Thursday, December 05, 2013

An Update & A Re-Run

You won't find a more truthful headline today, no matter where you look, so at least you have that for which to be thankful.

I detailed my problems with commenting on other blogs. I have since found that I can comment on those blogs that have a pop-up window for commenting. I have no idea why only this set-up works, but that's the way it is. Bottom line: I am still unable to comment at most blogs I visit. I am still visiting them, though, and if I absolutely feel an overwhelming need to comment, I'll drop you an e-mail. If you are receiving my comments, ignore all of this twaddle.

(Hell, even if you ARE receiving my comments, feel free to ignore it.)

Now, the re-run.

Last year, I ran something I called a last-minute gift-giving guide. What it was, really, was an excuse for me to recycle a whole bunch of pompous reviews I wrote, mostly over at Amazon. For some damn reason, a few of you commented that I ran it too late in the season for it to do you any good and would I please run it next year a bit earlier? So here it is and remember that you (well, one or two of you) asked for it.


No, this is not one of the gift ideas.
This is just a gentle reminder to be aware that there may be cameras at your next office party.

OK, not all of what follows is new. You vagrants who have been hanging out here for years will probably recognize this stuff. Or maybe you've forgotten it entirely. Maybe you wanted to forget it entirely. If so, my apologies for dredging up pain from your past.

What I've done, in a misguided effort at providing you with a favor for the holidays, is compile a few reviews that have appeared on this blog during it's amazingly overrated life.

(I realize the apostrophe in "it's" is generally incorrect when referring to an inanimate object, but this blog sure smells as though it were alive at one time.)

Of course, I automatically assumed that whatever opinion I held concerning a book or recording is something you can't live without. That's just the sort of ego-driven bastard I am. And, in order to make this at least a bit more worth your while, each review comes with a suggestion concerning who might enjoy these things among your friends, relatives, lovers, and other assorted riff-raff. That's because I'm so condescending I assumed you wouldn't be able to figure it out just by the context alone.

And here we go!


For the lover of comic novels...

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The author, unfortunately, committed suicide after failing to sell this book. Once I read it, I understood why he did so. If I had written this grand work and been unable to sell it, I might have offed myself, too.

After Toole's death, the book was sold, by his mother, to a somewhat small university press. It ended up becoming a bestseller and then won a Pulitzer. Since that time, a couple of Toole's shorter works have been unearthed and published, but that's all there is. No more will be forthcoming because of his death. That's sad stuff.

The book, however, isn't sad at all. It's riotously funny. It is populated with characters and situations that had me laughing aloud, many times over. The main character, Ignatius, at turns amazes, delights, and disgusts. He is one of the great original characters of modern literature - a combination of Falstaff, a degenerate Oliver Hardy, and a volcanic eruption.

(If you're one of those people, like me, who sometimes reads a bit of a book they buy for someone else, don't do it in this instance. Instead, get a copy for yourself when you buy theirs. This is because you'll regret having to give it to someone else before you've finished it, and by the time it arrives it'll be too close to Christmas for you to do so.)


For the classical music lover...

Prokofiev, Symphonies - Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Seiji Ozawa

If Prokofiev had been born in 1956 in Detroit, instead of 1891 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and he had dropped some acid, he would have been the white Jimi Hendrix.

(That's the type of statement nobody can easily dispute. It contains no facts and supposes something that was utterly impossible during the person's actual life. I don't really believe it, but what the hell. I felt like saying something totally ridiculous and that works as well as anything else.)

These recordings contain Prokofiev's seven symphonies and The Lieutenant Kiji Suite.

Prokofiev's Second Symphony is my favorite piece of classical music. It is tremendously forceful, a bit dissonant, and generally beats a couple of recurring themes into the ground - not unlike heavy metal, my first love. You'll rarely find it on any classical aficionado "favorites" list. They'll mention his First Symphony, which is more classically structured, as well as his piano concertos and, of course, Peter And The Wolf. Fine music, all, but I prefer his more experimental stuff.

If someone you know likes Prokofiev, they'll love these discs.


For the progressive rock fan (or yodeling fan, or fan of Dutch musicians)...

Moving Waves (and/or) Focus 3 - Focus

Vastly underrated progressive rock quartet from Holland. They had a Top 40 hit in the 70's with a quirky instrumental called Hocus Pocus, which contained a whole bunch of yodeling and a couple of searing guitar solos over a hard rock rhythm track. That came from the album Moving Waves. The follow-up to that album was a two-record set named Focus 3.

Thisj Van Leer is the vocalist, keyboardist and flute player. He has a marvelous voice, although he usually uses it only for oddities such as the aforementioned yodeling. Most of Focus' output was instrumental. His flute vibrato was magnificent and he went on to play as a sideman in various jazz ensembles after this group broke up. Jan Akkerman played guitar and other stringed instruments - lute among them - and threw vicious heavy metal guitar licks into baroque-inspired jazz pieces. They were the two members involved in every incarnation of the group. Drummer for both of these sessions was Pierre Van Der Linden. For the Moving Waves recording, the bassist was Cyril Havermans. On Focus 3, it was Bert Ruiter. Both he and Van Der Linden get extended solos on Focus 3, so if you like that sort of thing, then you'll dig that one more. If not...

(Being a bass player, I love extended bass solos. However, some people consider them the musical equivalent of waiting for your number to be called at the registry of motor vehicles. Being a bass player, I hope those people's eyes rot out.)


For the fan of big bands, great guitar playing, and weird arrangements...


The Brian Setzer Orchestra gives classical music 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.

(That’s because the eject button isn’t working! Ba-Rump-Bump!)

This is a near-perfect CD. The only flaw is that I scraped it with a fork while trying to pry open the packaging, but that’s OK because it's my copy, not the one you'll be giving to someone else.

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, someone else 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, 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.


For the boomer...

Another wonderful choice for gift giving is Bill Bryson’s 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 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 my back to write something else entirely since 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 65, 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? How about something for anyone who loved Fred Rogers?

Mister Rogers Swings!

That’s the name of a CD by Holly Yarbrough, and it’s also the truth. Yarbrough has taken sixteen songs from the Fred Rogers songbook and done them proud. And they all swing.

Now, "swing" is a term that needs definition in this case, since the word sometimes carries a connotation of up-tempo rhythms and blaring horn charts. You won’t find much of that here. But, swing it does. It’s a very gentle sort of swing, and, like Fred Rogers himself, non-threatening and full of love. This CD won’t make you hop off the couch and start jitterbugging, but it will definitely make you want to hug someone special to you. That can be fun, too.

The session opens, as seems obligatory in any reading of Rogers’ work, with a version of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? In a similar nod to conformity, it closes with It’s Such A Good Feeling. I don't really have a problem with that. It's comfortable, and they’re both swell tunes wherever they might have shown up. In between, we get material that will be familiar to long-time viewers of Fred’s show, many done up in a cool lounge vibe. Over top of the solidly mellow bass and drums, there are healthy doses of bright and to-the-point jazz guitar soloing, extremely tasty piano work, occasional loosening of the horn section’s leash (to especially good effect on You’ve Got To Do It, which features Roy Agee, George Tidwell, and the late Boots Randolph, trading short solos on trombone, trumpet, and saxophone, respectively), a few country-tinged pieces dominated by cello and fiddle, and - most inviting - Yarbrough’s wonderful vocals.

Yarbrough has a truly great set of pipes, and she uses them well. Her singing is smooth and melodic throughout. She sometimes doesn’t take a chance I would have preferred – there was one spot in Many Ways To Say I Love You where I thought for sure she’d go for the higher note, instead settling for the mid-range – but it's a matter of my taste, not her ability, and there’s really very little to quibble about in her choices. Throughout the CD, you ride along on the light golden honey of her singing, nary a bump in the road anywhere, and it’s an enjoyable journey.

One of my all-time favorite Fred Rogers compositions is the love song, When The Day Turns Into Night, and I’m happy to report it’s included here and done exceedingly well. The lyric is simple, yet as achingly beautiful as anything written by more-well-known purveyors of melancholy than Rogers – if the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Fred is puppets, this one may surprise you – and Yarbrough invests the words with just the right amount of tension, neither going over the top or leaving them bereft of the necessary emotion.

My favorite cut is probably Everybody’s Fancy, which opens with a bit of light scatting before the main lyric (I would assume the least favorite of Fred’s writings among some of those in the GLBT community, since Fred asserts that "boys are boys from the beginning, girls are girls right from the start", although the overall message about everybody’s body being just swell certainly must resonate.) The mid section features a very direct Lori Mechem piano solo.

And then, there's I Like To Be Told. Originally written to address the insecurity felt by children when parents go off on a trip or otherwise leave them temporarily alone, it is here delivered as a bluesy torch song, and one can't help hearing a subtle S&M component. It works.

I could continue with a detailed description of every selection, but I think I’d be doing you a disservice if I did so. You’ll be more delighted if you buy the CD (or download the songs) and discover the good bits for yourself. This is a collection of Fred Rogers’ songs that will, if you listen to it in the company of a significant other, likely make your evening all warm and tingly.

Mister Rogers Swings, indeed. Who knew?

Hear some samples at Holly Yarbrough's My Space page.

Buy it at Amazon.


Finally, it should always be remembered that fruitcake is considered the ultimate gift by some. And since that obviates the need for any more jokes, I'm outta here.

Soon, with more better stocking stuffers (which closer I will no doubt use again this holiday season, but I'm re-gifting in reverse, whatever the hell that means.)


joeh said...

Now I can't comment on your posts...WTF...Dang it...oh well.

Sausage said...

Hocus Pocus by Focus is still one of my favorite song and believe it or not my 15 year old just discovered it and was blown away, just love the yodeling...

Michelle H. said...

If your revenge was a re-run, that was well played, MLGF! Joking!

Hilary said...

I think you've sold me on the Bill Bryson book. And the hat. Yours, not his.

Mich said...

Why isn't the hat one of the gift ideas? I can think of loads of people who would love that hat.

Buck said...

I like to recycle my comments, too. Here's what I said in 2010:

I want 'em ALL. But, like Cricket sez... I already have "Back in Black." So you can skip that one.

YOUR WIFE doesn't overestimate your talent at all. You SHOULD write that book. Really. Srsly.

re: For anyone who lived through the sexual revolution (or wishes they did)...

You're a cruel, cruel man to invoke memories of what no longer exists, or at least what is no longer achievable. In some of us.

wv: modiatic. Nope. I was more of a rockeriatic. (Ya hadda be there. Think: The Who.)

I also commented on this post in 2012, but you got the better of the two.

Tabor said...

Nice ideas but most of my shopping is for people under ten.

messymimi said...

As with Tabor, i'm shopping for a younger set, except my parents, and they tell me what they want each year. These might come in handy for Sweetie, when faced with what to get for a couple of co-workers.

Ami said...

You left out the edible buttholes. Now those are one hell of a gift.

Suldog said...

Ami - Thank you. You have shown me the perfect gift for some people.

Absolut Ruiness said...

I don't know whether its just me or does "stocking stuffers" has a REALLY dirty connotation as well. I am sure it was unintentional.

Daryl said...

so how come you dont have a pop up window for comments?????????????????????????????????????

Suldog said...

This IS a pop-up window, so far as I can tell, Daryl. Are you seeing something else?

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

My preference is in-line comments with in-line replies.
Just sayin'

But you are one of those whose comments I look forward to.
So I might just make an adjustment...
if I can figure out what Blooger's done over in that place where changes are made.

They love fussin' with stuff, they do.

BTW - nice avatar

lotta joy said...

Our shopping is for our furchild, and it's more fun than we ever had shopping for our kids. No whining. Crying. Saying things like: Only EIGHT presents? and me saying "There were eleven. Learn to count."

Craig said...

I picked up a copy of The Thunderbolt Kid on your recommendation, so thanks for that. . .