Photopost: Halloween Prowl


On Saturday we went on a Halloween Prowl at the Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary. For this non-scary activity, we were lead along a candlelit trail through the woods where we met costumed characters telling their stories, including a druid, an opossum, a dragonfly, a dung beetle, a witch, and my absolute favorite, a great blue heron singing Sinatra tunes (“…egrets, I’ve known a few…). Along the way we saw a barn full of jack-o-lanterns and finished off with a hot cocoa, popcorn, s’mores, and a campfire singalong. It was a great family activity, and while it seemed to be mostly younger children even my nearly 9-year-old son enjoyed it (except for the singalong, which he wanted to leave as soon as possible, as is his wont).

Podcasts of the Week for the Week of October 30


SidedoorTech Yourself 

I added another podcast subscription to my stable for this new production from The Smithsonian Institution. The debut episode explores various aspects of the human relationship with technology. 

Politically Re-ActiveDr. Jill Stein on Investing Your Vote

W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu interview Green Party Presidential candidate, Jill Stein. 

The Specialist – Blood Girls

Did you know that there’s a job for someone to make fake wounds on volunteers participating in first responder training? Learn all about them in this podcast.

BackStoryAmerican Horror Story

Just in time for Halloween, a cultural
history of horror in
the United States

Song of the Week: “Life on Mars?” by Sophia Anne Caruso


Just when you thought there was already enough David Bowie content on this blog, today’s Song of the Week comes from the recently released cast recording of the David Bowie musical, Lazarus.  Sophia Anne Caruso’s interpretation of “Life on Mars?” is the perfect Bowie and the musical theater.  I can’t stop listening to it.

Take a gander and see if you think the same.

 

Music Discoveries: David Bowie, 1988-2016


The 1980s saw a low point in David Bowie’s creative output. He was not alone, as many of the great artists of the sixties and seventies released a lot of dreck in the 1980s. Many of them never recovered, while others regained relevancy only as nostalgia acts, touring on their old hits and/or recording new songs that sound a whole lot like their old songs. Always one to be different, in 1990 Bowie staged his Sound & Vision Tour where he symbolically “retired” much of his back catalog of hit songs (although some of the songs returned for later tours). Incidentally, my sister had a cassette of the Changesbowie greatest hits compilation from the same year, which was my first exposure to most of Bowie’s hit songs.

Around the same time, Bowie formed a new band Tin Machine with Reeves Gabrels, Tony Sales, and Hunt Sales (my favorite tidbit is that the latter two are sons of children’s tv host Soupy Sales). Bowie made an effort to make sure that he was part of a democratic band encouraging interviewers to talk with the other band members and not just him. The hard rock sound was reminiscent of blues rock from the sixties and seventies (including Bowie’s work on The Man Who Sold the World) as well as contemporary alternative rock music that would soon become known as grunge. Rejuvenated by his experience with Tin Machine, Bowie had a creative revival and over the course of 25 years experimented with electronic music (both house and drum & bass), theatrical concept albums, video game soundtracks, jazz, and art rock, and set a standard for a rock star to age gracefully without compromise.

While Bowie will be most remembered for his work from around 1969 to 1981, I think his 1990s and 2000s work is also worth revisiting.

AlbumTin Machine
Release Date: 22 May 1989
Favorite Tracks: “Heaven’s in Here,” “Tin Machine,” “Crack City,” and “Bus Stop”
Thoughts:  I kind of wish I’d given this album a try when it first came out as it would’ve slotted in well with other bands I was listening to at the time such as Living Colour and The Smithereens, as well as blues rock from the 60s and 70s.  Better late than never.  While the music here can be bland at times, it holds up much better than Bowie’s mid-80s work.
Rating: ***


AlbumTin Machine II
Release Date: 2 September 1991
Favorite Tracks: “You Belong in Rock n’ Roll,”  “Stateside,”  “Shopping for Girls,” and “Goodbye Mr. Ed”
Thoughts: Still blues rock with a hard edge (especially “Stateside”) but a sound that fits in with the alternative rock of the era.  I think the first Tin Machine II album was more consistent, but my favorite tracks stand out more on this album.
Rating: ***


AlbumBlack Tie White Noise
Release Date: 5 April 1993
Favorite Tracks: “You’ve Been Around,”  “Jump They Say,”  “Pallas Athena,” and “Miracle Goodnight”
Thoughts: There’s a lot going on this album.  Bowie is celebrating his wedding to Iman. He is reunited with producer Nile Rodgers and guitarist Mick Ronson.  And he’s exploring blending house music with sax-heavy soul music.  Some tracks have a cheezy synth-sound, but overall this may be the most danceable David Bowie album.  This is another one I wish I checked out at the time it was released because I probably would’ve liked it.
Rating: ***


Album1. Outside
Release Date: 25 September 1995[
Favorite Tracks: “A Small Plot of Land,” “Hallo Spaceboy,”  “I Have Not Been to Oxford Town,” “No Control”
Thoughts: Bowie once again dips into a well of previous successes, reuniting with producer Brian Eno and creating a concept album on dystopian themes not unlike Diamond Dogs. The result is a theatrical collection of industrial tracks.  The album is lengthy and dark in tone, so I can’t imagine wanting to put it on often, but that does not detract from the artistry of it.
Rating: ***


AlbumEART HL I NG
Release Date: 3 February 1997
Favorite Tracks: “Little Wonder,” “Battle for Britain (The Letter),” “Telling Lies,”  and “I’m Afraid of Americans”
Thoughts: David Bowie continues to experiment with contemporary music styles, this time blending drum and bass with his brand of rock and roll.  “I’m Afraid of Americans” is the only 1990s song I believe I’ve heard before, and it’s not even the best one on the album.
Rating: ***1/2


Album‘hours…’
Release Date:  21 September 1999
Favorite Tracks: The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell
Thoughts: With Bowie, expect the unexpected.  What’s unexpected here is that this album originated with the music for a computer game soundtrack.  What’s unfortunate is that much of it is mellow, “easy listening” material which is a bit too reminiscent of his 1980s nadir (but with better production). “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell” is the standout track, but I think it would’ve been just run-of-the-mill on previous 1990s albums.
Rating:*1/2


AlbumHeathen 
Release Date: 11 June 2002
Favorite Tracks: “Slip Away” and  “Heathen (The Rays)”
Thoughts: This album kind of strikes me as what if the guy who recorded Let’s Dance grew older and decided to record a more serious album. There’s nothing wrong with the that, it’s just odd considering all the other incarnations of Bowie in-between.  The instrumentation on the album is lush, but musically it still has too much of an easy-listening vibe.
Rating: **


AlbumReality
Release Date: 16 September 2003
Favorite Tracks: “New Killer Star,”  “Pablo Picasso,”  “Try Some, Buy Some,” and “Reality”
Thoughts: This is a partner album for Heathens, although with more of a post-punk vibe, a harder rock & roll edge, and more consistency from song to song.  Bowie gets abstractly political and throws in a couple of covers.
Rating: **1/2


AlbumThe Next Day
Release Date:  8 March 2013
Favorite Tracks: “Where Are We Now?” and “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die”
Thoughts: After a ten-year absence from releasing studio recordings, Bowie surprised fans with a new album. The Next Day is a straight-forward rocker of an album that both builds on Bowie’s past and show’s his continued interest in innovation. This another album where I haven’t singled out many favorite tracks but I do like the overall tone and flow of the complete album.
Rating: ***


AlbumBlackstar
Release Date: 8 January 2016
Favorite Tracks: “Blackstar,” “Lazarus,” “Girl Loves Me,”  and “I Can’t Give Everything Away”
Thoughts: For the first and only time, I listened to a David Bowie recording at the time it was released.  I remember being blown away by the title song when it came out in November 2015, and impressed that Bowie was doing such innovative work so late in his career.  And then Bowie died just two days after the album was released in January.  It’s clear that Bowie’s mortality informed the lyrics and that this album was a farewell.  But Bowie also left on a creative peak, incorporating experimental jazz and electronic music in his own inimitable way.
Rating: *****

Five unexpected things that I learned about Bowie through listening to all of his studio albums:

  • That he likes to do lots of cover songs.  I’d always thought he was the type of artist who only recorded his own songs.
  • That he’s a major collaborator.  I knew about Bowie’s work with Queen and Bing Crosby, but all through his career he worked with an enormous number of talented artists.
  • That he likes to rework, re-record, and reissue songs, often over long periods of time.
  • That most of his 80s work is so unlistenable, but that so much of his work from 1989 onward that I never heard before is rather remarkable.
  • That listening to all the studio albums just scratches the surface of the work Bowie produced since he has so many non-album recordings, soundtracks, remixes, live recordings, and collaborations with other artists, not to mention his work in music videos and films.

 On that last note, I could extend this Bowie discovery series indefinitely.  But, for now I will call this an end, and when Music Discoveries returns I will be revisiting the music of The Replacements.

Book Review: Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt


Author: Samantha Hunt 
TitleMr. Splitfoot
Narrators: Cassandra Campbell and Emily Woo Zeller
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2016)
Summary/Review:

This gothic mystery tells two interwoven stories.  The first is about the young Ruth and Nat, foster children growing up in a group home under a strange Christian cult leader.  They begin to claim that they can talk with the dead, and with the help of a con man named Mr. Bell, they escape and begin traveling and hosting seances.

The second story is about a directionless young woman named Cora who becomes pregnant by her cruel boyfriend, who is married to another woman.  Her aunt Ruth, now unable to speak, arrives and takes Cora on a long journey across the state of New York.  There’s a lot of mystery and creepiness in this book, although the real horror is the cruelty of humankind.  {SPOILER} The biggest surprise of this book is that it manages a happy ending. {/SPOILER}
Favorite Passages:

“Forget God. Or don’t call it that. I’m talking about mystery, unsolvable mystery. Maybe it’s as simple as love. I say it is.”

Recommended booksChoke by Chuck Palahniuk and
The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clark
Rating: ***

Book Review: What Was the First Thanksgiving? by Joan Holub


Author: Joan Holub
TitleWhat Was the First Thanksgiving?
Publication Info: Grosset & Dunlap (2013), 112 pages
Summary/Review: This is a simple but honest children’s history of the settlers of Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag people and what really happened on that first Thanksgiving.  There’s a fair amount of myth-busting as well as using surviving records to determine actual events.  There’s also a short history of how Thanksgiving became an American holiday and a detailed chapter about visiting Plimoth Plantation (very useful to my son and I since we’re taking a field trip there next month).

Rating: ***

Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik


Author: Naomi Novik
TitleHis Majesty’s Dragon
NarratorSimon Vance
Publication Info: Books on Tape (2007)
Summary/Review:

I imagine the author read the Aubrey/Maturin series and thought “I’d like to write that same type of book. With dragons.”  Set in the Napoleonic Wars, this is a historic novel for the most part, with the exception that dragons are real and used by the British and French for airborne battles.  It begins when Naval captain Will Laurence captures a dragon egg from a French ship and forms a bond with the young dragon Temeraire after he hatches.  Laurence and Temeraire quickly form a close relationship, but Laurence is forced to resign from the Navy and join the Aerial Corps, which is not only mysterious and dangerous, but has very low social standing.  Laurence learns that life in the Aerial Corps is more relaxed than in other branches of the military, and that women are paired with dragons and afforded equal standing, so the book is also a comedy of manners in many ways.  Plus, there are cool aerial battles.

I’ve learned that this is the first in a series of 9 books, and while I enjoyed this book, I’m not sure I want to commit to the whole series (I couldn’t even get through all of Aubrey/Maturin).  If you’ve read them, let me know if it is worth continuing.

Recommended booksMaster and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week for the Week Ending October 24


An eerie story of a woman’s experience waking up in a hospital with a head injury and no memory of how she got there. It’s well-told with details revealed in the order she learned them.
Neil Degrasse Tyson interviews the ever charming and poetic French performance artists about his high-wire walks.
An exploration into the first type of residential architecture designed with the idea of immediately selling it to someone else and thus creating a style that no one likes.
Mike Pesca interviews the Green Party candidate for President.  While Pesca is critical of Stein, nevertheless it’s good to hear her get a chance to speak and bring up some issues not being addressed by the major party candidates.
Despite being a hot button issue, voter fraud is exceedingly rare in the United States today and especially difficult to carry out on a large scale to effect national elections.
An interview with Eric Liu who wants to bring back civic pride and celebration to elections.
A short history of how the District of Columbia has been denied Congressional representation and how non-voting Representative  Eleanor Holmes Norton is trying to change that.

Music Discoveries: David Bowie, 1975-1987


This second post in the Music Discovery series covers a dozen years and nine David Bowie albums.  It follows Bowie as he says goodbye to Glam Rock and Ziggy Stardust and takes on American soul, German electronic music, atmospheric art music, and finally pop superstardom.  The first six albums come out with regularity about a year apart, but by the 1980s, Bowie’s musical output drops considerably with only three albums in 8 years.  Sadly, the quality of that music also falls off a cliff, and it’s hard to believe it’s the same artists.  Bowie himself would refer to it as his “Phil Collins period.”

Despite only three albums, Bowie remained busy in the 1980s with major world tours and collaborations with other artists.  Some, like with Queen, were transcendent while other’s, like with Mick Jagger, were embarrassing.  Bowie also kept busy acting in films like The Man Who Fell to Earth, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and Labyrinth (I need to have a David Bowie movie marathon and watch all of these).  I didn’t include his movie soundtrack work so there is more musical output there.  Bowie’s film experience also translated to music video and he helped make an art of the medium.  I remember the 20-minute movie/video for “Blue Jean” being a huge deal on MTV at the time, although his “Ashes to Ashes” video stands up more over time.

So here is it all, the weird and wonderful and sometimes cringe-worthy middle career of David Bowie.

AlbumYoung Americans
Release Date: 7 March 1975
Favorite Tracks: “Young Americans,” “Fame,”  “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again),” and “Who Can I Be Now?”
Thoughts: Bowie transitions into a 70s soul & funk style for this album.  To help out he collaborates with Luther Vandross, but also works with John Lennon on a couple of tracks.  I found the sound of this album a refreshing change at first, although it all starts to blend together after a while.  The cover of “Across the Universe” seemed particularly uninspired since a Philly soul take on that song seems so promising.  The two hit singles from this album, and surprisingly the bonus tracks added in later editions stand out for me.
Rating: ***


AlbumStation to Station
Release Date: 23 January 1976
Favorite Tracks:  “Golden Years” and “TVC 15”
Thoughts: The album continues the r&b sound of it’s predecessor, with a darker mood, and the addition of electronic instrumentation that prefigures the post-punk/New Wave sound by about five years.  Apparently Bowie was completely coked-out in recording this album and channeling the numb-to-emotion persona of the Thin White Duke.  I know this album is well-regarded so I hope Bowie fans won’t judge me too much for it not resonating well with me.  Still, a definite musical achievement.
Rating:  ***


AlbumLow
Release Date: 14 January 1977
Favorite Tracks: “Be My Wife,” “”A New Career in a New Town,” “Warszawa,” and “Subterraneans”
Thoughts: Bowie escaped a cocaine-riddled life in Los Angeles and moved to Berlin, working with Brian Eno on the first of what would become known as the Berlin Trilogy albums. Stylistically, Bowie moves on from American funk & soul to German electronic and avant guarde music.  The entire second half of the album is mostly instrumental and atmospheric music, something I really like although I imagine it was a shock to rock & roll fans in 1977.  I’d never heard any of this album before so it was a pleasant surprise to hear Bowie innovating in yet another musical style.
Rating: ***1/2 (I’d give the B-side a full ****)


Album“Heroes”
Release Date: 14 October 1977
Favorite Tracks: “Beauty and the Beast,” “‘Heroes’,”  “Sense of Doubt,”  and “Neukoln”
Thoughts: Bowie and Eno’s experiments with electronic and atmospheric music continue with this album trying and succeeding to incorporate those sounds into pop songs with lyrics.  There’s still a segment of three consecutive instrumental, atmospheric tracks near the end of the album.  As a result, the album feels all over the place musically, but delightfully so.  This very much feels like the groundwork for 1980s New Wave music.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumLodger
Release Date: 18 May 1979
Favorite Tracks: “DJ” and “Boys Keep Swinging”
Thoughts: Bowie builds on the experimental sounds of the previous two albums in a collection of songs with much more pop sensibility.  To this is added an element of world music on several tracks.  The effect is kind of a Bowie take on Talking Heads.
Rating: **1/2


AlbumScary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Release Date: 12 September 1980
Favorite Tracks:  “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps),” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Fashion,” and “Because Your Young”
Thoughts:  The album is a culmination (and perhaps a purging) of all the musical sounds of the seventies, as well as a preview of what’s to come in the eighties.  There’s very little of the experimentation of recent albums, just straight forward rock in a New Wave vein.
Rating: ***


AlbumLet’s Dance
Release Date: 14 April 1983
Favorite Tracks: “Modern Love” and  “Let’s Dance”
Thoughts: Bowie dives into 1980s mainstream success with this collection of danceable soul/funk tracks.  He plays no instruments, but his voice is joined by Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Nile Rogers produces ready made hits.  While “Modern Love” and “Let’s Dance” are a couple of the great songs of the 1980s overall, the rest of the album is kind of a bland morass.
Rating: *1/2


AlbumTonight
Release Date: 1 September 1984
Favorite Tracks: “Blue Jean”
Thoughts: An attempt to follow up on the commercial success of Let’s Dance, this album is basically a collection of covers packaged around the one good song “Blue Jean.”  The rest of the album is almost unlistenable and it’s hard to believe it was created by the same person who made the previous 15 albums.
Rating: 1/2 *


Album: Never Let Me Down
Release Date: 27 April 1987
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts: I want to be more generous with this album, because it sounds like there may be some good songs under the awful 80s production, and Bowie made the effort to write a new set of songs with a rock band.  But it still isn’t much fun to listen to this.
Rating: *

Next week: Bowie returns to innovating music setting an example for other rock and roll elder statesmen right up until his death in 2016.

Harpoon UFO Pumpkin


Beer: UFO Pumpkin
Brewer: Harpoon Brewery
Source: Can
Rating:  **** (8.4 of 10)
Comments:

I am fond of Harpoons UnFiltered Offering (UFO).  I am fond of spicy pumpkin beers.  So opening this can of delight made my autumn, beer wise.  It’s a beautiful orange beer with a foamy head.  The aroma is full of spice which also infuses that flavor, balanced with sweet malts.  Delicious!

 

From the same brewery: