Sidereal ramblings

Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007 -- Music

Hmmm. I recently bought a sweatshirt that proclaims "Traveling 33 rpm in an ipod world." Sadly (or not) this describes me in more ways than one. An example: as I write this, I'm listening to an old Joe Sample album (yes, kids, on vinyl!) from 1979. When I worked in record stores back in the '80s and early '90s, my colleagues and I used to make up Top 10 lists at the end of the year, and it was always a fun challenge to narrow that year's best music down to ten titles. [My friend Steve, who I worked with back then, recently blogged his "albums of 2007." While his tastes and mine didn't always match up, they often did, so I'm sure some of the stuff on his list is worth checking out. You can find it at, scroll down to the albums of 2007 post.] I don't think I bought 10 new CDs in 2007, and I'm sure of the ones I did, most of them weren't released this year. I just checked the copyright dates on some of the ones I did buy recently, and mostly what I learned is that my eyesight isn't good enough to read the tiny print on the CD labels anymore. I will, however, say this:

Even if I'd heard every new release of 2007, I'm sure one of best (if not the best) releases of the year was Lucinda Williams new disc, West. I always said Lucinda could sing the phonebook and make it sound sexy. It's hard to pick any "best" songs out of the 13 here, 'cause every one is an absolute gem. That said, the song "Fancy Funeral" made a huge impression on me, probably for obvious reasons. I don't think this disc left my CD player for weeks when I first bought it. All I can say is it's amazing. Go out today and buy it, or order it, or I suppose, download it. Whatever. You need this record.

Best of 2007 -- TV

So I'm a bit late getting started on blogging my annual "best of" lists, but since I'm not doing anything else tonight, maybe I'll get some of them up. First up: TV.

Best Show of 2007: Lost. Yep, gotta go with a show that hasn't been on in the last seven months. The second half of the third season was great. I really didn't expect Charlie's death, although the writers did everything possible to prepare us for it. And the last episode was phenomenal. I've finally got someone at work I can talk with this show about, which makes it an even better experience.

Best new show of 2007: Pushing Daises, without a doubt. I love this show for the writing, which is as quick and clever as a Tom Stoppard play. I might love it even more for the set design and costuming, which make it look like nothing else on TV. Gotta thank my friend Jeff for suggesting this one to me. I still haven't seen the first episode, but started watching the next week on his suggestion.

Honorable mention: Reaper. I taped a bunch of these, and ended up watching every episode after the pilot in the space of about two weeks. It worked that way. The show's mythology is developing slowly, and they've avoided what could have been the trap of doing essentially the same show from week to week. Plus, Tyler Labine (I hope I got his name right; I'm going from memory) as Sock is a hoot.

Guilty pleasure: Maybe I shouldn't mention this, but I've really enjoyed The Big Bang Theory. Standard sitcom fair, maybe, but the geekiness quotient is just right, and I love the more obscure comic book references (go figure).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Beware of Picnic Tables

A little before six o'clock this evening, I was driving from Fairmont over to Welcome for play practice. I was taking the "back road" like I usually do. We call it Old-16 around here, 'cause it used to be Highway 16 in the pre-Interstate days. It's a straight shot from Fairmont to Welcome. I was probably doing close to 60 mph when I suddenly saw what looked like some kind of structure (my initial thought was that it was a piece of farm or construction equipment of some kind) sitting right in the middle of the lane in front of me. I was pretty close to it before I noticed it (it was dark). There wasn't anyone coming from the opposite direction very close, so I swerved toward the oncoming lane to try and get around it. That maneuver wasn't entirely successful. I hit the side of the thing, went across the other lane, hit the ice-covered shoulder, and skidded half-sideways down the incline and partly into a field. Fortunately, my car stayed upright; I thought I might flip over but didn't. About four vehicles stopped almost immediately to check on what happened and see if I was alright. I was fine, not even really very shaken up. My car seemed to be relatively okay, though the right front tire was leaking air. I walked back up to the roadway to discover that what was in the lane in front of me had been an upside down picnic table. My guess is that it fell out of someone's truck and they didn't notice. It had to have happened pretty recently -- I must have been the first person to come upon it. (There hadn't been any vehicles close in front of me.) With the help of someone who'd stopped, I dragged the picnic table to the side of the road. One of the other people who stopped used her cell phone to call a tow truck. After about ten minutes or so, a sheriff's car came along, and the deputy shooed every one else away, and he and I waited for the tow truck to arrive. (The deputy, by the way, turned out to be the father of one of my current students. Small world, or at least county.) The tow truck arrived and pulled my car out of the field. Both right side tires were flat. The driver put my spare on the back one, so he could tow the car back to Fairmont. I got back home about 7:00, just over an hour after the "incident." (I used my cell phone just after the accident to call a couple of my play kids whose numbers I had to let them know I wouldn't be making it to practice, and that they should tell everyone to go home.) The car's in the shop, to be looked at tomorrow. I noticed a small dent near the rear on the right side, and it looked like something was hanging loose underneath the engine, but other than the tires, I think it appears pretty roadworthy. I guess I'll find out tomorrow.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Still the One

Years ago, when I worked in various record stores, I had the opportunity to see lots of live music, many bands and artists on tour. I've seen literally hundreds of "concerts" if you define concerts to include shows in bars and places like First Avenue. Last night, in Mankato, I got to see someone perform live that I hadn't seen before, but often wanted to: John Hall, founder of the band Orleans in the 1970s. I own two Orleans albums (yes, on vinyl) and three of John Hall's "solo" albums. Last year, John Hall ran for and was elected to the U.S. Congress from upstate New York. The former rock musician is now a Congressman. Our local Congressman, Tim Walz, held an event at a pub in 'Kato where John Hall sat in with a local band for a few songs. He performed "Still the One" and "Dance With Me," Orleans' two big hits, and a number of cover versions. It was cool to see and hear him play, but even more of a thrill to meet the man and shake his hand. Walz introduced me to "Congressman Hall" and I was able to tell him that the No Nukes concert/album/movie that he helped organize (along with Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, and Bonnie Raitt) back in the late '70s was one of the things that really inspired me to get involved in politics in the first place. I'm not sure the two colleagues of mine who accompanied me (both young women in their 20s) understood the "coolness" factor of this event for me, but I really enjoyed it.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Wow. We did a read-through of our one act play on Wednesday after school. I wasn't sure how long the play would run (for those of you unfamiliar with one act rules, we are limited to no longer than 35 minutes). It's a script I wrote (co-wrote, actually) myself and it runs barely to 24 pages. I've always figured about a minute a page on average, so I figured we were good. Our read-through took something like 28 minutes, and I know there are places in the play where there is action with no dialogue, so I figure that could add maybe five minutes (yeah, there's that much built in). Thursday night, we had our first blocking rehearsal, a two-hour rehearsal. We probably didn't get started until maybe 15 minutes into that, but in that time, we didn't even get through the entire play to block it. That had been my goal. Part (most?) of the problem was that I didn't have much blocked out ahead of time, so it was kind of a process of "Hold it, let's back up and try this" over and over. I'm not worried about it by any means, but I was surprised, I guess. On a positive note, the kids seem to really like the show.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

casting the play

One of my goals this weekend was to cast our one-act play (based, of course, on the auditions I talked about a couple of posts earlier). While I did so, it was one of the most difficult casting jobs I've done, I think, though I'm not sure exactly why. I knew my lead(s) from the get-go, but some of the other parts were difficult to assign. I went through three choices for one role -- each time, this meant re-reading the play with that particular actress in mind and seeing how it played out in my head. (Fortunately, the play's short.) A related difficulty was finding the proper role for one particular student -- I knew I wanted to use her, but wasn't sure where she fit best in this production. I think I've got it now, though I changed some things between yesterday and today, so I might look it over again before posting the cast list tomorrow.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tech "support"

On Thursday night, I found I couldn't access my email account. The internet came up just fine, but no email. I called my ISP -- Charter Communications -- and after about half an hour, came away very unsatisfied. They couldn't really tell me anything and nothing was getting solved. Friday the problem persisted; another half hour on the phone with Charter -- still nothing. I called a local tech guy (the one who installed my new hard drive this summer) and set up an appointment for this morning. He solved my email problem within about 30 seconds -- which, frankly, made me feel like kind of an idiot, but there you go. Since he was going to charge me for a minimum of half an hour anyway, he stayed and checked out some other things, and eventually discovered a couple of (apparently non-lethal) viruses, which have since been banished into the ether. I was pretty satisfied with his help; Charter, not so much.