Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Big babe singing

Have been watching Wimbledon -- that's where the post title comes from (big babe tennis being the winning style of play there).

Have found a new favorite Broadway belter, Kerry Ellis, the British Elphaba in Wicked. I don't really like the over-the-top belting, which is odd considering that I do like opera singers who give it 110%. But the overdecoration and the rip-out-the-vocal chords type of singing, it's not for me. Idina Menzel is a prime example (in Wicked, not in Rent). I love her emotion, but I'm always half expecting that she's going to do herself an injury.

I came across Kerry Ellis by YouTubing Brian May performances -- he guests with her a lot, because she sang in We Will Rock You, and I guess he liked her. Like I said, belting itself is not my favorite type of singing, but she's pretty good, and better when she shows some restraint. She does not show said restraint in this Royal Variety performance, but it is Wicked, after all, and Brian May's there, so it's all good.



Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rock opera

I love rock opera. I think it works as a genre. Whether or not it works as a film rather than an album is a question not resolved by finally watching The Who's Tommy, which I enjoyed but found occasionally boring. That's a problem with some of the songs, at least for me. The psychedelic look and feel of the film definitely works, especially with my two favorite numbers, Eric Clapton's song and Tina Turner's. Yes, I liked them even better than Elton John's appearance as the Pinball Wizard, because while he's fantastic, there's just so much in Eric Clapton's appearance as a guitar-playing preacher of the cult of Marilyn Monroe that both the music lover and the cultural critic in me were thoroughly satisfied.

It was a lot of fun to see The Who scattered through the film, with Keith Moon having way too much fun playing the perverted uncle. Roger Daltrey was unbelievably convincing, particularly in Tommy's catatonic stage. I can't say I really loved it, but it's an interesting piece of musical and cinematic history.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Stunned

I was shocked to be informed at dinner that Michael Jackson had died. I didn't believe it at first -- I was not reading the news all afternoon. I will always remember him both as a cautionary tale about uncontrolled fame and an unbelievable performer. My brother and I used to breakdance in the basement when I was maybe five or six. Still, I wouldn't say that I was hugely into him until that video for Black or White came out, relatively late. That was just a fantastic, cutting-edge video for that time, and then I retroactively got into his Thriller days, then in college the Jackson Five Motown days, and finally settled on my favorite, "Billie Jean." Jackson was just... I mean, regardless, I think it's all right to feel sad about his death, both for the loss of the music legend and what went wrong in his life.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The green race

Time magazine, which I don't read very often, had a half-decent article on the coming competition in green technology. Of course, they had to slip into old Japan-bashing habits by making it seem like a race between an evil Asian axis and the poor, underfunded U.S., mentioning Europe as a kind of afterthought and completely ignoring the role of transnational corporations. However, anything that raises American awareness of the growing importance of developing better and greener tech is, I suppose, good.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reinvention

I've started Toni Morrison's new novel/la, A Mercy, set in earlier slavery days than any of her previous works (I think). It's a new departure for her stylistically as well as topically, but I was not wowed by the start. I'll post again when I make my way through.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

At least the dog is cute

Are you kidding me? I thought it was bad enough when the media followed Obama to Five Guys -- and I think for PR's sake he'd better quell those outings for a while, as it's distracting people from the work he's doing -- but all these news stories about him killing a fly during some interview have me completely baffled. Why? Has the 24-hour news cycle really gotten that unfillable?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Meh, mistborn, mess

I'm always looking for fun reading for the cardio machines, but Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy doesn't seem to be doing it. When I make it halfway through a book and have no impulse to finish, it is not good. Aside from the fact that few of the characters are compelling, their interactions are not that interesting, and the magical universe is not terribly fun, the writing is beyond repetitive and clunky. Let me give you an example: one of the primary ways that the magicians, for lack of a better term, work is by burning metals that give them specific powers. They can fly through the air by Pushing or Pulling on metal. (Great terminology.) This is painstakingly explained the first time that the hero does it, balancing himself with a coin dropped here, a window sash there, a guard's armor hither, a thrown coin thither. You get the idea, right? Well, then we go through it yet again when the hero teaches the scrappy gutter girl with amazing powers how to do this, and we have to hear her first-time experience -- which adds next to nothing. I blame the editor as well as the author.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Freshwater madness

The Tampa Aquarium doesn't have much in the way of big marine life, and none of your classic dolphins, belugas, etc., but they do have a really adorable pair of river otters who like to tussle:



video

Also, in the coral reef area, which is a series of small tanks, they feature these incredibly weird sea dragons, which look more like floating plants than anything else. They swim with tiny, almost invisible transparent fins. They would not do well in a hurricane.

Storm about to break

I was fairly disgusted when Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic party for reelection purposes, so I was very interested indeed when I heard that Congressman Joe Sestak (from the district right outside Philly) wants to challenge him in the Democratic primary, against the will of the Dem leadership and possibly even the Obama administration, saying it would take an "act of God" to stop him.

Sestak is a retired admiral and a bit of a... say it with me... maverick, which is why he is bucking the will of the party. I can't say I blame him. The question is whether as a second-term congressman with much less money than Specter and low name recognition can make it. I found this article on philly.com very interesting, particularly the poll in which voters read a list of characteristics about the two went for Sestak.

The Dems will want to avoid a dogfight primary, but I don't know what they could offer Sestak to get him to stand aside, and you'd have to shoot Specter. This will be well worth watching.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New blog

Rather than inflicting it ceaselessly on all of you, and to have a record for myself, I've started a new blog to track my entry into the world of guitar-playing. Check it out: http://mayandme.blogspot.com/

In case you couldn't figure it out, from the About this Blog:
"The URL mayandme is a tribute to my all-time favorite guitarist, Brian May, as well as that movie about Ben Franklin and his mouse... don't ask me why it popped into my head when I was starting the blog. I fell in love with his sound when I was young and have never loved another the same way... though I did, like everyone else at math camp, go through a 'Stairway to Heaven' Phase."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Koreatown, FL

I'm visiting a friend in Tampa this weekend, and we sallied forth in search of ethnic enclaves yesterday and today. There's a Koreatown of sorts on Hillsborough in west Tampa, dispersed among strip malls. Hair salons or supply stores, Kim Brothers grocery ( a fantastic Korean grocery), a noraebang (karaoke). Finally, we wanted dinner, and headed for Rice, a huge restaurant in a big strip mall that is so big that it was rented out for a private party for a baby's 100-day ceremony. Luckily, my friend has an iPhone, and we found the oddly spelled Sa Ri One, where we pigged out on very well made Korean food. Today, we found a new Indian restaurant near USF called Jai Ho (presumably after the Slumdog song), which had the most expansive menu I've ever seen, including Goan specialties, north and south Indian, and Indo-Chinese food. Tampa is a palm tree strip mall expanse, but there's gold in them there malls!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Upholding idiocy

I think I'm going to buck the Twitter trend with short blog posts.

Sadly, I find that I do not love the new Green Day album. I hope that it will grow on me, but I don't feel that it has the sound variety I was hoping for. Billie Joe Armstrong's voice is just so distinctive, and that fast thrashing guitar sound gets a bit repetitive. Maybe I'd also like it better if it weren't through my faintly tinny computer speakers. Oh well. I still prefer their last album, American Idiot.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Seeing what the fuss is all about

I only read Neil Gaiman after seeing the movie Stardust, and then, hearing all the praise for what an imaginative prophet of modern life he is, I thought I should read some of his more serious work. (Stardust, while fun, is decidedly a light novel.) Having now read Anansi Boys and most of American Gods, I think I can pronounce that he is good, if not quite as earth-shaking as I'd been led to believe. Anansi Boys in particular manages to balance myth with a lot of real-world themes like failed parenting, individualism, finding a truly suitable partner in your life, and so forth, while being a good fun adventure chasing crooks around the world. Anansi's son, Charlie, leads a very boring life in London, which is turned upside down when his more godlike brother shows up... and turns out to be, quite literally, his better half -- or at least more fun, more daring, and more problematic than anyone could imagine, forcing Charlie to become pretty godlike himself. It's fun.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Guitar gods

Having nothing but free time [sarcastic look here like you can't believe; only about five writing projects on the burners, and more in my head], I am really thinking of finally taking the plunge and learning how to play guitar. I've toyed with the idea on and off for years, but now's the time. I thought that it would be fun, and even if I only ended up taking a few lessons or being very, very bad at it, it would enhance my musical appreciation.

In college, I took about five voice lessons -- it couldn't have been more -- and I really had no intention of becoming a wonderful singer. That was just an accident. [!] But it taught me so much about vocal production and technique in only that short time, and it's really paid off in my listening ever since.

Now that was mostly for opera. With guitar, for me, it's all about the rock. And my serious contemplation of playing guitar has already paid off. I found this video of Brian May, my own personal guitar god, demonstrating the solo from "Bohemian Rhapsody," and other than the fact that I would watch the paint on his guitar dry and find it enthralling, I have already learned about guitar technique. My ignorance is so vast that I didn't even know you could bend the strings; I thought that sound was from vibrating the fretting finger, not the picking finger. I really can't wait to learn more.

Late to the party

Kill me now, I finally joined twitter. I have to admit, tweeting does appeal to me a little bit -- IF I kept it topical, like this blog, rather than tweeting about the banana peel that I slipped on two minutes ago, etc. have not put up a tweet of my own yet. Am skeptical of the whole thing. If I thought people would actually read it, I could see tweeting "I must read Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth!" But I don't think anybody would read it. Would you?

I do enjoy following the clever tweeters. Right now, I'm following Stephen Fry, the White House, Rainn Wilson, Jim Courier, Green Day, the Killers, and a couple others. Stephen Fry tweets excessively well, as he does with pretty much anything to do with the English language. Some other Brit comedians I like also tweet (Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross), but they do so much responding (the @soandso posts) that you really can't follow the conversation. I

Like I said, I like the content, but I do feel that the supposed instantaneous communication with your favorite celeb that it provides is rather pernicious. I must be the wrong age bracket for normal folks to tweet. Maybe teens are all following each other in addition to celebs.

ETA: all right, already getting exasperated with trying to find the real celeb instead of the fake one. I couldn't quite decide about aasif_mandvi, but decided to follow him for now. I just think he'd have more followers if it were the real guy from the Daily Show, but I thought the same thing about ice skaters Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, and those accounts are the real deal. Huh. This must be somewhat of an ego risk for anyone vaguely famous.