Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Looking For The Perfect Groundhogs Day Gift? Here You Go!

Now that Christmas is long past, and gift-giving opportunities are rare, I’m going to tell you about two wonderful presents you could get for someone. This is in keeping with a long-standing Suldog tradition: the imparting of semi-useless information.

For instance, in the past I’ve given you a fairly detailed history of the Libertarian Party; a complete listing of the retired uniform numbers of the Boston Celtics; the story of how MY WIFE and I ran naked through the snow in New Hampshire (which still gets more people to this site, via Google, than any other piece I’ve done, disappointing huge numbers of perverts when they find that there are no photos); and telling you (among other listings of fives) my five favorite bass players, none of whom you had probably ever heard of before or given a rat’s ass about since.

(I could have given you links to all of the above, but I deliberately chose not to. This is because I’m fairly positive there are enough NEW perverts among you who will gladly still go looking for the naked snow jogging piece even without a link having been provided, trusting your imaginations to supply the necessary graphic images, and you’ll probably stumble on the other stuff along the way. The rest of you, of course, are my loyal readers [that is, the OLD bunch of perverts, who came to see jiggly bits in the snow, but stayed because... well, I haven’t quite figured that out yet] and you’ve already seen everything worth seeing here, more or less [or moral-less, which is how you arrived.][or even morale-less, which is how you might leave][or Pedro Morales, if you watched the WWF in the old days.])

(By the way, have you ever noticed how I fill this space with positively mind-numbing parenthetical constructions that would leave most professors of English gasping for breath, yet I give YOU credit enough to find your way through them without getting lost? The fact that you get through them is, indeed, testament to your intelligence, but it has little or nothing to do with any preconceived notions on my part concerning your wherewithal, I’m sorry to tell you, so there you go and wherever you go, there you are. Here, for instance.)

Jiggly bits in the snow.

(Just thought I’d throw that in to hold the attention of the new and lazy perverts who didn’t feel like expending any energy looking for the co-ed naked snow-jogging story.)

Now, getting back to the subject at hand – which probably means something entirely different to the perverts than it does to you, but I digress – here are the two wonderful gift items I promised to tell you about, lo, these many paragraphs ago.

(You know, it just hit me that the people who worked so hard to produce these works will probably be less than delighted to see their ventures included in this sludgy assemblage that seems mostly concerned with NAKED PEOPLE IN THE SNOW for no discernible reason. Oh, well. We’ve come this far, so we may as well go on.)


On this, the latest from The Brian Setzer Orchestra, classical music is given a re-working in various jazzy settings, mostly big band swing. I haven’t removed it from my car’s CD player since I got it.

(I’m tempted to say "That’s because the eject button isn’t working!" but I won’t.)

(OK, I did. Sorry!)

This is a near-perfect CD. The only flaw is that I scraped it with a fork while trying to pry open the packaging, so it skips track 16, but that’s OK because it only has 12 tracks to begin with. Hah! Any of you perverts got a snare drum? Barump-bump!

Really, honestly, truly – the one major flaw on this album concerns some of the endings to the songs. I don’t know whether a conscious effort was made to try to appear not totally serious, or if the arrangement is just incompetent, but four or five of the endings are either unflinchingly corny or just jarringly off-key.

(I know. Believe me, I know. Of all the people who might complain about something being corny or off-key, for me to do so is beyond the pale, and I’m one of the palest folks around. It’s just that while I’m certainly the type who appreciates a quote from the opening riff of Smoke On The Water following some Offenbach, you might not be, so I figured I’d warn you.)

Setzer’s guitar playing is magnificent throughout. He easily transitions from straight renditions of the original lines, to purist jazz, to his beloved rockabilly licks, to paeans to such diverse stylists as Django Reinhardt and Terry Kath. It’s a tour-de-force of epic proportion. The rest of the band is hot, too, but this is Setzer’s showcase. Aside from some clarinet reminiscent of that heard during Goodman’s small combo days, and some stunning drum breaks from Bernie Dresel, there are few other solos from the ensemble. I might have found one or two improvisations by members of the brass section enjoyable, but there aren’t any. Small quibble, really, since Setzer is fairly mesmerizing the whole way through.

The opener is an adaptation of Beethoven’s SYMPHONY #5; I suppose chosen for that spot because it contains the most recognizable opening in classical music. It’s fun, but nowhere near the strongest cut. I’d say that honor might come down to a choice between the hot jazz rendition of FUR ELISE, which contains the aforementioned allusions to Reinhardt and Goodman (as well as Reinhardt’s partner, violinist Stephane Grappelli) or the album-closing GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMEN, featuring a Duane Eddy-like reverb in the opening, and an acid-tinged wah-wah workout (Kath) in the close.

Other interesting interpretations abound. THE WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE (otherwise known as the theme from The Lone Ranger, to the uncultured of my generation and older) is given a mid-tempo swing chart that reminds, in spots, of 1950’s-era Dorsey - excluding the electric guitar, of course, which Dorsey abhorred. Mussorgsky’s IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING features hip lyrics and female backing harmonies. And then there’s Setzer’s frantic workout on FLIGHT OF THE BUMBLEBEE (which includes the female vocal chorus chanting “Faster! Faster!” and then going into mock orgasmic cries.)

Overall, this is just plain fun, and it will delight the person in your life who enjoys both electric guitar and swing music, as well as those classical enthusiasts who don’t mind a mild send-up.

The other wonderful choice for gift giving is Bill Bryson’s latest book, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID.

I’m a huge Bryson fan. He holds a spot in my literary heart similar to that of his spiritual predecessor, Mark Twain. In his body of work to date, he has easily shifted from linguistic archaeologist to travel diarist to writer of memoirs. This current offering is from the latter category, with a sprinkling of historian thrown in for good measure.

The best praise I can give this book, I suppose, is that I laughed out loud again and again. I used to do that fairly often when I was a teen and discovering some folks worthy of guffaws, i.e., S. J. Perelman or Allan Sherman or Twain, but Bryson is one of the few to do it to me in these latter years. And I’m not talking just a choked and short exclamation of "Ha!" I’m telling you that I had actual tears running down my face from laughing. It’s that good.

This is the book that MY WIFE has, in her loving over-estimation of my skills, been trying to get me to write for the past four or five years. It is about growing up as a boomer, with all of the ridiculous-yet-endearing trappings of what was probably the last great innocent epoch of American childhood. Now she’ll have to get on me to write something else entirely, because there is no way in hell I could come within ten miles of doing as good a job of it as Bryson has done. I wouldn't subject myself to the ridicule and scorn that would inevitably result from an attempt to match this book.

Seriously – there will never be a better book written concerning growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. It is absolutely pitch perfect. If you know someone between the ages of 45 and 60, with a birthday or other occasion for presents coming up, buy that person this book. Or buy it for yourself, if you qualify. I’d stake my life on the fact that you won’t be disappointed. I’ll commit suicide if any of you don’t have enough sense of humor to enjoy it.

(OK, I know damn well that there are plenty of people without enough sense of humor to enjoy this book, but none of them would have toughed out my writing to get this far, so I’m in no danger of having to fulfill that promise.)

So, buy these things for someone you love. If you don't love anyone, buy them for yourself. However, you won't enjoy them, because if you don't love anyone, you're the type who won't enjoy them, so there.

Let’s see. What’s a good closer? I suppose the following will have to do, although it’s getting tiresome and some might quibble with its authenticity. Soon, with more better stuff.


lime said...

i've been meaning to read the bryson book for a while since i do enjoy his stuff. glad to know it's a worthy read because much as i like him a couple of his books have disappointed me.

the brian setzer CD certainly sounds like great fun. have to check that....

Melinda said...

hahaha "jiggly bits in the snow!" I should warn you that if there is ANY way I can make that the title of a blog post, I will totally steal it from you! (don't worry though - I'll make sure to add a thank you in parentheses somewhere in the post)

I haven't listened to Brian Setzer in AGES, so thanks for reminding me about how awesome that music is! Will definitely check that CD out...

oh and Groundhog Day is our anniversary (5 years!)

fuzzbert_1999@yahoo.com said...

Funny stuff Sul...particularly the 16th track bit!

It's amazing to me how popular Brian Setzer still is these days, but I heard him on the Today showing doing pieces from his Christmas album and it was good stuff!

Jody said...

Bill Bryson holds a place of honor in my heart that few other authors do (Vonnegut is another). His book The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America is one of the greatest books ever written ever. I actually went to Detroit to visit the Henry Ford Museum based on this book.

Jiggly bits in the snow, on the other hand, don't hold that much appeal to me. Unless they aren't my own.

Buck said...

...positively mind-numbing parenthetical constructions that would leave most professors of English gasping for breath...

And here I was, thinking Lileks was the Master of the Parenthetical Comment. I stand corrected, with my hat doffed.

I, too, love Bryson. I see a trip to Amazon in my (immediate) future. Thanks for that!

Suldog said...

Buck - Lileks! I haven't been to his place for quite some time. I'll have to drop by and catch up. He's a tremendously funny man.

Suldog said...

Lime - Yes, get it. You will NOT be disappointed.

M - Well, now you know something good to get your beloved!

Mushy - The Christmas Album by Setzer is also one of my favorites. His version of "Sleigh Ride" is a hoot!

Jody - My first read of Bryson was "Notes From A Small Island", and I was immediately hooked. I've enjoyed everything else, but this latest has catapulted itself to the top of the heap. Just an amazing read.

Brian in Oxford said...

A friend of mine in college knew a guy who remade Silent Night as death metal. The closest I could come was Chopin's prelude in C minor with the amp on heavvvvy distortion. Came out great, though....classical music still works with new adapations all the time!

Jody said...

I just picked up Lilek's new book on Amazon, and I can't read it in bed because I just laugh and shake and annoy my husband. (It's the follow-up to Regrettable Food)

Mel said...

I love Brian Setzer and have seen him in concert, back a few years ago. I rarely do concerts so thats high praise from me indeed!

I am in that boomer catagory and I love to read so I will have to add that book to my list!