Thursday, November 30, 2006

George Harrison

Five years ago yesterday George Harrison passed away. (In a little more than a week we’ll mark the 26th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.) It is hard to overestimate the impact the Beatles had (and still have) on me as a musician and as a person. The recent release of Love (see my review) has allowed me to listen to their music with new ears and has reminded me that their music not only had an important place in their space and time but was really outstanding music. While they all did some fine work in their solo careers, it is clear that together they really had something special that was not ever really recreated apart. Even the Beatles’ worst album (Beatles for Sale) still stands up over 40 years later as a great album with songs that are instantly recognizable to many of us, songs like “Every Little Thing” and “Eight Days a Week.”

I was struck, in listening to Love, that George is well represented on this disc – “Within You Without You”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something” all made the cut. George’s playing in the Beatles was almost always exactly what the track needed from the quirkiness of the solo in “All You Need Is Love” to the dead-on rock of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” He also brought an Indian influence to the Beatles music that added an important set of colors to their aural palette. He was an important part of the mix and I think was sometimes overshadowed by the giant talents of John and Paul. But George held his own and, especially from Revolver on, added great songs to the catalog.

George’s solo albums also have many high points. I remember getting All Things Must Pass for Christmas 1970 as a sophomore in high school. (It was released 30 years ago today in the UK.) What a treat – three albums in one box. The poster that came with it stayed on my wall for years. Since then I have come to appreciate it all the more since the new better-sounding CD is available. I also remember how cool it was when, after a set of albums that were, let's face it, not outstanding (although I apparently enjoy Gone Troppo more than most people do) and after a few years off George released Cloud 9. It’s always great when one of your heroes shows that he’s still got it. So, George, thanks for the music. I have a richer life because of your work.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

“Window in the Skies” – U2

Ordinarily I’d be cynical about a new best-of album by a band who recently put out two other best-of albums and then included 2 new songs to sucker the real fans into buying yet another copy of the same songs. But the new U2 18 Singles got me anyway. Not only did I find the two new songs irresistible but you could buy the “deluxe” edition which came with a 10-song live DVD from U2’s Milan show in the second leg of the Vertigo tour. So the DVD put it over the top and I laid out the bucks to get it.

I’ve only watched the DVD once so far and I’m not ready to commit to any review of it (except to say that it was fun to see a video of the show in a huge outdoor arena) but I have listened to the new song “Window in the Skies” multiple times and, I must say, I’m a huge fan. I wasn’t a fan when I heard the internet version that was recorded off the radio but hearing the actual version on the CD did the trick for me. Plus, it’s the first new music from U2 in two years.

The song exudes joy. The 6/8 tempo sets you up for something a little out of the ordinary and the melody in the verse isn’t really very extraordinary but that chorus – when Bono sings “Oh can’t you see what Love has done” I get excited and find myself singing along (even though it’s really high.)

Even better, though, the lyrics are among Bono’s most joyful referring to Easter:

The rule has been disproved
The stone has been moved
The grave is now a groove
All debts are removed

Oh can't you see what love has done
Oh can't you see what love has done
Oh can't you see what love has done
What it's done to me?

So the combination of a killer chorus with lyrics that make my heart sing puts this song very high on my playlist right now.

By the way, I'm really enjoying the book U2 by U2 also. Very cool indeed.

Monday, November 27, 2006


My friend and colleague Stan Haan told me this joke:

What did one snowman say to the other snowman?

Do you smell carrots?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

An Advent Poem I Like

Two years ago Bethany wrote this poem and posted it on her blog. I like it.

Since advent is just around the corner I thought I'd post it so people read it again.

Gardening in Advent
by Bethany Keeley
(thanks Cindy)

You can’t dig up dahlia bulbs until after the frost
so now I dig as cold air stings my eyes to tears
gloved hands parsing out flower bulbs from hard soil
as I hum a hymn for this first Sunday of advent
O Come O Come Immanuel
and remember my grandmother who gave me these flowers.
They bloomed beautifully until only a few weeks ago
I had to wait until the first frost –
for the time to come for me to dig them out.
And ransom captive Israel
and I think of my friend,
blooming beautifully only a few weeks ago
and now she, too, is in the cold ground
waiting, waiting.
that mourns in lowly exile here
my hands brush dirt from bulbs.
I’ll have to hang Christmas lights soon,
I had been waiting
for this season of waiting to begin.
until the son of God appear
just waiting, with these flowers,
with my grandmother, with so many
Rejoice, rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee O Israel
waiting for the first frost.

Friday, November 24, 2006

‘The Space Within Us’ – Paul McCartney’s DVD

Another McCartney DVD. He doesn’t really expect us fans to buy another DVD of the same songs over again, does he? Well, it turns out that I did buy it because … well … I really have no good reason other than this weird need to be a completist. So I bought the DVD (along with the bonus interview CD from Best Buy) and popped it in my DVD player to watch in installments over the last week.

You know what? I really liked it. As I have said before, a new McCartney live DVD better either have new songs or some other reason to exist. This one is your standard tour video using the same backing band as his last two videos so there is seemingly nothing new here – except the songs. Nearly two-thirds of the songs on this DVD has not been released on a live concert video before. (I could be wrong about that number - I haven't actually counted and checked the other DVDs but it's a lot anyway.) That’s a remarkable feat considering that over the last six years or so Macca has released Back in the US and Live in Red Square. In fact, McCartney has released a video of every tour since he came back to touring in '89. But McCartney’s back catalog is so good that he can keep dipping back and finding cool old things to perform that he hasn’t done in concert in decades, if ever. So songs like “Please Please Me,” “Too Many People,” “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and others get a workout by this crack band and they do a great job. There are also a few, but only a few, of the songs from McCartney’s latest studio album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. I’d love to see Paul bring back more stuff from the Wings era with this band but if I was seeing him in concert (which I did twice - in '89 and '91 Ithink) I’d want to see cool Beatles stuff and that’s what the crowd gets. The set list is great and the band nails the songs.

Since this is a McCartney concert video this means that there are lots of shots of fans absolutely loving the show, there are people who say how much Paul has meant to the world and tour personnel saying what a nice guy Paul is – a lot of self-congratulatory stuff. Frankly, this gets pretty old because he’s only a rock singer, you know? But, that aside, the DVD is a lot of fun. It is well filmed and the songs rock.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Blog I read

In the spirit of DeLurking Week, here are some blogs that I check regularly. In many of these cases I know the people who blog and have commented but there are a few which I don’t know and have no idea that I check their blogs faithfully. I'm glad and thankful that I get to read what these people write. Thanks to bloglines I always know when new posts arrive.

My daughter Bethany has a great blog. It is thoughtful and fun. She is also the primary blogger on the blog of "unnecessary" quotation marks on which I am an occasional contributer. I wish she would post more often but she’s in grad school so I understand. Other family members (especially Meredith) have blogs too but they post a lot less often and Meredith mostly uses hers for pictures. Bethany’s friend Jim has a blog which has no RSS feed which makes me actually go look at it instead of using bloglines.

Other people I really know:

  • My good friends Ron and Deb have a great blog – lots of fun, smart, witty and cool.
  • Bethany’s friend and now also my friend Kent has a fun blog when he posts which, due to being in seminary, is also less frequent than I’d like.
  • Mary’s blog is called Preaching to the Choir and I always find her posts interesting and enjoyable.
  • Nathan has a number of blogs going since he’s the official blogger for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship but I find his personal blog more fun.

People I only know from the internet but who now also know me:

  • Beth from U2 Sermons has been a great person to learn from and to discuss ideas related to faith and U2. Her blogs are always informative and interesting.
  • And speaking of U2, Cara at Scatter O’ Light has good U2 thoughts as well. I’ve gotten to know her a bit off-blog and that’s been great.
  • My web-friend Father Ron Hatton, who I have also talked to on the phone a few times doesn’t post often but I’ve truly enjoyed his friendship.

Blogs from people who don’t know me at all:

  • Crummy Church Signs is just what it says and it loads of fun.
  • Kinda Kitchy which points out crummy Christian merchandise.
  • Finally film and music critic Jeffrey Overstreet has his Looking Closer blog which I also read daily and enjoy a lot.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Loving the Beatles

Love, the new album of Beatles music has arrived and I’m loving it. This album is a mash-up of songs and sounds from the Beatles recording sessions artfully pieced together by 81-year-old Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles. To give you an idea of what it sounds like imagine the vocal from “Within You Without You” superimposed over the drum and drone of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Ringo sings “Octopus’ Garden” over the strings from “Good Night.” That’s the sort of thing that happens throughout the 78 minute soundscape that is Love. As if this weren’t enough fun, the songs, many of which are presented in almost complete form, are remixed to point where they sparkle and shine. I’ve never heard these songs sound so alive as they do on this recording. Even songs like “Yesterday” which, let’s face it, have been played a LOT, sound new and fresh. The string part has a clarity that I never heard before. Plus, since there is no expectation that these mixes sound like the original you get to hear parts that may have been buried before. For a Beatles nut like me this album is hours of fun.

The Martins have done a wonderful job and have placed this music together in a way that has added a new dimension to an already wonderful catalog. Those who say “you can’t do that” can always go back and listen to the original albums. This isn’t meant to take their place, it’s just another way to enjoy the music that stands at the foundation of modern rock and pop music. If you’re a fan of the Beatles you’ll find plenty here to like with lots of surprises – times where you’ll say “I recognize that – what song is it part of.” Love is hardly all you need – you also need all the original albums – but it’s a great way to find new things to like in these wonderful songs.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

My Top albums of 2006 - a bit early

Just about a year ago I wrote this post in which I considered what I had listened to the most over the past year. Since that was about a year ago I thought I'd give it a try for 2006 even though it's a little early. Again, I'm not calling these the best albums of the year, just the ones that actually spent the most time spinning in my player.

This is proving to be a lot tougher than I thought since my listening this year has been all over the map. Few albums have spent extended time in my player and those that have came out in 2005, U2's How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb and McCartney's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.

Plus it seems that I actually bought a lot fewer albums this year. But, be that as it may, here are the ones that have jumped out at me a little.
  • Hem's album Funnel Cloud has to be near the top of my list. I reviewed it here. It's beautiful and soothing - something I've needed with my schedule. And, truth be told, even though their previous album, Eveningland, is not a 2006 release I only discovered them this year thanks to Bethany and I took it with me on my ipod to India where I listened to it a few times.
  • Say I Am You by the Weepies has been a lot of fun but it just sounds like a lightweight album and I can't really put it on the top of my list. But then again, it continues to stay in the car and get listened to.
  • McCartney's latest classical album, Ecce Cor Meum, has had remarkable staying power in my car, usually a lousy place to listen to music with a wide dynamic range. But it has been there ever since I bought it and I really like it. (see my review)
  • Sandra McCracken's two albums, The Builder and the Architect (see my review) and Gravity|Love (which I really liked in my review this year and still like) are wonderful. The first one also made to trip to India with me, and served as a wonderful reminder of what was still true even though I was on the other side of the world.
  • And speaking of India, Anoushka Shankar's Rise is a great mix of traditional Indian sitar music and western ideas which makes it remarkably listenable for a Midwestern American like me. Way cool.
  • Finally, though, the winner is probably - Jars of Clay's Good Monsters. It's a great album (here is what I wrote when it came out) and continues to surprise me. They rocked in concert this weekend at Calvin. It ranks with their very best stuff.
So, there it is. I haven't had the Who's Endless Wire or Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale's Road to Escondido long enough to figure out if they will spend a lot of time in my player yet although Endless Wire continues to grow on me. I just got the new Clapton so it's too early to tell anything on that one. Plus, the Beatles' Love comes out Tuesday so that will undoubtedly spend a lot of time there. So, between my ipod and my commute I've spent a lot of time listening. This is how some of that time has been spent.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Dark Angel Season Two

I waited and waited to find a cheap copy of Dark Angel Season Two and I finally found one at the end of the summer. Yes, that is quite a while ago but I only finished watching all 21 episodes earlier this week. I like to savor my DVDs and I also have a life beyond watching Dark Angel. OK, some of that involves watching other things too but, either way, it took me a while to finish the whole series.

I have written before about my enjoyment of Season One but I didn’t like it enough to spend nearly $40 on season two, especially since I heard that the first season was significantly better. Then, before she went back to college, Meredith started watching Season Two long before I got a chance to start (typical). She didn’t like it much. She was a big fan of the first season but found the substantial change in the series between one and two to be enough to turn her off.

So, when I started watching it I had no illusions of brilliance. I was pleasantly surprised and Meredith should have kept going – it got better.

The first season was all about Max (a genetically enhanced woman who was bred to be the perfect fighting machine) finding out about her past and staying away from the bad guys who made her in a covert government organization called Manticore. At the end of the season (and the beginning of season two) Max returns to Manticore, frees all the other transgenics (many of whom are freakish mixtures of human and animal DNA) and destroys Manticore. The freed transgenics, not all of whom are pleasant, are let loose on an unsuspecting world, which sets up the whole season.

The producers play a bit with the weird looking creatures that Max frees and it gets a bit silly at times but, as things settle down, the season continues on and gets progressively better. I found that, while at first I wasn’t terribly excited about getting to the next episode, by the time I reached the halfway point things were moving along very nicely and I had a great time, especially with the last two discs in the six-disc set. The producers expected there to be a season three when they filmed the last episode and they had set up a nice potential story arc for another season but the show was canceled just after filming stopped. The end of the season is therefore also the end of the series.

Once again, Jessica Alba, who plays Max, turns in a less-than-award-winning performance but, let’s face it, there’s a limit to how well she could do with some of the dialogue she was given. The futuristic slang and hip-hop soundtrack that bugged me a bit in season one is toned down a little bit in this season. And many characters are done away with or their role is minimized while new characters take their place. Overall, the new characters, especially Alec, work well.

So, I got my copy for under $20 (perhaps even under $15 – I’m no longer sure) and, for 21 episodes, it was a great way to spend some time with my DVD player. Don't expect Shakespear or even Sorkin but if you go into Dark Angel expecting a light-weight (but dark) escapist series you won’t be disappointed.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More Justice after all?

At the risk of making this look like a Justice blog, according to the official Fox website, Justice (which I wrote was possibly canceled) may have new life in a new night and time - Friday's at 8:00 PM starting on December 1. We'll see if it survives.

I think this is probably a last ditch effort to either save the show or at least get some mileage out of already-bought-and-paid-for episodes. I hope it's the former but as soon as a network starts jerking a show around like this it makes me care less.

In other news, my daughter Lynnae performs in Honk!, her school's musical presentation this weekend. I saw the show last night (based on "the Ugly Duckling") and she and the rest of the cast did a great job. Lynnae was a chicken and acted just like a very talented one.

I get to see Jars of Clay tonight! The last time they played here my daughter Meredith played with them. It was cool. Their new album (see my review) is very good and I'm looking forward to hearing some of the songs live. (Meredith sang in chapel today and was awesome.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Helping Our Children Find Faith

For the past few summers, and a bit in between, I have been writing a book about ministry to children in church settings. This book is designed for the many lay people who work with and plan programs for children. It is purposely written in a conversational tone and it is not a thick book so that the people who do this work with children might actually pick it up and read it. This week I signed a contract with Baker Books to publish this book. The working title is Helping Our Children Find Faith and I’m guessing that it will be released near the end of 2007.

I am grateful to John Witvliet and the Calvin institute of Christian Worship for their support and assistance over the past few years as this book has gone through multiple drafts. I have had some great feedback from a number of people (especially my wife, Laura) and it has made the book a lot better. I am looking forward to some hard work over the next few months as this book gets ready for publication but it’s exciting and I’m thrilled that my manuscript will finally see print.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

No more 'Justice'

I've written before about my desire to find a TV show that I'm willing to watch and stick with. Things don't look great at this point in my TV watching life. This season I've had three shows on my list, Lost, Studio 60 and Justice. - This past week Lost went on hiatus (to return in February.) To add insult to injury, FOX pulled Justice from the schedule, perhaps never to return. [Edit: the Fox website for the show says that it will return on Dec 11. I'll believe it when I see it.]

was the show I was most likely to skip of the three that I mentioned because, since each episode was self-contained, missing one was not a huge problem. Although I hadn't actually missed any of them, it was clearly in the cards. I could feel it on Monday nights that I had that "if I don't tape it it's no big deal" feeling. But I enjoyed watching it and I'm sad to see it go. I thought Victor Garber (pictured here) was great as Ron Trott. I especially liked it that he wasn't just the same character as he was on Alias. I thought the show worked and I was hoping it would stick around

So that's two shows down, one to go. I have recently written about my issues with Studio 60, although I must say that watching the last episode a second time I had a slightly better response to it. (I taped it so Lynnae could see it and I was in the room when she watched it.) NBC recently announced that they had indeed picked up Studio 60 for the entire season amid rumors that it was going to be canceled.

So, I might just get more work done this fall than I thought I would. It's a good thing that the final season DVDs of West Wing and Alias are out this fall or I'd have little choice!

'Justice' For None: FOX Yanks Drama - 'House' repeats will air on Mondays through November - Zap2it

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Studio 60 on thin ice

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip continues to jab at Christians. Last night they might have gone too far. I think the hope is that having a “show within a show” they think that they can get away with things because they’re not actually putting offensive things on the air – they’re showing a group of actors and writers thinking about putting it on the air. Now theoretically, that should show nuanced discussions about the issues but it more often just shows Christians responding in a knee-jerk somewhat narrow-minded way so that the main characters can give a smart, sophisticated rebuttal.

In last night’s episode (“Nevada Day, Pt 1”) Harriet, the resident Christian, is quoted in a column about her opinion regarding gay marriage. Her response (including King James English, standard for Sorkin characters who quote the Bible) showed what was pointed out as an attempt at being open-minded while not actually being that way. Harriet came across as a jerk last night while Matt and all the others got to be the ones who were actually the “nice people”. Tom Jeter was arrested in L.A. and was extradited to Nevada (on an outstanding warrant for speeding) where it was discovered that he had “half a joint” in the pocket of the jacket that Simon gave him. Simon gets to be all “that was my jacket – this is my fault” showing that, even though he apparently smokes grass and makes jokes about Christians he’s really the one who is open-minded and more Christian in his actions than Harriet who apparently can only spout pious statements about it. There is also a hint that Jeter was speeding in Nevada for a very good reason – something that will undoubtedly be revealed next week – making yet another character who has character as opposed to mere rhetoric.

Having Harriet as the resident Christian was a nice idea for a show or two but it’s starting to get to me. There are lots of other places to go with this show. Aaron Sorkin is doing what Matt accuses Harriet of – congratulating himself for being open-minded while actually attacking those he doesn’t like. It’s time for this show to move on to other issues or else it will be time for me to move on to other shows. Or perhaps I’ll just keep watching my West Wing DVDs.