Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Coffin Nail

I'm blogging again. Which can only mean one of two things. Either Michael Penn has released new music, or...um...er...well, I can't think of the second thing right now. It'll probably come to me in another year or so.

In the meantime, you may have noticed there's a little thing called the "midterm election" coming up soon. It's a special day we Americans like to celebrate with weeks of truth-twisting political ads that insult the intelligence of those of us who like to think we have any. Which I guess would be just about all of us.

On the bright side, the attack ads do give me and my Esteemed Husband something to bitch about on our daily walks around the neighborhood other than critiquing the homeowners' choice of shutter paint. (Okay, that's just me. Choose your beiges carefully folks...and with the dozens of perfectly viable shades of blue exterior latex available at your local Weekend Handyman Superstore, why-oh-why ELECTRIC blue?)

But I digress.

With apologies to Mr. Penn for diluting his message with my own, I am asking for two things.

One: Vote on November 2nd. But vote with reason. Not blindly following some ideology. Not based on us-versus-them. Not swayed by a 30-second spot in a CSI break. Look for the glimmer of truth in that ad and find out how much of it is fact and how much is just twisted. (Check out FactCheck.org, for a start.) Don't let yourself fall for the scare or be courted by the sweet nothings of empty platitudes. Do some research. Make an informed choice.

Two? I ask that you give some consideration to these lyrics from Michael Penn's "Count of Pennsylvania"

A mob is a democracy
that buys a rope
and picks a tree
and clamors with a clamory
and think that makes them free

As usual, Michael Penn says the things I think in a way I wish I could. And grows a beard better than I could ever dream of.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hearing the Call

Something kind of amazing just happened in a company-wide conference call that I was part of.

The non-amazing part involved both furloughs and pay reductions. Basically taking away 20% of people's paychecks in the 10 weeks leading up to Christmas.

The amazing part was during the Q+A portion. These things are usually restrained exchanges, if anyone even feels the need to ask a question.

But this time a woman, whose husband is also an employee, spoke out. You could hear both anger and tears in her voice as she asked how they were supposed to get by and pay their bills. She, along with everyone else in the rank and file, took a large pay cut earlier this year. Most of us earn very modest salaries to begin with. Why was the salvation of the company being placed on the backs of its lowest paid workers?

Naturally, the executives had no real answer to her question. The economy is in the tank, you may have heard.

Perhaps emboldened by her candor, several more callers from across the country expressed similar exasperation/despair.

In the overall scheme of things, the outrage means nothing. The corporation must do what it must do, in order to survive. The millionaires who pull the strings cannot relate to the marionettes so far below them.

But maybe today the company's president got to understand, just a little, that those budget figures represent real people. Skilled people. Good people. People who will have to run up debt to put gifts under the Christmas tree, who will juggle to pay their bills, who will pray that nothing breaks or leaks, that no one gets sick.

We'll get by. Driving a 10-year-old car, throwing blankets over the holes in the couch, stretching the kids' clothes so they don't grow out of them so fast. No savings, no vacations, basic cable, voice-only cell plans, crappy cheap food and avoiding the doctor to save those $20 copays.

Such is life in the new Millennium. Ain't it grand?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

After A Long Hiatus

I'm blogging again, and Michael Penn has released new music. Both tend to occur as frequently as last week's solar eclipse, although one might argue that Mr. Penn's music is a tad more significant to the world-at-large.

So whether or not we can credit the moon obscuring the sun with putting all this into motion, the fact is that singer/songwriter/film scorer Michael Penn has released three new songs online. That's a marvelous thing.

And at least two of them actually sound...happy? "I love you as it happens" and "This is the life"? Quick -- somebody check the Penn/Mann rec room for a pod!

Turns out you can cancel that call to the FBI's Bodysnatching Division. First of all, these newly-released songs were produced for an IFC mini-series, "Bollywood Hero" starring Chris Kattan, so you can expect the lyrics are at least partially plot-centric.

[I've never been a huge fan of Kattan's SNL work - but I'd watch six hours of his Mango riding a CGI-winged Mr. Peepers over the Roxbury marquee if Michael Penn wrote the music for it. (I should photoshop that for this space, if only time permitted...it's creepy/funny in my head anyway.)]

But, instead, a photo from Michael's April 2007 tour...if you play a kazoo onstage, you have to figure that eventually it will appear online.

Secondly, a closer listen to the songs tells us "the rains will come, the winds will howl" and "sometimes it's nothing but struggle and strife." Yep, that's Michael Penn alright.

It's been nearly four years since the critically-acclaimed Penn released his last album of new songs, "Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947." And two years since his last U.S. tour, where he unveiled the (as yet unreleased) song Making Me Three For Three. Since then, his musical output has been confined to instrumentals: scoring a number of indie films including "Sunshine Cleaning" (if you don't count his pre-election musical contribution to the Not Spencer series on arubberdoor.)

Of the three new Bollywood Hero tracks, "Untouchable" seems the most soundtrack-y. It's interesting, infinitely listenable, but I'm not going to be humming it in the shower.

But the chorus of "Two Worlds" has been looping in my head since I first heard it. It's a duet -- MP sharing vocals with Aimee Mann...at its core is a straight-up pop song that gets all silk-and-sequined with sitar and other jingly things (technical musical term.) The song's conclusion needs the mini-series to explain. Before that though, some really nice Penn/Mann harmony. And extra points for working the word "expatriate" into the lyrics.

There also seems to be a "No Myth" nod in the beginning of the song (the down-strum of the guitar?)and perhaps the drum at the end is too. Speaking of that Romeo in black jeans, listed on IFC's website: an "exclusive Bollywood-inspired reimagination of Penn's hit 'No Myth'" performed by the Bombay Dub Orchestra. Another oldie from March, "Brave New World," is also featured in episode 2.

But it's the track "This Is The Life" that I have fallen in love with. It opens as a pared-down piano ballad. As the song weaves its way with a powerful hook, the Penn production ramps up and turns it into an anthem for the disengaged. Or maybe a call to arms. (Is that a fife in the last verse?)

The beauty of it, as with all of Penn's best lyrical work, is that he takes a simple phrase and makes it infer at least three different things. And while you get the impression he means to be telling you all three simultaneously, he leaves enough wiggle room to wrap his basic idea around your own individual circumstance.

So, the listener could hear "This Is the Life" as someone savoring a particularly perfect moment in time, with tinges of c'est la vie...or a carpe diem reminder to focus on the present - the here and now - because it's fleeting.

Or (and maybe this is my singular pathology) the song serves as a reminder that life does not wait for you while you're off in your head, building your own little cyberspace monuments to yourself. In the meantime, you're missing out on some good sh*t -- and losing sense of what is real life and what is virtually...nothing. THIS is the life.

Now that I've dissected that four word phrase like it's Michael Jackson's autopsy...listen...and see what you hear.

'Bollywood Hero' premieres August 6, 7 and 8 at 10 PM ET/PT on IFC. A breakdown of each episode's music can be found here.

This Is The Life

People used to call me lucky
Never understood the word
Thought it was a happenstance
A penny turning up by chance
But on second glance

Well, sometimes it's hard, but you get by
And sometimes it's nothing but struggle and strife
But not in the here and now
This is the life
Yeah, this is the life.

Sure there's gonna be a future
Yesterdays are piling up
And I remember thinking how
As much as effort will allow
There's no time like now

'Cause sometimes it's hard, but you get by
And sometimes it's nothing but struggle and strife
But not in the here and now
This is the life
Yeah, this is the life.

At the point you realize
It's vaporized - it's already gone
And you can sit around
Another town
Or try to move on
A Ponce de Leon
Out on his own

So everybody up and at 'em
Everybody draw the blinds
Anyone without a clue
Is wondering what they can do
And looking at you

Well, sometimes it's hard, but you get by
And sometimes it's nothing but struggle and strife
Well, not in the here and now
This is the life
Yeah this is the life
Yeah, this is the life
Yeah, this is(the)life.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Startling Announcement of Vital Importance

To put an end to the rampant media speculation, Coke Zero and I are issuing a joint statement:

"After a trial separation, up until now known only to our immediate families, Coke Zero (sometimes known as "Diet Coke") and I have agreed to part amicably. Proceeds from any forthcoming recycling income are to be split equally amongst the parties. There were no children from this relationship." (Unless you count the kidney stone I passed in 1994.)

Now, I know this is a shock to those of you who thought Zero and I were inseparable. Truth be told, I knew he was no good for me all along. But when we met, some twenty years ago, I was just a kid...and he was so shiny, so hard and smooth in the palm of my hand. And cool...real cool.

He called himself "Diet Coke" back then, and he was all promises. He would keep me alert without the caffeine jitters of my previous beau, Juan. He was just as much at ease with a PopTart as he was with a cheesesteak. And all with the taste that refreshes.

It was a match made in heaven (actually the kitchen at work where we got free soda, but whatever...) and I have to admit, I was insatiable. Six, seven times a day I would reach for Diet C, and he never let me down.

Sure, we split up in the mid 90's after I blamed him for leaching calcium out of my bones; calcium that went on to throw an oxalate crystal party in my right kidney (FYI: If your doctor ever uses the words "stent" and "ureter" in the same sentence, politely hit him/her in the head with the nearest giant rubber mallet and run away.) But I never had proof Coke's phosphoric acid was the guilty party. And I never forgot my Diet Coke.

And when word got around a few years ago that "C" was back in town, with a brand new ride called the 'fridge pack'...well...it wasn't long before he was back in my refrigerator, and my heart, again.

By now, he had reinvented himself. He was Zero - Coke Zero - and he was better than ever.

He'd greet me first thing every morning...the rush of carbonation as the chilled aluminum touched my lips. Oh yeah, baby, it was good.

But he was still all wrong for me. I found myself spending hours in my bedroom with Coke Zero (and a bag of microwave popcorn.) Truth was, Zero didn't motivate me anymore...he just made me want to eat crap and watch British folks auction off their stuff on BBC America.

And the trust was gone. I held on to the nagging suspicion that he was slowly-but-surely turning my bones into rubber, like a turkey's wishbone soaking in vinegar.

So...it's sayonara, Coke Zero. You know I'll always love you - we'll do lunch from time to time, awkwardly perhaps. But I can't let you run my life again. I need to be free.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From the "Never Thought I'd See the Day" File

My first post of the new year, on this auspicious day...


The year the dream I didn't allow myself to dream came true anyway.

The year the nation I live in would truly, and collectively, see beyond the color of a man's skin to the content of his character.

The year my hopes - long encapsulated in the frost of cynical despair - have been released.

I never thought I'd live to see this day, but Lord, I'm glad I did.

Godspeed, President Obama.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The $150 Pencil

She's usually the Girl Who Cries Wolf, but this time her shrieks seemed more than the typical over-exaggeration of a minor pain.

In between the screams, we made out "I stepped on something" and "It's bleeding a lot."

Now "bleeding a lot" to this particular 9-year-old could mean that she saw something red in the next room a couple days ago. She is prone to hyperbole and hypochondria and probably any other behavior that starts with "hyp."

But it was bleeding. A bit. Esteemed Husband took a look at her foot, while I went to the couch (where she had either stood on or jumped on whatever-it-was) searching for the guilty party. Didn't see anything - not even a pine needle.

EH thought it looked like a splinter - and I'm pretty good at removing those. Needles, tweezers, rubbing alcohol. Target-dollar-aisle reading glasses for super-sharp close vision. Soaked her foot in warm water to clean it off. Got my needle and prepared to work whatever out of her foot.

The 1/4-inch cut has a grey edge. Graphite. Esteemed Husband finds the weapon wedged in between the back couch cushion and the seat. Pointed upward, with our daughter's name on it. Literally. It's a personalized pencil, without its point.


I'm prepped to operate. I know what I'm looking for. But I can't see the actual point in her foot. Chuck the cheap glasses and remove contact lenses for better close vision. Still can't see anything except a gash that looks deeper than your typical splinter. Start to feel woozy; luckily I was already sitting on the floor.

This is above my surgical skill level. Call pediatrician's office. It's 9 PM and the office is closed. Is this an "emergency" worth tracking down a doctor on the phone or an "emergency" worth a visit to the emergency room? Foot is slightly swollen, so the answer is ER.

Esteemed Husband is the hero in the climax of our story. He carries daughter (who he later finds out weighs 94 pounds) off to the car and to the hospital while I stay at home with the elder sibling - a tween who spends most of her day attached to mp3 player and/or Nintendo DS and interacts with the family in a most disaffected way. She bursts into tears when I tell her what happened. She's so used to her sister's, um, vocalizations that she didn't even come out of her bedroom to investigate the earlier drama.

While Tween and I wait for news, I employ a diversion tactic: The Simpsons Movie DVD she got for Christmas. It works, and she's laughing and asking for popcorn. Instead, I let her eat limitless Xmas stocking candy while I collapse gift boxes and barely notice Spider Pig. Even Homer cannot distract me from my worry.

Anyway, a mere hour (a millisecond in ER time) later Husband and Daughter are on their way home. A minor surgical procedure removed what we hope is all of the pencil point. The doctor wasn't sure he got everything and sliced around a bit, but did all he could without causing "further tissue damage." Doc said she'll most likely have a residual "tattoo" from the graphite for the rest of her life. (If I can restrict my daughters to tats on the bottoms of their feet for the rest of their lives, I'm good...)

Esteemed Husband marvels at how our histrionic daughter barely whimpered during her ER treatment. Daughter shows off her gauze-adorned foot. I look over the antibiotic and gauze-changing schedule and wonder if the pain shot she was given will wear off during the night.

Anyway, so here we are. Her foot hurt a lot this morning, but hopefully Motrin will be the trick. She gets to be a princess today and be waited on hand and foot ;)

Oh yeah, the post title -- our co-pay for the ER visit was $150. Luckily, they take Visa.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Jesus Wants My Soul Back

Oy vey!

My aggravation quotient is way up there. I usually try and ignore negative blog comments (actually, I get so few comments I kinda enjoy the negative ones.) But the tone of some recent ones was getting too judgmental for me to leave unchecked.

See the comment thread at Spending Christmas with Jesus.

Anybody who would like to defend me, or even condemn me more, as long as you do it intelligently (FYI to Anonymous #2 -- it's supposed to be "too" when you use the phrase "too late") feel free to jump on the bandwagon.

I've said my piece, though, so don't expect a tete-a-tete.

Oh, credit for the blog title goes to Jackdaw4:

Jackdaw4 - Jesus Wants My Soul Back

Friday, December 05, 2008

Looking for a Savior Underneath the Mistletoe

It's Christmas again
December is here
Hasn't it been
A wonderful year

With all the plans you're making
And all the time you're taking
Greet the next one with good cheer
Won't you dear
As you ring the chime
Just because it's Christmastime

And on the tree all the ornaments go
Tinsel will cover where the branches don't grow
There's lights on all the houses
Spouses with their spouses
Children playing in the snow

One in the sleigh and one upon the horse
Keeping on track's another matter, of course
That's the great divisor
You are now the wiser
Maybe just a bit less so
Touch and go
Til you stop on a dime
All alone in Christmastime

Christmas again
December is here
What did you wish for
What did you fear
Look at your behavior
Looking for a savior
Underneath the mistletoe

You should know
It is less a crime
To be all alone in

So...my plans were to post something about Christmas songs, my husband's huge collection of said, and some good (imho) non-traditional ones. It was to be a happy post -- penance, if you will, for my last cranky-ish one.

Starting out with "Christmastime" -- the song written by Michael Penn & Jon Brion; recorded as a duet by Aimee Mann and Michael Penn, and by Aimee solo. (Three guesses as to which recorded version I prefer.)

Yes, Virginia, some people should be legally barred
from using Photoshop.

But -- I got so engrossed with making sure the Christmastime lyrics I was posting were correct to the word that I've run out of my allotted blogging time. Although we can only guess what horrors would await me if I chose the incorrect of "divisor" or "deviser" (upon reflection, the "great" preceding tells me it's likely "divisor," as in the 'greatest common divisor'... ) It all adds up to more time spent on trivial stuff, time that I will never ever get back. Story. Of. My. Life

Anyway, Arianna Huffinton (charmingly shilling her book about blogging on The Daily Show the other night) says blogging should be off-the-cuff and unpolished. The first unedited thoughts out of your head.

Viola! I will oblige her here.

Last Christmastime, Esteemed Husband and I decided we would work up a little rendition of "Christmastime" and bestow our singing talents upon the unenlightened masses (that would be our respective families.) Granted, we barely ran through the song twice at home beforehand - still - who would have guess the room-clearing power of our rendition? At both my family's gathering and the gathering with my in-laws.

We'll have to dust off our version again this year for when we want a little alone time at the holiday get-togethers.

Granted, it's a song nobody there knew...and a wee bit dark at that. But one of the things I love about "Christmastime" is how it turns minor with the second verse, as the lyrics start to reveal the shadows cast by the holiday sparkle...okay, maybe it's not all quite that melodramatic, and I'm most likely mixing metaphors wildly. But I enjoy the little journey the lyrics take from "a wonderful year" to "all alone."

My favorite line, or at least the one that sticks with me, is the "Look at your behavior, looking for a savior, underneath the mistletoe." It's nearly a chastisement, and maybe that's why I like it.

And now it's your turn -- feel free to comment, oh ye vast legions of readers (all two or three of you...and that's including husband) with any favorite Christmas songs, lyrics, or room-clearing hints.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Premature Embellishment

Let me make my feelings twinkle-light clear: there is no justification for decorating your house with Christmas lights nearly a week before Thanksgiving. Yet, when I drove into my development after work Sunday night I was greeted by a fully-lit, entirely Christmassed-out house flashing me in the most inappropriate (for November 23rd) manner.

And I wonder, what is the message this house is supposed to be sending me? Is it "Look! I operate independently from the Gregorian calendar!" Or is it just the bragging rights of being the first, at something...anything.

"DECEMBER - not NOVEMBER," says Miss Cranky Blogger

In a new-found effort to be kind or empathetic or mimic some other charitable emotion, I wondered what extenuating circumstances might prompt, or even require, the early Xmas decoration. I could only think of two: Someone shipping off overseas to serve their country before the holiday, or someone with only 5 days to live whose dying wish is to see their house all lit up, just one last time.

If this is not your situation, I beg of you: Please don't turn on the lights before Thanksgiving. See, I'm not saying don't put up your lights -- for all I care you can leave them attached to your eaves 365 days a year. I'm just saying please don't turn them on before turkey day.

In addition to being annoyed at the premature embellishment, I am perplexed -- it was freezing this weekend. At least 10 degrees colder than normal. I can see rushing things to take advantage of unseasonably warm weather, but to take advantage of unseasonably frigid weather?

Even more annoyed by illogicalness of it all.

I'm not a grinch. A contrarian, yes, and somebody who is old enough to remember when Christmastime meant Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day even - but - not an entire "season."

The next evening, upon his return home from work, my Esteemed Husband told me there were now three houses lit in the neighborhood. Oh yes, we suburbanites are nothing if not intensely competitive beasts.

So, to the folks who won the bragging rights to First Lights this year...you may be thinking you are being festive and jolly and all that. But I find your early lighting depressing - in that it just seems another dilution of the Christmas Spirit into something much less potent and meaningful.

On the other hand -- tomorrow's Thanksgiving! So all the rest of you can decorate to your heart's delight and my mouth will be too full of pie to complain.

Run! Here comes a former vice-presidential candidate!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cyn's Movie Recommendation for Stoners, Stay-at-home Moms Who Don't Like Soap Operas, and the Employment Challenged

Yesterday, I was paging through the Verizon Fios On Demand menu for something free to watch while I did mending (Mending? Yikes! When did I turn into a granny?) when I saw it listed -- The Brain That Wouldn't Die!

Guess how I spent the next 80 or so minutes.

As manner of explanation (or excuse), I present one of my earliest television memories:

My sister and I were sleeping over at my grandparents' house...in my hazy memory, we were tucked in, each on our own little cot, in a small room that might have been my grandfather's home office or a spare bedroom. The room was dark, save the glow from the black-and-white television sitting on a cart between our parallel cots. The whole set-up was quite a treat, because (of course) we didn't have TVs in our bedrooms at home.

We were being allowed to watch a television program before we went to sleep. That show was: The Outer Limits.

...we control the horizontal...we control the vertical...

If you're not familiar with Classic TV (read "not anywhere near as old as I am") The Outer Limits was kind of like The Twilight Zone, but scarier - at least to a kid. And I probably wasn't any older than 7 years old at the time. But I loved that show. And it seems to have either set the stage, or have been an indication, of the viewing tastes of the rest of my childhood.

ANYWAY, a long and roundabout way of saying I watched a lot of Sci-Fi/monster flicks in my misspent and sedentary youth...and although I may have seen The Brain That Wouldn't Die half a dozen times on UHF in the 1960s-70s, I've never watched it as an adult. Naturally, I had to rectify that when I saw the listing yesterday afternoon.

Turns out I really got a kick out of it. In fact, I'd give this flick four (out of five) Dust Bunnies (what other measuring unit would a person use that's watching a B movie at 1 in the afternoon?)

It's got the requisite inadvertent humor you look to a B movie for, but also a plot that is fairly inventive. And a feminist message -- she's not going to let a little thing like a lack of torso and limbs keep her from taking control of a bad situation!

Even if you've never seen the movie, the image above is fairly iconic. And evidently, this film was used in a popular MST3K episode -- but I would suggest watching the original version and adding your own heckling.

Because the movie stands very well on its own (lack of) feet. Like most successfully cheesy Sci-Fi, The Brain That Wouldn't Die explores/exploits a scientific innovation. It was made in 1962, the year that a severed limb was first successfully reattached. View it in that light, and you see the movie works not only on the pure horror level, but also played on a prevailing fear of the time -- that medical science might venture into areas where it didn't belong...doctors playing god and conducting unethical experiments...hmm, absolutely recycles the Frankenstein plot...so, um, forget my analysis and enjoy the bad acting and pure camp of it all.

Expect something very low-budget (a couple times it's glaringly apparent they used music so they didn't have to mic a scene), enjoy the retro vibe of the trolling for loose women scenes, and laugh out loud like I did at practically everything Jan In A Pan says.