Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Remember to take a break if your arms go numb!

MPR's Bob Collins had a link that caught my eye on his News Cut Blog today:
A Rochester Post Bulletin columnist makes a great point today. Kids don't have the fun of snow days we used to have when technology was in its relative infancy.

While the snow fell outside, we would go to bed with our radios within arm's reach. In the morning, as soon as our groggy little eyes opened, we would snatch the radio and lay huddled in our beds waiting for our school to be announced. The moment we heard the name of our town, we would fly out of bed and get dressed faster than we ever would on a regular school day. At that point, we would race back to the radio to listen for the next round of announcements. We just had to hear it a second time before we could celebrate with certainty.
It's also what introduced generations of kids to the value of radio.
I had the same experience in upper elementary school through high school (late '80s through the mid '90s), waking up excitedly to find out from Steve Cochran whether I get to stay home to eat my Halloween candy and watch TV. I have fond memories of epic sledding expeditions with friends in the neighborhood (I think it was on a snow day that my brother found $42 in cash in an alley we were trudging through), often followed by sessions in front of the Nintendo in soggy snow pants.

I wonder how many kids just don't listen any more, even those who, unlike the Rochester writer's example, don't have access to the internet. Melissa is a Minneapolis high school teacher, and her school told the faculty that last Monday a couple dozen kids showed up for class. That's a couple dozen who were not in proximity to an operating locally-tuned radio that morning. In my day [holy crap what am I becoming?], the radio in general, and KDWB in particular, seemed inescapable in the schoolyard culture.

This is the kind of thing about which I'd love to do a study: ask the students who knew about the snow day how they found out about it. It should be a longitudinal study, collecting data at the same handful of schools every time there's a snow day over a matter of decades (starting three decades ago). When I become independently wealthy, this is the sort of thing I'll do with my time, as well as funding a serious linguistic study investigating the origins of "Duck Duck Gray Duck" and its unique isolation in this state.*

* Please note: comments that claim or imply the "correctness" or "superiority" of childrens' games with the word goose in their names will not be approved. This dictatorship is benevolent, but I have my limits. Please note that I previously approved a spam comment because it was in Japanese Kanji script, and I thought that was cool. So that's how much I value your opinion on Duck Duck Gray Duck: less than Japanese spam. Sensitive much? Yes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

So... dentists aren't people?

On the occasions that I walk through the St. Paul skyway to my car at the end of the work day, I pass by this dentist's office. The slogan (motto?) on the window always cracks me up when I read it or think of it. The ellipses here are the apex of comedic suggestion. Don't let your dentist get... too comfortable. Apologies for the blurriness:

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Annotated Beukemix 2010

This year's Beukemix progressed a little strangely: I had an unusual number of candidate tracks before 2009 was even out. By the 5th of January, I already had seven tracks on the list -- one third of a typical mix. Not all of those songs made it on here, but the first quarter of the year is quite well-represented.

Here are liner notes! As usual, the links are to mostly-representative versions of each song, which may not be the exact version in the mix. Be forewarned.

(HS = Horn section. There weren't enough hand claps to justify a count this year, sadly.)

1. Home – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
I know, I know. It's played out. But it's such a good song. I intended to put this one at the end of the 2009 Beukemix, having first heard it on The Current on a morning commute, but I forgot it at compilation time last year. I will say this: I cannot handle watching video of the group performing this song. Too earnest. (HS)

2. Prisencolinensinainciusol – Adriano Celentano
Saw the hypnotic, almost disturbing video for this song late in December, was hooked. At the time, it was bouncing around the internet as "this is what American English sounds like to Italians." Seems that might not be true. Apparently, Celentano, a comedian, wrote the song in the 60s about the difficulty of modern communication. It's gibberish, but may not be intended as gibberenglish. The older, black & white video suggests a hellish Logans-Run-esque dystopia in which you must dance ... to live! (HS)

3. Take It In – Hot Chip
Speaking of vague menace, here comes this song. Heard it first on The Current.

4. Love and Happiness – Al Green
The Robinson Caruso Organization got this song ready for our January shows, and I fell in love with it. The post-chorus has my favorite horn part of any of the songs we play. Amazingly, the evening I set out to learn this song, I had NPR on, and they were replaying Fresh Air interviews with Al Green and producer Willie Mitchell on the occasion of the latter's death, and they played it. As I was putting the chart on the music stand. (HS)

5. You Keep Me Hanging On – Diana Ross and the Supremes
In January I caught up with Pitchfork's Top 200 songs of the 1960s, which is a great list. This was one of several Supremes cuts on the list, and it inspired me and Melissa to an impromptu dance party in our garage upon our return from a Super Bowl party. Holland, Dozier & Holland do good work. Instrumentally, it's terrific, especially the opening guitar chatter,  which reminds me of a less disco-y 3-2-1 Contact. I also love that Ross' vocals are double-tracked, and the two takes they used are slightly different, and don't always line up (perhaps in suggestion of the used woman's mental anguish). (HS)

6. This Will Be Our Year (Mono version) – The Zombies
Also on the Pitchfork list. I was previously unfamiliar with it, but I thought it was a sweet and beautiful and hopeful message. And the song was right. It was our year. [Note: upon final compilation, I discovered that there were supposed to be horns in this song. During the 1997 stereo mixing of the album (Odyssey & Oracle)—the recording I had—they did not include the horn parts. WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT? So I found the mono version. Enjoy.] (HS)

7. Sixteen – The Heavy
Heard this first on the Current, and wondered why Screamin' Jay Hawkins was getting so much rotation. (HS -- sax choirs count)

8. Perfect Day – Lou Reed
Produced by Bowie! I heard a lot of this in February because of this commercial featuring US snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler that aired repeatedly during the Winter Olympics. It's the prettiest song that's maybe about heroin that you'll ever hear. (HS -- it's subtle)

9. Tightrope – Janelle Monae
2010's Number One Summer Jam first came to me by way of my college friend Robin. Accept no versions of the song that do not include the Classy Brass, the Funkiest Horn Section in Metropolis. As my brother notes, this is the first time his and my year-end mixes have overlapped. (HS)

10. Birdhouse in Your Soul – They Might Be Giants ft. Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band
A clip of this was in the TMBG documentary "Gigantic (a Tale of Two Johns)." For years I've wanted a recording. Thanks to the rippability of Youtube videos, now I have one! I can only imagine how incredibly mind-blowing this must have been to fans of the band in 1990. I carefully edited Jay Leno out of the copy on this mix. You're welcome. (HS)

11. Oh My God – Ida Maria
I love how, at the song's climax, the singer barely has control of her voice, and then finally lets go in a primal yell. Somebody in the liberal political blogosphere (ah, it was Matthew Yglesias) linked to this song in 2009, and I liked it. I next heard it this year upon the announcement of the track list for Rock Band 3. It took some effort to get a version without Iggy Pop clumsily shoehorned into it.

12. Strangers – The Kinks
On the 2007 Beukemix, I included the Kinks song from the Darjeeling Limited soundtrack that had most grabbed my attention, "Powerman." My attention has a short span, I guess, because "Strangers" really is the best of them. I was too blinkered to notice this error until Wye Oak covered the song for The AV Club's "Undercover" project this summer. This song is beautiful, especially the tom-tom heartbeat that is finally left, naked and alone, at the end.

13. Superfast Jellyfish – Gorillaz
Originally I was going to put "Stylo" on the mix, but I was a bit underwhelmed by it.*  I got a copy of Plastic Beach, and was hopeful for something that would grab me like "Clint Eastwood," "Rock the House," or "Feel Good, Inc." Melissa and I were driving from Pismo Beach to Monterey, listening to the album, and when this one came on, I decided we had a winner. Still, every time De La Soul do a Gorillaz track, I miss Del. [*That said, do check out the wonderful and ridiculous video for Stylo.]

14. Never My Love – The Association
The Association are underrated; I offer the bass line of this sweet, gorgeous song as proof.

15. Bang Bang Bang – Mark Ronson & The Business Int'l ft. Q-Tip & MNDR
Every year there's at least one song that drops my jaw moments into the first time I hear it. This year, this is that song. The synthesizers remind me in a weird way of Alvin & The Chipmunks in the 80s. Q-Tip does a typically great job of making other people's songs awesome.

16. Georgia – Cee Lo Green
"Fuck You" is a great song, but it the internet's overenthusiasm made short work of its shelf life. Hilarious Grammy nomination aside, it's kind of a gimmick. I heard this one about the same time, and preferred it greatly. Soaring horns, a message of hometown gratitude, and Cee Lo singing his guts out.  (HS)

17. Femme Fatale – Aloe Blacc
Robinson Caruso frontman James Rone linked to this one on Facebook a few months back. I was sold. (HS)

18. You're a Cad – The Bird & The Bee
Heard this in a California Pizza Kitchen where Melissa and I were having lunch and planning our baby shower after seeing The Social Network. Jotted down enough of the lyrics to google, and discovered that The Bird & The Bee would be making their return to the Beukemix.

19. Musica di Uscita (Per un Film) – Spaghetti Western String Company
This summer, Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls put together an EP of her ukulele covers of Radiohead. Exit Music (For a Film) jumped out at me, and I went back to the original, which I'd always liked, but now found emotionally devastating upon review. I planned to put that version on here. Then, the SWSC covered this at their final concert, bringing this already operatic song into opera's home language. I was going to put a rip of that live performance on here, but the band graciously put it on their farewall album (Farewell Verse), so here's a Minnesotan alt-bluegrass band covering Radiohead in Italian.

20. Palaces of Montezuma – Grinderman
I find this song very sweet, and enjoy the weird collection of literary and cultural allusions.

21. Whole Lotta Love – Tina Turner
The Current did a Thanksgiving Time Machine Weekend, and mistakenly lumped this cover in with 1969, the year of Zeppelin's original (a longtime favorite of mine). It's actually from 1975, but I forgive The Current, because they informed me of the existence of a cover of Whole Lotta Love by Tina Turner.

Horn Sections: 11 - a majority. Motion carries.
Accordions: 2
Clarinet: 1
Ukulele: 1

References to JFK's spinal cord: 1
Songs in Italian: 1
Songs in Italian gibberish: 1
Covers: 2
Songs whose choruses accuse you of keeping me hanging on: 2

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kind of a Huge deal

Minneapolis now has its first dedicated long-form improvisation theater. Today will be a day long remembered. Huge Theater was founded in 2005 by five of the Twin Cities' most prolific improvisers as "an artist-led company dedicated to supporting the Twin Cities improv community through performance and education." Since then, they've produced dozens of shows including their own showcase "Huge Wednesdays," annual improvised monster movie "Creature Feature," "Overheard in Minneapolis," based on the website of the same name, and the Twin Cities Improv Festival. Coupled with all of this excellent output was a desire to create a home base for the artform in the city.

For about the past decade, as the improv community here has grown, there have been theatrical institutions that feature improvisation: Stevie Ray's and ComedySportz largely showcase short-form improv games, like you'd find on Who's Line Is It Anyway?, and the Brave New Workshop features improvised scenes and stories, typically as a chaser to their scripted satirical sketch comedy. If you were producing an improv show, you rented space, either from one of these theaters, or the Bryant-Lake Bowl, Intermedia Arts, The Varsity Theater, or something more exotic like a café with a performance space like the Acadia, or some weird café-gift-shop-theater hybrid like the Old Arizona. Huge and the members thereof produced shows at all of these locations in the past. Now, they have a place to call their own: 3037 Lyndale Avenue South (above), in the space formerly occupied by the Lava Lounge. From overpriced clothing to affordable, quality entertainment; definitely a major improvement to the neighborhood.

Huge started their lease at the beginning of September. Following a flurry of renovation, the theater opened its doors last night for its first performance, appropriately the Improv a-Go-Go (4 groups, one dollar, every week — beat that). They've got a full schedule, with seven shows, six days a week, all cheap and all good. So, go check out some shows and share in my congratulations to Nels, Jill and Butch (pictured) on this momentous occasion. I look forward to playing in the space myself. Thankfully, I don't have long to wait, as tonight is Show X, featuring these three, plus up to nine more of the city's best improvisers. We go on at 8, and the show is only five dollars.

That being said, I really want to plug the hell out of the show that happens on Wednesdays (8PM, $5). Fingergun's style, developed over a decade of work, has been described as "controlled chaos." Will we gang up on each other in scenes of reprisal and belittlement? Will there be an orphan boy dreaming of a better life? Will there be scenes about cops? Probably. We hope you'll come find out. Also, get yourself over to Fingergun's Facebook page and Like us. We're currently at 154 followers. If we get to 500 by the end of Christmas Day, we will release another photo like this one:

You're welcome in advance.