicuously and without casualties.”

His emphasis on leaders being something other than the people who are faced with obvious moral imperatives to make an unpopular choice is refreshing. He acknowledges that mixed-motives often play a role in what we do and that self-interest isn’t inherently bad – on the contrary, it is those self-interests, coupled with a desire to do what is right, that motivates us to get up and actually do some things!

I’m not always on the same page as he is – and his emphasis on self-interest cam sometimes feel a little too pragmatic – but so far, I appreciate where he seems to be going in this book.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Star Wars Episode III on DVD

There was a time in my life when I had watched the latest Star Wars movie multiple times in the theater. That was in the days before home video. When the first Star Wars movie came out I was in college and thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. As the original trilogy continued George Lucas managed to do what few others have done – keep a high level of quality going through all three pictures. When he announced that he was going to go back and complete the set by producing Episodes 1-3 I wondered if he could pull it off. Generally, it is agreed (I think) that the latest three episodes do not measure up to the original movies. It’s hard to compare them, though, because technology and styles have changed enough in the intervening years that it really is a different world now than it was when A New Hope was released.

The particular challenge of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was to connect the dots between what was begun in Episodes I and II and what we new had to be in Episodes IV-VI. How do you make a film where everybody already knows the ending? I think George Lucas came pretty close to pulling it off and I think Episode III is the strongest film of the second trilogy. Sure, I have quibbles about some things. I wish Hayden Cristiansen was a little less wooden in his performance. I wish these so-called advanced civilizations would figure out how to put hand-rails on walkways over bottomless pits. But, for the most part, watching this film again on DVD this week kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat as I wondered anew exactly how we were going to get from where we were in the story (the end of Episode II) to where I knew we had to be (the beginning of Episode IV).

I find myself almost wishing that George Lucas had done with this film what Peter Jackson did and made an extended edition. It is clear that he had some additional ideas about things in the film – the plot is very complicated and some additional explanation in parts would help. The deleted scenes would be a lot of fun to see interwoven – especially when we see hints of subplots that couldn’t be developed because of time. However, these are different than Lord of the Rings and perhaps extended versions would not work as well in the Star Wars universe. Do I really need to see more of what happened to Jar-Jar Binks? I don’t think so.

Lucas has made a great DVD of a fine film. I really enjoyed my second viewing of the film – my first on the small screen – and look forward to seeing it a few more times, exploring the extras and thinking about how all the pieces fit together.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Does Electrocution Happen for a Reason? - Christianity Today Magazine

Did you hear about the pastor who got electrocuted while baptizing someone? It sounds like the opening for a joke doesn't it? It's not. It really happened this past Sunday. Kyle Lake from Waco Texas was in the baptismal font of his church in front of 800 people and went to adjust the microphone. For some reason, when I read David Crowder's post about him - turns out Lake was David's pastor - the situation became a lot more real to me. (see my review of David's latest album.) He went from being "some pastor in Texas" to a person who had a family, friends and a ministry. Then I ran across this article at Christianity Today online and felt that the church had lost a potential leader. I found his writings about Romans 8:28 especially compelling, given the circumstances. I think it's worth reading

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Rethinking Paul McCartney's Driving Rain

Having listened to Chaos and Creation in the Backyard more than a few times I had the urge to listen again to McCartney’s previous solo album, Driving Rain. Now the thing with this album is that (I believe) it is generally considered to be a throwaway McCartney album. The one positive thing that people said about it at the time was that the bass playing was really good. Many reviewers – at least in my memory – wondered why there wasn’t more sadness in the album. After all, this was the first studio album of original material since Paul’s wife Linda died and, despite the fact that quite a bit of time had passed and that Paul was engaged to Heather, people were expecting to see Paul spend some time mourning in public. This album, it seemed was more upbeat than they expected. Consequently, when Chaos and Creation came out, reviewers said “who would have guessed Paul could sound this pensive?”

Listening to Driving Rain today, though, I was struck by how much sadness is in the album. Clearly, by opening the album with a song entitled “Lonely Road” McCartney is trying to say something about his life. He is not generally known for being a great lyricist and often plays with words just for the fun of hearing the sounds but I’m beginning to think that even songs as lightweight as “She’s Given Up Talking” tell what’s going on in Paul’s heart. McCartney has often said things not quite as carefully as he could have – for example, saying “it’s a drag” when John Lennon was shot. Maybe he’s given up talking about Linda. Even an upbeat song like “Driving Rain” starts out with “something’s open. It’s my heart.” There are many many examples in the album of lines that show that Paul’s heart is on the line if not on his sleeve. In Tiny Bubbles, a song that begs not to be taken seriously, we hear him say “You can't imagine just what I've been going through.”

I think that McCartney was baring his soul a lot more than I gave him credit for on this album and, even on the songs that seem to reflect his new-found love with Heather, there is a wistfulness that shows that he’s a man who has lost the love of his life. In some ways, we should have seen Chaos and Creation coming.