Friday, December 28, 2007

2007 Table Scraps

I've got a few table scraps in the frostier corners of my consciousness, and now seems like a good time to pull them out and warm them up a bit, before they get stale.

The Things We Do Out Of Love:
There was a stretch of time when I thought nothing would set my teeth on edge harder than the opening notes of the High School Musical soundtrack. Then Hairspray came along. I initially embraced it — God help me, I actually bought it, witlessly hoping it would usurp HSM as my daughters' CD of choice. Boy, were my hopes met with a vengeance. When it first played I rather liked the opening number (“Good Morning Baltimore!”), with its combination of Pez-dispenser cheer and Alfred E. Neuman hipsterisms. Now, however, it's become the signature promise of a very long and musically dreary car-ride. I'm sure that, beyond providing the inspiration, John Waters' involvement in the musical was little more than an amused nod of permission, but that's more than enough to incriminate the man. Let the punishment fit the crime, say I: he deserves a long weekend road trip through heartland America, listening to my daughters sing the entire soundtrack non-stop for the three-day duration.

I remind myself, of course, of how much certain records meant to me when I was my children's ages. You're A Good Man Charlie Brown was particularly treasured. Funny how someone else's words set to someone else's music could express exactly what I was thinking and feeling at a very particular moment. Suddenly, against all odds, I realized I wasn't entirely the odd kid out. I might not be like everyone else, but this music affirmed that in some very special sense I was most certainly not alone.

“I watched what only my heart could see walk deeper into the woods.” This seems an appropriate time to mention Sarah Moffett's memoir, Growing Up Moffett. I'm slow to gain wisdom (and really: what's the rush?) but one of the deeper truths to impress me as I've grown older is the realization of how fundamentally unprepared we are for the inevitable heartbreak in our lives. It's astonishing enough to discover adults who have the wherewithal to deal with their tragedies, but the ones who are able to assist children with theirs are a very special breed. Moffett's family staggered through a year of heartbreak that, in broad strokes, is a fairly common fate. But Moffett astutely draws from particular details which evoked for me that aforementioned “Hey, me too — exactly!” feeling. She delivers the story in the voice of a kid whose head is on straighter than she realizes, and whose parents are more capable of assisting each other and their children than they realize. This is a touching, life-affirming memoir. I've placed it on my daughters' “You Might Be Interested” book shelf, and I look forward to reading more from Moffett (whose blog is here).

Be Careful What You Wish For:
my lovely (and very observant) wife gave me Donald Fagen's Nightfly Trilogy for Christmas. I was over the moon with joy, and promptly subjected my extended family to the musical contents of the entire package. As expected, it is indeed a scrumptious treat for a Fagenite like myself. HOWEVER ... if you aren't properly set up with a SurroundSound© system, you're getting precious little for your dollar. The CDs are unaltered (I actually compared the soundfiles using Audacity); the re-mixed tracks, the interviews and videos and lyrics and liner notes are all encoded on the MVI DVDs. Again, the lyrics and liner notes are no different from what came with the originals, but I do lament their physical absence. And while the MVI bonuses are snazzy in their particular modality, that's not a mode I'm especially keen on. To make the most of it, you link to the MVI website and use their platform to play with “your” content (getting MP3s, ring-tones and the like). As with all internet-based “product” I'm prone to thinking of MVI content as the equivalent of sky-writing: sure, it's quite the feat, and it's certainly there for you today. But who's to say a random breeze isn't going to come along tomorrow and dissipate it into so many useless ones and zeros? As for the re-mix, a good set of headphones will give the listener some sense of what's been done, but SurroundSound© is finally what's required, and if you don't have the set-up there's very little point to this purchase.

Cinema Experience Of The Year: Ratatouille ... but consider: I only went out to see two movies this year, and Shrek 3 was the other. Even with the complete lack of competition, I still thought Ratatouille was one of the year's most overrated movies. I'm too old to find the hero's quest especially moving (an artist rises above his squalid origins and triumphs), the movie's animated moments of surreal "wow!" were few and far between — particularly for a Pixar film — and the most emotionally compelling figure turned out to be a bloodless critic who rediscovers his soul. His change of heart was, in fact, a very powerful moment. But then we got the sermon telling us it's easier to criticize than it is to create, and I was jolted back to reacting critically and wishing I was watching a different movie — No Country For Old Men, perhaps.

Speaking of which: great book! Sure, it's got all the stylistic tics that make the beleaguered, common-sensical B.R. Meyers apoplectic, but the book is short enough for me to consume them without suffering literary indigestion. Furthermore, McCarthy's moral searching is, for once, surprisingly direct and poignant. It's probably too late for me to say this, but if you want my advice, skip The Road and head straight for No Country.

For Those About To Write, We Salute You!
So who's the real hero: Meyers or McCarthy? God love 'em both, but in my books the real hero is that Grumpy Old Bookman Michael Allen and Kingsfield Press for making his The Truth About Writing a free PDF download. It really is “an essential handbook for novelists, playwrights and screenwriters” — containing some of the most practical and (in its clear-eyed way) encouraging advice for writers that I've ever encountered. If, like me, you've hesitated to curl up with a good PDF, this is your chance to surmount your prejudices and enrich your life (or you could just buy the book).

If I don't log in before then, Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful..."

The snow seems to have finished falling, but it hasn't finished blowing. And I don't mind a bit.

This Season's Mixed CD

If I could send you a CD Sampler, this is what would be on it:

"Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss In the grand tradition of mixed tapes, I kick things off with a toe-tapper, one of the snappier numbers from Plant/Krauss. To keep the good vibe alive, I move next to:

"99 And 1/2" - Mavis Staples We'll Never Turn Back stands as the most righteous disc released this year, and this particular track really cooks.

"Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken" by Camera Obscura - Another indication (if such was needed) of just how out of touch I am with the current scene. This track is almost two years old, but I first heard it on CBC this summer. Mighty infectious stuff, even with the cheesy organ.

Janiva Magness (and Kid Ramos, with one of the dirtiest guitar grooves to hit wax) steps in with "Nobody Loves You Like Me" Yeah, it's six years old, but it was new to me.

Next, I've plugged one of James McMurtry's lesser-known songs, "Pocatello", from Childish Things. There are plenty of worthy song contenders on this album, but this one has a narrator whose cheerful, reckless, tormented obsession with a woman who's more unhinged than he is really tickles me. Includes one of my favorite lyrics this listening year:

"And now I hear some guy that used to
Manage some band I never heard of
Is trying to manage you
Faithless, fine, and gone..."

While I'm enjoying all things cheerful, reckless and tormented, I'll just slip in "Swampblood" by The Legendary Shack-Shakers. I'd sure love to see these guys live, but I get the impression from their website they don't often make it up past the Mason-Dixon line.

This seems like a good time to introduce those kick-ass jokers from Germany, wax.on, so I'm putting "Girl With The Tambourine" from Geek Mythology here. I'm guessing they're very much like "Alpha Male & The Canine Mystery Blood" -- perhaps not in style, but in youth and energy, and that's what kicks off Tommy Womack's signature track from There, I Said It. (One of my favorite tracks of the year, that. Probably had me dabbing at the eyes more consistently than any other.)

Time to cool things down a bit: next is Rene Marie's reworking of "Surrey With The Fringe On Top," from Vertigo. She clears the palate for Peter Case (with Richard Thompson) to play us "Every 24 Hours" from Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John.

Next I have "Think Back" (with Chali 2na) the first of two tracks from From The Corner To The Block by Galactic.

I was pleased to see Dinosaur Jr. back on their feet, putting out that recognizable, nimble-fingered guitar-fuzz, so I chose "Almost Ready" from Beyond.

And speaking of opening tracks, "What You Need" was one such cookin' track, courtesy of Lyrics Born -- my final choice from Galactic.

"Anything/Everything" is a grooving mission-statement from super-pub-group The Yayhoos. Kinda reminds me, in a very good way, of BTO in their hay-day. From Put The Hammer Down.

Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings keep soul alive with "Nobody's Baby", from 100 Days, 100 Nights, warming things up for Bettye Lavette. Ms. Lavette deserves considerable mention for yet another superlative disc in a very impressive ouevre all her own: this year's The Scene Of The Crime. It's tough for me to pick a single song from this disc, but I've gone with "The Last Time", a song originally penned and performed by John Hiatt, which Ms. Lavette (of course) takes over and owns.

2007 saw the release of a bootleg of sorts: Michelle Shocked's 2003 Telluride (or "To Hell U Ride") Bluegrass Festival concert, taped and presented to us as To Heaven U Ride. I very much like her stage performance of "Good News", so I've included it as the penultimate track on your CD.

And I conclude with "Shine", the title track of this year's album by Joni Mitchell -- as a prayer for everything we've done, and everything we are, and everything we need to be if we're going to make it through another year.

God bless, and have a merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"And I'd buy her a diamond collar/If she'd only throw me a bone": Whisky Prajer's "Album Of The Year"

"Too early to declare," you say? Bah, humbug say I! Besides, I'll be in Winnipeg next week and I can't guarantee much by way of posting, so here it is.

And here I sat, spinning one disc after another, playing entire album files on that tiny contraption, and wondering why, after four years of blogging, I picked this year to announce an “album of the year.” I reviewed my case. This has been my first full year of subscribing to eMusic, which means I’ve downloaded over 360 songs in the last 12 months. Add to this the fact that my CD collection continued to grow at its usual rate from purchases and gifts, and it’s safe to say I’ve achieved a personal record of sorts. Surely this constitutes a near ideal environment for me to make such a declaration — no?

Well ... no. The truth is I haven’t been paying attention. I got sick, then I got grumpy, and my focus wandered. Worse than that, I cued up the music, returned to my chores at the kitchen counter and said, “I’m not really listening to you, so you better come up with something pretty damn sensational for that to change.” The artist was now working against two enormous impediments: my disinterest, and their own ability to sustain an artistic moment for the length of an entire album. Good luck to us all.

In an environment like that, an “album of the year” will be a very rare thing, indeed. But there were a number I enjoyed: Joni Mitchell’s Shine was a pleasant entry, Galactic’s From The Corner To The Block swept in from left-field and caught me by surprise and I got a HUGE kick out of listening to Robert Plant rediscover his inner flower-child while coming to terms with his own mortality in the ethereal presence of Alison Krauss. And if I’m going to choose the most noteworthy album released this year, it’s going to go to Joe Henry’s Civilians. That album sits like a rediscovered corner in the attic, catching shafts of sunlight at odd hours of the day and glancing them off treasures I didn’t know I had.

I also enjoyed discovering acts and albums that have been around awhile: wax.on, The Yayhoos, Janiva Magness, James McMurtry and Gurf Morlix.

But if there’s one album, old or new, that I picked up for the first time this year, then reached for and played again and again and again I have to just come out and admit it is ....

Dirty Diamonds by Alice Cooper.

Honestly, no-one could be more surprised by this than I am. Over the years as I watched him shill for golf clubs, then school supplies, then the Republican Party I basically thought of him as the increasingly lame punchline to his own joke. How was I supposed to take this guy seriously if he didn’t take himself seriously? Moving along, then.

But wouldn't you know it (*sigh* here goes) Alice Cooper takes rock & roll seriously — or, in the case of Dirty Diamonds, as seriously as it ought to be taken. It can be jokey, creepy, hokey, even downright nasty, but all of it is entertaining and infectious, hearkening back to the stomping, whistling, rocking atmosphere of the great arena shows. And on my choice for standout track, "Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies)", Alice has every single one of the ingredients mixed just right. Not one of the last 52 weeks has passed by without me giving this song at least one spin. I love it, I love the album it’s on, and that’s my album of the year.

Tomorrow I’ll compile a list of my favorite tracks of the year (or what we used to call a “mixed tape”). Cheers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Whither Led Zeppelin?

Last night Led Zeppelin played their first concert since “Bonzo” John Bonham died a rock star’s death. Some might take me to task for calling this band by its name when even Robert Plant has, in the past, crustily asserted that Jason Bonham ain’t Bonzo and that the band ain’t Zep without Bonzo behind the kit. But Led Zeppelin is what the fans were hoping to see last night, and if this morning’s reports are any indication, the concert was an instance of massive wish fulfillment. Yes, everyone is older, worn around the edges and possibly a little wiser, but apparently those of us who were holding our breath can now exhale with relief: Led Zeppelin still rocks.
Plus: fashionable footware!
And yes, I was holding my breath — to my own considerable surprise. When the concert was first announced, I was apathetic. Eventually I changed my mind about it all and lamented the concert as a predictable error in Aging Rock Star judgment. Meanwhile, between spins of the Plant & Krauss disc and yet another “Will They Still Rock?” link sent to me by Scott, I found my interest growing to the point where, had there been a reasonable opportunity, I would have willingly attended.

The whole thing presented anything but a reasonable opportunity, of course, and the next tier of fan wish fulfillment is a possible tour. At this stage, I think we fans should be careful what we wish for: aging bands who reluctantly reunite and go on tour inevitably invite an early special guest appearance from the Grim Reaper. If I glance at the fatality ledger for the New York Dolls and The Who (just the first two examples to come to mind), then consider Jimmy Page’s recent tendency toward personal bodily harm (back spasms three years ago, a broken finger last month) I can’t help but be a little concerned. A camera crew was on hand to capture everything that happened last night — what say we give the boys a big hand, then send them off to pursue their individual interests while we settle and wait for the inevitable DVD?

“And what did you come here to see?” Was it a spritely foursome who jump around the stage and invite participatory audience mayhem? Was it a creative group whose collective vision has grown and matured with age? No, not at all. We came to see three survivors whose music and staged lives have loomed large in our imagination for the last 40 years. We came to seek some reassurance that our youthful delirium wasn’t entirely in vain, that there was something at the core of what went on that merits our sustained attention.

Given the endless press this concert is generating, it appears as if that “something” is definitely still there — “The song remains the same,” as it were. So far as I’m concerned, though, my curiosity in seeing how well the survivors play together was almost purely the byproduct of listening to Robert Plant’s work with Alison Krauss. Somewhere between the discovery of this photo, my viewing the Amazon promo-clip and my umpteenth spin of "Your Long Journey," I realized there was a part of me that was genuinely (if distantly) invested in these people. I’m not just grateful for their music, I’m grateful for their actual physical presence. And weirdly enough, if I had attended last night’s concert I would have felt gratified to stand and whistle and cheer with the thousands gathered. Instead, this post will be that, and I will wait for the DVD.

Alright, to the links! Led Zeppelin: "A Force For Peace"? Mark LeVine "Saves The World"? Mark Morford (both via Scott) Or was last night's performance of "Stairway To Heaven" an egregious mistake?

File this under: "Is there an echo in here? Or am I repeating myself?" It's the latter, as evidenced here and here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The "All Natural" Bodybuilding Supplement Of Choice Recommended By Retired Nurses The Whole World Over

This entry will be familiar to those of you who carried over from my other (now defunct) blog, Stay Home Daddy-O. But since I'm already talking about matters of the physique, and since 'tis the season, here, once again, is the Eggnog Story.

In the Christmas of 1983 I was an earnest 18-year-old Bible College student who weighed 145 pounds, dripping wet. I considered myself scrawny, so I bought a bodybuilding magazine from the corner store, clipped out the exercise regimen and worked out every morning in the basement weight room next to the laundry facilities. The workout was ostensibly the one that the current IFBB champ followed to get his title. The weights I was using were from various mismatched sets and didn't add up to more than 150 lbs, but even so I wondered if my daily 1-hour-plus workouts weren't an invitation to injury. Worse than that, after two months of arduous labor I had yet to gain a single ounce.

The magazine was a Weider publication, stocked with glossy ads for their latest line of bodybuilding supplements. So far as this scrawny kid on the beach was concerned, the ads were convincing enough, but the magazine went on to publish several lengthy “studies” that articulated precisely how these over-the-counter supplements worked to inflate the muscles of every “hard gainer.” A local health food store stocked the line, and I was tempted to dish out the money and give it a try. I mentioned this to the school's Phys Ed teacher. He looked at the literature and shook his head. “I'm not sure about this,” he said. “I'd say talk to the nurse in residence first. If she approves, then go ahead.”

The nurse in rez was a retired missionary who was still Registered. I told her of my ambitions, and she was polite enough not to snicker. “It looks like this stuff probably won't hurt you,” she said, “but I'm guessing it's pricey and of dubious benefit.”

I slumped. “So what do I do?”

“You're worried about protein, right? Well, it's eggnog season — lots of protein there. Get some eggnog and drink a glass before you go to bed.”

I got my coat, ran to the corner store and bought my first liter of eggnog. Delicious stuff! Like a milkshake, only better. And it said, right there on the label (just after "cream"): “Contains whole eggs and egg yolks.” Protein galore! I drank the whole container that very night.

Over the next three weeks I repeated this stunt — not quite on a nightly basis, but pretty close. And wouldn't you know it: I put on fifteen pounds! Unfortunately, although I was happy with what I saw on the scale, I was not so thrilled with what I saw in the mirror. Near as I could tell, none of the weight was going to my arms and shoulders. No, the pants never lie: the eggnog was going straight to my ass.

The happy conclusion to this story is that, miracle of miracles, I still like the stuff. I love eggnog — spiked or virgin, it doesn't really matter. In fact, most Christmas evenings I prefer the latter. It brings back the memories. Brings back the weight, too, of course — but that's what the season is for.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Exercising Restraint (at the Magazine Rack)

I couldn't help noticing how the stacks of my magazines were becoming increasingly unruly, so I went to the basement to retrieve a few handy-dandy cardboard filing cases that I'd purchased from Ikea some months back. I was shocked and appalled to see that the spares I was counting on were now full. Adding more old magazines to our already creaking shelves would be a difficult sell for my wife, so I bit the bullet and rolled up my sleeves to do a little culling.

The choice was glaringly obvious. Within 15 minutes I had bundled and brought to the curb four years' worth of Men's Health Magazine.

Four years — what possessed me? The Post Office Ladies smirked whenever they handed me the monthly ish; my wife cocked one eyebrow in benign amusement; even my three-year old daughter thought the covers were a joke (after seeing yet another example of gay beefcake frolicking in the sea, she said, "Daddy, that man looks like he dipped his head in the potty!") But my rationale, such as it was, was quite simple: I thought if I subscribed to the magazine I'd be a trimmer, fitter person.

The magazine subscription, in other words, was what marketers refer to as an aspirational purchase. Some yobs put on a Ferrari ball cap before they get in their Dodge Neon to drive to Costco; every month I parked an issue of MH by the crapper. The majority of the magazine is formatted for just such reading, and I figure I read most issues from cover to cover. One of the magazine's mottoes is, "Tons Of Useful Stuff," and the claim isn't too far off the mark: they do fill the pages with quick summaries of various scientific studies, and run longer pieces on pertinent subjects like medical insurance and heart health. And Lord knows I didn't mind the many pictures of pretty girls in lacy things. But there's no reason to keep these magazines around for longer than a month. And as I concluded shortly before turning 40, there was no reason for me to purchase the magazine at all.

To be fair to the (former) editing staff and my (formerly) aspirational self, there were two years running when I adopted and followed the headline workout programs. Most of the programs that get mentioned in the sidelines are chiefly exercises of a particular coach's imagination (the recent emphasis on "core" fitness produces some spectacularly flexible workout regimens, most of which strike me as suspiciously frivolous in their goals), but the two that caught my imagination were sold as the (excuse me) meat of the magazine, and had every indication of being carefully considered before getting published as progressive, year-long regimens.

The first was developed by Ian King, and while it had no shortage of oddball exercises (in the eye of this beholder, of course: I don't know why I think the barbell rollout is more peculiar than the bench press, but I do) it generated some very notable strength gains and altered my physique enough that my wife eventually commented on it (favorably, thank you). He's published something similar with former MH contributor Lou Schuler, here. While I don't own the book, the program looks similar enough to the one I followed that I'd recommend it to anyone keen to ramp up their workout — with one caveat: if you follow the program religiously, there will come a point about midway through it when the workout sessions break the one-hour mark. They return to saner proportions, but I'm at the age where I simply can't justify that kind of time on something as frivolous as physique, when I could be doing something funner, like reading your blog.

The year after the King workouts, MH published a "home or gym" series that became the basis for this book (another Lou Schuler byproduct, this time with the help of Michael Mejia). I've little to say about that, except that the book is just the thing for guys like me, who consider working out in a gym to be a huge disincentive.

At one point I bought and adopted the magazine-sanctioned diet. Within three weeks I actually had to let out my belt, so I promptly went back to my usual. I don't consider myself an especially conscious eater, so my only conclusion from that experiment is that North American eating habits have become wildly removed from my grandmother's plain common sense: ie, whole grains are better than processed, any food you prepare is better than something prepared for you (especially if it's in a can), etc.

Near the end of my tenure as a subscriber, the magazine published a one-off piece by a guy who had the temerity to ask significant questions about quality of life. He noted how gyms have enough people running on treadmills to generate electricity for entire states, and wondered what his father, an old-world type, would think. The old man wasn't the sort to engage in exercise for exercise's sake; if he found himself with some spare time, and he finished his nap, he'd go to the docks to stack pallets for a few extra bucks. When the son asked dad how he kept his waste-band at a consistent 34, the dad gave him a pained look and said, "When the pants got tight, I put less on my plate."

We do what we do. Note the firewood behind the magazines: a couple of weeks back I stacked two bush-cords of hardwood. The fact that this didn't result in two weeks' worth of pain and misery is due in no small part to the program, such as it is, that I currently follow. This is it, tweaked somewhat to accommodate Peter's helpful advice. Doesn't last longer than 30 minutes, for more than three times a week, tops. I could stand to drop one of those workouts in exchange for more walking, but maybe I'll make that change in the new year.

In the meantime, I've got a few more magazines to get rid of.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Gifts of Christmas Past, Part II

The pictured Christmas gifts below are the ones that seem to just keep on giving. Here's how the inventory breaks down:

I've lamented before that my daughters are now of the age where they go to sleep too late but are just a year or two too young for my wife and I to watch a movie of our own choosing. The first volume of SCTV DVDs provide our marriage with just the right dose of comfort: we cheerfully and repeatedly resort to them on late Friday or Saturday nights. The Second City crew, a mixture of Canadian and US talent, was an incredibly gifted team of comics — for my money a more prodigiously funny group than their SNL compatriots in New York. Of the bunch, no-one gets me laughing harder than Andrea Martin. It's curious to note that much of her material is solo, with a few anonymous stand-in straight-men. Sometimes she duets with Catherine O'Hara, and occasionally they'll team up with Joe Flaherty (who, out of the entire team, seemed the most game to throw his lot in on behalf of someone else's concept — Libby Wolfson's hilariously über-feminist play "I'm Taking My Own Head, Screwing It On Right, And No Guy's Gonna Tell Me It Ain't" couldn't have been done without him). Conversely, when Martin shows up as a bit player in a larger sketch, she almost always steals the scene by getting the biggest laugh (her singing hula-girl in Polynesian Town doesn't get more than 10 seconds of air, but is far and away the comic highlight). A well-used and highly recommended DVD set (along with Volume 2).

Moving clockwise, we have a black turtleneck sweater — my second since we married. I'm sure there are men who have too many black turtleneck sweaters, but I have not yet reached that optimal state of marginal utility. A woman can never go wrong with this gift.

Next we have the pile of words. It's not a manuscript (sorry guys), but one of my journals. It originally looked more like the black leather-bound beauty just to its right. A lovely cover like that should inspire lofty thoughts, but I found myself so intimidated by its quality and my inability to measure up to its standards, that I ripped it off and threw it away. Problem solved: pages full. Journals, no matter what they look like, are a welcome gift.

There are three collections of essays — writers talking about writing, basically. I'm especially fond of the Paul Auster book. It's a British publication, given to me by a friend at a time when Auster was not yet well-enough known on his native soil to merit a North American collection of poetry and essays. I think it's a demonstration of a highly perceptive and intelligent writer discovering and slowly gaining confidence in his own voice. The other two books are Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. I could just as easily have included similar books by Stephen King and Josip Novakovich (all highly recommended) along with a half-dozen others. A future posting, perhaps.

The figurines are all justly celebrating the gimped-out/wimped-out condition of the prone Maple Leafs player — on leave from his tabletop rink. The other three characters are from various Star Wars Lego sets that I have assembled with my daughters and their friends.

Next we have a fine baby-blue dress shirt and the fab martini tie that my wife gave me early in our marriage. I don't have as many occasions to wear a tie as I used to, but when I do the martini tie remains a frequently commented on and coveted stock favourite. I've worn the Bollé sunglasses for the last three years, and they're now too scratched to be of much use. I've replaced them with a pair of Serengetis, but can't quite bring myself to throw away the Bollés.

The whole display is propped on a crokinole board, my table game of choice.

And last, and most importantly, we have the boxed collection of Steely Dan — a gift from my wife in our first year of marriage. No-one gets as much play in our house as the collective brainchild of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker — except for Fagen, solo. I don't believe anyone in the last 50 years of pop music has intuited and fleshed out the potential of the pop song to nearly the same degree as these two, and given the lyricism and wit of Fagen's solo albums I have to give major props to him. A short story can never be a novel, and a novel can never be a Shakespearean play — but a four-minute song can be all of the above. I can't get enough of these guys. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Gifts Of Christmas Past


That's right: just by tripping across this entry, you've picked up the meme. Name, describe and/or photograph one of your favorite Christmas gifts.

Here's a photograph of some gifts from Christmas Past, deeply appreciated items one and all. One of these, however, rates as my all-time fave. Care to guess which it is (click on the picture if you need a closer look)?