Monday, January 28, 2002

Crash Boom Bah

Visitors to my house are as unlikely to compliment me on my taste in decor as they are the warmth of my house. One thing I do hear however is how clean I keep my home. Call me Howard Hughes but I just can't stand clutter. It bothers me when my mail sits on my kitchen table rather than the ten feet away chair that is designated to hold my unpaid bills and unread magazines.

Over the years I learned the secret to a non-cluttered environment is to jam everything you can't deal with into your closets. If it's out of sight it may not ever be out of mind for us obsessive types but at least it's hidden from the people you love most. Frustration sets in however whenever something needs to be found and then you have to dig not only through piles of crap, but unorganized piles of crap at that.

I haven't reached the depths of Fibber McGee quite yet but the other day when I was digging through the closet I was truly a bit afraid for my life fearing I was risking being buried alive. I didn't exactly find what I was looking for (I never quite do) but nonetheless at the back of my bedroom closet sat an item I had kind of sadly forgotten about and set aside. It was one of the last gifts my Mom was responsible for giving me.

As long as I remember my Mom liked putting together jigsaw puzzles. I remember as a little tike the day Mom tried to teach me some of the tricks in assembling all the jumbled pieces into a whole. She showed me how to pick out the pieces with a straight side to put together the edgy shell of the frame first and then fill in the rest later. I remember feeling a sense of accomplishment whenever I could dig through the 1,000 pieces and find a piece with one straight side. I wouldn't have a clue where to plug the piece in but it seemed to help Mom that I had found the one piece she was looking for.

I have never had the patience (or is it lacking the skill?) to finish a puzzle all by myself. The little surprise I found at the back of my closet was a framed completed glued together jigsaw puzzle my Mom had done, the picture of a panoply of kitties. Next to the finished puzzle sat a bunch of old puzzles Mom had sent home with me to give to my friend at the time, the World's Greatest Soccer Player, who had recently expressed a love for doing jigsaw puzzles. Somehow I never got around to giving her the puzzles Mom had carefully selected for a person she never met.

Two of my best friends in life happen to be M.D.'s. They're not doctors, they don't even play them on TV (although both have personally witnessed enough of my neurosis to qualify for some sort of honorary degree), those just happen to be their initials. Their opinions to me are gold, they matter more than just about anyone else in my life. Thus when both made movie recommendations to me I made an effort to put aside my boycott of motion pictures (a piece, missing or not left behind by the aforementioned WGSP) to set aside some time to watch the two films.

About a year ago I was talking to M.D. #1 about my attempting to write a novel. I was in a mode of jotting down notes and sketching out an outline of a plot of a story- about a fiction writer who suffers through a writer's block only to take up non-fiction writing to get him through his troubles. After much thought I decided to change the profession of the character to a painter who becomes frightened of the consequences of his work and who takes up photography to work his way through his loss. I asked my friend if she thought this was plausible and she told me to watch the Michelle Pfeiffer movie The Deep End of the Ocean which is basically a story of a family who loses a son, but also has a subplot about the mother who is a photographer who loses her ability to shoot pictures because the reminders of the emotions of her art are too painful to endure.

More recently I was talking to M.D. #2 whose opinions on pop culture I have learned not to ignore. She raved about seeing the French movie Amelie, about the uplifting story and the wondrous cinematography work. I made it a point to take my last day off for too long a while to see the movie. Though it may not live up to the billing as the "greatest movie of all time" I indeed was entertained by an always amusing film.

The movie is about an unconventional woman who revels in her quirky nature by devoting her life to doing small and seemingly unnoticeable acts that makes the lives of others in her world just a little bit happier. She ultimately finds her own purpose in her separation and isolation from others by finding another outcast who has devoted his life to finding a ghost with an affinity for having his picture taken, but finds a logical explanation instead. It reminded me of the mood I was in when I left the sole party I'll probably attend this year where I found myself sitting awkwardly on a futon couch with my feet far from the ground noticing, painfully for a while but comfortably after some thought, that I was the only one wearing white socks. Unfashionable? Perhaps. Unable to speak? As always. Increasingly comfortable in my own skin? Yup. The edge pieces firmly in place, the bigger picture more in focus.

Monday, January 21, 2002

Harlig Diktare, Alska Lantagare or How Swedish Can D. Ma Be?

The one with a certain way with words paid me a compliment the other day. Or at least I think it was a compliment. She said that she thought I was more of a misanthrope than a misogynist, which is probably closer to the truth than I care to admit. This same wise word observer also has expressed the belief that I listen to too much sad music and thus loaned me her copy of Lisa Ekdahl's happy sounding 1994 self titled CD.

The key word in that last sentence is "sounding" since Ekdahl sings in her native language, Swedish, and though the music is enchanting, enthralling and bouncy, for all we know she could be singing about killing kitties or a tortuous existence in a suicidal society. But it really doesn't matter since the vibe that arises from Ekdahl's lilting mystical alto soprano voice combined with the jazz driven melodies is nothing but soothing to say the least.

All I know about Swedish music is what I learned from listening to the Cardigans, ABBA and Ace of Base, all three groups that hold a certain fondness in my heart. Ekdahl's music carries a bit more authenticity to it, if only because her pristine vocals and the simple instrumentation contrast with the bombastic synthetic sound of the trio of Nordic super groups.

If there were some type of mathematical formula available to what music I like and why, the ability of a lyric to get through to me would no doubt be the biggest factor. I can always love a song with great words; I find it much more difficult to like a song only because of its melody or some virtuoso solo. Thus it may seem strange that I can't seem to stop listening to a CD that I don't understand a single word of. There's just something swinging and hip that's irresistible. This is rare music that sounds just at home playing in the early morning when chores need to be done, as it does late at night when there is some serious contemplating to be contemplated.

The opening track "Oppna upp ditt fonster" is a nice blend of Ekdahl's voice along with a jaunty soprano saxophone counter melody. There is a Latin feel to the song although for all I know it could be a Swedish feel. The language appears to rely heavily on multi-syllabic words and the way Ekdahl's voice caresses each consonant and vowel with the utmost care is quite comforting somehow. The sprightly production makes it seem as if the singer is strumming her guitar in the corner of a newly purchased, but immediately homey living room.

The diversity of the songs somehow don't detract from how well each song meshes with what proceeds and what follows. The driving "Benen I Kors" hits a percussive groove as comfortably as the penultimate hypnotic "Vem Vet." I wouldn't even want to hazard a guess as to what either song is about. Somehow knowing might spoil the spellbinding ambiance that is created by that universal slightly imperfect comforting trumpet line that opens the latter song or the clarity of Ekdahl's expressive singing in the former.

The CD is a good reminder that it's not always what a person is saying (or singing) it's the way that person is saying (or singing) something. In other words it isn't always the direct meaning of the words it's sometimes the way it is spoken (or not spoken). Words aren't necessarily the same things as feelings and vice versa. And that's a mighty important reminder (or lesson) to keep in mind.

For a guy with a mushy cerebellum it sometimes sure takes a lot for something to penetrate my skull. And as I find myself singing along with Ekdahl in my pseudo-Swedish, I still feel some kind of connection even though I have no idea what is being said. Or maybe I possibly do, for music is the universal language of love that we all speak at least once or twice in our lives.

Monday, January 7, 2002

The 2001 Woman of the Year

Previous Winners: 1992: H. Ross Perot, 1993: St Francis of Assisi, 1994: Newt Gingrich, 1995: Cal Ripken Jr., 1996: The Bob Dole Campaign, 1997: Dolly the Sheep, 1998: El Nino, 1999: Belinda Jensen, 2000: The Taco Bell Chihuahua

We'd love to tell you all about the process the committee went through to select the 2001 Newsletter Woman of the Year. Unfortunately, due to national security concerns, we have to provide a [text deleted] account of the whole operation [clearance granted for the prior sentence].

Suffice it to say things got off to a rather rocky start when a group of concerned parents, media jackels, school administrators and election officials demanded the whole Newsletter Woman of the Year award be discontinued because of alleged witchcraft being used to determine the winner. Rumor has it committee members used the assistance of a Magic 8 ball to divine the winner last year. The concerned parents, media jackels, school administrators, and election officials thought the use of the so-called black magic device was certain proof that the committee members were practicing wizards and witches and thus a danger to children.

It was a discouraging development to say the least. There was thought that we do away with the formal proceedings and reach a quick consensus. If that had come to pass then the obvious winner would have been Attorney General John Ashcroft. Committee members were impressed that Ashcroft, a guy who lost his Senate seat to a dead guy, managed to become one mighty big powerful civil rights schmivil rights right wing type of guy. But quite frankly committee members became a tad frightened that if Ashcroft was so recognized that phone taps and email intercepted by the Feds would be used to indefinitely imprison us as feline sympathizers.

Next we turned our sights to the next most obvious choice, Major League Baseball. Fresh off of providing some release from the terrorist attacks via a terrific World Series, fresh off an uplifting season from the local squad, the geniuses that run the game decided it was time to announce that the game was beyond repair and there was a need to get rid of two revenue poor teams. That the plan would do absolutely nothing to solve what truly is ailing the national pastime (out of control spending by large market owners and not nearly enough revenue sharing between teams) didn't really seem to matter.

The plan called for baseball to give two owners $150 million to $200 million to buy their teams and "contract" them. If the issue was about not having a good enough stadium how about spending that same amount to build better stadiums that produce higher revenue? Nope. That wouldn't punish somebody to prove some point. Yup Major League Baseball is about as screwed up as can be. Contraction = Woman of the Year. Since many of our favorite people had their first babies over the past year there seemed to be a natural connection. But it wasn't the way the committee members wanted to go.

With the committee's attention fully tuned to sports, the ultimate winner's name was written all over the 2001 Newsletter Woman of the Year Award. Not since the days of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan have sports fans been treated to such a complex character. The anger directed at our winner was sorely misguided. Instead of being outraged by this fellow's comments and showboating antics, fans should have focused on his wonderful ultimate anti-cliche rock and roll escapades. Instead of dwelling on his team's failures fans should have treasured this individual's unmatched talents and grace.

Going against the grain, disrespecting authority, just like our award, is what this gentleman is all about. And yet this year beneath all the immature behavior and unbelievable talent we also got a glimpse of a moment of such intense honesty that he stood the notion of professional athletics on edge. He didn't spoon out the usual sports rhetoric/drivel ("I gave it 110 percent blah blah blah"), he actually was honest enough to admit he tries hard only when he sees fit.

The defining moment for the 2001 Woman of the Year wasn't another season where he demonstrated that when he puts his mind to it there is absolutely no one who can stop (or control) him and that he is still the most dynamic football player in his league, but rather at a sad sad news conference where he admitted he didn't know how, let alone if, he could ever get over the death of his friend and teammate. Thankfully this guy is definitely not Kubrick's HAL. He wept that day like a distraught and frail and honest human being and for that we salute Randy Moss as this year's much deserving recipient.