Wednesday, July 27, 2005

good vs. flawed and ridiculous

"Never feel good. The corruption of the good by the belief in their own infallible goodness is the most bloody dangerous pitfall in the human spectrum. Once you have conquered all your sins, pride is the one which will conquer you. A man starts off deciding he is a good man because he makes good decisions. Next thing, he's convinced that whatever decision he makes must be good because he's a good man. Most of the wars in the world are caused by people who think they have God on their side. Always stick with people who know they are flawed and ridiculous."
~Helen Fielding, Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination

In other words, stick with me kids, and you'll be just fine.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Place Called Home

Yesterday was Community Service Day at work, so I went to this place in South Central LA called "A Place Called Home" to volunteer. The description on the sign-up sheet just said "Music" and I figured, I've got over 20 years of experience as a musician, plus even more as an obsessive music fan, that sounds like fun.

It really was. It was completely disorganized, the woman leading the class had no idea what we should do with the kids, we had no idea how to prepare, so we ended up doing a trivia game with them. Imagine 30+ 8 year olds yelling "Michael Jackson! 50 Cent! Tito Puente!" out for every single answer, and that'll give you an idea of my afternoon. Still, they were pretty great kids and I had a blast.

It was amazing to see what they knew, and what they didn't know. Like, there's a picture of Jimi Hendrix in their classroom, so when I pointed to it and asked, "Who is this?" imagine my surprise when they answered, with great authority, "Bob Marley!" Huh? I mean, I can totally understand not being familiar with Jimi, but they did know Bob... interesting. So of course, I took the opportunity to give them a brief lesson in rock history. Ever tried to explain the difference between Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley to large group of inner city children before? It's kind of fun. I mean, they really want to know this stuff (or at least they acted interested for my benefit).

It was fascinating to discover that they knew the musical alphabet (A - G), but they didn't know what a scale was (Do Re Mi, etc). Or they'd know who Charlie Parker was, but not James Brown. Again, I don't expect them to know James Brown, but Charlie? I also found it highly amusing that when we asked them, "Who sings, 'I feel good! (Na ne na ne na ne na) I knew that I would now,'" we had more than one perplexed face in the room when we told them "Eddie Murphy" was the wrong answer.

The funniest/most alarming, yet technically correct answer of the day (from an 8 year old):
Q. Name one band or singer that would fall into the category of Rock Music.
A. Marilyn Manson

At the end of our class, I was brimming with ideas for another session. The trivia game might have been a little crazy, especially since we were pulling questions out of thin air on the spot and they were either too hard or too easy. But it turned out to be a great way to find out what they know, and what they don't know. I've already started compiling song ideas for one or two mix CDs to send over to the class that would include all types of music, from Mozart to Aretha, so they can learn different genres and artists. I want to create more games and activities so they can learn more about different instruments, and basic music theory. I want to teach them song after song after song. In short, I want to go back.

This has been a huge experience for me. The truth is, I've always been passionate about the importance of music in education. Music programs keep kids occupied with something stimulating, instead of out on the streets where they can get into trouble (or worse, unfortunately). They make the world a bigger place for them. They give kids something to try to improve and a sense of achievement when it happens. They have a huge impact on how they learn other subjects in school. For example:

1) History: A volunteer played a waltz on the piano, which they correctly identified as classical music. We went a little further after they answered the question and explained what a waltz is, and how people used to dance to them a long time ago. They asked, "Like in the 70's?" Well, sure. The 1770's. Their eyes widened, and their faces lit up, as if it suddenly occurred to them how old that song must be. Imagine where you could take that. Like, what else happened in the 1770's that they might be interested in?

2) Language: The same volunteer pantomimed playing a harp for them, only to have one of them answer, "Ark! It's an ark!" After working with him for a little bit, we found out that he had the right idea, but he didn't know the word harp. So we spelled it on the white board and had everyone sound it out.

3) Math: In order to measure beats of music or rhythm, you need to understand different lengths of notes. In traditional 4/4 time, there are four beats in one measure of music. A whole note contains four beats--it takes up the whole measure. A half note has 2 beats--it takes up half the measure. A quarter note has 1 beat. An eighth note equals half a beat. Getting kids to understand rhythms takes a basic understanding of counting, adding, dividing and even simple fractions.

Music programs for kids do all this and so much more. What's sad is that in most areas of our country, they have been cut from school curriculums because US public schools don't get enough funding to put towards new books and decent teachers, much less rental instruments that kids can take home and practice. So the opportunities for kids to learn music become extremely limited. Families with enough money can buy instruments, pay for private lessons and get their kids into orchestras and other organizations outside of school. Families without the income or resources are lucky if they can bring their kids to A Place Called Home.

If you're in the LA area and would like to volunteer, please visit their website or give me a buzz--maybe we could go over together. (If you're a musician, even a bad one, even better!) If you have ideas for activities these kids could do, or opinions on what kinds of songs I should put in these CDs I'm mixing, please leave them in the Comments section below, or email me if you have my address. If you're outside of LA or haven't a clue what kinds of things would be good for a music class, but still want to help, visit their website. I'm sure they're always happy to accept donations.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

NoHo Horror

I think our filthy house is trying to tell us something...
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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Mix of the Month: June/July

Around mid-June I flew to Colorado for a conference for work, and stayed the weekend to visit my family. It was so wonderful to see everyone. My mom, who's healing nicely from hip surgery; my sister who happened to be in town from Minnesota; my big brother, my dad; and my nieces, who get bigger and smarter and funnier and sassier every time I see them.

The flight back to LA was at sunset, and I found myself staring out the window at the beautiful orange and blue sky as we departed Denver (we call these "Bronco sunsets" in Colorado). I was thinking about the concept of home, how beautiful the world looks from a plane, how high we were... and how soon I could plug my iPod into my head to drown out the crying baby behind me.

With all that in mind, I snapped some photos of the sky out my window, and created the following mix on the fly, (yuk, yuk!) on my iPod. Some songs are about height, sky and flying. Some are just songs I'm addicted to right now. And some songs just soar on their own.

Such Great Heights
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Pretty Girls Make Graves/Something Bigger, Something Brighter - One of many big, anthem-like songs on this mix. It rocks, it sways, it lets you float and then snaps you back.
The Postal Service/Such Great Heights - This particular song sounds RAD on headphones, with the synth popping back & forth from ear to ear.
Stars/Your Ex-Lover is Dead - I'm so addicted to this song. The cellos, the accordion, the jangly guitars, when the girl starts singing at the beginning, the waltz-like time, the big finish. LOVE.
Coldplay/Speed of Sound - Have you heard the new Coldplay album? It's gooooooood.
Filter/Take My Picture - The first lyric is, technically, "Awake on my airplane." But mAc and I always sing, "Waco my ab shwing." Because that's what it sounds like.
Morcheeba/Part of the Process - This song is basically dreamy electronic country music. If you know me at all you know that if you can mix genres successfully, you WIN in my book. This one includes fun space-like sound effects and a fiddle. And yes, it totally works.
Madonna/Sky Fits Heaven - This was my theme song for moving to Seattle for love all those years ago. I listened to it on the plane out there over and over and over again. "Traveling down your own road / Watching the signs as you go / I think I'll follow my heart / It's a very good place to start."
Bloc Party/This Modern Love - My friend Amanda once pointed out that this song would have been perfect for that first kiss between Logan and Veronica on the Best New Show EVER, Veronica Mars. I totally agree. (Also sounds amazing on headphones.)
Rufus Wainright/Beautiful Child - Besides mixed genres, I also go bananas for big, dramatic anthems, especially the ones that go for the whole Phil Spector Wall of Sound effect. This particular song is the biggest, most dramatic wall-of-sound anthem I have ever heard. Turn it up!
Nouvelle Vague/Guns of Brixton - I just can't get over how sexy she sounds when she croons the word "Brixton." Damn.
Norman Greenbaum/Spirit in the Sky - Always makes me happy.
Shivaree/Goodnight Moon - In a word? Slinky.
Ryan Adams/Wonderwall - It's just so sweet and sincere.
Aretha Franklin/Nessun Dorma - Okay. It's 1998 (pretty sure) and I'm watching the Grammy's at a friend's place. The announcer says that, due to laryngitis, Pavarotti will not be able to perform tonight. Instead, please welcome Aretha Franklin to perform Nessun Dorma. I thought to myself, "Oh, no. I hope this isn't embarrassing for her, I LOVE her." And then I immediately felt ashamed, because I found myself listening to one of the most amazing things I have ever heard in my entire life. It was beautiful, stirring, soaring. It was all the lofty drama of opera cradled in the warm embrace of soul. It made all the hairs on my body stand on end; the finale made me weep.
Frou Frou/Let Go - It helps bring you down from the previous song and has the added bonus of being kind of perfect for flying.
The Golden Palominos/Heaven - Sexiest. Song. Ever.
Foo Fighters/Over and Out - I used to listen to the Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly" when I'd travel. But these days I'm addicted to the new album, and I can't get enough of this song.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

I am happy to announce...

Right. Remember that hardware I couldn't get off our cupboards last night? The gunk-covered hinges and handles that wouldn't come out?

I went back to them today. And, for the most part, got all of the pieces removed. Except for this one. This one handle with the one screw that would. not. turn.

Well, I am happy to announce that after the use of the power drill, 3 screwdrivers, a utility knife, a hammer, lots and lots of chemicals and some serious swearing, sweating and general cajoling, I can finally say

I got a screw loose.
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Friday, July 15, 2005

so much gunk

Imagine this: You're attempting to take hardware (handles, hinges, etc.) off your kitchen cupboards. You've got a power drill, the correct bit, and you've got it pressed into the screw straight on, perfectly perpendicular to the cupboard, with some weight behind it. Just like Amy Wynn showed you on Trading Spaces all those years ago. And the screw. won't. budge. Why?

Because there's just so much gunk in it. Say it with me:

Ew!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

polishing a turd

Perhaps you've heard the expression, "Silk purse out of a sow's ear," which is gross when you really think about it. Basically it means turning something icky into something beautiful and fabulous.

My dad has a similar saying, that goes, "You can't polish a turd."

In other words, if it's that gross, flush it and move on.

I bring this up because we went into our new house tonight. We showed up with cleaning products, trash sacks and a bottle of champagne in a snazzy little bucket to keep it cool. (Big shout outs to Anna and the Burgans, who got us the champers and the bucket, respectively. That's right, Anna. We busted out the Veuve.)

When we got there, the previous owner was still on the property, watering stuff. They'd just tented for termites, and he wanted to water all the plants right away to make sure they didn't absorb too many chemicals or something. Personally, I think he was also saying his last good-byes to the house, so we held back a little at first. But then we let him know we were there and he let us know a couple things about the place, and then went on his merry way.

Then we went in.

The first thing you need to know about our new house is that we are the second owners. The first owners, who purchased it when it was built in 1953, were smokers. And I'm not talking, "Oh my, I'm totally buzzed, can I bum a cigarette and smoke it outside?" smokers. I'm talking at least pack-a-day, in the house, cancer be damned! smokers. And they did this for, oh 20 years or so? More specifically, since the last time this place was painted (we're guessing 70's), people have been smoking in it. Leaving nicotine stains EVERYWHERE.

That shit is naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasty.

The first thing that hits you when you walk in is the muggy heat (no central air). Then the smell. mAc says it smells like Germany. I say it smells like Old Smokers House. I've only spent a day in Germany, so there's an excellent chance we're both right.

The second thing we noticed: this place is dirty. No, really dirty. Christina Aguilara, extra R's, Dirrrrty. I'm talking grime so thick you can't even tell where the thread in the screw is, much less get a screwdriver in there. And if we're talking hardware on, say, the kitchen cabinets? Oh, you can take the screws off. Eventually. That doesn't mean the handle is coming off without a hammer. That, my friends, is some serious mothahfuckin' GRIME.

Then we started noticing everything else. The chipped windowsills, the grody switchplates, the hole in one of the windows, the warped spot on the hardwoods in one of the rooms. The ants. Oh, dear lord, the ANTS. If Dreamworks is filming "ANTS 2: Electric EW!" in our house, they're in for a big setback when we show up with some industrial strength RAID, yo.

All that said, it's a good place. It's going to be a GREAT place. I mean, just cleaning it will do wonders. Paint will work miracles. Little things like new switchplates and hardware and big things like new appliances with move it into the 21st century.

We also noticed a couple cool things. Like where someone carved "July, 1959" into the patio outside the garage, letting everyone know when that garage was built. Best of all, the wall in the kitchen where all the grandchildren grew up, and were measured. In recent years, the house has definitely had most of its charm covered in a thick layer of filth. But at one time, probably for many years, it was a home. I can't wait to restore it to that condition.

So in conclusion, we're not, as my dad would say, polishing a turd. It's what's under the turdy grossness that we need to polish. And that? Is going to gleam.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

many reasons to be happy

Today, I have many reasons to be happy. I've got Lesley Gore singing her defiant little ass off in my speakers, an ice cold Diet Coke to swallow, a bag of delicious M&Ms to savor and a screening of my new favorite movie tonight.

But mostly? Mostly we get our keys tonight. To our HOUSE. We're very excited. And, yes, it's a fixer (mostly cosmetic), but when we get done with it? It's going to be

AWESOME.
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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

lethargic or sad or defiant

Today my computer is feeling slooooooooowww. It's running one program as though it's running 100 and they're all opening 17 MB files at the same time. It's hiccuping on projects, waiting seconds, sometimes minutes to show me a cursor, procrastinating switching from one program to another, protesting all attempts to click and type and move along quickly. It's like it's feeling lethargic or sad or defiant or maybe all three. And for once, I can't yell at it or fault it for behaving this way, if only because

I know just how it feels.