the other theo

There is no dark side of the moon really… as a matter of fact, it's all dark.

Month: December, 2014

Other Christmas Music

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All the Starbucks Christmas CD covers 1998-2014, except for 2000.

 

In addition to my recent rediscovery of the Robert Shaw Chorale, I’ve added substantially to my collection of Starbucks Christmas CDs this year.

I first encountered the anthology CDs of Christmas music that Starbucks sells in 1999 through someone I dated briefly.  I didn’t have much in the way of Christmas music in my collection at the time except the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack for Charlie Brown and a Christmas album by Harry Connick Jr.   A Merry Affair: Starbucks Swinging Songs of Red Velvet and Mistletoe Kisses was a nice compilation of jazzy carols by the likes of Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Hunter, and others that complimented my existing collection nicely.

Thinking it was a one off, I treasured the CD every December for several years but never bothered to think that there might be more. That changed in 2007 when I spotted Stockings By The Fire.  Seeing a similar formula to my 1999 purchase, I snapped that one up and the CD issued every year since.

I didn’t get the CDs for 1998 and 2001-2006 until this year.  Nearly all of them were available used online for 1 cent plus shipping.   That was a deal too good to pass up.   I haven’t gotten the 2000 CD yet because it took a while to track down the title: Hear Music Volume 3: Holly Days and Mistletoe Nights.

Now that I can look back on nearly 17 years of holiday music, certain trends become apparent.  Until I can find something older, it looks like A Merry Affair set the pattern that was used for most of a decade.  Starbucks’ Hi-Fidelity Holiday from 1998 is an oddly eclectic collection with tunes by Esquivel, Robbie Robertson, ‘Keb Mo, The Alarm, and Combustible Edison as well as a few by Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, and Bobby Darin.   With the exception of seven complementary tracks from the Cocteau Twins, the Beach Boys, Barbra Streisand, Sarah McLachlan, and Aimee Mann, the jazz/traditional vocalist-dominant approach lasted through at least the following seven CDs.  That started to change around to 2007 with the inclusion of tracks by Hem, Jack Johnson, Rufus Wainwright, A Fine Frenzy, and John Legend.   The following year saw tracks by KT Tunstall, Goldfrapp, and Beth Orton.    Making Merry in 2009 largely returned to the older formula for one year, but the lead off of John Lennon’s Happy Xmas next year stepped away again and stayed there through 2013.

Starbucks changed the formula entirely for 2014.   The anthology this year, Merry & Bright, is a collection of songs all produced by David Foster.   Some of the names like Andrea Bocelli have appeared on previous compilations, but this probably is the first CD since 1999 that doesn’t feature a track sung by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, or Bing Crosby.

The Tale of Two Tales: My Thoughts Concerning Winter’s Tale (The Motion Picture)

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a motion picture called Winter’s Tale.  This is how it ended:

Peter Lake, a thief and mechanic mysteriously transported from Manhattan at the turn of the 20th Century to present day Manhattan by falling from the Brooklyn Bridge into the East River, fights his former patron Pearly Soames, crime boss and (secretly) demon in league with Satan (played by Will Smith), in front of the Summer Cottage of the Penn family at the Lake Of The Coheeries in Upstate New York.   Peter defeats Pearly by driving a lump of metal through his skull, and lays a recently deceased Abigail Gamely in a special bed in the house constructed by Willa Penn to save Peter’s true love Beverly Penn (Willa’s sister) a century earlier from consumption.   While the bed did not work for Beverly, it now works for Abigail and miraculously cures her cancer and brings her back to life.   Peter Lake then gets on his white horse named Athansor (also transported forward in time) and rides into the heavens to join the spirit of Beverly in the stars.

Once upon a time, about 30 years ago, there was a novel called Winter’s Tale.   This is how it ended:

Peter Lake, a thief and mechanic transported from Manhattan at the turn of the 20th Century to Manhattan at the turn of the Millennium by falling off his flying horse Athansor into a mysterious Cloud Wall existing outside space and time that appears just outside New York Harbor, fights his former patron Pearly Soames, crime boss brought forward in time with his gang the Shirt Tails as a cosmic balance to Peter’s growing supernatural powers, in Manhattan as three things happen:  all of New York City burns in a millennial reckoning that will re-make the city through a crucible of fire, a Promethean figure named Jackson Mead attempts to throw a bridge of light from the City to Heaven, and Hardesty Marratta and Virginia Gamely Marratta journey to a graveyard on one of the outer islands of the City where her daughter Abigail was recently buried after dying from a mysterious illness.  Pearly defeats Peter, who has become the registrar for the faces of all the lost, forgotten dead children of the City in a miraculous vision, by ramming a sword through his shoulder at the collar bone down through his torso.   As Peter dies, he sees his wounded horse, who also fell through the Cloud Wall, escape the Shirt Tails, leave the the bounds of the Earth, and fly to heaven.   Jackson Mead’s attempt to throw the bridge fails, but Peter’s sacrifice causes a change to the cosmic order, redeems the City, turns the Cloud Wall gold, and brings Abigail to life just as her parents dig her up.   Pearly lives on in the new, changed Manhattan in reduced influence and circumstance because a good, just city cannot exist without the balancing existence of evil.

Hollywood tried, honestly.  It was a valiant effort.  It took someone with talent to even make the attempt, though some questionable choices (like Will Smith) were made.  They just couldn’t come close in three hours, and failed miserably.

Ornaments

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The Missus and I loves us some blown glass Christmas ornaments.   For her, I believe it’s at least partially about finding better, more interesting ways to decorate for the holiday.  For me, it’s about my childhood; my Mom had some beautiful blown glass ornaments handed down from her parents when I was growing up.   A lot of them gradually broke as I got older (sadly, some with my “help”), but the memory of them lingered.

It’s a memory that I’ve been lucky enough to be able to recreate as an adult.   Fancy Christmas ornaments seemed to fall out of fashion through much of the 1970’s and 80’s, though I have no idea whether that’s due to changing tastes or Cold War tensions.   I had the good fortune to turn 20 about the time that the Berlin Wall fell.  That proved to be a boon for Christmas ornaments: former Eastern Bloc countries where they were traditionally made (East Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic) were loosed from atheistic Communism, suddenly opened to the United States and Western Europe, and needed to trade for hard currency.   It took a few years, but it’s been fairly easy get nice glass ornaments for 10 or more years now.

The Missus and I try to get a couple of them a year, generally when we travel or to commemorate events in our lives.   We have more than we can put on one tree unless it’s a large tree.   It certainly makes decorating the tree into an event.

Most years have been good regarding losses, but a few have been bad.  We have a few boxed assortments that are only half full now because the boxes fell and ornaments smashed.   The first year in our house was a bad one; we moved from an apartment with wall-to-wall carpeting to a house with hardwood floors in the living room and dining room.   We lost an ornament nearly every time one came loose from the tree, until I found a $25 circular area rug on eBay to put under the tree that’s saved many ornaments in the years since.

The arrival of the Peanut has forced us consciously think about what our ornament policy will be on a year to year basis.   We put up a protective fence around the tree for a couple years.   We refrained hanging too many nice ornaments on lower parts of the tree last year.

This brings me to the central paradox of Christmas ornaments: they must be used to be appreciated and using them always brings the risk of breakage.   Branches bend, trees can fall, and people knock into ornaments.   Putting up a Christmas tree is an inherently risky operation for glass ornaments.   To do otherwise is to treat them like a museum collection, and that defeats the point in my opinion.

I say all of this because of three things:

  1. We put up our Christmas tree yesterday.
  2. I only realized afterward that we put ornaments on the tree that we haven’t used in a few years because of their size and sentimental value without worrying too much about what might happen to them.
  3. The Peanut took a header into the side of the tree this morning when he leaned too far over the arm of the orange chair next to the tree (no ornaments broken — the rug did its work again.)

It should be an interesting Christmas season.

A Shaded Christmas Dog

Music is an important part of the Christmas season for me.   Be it the music of Christmas Mass, the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, or some 20th Century Christmas classic crooned by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, or someone more contemporary, it’s music I only play for myself from the day after Thanksgiving until January 2nd.   That makes it special, and it’s a refuge during a month that seems to be nothing but busy with holiday hustle and bustle.

Lots of pop, rock, and country music artists like to do Christmas albums.   Too many of them end up sounding either sanitized or completely of their moment.  Nearly all of them cater to the secular Christmas motifs of the Northeast United States from the middle of the last century — snow, trees, fiery hearths, sledding, skating, roasted chestnuts, and the rest.   Very few (like A Christmas Cornucopia by Annie Lennox and A Winter’s Night by Sting) bother to even mine much of the large stockpile of older Christmas material beyond the most popular favorites.

So, I’ve leaned on some jazz-inflected compilation albums (primarily produced annually by Starbucks), a few individual albums by the likes of Mel Tormé, Harry Connick Jr., and Diana Krall, and some instrumental favorites like the aforementioned Peanuts soundtrack.

This year, I felt compelled to look for something different.   I wanted something more musical and less commercial (at least in the modern sense) and that dove deeper into the full range of Christmas material.  Somehow, I kept thinking back to an album in my Mother’s collection of vinyl:

rca_lsc-2139I’m not sure why.   I remembered what it is: four part a capella choral harmony.   Though it was not something I especially appreciated at Christmas as a child, it seemed something perfect for me now — quiet, accomplished, meditative, and truly classic (and rooted in the classical.)

But where to find this?   Doing a little research, I discovered that RCA vinyl aficionados call Living Stereo albums “shaded dogs” because of the darker backgrounds in their labels behind the RCA “His Master’s Voice” logo compared to regular RCA Red Seal labels.   This shaded dog had not been issued on its own since the mid-1960’s, despite selling quite well for years after its release.   At first, it seemed a dead end.

Further searching online yielded this possibility: 179672The similar format of the cover art suggested similarity (though the faces of the singing children suggest more parody than enjoyment), but what was it and what, exactly, was on it?   Availability at a number of online retailers also suggested that this was out print because it only could be found used, and generally for more than what one might pay for a new CD.

The solution ultimately came when I found a page for the CD at Arkiv Music.  It turns out that this is a 1994 BMG Classical Music Club compilation release of three classic Robert Shaw Chorale albums of Christmas music from the 1950’s and 1960’s:

  1. Christmas Hymns & Carols, Volume I (LSC-2139)
  2. Christmas Hymns & Carols, Volume II (LM-1711)
  3. Benjamin Britten: Ceremony of Carols/Rejoice in the Lamb/Festival Te Deum (LSC-2759)

Arkiv is re-issuing the recording with permission from RCA.  It is produced through an On Demand process by Arkiv that creates the CD and packaging as orders are placed.  Best of all, it’s a reasonable $20 for a double CD from Arkiv.    The producer of the re-issue even went so far as to include a lengthy review on the Arkiv and Amazon web sites discussing how the compilation was engineered and assembled in 1994.   Win!

I’ve had it for a couple days now, and I must say that it’s lighting up my Christmas season.  For fans of choral music and traditional carols (as well as Britten fans,) it’s definitely worth checking out.

 

Macca And The Stick

This entry is dreadfully overdue.   I put it on the back burner almost four months ago until I could get some graphics together to help illustrate our odyssey.   Here goes…

I got to see one of the most memorable concerts of my life back on 14-Aug-2014.   It was the last show ever at Candlestick Park, and it was Sir Paul McCartney.   It was Beatles songs played by a Beatle and, for most part, the Beatle that wrote them.   It was glorious.   It was long — nearly 3 hours with no opening act.   It was a once in a lifetime event.

It also took forever to get there.   We got the tickets from Auntie M. back in June as a wedding anniversary present.   So, the Missus and I piled into the car for a bit of a road trip.  The plan was to meet Auntie M. and a friend of hers for dinner about 15 miles south of Candlestick at about 5:30pm, and then carpool to the stadium to save on parking.   We had dinner paid for by 6:30pm.   Sir Paul was supposed to start at 8pm.   We had 90 minutes to go a little over 15 miles.  That couldn’t be a problem, right?

It was a monumental problem.  Everything went according to plan until we got about four miles away from the stadium, just past the Oyster Point exit on Route 101.   This diagram documents our approximate progress:

mccartney progress

Traffic on the highway began to back up in the far right lane of 101 about four miles from the Candlestick exit.  We got in line around 6:45pm… and inched along almost literally at a snail’s pace for nearly 2.5 hours.  At one point around 7:30pm, I joked that it would be faster to get out and walk.  Shortly after that, we saw people walking down the shoulder of the road past our car.   The line was so slow that we saw one person get out of the passenger side of a car, run into the bushes along the shore of the Bay to respond to the call of nature, and eventually climb back into the car (near the red dot.)

As time went on, we discovered that walking had its own problems.   We inched off the highway onto the exit and saw a woman with a small child in a stroller on the side of the road yelling into a cell phone.   She was yelling at someone… a husband, presumably… that she was running out of road to walk, and where was he with the tickets, and the child was getting tired and impatient.

We eventually inched our past the Candlestick main parking lot, which only appeared to be about 95% full.   The sight of being so close to the promised land with empty parking spaces here and there just on the other side of a chain link fence was infuriating… because we were directed away from the main lot to an unknown overflow location.   The one good thing about being so close to the stadium was that we could open the car windows and hear that the show hadn’t started… until about 8:45pm.   Sir Paul held the start of the show for 45 minutes to let the house fill… and thank goodness.

The heartbreaking thing about being so close to the stadium was that you could look back along the shore of the Bay and see the line of headlights extending along Route 101 back toward Oyster Point.   There were people 2 hours away from the Candlestick parking lot when the show started.   To paraphrase a line from Ken Burn’s Baseball, never were there so many people out to see a show who didn’t see it.

We eventually found our way to an empty lot about half a mile from the Stadium.  After quickly parking the car, we began the hike back to the stadium.   You couldn’t pay me enough to be directing traffic that night based on what we saw as we walked.   Nerves on the part of many of the concert goers were noticeably frayed.   The people directing traffic took the brunt of it.   When someone pointed out that the parking situation was a total disaster, one security worker said “yeah, I haven’t already heard that tonight”.

Honestly, why blame the men and women in the trenches?   This was a strategic screw up at the top.   The local media never did get a clear picture of why things went so badly in the next few days.   Someone supposedly attached to the concert promoter said it was McCartney’s people who handled parking.   I don’t know if I believe that or not.   This was nobody’s first rodeo (or should not have been): not at a stadium that’s hosted sellout sporting events over several decades, not for Sir Paul who has likely played bigger shows, and not anyone in between.  Were we the naive ones?   The people in close to the stadium seemed to have the best plan: they were ready to tailgate all day and all night.

As it was, we got to our seats around 9:25pm.   That turned out to be about nine songs into the set list.   Fortunately, there were many more to come after that.

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Set list courtesy of http://www.setlist.fm

It was a high energy show.  Sir Paul played until nearly 11:45pm, with only a few breaks (primarily before encores.)  The man is 72 years old.  I guess vegetarian living agrees with him.   I always remember hearing about these great 3 hour stadium shows that played the night away but had never been to one, until now.  A little research shows that this was pretty much Sir Paul’s standard tour set, with two additions: San Francisco Bay Blues and Long Tall Sally (last song played by the Beatles at Candlestick at their last concert gig.)

We were in the stands off stage right.   In addition to the screens flanking either side of the stage, there was a smaller screen on the side of the stage scaffold so we could still see the action.

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I haven’t been to an arena or stadium concert in a good many years.   Where people used to hold up lighters during the power ballads or anthems, now they hold up smart phones.

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I believe that this was during Hey Jude.

It all seemed to be over a little too soon.   After the show, we got a couple souvenirs and made the hike back to overflow parking.   Parking so far away turned out to have one significant advantage:  we were able to take some back streets into San Francisco and get out on the highway in about 20 minutes.   We heard the next morning that some people in the regular stadium lot were still waiting to leave at 2:30am.

Resolved

It was a tough Summer and Early Fall for my personal fitness and weight loss regime.   After a key breakthrough in early 2014 that dropped my weight between 15 and 20 lbs between January and May (down to the weight I had in my mid-20s), I fell off the proper diet wagon.   Especially in the evenings, I ate too much, and too much of the wrong stuff.

I almost made it to 47 pounds of weight loss at my lowest weight in 2014.  Within 6 weeks, I added on about 4 pounds and held there for about a month.   Two months later, I’d added another 4-5 pounds.

What I was eating felt so bad and so good at the same time.   I was clearly leaning on food for some kind of comfort or release.  At the same time, the sugar roller coaster was unnerving to ride.    Part of weight loss and better fitness is journey of growing repulsed at such extremes of feeling.

Finally, I had enough about 3 weeks ago.  I found the will to stop.   I’ve dropped a pound or two since then.

I am remembering a blogger friend who transformed her life and ran her first half marathon in 2014.   I need to hold the line through the holiday season.   I’m not sure where I want this to end up, but somewhere close to 45 pounds of weight loss sounds like a worthwhile goal, for now.