Friends of the Blog

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I’m very fortunate to have a lot of people who have my back, both in my life and on the internet.  As a tiny sign of gratitude (because a link alone can’t suffice for how awesome these people are), I’ve created a “Friends and their Blogs” list in my sidebar.  These are people who inspire me with their passions, motivate me with their own creative pursuits, and impress me on a regular basis.

So, I thought that I would “introduce” you to a few of these people and encourage you to add their sites to your Google Reader, bookmarks, or whatever.  (NOTE: If I’ve forgotten you or if you end up starting a blog, let me know and I’ll add you to the list).

Proceeding alphabetically (by site name):

Paul is a colleague of mine and very generously gave me technology advice on numerous occasions, including one morning in 2007 at 6:30 AM.  He writes an informative and passionate blog about educational issues titled Blogush (a play on his last name).  Right now, he’s up for a “Best Education Blog” award at the 2008 Weblogs Awards and would be deserving of your vote.

Rob is a colleague, collaborator, and friend.  He’s an informational technology teacher with a wide range of interests and insights (including literature, photography, and collaboration.  His blog is titled Burgundy Productions and he’s also building a site called Multimedia Storm, which aims to be a compendium of how-to videos and other guides for technology and web development skills.

I’ve become friends with Brendan through many seasons of fantasy sports.  You can read what he has to think about technology, music, and other assorted topics at his blog Do What You Love (at least until he builds his own personal domain – anyone with insight into that process should leave a comment on his blog).  Brendan also recently wrote a book as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge and had a review of the TweetDeck application published in a Mac Software blog.

Jenny possesses one of the most creative souls of anyone I’ve ever met.  She’s frequently snapping breathtaking photos with her phone, jotting down things in her moleskine notebook, and looking for different craft projects to work on.  Most significantly, however, Jenny makes awesome beaded jewelry that you can gaze at on her webpage J.Mack Gems.  Stay tuned to her site for the grand opening of her Etsy shop where you’ll be able to buy some of these works of art for yourself.  Also, she is a social media maven, as displayed (along with other links of interest) on her new Tumblr site, not to mention that she knit me a killer hat for Christmas.

My good friend Mike and I have been blogging together on and off through several different sites.  A year ago we started a blog titled Make Me Fries, and after far too much slacking on my part, I’m bequeathing the blog to him on a full time basis.  This is for the best though, as my sporadic posts (and I might have one from time to time) only interrupted his well-researched and thoroughly amusing posts about music, politics, and sports.  For an example of his unique insight: Mike recently wrote a post comparing significant 2008 albums to specific seasons of professional athletes.  Only on Make Me Fries will you find Lil Wayne compared to Carl Everett (or, similarly, Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis compared to Chris Weber).

As long as I’ve know him, Dave has oozed a passion for pop culture.  So needless to say, I was thrilled when I discovered that he started his own blog NineDaves, where he posts on a wide range of topics.  For instance, NineDaves keeps an eye on all of the closings on broadway, recaps the weekly episodes of Gossip Girl, and keeps an eye on all types of Brooklyn/NYC happenings.  Read any one of his hundreds of posts, all written in his distinctive lowercase style, and you’ll understand why his blog gets mentioned all over the internet.

And the most recent entry (not to mention one of the most anticipated) comes from my friend Dan.  Few can match his biting wit, charming sense of humor, and encyclopedic knowledge of sports, mid-90s hip hop, and awesomeness in general.  His blog this is the city line (another blog named after a Pavement lyric!) has already taken off, with its third post being featured on Yahoo’s basketball blog Ball Don’t Lie.  Expect more of the same in the future as well.

Some Songs Considered: My 2009 Project

Friday, January 2, 2009

While driving back to CT on New Year’s Day, I had an idea.  I’ve been kicking around the thoughts of hosting a podcast but far too many concerns (“where would I host it?”, “would people actually listen?”,  etc) prevented me from doing it.  Then, I had this crazy idea.

What if I wrote about a different song every day?

I’ve done this in the past in a variety of places.  I always tell people that one of my favorite parts of making a mix for someone is writing the track-by-track “notes” that accompany it (and often stretch to 4 or 5 pages).  I always want to find different ways to make myself write too.  So out of this idea comes Some Songs Considered (NPR pun intentional, sorry folks).

As it stands now, it’s a place where I will write about a new song every day.  What I write will largely change based on the day and the song – on days that I’m “too busy to write”,  I’ll do what I do when I write mix notes – I’ll put the song on and write until the song ends, then go back and clean it up a little bit.  Other days, when I’m feeling more inspired I might write more.  It won’t always be track reviews either.  Sometimes, I’ll tell a story that the song reminds me of or maybe even write something a bit more creative.

Right now, there’s a lot that I haven’t figured out about Some Songs Considered, but that’s ok.  I have all of 2009 to figure it out!  As of right now, these are my goals for the site:

1.  Write every day.

This seems obvious, but a lot of advice (and advice I give my students) is that good writers write frequently.  By setting this goal of writing “something” every day, I hope that I can sharpen my own skills as a writer.  By using the songs as a jumping off point, I’ll hopefully have something to write about each day.

2.  Share songs with other people

I love sharing music with others, and this gives me an opportunity to explain how these songs affect me.  I’m not sure I’ll always write about songs that I love, but they will (probably) always be songs that inspire some sort of emotional response or philosophical thought or something.  I’m also going to try to have some sort of AV content too – whether it’s an embedded stream or a YouTube video or something.  That way, we’ll have some common ground to discuss (and, perhaps naively, I hope that discussions spring up occasionally – please come and comment on the songs!)

3. Learn about my own taste in music.

One of the things I want to do with these entries is attach a whole bunch of tags to them based on genre, era, style, label, etc.  That way, I can look back and see what songs I liked during a given period as well as the types of things I write about more often and less often than others.  The plan right now is to write “recap” posts in this blog – whether it’s every other week or once a month – looking at some of the “trends” I’ve seen in my own writing.  This is a strange form of self-reflection, but I’m curious to see what I learn about myself as a music fan over the next year.

So go check out the Some Songs Considered blog and chime in on the songs.  I’ve already written the first two entries and I’m already thinking about where I’m going next.

December Update

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sorry for being a delinquent blogger.  Just like last December, I’m picking up the slack and (hopefully) going to start blogging again.  I had a lot of ideas for posts but didn’t really have the time or (more accurately) the discipline to sit down and blog again.

Anyway, as a bit of a compromise, I’ve revived my Tumblr account.  Go check it out – “follow” me on it, or whatever.  I think I’ll be using that for quicker ideas that I don’t need to flesh out into a full blog post.  I guess it’s somewhere between a Twitter update and a blog post.

I’ll be writing about my favorite music of the year once I figure out the angle I want to take (probably a mix) and that will go here.  I’ve been downloading a lot of stuff the past few days and I’ll be sorting through that as well.

Cool Kids [No Longer] Have the Time

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I try not to revel in others’ misery (it doesn’t really make me any happier), but I’d lie if I said I wasn’t amused at the continual train wreck that the Smashing Pumpkins reunion tour has become.  Numerous reports from the road – Stereogum, Fluxblog, and most recently Pitchfork – all chime in with the same story – Billy Corgan’s band (consisting of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain and generally anonymous dopplegangers for the other original members) is playing setlists full of newer songs from the universally panned Zeitgeist with a few of the classics peppered among tracks from recent singles/EPs, cover songs, and even newer songs whose descriptions (“drone metal,” “prog wankery”) give me little incentive to actually listen to them [EDIT: thanks to Matthew for setting me straight. I might be pissed off, but I don’t want to get my facts confused].  To top it off, Billy Corgan routinely berates, degrates, and taunts his audience – remember, these are people who paid a lot of money to see a band that hasn’t been relevant in a decade.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I’ve never been a huge fan of the Smashing Pumpkins.  I liked some of their earlier, rougher songs, and they have a few undeniable killers (of course I turn up “1979,” “Zero,” and “Cherub Rock” whenever they come on the radio), but I’ve always been bewildered by the number of die hard devotees to this band.  Sure, I’m sure plenty of people think the same thing about the bands I love, but the obsessive Pumpkins fans seemed more a byproduct of their ubiquity on the radio in the late 1990s.  Regardless, I have little sympathy for someone who claims to care so much about his music that has such a belligerent attitude towards the people who let him live an affluent life off of it.  Of course, Corgan is allowed to indulge his artistic whims and try new things, but there’s a difference between pushing the envelope and pushing away your fans.

Evidently, one of Corgan’s rants suggests that his band as an “Alternative” band means that his band should be different from “those reunion bands that go out and just play the old songs.”  There’s something to be said there – a band that gets back together for a cashgrab by playing just the greatest hits (which Corgan’s group could do, and would make many of the people I went to high school with very happy.  Hell, I might even enjoy that show too!) isn’t the same as a group that gets back together to make new music.  Even the msot diehard fans will allow their favorite groups to play new songs too.  Again, there’s a marked difference between playing new material mixed in with older songs and yelling at your audience to “appreciate” what you’re trying to do.  It just makes you sound petty and pathetic.

Am I being unfair here?  I don’t think I am.  I just see a bitter, fading star angry that his time has passed and running dangerously close to alienating the few people keeping his band vaguely relevant.  I’m not saying he should kiss his audience’s asses (he shouldn’t), I’m just saying that he probably shouldn’t actively taunt them for coming to his overpriced shows.  I’ll spend my money on bands that enjoy what they do and like sharing that with others (for example, the night the Pumpkins were in New York, I saw The Hold Steady – a band that perpetually seems like they’re having the time of their lives on stage and thus creates that atmosphere for the audience as well).

If you want to hear some of the rants (and I suppose the songs too), click through to those articles linked above.

A Sign of the Times

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Here’s a glimpse at the search engine terms referring people to my blog today.  I think that this captures the mood of the moment perfectly:stats1

And the man who should be collecting royalties for the soundbyte from last night’s stellar speech (also, semi-coincidentally, the song I played on my iPod while I waited in line to vote):

UPDATE: WFMU played 14 versions of “A Change is Gonna Come” yesterday and posted MP3s on their blog.  Go grab them!

Morning in America

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

While I haven’t used my blog as a political mouthpiece (really, that’s not the purpose of this blog.   I’m not really sure what the purpose of this blog is anymore, but it’s not to rehash things that could be more eloquently discussed elsewhere), it doesn’t mean that I’ve hidden my support for Barack Obama either.  While he’s not a perfect candidate, I feel that he best represents many of my most important political beliefs (not to mention that I find him personally inspiring – something in short supply in the political world).  I will proudly vote for him later on today, and I will nervously watch the poll results come in Tuesday night and hope for the best.

Over the past few years – beginning with his powerful speech at the 2004 DNC – Obama’s shared his own story of struggle and triumph with America.  In particular, he spoke highly of his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who raised him during his youth.  Obama spoke of her with such respect and reverence as he detailed the personal sacrifices she made to provide for him.  He even bravely used her as an example when talking about race reltations and prejudices (in that brief, fleeting moment where it looked like we could have an intelligent conversation about race rather than just hurling angry accusations back and forth).  So I can imagine Obama’s sadness upon hearing that his grandmother passed away the day before Election Day.  In an entirely unrelated way (well, at least consciously), Jenny & I were discussing our grandparents that passed away recently tonight, so I know how a loved one’s death comes as both a moment of grief but also as a moment of closure when the suffering of a loved one finally ceases.

After we spoke, I sat down to my computer and had an idea.  I’ve been impressed by the way the Obama campaign courted a legion of small donors (if Obama wins, he will win in large part because of the tremendous orgazational advantage his campaign created) fueling his campaign.  I frequently thought about donating but never pulled the trigger for whatever reason.  So tonight I took the money that I would have spent on a campaign donation and made a donation to The Jimmy Fund.  Sure, the first inspiration for this came from the suggestion in Ms. Dunham’s obituary that donations be made to cancer research, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is a donation for many people – even though my own grandmothers didn’t have cancer, I know that cancer research will help improve the lives of many and that they would both be proud.

So in honor of Senator Obama’s grandmother, the woman who helped raise this man who has inspired so many of us, and both of my grandmothers – two women I hold in the same regard that Senator Obama held his –  I hope that my little part tonight helps to improve the lives of others, and I hope that tomorrow night around this time, Senator Obama will start making plans for how he will spend the next few years improving all of our lives.

Five Years (and in this case, not the David Bowie song)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So five years ago yesterday, three completely coincidental events happened.  October 21, 2003 marked the first and only time I attended the CMJ Music Marathon.  I got to see several amazing shows – Broken Social Scene and Stars at the Bowery Ballroom, Mac from Superchunk/Portastatic in a weird conference room in the midtown Hilton (same place I saw the Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players or whatever they were called), Ted Leo at CBGBs (the only time I ever set foot in the punk rock Mecca), and a few other run-ins I’m forgetting (involving Screech and Elijah Wood – one story is far more interesting than the other, I’ll tell you in person if you want) and had a wonderful week of shows with some of my WDOM pals.

The second coincidence was that the previous night, I swore off caffeine, so that Tuesday morning was my first day “detoxing.”  It started as being a temporary abstenence – spend a week to flush it out of my system and then moderate my intake.  However, strangely enough, it lasted for nearly three years (even though it didn’t help me sleep any better – the primary reason for giving it up – and I sleep infinitely better today, over two years after I picked it back up).  Luckily, I didn’t experience any of the major withdrawal symptoms – headaches, fatigue – which was lucky since the week I decided to spontaneously give it up was also the week I was galavanting around lower Manhattan for several late nights in a row, sleeping on the floor with 5 other people in our hotel room.  It did help cast that week in a strange haze.

The other reason for this haze (and the most public of these three convergences) was that Tuesday morning before leaving, my friend Carlin’s away message read “Elliott’s dead.”  A few minutes later, I found the article that announced that Elliott Smith was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted stab wound to the chest (as much as we’d like to think that someone else was involved, it’s never been confirmed as anything else).  As the five of us that went were all big fans of his work (my friend Dan wrote a great eulogy for our school paper at the time), it was even stranger to be among people associated with college radio right after one of the most revered figures of the format passed away.  It made a surreal week even more surreal, and more importantly it was the best place to be to remember one of the best songwriters of my generation.

A year after his death, I wrote that I hoped to remember Elliott’s fragile and beautiful songs rather than his ugly ending, and most of the time that’s the case.  I still marvel at the craftsmanship in his arrangements and the dark beauty in his lyrics.  I’m still amazes at how powerful these songs can be with even the most minimal arrangements; I’m not sure anyone else could command the same awed silence with just accoustic guitar and voice the way that Elliott affected his listeners.  Far too often, we celebrate the artist at the expense of his art – and sometimes that leaves us mourning the artist rather than celebrating the reasons we fell in love with that artist in the first place.  It’s still unreal that he’s been dead for five years, but the songs he left behind (including all of the pothsumeously released material) will live on hopefully forever as reminders of the beauty, sadness, and fragility of our world.

Chad at Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands (named after a song from Elliott’s XO) posted a dozen different posts of videos, live songs, cover versions from Elliott’s tribute concert, and miscellaneous rememberances that are essential reading, so go check that out.  I think that later this week I’ll try to post the mp3s of the interview I had this past spring with photographer Autumn de Wilde about her wonderful book of photos and stories about Elliott over at the Left of the Dial site.  Until then, I’ll dig out my Division Day 7″ and raise my mug in Elliott’s memory.


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