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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The Arch-Nemesis

September 21, 2011

For a good decade or so, I have had an implacable foe, an entity which I have formally and officially declared to be my arch-nemesis.

Making this struggle more complex is that my arch-nemesis is the brother of a good friend.

In truth, I don’t know David very well. I’ve been buddies with his brothers for close to twenty years, but I’ve been around David no more than a handful of times.

Our rivalry has no origin other than a decision I made to declare him my arch-nemesis.

(it actually was encouraged by his brothers)

But David is a good guy, so this confrontation has gone no further than our mutual understanding of the conflict and our verbal acknowledgement of it on the rare occasions that we do meet.

Our relationship lacks the cold war sizzle that existed with my previous arch-nemesis –

The Dutch.

I had never had an arch-nemesis until a half dozen or so of us who were drinking buddies and worked at a record store together suddenly began hating the Dutch.

(it happened during an evening of drinks)

We took to the idea with enthusiasm, blaming the Dutch for all of the ills of the world several years before it was chic to blame Canada.

We would shuffle into the back room of the store, muttering expletives directed at the Netherlands under our breath after dealing with difficult customers.

If our usual barkeep at our favorite watering hole was not working and the music being played did not meet our approval, it was a plot originating in Holland.

But our distress over the Dutch was inexplicable.

I had assumed – for some reason – that it dated to the 1994 World Cup, which we had followed that summer.

One evening, during the 1998 World Cup, I asked one of my buddies why we hated the Dutch.

He proceeded to tell tale of another large record store where he had worked and a customer visiting from the Netherlands who threw a tantrum over some perceived grievance, bellowing to all who listen that his mistreatment was because he was Dutch.

“I figured that we must have some long-standing issues with the Dutch and I wanted to do the least that I could do,” my buddy said with a shrug. “It would have been unpatriotic to not hate the Dutch.”

Of course, we didn’t really hate the Dutch. We just enjoyed having an arch-nemesis.

Here are four enemy songs since arch-nemesis is a bit cumbersome to use in a lyric I suppose…

Swan Dive – Sweet Enemy
from Circle (1998)

Swan Dive’s music has been described as bossa nova pop.

Sweet Enemy is light, breezy, and sophisticated stuff, but its just a hint of the wonderous sounds made by the duo of Bill DeMain and Molly Felder.

The Waterboys – Be My Enemy
from This Is The Sea (1985)

This Is The Sea was my introduction to Scottish band The Waterboys. I’d been prompted to purchase the cassette after hearing the glorious The Whole Of The Moon before school one morning on a rock radio station out of Dayton.

(it might have been the only time I’ve ever heard the band on radio)

I was immediately smitten by their “big music” and the tape spent a lot of time in my Walkman that senior year. The rollicking Be My Enemy clatters alongs with a dizzying urgency that caught my attention and made me hit rewind a time or two.

(which, of course, drained the double-AA batteries rather quickly)

Roger Hodgson – Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)
from In The Eye Of The Storm (1984)

If you have followed my babbling on this site, you might be well aware of my affection for Supertramp (at least Breakfast In America). By 1984, founding member Roger Hogdson had left the band for a solo career that didn’t exactly pan out.

Had A Dream (Sleeping With The Enemy) got some airplay on some of the stations to which I was listening at the time. In truth, it could have been on Breakfast In America and not sounded out of place.

Rage Against The Machine – Know Your Enemy
from Rage Against The Machine (1992)

I didn’t immediately gravitate to Rage Against The Machine. I thought their politics to be somewhat half-baked. However, seeing them live, opening for U2 – a band for whom the same accusation could be made regarding politics – made me a fan of the sheer sonic force of Rage’s music.

A few friends and I bumped into the band before that show at a vegetarian restaurant. The might have made some angry music, but the band members and crew were quite polite and friendly.


I Could Grow A Moustache, I Could Be A Champion*

June 5, 2011

I’m ever vigilant for opportunities to add to my list of accomplishments. You know, new feathers for my cap and such.

Opportunity presented itself the other day as I read of some kid who, mere days ago, was declared a winner at the World Beard & Moustache Championships.

This seemed to be the kind of thing that is the calling of a select few – like climbing Everest or finding the image of Jesus in a grease spot on a pizza box.

And, best of all, unlike those feats, growing facial hair requires absolutely no effort, focus, or even consciousness from me. Even ordering a pizza demands some expenditure of energy.

However, in the time it takes to order, receive, and eat a pizza, my moustache would grow…well, it would be an imperceptible amount, but it’s still doing its thing at, I’ve read, the rate of one half inch a month.

There are numerous, intriguing categories in which to compete. In the partial beard division alone there is the Musketeer, Imperial, and the Alaskan Whaler.

These championships are held every two years so I have time to become a follicular force.

(Paloma has promised her full support)

For the moment, I’m leaning toward the Fu Manchu. Some fellow named Ted Sedman took the title at the 2007 championships in Brighton, England and I have already penciled him in as my latest arch-nemesis.

I figure that the Fu Manchu balances a sinister, malevolent vibe with a quiet, sinister dignity. I can imagine responding to the knock of the pizza delivery guy, throwing open the door, muttering something in an unintelligible growl, and pausing for a split second to offer a threatening scowl.

He would certainly flee in terror, unconcerned with payment, leaving me and my Fu Manchu to enjoy our free pie.

In the meantime, here are four songs from acts that come to mind when I consider who might be formidable bearded and/or mustachioed competition…

Bee Gees – You Should Be Dancin’
from Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

I was nine when Saturday Night Fever ruled the world. At the time, I couldn’t have cared less and was indifferent when I received the double album as a gift. I imagine that soundtrack was probably the default gift for a lot of folks that Christmas.

As for the movie – I didn’t see it until twenty years later. It was on late night television one night in a hotel in Stratford-On-Avon. I was trekking through the UK with two friends and had just returned to the room. I decided it was a good time to check it off the list.

I also knew that the aunt of another friend had worked on the lighting and appeared in the nightclub scenes. I immediately recognized her the moment she appeared on screen (though I’d never met her).

She resembled an older version of my friend in drag.

(and, as either gender, this friend wasn’t as dashing or as bearded as Barry Gibb)

The Call – Let The Day Begin
from Let The Day Begin

I can’t picture The Call’s late lead singer Michael Been and not think of him as the apostle John in the movie version of The Last Temptation Of Christ. Of course, I remember him as bearded in all of the pictures of the band, too, so he might be a strong posthumous contender.

As for the underrated The Call, the band had a strong following on college rock when I was smack dab in that format’s demographic. Let The Day Begin was probably their best-known song and the rousing anthem featured actor Harry Dean Stanton (who also appeared in The Last Temptation Of Christ) playing harmonica.

George Michael – Cowboys And Angels
from Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1

I’m not sure if there’s a stubble division among the beard and moustache aficionados, but the most famous facial scruff of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s had to have belonged to George Michael (toppling Miami Vice’s Don Johnson from his pedestal).

The dreamy Cowboys And Angels appeared on Listen Without Prejudice, Michael’s follow-up to the mammothly successful Faith. Faith wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I thought that the more introspective and downbeat Listen Without Prejudice was glorious and near perfect.

Kenny Loggins – This Is It
from Keep The Fire

I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of Kenny Loggins, but This Is It served as the theme of the NCAA basketball championship at a time when the tournament was beginning to really capture the public’s imagination, so, that is certainly noteworthy.

Also, the bearded Loggins was accompanied on the song by Michael McDonald on background vocals, making This Is It a two-for-one in the musicians’ pantheon of facial hair.

*originally posted on May 24, 2009