Blinding Myself With Science*

October 5, 2011

There was a period several years ago when my friend Donzo and I declared our dream of being scientists, vowing to create a ham ray gun which would turn any targeted object into ham.

(maybe I declared it and she humored me)

Surprisingly, I haven’t become a scientist and the ham ray gun never got beyond the conceptual stage (which is good as the military applications of this device are too frightening to imagine).

Donzo and her now-husband did send me a lab coat and a canned ham for my birthday one year.

It’s not like I’ve ever been especially interested in science. Sure, if there’s fire, shiny objects, or extraterrestrials involved…

But I am reminded as I watch an episode of Futurama that Prof. Farnsworth was undoubtedly my favorite character. I find his absent-minded enthusiasm/cynicism infectious and downright delightful.

And Prof. Farnsworth could certainly be a descendant of Doc Brown from the Back To The Future flicks. There are far lesser dreams than to aspire to the heights of either of these great men.

As a child, it was impossible not to be impressed by the nimble mind of The Professor on Gilligan’s Island.

(later, of course, the focus shifted to Mary Ann)

But that’s not the point. Merely typing the names of this trio of visionaries inspires me. No, there is no obvious, apparent reason or need to invent a ham ray gun, but that’s not the point either.

It’s science! And sometimes you simply need to invent because you can (like clonin’ dinosaurs and makin’ Jell-O).

Here are four slightly scientific songs…

Thomas Dolby – I Love You Goodbye
from Astronauts And Heretics (1992)

You expected She Blinded Me With Science, yes? Well, there’s more to Dolby than that one song and I Love You Goodbye is one of my favorite songs of his. It’ll likely surprise you if all you know is the former song.

However, even if the song doesn’t suit this post thematically, Dolby has always struck me as scientist-like. Also, his doppelganger, Food Network personality Alton Brown injects his take on cooking with plenty of science.

Kate Bush – Experiment IV
from The Whole Story (1986)

Like a lot of folks, I discovered Kate Bush in 1985 with her lone American hit, Running Up That Hill, but it was her compilation The Whole Story that was my first purchase a year later. Experiment IV was the obligatory unreleased/new track and it’s quite scientific.

Johnette Napolitano – The Scientist
from Scarred (2007)

If you asked me to list my favorite female rock vocalists of the past twenty-five years, there’d certainly be a place for ex-Concrete Blonde singer Johnette Napolitano. I have a feeling that even I would be surprised at how high I’d have her.

As for The Scientist, it’s a perfect showcase for that voice. Coldplay’s original version made me shrug with indifference, but Johnette’s take on the song is impossible to ignore.

Dot Allison – We’re Only Science
from We Are Science (2002)

Dot Allison first appeared on my radar with her band One Dove in the ’90s. The group only released one, under appreciated album before Allison embarked on a solo career toward the decade’s end.

I interviewed Dot following the release of her second album, We Are Science. Had the idea of the ham ray gun existed at the time, perhaps I would have asked for her thoughts.

That aside, she was a sweetheart and the only downside was that the combination of her Scottish accent and the fact that she spoke in hushed tones made transcribing the tape slightly maddening.

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Dig

August 27, 2011

As a child, I had an obsession with dinosaurs and the prehistoric world. It likely was triggered by seeing Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster in the theater and watching B-movies on late-night television in the ’70s.

It’s why I still pause, as I did the other night, when I stumble upon Jurassic Park.

I can’t help but think that had that movie arrived a decade or so earlier, I might have ended up a paleontologist.

I dug Sam Neill’s style as Dr. Alan Grant.

He had a groovy hat.

His work attire was well within my sartorial range.

He spent his days under expansive skies in the Badlands, digging about in the dirt, searching for the fossils and bones of fantastic creatures.

Yes, I think that I’d enjoy the paleontological lifestyle. It seems to be relatively uncomplicated.

(at least until some well-intending, yet short-sighted, billionaire industrialist recegenrates velociraptors)

Not being a homeowner or an escaped convict, it’s been awhile since I’ve had to dig. In fact, I don’t recall digging for any reason – for bait, for treasure, to bury a drifter – since before I left for college.

(where I, unwisely, didn’t study paleontology)

I’m confident that – thanks to a pop-up book I had when I was five and late-night movies – I know enough to recognize dinosaur bones should I happen upon some.

Surely leading the life of a paleontologist can’t be as simple as getting a pick, a shovel, and a floppy hat and moving to Southern Utah.

Maybe all of the really cool dinosaur bones have been dug up.

Then again, perhaps paleontology is as straightforward as finding a plot of earth and digging until you hit T. Rex remains or China. You either end up on the National Geographic channel or causing an international incident.

So, I might soon suggest to Paloma that we pack up the Volvo, load up the cats, and head westward.

In the meantime, here are four songs to get us aspiring diggers in the mood…

Peter Gabriel – Digging In The Dirt
from Us

Despite a great affection for Peter Gabriel’s music, his leisurely pace in releasing new albums has caused me to lose track of him over the nearly two decades since he released Us.

(which arrived a mere six years after the commercially successful So)

I much preferred the emotionally gripping Us and the brooding Digging In The Dirt might make a swell theme song for a freelance paleontologist.

(plus, seeing Gabriel on the ensuing Us tour might be the highlight of my concert-going life)

The Pixies – Dig For Fire
from Death To The Pixies

Though The Pixies were poster children for the burgeoning alternative rock movement that took place while I was in college, I had little more than a passing interest in the band. Why I’m not sure as I quite like much of their catalog.

(Paloma would likely put them high on her list of favorites)

Dig For Fire has been described by lead singer Black Francis as an homage to Talking Heads and the catchy track does possess the latter act’s jittery, stutter-step spirit.

The Who – Dig
from The Iron Man: The Musical By Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend’s adaptation of a children’s story was released while I was studying in Southeast Asia, leading to several confusing exchanges with shopkeepers as I attempted to find a copy…

me: “Pete Townshend of The Who…”
shopkeeper: “Who?”
me: “Yeah, The Who…”
shopkeeper: “Who?”

The album, despite guest appearances by everyone from John Lee Hooker to Nina Simone, wasn’t worth the effort of acquiring it. It did feature two new songs by The Who – the first since the band’s first farewell with It’s Hard in ’82 – including an ill-advised cover of Arthur Brown’s Fire.

But I dug Dig and, though it’s hardly a Who classic, the repetitive use of the title does make me want to pick up a shovel.

Blondie – Dig Up The Conjo
from No Exit

So, I’m a bit confused by Dig Up The Conjo, from Blondie’s 1999 reunion album No Exit.

It sounds as though the band is imploring me to “dig up the Congo,” which would be ambitious as the Congo River is the deepest river in the world.

But, “conjo” is apparently a Spanish insult.

Of course, Blondie was often lyrically nonsensical, so perhaps my confusion is justifiable, but I thought No Exit was a strong return for Blondie (after a seventeen-year hiatus) and Dig Up The Conjo is dense, swirling, and hypnotic.


They Never Mention Possible Cult Abduction On Cigarette Warning Labels

August 18, 2011

An episode of Seinfeld is airing in which George mistakenly assumes the identity of the leader of a Neo-Nazi organization.

It reminds of my own inadvertant encounter with some fringe folk.

I had made a pilgrimage to meet up with a couple friends and catch a U2 show. The three of us had spent three weeks traveling through the UK in a rented Daewoo, but we hadn’t all been together since that trip several years earlier.

As we hadn’t been together, the occasion required a toast and we had essentially rendered ourselves incapacitated by the time the band took the stage.

(we had arrived just moments earlier having drank all the way through the opening act with some Irish kids at a nearby bar)

As the show ended, I hastily exited Atlanta’s Georgia Dome for a cigarette. By the time my friends made their way outside, I was being chatted up by some young ’90s-styled bohemian chicks.

(I think I just heard Paloma’s eyes roll)

My compatriots ushered me off with them as my potential hackey sack harem vanished like a mirage. The next morning as we struggled through hangovers, the three of us examined the artifacts from the event – some literature with cringe-inducing poems and a CD of music.

It was hysterical stuff.

It was the Zendiks – some bunch of commune-dwellers with names like Fawn, Arol, and Wulf and concepts such as Ecolibrium and Creavolution.

(I try to be open-minded, but if you dub something Creavolution…I’m struggling to take you seriously)

As for the CD…it was so dreadful we didn’t mind laughing, loudly, incessantly through pounding hangovers as the Zendiks raged against the machine in the most obvious of fashion.

(I do hope that during the next move I stumble across it somewhere…I fear, though, that it is lost)

Ten years on and I’m still not sure if I should consider the experience with amusement or concern.

Sure I had long hair.

Sure I was no fan of The Man.

Sure I dressed a bit like Jeff Lebowski.

Sure I found hippie chicks to be fetching.

But I was just a drunken slacker that wanted a smoke.

Thanks for the consideration, Zendiks. Here are four songs by the band The Cult…

The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary
from Love

My buddy Streuss turned me onto The Cult not long after Love finally reached US shores. I thought that the name was pretty dumb and uninspiring, but I was hooked upon hearing Love.

The sleek, supersonic She Sells Sanctuary was perhaps the high point of Love, a near perfect fusion of Billy Duffy’s pyrotechnic guitar work and lead singer Ian Astbury’s otherworldly howl.

The Cult – Fire Woman
from Sonic Temple

I thought the Rick Rubin-produced Electric – the follow-up to Love – was an unredeemable disaster aside from the wonderful Love Removal Machine.

(I seem to be in a minority on this one)

I was in school in southeast Asia when Sonic Temple followed Electric in 1989 and I was surprised to read that the album had made the Top Ten back in the States.

I finally snagged a bootleg cassette of the album at a street market in Bangkok and was duly back on board with The Cult. The band had regained the slinky swagger of Love and the breakneck boogie Fire Woman almost became a Top 40 hit in the US.

The Cult – American Horse
from Sonic Temple

Of course, The Cult were well known for their psychedelic trappings and – despite hailing from the UK – a lyrical fascination with the American west and Native American culture. And lead singer Ian Astbury was oft compared to Jim Morrison.

The sturm und drang of American Horse rumbles on for five minutes or so, flattening everything in its path like The Lizard King fronting Led Zeppelin. I’ve always thought the song was an underrated gem in their catalog.

The Cult – Star
from The Cult

After Sonic Temple, The Cult lost me again with the unmemorable Ceremony. There was also plenty of tension and instability within the ranks. In 1994, the band released a self-titled album that incorporated elements from the burgeoning electronic music scene.

(it made me think of hearing U2’s Achtung, Baby for the first time)

I thought it was their most interesting stuff since Sonic Temple and I really dug the pulsating Star. I think that Paloma and I had tickets to see them on the ensuing tour but the band broke up before reaching our date.