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.


Aliens, Monks And The Kumbaya Moment

October 6, 2010

I stumbled down a rabbit hole in cyberspace the other day. One moment I was reading the comments on an article posted on Newsweek‘s site; the next I was searching for information on one of the commentator’s claims.

The comment referenced speculation about what would happen in 2012.

According to a piece in the India Daily from six years ago, Tibetan monks expect aliens to arrive in 2012 , clink the heads of the humans together like Moe did the other Stooges and get us to quit engaging in jackassery.

There are also folks that believe aliens have bases in the Himilayas.

It’s entirely possible I suppose.

It seems that every religion on the planet has followers that are militantly enthusiastic, but, if there are militant Buddhists, I haven’t heard about them.

Traveling in Thailand, I often saw Buddhist monks, clad in their bright orange robes. It was not uncommon to come across one of them sitting in prayer or meditation in the middle of the sidewalk as the flow of pedestrians gave a respectful berth.

After travelling however many thousands of light years to some strange world, who wouldn’t opt to attempt communication with the beings that seem to be calm, cool, and collected?

(as opposed to the ones behaving like poop-flinging monkeys)

It makes total sense that Buddhist monks would be sought out by the aliens.

As someone that is still transfixed when I happen upon Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, I hope that this forthcoming alien experience resembles the one in that movie.

The visitors arrive with a lightshow that dazzles the humans with the ultimate – and peaceful – display of shock and awe.

Then, Buddhist monks make the introductions.

The bobble-headed, child-like aliens are a global sensation.

Children love them.

Adults are charmed by them.

Madonna makes an embarassing attempt to adopt one.

The world’s leaders are called to the mothership for a trip to the galactic principal’s office and everyone on planet Earth gets a whole lot more humble.

(given the situation in Tibet, I’d think the Chinese would feel rather awkward)

And everyone lives happily ever after.

Yeah. It all makes sense.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind arrived in theaters in mid-November, 1977. Thirty-three years ago, I was nine-years old and eagerly anticipating the film’s release. I had minimal interest in music, but here is a quartet of songs that were on Billboard‘s charts during this week in 1977…

Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line
from Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra

ELO is one of those bands that is always welcome to shuffle up on the iPod. I can’t say that I’m familiar with much beyond their hits (though there were plenty of those for the band in the ’70s).

I know that the group gets slagged some for being some pale imitation of The Beatles, but, if you’re going to imitate an act, you could do far worse, yes? And Telephone Line is simply gorgeous and angelic.

The Carpenters – Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft
from Gold: 35th Anniversary Edition

I’ve loved The Carpenters since hearing them on the radio during their ridiculous string of hits in the early ’70s. The radio wasn’t on too often in our household, but it was usually on in the car and, if it was on, there was rarely a long wait to hear something from the duo.

Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft is a cover of a song by Klaatu (who, like ELO, had their own connection to The Beatles).

This song has really grown on me over the years. I don’t really recall hearing it back in the day, but it has a wonderfully spacey vibe, an odd, yet endearingly jaunty midsection and, as always, Karen’s voice makes it worth the price of admission.

(and, it happens to suit the subject at hand well)

Styx – Come Sail Away
from The Grand Illusion

I’ve noted that Styx – on their infamous Kilroy Was Here tour – was my first concert.

But years before, my buddy Beej’s older brother had The Grand Illusion on eight-track and I was fascinated by the cover. We’d hang out in Beej’s basement and blast the album until parental supervision intervened.

(and, like The Carpenters’ song, this one also fits this post’s themes)

Foreigner – Cold As Ice
from Foreigner

Foreigner’s debut album also has a link to an older brother. Lynn, lived in our neighborhood with Evan, who was roughly the same age as me and my other friends. Sometimes we’d shoot hoops at their house.

As I think back to then, Lynn kind of resembled a young Axl Rose and, pondering him from thirty-years of experience, was undoubtedly a stoner. He drove a black Trans-Am and he’d tear through the neighborhood, Foreigner blaring from the eight-track player in the car.

(would a stoner have listened to Foreigner in 1977?)

Though the group received little love from critics, Foreigner put out some great songs, peaking with the mega-selling Foreigner 4 in ’81. The dramatic Cold As Ice has all of the things – a nifty balance between guitar and keyboards, soaring vocals, and immediately memorable choruses – that made Foreigner a high school staple.