Archive for December 2005

December 31st, 2005

’Cast, Away!

So 2005 is drawing to a close. Honestly, I can’t say I’ll miss it. I don’t think 2005 was my year. There were a lot of good memories and things I’m grateful for, but, overall, it seems like I suffered more set-backs and injuries (both literal and metaphorical) than usual this year.

Reinforcing this notion, as 2005 winds down, is this vehement backlash against blogging (“The biggest trend of 2005”). Yes, blogging was more fashionable than ever this past year…. And so, right on its heels, it’s become fashionable to dislike and make fun of it. It seems like in these past few months, everyone from the average guy on the street to the most respected op-ed commentators, have attacked the self-“publishing” of one’s thoughts and ideas on the internet as stupid, as a waste of time, as a primary example of man’s knack for using his greatest technological strides to accomplish the dumbest possible stuff.

I have to say, I think they’re all probably right. But don’t worry my faithful reader, I shall press on! I’m not giving in to this trend…! Or the counter-trend…! Whatever. I enjoy blogging. Figuring out what opinion or anecdote I’m going to share. Choosing just the right words and phrases. Changing and uploading the appropriate files…. Ok, mostly I have no idea what else I could put in this spot on the webpage to balance the design. But either way, this thing is important to me, dammit.

Anyway, speaking of man’s knack for using his greatest technological strides to accomplish the dumbest possible stuff, I have made a “podcast.” I did it as a Christmas present for my dad (a reoccurring character on my blog). Dad got an iPod this past summer, and, shortly after, developed a powerful addiction to Podcasts. He loves them. He can’t get enough of them. So I thought I’d make a podcast he could listen to that was about…him. I read one of my old blog entries about Dad out loud, recorded it, and edited in some instrumental music, doing my best to imitate This American Life. I wasn’t sure about how it would go over, but the old man loved it. He must have listened to this thing ten times in a row, howling the entire time. Then he emailed it all his friends and siblings, called them, and made them listen to it.

I really just made an mp3 of my recording, I didn’t do any of the coding necessary to make it a true podcast. Also, I’m not very experienced with reading aloud or editing audio, so it’s pretty rough. But, I’m going to stop making excuses for it now and just give you the link. If you’d like to give it a listen, click here.

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December 21st, 2005

Throwing a Blog on the Fire

There are certain ways that you never imagine you will spend a weekend of your life. Being chased by a dinosaur with a rocket launcher comes to mind. Or better yet, driving five hours, to the home of two complete strangers, to haul away their fireplace. And yet, a few weeks ago, I was called upon to do one of these things (the latter).

The Witchger home has a rather chilly basement. We also have a backyard which is overrun with chunks of wood and decaying foliage, due to all the trees we cut down this past summer. There is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone here, right? I’m sure this was Dad’s thinking when he bought a new fireplace. On ebay. A purchase which required that the buyer remove the 500-lb. beast from the owner’s home in Virginia Beach.

We got up at 6 am that next Saturday. Dad backed his Taurus up, and we hooked up the trailer. (The trusty, old trailer. I’ve never told you about our trailer before, have I? It has been with us on many, many adventures. It came from my Uncle Bryon, who lives in Alabama. He welded it together starting with an old Honda axle. When he was done he painted it bright blue and gave it to my Dad as a Christmas present. It’s pretty sweet…. Dad makes us call it a “farm trailer” because, in our home state, you don’t have to pay to insure or register a “farm trailer.” So if anyone asks, our trailer is for use on our “farm,” which is located on about a quarter of an acre in suburban Cary…and produces no discernable crops…. We can’t even grow grass in our yard.)

Perhaps you’re currently where I was on that fateful morning. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t just buy one of the plethora of fireplaces that was closer to us…and maybe weighed less. But now that we’ve been through the ordeal of driving to get it, meeting these people, loading it, driving home, unloading it, and installing it: I am in the know. My friends, this is not just any old fireplace.

People ask me, “is it cozy?” “Cozy.” Come on. It’s freezing outside. Why settle for “cozy?” Why wouldn’t you want some obscene amount of BTUs, blaring from the corner of your living room, singeing your arm hair, soaking your holiday sweater with sweat, and bringing your hot chocolate to a rolling boil in your hand? With a “Silent Flame” cast-iron insert with twin blowers, that’s what you get. It’s beautiful. The first time I witnessed it I almost cried. On the way out of their ducts, though, my tears vanished, evaporating into the air.

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December 10th, 2005

The Four Best Christmas Albums in Existence

4) Bright Eyes’ A Christmas Album

Most of the time Christmas albums by contemporary artists suck. Either the old standards have been awkwardly converted to sound like the rock songs that the band plays normally and the result is horribly cheesy or the band records brand new songs they’ve written about Christmas which, in the holiday spirit of tradition and nostalgia, no one wants to hear. The choice of material, performances, even the packaging feel uneven and rushed, reeking of let’s-get-this-out-and-make-a-quick-buck…. I’m not particularly fond of Bright Eyes, so I’m not inclined to praise him, but his Christmas album smells like a rose. He chose 11 of the best-known Christmas carols that, as songs, are actually good (thankfully, “Jingle Bells” was omitted), found the right balance for the rock instrumentation, and basically just stayed faithful to the way everyone sings them. Thanks to Steph, I’ve heard everything Bright Eyes has ever put out, and I think this is his best work to date.

(This has nothing to do with Christmas music, but have you ever seen Planet of the Apes? The original, not the remake. I had the chance to see it again recently, and it must be where Bright Eyes got his name from.)

3) The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas

I’m probably going to ruffle some feathers here, but I’ve got issues with A Charlie Brown Christmas. The only Christmas special I watch every single year is The Grinch (the original, not the remake). It had probably been 15 years since I’d last seen A Charlie Brown Christmas, until last year, when I decided to watch it again, and I discovered that…well…it just isn’t very good. Or at least it wasn’t as good as I remembered it being. I seem to recall being moved to the point of tears — with the little forgotten tree and Linus’ monologue at the end. Maybe I’ve just gotten cynical, but all I could think last year was “This doesn’t make any sense.” There’s not really a plot line tying everything together. I thought the climax, with the Peanuts gang seeing the inner-beauty of the lonely, awkward tree would save the whole affair, but instead they all come together, steal the decorations off of Snoopy’s house, and change the tree to make it lush and opulent and conventionally-acceptable. What kind of message is that?

Anyway, the part that did hold up was the music. It’s everything that I think the show was trying to be. Genuine and heart-felt, entertaining, doesn’t take itself too seriously. A great recording.

2) Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker

Powerful stuff. I think Danny Elfman must have listened to this a lot, because it could almost be a score to a Tim Burton movie. (Hmm… Tim Burton and the Nutcracker…. Tempting to think about. But let’s not give anyone any more ideas for remakes.)

1) Peter, Paul & Mary’s A Holiday Celebration

Peter, Paul & yes, Mary too, are backed by an orchestra and choir, and perform a wide-range of material from carols to folk songs to religious standards. The focus is kept on the mystery, drama, and important stories surrounding the holiday season, rather than all the commercial cliches. I will admit that I think it has to grow on you. Or maybe you have to grow up with your hippy parents playing it 113 times every December. But now it is my pick for the all-time best recording to play during Christmas time.

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