Heretical Orthodoxy

The dangerous musings of a profane saint.

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Location: Finchale, County Durham, United Kingdom

Thursday, February 09, 2006

My lips, they're on FIRE

Alas, I sincerely wish I could share a sample or two, but I am giddy that I have an advance copy of the new Flaming Lips disc in my possession (and on my iPod; thank goodness for watermarked-but-not-locked advances).

I didn't think this is possible, but it's the best of The Soft Bulletin's bittersweet arrangements and the guitar rawk of Transmissions From The Satellite Heart. Lips fans will be chuffed; and more indie-yuppie newbies may indeed join the fold, to the chagrin of the hipsters.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

How Charlie Brown and Mister Rogers got me hooked on a hepcat drug addict

As I've gotten older, Christmas has turned from a season of effortless magic into a time of nonstop busyness and tasks that must be completed, as it usually does for most people. But one way that the magic remains for me is in the music.

As Thanksgiving dinner is digested (and usually not one moment later) I pull out Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and the familiar sound of Guaraldi's cerebral piano jazz fills the room. Once again, the Christmas season has turned into an excuse to hear some of my favorite music in the world—and there's a primal connection; I've been listening to this stuff longer than even my most favorite pop music.

Interestingly, when Charles Schultz created his first television special, the now beloved Charlie Brown Christmas, everyone thought he was nuts for using such grown-up music for a kids show. And yet, Guaraldi's soundtrack has contributed immeasureably to the timeless appeal of this holiday chestnut.

Another guy making similar artistic decisions (or, in this context, maybe I should say "another cat") was Fred Rogers. Instead of twee, dumbed-down kiddy tunes for his program, he instead drafted Johnny Costa to lay, again, cerebral piano jazz to carry the show along.

As a 2000 article in Christianity Today notes:
Johnny Costa, who Mister Rogers says was "probably one of the finest jazz pianists in the world," had been the music director for nearly three decades when he died in 1996. "I was a real jazzer," Costa once said, and so he wasn't sure if directing music for a children's program was the best way to use his talents. Rogers encouraged him to do all the jazz he wanted for the program. Costa decided that, rather than create singsongy and childlike music, he would improvise with his own style. He played live in the studio for each program.

The end result, for me, was a process of artistic curiousity and exploration that led me to the prime mover of cerebral piano jazz: Bill Evans, to whom both Guaraldi and Costa owe an artistic debt. Evans, who was classically trained and brought new sophistication to jazz piano, rose to prominence as a member of Miles Davis' late '50s ensemble. He struck out on his own shortly thereafter with Everybody Digs Bill Evans, which I got for Christmas a few years ago.

Probably since I had my own, frustrated, childhood grappling with classical piano (along with seven years of lessons) I've become a bit of an Evans obsessive, as many tend to do... especially musicians. I can certainly listen to as many takes of Waltz For Debby as are out there.

So, the ironic effect of both Rogers' and Schultz' artistic decisions was to make me a huge fan of a chronically drug-addicted jazzer. (Evans was a well-known heroin addict in his '50s and '60s prime, and a cocaine addict thereafter. He died in 1980 at only 51, his life likely shortened by his substance abuse.)

Unfortunately, current children's programs making such progressive musical choices are rare. However, Mister Rogers Neighborhood is still in constant reruns for my moppet, and the Charlie Brown specials tend to pop up regularly as well. Nothing good really goes away. I least, I hope not.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Yuletide Cheer

How do I know God loves me this Christmas, besides the obvious, of course?

1. The almost-three-year-old moppet is beside herself with joy at everything Christmas. All I have to do is put up a scraggly, wire, Charlie Brown-looking tree, without lights or decorations, and she's dancing around the room and proclaiming in a hushed voice how "beautiful" it is.

2. Two Sufjan Stevens Christmas EPs that I even forgot that I had gotten at some point over the summer. AND a third EP I didn't know existed. It's pretty much all Godric's household is listening to right now.

Did I mention that fellow Scottie Josiah Roe is hosting the full mp3s of these at his blog? Oh yes, he is. Partake in the yuletide cheer, bruthas and sistas.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Find A Human

As fellow blogger* Jesse Jarnow says, these are secret video game codes for real life...

The cheat sheet to talking to an actual human being at nearly every "service provider."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Breathing normally

Phew, done with deadline and I'm back. Naturally, as soon as we upload the magazine, all hell (literally) breaks loose in the Crescent City and we have no acknowledgement of it in our pages. While planning some ways of capturing the situation in the next issue (including a feature on fine New Orleans singer/songerwriter Mo Leverett, who has done ministry work in the inner city for a decade now) my personal challenge is to stop talking a big game about what we're going to do and actually get out and do it. First of all, I need to clean out our guest room so we can house some folks. Gotta do it. Pressure washing the deck all weekend was personally satisfying but didn't do jack in terms of making the house more hospitable. Hold me to that.

Had sort of an interesting experiment last week when it looked like the Atlanta area's gas pipelines (from the Gulf Coast) were shutting down and there was a massive run on the pumps. After filling up both cars, we parked 'em. Then the next morning, the moppet and I actually hopped on a bus and took public transit to her daycare (which is thankfully walking distance from a train stop), then I walked across downtown Decatur to work where I picked up a few things. Then I got on my bike (which I'd left at my office), rode four miles Lowe's to pick up a few supplies, then parked at another train station and went to the airport to manage some ticket refunds.

From there, I took another train, then a bus, to my credit union to deposit my paycheck. Then, bus, train, train back to the bike, where I rode two miles home. Gasoline usage = zero. Of course, the nice thing is that I live in a relatively urbanized, older area, where it's actually possible (though more time-consuming) to get around a bit on transit, bike and good old-fashioned shoe leather. In newer areas, where cul-de-sac'd subdivisions all dump out on sidewalk-less 4/6-lane collector roads, biking or walking entails risking ones life, local transit is nonexistent, and everything is at least two miles away by design. Gas crunches reveal the folly of this sort of car-mandatory development more than anything.

With my only real problem being $3/gal+ gasoline I am quite lucky. Now the onus is on us to make sure we do something for the folks who aren't.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Fun music

I'm in the grip of magazine deadline, so blogging will be light-to-nonexistent through the weekend. However, the moppet made her daddy proud in the car this morning, on the ride to daycare.

I had put in Ozomatli because I felt like something a bit more rhythmic. And halfway through the first song, "Believe," where the rap kicks in, she said: "This is fun music, daddy!" Completely unprompted. Then after the second song, she reiterated: "This is fun."

I am so proud.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Christian Counterculture

Via TulipGirl, today I read an excellent piece in Swarthmore College's alumni publication on Read Schuchardt, founder of the excellent Metaphilm.

The Schuchardts are outstanding examples of how Christian faith, consistently lived, can become countercultural. I've only met Read once, in NYC (he's a friend of friends), but have been impressed not only with his media-eschewing lifestyle (grounded in biblical philosophy as well as the ideas of Neil Postman, under whom he studied), but with the family's gung-ho willingness to trade near-poverty for a rich family life. The eight of them (that's right, eight), until recently, lived in a tiny apartment in Jersey City. (I had heard it was only two rooms but I'm not sure if that's accurate, or if I'm remembering correctly.)

I met a lot of missionary kids and home-schooled kids in college who also challenged my middle-class cultural assumptions. I could certainly use more of those challenges right now.

Meanwhile the Moppet watches Beauty and the Beast for the umpteenth time and we're planning a trip to the Land of the Mouse. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak...