Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reimagining classic songs

I give the hat tip to nicoleandmaggie for the spiffy New Orleans jazz arrangement of "Sweet Child o' Mine."  I can hardly think of any other pop song cover that so thoroughly reimagines the song from the ground up.  However, I know a few good ones that offer something new, instead of a band just covering a song they like: covers that add to our understanding of the song's possibilities, not just rehashing what has already been done.  In the spirit of old standards cleverly reimagined, here are a few more I'm fond of.

I never really loved "I want you back" in the original version; the Jackson 5 were Michael Jackson and four bozos, not a band.  But Lake Street Dive slows down the song to a seductively langorous tempo, and all four of them are actually talented.  Add in some jazz instrumentation and some tight vocal harmonies, and it goes from gimmick to showstopper.

I always liked this Leonard Cohen cover — one of the few I can say that about, really.  Tori Amos does such a beautiful job retrofitting Cohen's song (and, really, his basic arrangement too) with her own piano work that it feels to me like more of an artistic effort than merely paying homage.  I heard this cover before I knew the original, and if I hadn't encountered it on a Leonard Cohen tribute album, I'd never have known she didn't write it herself.

Another fabulous and inventive cover of a song by a distinctively voiced singer-songwriter.  I almost always feel let down by covers of Tom Waits songs, but Neko Case nails this one the way so few do.  The instrumentation is different from the original, but so is the tone: where Waits' narrator is boozily and jovially bullshitting the listener, Case's narrator is heartbreakingly wistful.  When she sings, "He gave me a ring," there's an aching hope in the line that Waits himself will never equal.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On vacation

It was a hard week for me, as you, dear reader, probably guessed.  After being seriously depressed for a few days, I'm starting to re-focus my thoughts not on the jobs that seem unattainable, but on those that may be within my reach.  Many thanks to you all who have offered a bit of advice on that front — and on, you know, not hating myself.

But more about that later.  Right now, for the first time ever, I am on a proper Spring Break vacation.  (Wouldn't you agree that I needed one?)  Don't worry, I'll be careful not to drink too much; it's too hot and dry out here to booze it up without serious risk of dehydration.  That said, I might have had a bacon-garnished Bloody Mary with my brunch this morning.  Because when you're hypertensive and in a desert climate, what else would you drink at brunch than salted, grease-spiked alcohol?

But not to worry.  As they tell me, what happens here, stays here.  See you when I get back!

Friday, March 14, 2014

My inner monologue, courtesy of the job market

You are worthless and valueless.  You have slid by the skin of your teeth into a book contract, but even that is not saving you from failure.  You have a book coming out this year, and no one wants to hire you because you suck.  If you didn't suck, you wouldn't be facing the prospect of unemployment this summer.  Worthwhile academics who have written books get jobs.  Ergo, if you have written a book and do not already have a job, you are not worthwhile.  QED.

Everything you have done for the last twelve years of your life is meaningless.  You are meaningless.  Your own society accords you no value at all, and you have only yourself to blame for your mediocrity and imminent failure.  You dishonor everything you care about every time you show your face out of doors.  You deserve to fail.

 Your increasing economic marginality reflects your irrelevance to your own discipline.   To your profession.  To your society.  To your family, probably.  To the universe.  You are worthless.

You are a FAILURE who has FAILED because you have NO WORTH and NO VALUE and NO MEANING.  Your DISHONORABLE existence on this planet is POINTLESS.  You have FAILED as a person.  You are a FAILURE.

Brought to you by my psyche and the antidepressants that are holding worse things at bay.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Writing strategies: The Hot Mess

I'm currently pursuing this strategy tonight to finish a research article that needs to be submitted ASAP.  I'll let you know how it works out.

Step 1: Get home from the office as soon as classes are over.

Step 2: During Step 1, lay hands on some of the chocolates that your colleague has thoughtfully laid out in the kitchen area.  Justify this to yourself by remembering that you have a grueling day of work ahead.

Step 3: Spend the next four hours dealing with unexpected personal drama that saps your energy.

Step 4: Wolf down your lunch at some point during Step 3.

Step 5: About an hour later than your caffeine addiction would require, brew yourself a fresh cup of coffee.

Step 6: Fuck around on the internet for an hour or so, because you just cannot deal.  Not now.  No.

Step 7: Pour yourself a stiff drink for the dual purposes of enjoying a Friday afternoon pick-me-up and numbing your mind to all that other shit that keeps you from focusing on work.

Step 8: I forget what eight was for.

Step 9: Write a blog post whining about how hard writing is.  (Meta, right?)

Step 10: Pour a second drink, crank up the music, and return to the goddamned writing.  Revise it into motherfucking brilliance.

This is the plan of a responsible grown-up, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Low stakes, part II: is fear a good motivator?

I am nervously awaiting the deadline for the second paper my students in Introduction to Pseudology are writing.  After the unsparing grades came in for the first paper, my office hours went from desolate to chock-a-block.  Seriously, last week's office hours looked like finals time: my colleague next door was stepping over bodies sacked out on the floor waiting their turn to consult with me. 

So, now that a whole bunch of students who previously thought they knew it all already have been stunned by a poor paper grade, and have responded by carefully consulting with me about how to do better next time, I'm about to found out how well my low-stakes assignment strategy worked.  (And, perhaps, how much of the previous poor work was due to learned laziness and how much to genuine confusion.)  I'm sure I'm not as nervous about this paper as my students are, but I have a little shpilkes about it.  Am I learning how to be a cannier and more effective teacher?  Or have I merely hit on yet another solution that doesn't actually work?

Guess I'll find out in a few hours.