Friday, June 29, 2012

(Some of the) weirdest pop music ever

I'm not talking Screamin' Jay Hawkins or Björk or Marilyn Manson, or anyone else who somehow makes a living out of seeming peculiar.  I'm talking weird.

Why weird?  Well, Fie Upon This Quiet Life has posted what I receive as a pretty strange pop recording: a reggae-inflected setting of a song from Twelfth Night.  Fie seems to disagree with me about this, but I think it's kind of bizarre.  Does Twelfth Night put you in mind of reggae?  Does anything that Shakespeare ever composed make you think, Dang, if only Toots and the Maytals had recorded this, as you spark up a fat one? 

Since Fie asked me for a full report, here is my quick (and merciless) take:
  • More often than not, reggae sounds silly when it is applied in production as an accent or flourish, rather than the dominant style.  This goes double when the singer is a middle-aged white person.
  • Reggae thrives on great grooves and jams, which means that it tends to be either fantastic or awful.  This recording somehow falls in the middle for me, but I have to say that it starts dragging ass around 1:30.
  • This guy's voice isn't that good.  Why couldn't they get a better singer?
  • I've never been an especial fan of either reggae or Twelfth Night, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
This recording also reminded me of a few others, most of them poorly conceived ideas, in my opinion.  Also a few bits of Shakespeare set to music.  Have at 'em, people!

Shakespeare's Sonnet 20, arranged by Rufus Wainwright.  Not so bad, I'd say, although I feel like Rufus is thrown a bit off his game by the text.

Steve Earle has made some excellent recordings.  This one is...entertaining, anyway.  Remember the first observation in my review above.

Everyone loves "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, even if they think that Jeff Buckley wrote it.  But not many people know the worst-ever arrangement, by some dude named Bono.  For the life of me, I cannot understand what he thought he was adding to our understanding of this song.  Don't quit your day job, fella.

This may be the crown jewel of WTF in my music collection.  I hope with all my might that someday I get to try the drugs that made this recording seem conceivable, much less desirable.  I can scarcely imagine how many people had to drink the kool-aid to bring this track to fruition.  I can't bring myself to delete it, because it feels like some sort of Zen Buddhist puzzle for me to riddle out: how can this track exist without triggering the end of the world?

Finally, a truly, frighteningly bizarre recording that, despite everything I think I know about the universe, actually hangs together.  I'm especially interested to hear what both Fie and Dr. Crazy have to say about this one; I suspect they'll both dig it, possibly for different reasons.  It's genuinely disturbing to me to recognize how much I like this arrangement.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Packing and pop music

Man, I'm being diligent: I've started packing already.  I figured that it would be a good idea to start boxing up my books and getting them out of my office at Ghosttown U., so everything will be in one place for the move.  Remind me to get a full-sized car, whenever I have to replace my little Beetle.  It's a cute car, but it's not much use for hauling.  (And, frankly, a bit of a disappointment on gas mileage.) 

Meanwhile, more pop music!  Those of you who check in on Haphazard Musing's blog may have enjoyed the unstoppable earworm she posted about recently.  In fact, the female vocalist in that song, Kimbra, is herself an up-and-coming singer-songwriter, and her music is pretty different in character from the stuff that Gotye does.  She may be the only young singer I've heard who can sing scat and sing it well.  One good earworm deserves another, so here is one of my favorites from her: the kinda-sorta live recording of her song "Plain gold ring."  I say kinda-sorta because, as you'll notice, Kimbra makes extensive use of recording loops of her own voice for back-up parts, but also hires flesh-and-blood musicians to perform the guitar, bass line, and percussion work – things that are very commonly recorded and looped in pop production – in a single take with her.

And, as you'll hear, she has a fucking phenomenal voice.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Two weeks left in Ghosttown = PARTY

I mean, if you wanna party Koshary-style, that is.  I realized yesterday that, between the house-hunting trip I'm planning and the visit to Hometown I've scheduled, I really only have two weeks left to live in Ghosttown, besides a few days of frantic packing at the tail end.  This realization, all by itself, has stimulated my good mood, as well as a sudden attack of industry: I have to read books!  Write syllabi!  Plan my move!  (Side note: all-online banking may have just changed my entire freaking life.)

It is now 2:00AM, and I am buzzed after a second glass of cheap-ass moderately priced riesling.*  What am I doing with said buzz going, you may well ask?  Writing syllabi!  Considering various forms of writing assignments!  Drafting an email to send to colleagues to consult their opinions on the matter!  And, naturally, creating my own soundtrack from hell by listening to "Call me maybe" on repeat.  Goddamn catchy pop songs drawing me in with their peppy hooks.

The line "Before you came into my life/I missed you so bad" drives me almost to distraction, given its temporal impossibility and quasi-postmodern collapse of past and present time.  Carly Rae, you cannot miss that of which you are totally unaware.  HOWEVER, if you simply ignore the stupid fucking lyric and concentrate on the sickeningly catchy chord changes and string section in the background – and maybe throw back a third of a bottle of wine – you will find yourself captivated as all fuck.

And now I shall return to contemplating the merits of research papers, as all of you are ASSIMILATED BY A ONE-HIT-WONDER POP SENSATION, BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

*Pairs nicely with the kinda-sorta expensive-by-weight wedge of Stilton that you bought while telling yourself that you could justify it by buying some inexpensive riesling to make a proper wine-and-cheese break.

Monday, June 18, 2012

When town-gown relations go bad

Well, here's one from the vault: the St. Scholastica Day Riot.  I was hanging out last night with a medievalist colleague who brought up this historical nugget in the course of our chit-chat about the history of Ghosttown.  You can read the Wikipedia article yourselves; it isn't long.  Rather than quote directly from that, I will summarize, making a few idiomatic substitutions so that we can imagine the scenario playing out today, rather than 657 years ago.  Here's your story, folks:

In the winter of 1355, a couple of college students at the University of Oxford were getting drunk at a local bar.  Aware that they were virtually above the local civil law, as university scholars, these students allowed themselves to act like complete boors: they created a scene by complaining loudly to the bar owner that his beer was bad.  The bar owner and the students started arguing, hurling curses at each other, and eventually the students threw their beers in his face and beat him up in front of his other customers.

The locals and the students, who already kind of despised each other, almost immediately began using this incident as a casus belli, and started skirmishing in the streets.  The mayor of Oxford asked the head of the university to arrest the two disorderly bar fighters, since the mayor himself had no such authority over Oxford scholars.  A mob of 200 students supported their douchebag brethren by assaulting the mayor and other locals in response to the arrest request.  This assault snowballed into a full-scale riot that lasted for days.  By the time all the dust settled, 63 students and 30 locals were dead

Can you imagine??  I've seen the occasional unpleasant and class-inflected encounter between entitled, privileged college students and the people who live full-time in university towns, but I can't say I've ever seen anything close to a massive riot.  And, given the technological advancements in handheld weaponry since the 1300s, I would have to guess that, if anything like this ever reared its head in Ghosttown, the students would be wiped out very quickly.

So there's something thought-provoking to recall, the next time you read in the local paper about a couple of rowdy frat boys being thrown in the drunk tank after making a scene at the off-campus bar.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Universities are not for-profit companies

I'm stumped for a clever title for this one, so I just stated the overarching thesis instead.  My second choice was: Fuck you, UVA.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


I finally sent out that damn book review yesterday, and I feel much better for it.  If I were a really conscientious academic, I would now turn my full attention to bear upon the books that I must consider for use in my classes.  However, since I am not so much a conscientious academic as a punk-ass slacker academic, I shall instead take a short vacation.  An old friend of mine has a four-day industry conference in a city about five hours' drive from Ghosttown, and has kindly offered to let me glom onto the hotel room zi has already booked.  Cheapskate vacation FTW!

I'm debating whether or not I should even try to bring some work with me.  My friend will be tied up with professional stuff all day, so we'll only be hanging out together in the evenings.  And I should be figuring out my reading lists, I know.  But...vacation...  Hm.  Perhaps I'll bring a few of the books along with me, since I rarely do much before I've had breakfast.  I can skim a book, and then run along to see the sights around town, or just relax, knowing that I have the run of the hotel and can sashay on out to do stuff whenever I damn well please. 

Or maybe I'll just slow down.  

Off to pack an overnight bag!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It pays off

I read my students' teaching evaluations this week, and they were mostly as I expected: a lot of them whined about having to keep with readings, attend class, etc.  Students at Ghosttown U. tend to be  unaccustomed to doing these things, and it hacks them off.  As I expected, there was no love lost between my worst class and me: we pretty much despised each other.  However, since I am going to a new university, and these evaluations count toward nothing, I can toss them over my shoulder – or, actually, into a folder in my archived computer files – and say What. The. Fuck. Ever.

However, I got kind of a charge out of reading my evaluations for my seminar course.  Half the class said that my course was 'difficult' compared to other courses they had taken thus far at Ghosttown U.  A full third of them said that it was 'very difficult' compared to their other courses.  I take pride in that.  I mean, it's also kind of appalling, since I was teaching a 300-level seminar intended for pseudology majors, but for my own part, I take pride.

Very few students in that course offered any comments other than responses to the standard online survey.  The ones that did, though, all rated me as "Superior."  Best of all, in my opinion, was one student who responded to the question

What do you want other students to know about your experience in this class?


"Hard work, but it pays off."

That's goddamn right, kids.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

We are amused

For those who haven't found their way to it yet, the Little Prof composed a small piece of brilliant nonsense this week.  Star Trek fans really owe it to themselves to read this.  I don't know why this hasn't been spammed all over the internet already.  (Hat tip to nicoleandmaggie for alerting me to it.)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Communiqué from the trenches

Slogged my way through Chapter 4 of the book so far.  Another two chapters to read, and then I can set about writing the review.  Chapter 5 actually looks interesting; Chapter 6 looks a little less so.  I still think I'd be swifter about all this if one of you would kindly come to my house and hold me at rifle-point until I completed the damn review.  Without the threat of bullet and bayonet, I have moments of despair that I will ever finish the fucking thing.

On a side note, I downloaded a ton of hella cheap classical music this week.  It blows my mind that, in the age of mp3 downloads as purchasable commodity, I can actually buy an entire opera for $3.00.  Time was you had to shell out $20.00 just for the cheapie recordings by Eastern European companies no one had ever heard of.  I also bought every piano sonata that Beethoven ever wrote, for a total cost of $2.00.  Staggering.

I think I shall try working with Artur Schnabel and Maria Callas – not necessarily together – as my new background music.  Better than listening to pop music right now.  I find I'm still a little sensitive to the lyrics of all those happy and sad love songs.  And a man can only listen to so much Billy Bragg.

Here's a taste of one of the operas I got.  (Not this recording, but you get the idea.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sisyphus' summer meme

1. What is your favorite part of summer?

Cool mornings when I have no deadlines hanging over me, and I can enjoy the weather without benefit of air conditioning while I drink my coffee and think about what I'd like to do that day.

2. What's your favorite quintessentially summer food? Least favorite?

Favorite: Ceviche.  It's harder to get fresh fish in the summer months, but it's so good with lots of citruses thrown together.  Cold and tart are wonderful summer food sensations.

Least: Almost any variety of sausage associated with summertime.  Summer sausage and bratwurst are both disgusting and there, I've said it.

3.  Best beverage to beat the summer heat:

Depends on what we're talking about.  For cooling down from the heat, water, of course.  For spurious justification of getting drunk, a cold, hoppy IPA or a frozen margarita.

4. Least favorite/most annoying thing related to summer?

As a professional academician, I would say the lack of a paycheck.

5.  Pick one: the lake /the beach. Why?

The obvious answer is to go to the beach down the shore.  (Down the shore, everything's all right, you know.)  Mountain lakes are beautiful, but do not have the emotional hold of the ocean for me.

6. Most amusing summer vacation trip you've ever taken?

I've never taken an especially amusing summer vacation trip, per se.  The closest to that would be the road trip from Hometown out to DOU-Town when I entered graduate school.  Not a vacation in the usual sense, but it was tons of fun.

7. Most ridiculous/cringe-inducing/blush-provoking summer outfit you have seen? (Bonus points if you yourself were wearing it!)

Having spent a lot of time down the shore and in DOU-Town, which gets hotter than Hades, I've lost count.  I guess anything that reveals more of a person's genitals than I feel should be seen by anyone other than a lover, a urologist, or an OBGYN. 

8. Your absolute dream summer afternoon would be:

Sitting at the beach or in a park with a big frozen margarita, an hour after learning that the entire first print run of my book had sold out in a week, as an uncanny number of women found themselves mysteriously attracted to my aura of quiet brilliance.

That, or maybe just a really big happy hour at a favorite bar in DOU-Town with a big reunion of my buddies from grad school.

Edited to add fuller response to #2.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Torch songs and sympathy

It's actually embarrassing to me how crappy I have felt this week as a result of the flame-out of a really brief (and, inevitably, doomed) affair.  It would seem that several years spent in monk-like isolation can have a deleterious effect on one's self-possession when suddenly confronted with any level of romantic interest, no matter how transitory or ephemeral.

What I mean to say is that I need to re-learn how to handle my shit in dating.  Sigh.

Very fortunately, a friend recommended to me Regina Spektor's new album.  It's kind of spooky that Spektor has not one but two songs on this album that kind of wrecked me: one pure torch song, and one loving slap upside the head to a friend who has been listening to too many torch songs.  Many thanks to Ms. Spektor, should she be bored enough to read this blog.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer to-do list

All right, I'm going to take a page from Haphazard Musing's book, and post a list of the things I want to accomplish this summer.  Aside from needing to keep all of this stuff clear to myself, I need to ratchet up my sense of accountability — 'tis oh so easy on pleasant summer days to find that an entire working day has gone by and I have done nothing but mix myself drinks and eat processed food while fucking around on the internet.  That will not do, friends.  Let's see what I have on my docket:

1. Read Painfully Boring Book and write a review of it.  This will actually be my first book review for a dedicated pseudological journal; I've done a few others before, but they were always for journals in allied disciplines.  Now I've been solicited (on a senior colleague's recommendation!) to write a review of a book very much in several of my subfields, for a respected journal.  And I'm so fucking bored by the goddamn thing that I can hardly stand to pick it up.  I'm already dreading concocting a suitable review for it — we all know that you don't want to write a really negative review unless the piece under consideration is truly dire.  I'm just not excited by the methodology, nor the analysis, although there is nothing wrong with either.  I need to bang this one out before anything else, since it's on deadline, so I must focus myself and power through it.  I fear this will be one of those reviews that summarizes a book more than assesses it critically, if only because I do not want to translate my yawns of apathy into a review of a book by a colleague whom I am almost bound to meet soon at one event or another.

2. Work out THREE (count 'em, three!) new syllabi.  Or, to be more precise, two new syllabi and a revision of one I've already taught.  I'm just beginning to comprehend the scale of this task, since I am
a) painfully ignorant of my intro course material;
b) obliged to re-structure and enrich my Pseudology of Area Studies syllabus to suit an academically intense SLAC; and
c) have not actually read most of the texts I've considered assigning for my new seminar course, Super Awesome Cool Stuff.  (Admission: the actual course title is very much in the vein of Two Apparently Unconnected Things Juxtaposed to Suggest an Insidious and Fascinating Structural Relationship, as discussed several years ago on this here blog.) 
All of this means that I have to catch up on as much of the material as possible before I can even attempt to parcel out readings by class session.  I've already looked over the academic calendar at CBU, so I know that we have precisely fourteen weeks per semester.  (Which, given the clusterfuck of outside obligations that occurs every fall without fail, means that we really have only about twelve or thirteen weeks of class time in the fall semester.)  I have to figure out what we're going to read, when we will read it, and what evaluative assignments I can/should cook up so that the students are challenged but not crushed.  Sigh.  At least I can start naming texts I like for the area studies class off the top of my head.

3. Start making plans for apartment hunting ahead of time in Tinytown.  I know from last year's experience how stressful it is to search for an apartment when you're already in town and have to worry about paying for a motel room while you look.  It would be that much worse if I did that in Tinytown with an entire moving truck full of my belongings.  It's a little easier to drive from Ghosttown to Tinytown than my last move, so I'm planning to drive to Tinytown some weeks from now, do my recon, and secure an apartment before I make the big move.  Really, that's the easy part.  The bitch will be the big move, since I will have to transport both my car and my possessions.  I'm hoping that I can wheedle a relative into coming out to Ghosttown to perpetrate a one-way road trip with me.  But if I can't, I'll have to do the same pain-in-the-ass rigmarole I did last year, doing the one-way drive twice over, with an expensive one-way airfare in between.  (ATTENTION BLOGGING FRIENDS: Come with me to Tinytown!  Drive the truck!  I will pay your meals and beer, I promise!  Don't make me do this by myself, please!)
The other thing that comes to mind with apartment hunting is that I should be a little pickier this time around.  I'm slated to be at CBU for two years, and I want a more comfortable, homey dwelling space than the serviceable but kind of crappy apartment I'm in now.  I'll need to schedule sufficient hunting time to get something good, and not just something cheap and immediately available.

4. Plan short visit to Hometown.  Sigh.  I should go home for a bit to say hi to everyone, since I'm going to be dead busy once July comes around.  I'm dawdling about figuring it out, since then I'd have to actually, you know, commit.  And I'm pissed that I have to pay yet another airfare for this.  Maybe I can find something cheap on a red-eye.  Sigh.

5. Exercise more.  Which is to say, exercise at all.  I can feel how soft and pudgy I'm getting, now that I'm not obligated to go anywhere on a daily basis.  I don't kid myself that I'm going to start paying gym fees here in Ghosttown, although I have every intention of getting more serious about this stuff when I get settled in Tinytown and can make good use of the facilities at CBU.  I do plan to walk more, though: with a little extra drinking water and some sunscreen, I wouldn't need to drive to get to about half the places in town that I frequent.  My spare tire tends to balloon during the summer, which has a number of unpleasant effects for me.  I wonder if I could actually force myself to start doing crunches at home...?

I can look ahead to a whole other to-do list that revolves around moving, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.