Friday, July 31, 2009

Pictures of Hoi An, Vietnam

I just posted pictures I took in Hoi An, Vietnam when Diane and I visited there in 2006.

Below are a couple images I took. You can see the full set by clicking - here.

Hoi An is a smaller city than others we visited on our trip. Located right near the South China Sea, the town was not destroyed by the many wars that have raged in Vietnam over the past century. As a result, it is a very well preserved example of old Vietnamese and Chinese architecture. China invaded and controlled Vietnam for quite some time back in history, so many of the buildings there reflect their influence.

Today, the city is increasingly a tourist destination with the proximity to the beach and the charm of the old town. We loved it, but I can see a day when it may become too touristy. I'm glad we went there when we did.

Anyway, check out the pictures to get a flavor of Hoi An.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Visiting the South - The Series

As many readers of this blog know by now, my wife Diane and I took a trip to the southeast of the U.S. this past spring. Over the past couple months, I've re-capped our adventures in a series of posts - each with the "Visiting the South" title. I've tried to capture not only where we visited, but also added in some observations and perspectives. Hopefully you have found the info interesting, maybe learned something and picked up tips for what to do, see and eat if you ever find yourself in the places we went.

Since my reporting is now wrapped up, I wanted to provide a single post with handy links to the entire "Visiting the South" series. So, just click on the chapter headlines below...






Thanks again for checking in on the blog.

If interested, you can read the last travel series I wrote about our trip to China in 2008 - a series called The China Reports. Click here to see that.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is the Economy Recovering?

According to much of what you see in the stock market obsessed media, the economy is slowly making it's way back.

Or is it?

Check out the interesting opinion of the former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, about what's really happening and not

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sounders Game

Today Diane and I went to our first Seattle Sounders FC soccer match to get an up-close view of the newest sports sensation in the Emerald City. Sitting in some choice seats thanks to our friends Rosa and Drew, we enjoyed the entire afternoon. Under sunny skies and hot weather we soaked up plenty vitamin D, and with ample supply of brew nearby we also soaked up some "vitamin beer" too.

We were impressed. It's an all-action sport and a sold out stadium full of a fun crowd - very passionate and into it. While cheering the home team was the main activity, there proved no shortage of venom for the opposing squad. For example, every time the Chicago goalie would touch or kick the ball, the crowd around us would yell "you suck, Bush" (Bush as the goalies last name). The masses also booed one of the Chicago players who repeatedly flopped to the ground faking injury hoping to draw a foul.

Anyway, with about seven shots directly on goal, the Sounders played better than the visiting team from Chicago. All the Sounders stars had their moments whether it was defending, passing, shooting or saving. Anyone who says soccer isn't on par with other American sports in terms of athletics is crazy.
In thinking about it, I believe we experienced the very best of soccer. I'm sold and will follow the Sounders as they make push for the playoffs. But, we also experienced one of the things that will probably inhibit soccer from ever becoming as big time here as basketball or other mainstream sports. Namely, neither team scored and the match ended a 0-0 tie.

Sure, both teams get a point in the standings for that, but at 0-0 tie does leave you exiting the stadium feeling a bit disappointed. Even a 1-1 tie would be better as at least you would have seen some scoring and, presumably, had a chance to win. Ending games in a tie is just so unsatisfying and, well, unappealing to most American sports fans. What's the old saying? A tie game is like kissing your sister. Something like that. Why not go short overtime period? Why not settle it with goal kicks?

When it was all said and done, we had a wonderful time and would recommend anyone go to a game if you get a chance. The Sounders are for real, they are entertaining, they are successful and they are at the top of their league. What more could you ask for Seattle sports? Other than maybe no ties?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Two Pictures from the Social D Show

Here are two pictures I took at the recent Social Distortion show in Seattle.

Unlike previous times when I've seen this band, my buddy Sean and I stayed back from the mosh pit (getting a bit old for that you know), so these pictures are perhaps not all that great. But, they give you an idea of what it was like to be there.

Lead singer, lead guitar player, song writer and band leader Mike Ness is on stage in the middle of each of these.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Photos - Top 10 Most Viewed

It's time for my quarterly look at the ten most viewed pictures on my Flickr Photostream. You can see my Top 10 Viewed set here.

All the data and info is kinda cool to see for personal reasons, but with 824 pictures to choose from, I also think that what people are looking at provide fodder for some interesting observations.

So, here goes...

The most viewed picture on my Photostream is still the shot I took of the "Birds Nest" Olympic stadium in Beijing when Diane and I visited China in May 2008. See the picture I took at left. That just shows you the interest in China that arose around the time of the Games.

Breaking into the top ten and sitting as the second-most viewed picture is a close-up shot of the detail of the Taj Mahal that I took when Diane and I visited India in 1999. See the picture below. Not sure why, but I've noticed that while there are a lot of pictures online of the Taj generally, there are not too many of the very close up details of the building. So, maybe people are see something with my picture that they're not getting enough of elsewhere.

Other new entries into the top 10 include two pictures of marchers I took recently when Diane and I met up with some friends to view the 2009 Seattle Gay Pride parade. You can see that complete set here.

In fact, my overall views to my Photostream hit an all time high of 2,000+ the day after I posted my set of pictures from the parade, so I think the simple explanation is that there were a lot of people (presumably from Seattle) who wanted to see pictures of their parade.

Also of interest, five of the top 10 most viewed pictures continue to be of Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon) from our trip to Vietnam in 2006. To me this suggests that there are a lot of interest in the nation of Vietnam, but in particular of Saigon and perhaps the Vietnam war.

Finally, a black-and-white version of a picture I took at the Auschwitz II concentration camp when we visited Poland in 2002 rounds out the top 10 most viewed pictures I've taken. While this one is a top 10 most viewed, I can report that a number of the other pictures I took at the camp are squarely in the, say, top 30 most viewed. This suggest an enduring interest in the Holocaust I think.

Dropping out of the top 10 is a picture of the Shanghai skyline, an old Shanghai alleyway and another shot of Saigon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thoughts on Rock Concerts from 30,000 Feet

It’s Friday. I’m 30,000 feet above the Earth. I am inside a jet winging my way home after a few days of business in New York City.

I am looking forward to going to attending the Social Distortion show tonight in Seattle after I get back and rest up a bit.

But right now, I’m board.

As I sit here in seat 15A – luckily an exit row with extra leg room! - listening to a “best of” list of Social D songs in anticipation of the gig tonight, my mind wondered into thinking about the best rock concerts I ever saw.

While I am probably forgetting some shows, and I do not have any info here in the airplane to remind me of dates and venues, below are my recollections of the best shows I attended. While performance quality is the most important criteria to me, it’s not the only one. Other things like how important the band or performer is to me personally, who I was with, if I met members of the band after the show (and if they were cool) are other things I consider for example.

So, with that in mind, and in no particular order, below are 10 shows I rate as among the very best I ever attended. All shows were in Seattle or Washington state.

Joe Strummer. Joe is my all-time music hero – just as much for what he did musically with the Clash and in his later work as his unabashed political approach to rock and roll. I actually saw him twice before he suddenly and sadly died of a heart defect in late 2002. It’s difficult to choose between the two shows. One was the first time I saw my hero. Standing three feet from him as he cut into Clash classics and songs from his new band The Mescaleros at the Showbox in 1999 as Joe took the Mescaleros on their first tour of the U.S. was a truly great moment and might have been the choice here.

But I will instead go with the second time I saw Strummer. This time it was Oct. 2001 at the Sky Church venue at the Seattle Experience Music Museum. Again, this was a small place, and I was close up to Joe and the band. However, this time the band was even more polished, Joe was really hitting his stride with the Mescaleros, the performance was HOT and I was there with my very good friend and Joe fan, Paul. So, I’ll go with this one as my favorite Joe show. Within little more than a year of this gig, Joe died. A good last memory for me.

Manic Street Preachers – the Manics are one of my favorite bands and you can read more about them and their most recent CD by clicking over to another one of my recent post here. In the UK and Europe the Manics fill stadiums for their shows. However, when they (very rarely) come to the U.S. they book small clubs. And so it was in 1999 when they went on tour to support their most recent album, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours that they came to Seattle and played the Aero Space – the same space now called Neumo’s. The rarity of this is impressive. The fact that this band came all the way to Seattle (and haven’t been back since), that they played a small club and that I had the smarts to strike at the opportunity are the reasons why this gig is definitely a top 10 for me. Oh, and the show rocked! So, the “I can’t believe I’m at a Manics gig in Seattle” factor was matched by the performance.

Billy Idol – 1986 at the Seattle Coliseum (now called Key Arena). OK, some of you may be saying, “really, Billy Idol? Top 10?” And, you might be right in some ways. But, it’s all about the context here. As you can read in one of my other posts here, Billy Idol was a key “gateway” performer that ended up opening me up to a lot of great bands. So, in 1986, I was pretty stoked on Idol and would not be denied a seat to see his Whiplash Smile tour when it rolled into Seattle. My recollection is that Billy put on a pretty dang good show, playing his hits from his solo albums plus a few from his previous band, Generation X. As a bonus, the opening band at this show was The Cult. I later saw a Billy Idol show in 2005 (I think) at the Summer Nights at the Pier and enjoyed that one too, but nothing like that first show.

Radiohead. This is another band that I saw twice. The first one was at the Gorge Amphitheater in eastern Washington. The second one was at the White River Amphitheater near Auburn, WA. Both shows were really good, but I’ll go with the second one because my buddy Piper scored some front row seats (standing area actually) that put us within a few feet of the stage. Performing many songs from their catalog, Radiohead impressed with song quality, energy in their performance and all around cool vibe.

Carbon Silicon. March 2008 at Chop Suey. This is the band put together in the early 2000s by former Clash guitarist Mick Jones (he’s the one in the Clash who sings Should I Stay or Should I Go). After a creating dance rock albums in the 1980s and 1990s with Big Audio Dynamite and then taking a break all-together, Mick ramped back up in a more rock tradition with Carbon Silicon – bringing long-time friend and former Generation X member Tony James on guitar. Anyway, after putting out their first CD, The Last Patrol, Carbon Silicon came to Seattle. This show makes my top 10 for several reasons: 1) it’s Mick Jones from the Clash!, 2) very small venue, 3) good performance, 4) I met Mick after the show. Enough said!

The Who – Gorge Amphitheater in 200o. I love The Who. Pete Townsend is a genius in my mind and The Who were innovators and rocked hard in the 60s and 70s and when I saw they were coming to the Gorge we had to go. Seating ourselves up on the grassy upper section of the Gorge Amphitheater, Diane and I were impressed by how good the sound was given how far away we were. The band impressed by playing all their classics and indulging in some improvisation on a few numbers. This is a top 10 for the status of the band, the outdoor summer experience and how really, really great the band sounded all these years after they became famous. Sadly within a couple year, bassist John Entwistle died.

Social Distortion – 2005 at the Showbox. We’ll see how the show tonight compares, but the first time I saw Social D was a great experience. Mike Ness and crew put out a great brand of rock ‘n roll that’s part punk, part Stones, part Johnny Cash and I’d wanted to see them for some time. With two buddies coming along for the ride we stationed ourselves in front of the stage knowing that it would be full combat once the gig started…and we were right. While rocking out to classic Social D tunes, we were also fully engaged in making sure we didn’t get knocked over or abused in the mosh pit. I place this gig in my top 10 because of finally getting to see a band I’d long wanted to, the most pit experience and – of course – a white hot performance by Ness and band. Very rock and roll!

Glasvegas – November 2008 at Chop Suey. This is a relatively new band – one that I started getting into during 2008 and by the time they put out their excellent debut CD and then came ‘round for their tour in the fall of that year I was not going to be denied. And I was not disappointed. I put this gig in my top 10 for several reasons: 1) hot new band, 2) small venue, 3) solid performance, 4) a posse of buddies rallied to make an evening out of it (not easily done when your crew is late 30s/early 40s, some with kids), 5) we met the band afterwards at a nearby bar. It was really a perfect concert evening.

I later saw Glasvegas again in April 2009 at Nuemos where they put on what I think was an even better show. You can read more about Glasvegas on my blog here, here and here. You can view pictures I took of them at that April gig here.

Earth, Wind & Fire. Summer Nights at the Pier in 2004. You may think this band sticks out as pretty different than the other ones on my list, and you’re right. But, one thing they have in common is that Earth, Wind & Fire can really throw down a good show. There is no doubt that they were on fire this hot summer night when Diane and I took in this show. And that’s another reason that it’s on my top 10 list. Both Diane and I were there and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Brian Setzer Orchestra. Pioneer Square in 1990-something (1996?). Brian Setzer was the lead singer and guitarist for one my favorite bands when I was a kid, the Stray Cats. After some on and off projects in the late 80s and early 1990s, Setzer started a big-band orchestra that he fronted with his unique rockabilly guitar playing. His efforts really were key to the resurgence of “swing” music becoming popular in the 1990s. This show was among the first for his new band and the venue was really small - especially for a big band. I rate this one highly because of this, the fact that it was the first time I saw Setzer live and because the music was so different than what I had been listening to at that time. Very cool.

Special mention:

  • Oingo Boingo – 1984 at the Paramount in Seattle. This was the first live rock show I ever went to.
  • Rush – 1986 at the Seattle Coliseum (now called Key Arena). While I’m not a fan now, this as the first “big time” show I went to
  • Nirvana – 1993 at the Seattle Coliseum. Simply put…it was Nirvana.
  • Sex Pistols – Bumbershoot 1996. Simply put….it was the Sex Pistols man!
  • Ray Davies (of the Kinks) – Showbox SoDo summer of 2008.
  • Stray Cats – summer 2007 at the Puyallup fairgrounds. At long last I finally get to see this band that I loved since junior high live.
  • Placebo - The Crocodile in 1999. Great band, great show, small venue, packed, enthusiastic crowd.
  • The English Beat - Showbox 2008. Same reasons as Placebo

All-time worst shows:

  • The Jesus & Mary Chain – great band, really bad performance.
  • Steely Dan - Gorge Amphitheater. Exceedingly boring. The most boring show I've ever seen. Not rock and roll. Rainy. Did I mention how boring it was?
  • Dave Matthews Band – Gorge Amphitheater. The second most boring show I have ever been to. No effort by the performers, no improvisation, no energy. Lets put it this way, the best part of this show (other than when it ended) was a fly-over by a B-2 bomber.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Social Media Existential Question Time

When the primary organizing principle of American society is "make money now," should you be surprised when corporations "take over" social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs?

In a society armed with access to blogs, micro-blogs, online video, podcasts, social networks, texting and cell phones - are we more connected than ever? Or, are we more distant than ever?

Which of the following are the creators of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and similar social media technologies most interested in:

  1. "Unshackling information" for "free flowing knowledge sharing" to create a better society?

  2. Selling their business so they can retire early to a mansion on an island paradise?

Has social media curbed gun violence or delivered healthcare to more Americans?

If 90% of all messages posted to Twitter are generated by 10% of Twitter users, how big a con is micro-blogging?

What is more real - your "persona" on Facebook or your actual self live and in person?

What is more likely - Twitter helped Iranians protest against their recent elections OR the Iranian protests against their elections provided Twitter a reason to exist?

What is the efficacy of posing existential questions about social media...on social media?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Visiting the South - Williamsburg and Yorktown

So here we are at the last installment of my "Visiting the South" series re-capping our trip to the southeast this past spring. You can read about our other adventures on this trip here, here, here and here.

When last I posted, Diane and I had just visited the Wright Brothers monument in Kitty Hawk, NC and were heading north for the 2.5 hour drive across the border and into Virginia.

Navigating the highways around and through Norfolk, we arrived to Williamsburg mid-afternoon. Here are the highlights of our visit over the ensuing couple days:

Our purpose in visiting Williamsburg was primarily to visit Diane's sister Jenny, her husband Eric and their young family - which expanded by one person just a few days before our arrival with the birth of their third daughter Ellah. Needless to say, it was really nice to visit, see the baby, joke around with our older nieces, catch up and just hang out a little bit. They live within a mile or so from the site of Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown so we were well within striking distance to see these two historic places.

The day after we arrived the weather turned on us. Up to this point we had enjoyed a run of sunny, warm weather everywhere we went. But our luck ran out here. It's amazing how cold 62 degrees feels when you've gotten used to 85 every day. Anyway, we now contended with gray cloudy skies and some rain. The first place we visited was Colonial Williamsburg. (Below: A building in Colonial Williamsburg)

Colonial Williamsburg is situated right next to historic College of William & Mary, and while there are some actual historic buildings on the site (such as the one-time capital of the United States of America), for the most part the area is a re-creation of a Colonial American town circa the 1770s. So, when you go there, you have to understand what you're going to get. A bit of a touristy experience. On the other hand, if you have even a couple hours you can learn something about how it was to live in those times as there are working shops, foundries, stables, taverns and other places typical for the colonial era - each with people in colonial-era dress and persona who are happy to educate you on how things were back then. Sure, there's not a lot of talk about how, for example, women were treated or much detail on the fact that the country literally operated on backs of African slaves. But, you can learn here.

Stack up what you learn here against the uber-tech, always connected, luxury existence that most Americans enjoy today and you can appreciate where we've come from. And for that, I'd recommend seeing Colonial Williamsburg if you are in that area.

Not far from Colonial Williamsburg is another very historic site in American history - Yorktown. Here you have the old Colonial town of Yorktown (much smaller than Williamsburg) and also the battlefield where the forces of General George Washington decisively defeated the British army to effectively end the American Revolutionary War - creating our nation as an independent United States of America. (Below: a Colonial-ear home in Yorktown)

You can read a bit more about Yorktown from my post here from this most recent 4th of July, but to see a site where such a major and significant battle occurred is awe-inspiring and thought provoking.

How would our lives be different if things turned out different in that battle? What if the French were not willing to help us? Yes, people, the French really did us a solid in the Revolutionary War and the battle of Yorktown in particular.

At any rate, this is a site that I'd recommend anyone see if they are in this area. You could spend an hour or so looking around the antique shops and museums in the old town of Yorktown, see the highlights of the battlefield and get a bite to eat all within a couple-three hours. The poor weather cut our stay short. (Left: A Colonial cannon at the battlefield site at Yorktown)

So that's it. After a celebratory dinner at our relative's home on the last night of our trip, we flew home the next day out of Richmond, VA. Arriving back in Seattle knowing we'd made the right choice for a great trip in 2009.

For those of you who have been following this trip on the blog, you're up to date and it's almost like you went with us! Plus, I think you have some great tips on what to see and where to eat should you find yourself in the cities we visited.

For those of you who have not been following and want to know more about our stops in the South, visit the links at the top of this post - or, wait a couple days and I'll post up a consolidated report with links to all the adventures and pictures.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Time Mag: Why Are Southerners So Fat?

Time Magazine has run a story titled "Why Are Southerners So Fat?"

This was a question I asked myself frequently when we were down south last spring because it was so obvious that so many people were overweight down much so that I made it one of the key observations I reported on in my post here.

Anyway, it's an interesting article and I think it explains the situation well.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Journal for Plague Lovers - A Return to Glory for Manic Street Preachers

Sometimes, one of your favorite bands hits their peak and, despite your undying devotion, just doesn't quite deliver the goods after that. Sure, they might put out a song or two - even an album - that is a cut above what else is going on in music, but for the most starting thinking that their day has come and gone. I think we all have these feelings about one band or performer that we love.

But sometimes, that same band comes back and knocks your socks off when you’re least expecting it with a masterpiece that has you believing once again. They return to glory...and they do so on the merits of new work rather than a "greatest hits tour" or the like.
This happened with me for one of my all time favorite bands, Manic Street Preachers with their new CD
Journal for Plague Lovers. For those of you not versed in the ways of the Manics, check out some info on them here, here and here.

To set up Journal for Plague Lovers, however, you need to know more than just this is their ninth studio album. Rather, we need to begin things with a short history of Manic Street Preachers.

The Band Forms
In the late 1980s, four university students in Wales started a rock band. The members had known each other most of their young lives and their goals were, among others, to shock the rock world, shake things up in a boring music scene, cause a little controversy and get people thinking. After a street vagrant described the sound of band member James Dean Bradfield as he busked for change on the street as that of a "manic street preacher," the band took that as its name. (Below right: The Manics in the early days: Sean Moore, Richy Edwards, James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire. Picture from the blog.)

By the early 1990s the Manics and worked up a set of songs, moved to London, got some gigs and were taking the music scene by storm with their direct confrontation of the prevailing rave, Britpop, “baggy” culture, authority and more.

They Produce Exciting Early Work
Citing Guns ‘n Roses, the Clash and Public Enemy as heavy influences, Generation Terrorist was their first full release and their glam punk rock and catchy hooks proved an exciting mix that certainly got my attention. In addition to the music, the lyrical content of the Manics songs emerged as worthy with guitarist and chief lyricist Richy Edwards penning songs that challenged people’s assumptions around such things as gender, government, consumerism, music censorship and more…expressing anger at these societal issues. Glory was sniffed and perhaps even partly achieved with this first outing.

Their second effort was
Gold Against the Soul. It built on their sound a bit and saw Edwards cover more personal subjects covered in songs like “From Dispare to Where,” “Life Becoming a Landslide,” and “Roses in the Hospital.” Glory was knocking.

In 1994 came The Holy Bible, their third CD. This is – in my opinion – their very best. Dark, aggressive, tender at a few times and always thought provoking, this was truly art just as much as rock and roll. This time Edwards clearly expressed his disgust with humanity and what people are willing to do to themselves and others. Glory was clearly achieved here. (Left: The Manics in the mid-1990s -- Bradfield, Edwards, Wire and Moore. Picture not taken by me...copied from the So Well Remembered blog.)

Edwards Disappears, Things Change
Soon after this, the troubled Edwards went missing and has never been heard from again. Now declared legally dead, most assume he killed himself by jumping off the Severn bridge in the UK. Perhaps this is not surprising given the progression of themes Edward explored in the Manics first thee records. However, before he disappeared, Edwards left his other band mates a folder full of lyrics for their next record.

Devastated by the loss of their friend, but deciding to carry on as a band, some of these lyrics made their way on the band’s following record, Everything Must Go, which went on to be a massive album in the UK – clearly their commercial height and solidifying them as a glorious band.

However, the bulk of Edward’s lyrics in those folders remained unused. And so it remained as the band put out several other albums including This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, Know Your Enemy, Lifeblood and Send Away the Tigers. Each of these had their high points, but each also seemed to be one slightly less interesting effort than the last with Send Away the Tigers perhaps an exception in a positive direction. (Above: The Manics in the 21st Century -- Bradfield, Wire and Moore. Picture not taken by me. Copied from The Line of Best Fit blog.)

That is until now.

Now we come to the current day and the main event. Namely, the new CD by the Manics called Journal for Plague Lovers. Last year, Bradfield and the other two members of the band – Nicky Wire and Sean Moore – decided it was time to revisit the bulk of the lyrics Edwards left them before he vanished.

With a decade to help heal the shock and sadness of their comrade’s apparent suicide, the band decided it was time to base an album solely on this last trove of Edwards’ words. Doing so was seen at the time as a risky proposition. Would 10 year old lyrics really be relevant today? Would they be able to make sense of Edwards thoughts? Would the listening public see this as desperation or a bold move?

Well, in hindsight they need not have worried because from beginning to end, the album they created - Journal for Plague Lovers - is a first class piece of rock art. Equal parts dangerous, brooding, aggressive, thought provoking and literate, the new CD evokes the best of the band's The Holy Bible high point with their subsequent chart success sensibilities. Glory has clearly been achieved again.
(Above: Cover of Journal for Plague Lovers.)

Here's a run down of the songs on Journal for Plague Lovers:
  • Peeled Apples – a dark, aggressive opener with a killer guitar riff. This song open things up on the right note and lets you know that serious business is afoot. Firing off sets of imagery in each verse that set up ironies or fears, the chorus pays these off with a couple ways to deal with those. The one suggested I like best is "trespass your torments, if you are what you wanna be."
  • Jackie Collins Existential Question Time – a catchy tune with a funny, disturbing and thought provoking theme that’ll have you pondering a number of things. Situationist sisterhood of Jackie and Joan, indeed.
  • Me and Steven Hawkings - a song about (I think) the dangers of cloning and using chemicals/genetics in farming. What will such activity lead to? How would "me" and scientist Steven Hawkings feel about that? Just some of the fun territory explored in this romper of a rocking tune.
  • This Joke Sport Severed – things slow down here. Starting with just Bradfield’s voice and acoustic guitar, it builds musically with strings and more instruments. This is a sorrowful song in which the distraught person (Edwards presumably) is seeking "the place where I became untethered." There is a well placed "disconnect" in music to underscore this point song about half way through.
  • Journal for Plague Lovers - a mid-paced rocker with radio-wave guitars, this song tackles the power, improbability and perfection of deities. At least that's my take. The song opens with some doubting lines about how "pretend prayer and pretend care makes everything fair" and then the song goes on to state that "Only a god reserves the right to absolve the ones who revile him." Heavy stuff and not easily deciphered. But that's the cool part. You can ponder it. Plus, making logical sense of great poetry, art or Richy Edwards' lyrics isn't meant to be easy.
  • She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach - the driving rock riff and emotional belt-it-out chorus return here with a song about...well, I'm not too sure. There are some clear lines in here about what a person would do for love and the power of love. So, I'll go with it's about the power and pain of love.
  • Facing Page: Top Left - this is a beautiful song with simple acoustic guitar. Clear divided between contemplative versus and a more upbeat chorus, Bradfield delivers perhaps the best vocal on the entire CD as he expresses Edwards' thoughts on how he feels truly down in side - both at times ready to smile and at other ready to cry.
  • Marlon J.D. - kicking off with an electric drum beat, this is one of the more musically interesting songs on the album. The lyrics suggest an admiration for certain type of discipline - in particular the ability to live very basically "without clutter or luxury" well as the ability to take abuse and loneliness. All of these are traits from the character played by Marlon Brandon in the movie Apocalypse Now and this is referenced in a few different ways here. Musically, the song does not disappoint. Another highlight.
  • Doors Closing Slowly - here we have the third slower song on this CD. Heavy on imagery again, Edwards seems to be communicating his despair with the way society is going...and the loneliness of knowing that, but not being able to do anything about it.
  • All is Vanity - a very straight forward and powerful song in terms of music and lyrics and very strong for that. This song simply says that the question in life is not "what's wrong?" but rather "what's right?" What is the right thing to do? And for that, it's also a comment on the phoniness many people display or put up with every day. These are the "facts of life - sunshine" as the song's searing chorus repeats.
  • Pretension/Repulsion - lyrically, this song is the musical equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting. It's scattered, going in different directions with a jumble of phrases that don't seem to go together. Musically, it rocks hard...and for that you can enjoy it thoroughly.
  • Virginia State Epileptic Colony - a nice mid-paced rocker that lyrically describes what it might be to live a life inside an institution.
  • William’s Last Words - this one is sung in the flatter tone of the band's bassist, Nicky Wire, and it's a clear "song for departure" penned by Edwards as he pondered whatever he felt he needed to do. Deploying a slower, acoustic, almost plodding approach musically as Richy Edwards articulates his farewell wishes to his friends and family. A sad song in that respect and a testament to the the love they felt for their friend that the band decided to record it.
  • Bag Lady - perhaps more similar to the sound of songs on The Holy Bible than any others on Journal, this song to me is about the fallacy of following the the path of narcissism and self delusion about the world. The music, combined with Bradfield's powerful deliver makes for a powerful ending to the set.
I highly recommend Journal for Plague Lovers for anyone looking for authentic, legitimate rock and roll - rock as a statement, as art, as catharsis, as a release and certainly in this case a tribute to a fallen comrade. These guys are producing stuff you ain't gonna hear about or get anywhere else. Throw in the compelling performance by each band member and the diversity of sounds you hear, this is a record you can listen from beginning to end...always something I look for. I suggest you check it out.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pictures for the 4th of July

July 4 marks the date that the former British colonies declared independence from the British in 1776. What followed was a long war between the Americans and the British that as we know ended with the defeat of the British and the birth of the United States of America.

To commemorate this on July 4, 2009 below are a couple pictures I took this past spring at the location where the War for Independence ended - Yorktown, VA.

Above: Revolutionary War cannon at the Yorktown battlefield.

Below: The Yorktown battlefield. Note the fortifications in the middle of the picture behind the tree. American forces stormed this location as part of the battle.

It was here in 1781 that General George Washington's army, with the help of the French navy soundly defeated British General Lord Corwallis' army to effectively seal the victory for the Americans.

Yes, people...we owe A LOT to the French military for helping us beat the British. We returned the favor in spades in WWI and WWII.

At any rate, I thought that these modern day pictures would be appropriate on a day and weekend when we try and remember how our nation started.

You can see other pictures that I took at Yorktown and nearby Colonial Williamsburg in a set of pictures here. The pictures of Yorktown and Williamsburg are near the bottom of the set.