Sunday, September 30, 2012

Music Sunday: The Everybody's Got An Opinion Edition

Last week, I shared a few of my own favorite songs. It wasn't a "favorites" list, exactly, because I didn't rank the songs in any order and because there are songs that I like at least as much as some of those I shared that I didn't include. It also wasn't a "best" list, because I don't really believe there is any objective way of deciding what is the "best" in art of any kind.

It seems, however, that everyone has an opinion on what the "best songs" are. Of course, Rolling Stone Magazine has it's "500 Best Songs of All Time" list. And I happened on another "best" list, this time the "100 Greatest Songs Ever" list from a blog called Consequences of Sound, which made its list on the occasion of the 5-year anniversary of its existence. Reviewing the two lists, I found some interesting comparisons among the top ten songs from each list.

There are just two songs that made the top 10 on both lists.

Rolling Stone chose Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" as the greatest song of all time, while Consequences of Sound put Dylan's song in the third slot on its list. This live performance was at Newport:

The other song that made both top 10 lists is Aretha Franklin's "Respect". Rolling Stone puts it at number five, while Consequences of Sound rates it at number eight.

Three other artists made both top ten lists, but with different songs. Consequences of Sound rated the Beach Boys at number one, with "God Only Knows", from their classic album "Pet Sounds", while Rolling Stone placed their "Good Vibrations" at number six.

The Beatles' "A Day in the Life" comes in at number five on the Consequences of Sound list, while The Beatles don't show up until number eight on the Rolling Stone list, with "Hey Jude". You'll want to watch the video for "A Day in the Life" closely for some interesting, and perhaps unexpected, guest appearances.

Rolling Stone Magazine rates "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", by the Rolling Stones, as the number two song of all time in it's greatest list, while the Stones don't show up until number seven on the Consequences of Sound list, with "Sympathy for the Devil".

Otherwise, the two lists have some very different choices. For purposes of comparison, the Rolling Stone Magazine top ten reads, in full:

1. Bob Dylan, "Like A Rolling Stone"
2. The Rolling Stones, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
3. John Lennon, "Imagine"
4. Marvin Gaye, "What's Going On"
5. Aretha Franklin, "Respect"
6. The Beach Boys, "Good Vibrations"
7. Chuck Berry, "Johnny B. Goode"
8. The Beatles, "Hey Jude"
9. Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
10.Ray Charles, "What'd I Say"

The Consequences of Sound top ten list reads, in full:

1. The Beach Boys, "God Only Knows"
2. Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime"
3. Bob Dylan, "Like A Rolling Stone"
4. Michael Jackson, "Man in the Mirror"
5. The Beatles, "A Day in the Life"
6. The Velvet Underground, "Sister Ray"
7. The Rolling Stones, "Sympathy for the Devil"
8. Aretha Franklin, "Respect"
9. The Notorious B.I.G., "Juicy"
10.Radiohead, "Idioteque"

The biggest different between the two lists, from my point of view, is that I know, well, all the songs on the Rolling Stone list, while there are three songs on the Consequences of Sound list that, to be honest, I had never even heard of before I read that list (those would be "Sister Ray", "Juicy", and "Idioteque"). I should probably go investigate those, to see what I might be missing.

What the two lists point out is that, everybody has an opinion regarding music. No two people have exactly the same taste in music, and that is to the good, I think. What I am wondering is, what is your top ten list of "best" or "favorite" songs? Drop me a comment and let me know. Did any of your favorites make either of these lists? What do you think of these lists? In relation to your favorites, do they match at all, or do these published lists miss the point entirely in comparison to the music you like?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review: "How to Think Like a Neandertal"

As you know if you've read very much of this blog, I am a huge anthropology geek. It's what I studied in school. It's what I've loved since I was seven years old. And so, when a good friend who is currently studying anthropology at Cal recommended How to Think Like a Neandertal (Oxford University Press, 2012; 210 pages), by Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge, I immediately requested it from my local library system.

Wynn and Coolidge, an anthropologist and a neuropsychologist respectively and both professors at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, have been studying the evolution of cognition for several years. Part of the result of their study is this book. It's fascinating stuff, written with enough rigor that it is a text for the course on Neandertal cognition that my friend is taking at Cal, but it is also accessible to the layperson. No, not just accessible. It is a well-written, informed, and witty look at how Neandertals might have lived and thought during their time on Earth, from around 200,000 (or a little earlier, depending on which expert you consult) years ago to about 30,000 years ago, when the last of their kind died, probably somewhere on the Iberian peninsula, where they had been pushed by the dominant anatomically modern humans who had arrived late in their history, from the Neandertals former range across much of Europe and western Asia.

The authors cover the expected ground: how Neandertals lived and hunted, including what their tools and weapons reveal about what kind of thought processes they might have used. And really, what the Neandertals left behind in the form of campsites, food remains, tools, and weapons, plus their own remains, are all researchers like Wynn and Coolidge have to go on to figure out how the Neandertal mind worked. Thoughts themselves, after all, do not fossilize. Wynn and Coolidge speculate on what kind of family life the Neandertals had, and point out that it is clear from the remains of some Neandertal individuals that they helped out their fellows who were injured or ill, at least in some cases. However, the authors also show that evidence earlier interpreted as proof that Neandertals buried their dead with religious ceremony and therefore had a concept of an afterlife really only shows that they took some minimal care of their dead but then probably later pushed the bones aside in a manner that was no more caring than their treatment of the bones of the animals they killed for food. And, in fact, they share evidence that at least some Neanderdertals practiced cannibalism at least some of the time.

Aside from matters of survival, Wynn and Coolidge also explore such topics as whether or not Neandertals had language, concluding that the Neandertals probably did have language, at least to some extent. They also explore what Neandertals' personalities were like, explaining their belief that Neandertals were probably stoic, pragmatic, unimaginative for the most part, empathetic and sympathetic to the extent that their pragmatism would let them be, but likely intolerant of change, not welcoming of those outside their local group, and dogmatic. The authors also take up the subject of whether Neandertals slept and dreamed as we do and what that says about their capacity for memory and ability to learn. The Neandertals probably did have REM sleep, but their dreams were probably not as creative as those of modern humans, and they probably did not have as much working memory capacity as we do. They also ask the question, could a Neandertal tell a joke or clown around? The conclusion Wynn and Coolidge come to is that the Neandertals could smile and laugh, as we do and as chimpanzees do, but they probably could not tell a joke, although they do say that there might have been some Neandertals who would clown around to elicit laughs from other Neandertals.

The authors also analyze what it would be like for a Neandertal to live among modern humans today, and what it would be like if a modern human could time-travel back to the time of the Neandertals. They conclude that adults of either species would not deal well living out of their time and with those not of their species. However, they also say that a baby Neandertal raised by modern humans or a modern human raised among Neandertals would likely be able to function in a society not naturally theirs, although not in all roles and not as well as natives to the society. They also say that a Neadertal raised in modern times would probably fit in somewhat better than a modern human raised by Neandertals.

This is a good book. It is not dry and dusty prose even though the science here appears accurate and rigorous. It is obvious that Wynn and Coolidge enjoy their subject, which they write about with humor and vitality. Just a glance at the chapter titles will tell you that - the chapter on humor is titled "A Neandertal Walked Into a Bar...". There is even a reference to time travel and Doctor Who in the chapter on how Neandertals would fare in modern times and we in theirs, with the authors providing a definition for "Doctor Who" in the glossary for their readers who are not Whovians.

More science writing should be like How to Think Like a Neandertal, and just for that it deserves to be read widely.

Music Monday (this week only): The Some of My Favorites, Plus Video Discoveries Edition

So, Sunday was a little busy for me this week. I had something all planned for Music Sunday, a little celebration of Bruce Springsteen's birthday. That's a little redundant now, since his birthday has passed, but in a slightly tardy recognition of the day, here is "Born to Run", which will probably always be my favorite Springsteen song.

Something I've tried to avoid here most of the time is simply inflicting my own favorite songs on you. However, if you're a music lover of any kind, you will know that there are days when you just want to hear what you want to hear. This is that kind of day for me. Despite the fact that autumn is here in the Northern Hemisphere, the high temperatures are still in the 90s F, which displeases me a great deal. Additionally, my job search isn't going well, my allergies are still in full rage, and I'm in a generally cranky mood. So, today I've been in search of my favorite music.

First of all, not because it is my absolute favorite song in the world but because I think it is apropos of the current political, economic, and social climate, and because it is a brilliantly written song, here is John Lennon's "Working Class Hero". It is certainly, in all its rawness, my favorite Lennon song.

Perhaps my favorite song of all, if I had to name one, is this one, "Desperado", by The Eagles. As sad a song as it is, I love it's call to the loners and the lonely to let someone in, to let themselves be loved, and it's recognition that it is probably much more difficult to be loved than to love.

Gordon Lightfoot is one of my favorite singers and songwriters, and this is not only the first song of his I ever heard, but my favorite among many favorites of his work, "Don Quixote":

While I was looking for that song, I happened on this video, that I've never seen before and did not know existed, a 1969 duet of Lightfoot's song "For Lovin' Me", performed with Johnny Cash. The quality of the sound and video aren't wonderful, but the song and the performance both are:

Going from favorite songs to favorite bands, I had to include something from U2. The problem here is that there is no way I could begin to pick out a "favorite" U2 song. While I was looking, however, I stumbled on something else I didn't know existed, a video for the song "Electrical Storm", a collaboration between the band and Anton Corbjin. Corbjin's filmmaking is often surreal, and so is this. But, it is so striking that I could just could not stop watching:

But, although I can't choose one U2 song as a favorite, one of the songs on that list has to be "One". There are at least three "official" videos for "One". This is by far my favorite and, I think, the most remarkable of the three:

And with that, I'll close this Monday Edition of Music Sunday. I hope to be back to the regular schedule next week.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumn is here...and a short review of the history of September 22

It's the first day of autumn. Or, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, the first day of spring.

So, of course, there are reports of snow in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. According to, this snow, which is enough to stick in some places, is about a month earlier than its usual first appearance, based on long-term averages. On the other hand, it's sill in the 80s and 90s in the southern tier of states, and the predicted high in Phoenix, Arizona for today was 107 degrees Fahrenheit, with 101 degrees predicted a bit farther south, in Tuscon.

Here in my neck of the woods, it was predicted to hit 99 F today, but I don't think it managed to get quite that hot. I wouldn't know. I was only out briefly during the day, well before the hottest part of the day.

Anyway, with it being the autumnal equinox and all, I thought it would be a good day to see what happened on this day in history. So, I wandered over to Wikipedia (which isn't that bad a place, as long as you aren't using it as a source for academic papers, you fact-check what you find there, and you realize that their philosophy is that anything that has been published is an authoritative source) to see what they had to say about what has happened on September 22 through history.

First of all, I found, it is the 266th day of the year; it would have been the 265th day, but this year was a leap year. There are 100 days left in the year. Just what I needed to be reminded of - that Christmas is right around the corner.

There is quite a list of events that happened on this day. A few stood out. On this day in 1692, the last hangings for witchcraft in what is now the United States took place, which serves as a good reminder that religious extremism isn't anything new. But, it does beg the question of why, all these years later, so many people still go to extremes in their religion.

Those are not the only historically notable hangings that happened a September 22: in 1776, on this day, Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy during the American Revolution. General George Washington had asked for volunteers to go behind enemy lines to try to find out where the British were planning on landing in their invasion of Manhattan Island. Hale was the only volunteer. He was captured by the British and hanged at the age of 21. Hale is now the official State Hero of Connecticut, his home state.

There are also other religious events that happened on September 22. In 1823 (or 1822, depending on the source), Joseph Smith said he found the Golden Plates that he claimed to have used to translate the Book of Mormon. There are a few versions of the story, but the general account is that it was on September 22 in one of those two years that he first found the plates, guided by a vision from an angel who said his name was Moroni. Although Smith did not get the plates when he first found them - he said that the angel prevented him from doing so - several years later, in 1827, also on September 22, he was allowed to take the plates and commence his work with them. After he was finished with the translations, so the story goes, the plates were taken from him. So, you know, no physical evidence of them exists. Additionally, there are also several versions of the story of how he translated them to get the Book of Mormon. Honestly, trying to pin down what really happened in Mormon history is like trying to...well, like trying to pin down what position Mitt Romney really holds on an issue.

Maybe we should ask Mitt about the plates. He's Mormon, after all. He served a mission for his church. He might like to get his mind off his campaign for president, seeing how it hasn't been going that well for him lately.

Not related to either hangings or religion, so far as I know, this is the day in 1888 that the first issue of National Geographic Magazine was published. National Geographic has come in for its share of criticism from time to time in the years since that first issue, and not just for its role as young boys' go-to publication for seeing photos of topless women before Playboy got its start. Personally, though, I like National Geographic. It has fed my inner archaeology and anthropology geek since I was very young.

On September 22 in 1896, Queen Victoria surpassed her grandfather, George III (who, of course, was the monarch that the American colonists rebelled against), as the longest reigning monarch in British history. George III reigned for 59 years and 96 days, while Victoria eventually reigned for 63 years and 7 months and remains the longest reigning British monarch and the longest reigning female monarch in history. Queen Elizabeth II is gaining on her, though; Elizabeth has been on the throne for 60 years and a bit over 7 months as of this writing.

Speaking of queens, as we have been - September 22 is the birthday of Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Oh, they weren't married for long - just a bit over 7 months - before Henry had the marriage annulled, and she was never officially crowned as Queen Consort. Which makes sense, as it is difficult to be a consort when the marriage was never consummated. But, by virtue of being married to Henry, she was the Queen in practical terms for that time. And in many ways, Anne was the luckiest of Henry's wives. She never had to sleep with him, which had proved dangerous for his earlier queens. He divorced Catherine of Aragon because she couldn't give him a son. He had Anne Boleyn beheaded, supposedly for high treason, although it had a lot to do that she bore him only a daughter and then miscarried a disputed number of times, including the miscarriage of a son. His third wife, Jane Seymour, died of complications of childbirth less than two weeks after giving birth to Henry's son, Edward. Once Henry decided that Anne of Cleves wasn't really a suitable wife for him, he asked her for the annulment, which she wisely consented to. He gave her a substantial settlement, invited her to court often, and was referred to afterward as "the King's beloved sister". Anne outlived Henry's two latter wives, Catherine Howard, who was beheaded for not having disclosed her previous sexual history to the king in a timely manner, which Parliament arranged to have called treason, and Catherine Parr, who survived Henry.

So, all in all, a fairly interesting day in history. At least for us history geeks.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I Miss You, Daddy, Happy Birthday

It is September 17. Today would have been my father's 90th birthday.

Difficult as it is to believe, Daddy has been gone for thirty-five years. I still miss him. He was my fishing buddy, my movie buddy, my science fiction enabler. He was the one who taught me the love of books and that everything - and I mean everything - is interesting, one way or another.

He was also the most intelligent person I've ever known. He only had a high-school education, but that didn't stop him from reading everything. If there wasn't another book around, he'd go off and pick out a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica and read that. He and my mom bought me that set of encyclopedias when I was in the eighth grade, from a vendor at the Ventura County Fair. But I suspect that I was only an excuse so that he could buy them for himself. The books, and the bookcase that came with them, lived in my room, but he helped himself to a volume on a regular basis. All that reading, in encyclopedias and elsewhere, must have paid off. I have witnessed him more than holding his own in conversations with people with vastly more formal education than he ever had the opportunity to get.

I think I've probably written here before about how Daddy was always arranging educational experiences for me. When I was five and we went to the drive-in one summer night, he arranged for me to get a tour of the projection room so that I could see exactly how the movies got onto the screen. We made regular trips to places like Griffith Park, to the observatory and planetarium, to the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum and to the county art museum. He gave me books to read.

Actually, before he gave me books to read, he gave me reading. You see, when I was very young, Daddy made sure he told me a bedtime story every night. Except, I kind of got stuck on one, and started insisting that he tell me the story of "Rumpelstiltskin" every single night. It didn't take that long for him to get bored, telling the same tale night after night after night. So, he started improvising. He'd change the story around and add bits, trying to make it more interesting for himself. Except that I knew how the story should go, and I'd insist that the tell it "the right way". Finally he got tired of that, and told me, one night, that if I ever wanted to hear that story again, I was going to have to learn to read it to myself. Which is how I ended up reading by the age of three.

By the time I was about seven or eight, he had started giving me science fiction novels to read. I had tested out as reading on an adult level when I was seven, at least partly thanks to the availability of a bookshelf full of Readers' Digest Condensed Books that my mother received, volume by volume, every three months but never really read. So, when he started handing me Bradbury and Clarke and Heinlein to read, I was ready. He'd already primed me by introducing me to science fiction films much earlier. But he also encouraged me to read other things, especially non-fiction.

He didn't just give me books to read and leave it at that. We discussed what I read. When I said I thought something was boring, he would tell me why it wasn't. His mission wasn't a complete success - there are still things that don't interest me that much - but he did succeed in instilling in me an appreciation for the whole world around me.

He also made sure I grew up knowing that all people are valuable. He had friends and acquaintances in many different ethnic groups, and he taught me that it is important to judge people by who they are, not what color their skin is or where their ancestors came from before Dr. King ever gave his speech to that effect. He had no tolerance for prejudice and made it clear that he expected me to follow his lead in that respect.

On the other hand, from the time I was able to do so, Daddy respected my right to disagree with him about things, including politics. I knew so many kids when I was growing up who were expected to parrot their parents' beliefs and who were punished when they did not. But Daddy always said that as long as I could defend my position on something intelligently, it was all right for me to hold that position. It's possible that this only worked because we agreed on most things. On the other hand, we argued about a few things on an ongoing basis. One of the things we argued most often about was the necessity for the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II - he believed it had been necessary and I do not - but even in those arguments, he didn't try to use his parental status to shut down my arguments, even though the subject was a lot more personal to him that it ever could possibly have been for me.

You see, Daddy spent two years as a prisoner of war in Europe during World War II. Or, as he sometimes called it, his time as "a guest of the Germans". He was a radio operator on a bomber operating out of North Africa and one day his plane was shot down over Italy. Parachutes being what they were then, he landed in a walnut tree (perhaps fitting, since that's what the family had on their land at home in California). He was taken prisoner and shipped off to Stalag 17 (yes, the one the movie was about), in Austria. He never talked about the bad stuff, only the things he found amusing. Things like the time he was shot in the leg by a guard during a baseball game. Forgetting momentarily where he was, he started over the fence to retrieve a ball that had been hit too hard. I suppose it was understandable why the guard shot first and asked questions later, since people were always trying to escape. I'm not completely sure why Daddy thought that getting shot was funny, but he laughed every time he told that story. I don't know if that was the wound that earned him his Purple Heart, but I kind of hope it was.

I suspect that his time as a prisoner of war is what made Daddy as laid back about most things as he was. Oh, things would get to him and he'd get angry once in awhile, but mostly he just sort of went with the flow. One of the things he didn't talk much about was the end of the war, when the Germans marched most of the thousands of POWs in the camp clear across Austria, trying to get away from the Russians, who were on their way. He mentioned that it had happened, but it wasn't until I did some research a few years ago that I discovered that the march was clear across the country and that when prisoners couldn't keep up, the guards just shot them and left them to die. It seems to me that an experience like that, once survived, could tend to lead to the feeling that most of the frustrations of everyday life weren't really much to worry about in comparison to that life-or-death situation. I suspect, also, that the experience had a lot to do with Daddy's unwillingness to have firearms around. He'd probably had more than enough of guns by the time his POW experience was over.

Even without the guns, being in a German POW camp had to have been an iffy situation for Daddy. After all, he had been born in Germany. Although his family came to California when he was just two and a half years old and he didn't speak German, he understood it quite well. He always talked about how it had been very, very important that the guards and other camp officials not discover that he could understand what they were saying when the spoke German. It could have, he said, been very, very bad for him if they had known.

That experience probably led to another of the important things that Daddy shared with me, although he also got a healthy dose of it from his father. Daddy always instilled in me the belief that it is important to always question authority. He made sure that I knew the difference between questioning authority and flouting it, explaining that challenging authority was not about just ignoring it for the hell of it and doing what you wanted to do instead. But his belief that it is not healthy to just do what you are told because someone in authority told you to do it probably also came, at least to some extent, from having lived under the authoritarian Nazis during his time as a POW. He taught me that it is always important to find out why someone in authority wants you to do something, and then evaluate whether that thing is in your best interests, or simply in the best interests of the authority who wants you to do that thing. This went double, he always said, if the person is a politician. He didn't like politicians much.

So, yes. It's been thirty-five years, and I still miss my father. I am the person I am because of him, because of the time he took to teach me thing things he did...that everything is interesting. That you have to be able to support your opinions logically. That other people don't always have your best interests in mind. Also, that fishing is fun even if you don't catch any fish. That everyone matters, not just the rich or the famous or the powerful. That it's easier to be kind than to be rude. That history matters. That science is a good thing. And, oh, so much more.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Music Sunday: The Lots of Love Songs, Dysfunctional Categories, Edition

Sometimes it is difficult to find a theme for these Music Sunday posts. Last week, for example, I went for the birthday theme because I really couldn't come up with anything else. This will probably happen again in the future. Some days it's just harder to feel the music than others. But sometimes the theme of the week comes easily, and from some seemingly unlikely places.

This week, for example. This week's theme came to me while I was reading a book.

This isn't really unusual in itself. I read a lot (if you're a regular around here, you know that about me already), so it figures that at least sometimes I will get ideas for this blog, both generally and in regards to Music Sunday, from things I'm reading. It seems a little more unlikely, however, that I would get an idea for a Music Sunday blog post while reading a book written by an anthropologist and a neuropsychologist...a book that is titled How to Think Like a Neandertal(by Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge [2012, Oxford University Press; 210 pages]).

Yet, this is exactly where I found today's theme, love songs. In the chapter that discusses the idea of whether or not Neandertals had a concept of marriage, and whether their style of pair-bonding was similar to that of modern humans, the authors pointed out that there are only two primates (and, yes, we are primates) that always pair-bond for life and are thus truly monogamous. Modern humans are not one of those two species; that very short list consists of gibbons and siamangs (p. 82).

That got me thinking - a dangerous thing, as I note here from time to time. What it got me thinking was that the fact that because humans do not naturally pair-bond for life, but most often rely - at least in Western culture - on things like romantic love to hold relationships together, we have developed a wide range of love-song types.

Love songs, of course, are not the only kind of songs we have. But, in truth, they probably make up the vast majority of songs in Western popular music. So, I thought that on this Music Sunday it would be nice to look at some of the variety of forms of love songs.

Or, maybe, not so nice, as in the case of the obsessive love song. This type of song is, I think, exemplified by "The Spy", by The Doors:

A more recent example of the obsessive love song - you might also call them stalker songs, really - comes from The Police, in the form of "Every Breath You Take", here in a live performance in Madrid from 2008:

And there is the "I love you but you don't love me and I'm so sad" song. There are a lot of these around, but the one that always comes to my mind first is "I Honestly Love You", by Olivia Newton-John, released in 1974. I'm not sure when this performance, taped at the Sydney Opera House, took place:

A sub-category of this kind of love song is the "I love you and I need to tell you, but will I ever get the chance?" song, exemplified by Heart's "Alone":

Lest you get the idea that this is a category of song that only women sing, here is an example of another sub-category, the "I love you but I can't tell you because you belong to someone else" love song, this time sung by a male to a woman with an engagement/wedding ring on her finger. This is "Midnight Confessions", from 1968, by the Grass Roots, which got to number five on the Billboard Hot 100:

Apropos of absolutely nothing, "Midnight Confessions" was my favorite song when I was in the eighth grade.

Another category of love song, the "I love you but you're so far away, please be true to me because I'm being true to you", is illustrated by Journey's "Faithfully", which could also be put in the category of the "it's so hard being in love with a working musician" love song:

There is another permutation of the "musician on the road" love song, the cautionary "beware of musicians that tell you that they love you, because they're probably lying" song, here illustrated by R.E.M.'s "The One I Love", which starts out with "This one goes out to the one I love" but then confesses that the object of the singer's love is just "a simple prop to occupy my time", followed by the later admission that "another prop has occupied my time". Yeah, life on the road can be hard, and not just for the traveling musician, but also for all the ones he (or, presumably, she) has left behind. No real pair-bonding going on here:

Another category of love song is the "I don't love you anymore, please let me go" song. My favorite example of this sort of song is "If You Could Read My Mind", by Gordon Lightfoot. Here, he doesn't blame his former love, and he isn't even really glad that he doesn't love her anymore. He doesn't really understand why, but "the feeling's gone and I just can't get it back". Yeah, love songs can be really depressing sometimes:

And then there is "Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill, originally released as a single in 1978. This song has made many "worst songs" list. On the other hand, I've also heard it called "the ultimate love song." Well, I suppose that depends on one's attitude toward love and taste in music. It definitely fits here, however, as perhaps be best example in the category of the "I love you, but this whole love thing is really, really complicated and I'm so confused right now" love song:

Maybe one of these Sundays I'll share some happy "Silly Love Songs" (and maybe even that Paul McCartney and Wings song, which isn't really one of my favorites, honestly). But not today, because this post has already gotten long and out of hand, even though I could have probably come up with as many more categories of love song as I've shared here today.

Oh, and just a word of apology for the videos I've shared that have ads at the front of them. When I haven't been able to find those with no ads attached, I've tried to find those with either the shortest ads, or ads that can be skipped after a few seconds.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Music Sunday: Musical Birthdays Edition

Having celebrated my own birthday recently, I've got birthdays on the brain I guess. So, after seeing a post on one of my favorite forums mentioning that today was Otis Redding's birthday, I decided to see who else in the music world has birthdays this weekend. Several, as it turns out.

First of all, there is the late, great Patsy Cline, who was born on September 8, 1932. Primarily a country singer, Cline's music transcends all genre boundaries. One of her best known recordings is of Willie Nelson's "Crazy", here in a performance from 1962:

Another favorite from Cline was "I Fall to Pieces". This performance is from just out 10 days before she died in a plane crash in 1963:

Otis Redding, who was born on September 9, 1941, also ended his life in a plane crash, before, before "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" could even be released. In fact, he recorded it just a couple of weeks before his death in 1967 and added overdubs just a day or two before the crash, and the song was not released until January 1968:

Before this turns into the "Singers Who Died in Plane Crashes" edition of Music Sunday, I think we should move on.

Yesterday was also Pink's birthday. Pink was born Alecia Beth Moore in 1979, and has had a string of hit records. My favorite of all the songs she's released is this one, "Stupid Girl", which asks a question that is probably one of the most important questions we can ask in today's celebrity-mad/paparazzi-fed culture: "Where, oh where, have the smart people gone?" With it's parody, both in lyrics and in the video for the song, she makes the point that fitting in with the dominant pop culture is not the only path for girls, or for anyone else, today:

And then there was "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". The fact that today is Doug Ingle's birthday is basically just an excuse to share this song, the title of which is said to be a slightly mangled version of the phrase "In The Garden Of Eden". I loved when it came out in 1968, when I was 11 years old, and which I still love in all it's 1960s-psychedelia-laced excess today. Ingle was the organ player and vocalist and one of the founding members of Iron Butterfly, although he left the band in 1971. The song took up the entire second side of the album, and was longer than just about anything rock'n'roll fans had heard up until then:

I want to give a hat-tip to Nina809 over at Ravelry, for posting "Dock of the Bay" over there and giving me the idea for today's edition of Music Sunday.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

I finally finished reading a book...

I finally finished reading a book.

This was a big problem, apparently, in August. Didn't finish reading one book all month. Started a few. Rejected a few. A couple had to go back to the library, even though I wanted to finish them. I had other things to do. It was kind of a weird month.

But...then came Shadow of Night (2012, Viking; 584 pages), by Deborah Harkness.

I'd been waiting for this book to come out for awhile...ever since I read the first book in the trilogy, A Discovery of Witches. It was one of those books that I powered through because it was so good. Then, I got to the end and...cliffhanger. It didn't take me very long to find out when the sequel was scheduled to be published. Fortunately, it was only a few months. Because, you know, I wanted to know what happened next to Diana and Matthew. When we left them at the end of the first book, they had just dropped from the present day into Elizabethan London.

Shadow of Night picks up right where A Discovery of Witches leaves off, and follows Diana, a reluctant witch, and Matthew, a vampire, who have fallen in love and married, as they return to his ancestral home in France, go back to England, visit Prague and the lecherous Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, who wants to possess Diana, and then back to London, all in search of the alchemical text that Diana discovered in the Bodleian Library at Oxford before it disappeared back into the stacks, and which it seems the whole world of creatures - witches, vampires, and daemons - want to get their hands on. Danger and intrigue seem to follow the couple wherever they go.

I really don't want to say any more about what happens as the plot unfolds; suffice it to say that a lot happens, and if you read it you will laugh, you will cry, and you will not want the story to end. Or, anyway, those were my reactions as I read. And I will warn you - there is no word yet on when the third book in the trilogy will be forthcoming. But if you are a fan of historical fiction, or of historical romance, don't put off reading the first two books in the trilogy. They really are a treat, romance for those who don't usually read romance novels (that would be me), with history that has been researched by an expert - Ms. Harkness is a professor of history at the University of Southern California.

Really. Go read Shadow of Night and, if you haven't already, A Discovery of Witches. The writing is wonderful, the story involving, and the cast of characters - a few of which you will recognize from history - fascinating.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Music Sunday: The Day Late and a Dollar Short Edition

Yes, I know. It's Monday, not Sunday. But, it's a holiday here in the US, Labor Day, and it's been a busy weekend. And so real life, as it does sometimes, got in the way of Music Sunday. But I didn't want to completely miss my music post for the week, and so here I am, taking a break from working on the novel I'm writing, to share a couple of very long songs with you.

First, since this week is going to be very short on the history of the songs I'm posting, I thought I'd leave you this little history of the first decades of rock and roll, by Don McLean, "American Pie", from 1972. You can look up the interpretations people have made of the lyrics here, but rest assured, Buddy Holly is here, and Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and the Stones, and a few others:

And then, there is Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven". I think this version is from "The Song Remains The Same". Maybe it's just me, but it seems like Robert Plant might have sung this song a few too many times by this point; he seems a little bored to me through parts of the performance. But no matter, it's still a great song:

I was thinking about also including "Alice's Restaurant", by Arlo Guthrie. But then I decided that it is much more appropriate for Thanksgiving. You'll probably see it here around about then.

But, since today is a holiday, I'm going to go off and do holiday things now. Music Sunday should be back on its regular day next week.