Friday, February 23, 2007

Building the Perfect Beast

I subscribe to the Comcast digital cable service, which I often criticize for uneven signal reception and complex, secretive methods of customer billing. However, Comcast has hit upon something with a recent tweak to its On Demand service. A couple of years ago, On Demand added free movies to its existing pay-per-view service, and yesterday I watched "20 Million Miles to Earth", for absolutely no extra charge (at least I think...I won't know for sure until the bill comes at the end of February). A splendid film indeed! How does one begin to describe this cinematic milestone? One starts on Venus, of course.

In this fine documentary film, a rocket ship returns from Venus with a "native" aboard. It is worthwhile to note that very few people in the United States were even aware that such a mission was underway, and George W. Bush wasn't even president at the time. Anyway, this tiny beast grows exponentially into a large lizard-like creature which ultimately attempts to lay waste to what is left of the ruins of ancient Rome. The acting is outstanding, the lines memorable.

All I can say is thank you, Comcast. Thank you for letting the On Demand signal last through an entire movie, especially one of this caliber. I am grateful, to say the least. =:)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Nothing Like Being a Chicken in Dixie

Against my better judgment, and primarily because if I don't watch, people will ask me why not, I tuned in to the last two hours of the Grammys last night. For the most part, I enjoyed the show, but there was just one little problem: the awards themselves. More specifically, the recipients.

Don't get me wrong -- I've been a Dixie Chicks fan for a long time, and being a native (almost) Southerner, I do appreciate three attractive young ladies from Texas who can play and sing with the best of them. However, awarding five Grammys to one group reminds me of the early 90's, a time during which the Academy decided to make good on the short shrift it had given to Bonnie Raitt in years past by systematically bestowing its coveted awards on her for almost everything she recorded.

Let's face it -- 2006 wasn't too bad a year for music. Gnarls Barkley took us all the way back to 70's funky soul with his catchy hit Crazy. The Red Hot Chili Peppers produced what is perhaps one of the most brilliant rock albums in years with Stadium Arcadium. Christina Aguilera polished her form and pruned her sound to the roots with her Back to Basics album. And who can't relate to James Blunt's You're Beautiful, the song you sing in your head to that someone that you know you can never have?

Chicks, I like you and all, but come on, Academy. Let's not do that again in 2007. Besides, any year in which The Police are planning a reunion tour will most definitely be something out of the ordinary. Yeah, dog.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The World's Most Complicated Jazz Song

"Lush Life".

It has been recorded by over 500 artists, and it probably remains one of the most complex, beautiful jazz songs ever written. Penned in the 1930's by Billy Strayhorn, it embodies what we think of as "classic" jazz while posing a major challenge to any vocalist, partly owing to its unusual progressions and key shifts. Even Frank Sinatra hard a hard time singing this song.

Unquestionably, my favorite versions of "Lush Life" are the fairly recent renditions by Natalie Cole and Queen Latifah. When I listen to either, I feel as if I should be sipping a martini in a quiet Hollywood bar on an afternoon in 1959. It's that kind of song.

Strayhorn, the composer of "Lush Life", was one of Duke Ellington's favorite songwriters. Yet, as his biographer David Hajdu writes, Strayhorn was a "minority three times over" -- he was African-American, gay, and open. Certainly, he must have faced his own challenges, but he left us with one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

If you've never heard "Lush Life", either find a copy or listen to a sample online. You'll instantly see what I mean about its appeal.

Thank you, Mr. Strayhorn. Shaken or stirred?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Sunday in the Office

It doesn't happen that often, but I'm in the office on Sunday for a major project rollout. They're feeding us handsomely. I had eggs, bacon, a biscuit, hash browns, and OJ for breakfast at 7:30, and now it's lunch -- turkey sandwich and chips from Jason's Deli. In addition, the control room (call center) is full of snack food. So even if something serious happens, we'll be well fed! The strange thing is that it seems like a regular workday around here.

More later...