Wednesday, December 19, 2007

2007 in music

Top Ten Albums

  1. You Am I, Convicts—Rock! Awesome three chord rock! It lives!
  2. Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank—Weird, funky, catchy…what a combination.
  3. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky—This shows what a great band can do with a song. Awesome arrangements. Worth it just for “Impossible Germany,” if nothing else.
  4. Two Cow Garage, III—Working class garage rock with improved songwriting
  5. We Are The Fury, Venus—Toledo area Glam Rock hits the national stage. “Saturday Night” might be the perfect pop song of the year.
  6. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Follow the Lights—Honest, soulful alt-country. Too bad Easy Tiger, RyRy’s full length release, didn’t have this level of emotion.
  7. Jason Isbell, Sirens of the Ditch—A great but sometimes overly subtle debut. There’s hidden depth on this.
  8. Jesse Malin, Glitter in the Gutter—Great songs for car rides, but this has hidden depth. Fave line? “One day you wake up, you’re 30, and you can’t even drive a truck.”
  9. Glossary, The Better Angels of Our Nature—My spousal unit told me, after listening to the disk, that “This is Mike music.” How true. (you can download this for free from their website)
  10. Grand Champeen, Dial T for This—Minus the ending track (a very sappy “Olivia”), this turned out to be a good album…unfortunately, though, it just doesn’t sound much like Grand Champeen. C’mon, you don’t have to stop rocking to grow as musicians

Too New to Tell

  • Weakerthans, Reunion Tour
  • Maritime, Heresy and the Hotel Choir (what I have heard is pop dynamite)
  • Keller Williams, Dream
  • Martin Sexton, Seeds
  • Robert Earl Keen, Farm Fresh Onions

    (yes, this is more than I would normally buy, but I had a good haul from the BGSU Music Library sale)

“Meh” Albums

  • White Stripes, Icky Thump—Some of this is good but sounds like “running through the motions,” while other songs are just annoying.
  • Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger—This is entirely too polished and commercial for my tastes

Top Songs

  1. You Am I--"Secrets"
  2. Wilco--"Impossible Germany"
  3. Two Cow--"Should've California"

Best Concerts

  1. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor MI
  2. Route 33 Rhythm and Brews Anniversary Show, with The Drams, Jason & the Scorchers, and more, Wapakoneta OH
  3. The Hold Steady, some theater, Columbus OH
  4. Modest Mouse, some amphitheater, Columbus OH
  5. You Am I, Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland OH

cutting through philosophy

They have released yet another version of Blade Runner. Apparently it's now the "Ultimate Version" least until someone else needs to make a profit. You gotta love the modern DVD market.

Blade Runner is a Ridley Scott film, and I have always had mixed feelings about that man's work. While the movies can be beautiful to look at and are magnificently constructed, they are usually emotionally cold and sterile. In many ways, his films are affect-free, almost a parody of bad academic views. If they weren't so damn evocative as a rule, I would generally hate his work. As is, I often can't look away, even though I get really angry as I think of them afterward.

Blade Runner is a great case in point. The premise is staggering: a cop/bounty hunter who specializes in killing androids, with the potential for the requisite "what does it mean to be alive?" philosophical questions. The vision of the future--nasty, raining, class-divided, dark, ecologically wasted--is refreshing in light of the "gee wiz" future of Star Wars. The visuals are stunning. And there are great moments of depth, with the real highlight coming from Rutger Hauer's dying android Batty: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die." It's chilling to watch, perhaps one of the finest moments of cinema in the last 25 years.

But the movie has some real problems. First off, while no one can dispute the power of Harrison Ford, he gives a remarkably lethargic performance here. Hell, Rutger Hauer, veteran of over 100 B movies, acts Ford's ass right off the screen, particularly in his death scene (the home of the above quote). Maybe Ford was trying to underplay it, but it doesn't work for me.

I kind of doubt, however, that it was an acting decision. To me, Ford's underplayed performance points to more a philosophical problem with the movie. In an admittedly cool Wired interview, Scott says: "the hero, or antihero, finally gets his butt kicked by the so-called bad guy — who turns out not to be a bad guy. That's what's interesting about the movie, right? Otherwise it's all down to bad guys and good guys, which is really boring."

In other words, what is interesting about the movie is that there's no moral center. Wee. Does the film suggest an alternative? Some other way of looking at morality, humanity, or any number of other issues? Not to my eyes, and not from what I gather from the Scott interview. "We've moved beyond good and evil" is a fascinating statement, and it is one which I think has great merit, but unless you complete the equation and try to make sense of the world, it's the same reductive nonsense that a lot of bad postmodernists spout...and it just is not enough.

Later in the same interview, Scott admits to never reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Phillip K. Dick novel that Blade Runner was "based" upon. This somehow doesn't surprise me in the least, because there are very few similarities between the two. I experienced the Dick novel before I saw the Scott movie, and I was absolutely blown away by the philosophical depth of the story. In the novel, it wasn't just "bounty hunter battles robots"; instead, the novel had great stake in matters of life, spirituality, characters, and much more. The novel was a ride of both emotions and philosophy. Ultimately, the film leaves us with style...which is nice, but it's not life-altering.

I'm not saying that none of this exists in the movie, but it's very much overwhelmed by the sheen of Scott's production. This is a shame, because the novel is entirely adaptable...and I think it would still make one hell of a flick. But Scott found the book too "dense" and instead went for a neat design.

Actually, this reminds me of a whole bunch of bad theory articles I've encountered in my coursework...except that they didn't have Darryl Hannah in a bodysuit and bad makeup.

the 2007 themikedubose best of blog

(yes, this is self-indulgent, but it's my blog, damnit)

  • More than once, I had some hot blonde want to discuss hair care or offer to crimp my hair (hey, it was the eighties)...but if a woman is really interested in your conditioner, I seriously doubt they're looking at you as an object of lust. At the very least, it never happened to me.
  • Lonliness is never like it is in the movies or in overdramatic novels. There's no wailing, no shaking tears, no cavernous bouts of depression. I'm just empty.
  • (on the Valentine's Day dinner at White Castle): It was probably the most romantic V day I've ever had...which says something about me, no doubt. The wife also enjoyed it very much...which, no doubt, also says something about her. This is why I love her.
  • We were following these two native Baltimore women over a bridge spanning one of these, and I heard one say that she’d once seen a severed deer head floating in the water.
  • "Damnit, if you just liked men instead of other women, all those brave heroes of 9/11 wouldn't have had to die."
  • In a faculty meeting today, one of my bosses leaned over to me and whispered "You might be the meanest bastard in this department."
  • roomie: "I have two rules about food. I wouldn't eat human flesh unless I was pretty certain it was procured in an ethical way...and I don't like cilantro."
  • I still love the bars. I really enjoy drinking as a social activity...and bars have a great ambiance that allows you to overcome social anxiety and limitations on suitable topics of conversation. As a result, I've had some of the best academic, theoretical, theological, and philosophical conversations of my life over minipitchers.
  • Tony Orlando, did you have any clue what madness you had wrought? If you knew your lame song would've ended up supporting everything from right wing politics to wiener dogs, would you still have released it? Do you feel shame or remorse? Can you sleep at night?
  • Suddenly, my life flacked before my eyes. I was assailed by a montage of scenes...a number of military bases...a selection of crappy cars...smelly bars...countless years spent making pizzas...bad horrible fashion can I have loved yet stupidly cave-like high school...all the horribly awkward social situations that took place in my cave-like high school...hangovers...students with the "deer in the headlights" look...

the Mike in review 2007

Last night, I had one of those "epiphany" moments you keep hearing about from all your friends. I had finished all my Christmas shopping for the year, had wrapped all the gifts, and was busy marking the next year's batch of calendars (including the European wine label one for the kitchen, the pagan art and philosophy one for the study (don't ask), and the Calendar of Bunny Suicides for my office). My lovely spousal unit was on the other couch, writing out Christmas cards. We spent some time in lively debate about what losers were going to be dropped off our card list, what to actually write on the cards, and why the whole thing was her responsibility (and not mine).

Suddenly, it hit me: M*A*S*H has more relevance to my life than I would've expected.

(yeah, I know...just wait for it, okay?)

It's been a strange year in all regards, but mostly, it's strange that I survived it without resorting to antidepressants. Lots of stuff has gone on (much of which I haven't actually discussed here), including various family illnesses, my lovely spousal unit getting laid off, my book proposal getting bounced from 6 of the 8 potential university presses, a horrifically depressing 2006-2007 job market run (punctuated by one school, who, in an interview, told me about my skills: "that's what we were thinking of when we wrote the job post" and then not even inviting me for a campus visit or sending me a "thanks but no thanks" letter), plagiarizing students, friends moving away, people who I thought were friends making it clear they didn't really like me all that much, my car trying to kill me, me having serious doubts about my scholarly abilities and future, and other such wonders. And, rather than my normal exaggeration in an attempt for humor and sympathy, I'm actually minimizing the misery that was 2007...for some reason, I just don't want to dwell on it right now.

What's surprising in all of this is that much good has still happened. Old friends who I thought hated me have re-integrated me into their life. I've turned a few acquaintances into very good friends. Someone gave me a guitar (bottleneck, here I come!). My 4+ years in the backlog article for The Journal of Popular Culture finally came out, and as the lead article! I became an active scholar again, getting one article accepted, three more submitted, and a revised book contract making the rounds, along with three (count 'em, three) articles underway. I started another blog (which brings up the question...if I write up a blog and no one reads it, does it exist? The internet is so damn zen). My lovely spousal unit still seems to like me for some reason, and she makes me feel really warm inside when I see her.

With so much good, and so much damned near awful stuff happening, my major struggle has been with achieving balance, maintaining perspective. I'm very happy for my academic friends, for instance, all of whom seem to be having enormous, well-deserved successes. Among them, there is one book in press, at least two book contracts, full time employment, and much more. In the meantime, I'm producing but not really seeing any results, and I will most likely be sitting here come the end of the month instead of interviewing at the MLA. In terms of tangibility, my career really hasn't progressed since I got my current job, and that makes me wonder sometimes if I should've stayed at Little Caesars.

There are, I have to admit, times where I slip, when the bad stuff starts to outweigh the positives. There are times where I start to feel bitter whenever I hear someone else's good news. There are times when I despair and start to imagine an existence where I remain completely stagnant: at a job outside of my chosen field, in a town where everyone I know will move away each year, in a state of profound broketitude, driving a rapidly disintegrating car, and continuing to moan and whine on a near-Olympic level.

The positive side, the bit I have to keep holding onto, is that I am at least making strides. I am improving. In many areas of my life, I am actively trying to make things better.

It would be nice to have some reciprocity for my efforts, though, and actually start to get some rewards from life, instead of the series of cold kicks to the groin which seemed to come my way this year, particularly in the first half.

So this was what I was thinking last night, while marking the 2008 calendars, and I suddenly remembered a particular episode of M*A*S*H. It's from one of the later seasons, and it's one of their "concept" episodes, a "year in the life" thing with the standard later M*A*S*H mixture of humor and pathos. The framing device is the New Year's Eve partys both before and after, where Col. Potter acts as the old New Year (complete with fake beard) and marks the new year with the same speech...only in the second New Year's party, Potter is tired, forlorn, and depressed, as he utters the phrase: "Here's to the new year...may it be a damn sight better than the old year."

Hurry up, 2008.

Friday, December 14, 2007

heavy head

My head weighs 87 pounds. My sinuses have been cemented shut, and the glories of store brand Day-Quill just are not working. Worse, I have only one more serving of the spray nasal decongestant left, before I just get to deal fully with the pain.

Worse yet? This all hit just as I finished grading.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

fall decap

The last class meeting is over. I've spent the last 16 weeks with four classes of students. I've read their papers. I've met with them one-on-one. I've gotten to know them each a little. I've seen all of their growth as writers. In each of my on-campus classes, the students filed out without even looking back.

Not a single student said "thanks for the class"...or "I learned a lot"...or "have a good semester"...or even "goodbye." And it's not like it's the first time this has happened (see a previous rant), but it's still a little sad.

Don't get me wrong. I love my job. By and large, I like my students. But one of the real dangers of only doing comp is that I am never around to experience their growth. I am firmly convinced that they don't really get everything I do until later in their college careers. I plant seeds, but I don't get to reap the benefits.

This is why I am on the market for other jobs. Of course, there's been utterly no positive motion on that end as of yet (other than three rejects, there's been no motion at all), but the year is still young. There is still time to get a bunch o' MLA interviews. I think my application material is as solid as I can make (and all that writing I did over the summer, I think, helped). Now I just have to hope that someone bites.

Anyway, this is a depression for another day. Now onto grading.