Saturday, February 28, 2009

Burning down the house

Despite Phish, The Dead, Bruce Springsteen, and U2 all touring right now, David Byrne is the must-see show of the year. His tour is comprised of music he created with producer Brian Eno, both from an album they did recently, as well as much of the best-known Talking Heads material from between 1978-82. I hadn't heard the new album, but from what we heard at the show last night, it's excellent.

Byrne's stage presence was phenomenal. The entire audience hung on every word between songs, whether he was recommending people smoke pot discreetly, or he was bashing Ticketmaster. He was funny, clever, and definitely the coolest guy in the room. His back-up dancers are a testament to that fact, too - three skinny kids (two girls and a guy) with shaggy hair, highly trained dancers who were able to match Byrne's wacky moves. His band was great - the percussion, drums, guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals - every member was on top of their game.

When he broke out with some of the Talking Heads stuff, the audience went wild. And he really enjoyed it - played it up, even. The highlight of the 2-hour show had to have come during the second encore with "Burning Down the House." Each back-up dancer and band member discretely slipped into full-on tutus for the most amazing throw-down dance number I have ever seen... and then they were joined by a troupe of at least 50 more ballerinas and ballet-dudes (ballerinos?), also wearing tutus. It was so cool, and the ballerina/os thought so, too - I guess it's not every day that they perform to thousands of roaring fans. This show was as entertaining as any I've seen.


Sent to the Bug from Mima, Boppie and Aunt Jessie. They visited with my Aunt Lori and Uncle Ken in Iowa last weekend to meet their beautiful granddaughter Alicia. While there, they also saw the terrific Des Moines art museum, the state capitol, the famous Bridges of Madison County, and the birthplace of Marrion Robert Morrison (you might know him better as "John Wayne").

Friday, February 27, 2009

Angel: After the Fall

My descent into comic book geekdom began in late 2007, when Joss Whedon decided to continue the Buffy and Angel series in comic book form. I jumped on board, and have quite enjoyed them both. I'm posting today about Angel: After the Fall; though the series will be ongoing, Whedon's writing streak is done for the time being.

The comic books pick up a short time after the events of the last episode of the television series, and this run continues for 17 issues. I thought the story was great, though the end did leave me a little cold. Angel (the television series) played with turning back the time - "Oops, folks! That never happened!" - a couple of times, and I wasn't a huge fan then, either. Anyway, this run ends with a similar twist.

Moments after the end of the television series, the evil law firm of Wolfram and Hart had thrown Los Angeles into Hell. Not into "a hell dimension", but rather the full-on fire-and-brimstone Hell itself. When we rejoin Angel and Company, one had become a ghost, another had been turned into a vampire, a couple had been scattered as lords of various LA neighborhoods, et cetera. Needless to say, there were many demons (and demon lords) who wanted a piece of Angel for this turn of events. Pressure on, he managed to find a way to help his friends and save the world - with major assistance from said friends - and the series ends with Angel's future as unsure as ever (Shanshu, anyone?), struggling with atonement from prior deeds and saving the world from the bad guys in the mean time.

A few issues in, I thought this series hit its stride. The artwork had come around, the storylines were excellent, the dialogue rang true, and several months I found it to be stronger than the Buffy comics. Unless you're a total comic book fan, you won't dig it if you didn't dig Angel. But I would definitely recommend it to any fan of the show.

Jessie, Aldina: this means you!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama's first address

I had been looking forward to President Obama's first address to the joint session of Congress. While I generally support his position on a wide variety of issues, I have some real concerns about the stimulus bill, the mortgage strategy, and the bank bail-out. That being said, I remain very impressed with the team the Obama has assembled, and with his thoughtful and methodical processes, and I was looking forward to hearing the rationale behind his recent initiatives.

I was not disappointed. I thought Obama was very effective in laying out both the roots of the economic crisis, and what he thinks needs to be done to address it. He spoke in layman's terms about what caused the credit crisis, how it affects the average American, and why his bank and mortgage bailouts will help. After years of hearing platitudes from Bush, it was refreshing to get our President's honest perspective. He avoided fire-and-brimstone talk, and was able to keep the tone generally optimistic without being dismissive. Whether you agree or disagree with his plans, I think it's fair to say that he told the nation where he is coming from. I sincerely hope his strategy works swimmingly. By openly sharing his rationale, I think he's earned the country's cooperation and patience in making it happen.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Left of cool

My twelfth year saw a number of trends collide, with some less-than fortunate results. Perms. Giant bows in the back of the hair. Puffy heart necklaces. Braces. Brightly colored, blocky patterned sweaters. Upturned collars. And teased bangs. Why, oh why, did anyone ever think teased bangs were a good idea?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Fortress of Solitude

After Girl in Landscape, I knew it was only a matter of time before I read my way through Jonathan Lethem's anthology. Most recently, it led me to his highly ambitious - and epically successful - The Fortress of Solitude. This book is further evidence that Lethem is among the very best of today's fiction writers. This is not a page-turner in the "I want to know what happens" sense; it is prose to be savored, language to be enjoyed.

As in Girl in Landscape, in Lethem's hands the setting itself becomes a living, breathing character. The Fortress of Solitude is the coming-of-age story of Dylan Ebdus, a white boy in a black world, whose hippy parents moved to Brooklyn's Dean Street in a show of solidarity with the common man. Before long, his mother deserts, leaving Dylan and his father to their fates. When former soul singer Barrett Rude, Jr. moves in next door with his son Mingus, Dylan's life takes an optimistic turn. Despite their racial differences, Mingus and Dylan become best friends.

As they move through middle school and high school, their relationship is forced to change drastically. Dylan is constantly "yoked" for pocket money; Mingus becomes one of the neighborhood's premier grafitti artists under the pseudonym "Dose." Dylan gets in to Stuyvesant; Mingus all but drops out of public school. Dylan's father sells pop-art while completing his life's masterpiece; Mingus's father spends his post-fame years in a cocaine-and-marijuana haze. Through it all, Dylan and Mingus maintain a bond that allows them to fall back into their comfortable habits regardless of the time that passes.

The end of the first section of the book is marked with a defining moment in both Dylan's and Mingus's lives - one that further splinters their lives along vastly different trajectories. After a brief, well-written and compelling interlude we pick up with Dylan some time after he graduates from UC Berkeley and becomes a music writer. The story continues with Dylan's realization that he needs to return to Dean Street to address one last situation.

The book has received some criticism. For example, the writing changes from the third person in Part 1 to the first in Part 3, a device which I thought worked very well. It accentuated that, despite their different lives, the early story was about Dylan, Mingus, their fathers, other Dean Street characters. As they became men, they lives had irreversibly split to such a degree that no story could truly be about them both.

In addition to the title - a reference to the only place where Superman can be himself - there are a number of other representations of heroism, magic, and even actual comic books. In the hands of a lesser author, these might trivialize a story. Under Lethem's craftmanship, they only enhance. Just a few more of his novels left to read; I am looking forward to them all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beans and blueberries

In less than a year, the Bug has become a huge eater. She eats virtually everything that we eat, with certain favorites emerging. She is a fruit vacuum - she can eat nearly a pint of blueberries in one sitting, and I've actually seen her consume two whole bananas. She still loves grapes. And this morning she ate a bowl full of cherry tomatoes. Which was odd. But hey - she asked for them.

While she still loves pasta - whether with marinara, pesto, cheese sauce, or anything else she's ever tried - legumes have emerged as the go-to favorite dinner. She'll eat plate after plate of beans: black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, you name it. Although if she could eat only one single food for a week, it would definitely be cheese.

Her funny-slash-frustrating food habit du jour: If she's mid-bite and a more appealing food option is offered (i.e., chewing on grapes; sees cheese), she sends the current bite back where it came from rather than swallowing. Then she hands the rejected item to me.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fearless Readers ride again!

I consider myself to be one of the founding members of the Fearless Readers, a monthly book club that my friend Lynne started in 2000 or so. We had rules (Wanna pick the book? Show up and vote.), guidelines (Definitely have a drink or two; eat if you're hungry.), and some all-but-ignored protocol (Selections alternate between "classic" and "contemporary."). So-called members rotated every few months. We read lots of really great books (and just a few clunkers). We had some pretty fantastic discussions. We definitely had fun. Then about a year ago, simply due to packed schedules, the book club fizzled out.

But all hail Lynne - book club's back, baby! First meeting of Fearless Readers Redux is on Thursday, March 5. If you're in NYC and want to join, let me know! If you're out of town and want to read along, I'd love for you to share your thoughts and responses to my little review in the Comments.

Next up: In the Beauty of the Lillies by John Updike.
Join us... if you're not afraid!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Astonishing X-Men

My obsession for all things Joss Whedon is well documented at this point. It has taken me far and wide, from the Buffyverse to the 'Verse, from the future to 1997, from TV to the internet to... dare I admit it?... comic books.

In 2004, Whedon wrote a 24-issue run of X-Men comics called "Astonishing X-Men," which was collected into four graphic novels. Since I've consumed absolutely everything else of his, and since Joker has been a huge comic book fan since the days of yore, it was only a matter of time before I'd read it.

There were a three major hurdles to this endeavor. First off, I am not very skilled at reading comic books. It's a more complicated than I would have thought. Dialogue scenes I get. They make sense. But when there's action and explosions - especially if it's all very red, or all very fiery - I have trouble following the action. Secondly, I've never read any of the X-Men comics, which have been going on for decades now. There is a lot of history and backstory that I simply don't know. Myriad alien races, interaction with the Fantastic Four, the Hellfire Club, various love connections... there was a lot I didn't know about. And finally, I didn't realize that this 24-issue run (a) would not be self contained, and (b) would not be comprised of a single adventure.

Despite all of this, I really enjoyed the read. The storyline was really interesting, the art was great, and it was fun to be so far out of my element. Kitty Pryde has a lot of Buffy-esque characteristics, and she had more than a few lines that could have come straight from our favorite slayer. The plot got a little fuzzy to me in the middle - too many characters that can read and influence minds, I suppose - but all in all it was a great story. Who knows... more comic books may lie in store for me now!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My little sous chef

The Bug's desire to help out around the house is only expanding. Last night while I was making dinner, she tried to drag a chair into the kitchen. I told Joker it was fine for her to sit on it and watch, if that was what she wanted. Well, that was NOT what she wanted. She pushed the chair over to the counter, climbed up, and said she wanted to cook. Since everything was already in the oven, I had her put some lemon wedges into a cup, and gave her a spoon to stir them with. She couldn't have been prouder when she brought them out to the table.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Valley of the dolls

Continuing along the Just So Story of myself... I looked pretty normal through about 1982:

Ah, 1982. Normal looking kid with normal interests. Cabbage Patch Kids and Care Bears were all the rage, as evidenced by this picture I took of mine:

Unfortunately, when the permanent teeth arrived, the wheels began to fall off. Still kinda cute. Very suspicious fashion choices. I still remember thinking those purple sneakers and goofy-ass striped socks were totally hot. But wait... closer look at the book bag... is that... GARFIELD???

Why, yes. Yes, it is. I had a lot of Garfield stuff. And I apparently found it necessary to document my entire collection.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another year, another February

I knew exactly why the snow came down so hard all day on Tuesday: I was going to Feb Club. The weather gods have an uncanny sense for when hordes of Yalies will alight on a common location. On Tuesday night, said destination was the NYC Yale Club.

Kudos to the organizers of Feb Club Emeritus, who even tapped into the AYA to spread the word far and wide. Judging by the crowd on Tuesday, they've done their job well. I hear they were expecting a thousand people; there were at least four of the Mory's Cups floating around, filled with gold and red deliciousness; and I totally underestimated both the time I would spend and the wine I would drink. I smiled the entire time. I mingled. I made bold promises to attend at least three this year. I felt lousy the following morning. A successful Feb Club party on all counts!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Whale go boom!

This is tremendous... Can you even imagine why the Oregon Highway Department (a) was called onto the scene in the first place, or (b) thought that blowing up the whale would do anything other than spread the whale around a larger geographic area?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Our nation's capital

What a whirlwind weekend! We drove down to Washington, DC to attend an engagement party for Uncle Shane and Ali, Joker's father in tow. My parents came into town, too, so the Bug got to spend the weekend with all of her biggest fans. Suffice it to say, the party was a lot of fun, and it was great to spend some time with Shane's friends, and to get to know some of Ali's.

Sunday was absolutely beautiful, so we spent the morning out and about, walking from our hotel to the Mall (where we met my parents and Shane and Ali). We stopped in front of the White House to say "Hello" to the Obamas, and the Bug practically ran from there to the Washington Monument. The open grass, warm springlike air, and lots of other kids was heaven to her! We saw the World War II Memorial, which I find incredibly moving, and headed past the reflecting pool and up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial.

I hadn't done that in years, and was amazed at how powerful it was. The magnitude of just what Lincoln had to do is staggering, and the place itself truly captures his spirit. Tears came to my eyes as I read the words of the Gettysberg Address and of his second inaugural speech. I know the Bug won't remember this visit to our nation's capital, but I certainly will.