Archive for November, 2010

How I got this way… about music

November 13, 2010

When I was growing up, the music in the background of my life was comedy and novelty records courtesy of Dr. Demento, which in turn was courtesy of my father. Songs like “Fish Heads”, “The Existential Blues”, and “We Will All Go Together When We Go” filled my head. If you asked seven-year-old me who my favorite musician was, I’d answer with the only one I could name… Weird Al Yankovic. Through repetition I wore out the cassette of Weird Al’s album Dare to be Stupid. Music was something that made me laugh, that I could sing along to. I knew “serious music” was out there, but I didn’t pay attention to it until i was about ten years old.

The car radio was always tuned to Oldies, that genre of light rock and pop classics from the childhood years of The Baby Boomers. It was upbeat, inoffensive, and predictable, whimsy without the overt humor of novelty songs. I got to know the artists, very gradually… Elvis, the Beatles, the Supremes, the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and so on. But after many many years of listening to Golden Oldies, it got too repetitive and too predictable. I knew there was more out there, that the musical development of our culture wasn’t entirely bounded by 1955 and 1975. I was ready to start exploring.

It was my mother who first took me back in time. She taught me about two genres: country and big band. Glenn Miller became the representative of music prior to the Boomer revolution. If golden oldies were saccharine lollypops, then big band was maple syrup… still sweet but with a liquid sweetness used as a topping on top of something to chew on. And by country, I don’t mean the Garth Brooks variety of country, the kind you hear today that differs from rock and roll only by vocal accents. No, I mean the kind that you might have heard prior to 1960, dominated by bluegrass and singing cowboy varieties. I heard the simple sounds of Flatt & Scruggs, and the western swing of Asleep at the Wheel. Mom’s musical legacy to me was to appreciate the sounds of the past.

Dad took me into the future instead, serving as my guide to the genres that came after the golden oldies. The style called Classic Rock crept into my life. The lyrics became more challenging and abstract. The guitars got heavier and the drums got louder. Tambourines were replaced by bassists. Fun was replaced by rebellion. i hit all the obvious ports of call frequented by all the classic rock radio stations: Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Black Sabbath. Dad’s favorite form was southern rock, which blended well with the old-time country stuff I heard with Mom. Dad took me forward in pop music up until 1980.

My parents also had a few genres that they could agree on, and those have stuck on me the strongest. One by one they came into the home as cassettes. Because of them, I lost myself in the concept albums of the Alan Parsons Project. I still listen to Alan Parsons’s works today, and I’ll probably still be doing so fifteen years from now. I became a second generation fan of Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian balladeer with a voice like a saxophone who sang of shipwrecks and railroads, simple living and the mystery of love. Jimmy Buffett’s colorful world offered alternating carnivale and wistfulness, and his album “Fruitcakes” hasn’t left my head since. And for about two years, our Saturn’s tape deck was always looping the same cassette of James Bond movie themes.

I grew up with all of that. We didn’t own a CD player until I bought one myself in 1995, years after I had been gifted with my first CD. The first genre I explored on my own was jazz, thanks to our local NPR station. My high school English teacher gave me a respect for classical, especially Mozart. The cool kids around me were listening to Smashing Pumpkins, the Wallflowers, Oasis, and Pearl Jam, but I didn’t pay attention. I never got into my generation’s music at the time. I never had a phase of teenage rebellion. No, I was loyal and obedient, and I left for college uninitiated in punk rock, grunge, techno, the entirety of the Eighties, and anything made by black people within my lifetime.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Between first and twelfth grade, I had a small but influential circle of friends. We had bonded over shared experiences with novelty songs like Weird Al and Dr. Demento. We’d all read the same Far Side cartoons, seen the same Monty Python sketches, and read the same sci-fi novels. We all had the same appreciation for older music styles, and were equally ignorant of current stuff. That all changed when we got to high school. Benny Goodman and Johnny Cash were replaced by Rob Zombie and The Prodigy. They had undergone complete turnarounds in listening tastes in a short time, while I plowed ahead in the rut of the familiar. Their tastes eluded me at the time, but it did steel my nerves for college.

During my freshman year (and my senior year of high school, too), Napster and P2P MP3 sharing was turning the music industry inside out. It was the perfect time to sample and explore genres I had never heard of before. I made up for lost time by getting to know the style stupidly known as “alternative”… whatever that meant. I sought out The Pixies, Weezer, Pavement, REM, and Marcy Playground. I dove headfirst into modern electronica… techno, trance, house, drum-n-bass, and trip hop. I loved electronica! Finally, a musical genre that sounded like the future! I couldn’t get enough Paul van Dyk, Squarepusher, Plaid, and 808 State. My parents had planted one of my feet in the past, and it firmly remains there to this day. But on my own choosing I planted the other foot firmly in The Future.

I’ve attended a few concerts over the years, too. The first one I remember was at the county fair. Dad and I braved heavy rain in our clammy vinyl ponchos to hear Ray Stevens. A year or two later, the county fair presented surf rock duo Jan & Dean. We went back for Steppenwolf, Blood Sweat & Tears, and REO Speedwagon. I got to see Gordon Lightfoot with my mother around 1998, and I saw him again with my fiancee in 2005. I’ve seen live retro acts Michael Buble and my personal favorite The Squirrel Nut Zippers.

My favorite music today is retro swing and downbeat electronica. Because of my love for music from the past, the swing revival movement of the late Nineties hasn’t died for me, and probably never will. i have many old favorites that i continue to enjoy to this day, and will take with me into my future.

I never did enjoy punk, grunge, heavy metal, or rap. One thing that most genres that rub me the wrong way have in common, and the one thing that will turn me off of a song immediately, is raw aggression and bravado. I’ve always been a mellow and calm person, and music that is angry and laced with frothing testosterone is something I’ve always tried to avoid. Life has enough bitterness in it; it doesn’t need more rage.

As I prepare to become a father in January, I’m becoming more aware of my musical tastes, and how my parents influenced mine. It will be my turn now, to share with my own children the music that I find worthwhile. I will have to be the responsible parent and filter my music for young ears and young minds, but it’s one of those areas in my life that I look forward to guiding a new person through. That and gaming, of course!

So, parents out there… how did your children absorb your musical tastes? Did they reject your influence, give you a new appreciation for something you’ve loved, or teach you anything new?

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: Langton’s Ant

Movies I’ve Seen:

THX-1138 (1971) ~ clinical dystopia run by hypochondriacs

Diner (1982) ~ I still don’t get it.

What I’m Reading:
“The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde (which has been totally awesome so far!)

The Well of Uncomfortable Political Truths

November 2, 2010

As you have no doubt noticed, The Ryanarium has relocated to its gemutlich new home on WordPress. The phase-out of Live Spaces gave me an opportunity to declare the Ryanarium obsolete. Let’s face it, most everything I write is either related to my meatspace life and belongs on FaceBook, or is realted to gaming and belongs at BoardGameGeek. If you want to follow my realtime or gaming life, you should probably go looking at one of those destinations. So what does that leave behind for the Ryanarium?

But now you’re looking at today’s headline “political truths” and wondering if I’m about to declare the Ryanarium a political blog. Rest assured, I have no intention of doing that. However, with the mid-term Congressional elections coming up tomorrow, political thoughts are coming easily to me, and I will take this opportunity to write down an assorted bunch of my own political slogans and maxims as I think them up. This stream-of-consciousness political screed is by no means representative of all future Ryanarium content. Just keep these things in mind while you’re standing in line tomorrow.

We cannot afford our good intentions. The road to bankruptcy is paved with good intentions. As beneficial as welfare programs and social spending might be, the economic toll of unsustainable government debt will undo all of those gains, and more. if you care about the poor and downtrodden in our society and believe that government is the only agency that can help them, then be aware that the first priority is to sustain and protect the longevity of said government. It cannot help the poor if it cannot itself survive.

Talk radio is poison, especially if it is named after one individual.

All media is biased. There is no such thing as an unbiased media outfit. Recognize the bias in each and every media source, and think critically about anything it tells you. It is your duty and obligation as a citizen of this republic to feed from as many DIFFERENT troughs as possible. That is the only way you can be an informed citizen.

I agree with Republicans that abortion should not happen. I agree with the Democrats that it should not be illegal.

Technically, we only need two traffic laws… Dangerous Driving and Inconsiderate Parking. This covers all sources of vehicular stupidity, be it caused by drink, age, distraction, or incompetence. I understand that this would be difficult to enforce.

I can no longer justify the electoral college, but I don’t think our voting public in general is any more informed than it was 200 years ago, so maybe we still need it.

Why is it illegal to not wear a seat belt? Laws are written to protect victims, not criminals. Who is the victim of not wearing a seat belt, and who is the criminal?

Legalize pot and tax the crap out of it. Prohibition was stupid in 1919, and it’s still stupid now. Expensive, too.

Per capita, America is one of the biggest jailers among the nations. Either we are doing something wrong, or we are one of the most evil people on earth.

We need a border policy that makes it fast and easy to cross legally, especially for people from parts of the world where documentation doesn’t exist. However, full citizenship should be a thing that must be earned.

Your government will never truly represent you, since it must also represent the people who disagree with you.

Making English the official language of the United States will do nothing to stem immigration or keep immigrants from speaking other languages.

If stem cell research is all that great, then its development won’t depend on federal funding.

All the federal funding in the world will not get Johnny to learn to read as long as Johnny doesn’t want to learn to read.

Student debt is doing more the prevent couples from having kids than abortion and gay marriage. I am not opposed to college, but to the lifetime burden it imposes.

Financial default will do more to bring America to its knees than foreign terrorism could ever do.

The biggest thing that the family values camp can do to promote the American family is to bring down the cost of living.

American jobs will come back home from Asia when Americans are willing to work for Asian wages. Pay attention, unions.

Remember that the Taliban and Iran’s “Mad Dinner Jacket” were elected into power. Remember that the United States once supported Saddam Hussein and the Afghan Muhajadeen.

Either Social Security will die, the US government will die, or the Baby Boomers will die. Pick one.

I as a college trained engineer cannot understand my tax forms. If the majority of us must pay an expert to comprehend our tax forms for us, then our tax code is fundamentally screwy.

I cannot say with confidence that there are absolutely no crimes that merit the death penalty. Would you jail Osama bin Laden for life?

No nation has survived the loss of its middle class.

America’s best strength as model of world democracy is the frequent peaceful transition of power from one party to another. Our harsh words for the opposition rarely translate to violence. That is awesome.

Resource conservation is good for everybody. Waste is in nobody’s interest.

Each species is a unique solution to a unique problem. There is nothing sacrosanct about the number of species on Earth. Extinction and invasive species are nature’s way of promoting capitalism. Maybe pandas are supposed to be extinct.

Climate change is supposed to happen. The sun has more influence on the Earth’s climate than we humans ever will. The Earth’s temperature is not supposed to stay constant indefinitely.

You leave your religion out of my government, and I will leave my government out of your religion.

If America is a Christian nation, than we have failed to live up to the American ideal of being a home for all.

The economy is too complex and too transient for any person or group of persons to control it. The economy cannot be controlled any more so than the weather can.

Las Vegas is a stupid place to put a city. Like a patient on dialysis, its survival depends on the pumps to keep turning. This strikes me as unwise. Same goes for Phoenix.

Attitudes about abortion and homosexuality are directly proportional to local population density. Thus the solution to both issues must be regional.

If the North Koreans can make a $100 bill as realistic as one the Bureau of Printing and Engraving can and for less money, aren’t they doing the BEP a favor?

If race doesn’t matter, then stop collecting statistics on it.

At heart, all political arguments are about money.

Immigration from Mexico will stop when America and Mexico are on equal economic footing. Note the stability of the Canadian border.

If you bust a man whose only crime is to cross the border illegally, even if he was a model taxpaying citizen, you’ve made him an ex-con for life. Convicted criminals are the unspoken third class citizen.

Government help should be available, but the least attractive option, only used as a last resort.

One of the greatest sins a nation can commit is to prevent its people from freely leaving it.

When we think our political opponents are deliberately sabotaging our country, America dies a little.

The Star Spangled Banner hails this nation as the “home of the BRAVE”. Keep that in mind the next time you’re standing in line at a TSA checkpoint.

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: Horse musicals

Movies I’ve Seen:

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) ~ The ending wasn’t that funny.

A Hard Day’s Night (1963) ~ prototypical and trendsetting music video

The Mack (1973) ~ Made entirely of unimportant dialogue.

Liberty Heights (1999) ~ Mighty drama sprinkled with burlesque.

The Producers (2005) ~ Good musical numbers, sans LSD!

What I’m Reading:

“The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde