Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Andrew Bird: Live on KEXP

I was browsing around KEXP's live performance archives, and came across some pretty cool live performances by Andrew Bird.

Those of you from the Northwest will certainly know KEXP since it is hands-down one of the coolest radio stations out there. It's listener-supported, the djs actually help pick their own music, play requests, and support local bands. You know, a *real* radio station!

I've been a fan of Andrew Bird since I first saw him play violin with the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I was (and still am) completely addicted to his quirky, swing-tinged 1998 album Thrills. I once had a poetry professor who advocated that great poets can "look at the world strangely." Andrew Bird is a master of that skill.

The KEXP live performances were recorded in September '07 and include songs from his newest, very gorgeous album, Armchair Apocrypha. I love his strange uses of the violin, odd tonalities, and strikingly beautiful melodies. Live, the songs are even more sparse and dreamy than they are on the album.

Listen to Andrew Bird live on KEXP here. Click "concert.wma" or "concert.rm" to hear the whole performance straight through. Or click on the song titles to hear them individually.

Read an article about KEXP from Paste Magazine here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Brookeshelf: The Potter Project

I was awfully excited to see that The Brookeshelf, one of the wittiest and most enjoyable kidlit blogs out there, has started a brand new series: The Potter Project.

As a child, Brooke received a Beatrix Potter book every year until she had the entire collection:
"As for reading them, I found them enjoyable but cryptic. I was definitely entranced by the books’ charms — anthropormorphic animals in cute little outfits! — but puzzled by others. A world where pigs trotted off to sell themselves at the market? Where mice sewed buttonholes with 'cherry twist' (which I was certain was some sort of Twizzler)? And what the heck was a 'patty pan' or a 'pinny'?"
With the Potter Project, she intends to do "a fresh re-reading of all 23 Beatrix Potter books, with the keen hope that the contrast between the child and adult perspective will prove, if not interesting or enlightening, at least bloggable."

There is not a doubt in my mind that this will be lots of fun and well worth the read. So far, here is what you've missed:

The Potter Project Intro

The Tale of Peter Rabbit, or Stay Away From the Man Who Ate Your Father

Video Sunday: Potter a'Plenty (Including the Charlie Brown "book report" song)

Friday, January 25, 2008

If you are in Maine...

Did you know you can still participate in a primary caucus even if you are not there? Other states may have an absentee ballot process, too, so check with your town office. I really do think each vote will make a difference this time around.

Grab Bag Friday: Primary Fever

Artwork: "A Caucus Race" from Alice in Wonderland

I have to admit it: I've come down with Primary Fever. I knew it was serious when I actually couldn't sleep because I was thinking about it so much. Me! Believe me, if there's anything I can do well, it's sleep. Not to mention the fact that I don't usually bother about politics too much. Especially not the primaries.

And yet, here I am, a staunch Independent, considering switching my party affiliation just so I can go have my say in the Maine caucus on Feb. 10. And yes, it is a caucus, which sounds to me like the most painful form of voting out there:
At the municipal caucus, voters may speak for their preferred candidate and urge others to join with them. Caucus goers then indicate their candidate preference, often by standing in different parts of the caucus room. The number of voters for each candidate is tallied, and a preliminary number of delegates is assigned proportionately. After this first round of voting, caucus goers have an opportunity to change their votes. For instance, supporters of candidates who may not have enough votes to get a delegate may decide to switch to another candidate. A second round of tallying determines the number of delegates for each candidate from that municipality.
Speak? Urge others? Then do it again? Eep. I would like to walk in, stand in line, mark my ballot and turn it in, thank you very much. Have any of you been to a caucus? How bad is it, really?

So, non-political as I usually am, I've been trying to figure out why I've been so caught up in this primary season. Here's what I've come up with: it feels like it counts. For a couple reasons.
1. Neither party has a very clear front runner. So where I usually have the feeling that it is all sewn up anyway, and what is one more vote going to do, swing votes like me might really mean something this year. (Speaking of, have you registered to vote?)

2. With big things like Iraq and a faltering economy in our sights, it's not really just business as usual. And the candidates are pretty different from each other for once. It seems like who we choose to take over these issues might really mean something this year.

3. There are actually candidates that I like. This was a real shocker to me. Normally during a presidential election, I have this sinking feeling when I vote. Like I'm just choosing between two really bad possibilities. But there are a couple candidates in this election and one in particular :) that I really respect and think would be thoughtful and wise and good at the job of leading the country in a positive direction. So when I go and stand in that caucus corner, instead of feeling like I'm just going through the motions, it might actually mean something this year.
You can check the primary schedule here. Happy voting!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Eddie Vedder: Society

I haven't seen the movie Into the Wild yet, but I was pretty excited to hear that Eddie Vedder was doing the soundtrack. In high school, I have to admit, I was a pretty die hard Pearl Jam fan. I even had a picture of Eddie Vedder in my locker. *swoon* :)

If you've read the book, you'll know that Into the Wild is a true story is about Chris McCandless, a young man who decides he doesn't want to be a part of society anymore. He gives all his money and belongings away and begins hiking to Alaska. I think Eddie Vedder's voice was a brilliant choice for the has that perfect blend of loneliness and determination, a soft, intimate tone that can be absolutely raw with emotion and quiet (or not so quiet) rage. Not all the songs on the CD are amazing songs, but they all fit the mood exactly.

This one, Society, hits the mark particularly well. Beautiful, determined, and heartbreaking.

Jon Krakauer's book is a fascinating (if a bit devastating) read and Sean Penn directed the movie, so I think it has potential to be pretty good (have any of you seen it yet?) I've saved it in my Netflix queue. In the meantime, I'm just enjoying the music.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Today we celebrate the life and contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. This week, a friend suggested that I read the letter that King wrote from Birmingham Jail in 1963, and I was struck by how relevant his words still are today.

King was arrested during a peaceful Civil Rights demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama, April 1963. He was kept in solitary confinement for 8 days. On the day he was arrested, a group of Christian and Jewish church leaders in Birmingham printed a statement denouncing the "extreme" and "impatient" actions of the demonstrators. Disappointed by the lack of understanding in what he called "men of genuine good will," King wrote an eloquent, ten-page response to their statement. (You can read the entire letter, and hear an audio snippet here.)

King's letter takes each of the clergymen's complaints to task, explaining patiently (but urgently) that immediate, direct action was in fact necessary on every level. He wrote (and this is a tiny piece of an incredibly stirring passage that you should go read in its entirety):
For years now I have heard the word "wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never"...Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
One of the problems that Martin Luther King, Jr. writes about in his letter has been and will continue to be a problem throughout time: "the appalling silence of the good people." He writes:
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
It is painfully obvious that discrimination, hate, and injustice are still very much alive in our world. These things, unfortunately, did not end with the Civil Rights Act, though many of the blatant, government-sanctioned segregation practices did. And you don't have to live in the roughest parts of Los Angeles, or Baltimore, or New Orleans to see that racial conflict is alive and kicking. You can see it right here in Maine in the recent hate crimes directed at Somali refugees, you can see it in small Northern Wisconsin towns in tensions between the White and Native American populations. You can probably see it right in your own town, without having to look very hard.

In this world, where hate and prejudice are still allowed to thrive (and often in sneaky and subtle ways) we have to be extra vigilant that we do not become part of the "appalling silence" that King points to. It's much easier to stand aside, stay quiet, and maintain that "lukewarm acceptance" than it is to actively stand up, reach out, and work towards a deeper understanding of someone who might seem different from ourselves.

My friend Judy says we need to give each person an "extravagant welcome." That means renouncing "lukewarm acceptance" and opening ourselves more fully and generously than we might even think possible. King calls it being an "extremist for love." I struggle with this constantly. I hope I will continue to struggle, that all of us will continue to struggle, to do the hard work, and become extremists for love. As Martin Luther King, Jr. calls for at the end of his letter:
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Anton's Angels

It's my mom's birthday today, so I wanted to post a sweet story that will make her smile. Well, it doesn't get much sweeter than this...

Remember the video I made of Little Drummer Boy? Well, back in November, 8-year-old Anton and his father emailed me all the way from Düsseldorf/Germany. They had come across the video on YouTube (don't ask me how...there are almost 1500 versions of that song on YouTube!) and Anton wanted to play snare drum to *my* version at his school's Christmas party. I didn't have a recording of the song, so I ripped the audio from the video & sent them an mp3.

So just before Christmas, Anton sent this picture as a thank you. His father said the concert was a big success, and the poem Anton chose for his picture is about "Angels being around where you don't expect them and not necessarily having good looks." How awesome is *that*? I've put it up in my office, and it makes me smile every time I see it. (You can click on the picture to see a bigger version and all its terrific detail.)

As I always say, it's the little things that make the biggest impact. Thanks, Anton!

p.s. My friend Amy just did a rough translation of the poem for me. It goes like this (thanks, Amy!):

They don't have to be men with wings, the angels.

They go lightly, they don't have to shout,
often they are old and ugly and small,
the angels.
They have no sword, no white robe,
the angels.
He has brought bread to the hungry, the angel.
He has made the bed for the sick,
and he listens, when you call, in the night,
the angel.
He stands in the way and says: No,
the angel.
large like a stake and strong as stone,
they don't have to be men with wings, the angels.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

They Might Be Giants: Family Friday Night Podcast

For those of you who've wondered whatever happened to the quirky, fun, indie-pop duo They Might Be Giants, you might be interested to know that they are now actual *giants* in the kids-and-family music scene. They took the scene by storm with their first kids' album, No!, in 2002 and followed up in 2005 with a supercool CD/DVD set Here Come the ABCs (which I *highly* recommend).

Now, with their highly anticipated album Here Come the 123s due out this February, TMBG has begun a Friday Night Family Podcast with videos of songs from the album. Zooglobble has been posting them pretty regularly (check out this great one The Seven Days of the Week: I Never Go to Work) and you can see the whole list here.

I think, so far, Apartment 4 (below) is my favorite:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Julie Morgenstern: Organizing from the Inside Out

After the holidays are over and the new year comes around, I almost always get the organizing bug. I start to think of all the projects I want to do over the new year and have this urge to reevaluate and find ways to be more efficient, more organized, more productive. For those of you who have similar tendencies, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

A few years back, a friend gave me Julie Morgenstern's Organizing from the Inside Out, and it really changed the way I think about organizing. Here are two very simple but brilliant concepts from the book that really stuck with me:

1. Work with your habits, not against them. Habits are really really hard to break. If you tend to leave your dirty clothes in a heap by the bed, for instance (and no, I'm not pointing any fingers here!), putting a hamper in the laundry room or in the bathroom is not going to help. You are probably still going to leave the clothes in a heap by the bed and at some point scoop them up and take them to the hamper.

Instead, Julie Morgenstern suggests that you work *with* your habit and put the hamper right there at the foot of the bed or very close by. If your jewelry piles up on top of your dresser, put some hooks and/or a little box right there. If you try to create an organizing system that goes against your normal habits, it won't work, and it will be endlessly frustrating.

2. Create Activity Zones. I love this one. The idea is that every room should be organized like a kindergarten classroom with "zones" for each activity. The first step is to figure out what you *do* in your space. I'll use my office as an example. Here are my activities:
  • Read
  • Create (music, writing, etc.)
  • Teach lessons
  • Pay bills
  • Work on curriculum for Songwriting for Kids
  • Work on music promotion, online & offline, booking gigs, etc.
It used to be that everything was all mixed in together (my desk had song fragments, bills, enrollment forms, and books on it) and each time I walked in my office, I was overwhelmed by so many things to do. So I Julie Morgenstern-ed my office. I now have:
  • A corner with all the books on my reading list, a futon, and a reading lamp.
  • My desk is completely devoted to song and story ideas, works in progress, and books on songwriting.
  • A corner with the piano, guitar, and shelves that are filled with all my lesson books.
  • The left side of my closet has shelving with all my Songwriting for Kids supplies, enrollment forms, and curriculum.
  • The right side has slots for bills, contracts, CDs, all my equipment for shows, and other financials and paperwork.
The best thing about this new setup is that I can close the door (or rather, the curtain) on all the bills, music business, and other paperwork and financial materials. So when I am *not* working on those things, I don't even have to see them. Just the piano, guitar, books, and writing materials.

It's a *much* better place to create!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: African-American Boycott of L.L. Bean

This has been cracking Kevin & I up for weeks (we live just a few minutes from the L.L. Bean headquarters). My friend Andy used to work for the Onion when it was just a goofy little college newspaper out of Madison. I had a subscription delivered to Maine when I went off to school and my friends and I would gather around a table in the union, read it outloud, and laugh uproariously. Ah, I love the Onion.

(If you can't see the embedded video, click here.)

IMPORTANT FAMILY-FRIENDLY NOTE: If you are unfamiliar with the Onion, please note that, especially in recent years, much of the content on their website is highly inappropriate for children. So if you head over to browse their site, please use caution and/or be careful who you're browsing with.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

U2: The City of Blinding Lights

Sorry for the slightly sporadic posts this last week. I've been traveling, and there were a couple days there when I was simply too busy looking for shells and surfers, working on crosswords and puzzles, falling asleep during movies, and playing Uno and Spanish "I Spy" with my nieces and nephews to write a blog. Thanks to all my family for the great visits. I miss you already!

So, last night, just before Barack Obama gave his eloquent and inspiring speech at the New Hampshire primaries, the Obama campaign blared The City of Blinding Lights by U2. I had the song in my head all day today, and it reminded me of 2 things:

1. How much I like U2. I tend to just take them for granted as one of the "given" megabands of our time. Their songs come on, I turn the radio up, and that's that. But when I take the time to really pay attention, it never ceases to amaze me how seamlessly and consistently they can pull off such catchy riffs, soaring melodies, and moving lyrics that always manage to be both melancholy and hopeful. Like:
The more you know the less you feel
Some pray for, others steal
Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel… luckily
It's that last line that gets me in this song. I love that it ends there. Luckily.

2. I'm going to a mega-concert! I have two TicketMaster gift cards (ugh, I know, the corporation I can't stand). Now, I have never in my life been to a huge stadium concert with lights and staging, smoke and screaming crowds like in the U2 video below. (Ok, I went to a White Heart concert in 7th grade, but that *really* wasn't the same thing.) I've always gone for the intimate, folksy or indie-rock venues. Belly in a dive bar. Alison Krauss in a small, tasteful auditorium. Badly Drawn Boy in a space the size of a living room.

So I've decided that in 2008, I'm going to use those blasted gift cards to see something BIG. Problem is...what's worth seeing? Seen any good, huge shows lately? I've got 12 months to pick something...and I'm up for taking suggestions!

In the meantime, enjoy U2 in Milan:

Friday, January 4, 2008

Sounds Eclectic: Nic Harcourt's Best of 2007

It's time, it's time for KCRW's Nic Harcourt to make the judgment call on the best songs of 2007. Last year's show got me hooked on Band of Horses. What will this year bring?

You can listen to the entire show here
. It aired on Sunday, but I'm just getting around to it today.

Well, what do you think? Agree? Disagree? What are *your* favorite songs of 2007?

Off the top of my head, mine would have to include:
  • It would be hard to single one out from Andrew Bird's stellar album Armchair Apocrypha, but I have to say I'm partial to the quirky swing of Imitosis.
  • And yes, oddly, Harper Simon's version of Yankee Doodle. I'm telling you, against all odds, he makes you like that song. :)