Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Heather Mills dancing saga continues

A big day here on my blog with three posts! But I couldn't resist this one either.

I have been following the Paul McCartney/Heather Mills story and haven't commented on it because I thought that they deserve to go through their personal pain without me adding to the ton of things being written about them. (Although the evidence that they check my blog daily is spotty at best.)

But now that Heather is going to be on Dancing with the Stars things just get stranger and stranger. This headline, though, is probably the strangest one yet: Heather Mills Says Her Leg Probably Won't Fly Off. In the original interview with her that this quote comes from she addresses the issue of her doing competitive dance with an artificial leg in a reasonable and lighthearted manner and I'm sure she said lots of other things in the interview but this, of course, is what gets pulled out.

It is really fascinating to see how some Beatles fans are calling for a boycott of the show and how the press is focusing their attention on Mills' unique situation - both physical and personal. Even though calling Mills a star is stretching it a bit - I'm not sure what she's done to put her in that category - the producers of the show struck gold when they hired her. They've had more publicity than I would have ever imagined. The cult of celebrity is alive and well.

Nitpicking the 6PM news...

I'm breaking my one-post-a-day rule to nitpick the news.

Here was the opening sentence on the 6 PM news tonight, reporting on a downtown building that burned down last night: "Until last night it was a former Grand Rapids factory."

Now, I know that the developers were trying to turn it into condos or apartments or something but, even after it burned down isn't it STILL a former Grand Rapids factory?

The Beatles on Ready Steady Go - 1964

Here is a great video clip from March of 1964 when the Beatles appeared on the British TV show Ready Steady Go. It shows them happily lipsyncing to two of their songs and also includes a delightfully trite George Harrison interview. I love the beehive hairstyles on the fans.

Monday, February 19, 2007

'Studio 60' getting the ax?

This article suggests that Studio 60 is getting put on hiatus after tonight's episode and perhaps being put out to pasture for good. My favorite line from the article is "Death would not come without mourning, but the grief would be more for the promise represented by Sorkin and a stellar cast led by Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford than for anything they produced." Aaron Sorkin knocked it out of the park twice - with Sports Night and then with West Wing. But with Studio 60 it just seemed like he was too full of himself and too intent on making writers look really bright and conflicted.

The good news is that now I won't have the Monday night do-I-watch-it-or-don't-I issues that I've had lately. The other good news is that the Gilmore Girls, a show that I usually only watch with my youngest daughter Lynnae, has been on target this season and Lost has been great so there is plenty to keep me busy!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Oh! Gravity – Switchfoot

I never really got Switchfoot, as least not until just recently. Bethany bought their second album (New Way to Be Human) way back when it came out (1999 or so) and I think I might have listened to it once or twice. They were certainly on my radar screen back then as one of the few artists signed to Charlie Peacock’s ReThink label. I was (and still am) a fan of Peacock’s smart and thoughtful music and his work as a producer. In fact I’ve had two chances to talk with him at length at Calvin – once in my office, just the two of us for about an hour which was wonderful – and my appreciation for him has grown through those encounters. So when he signed this trio (now up to five members) from San Diego I at least perked up. For some reason though I didn’t really grab onto New Way to Be Human but I at least kept my eye on Switchfoot because I trusted Charlie.

A couple of years ago they played a free concert in Grand Rapids just after their stock took off big-time because of getting their stuff on some Mandy Moore movie (A Walk to Remember maybe?). I took my kids to see them (they were, at the time, Meredith’s favorite band) and, while I didn’t really know their music at the time, they were fun to listen to. I stood in the back because I didn’t want to get slammed in the pit with all the high school kids but I remember listening to The Beautiful Letdown once or twice and thinking that it was OK.

I also remember the debacle around the release of Nothing is Sound, in which Sony put out their album with a copy protection thing on it that meant that you couldn’t play it on itunes or rip it to your computer without using their special software. Yeah, it was a pain and so I didn’t listen to Meredith’s copy much. I was more interested in the fallout as a business and technological issue than the music. All in all, Switchfoot was firmly in the "I won't turn them off but I probably won't buy them" category for quite some time.

So, for some reason, when their latest album, Oh! Gravity, came out and I saw it on sale right after Christmas, I bought it. I really don't know why. I think I figured that most of my kids would want to hear it and I knew I had more money then they did so I did it to be a nice dad. I also like to support Christians who are working effectively the in the mainstream so I just bought it on a whim. And you know what? It has stayed in my CD player almost continuously ever since.

When I get a new album I won’t listen much if the music doesn’t move me so there is sometimes a pretty short window for an album to get seriously listened to. In this case, the music did move me. I found the melodies and the arrangements on Oh! Gravity to be interesting and compelling. They players aren’t virtuosi but they do well enough for the genre and the dorky piano break about a minute into the first song oozes fun and creativity.

The lyrical themes on this album follow the same lines as previous Switchfoot albums in that they tend to be somewhat dark, focusing on a sense of emptiness. You get the feeling that Foreman is trying to tap into the malaise that his generation feels without feeling the need to point to Christ as the answer in every song. In fact, there is no explicitly Christian content – at least that I have found so far. Of course, it is not always clear what Jon Foreman is referring to in his lyrics but most of the time I’m just bopping my head and enjoying the groove. Occasionally, though, the lyrics jump out at me, as in the opening to “American Dream”:

When success is equated with excess
The ambition for excess wrecks us
As top of the mind becomes the bottom line
When success is equated with excess.

There is some fun wordplay here and it’s hard to miss his point. Other songs aren’t quite so clear. For example, in “Amateur Lovers,” when he sings

We don't know what we're doing
We do it again
We're just amateur lovers
With amateur friends

we aren’t really sure whether this is a good thing or not. I don’t want to complain too much, though, because I have really enjoyed this album. I also really appreciate that Foreman and the rest of the band let their Christian perspective show through in their music, even if it’s not explicit. Oh! Gravity is not Great Art but it is a pretty cool album that I continue to enjoy.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Midnight Riders: The story of the Allman Brothers Band by Scott Freeman

In reading a recent book about Layla, the author mentioned that Scott Freeman’s book, Midnight Riders: The story of the Allman Brothers Band was probably the best on the subject so, since I know little about the story of the Allmans (although I know their music well) I figured I’d give it a look. I’ve written before about Duane Allman and how the band’s Fillmore East album was practically the soundtrack to my freshman year of college but I was surprised at how little I knew of the story of the band, particularly after Duane died.

Freeman tells the story well but it is such a convoluted tale of drugs, fame and wasted opportunity that it’s a bit depressing. This is a band that had the world by the tail and blew it mostly because of immature behavior, drugs and alcohol. (Haven’t there been enough bands now who have had this happen to them that the young ones might say “hey, that’s a trap – I better be careful!” Books like this ought to be required reading at the school of rock.)

I have to say that I was quite turned off to the band (especially Gregg Allman and Dickie Betts) after reading about their story. I wasn’t surprised at the excesses because the band Stillwater in the film Almost Famous was based them to some extent so I had a bit of warning. It is interesting when I read books about bands because if I’m already predisposed to like the people I usually find myself focusing on their more recent good behavior (Clapton, McCartney) but if I don’t have a real fondness for them going in then I often have the other reaction. In the case of Phil Lesh I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt because I think he’s cleaned up a lot lately and saw the error of his drug ways so when I read Searching for the Sound (his autobiography) and I reviewed it in this blog I wasn’t critical of his drug use but rather the way he seemed so casual about relationships – something that he now ought to know better about.

So it might not have been a good idea for me to read Midnight Riders. It gave me a more accurate but much less flattering view of the band than I had before and, since the book was written before the current incarnation of the band, I have no way of knowing if the members have gotten their lives together or not. I hope so because they can sure play!

(By the way, the hardcover edition has a lot more subtle cover than the one I'm showing on this post - I'm not a big fan of the one shown here.)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Remembering the Beatles on Ed Sullivan

Even when I was young I had a strong connection to music. I have a clear memory of having a portable record player that I used all the time. In fact, I had a 45 with the William Tell Overture on it and I would play it and run around the house in a particular way hiding behind certain chairs at certain times in the music. I think the Lone Ranger TV show caused me to think that that music required action. I don't even know how we got the record - it just appeared. I was maybe four or five years old at the time. It’s one of my earliest memories. Apparently I did music all the time as a child - once someone asked my mom when I started doing music and she said something like "when he was born."

My musical memory gets another jumpstart in early 1964 when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit the airwaves. I had never heard anything like it and was immediately taken by how cool this music was. I remember talking about it with friends on the playground and I remember my classmate Greg who said "I don't like the Beatles because they always sing about love." Somehow, even as a fourth grade boy that didn't bother me. I managed to convince my parents to let me buy a Beatles record - and then another one. I got the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” singles and, when I manged to save big bucks, I got an album - The Beatles Second Album, one of those early US-only releases. Looking back I forgot what a rocker this album was. “Roll Over Beethoven,” "Money," "You Can't Do That" and other great songs got me going as a 9 year old. I wore it out.

When I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, 43 years ago today, (which probably pre-dates my record purchases) I got to see for myself what these guys from England looked like when they played. (Remember, back then we had four or five channels on TV - and that was in the largest market in the country, NYC - and there was no other source of home video. If you didn't watch it when it was broadcast you didn't see it at all. So I stayed home from church (!) on Sunday night and stared in amazement at the television. When I saw John Lennon play the guitar that was it – I was hooked. My brother had a guitar which I started to learn on (despite his desire that I not touch it) and then I found an old four-string banjo in our basement that I tuned like the four highest strings on a guitar. I started playing on that until I finally got my own – a very cheap Harmony guitar that we got from saving trading stamps that they gave out at the grocery store. The guitar arrived on the last day of fourth grade, only a few months after that Sunday night when the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show. I've played ever since. For my last show with the Lazy Blue Tunas in December when it was time to pick an encore we chose a Beatles song - "I Feel Fine." Beatles music has been a constant companion to me for 43 years.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Follow the Leader

I’ve mentioned before that Laura and I write church school curriculum for the Walk With Me series and it seems like only a month ago (and it was) that Faith Alive published the Easter Unit that we wrote called He’s Alive. Today our significantly bigger summer unit, Follow the Leader, arrived in the mail. It was less than a year ago that Manger King, our Christmas play came out and I think our Christmas unit Just Like Me came out in 2006 too. We’ve been busy! But it’s always fun to see our work in print and this one is THICK, 223 pages – no wonder it was such a relief to have it finished!

Go to Faith Alive Resources to see these and other cool things for your church.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Searching for God Knows What – Donald Miller

I usually have a number of books that I’m working through depending on what’s going on in my life and which books I happened to get excited about this very minute. My shelf of books-I’m-about-to-read has grown to ridiculous proportions and I accumulate new books at a faster rate than I actually read the ones I’ve got and I have bookmarks in a half dozen of them. It’s a sickness.

But I did manage to actually finish a book on the plane home from Philadelphia this week: Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What. Having read and enjoyed Blue Like Jazz, I was really looking forward to seeing if the quirkiness of that book could be carried over to another. The answer is a qualified ‘yes.’

Miller’s very engaging writing style is still present in no small measure but Searching is, I believe, trying much harder to make a point than Blue Like Jazz. And while that point is a perfectly good one and Miller does a nice job of tying things together to get there I found it a bit more tedious. What I liked about Jazz what that you literally never knew what you were going to get. The book was filled with Miller’s weird friends and unique situations where they are more like occasional guests in Searching.

Miller’s point is well taken and some of his analogies along the way caused me to think about human relationships and about our relationship to God in new ways and I'm glad I read it. But I was spoiled by the freewheeling fun of Blue Like Jazz and, if asked to recommend a Miller book to someone, will go with that rightfully more popular book.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Snow day

When I was back teaching real school the snow day was one of the highlights of the year. I usually lived very close to the school where I taught so I didn’t really mind “near snow days” because driving was never a problem and actual snow days were like a free gift of time. It was cool.

Now that I teach college I never have that and, since so much of my work is outside the classroom anyway, even if I had a snow day it wouldn’t amount to much. Plus, I have a 45 minute drive every day and when it snows I don’t like it at all.

But today, a Sunday, is different. Church was cancelled as well as Church School – two things that Laura and I are in charge of so it really does come as a free day. I can take the day and shovel my driveway, do some writing, catch up on some resting because I have had a couple of intense weekends in a row and just chill out (literally) in general.

The bad news is that we got hammered by the “Blizzard of 2007” so I have a fair amount of digging out to do. Hopefully the roads will all be cleared by tomorrow morning when I begin the commute again.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Back home from APCE in Philadelphia

After three days at the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators conference it is good to be back home again. I actually wasn’t supposed to come in until later today but the blizzard warnings that were posted for the lakeshore of Michigan got me worried and I pushed my flight up a day and came home last night. Even though I beat the bad storm the drive from the airport to Holland was a bit difficult and I'm glad I don't have to face that today, especially since the news just reported a multi-car pileup and a closed highway AND the flight that I was scheduled to take was canceled. Hooray for good decisions!

Of the two APCE conferences I attended (last year and this) this was the better. The plenary speaker and preacher were both really good. Bill Carter preached for us and I enjoyed all three of the sermons of his that I heard. But the highlight for me was Frances Taylor Gench, the keynote speaker. Her talks were informative, enjoyable and thought-provoking. I even bought one of her books, Back to the Well, Women’s Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels.

Aside from that I spoke about my three-dimensional faith notion (which makes up the bulk of my forthcoming book from Baker Books,) went to three sectionals and had a great time hanging out with the group from Faith Alive Christian Resources, who publish the curricula and the plays that Laura and I write. All in all, it was a great time. I’m glad that next year’s conference is a few weeks later, giving me time to recover between Calvin’s Worship Symposium and APCE!