Friday, April 28, 2006

New Sufjan Stevens song!

Sufjan Stevens has a new album coming out called The Avalanche made up of songs that didn't get on Illinois. Download one of the songs, "Dear Mr Supercomputer", here!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

'Here There and Everywhere' by Geoff Emerick

I have a friend whose family has a story of when her sister fell out of the car. What’s fascinating about this story is that every member of the family has a different version of the story. In fact, some have her never falling out of the car and others have the family driving off without her.

Sometimes I feel like Beatles books are like that. I know that we all remember things differently and it’s no surprise that those involved with the Beatles story do too. For example, Paul McCartney said that U2 had to teach him how to play “Sgt Pepper” at Live 8 because he hadn’t played it since he recorded it. That’s just silly. I have recordings of him doing it. I often wonder about the memories of McCartney about such things. It seems like he reinvents history a bit. I guess I do too and I’d hate to have rabid fans checking my facts all the time – that can really wreck a good story.

So Geoff Emerick, engineer for many of the Beatles albums including my favorites, Revolver, Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road has written a book about his memories. Predictably, some Beatles fans (including others who were in Abbey Road studios at the time) claim that there are all sorts of inaccuracies in the book. Sometimes “all sorts” means, like, six. I’ve read more than a couple of books about the Beatles and I can usually tell if “new” information is in conflict with existing information or not. For example, Tony Bramwell’s excellent book (see my previous post about it) had a couple of things in it that were just flat wrong. So we can quibble all we want with certain things but overall I thought Bramwell’s book was an excellent addition to the catalog of Beatle books. By this time a Beatles book ought to either bring a new first person perspective (like Bramwell’s) or just be so good that we can’t resist it (like Bob Spitz’s book – read my review of that).

Geoff Emerick’s book, Here, There and Everywhere, indeed has that new first person perspective that I look for. It is well written (due, no doubt to his collaborator) and brings new insight into the part of the Beatles story that I’m especially interesting in – the music making. Emerick is clearly a McCartney fan because Paul is the only of the Beatles who befriended him and even made a point of getting to know him at all. Here are a few of the things I learned reading in this book:
  • McCartney recorded the bass parts in Sgt. Pepper last so that he could really work on them and make them more melodic and work around the other sounds.

  • Harrison had a hard time recording some of his parts but got better when he became interested in Indian music.

  • Lennon was a pain to be around a lot of the time (this is hardly news).

  • Even though all four Beatles had flashes of brilliance, Paul McCartney was often the one who had the patience and musicianship to actually make it come together in the studio.

  • The extra beat in “Revolution 1” (and in McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It”) was the result of an editing mistake that the artist liked and kept.

  • The traded guitar solos at the end of Abbey Road were recorded at the same time without overdubs or drop-ins.

  • Engineers had to overdub a high-hat on “Can’t Buy Me Love” because the engineers at the studio in which it was originally recorded lost so much high end.

There is much more that I liked in this book. This, of course, is Emerick’s perhaps flawed memories but, he was there and I wasn’t and I found his account fascinating. All fans of Beatles music will find this book fascinating and enjoyable.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

'Radical Possibilities' by Jean Anyon

I also just finished reading Radical Possibilities by Jean Anyon, a book about the problems in our educational system and how to address them. This is a compelling book. Especially in the first half, Anyon makes astrong case for why we can’t fix schools by fixing schools. The issues of poverty and socio-economic status account for up to 85% of the variance in scores between the top schools and the bottom schools. I don’t have the background in these issues to know if Anyon is spinning the data or not. I’d like to read an oppositional book to see the other side of the issue but, either way, poverty is an issue that has a huge impact on schools and on school children and we need to look beyond the easy answers.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

'Gilead' by Marilynne Robinson

I’ve heard that people either think Gilead is one of the best books they’ve ever read or that it was merely “OK.” I can see why they might say that. It does move slowly and not much happens but having recently finished it I must say that I fall into the former category. This book is wonderful. The writing is exquisite and the characters are compelling, especially the narrator, John Ames. I met with a small group at Calvin Seminary to discuss the book on two occasions (and got to hear the author, Marilynne Robinson speak yesterday) and truly enjoyed that.

When I was half-way through the book I made the comment that “this is the best book I’ve ever read in which nothing happens.” However, now that it’s finished I now see that something indeed does happen. There is a reconciliation in the book that is stunningly beautiful in its complexity – this is no “everything’s fine” ending. Neither is it one of those endings where the reader is left unsatisfied. What we see is a wonderful story of grace, something the whole book leads up to. This is a book full of faith and theology without beating you over the head with it. I heartily recommend this book.

2008 release planned for new ‘Star Trek’ movie

This is good news. JJ Abrams, the man behind 'Lost' and 'Alias,' is set to produce and direct a new 'Star Trek' movie. It won't be out until 2008 but I can always watch my DVDs of Alias until then. Or maybe I can watch what JJ did to put new life into the Mission Impossible franchise.

2008 release planned for new ‘Star Trek’ movie -

Friday, April 21, 2006

One of those days...

Thanks to Paul Sytsma for pointing me to this picture.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Why the 'top Beatles song' searches?

Last week my number of hits suddenly went way up because people started searching for top ten Beatles songs and come upon my list. My question, though, is why the sudden interest in that? I've tried to do a search but something somewhere must have triggered the interest in top Beatles songs and I have no idea what it was. Perhaps one of the visitors to my blog who gets here that way can enlighten me.

Looking at what triggers hits is always fascinating. I continue to get the occasional hits on my review of Rita Springer's album which really surprises me because I didn't like it that much and she's a pretty obscure artist but I think that's actually what helps. There aren't many websites with reference to her on it so those who look often come to visit me. I also get a fair number of hits because of my recent platinum weird post. This is a group that has generated some buzz because of a connection to George Harrison and a sense of playfulness and mystery about who they actually are. I also continue to get occasional hits about U2, especially about Bono and his use of Coexist. I haven't posted much about U2 lately but I'm listening to them just as much as ever. Bono is coming to Grand Rapids to speak in about two weeks. I'm hoping he'll stop in at Calvin College and say hello - not just to me personally but that would be nice too. (By the way - note this news report from Calvin that points out that we lead the state in results on the teacher certification test.)

So the 'what brought people to my blog' game is a lot of fun for me. I enjoy seeing that I get visitors who come by way of Bethany, Ron, Kent and a few others who I know only through blogland (like U2 sermons and scatter o' light).

Thursday, April 13, 2006


I make a point of watching all my DVD’s every year or so. I actually have a list and when I watch a DVD it goes to the bottom of the list. So by watching something in the top 10 DVDs on the list I see all of them every so often. It's actually more a database on my palm pilot than it is a list. It's real cool. My kids seem to think that this makes me out to be a real geek. Actually, I haven’t run into anyone who doesn’t think that this makes me a geek. The rest of you just don't know what you're missing. But, either way, my attention this week turned to a DVD that I’ve had for a little while, Paul McCartney’s Wingspan. (I actually got this for my birthday from Bethany and Meredith almost three years ago – I know that because it says that on my database. See how handy that is? Don't you wish you had one?)

Before she died Paul’s late wife Linda encouraged their son-in-law Alistair, a young filmmaker, to gather all their Wings-era video and make a little documentary as a surprise for Paul’s birthday. That documentary was the basis for what became a fairly long film of the ten or so years following the breakup of the Beatles and the era in which Paul and Linda formed Wings and conquered America and the World. After Linda died their daughter Mary (Alistair’s wife) sat with her dad and interviewed him to get the story. It is presented in an entertaining way with lots of clips of Linda and the band and some interesting stories, including the breakup of the Beatles and Paul’s time in a Tokyo jail.

Overall, this is a nice little documentary about that era. Paul’s insistence on being interviewed in strange settings (like in the Beatles Anthology) is starting to wear a little thin but anyone who was a fan of Wings will enjoy the images and the stories. I wish there was more information about the music and less about the lifestyle and the personalities but I’ll take what I can get. The DVD is about 22 minutes longer than the TV special that came from it, it is presented in widescreen format and the sound is very good. It makes a nice companion to the excellent 2-CD set of the same name which is a great (and reasonably priced) collection of Wings hits and near hits.

Monday, April 10, 2006

'The Builder and the Architect' by Sandra McCracken

I’ve loved listening to Sandra McCracken since the first time I saw her perform with Derek Webb at Calvin some five years ago. She has released three Americana/folk albums which demonstrated her fine songwriting, her compelling voice and her thoughtful way of looking at things from a Christian worldview. At the same time, though, she has been active with the Indelible Grace projects, setting old hymn texts to new tunes. I’ve mentioned my fondness for Indelible Grace here before so it’s no surprise that I like Sandra’s contributions to those albums. They’re among the highlights for me.

For her fourth solo album, The Builder and the Architect, McCracken brings these two parts of her musical life together and gives us an entire album of hymns. While these are all new recordings, some of the songs will be familiar to fans of Caedmon’s Call or Indelible Grace but McCracken’s sparse arrangements and warm vocals gives the songs a delightful new dimension.

Like all Indelible Grace songs, many of the songs included in Builder have lyrics that were written almost 100 years ago but the highlight may be the hymns for which McCracken composed both the words and music. The brand new texts that McCracken has written stand up nicely to old hymns that she has renewed. In all the songs, though, the emphasis on God’s grace and His work in our lives makes this an album that is encouraging and comforting. As much as I’ve liked her previous recordings this one is my favorite. It’s just what I need when I’m in the car after a long day. When I’m tired and need reminding of where my strength is, one listen to “Rock of Ages (When the Day Seems Long)” often does the trick. You can find this CD at or listen to even newer music at her myspace site.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Manger King - a Christmas play for children

The Christmas plays just keep on coming.  Our seventh play, Manger King, was published this week by Faith Alive Resources.  (It wasn’t that long ago that our sixth play was published.)  The amazing thing is that we were asked to give them plans or pictures for the manger that turns into a throne that one of our church friends made for us so, two weeks ago we took some pictures and, low and behold, those pictures showed up in the play two weeks later!  I didn’t expect that.  I thought they would draw plans or something but I guess they liked the pictures.

They’ve also taken to changing our titles lately a lot more – the play we turned in was called Manger Throne.  I think I still liked that title better but that’s the nature of such things.

We have one more play in the hopper for next year and we’re actually writing one now as part of a summer church school curriculum so we might publish that one separately too.  We’ll probably use it first and then rewrite it specifically for Christmas use based on how it goes.  Anyway, for now, Manger King is out so pick up your copy at Faith Alive.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Love Monkey returns

According to Zap2it, Love Monkey, a show that I had great hope for, which was pulled after only three episodes will not get new life but will at least get a decent burial. The entire set of eight episodes, only three of which were shown on CBS, will be shown on VH1 starting April 11! I thought this was a pretty good show and I was willing to hang in there with it for a while to see how it developed. (See my earlier post about it.) We'll apparently never know because Tom Cavanagh, the star, has already moved on to something else. But at least we'll see the work that they did and I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

April 3, 1956 West Michigan Tornadoes

My wife and her parents survived the 1956 Hudsonville Tornado and my mother-in-law placed pictures on the internet at April 3, 1956 West Michigan Tornadoes. I can't link directly to the pictures but if you go to "start viewing," -> "search" and then search by source and select "VanderKooy, Marjorie" you'll find pictures. The little girl in the pictures is my wife, Laura. Her family lost their garage, breeze-way and the roof to their house but they were fine because they drove away - just what you're not supposed to do (this is not their car in the photo - it belonged to a neighbor). EDIT: Yes, it was their car! They had two cars and drove the other one away because it was more likely to start quickly.