Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sting Scarf

A friend asked for a scarf that would “make me look like Sting.” He wanted something reminiscent of fisherman’s sweaters, in wool with lots of texture. He said he wanted a neutral color, like gray or tan.

Later, I asked him if he was sure he didn't want a scarf that would make him look like Prince, and he got all freaked out that I was making him something in bright purple, or that might look like some of the some of the socks I have made for myself.

This pattern is based on the “Jacob’s Ladder” motif in Vogue Knitting: Stitchionary 2, Cables. The pattern is easy to memorize and the scarf works up fast in the bulky yarn.

4 balls Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds, in Steel Grey Suffolk (120 yds, 100g)
US 11 needles (gauge is not crucial, because this is a scarf)
cable needle

6stLC: slip 3 sts onto cable needle and hold in front, k3, k3 from cable needle
6stRC: slip 3 sts onto cable needle and hold in back, k3, k3 from cable needle

Seed Stitch:
*k1, p1* repeat to end of row.

Cable pattern:
Row 1 (RS): k1, p1, kl, p2, k6, p2, k1, p12, k1, p2, k6, p2, k1, p1, k1
Row 2 (WS): k1, p1, k1, k2, p6, k2, p1, k12, p1, k2, p6, k2, k1, p1, k1
Row 3: k1, p1, kl, p2, 6stLC, p2, k14, p2, 6stRC, p2, k1, p1, k1
Row 4: k1, p1, kl, k2, p6, k2, p14, k2, p6, k2, k1, p1, k1
Row 5: k1, p1, kl, p2, k6, p2, k1, p12, k1, p2, k6, p2, k1, p1, k1
Row 6: k1, p1, kl, k2, p6, k2, p1, k12, p1, k2, p6, k2, k1, p1, k1
Row 7: k1, p1, kl, p2, k6, p2, k14, p2, k6, p2, k1, p1, k1
Row 8: k1, p1, kl, k2, p6, k2, p14, k2, p6, k2, k1, p1, k1

To knit:
CO 40 sts.
Rows 1-4: work in seed stitch
Switch to cable pattern, and repeat 8 rows of cable pattern until scarf is nearing desired length.
Work 4 rows of seed stitch.
Bind off.

Now wrap scarf around neck and PRESTO! You have made a fortress of your heart.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Green secrets.

What readers or followers of this blog remain know that posting has been light. Indeed, rumors of its demise have not been countered. Indeed, I have been more of a reader than a writer of late, for which I apologize.

Still, since the blog still exists, I couldn't resist the chance to change its color in solidarity with the opposition in Iran, whose stories I have been following avidly in the last week. I do not tease myself with the belief that anything I would do here might make a smidge of a difference, but to the students and other protesters I say, I too would like to know where your votes are.

If anyone is reading this, I'm following
The Lede Blog (refresh for updates)
Andrew Sullivan's feed of live tweets (refresh for updates)
The Daily Dish generally
BBC news and
The Guardian
because cable news is infuriating in its lack of information and coverage.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

No meet for you.

So I was stoked about the Tiger Master meet this weekend, and I had even submitted my entry, but then this happened:

Kind of puts a crimp in your plans, non?

I should report, though, that apart from the usual soreness and abrasions from the airbag, I was not injured. Neither was the other driver. And it was not my fault. The car is totaled, but we got a higher appraisal than I feared. Thank you, car, for taking the literal brunt of this.

In short, I cannot complain.

But back to swimming. I tried to go to practice on Tuesday, but the combined stress of driving there (holy freakout, Batman!) and then being around a crowd, and then not being sure whether I could swim. . . . . Let's just say I got back in the car and drove home.

I did go to practice this morning (thank you, Patient Partner, for driving), and I managed to swim about 500 yards before the pain and soreness was more than I felt like trying to swim through. I had wonkiness in my lower back (an exacerbation, perhaps, of the soreness I had been feeling before the accident, which is related to my hamstring problem, I think) and in my left shoulder (which SCARED me, but which I am hoping is simply soreness and stiffness from the impact and the way I constricted my left pecs in a reflex protective move for a shoulder I would really like NOT to be hurt again).

And honestly, should I really be diving into a pool right now?

So I am withdrawing from the meet. It is a drag--I was looking forward to this. But given the alternatives, I am not complaining.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tiger Master 2009.

It is official: I am entering my first swim meet since January 2007. The entry is in the mail. I cannot bring it back.

Granted: I do not expect any "best times."

Granted: I am not even swimming many of what used to be my "best events."

Granted: I will be satisfied with simply finishing the races for which I have signed up and completing the required warm-ups and cool-downs.

Granted: I am trying to do this just for fun, but I am also nervous as hell.

Still: ain't it great?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Fair Use.

Here's an addendum to the previous post.

Tim Jarrett wrote this comment: "A 'who's who' of illegal audio sampling, including a version of Negativland U2 track that replaces the U2 samples with synths and kazoos, is available for download on the Illegal Art page. "

And he's right: that page is terrific, and there is one of the tracks. But then I got to thinking about another track I recalled from the original 1991 EP, so I went digging through my trove of cassettes, until I found one where I had copied things from the WXYC library. (I still have wet dreams about that library. . . .) Anyway, both tracks are called "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," and they are distinguished by their parenthetical markers: "(1991 a capella mix)" and "(Special Edit Radio Mix)." The track on the Illegal Art compilation is, as best as I can tell, the actual "(Special Edit Radio Mix)" as it appeared on the original EP. In other words, this track had the synths and kazoo originally. The things coming out of Casey Kasem's mouth rendered this track unplayable on the radio station, though I believe some DJs probably played it late at night. . . .

The other track, the "(1991 a capella mix)," also has Casey Kasem introducing U2 to a wider public: he keeps repeating "The letter U and the numeral 2." And then there is a guy with a dorky voice speaking and playing around with the lyrics to the song, and making them sound completely ridiculous. After a while, the whole thing gets very surreal, and transitions into more samples of Casey Kasem talking about what he can and cannot say on the radio.

That both of these tracks both discuss what can and cannot appear on the radio, and that we were not allowed to play them, and then that the whole EP was recalled were ironies not missed on us at the time.

Then, of course, the lawsuit became the basis of a lot of thinking and writing about sampling, fair use, intellectual property--and these issues are obviously still alive today.

Anyway, it turns out I was wrong when I said you could not hear these things anymore, because Negativland in 2001 released a new (legalized) album that includes both these tracks. Whereas the original EP was called "U2"--which was part of the problem as far as Island Records was concerned--the new one is called "These Guys Are from England and Who Gives a Shit," referring to one of the derisive comments Casey Kasem made about the Irish band now known round the world. And that new album is in surprisingly wide distribution.

So now will you excuse me? I need to go order my copy of the new CD.

Look at this cool thing I found.

A friend of mine, also an academic, and I like to joke about our shared tendency to have difficulty finding a thesis in our scholarship. Many stages of the work, therefore, rather than having a real argument, seem to rest on the claim: "Look at this cool thing I found." Or sometimes, two things.

If you have not already heard of Kutiman and his project Thru You, a remixing of YouTube videos to form a truly mashed-up global musical video extravaganza, go here. If that site is overwhelmed, go here. I know you might already know about this magic, because I do tend to be late to the party, but damn.

Watch them.

Me? I was mesmerized. I had to watch all of them at one sitting. I have long been a fan of remixes and mash-ups, and the way those things let you hear things in new ways. The guys at Negativland are geniuses, and back in the early 1990s they made a record combining samples from U2's The Joshua Tree and "off camera" samples of Casey Kasem into an amazing series of tracks that now you can't hear anymore because Island Records sued their asses and recalled their albums. (I have a couple tracks on a cassette, but I digress.) Then there are the likes of base58, The Evolution Control Committee, Girl Talk, and more--who know how to play with sound and similarities and listener expectations to make things that are fun, insightful, and, in many cases, worth listening to even once the novelty has worn off.

But Kutiman? Wow. He takes it, as my father would say, quoting Emeril, another notch. It's not just that he has taken crazy shit that people have posted on YouTube and combined it into excellent audio/video tracks--that also sound excellent. It's that these mash-ups somehow make you see YouTube itself in a new way.

Take Track 4, "Babylon Band," for instance. It starts out with this probably stoned dude whaling on the drums. In itself, probably the best response that video would hope for is a "Duuuuuuuuude" from someone who came across it, or maybe laughter from friends, or derision from people who think the world is going to hell. But in this track? Suddenly dude's drumline (and his hair) lead us into something more amazing than you would expect to find in your parents' basement. But even with the kid playing amazing riffs on his oud (or whatever that is) and then the darbuka that comes in with much advertisement (not false), this is not exoticized, because we also have a church organist, a horn quartet in a classroom, kids practicing the piano in their living rooms, and the guy stringing out the amazing vocals is in a lawn chair. Or the woman singing on track 5 is sitting on the floor of her living room with her baby in her lap and a playpen in the background. Some of the samples come from instructional videos and e-bay advertisements. People playing drum machines are also holding coffee cups. Musicians in pajamas with couches and dogs! So yeah, these remixes are remarkably global, but also surprisingly local, and that somehow is what makes them so amazing.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Good vibes.

I have a dear friend who is dealing with some serious health stuff right now. On Tuesday, she is getting some surgery and tests done. Try to think good thoughts for her, will you?

Week Two.

Short version: Swimming is still mostly feeling good, and help is on the way.

Longer version:
I still feel uninjured as I continue to try to build back into swimming regularly. I was thwarted early this week, however, by the, shall we say, inconsistent climate and temperature control in our aquatic center. At last Monday morning's 5:30 a.m. practice, the temperature inside the facility was not much warmer than outside, and sadly the water was cold too. I tried swimming anyway (I got my ass up, after all!), but after 1000 yards, I was not loosening up, and my shoulder and hamstring were feeling tight, so I called it in. When I went to the pool Tuesday evening, the water temperature had fallen by a degree, and given how things had gone Monday morning, I went home without swimming. But Wednesday's strength-training was rigorous, and Thursday evening I had a good swim. Saturday morning I had a great swim, clocking 2100 meters and even being able to do a set of 5 x 50 BA/BR descend at the end. It was at about 1500 meters that I started feeling really good--really loose and strong--and I took that as a good sign, because that is about when I used to start feeling good when I was swimming healthy.

I also managed to get in to see my physical therapist on Thursday (took some finagling to get past a receptionist hell-bent on requiring a referral, but I guess it pays to know people). He did quite a series of diagnostic tests, and even had another therapist do the same, and they agreed that the problem with my hamstring seems to be coming from tightness in the muscles of my hamstrings, hip flexors, and lower back. He has given me some stretching to do at home, and also some ab work, and when I get back from traveling this week, I'll have some regular appointments with him to work more intensively. I found that having gotten some expert opinion on this also made me feel more comfortable in the water: he said that he thought the problem may come most intensely from the way I hold my body when swimming, so I tried modifying position here and there, and I could see that that seemed right. I know, for instance, that kicking with a kickboard may make things worse, so now I do not do that.

This week's workouts will be disrupted by travel, and I even bailed on this morning's practice to save energy for the work I need to do while traveling. But I am hopeful.

Friday, January 09, 2009

First Week Back.

Short version:
I am back in the pool, and back at the gym, and so far everything is holding together. The rest of this post is lots of detail re that for the purposes of documentation--feel free to skip it.

Longer version:
When I went back to swimming on Saturday (after injury, holidays, travel, more holidays), it felt great. Nothing like the rich aroma of chlorine in the morning! My coach was happy to have me back, too, which made me even more happy. We talked about how I should approach recovery this time, and he recommended more rather than fewer sessions in the pool, but with lowish yardage, gradually building up, and some kind of other physical activity on the non-swimming days. More specifically, he recommended swimming four days a week, seeing how it goes, and (I thought I heard) increasing the yardage by 50% per week. I figured I would add in my two days per week of strength training, and then a wild-card day--either a nice walk downtown or playing squash with the PP, or riding my bike, or whatever. That all sounded great to me--except for the 50% increase per week, which sounded a little over-dramatic.

I approached him about that on Tuesday night, saying that I was down with everything he suggested except the 50% increase per week. He said, "50%? That is insane. I didn't say that. I said 15%." Aha. Makes much more sense, as I was thinking that perhaps an increase of 10-20% per week would make sense. Which, of course, equals 15%. He looked at me with that look.

Anyway, here at the almost end of week one, things are feeling good. I am feeling physically tired, which is appropriate, I'd say, after stepping things up after a long period (it felt eternal, really--it had been about a month) of sitting around. My shoulder feels good--I am almost afraid to say that--like it needs strengthening but not like it is post-surgical. My leg is more or less cooperating, if I don't stress it too much. I am this week swimming about 1900 yards per practice, and that is most or all swim. Flutter kicking on its own stresses my knee, so I have to be careful not to do too much of that. Breaststroke kick is usually OK (does this seem backwards, or what? the stress point for the knee is when the joint is locked, which does not happen in BR kick--whatever), but on days when I have seen my chiropractor (like yesterday), my hips feel out of wack, and that makes the BR kick seem wrong, so I don't do it those days, since it was after a chiropractic visit that my knee freaked out before. And the strength-training days at the gym feel productive but not over-stressful. In all, great!

I am hopeful that with the year's respite from teaching, I'll be able to maintain a more regular pace, with fewer interruptions from the rest of life.

Monday, January 05, 2009


The Patient Partner took me to play squash yesterday. Yes, our small, traditional southern city has a squash club! Based on the architecture, the brightly-colored vinyl-upholstered furniture, and the sauna that connects the men's and women's locker rooms, we think it was built in the 1970s. When you come into the lobby, there is one of those Universal weight-lifting modules next to a wrap-around couch. There is a fridge stocked with beer and a brochure from when the place opened, featuring photos of enthusiastic squash players wearing surprisingly bold-colored outfits and sweatbands. You take a rickety-ass spiral staircase down to the courts, of which there are two. Up above the courts, there is a viewing area, including a couple of tables, chairs, and an ashtray.

My question is, Who said, "I know: let's invent a racquet-sport involving a ball that does not bounce!"

Seriously: Have you played squash? It is challenging to hit the ball before it goes dead, and we mostly played with the blue beginner ball, which bounces about twice as much as the yellow-dotted black competition ball. But I had a good time trying to learn to make a legal serve, without hitting the light fixtures in the ceiling.

The PP has been playing squash with our neighbor for a few months now, and for Christmas he got his very own new racquet (thanks, Mom and Dad!). Since then, he has been going over to The Club every other day or so and practicing, so that he has a pretty regular serve and can return most hits (though I did school him a few times with my kill shots). And although you know I live for swimming, there is a real pleasure in whacking a ball around, not that I was imagining that the ball represented anyone or anything in particular. Don't you know me better than that?

I only hit the ball out of the court twice, but given that it was in the same spot both times, I fear that I have a tendency. And as the session wore on, I did get better at being able to place my serve and return the ball. Perhaps this will become a nice way to vary physical activity, so that I avoid overuse of the same muscles all the time.

But let's not discuss how things went when we played with the competition ball, shall we?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Stand up and say "Hey, just a second!": 2008 Rocks.

Another year, another year-ending celebratory mix disc. As I did last year, I made my mix of things I discovered this year--though not all were released this year. In this sense, it is a chronicle of my musical year, moreso than the musical year that was.

America Is Waiting
For My 2008 Mix.

Brian Eno and David Byrne, “America Is Waiting,” My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981; Nonesuch, 2006).
How did I miss this re-release in 2006? So I start my compilation with an acknowledgement that I can be woefully behind the times. So it goes! This album still sounds as incredible as it did when I first heard it on the crappy cassette deck of my first car, and even then it was already almost 10 years old. Even if you have this album on some other format, it is worth buying the CD for the liner notes’ detailing of the working process that went into making some of the most innovative music of its era. NB: sampling, in those days, was a more intuitive and analogue process. Also note the excellent vintage photos of Eno and Byrne. Those were the days.

Kassin+2, “Ponto Final,” Futurismo (Luaka Bop, 2008).
This “Samba Supergroup,” as Rolling Stone describes them, is Moreno Veloso, Domenico Lancelotti, and Alexandre Kassin, and their sound is somewhat tropical, somewhat electronic, and altogether groovarific. This disc is part of a three-part “+2” series, each disc featuring one of the band members in the title role. Kassin has has produced records by singers like Marisa Monte and Bebel Gilberto and made an album from the bleeps of a Gameboy. About this song, Kassin says, “The song has a classical theme. The singer says, ‘I don’t want you. It’s over.’ At the same time he’s singing about how he wants to be smarter, and he wants to get in shape, and he wants to have a new life. It’s about wanting what you haven’t got.”

Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich + Fussible, “Norteña del Sur,” Tijuana Sound Machine (Nacional, 2008).
While we are thinking about genre, this album's MySpace page denotes this disc as "Psychedelic/Concrete/Electronica." I personally am not clear on where the boundaries of "Concrete" end and "Psychedelic" begin, but the sound here is cool, coming out of Tijuana's electronic scene. If you know Nortec Collective, then you might recognize Bostich and Fussible from their series of Tijuana Sessions albums. Bostich and Fussible are not exactly people or bands, but rather the noms de turntable of Pepe Mogt and Ramon Amezcua. What is there not to like about this album's blend of accordions, tubas, trumpets, norteño percussion, vocoders, drum machines and synthesizers? This song will make you wish you were driving around in the car on the album's cover, instead of whatever clunker you find yourself cranking the track in.

The Cat Empire, “Fishies,” So Many Nights (Velour, 2008).
The date on this disc is 2008, but Wikipedia tells me the album was released in the band's home country of Australia in September 2007. Whatever. Dig on the horns, the blasting piano, the funky Latin beat and the great lyrics. I dare you not to dance in your car. Or wherever you are. Tie me to the mast--I must believe!

Irakere, “Bacalao con Pan,” Sí, Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba, Vol. 1 (Waxing Deep, 2006).
Did you know that the revolution would come with funky son? I did not, and yet it did. But honestly, was I asleep at the wheel in 2006? Oh well--more to enjoy this year. This disc comes out of a radio program and podcast called Waxing Deep. This song, it turns out, is about cod sandwiches. Cod sandwiches--how'd you get so funky?

Amy Ray, “Cold Shoulder,” Didn’t It Feel Kinder (Daemon, 2008).
If you ever wished, while listening to the Indigo Girls, that Amy Ray would let loose with that voice and attitude of hers, then come here. Dang, but this is a perky song about how girls can treat you bad and the world can treat you worse. But that is a good combo ultimately, because you feel better after you sing along.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, “Nobody’s Baby,” 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone, 2007).
This is one hot R&B album. Sharon Jones has a voice that will kick your ass, and Dap-Kings can bring the funk. She did some anonymous session work early on, and sang back-up for Lee Fields on a Desco release, and toured with the Soul Providers in the 1990s until Desco collapsed in 2000. A little reshuffling produced the Dap-Kings, and this is (I think) their third album. If you don't already have this album, you need the whole thing, really you do, but let this track suffice for the sake of my mix, for which America is waiting.

The Black Exotics, “Theme of Blackbyrds,” Carolina Funk: First in Funk, 1968-1977 (Jazzman, 2008).
This album may be my favorite find of 2008--a compilation of funk tracks recorded in North and South Carolina. This particular tune was laid down at United Music World Studios in West Columbia, SC in 1975. What remains of the Black Exotics is a single extremely rare 45, and both tracks are covers. The band actally came from Macon, Georgia, but a part of the West Columbia scene. But seriously folks, this entire disc is excellent.

Gnarls Barkley, “Charity Case,” The Odd Couple (Downtown/Atlantic, 2008).
I was conflicted about whether to include this song or the second track, which I like just as well, maybe better, but I decided I wanted the more upbeat sound here in the mix. But as for this track: opening with the sound of a film projector, bouncy beat, diverse percussion--can't beat it. Given that this album was up for 4 Grammys, I doubt I need to say much, but I will note that I love how Cee-Lo Green sounds like he has some serious sinus congestion--a condition with which I can always identify.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters, “Flutter and Wow,” Momofuku (Lost Highway/UMG, 2008).
Did you see Elvis when he was touring recently with Bob Dylan? Well, Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan, but really Elvis alone with his guitar stole the show before Dylan even made it to the stage. This disc, of course, is no solo venture, but this song is a great example of the beauty of his pop songs--a beauty that stands out whether he is fancilly produced or rough and solo on stage.

DeVotchka, “The Clockwise Witness,” A Mad and Faithful Telling (Anti, 2008).
Saw these folks at the Orange Peel, on a night when I was completely exhausted from my day at work, but Lands, Alive--what a show. I am sorry to say that this disc does not seem to feature the theremin, which Nick Urata played beautifully in concert, but his vocals do sometimes take on that eerie, otherworldly quality. The band's sound is very much here: starting out with the vibes, then Nick Urata's great vocals, and bowed and plucked strings. I see from wikipedia that they started out as a backing band for a burlesque show, early on touring with fetish model Dita von Teese--and that does somewhat explain the appearance during the show's encore of a magnificent aerial artist performing on two fabric sashes from the top of the stage. I wish I could somehow get her onto this disc.

Elmo Hope, “Hot Sauce,” Trio and Quintet (Blue Note, 1953, 1957/2005).
When I taught Allen Ginsberg's Howl recently, I did not quite believe it when one of my more straight-laced students said, "Could you give us a definition of 'hipster'?" I did my best, but I wish I could have had this album along. This disc is brings together three separate previous releases and a few tracks originally only on Blue Note compilations--and it is good news for us all. The track in question is from Elmo Hope Trio, which means Hope on the piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on the drums.

Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis, “Stardust,” Two Men with the Blues (Blue Note, 2008).
I hope you don't mind my transitioning from the jumping "Hot Sauce" into Dan Nimmer's peaceful piano opening of "Stardust." I probably would not have thought to bring Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson together, but really, the result is pretty cool.

NoCrows, “Five 2 Six – El Trencaclosques,” Magpie (Crows, 2008).
I saw this band perform in Sligo, Ireland, and what a show. The foursome is Steve Wickham on the fiddle (you may know him from The Waterboys), Anna Houston alternating between cello and mandolin, Felip Carbonell on guitar, and Eddie Lee on the double bass. This track was written by Carbonell, a way of remembering the sounds of Spain (from where he hails) in Ireland. The second part of the title means "The Jigsaw Puzzle" in Catalan, and the first part refers to how the tune alternates between 5/8 and 6/8 time.

Siba, “Vale do Juca,” What’s Happening in Pernambuco: New Sounds of the Brazilian Northeast (Luaka Bop, 2008).
The sticker attached to this album's wrapping said, "If you only buy one disc this year of music from Northeaster Brazil, make it this one." It is a great compilation, with a great deal of range, as different traditions blend and stand out. Siba was a founding member of Mestre Ambrósio, who dug up the old traditions of the sertão to bring them into contemporary music. The valley of Juca, according to the footnote in the liner notes, "is an imaginary place symbolizing the space where our ancestors still live and breathe."
Once upon a path
Amost without footprints
Where leaves serenaded
so many sunrises.
Once upon a road
Many crooked turns
How many passages and doors
Were hiding there?
It was a row without beginning or end
And my grandparents planted
the flowers in this garden.

Vampire Weekend, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” Vampire Weekend (XL, 2008).
By contrast, Vampire Weekend are American Indy pop, out of New York, and though Christian Lander might call them "the whitest band," they do cool things with the Afrobeat sound to ask, "Is the bed made?" Apparently Peter Gabriel has expressed interest in covering the song, but the jury is out over what he'll do with the lyric, "It feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too." Urban legend? Maybe. But it's a good story anyway.

Tinariwen, “Chatma,” Amassakoul (World Village, 2004).
This song comes from Tinariwen's second album, whose title means "Traveller." The members of this group are Tuareg people, the nomadic pastoralist inhabitants of the Saharan interior, and they play in the Tichumaren style--whose name comes from the French word chomeur, or "the unemployed"--meaning that the music centers around the sounds of the electric guitar. Historically, the style of music come into being at a time when long drought had forced many Tuareg people to seek other ways of life in urban centers, where their lack of education often left them unemployed. The call and response on this track is hypnotic, and it is tempting to read it in dialogue with African-American worksongs of the southeastern USA.

Galactic, f. Mr. Lif, “. . .And I’m Out,” From the Corner to the Block (Anti, 2007).
This disc came out the middle of 2007, but what can I say? I make up for lateness with enthusiasm. Galactic--originally Galactic Prophyllactic--come from New Orleans, and their sound is a dose of jazz and a lot of funk. This album has an array of alternative hip-hop MCs providing vocals. On this track we have Mr. Lif of solo and Perceptionists fame.

Juaneco y su Combo, “Linda Nena,” The Roots of Chicha (Barbès, 2007).
As its subtitle tells us, this album compiles "Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru," recorded between 1968 and 1978. Originally "chicha" is a corn drink made in the Andes for millennia, and though it is made from fermented maize, it exists in mildly alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions. But musically, cumbia is "a lower version of cumbia," "more popular with the lower social class." Translated? Cheap keyboards, low-end guitar effects, and surf music with the guitar replaced by accordion. The album's liner notes call Juaneco, formed in Pucallpa in 1966, "the most mythical of all Amazonia bands," as they claimed Shipibo Indian lineage, dressed in traditional costumes, and wrote songs about the clash of tradition and urbanization. In 1976, most of the band died in a plane crash, though their leader Juan Wong Paredes lived to 2004. Now the band still tours under the direction of his grandson, Mao Wong.

Ben Folds, “Free Coffee,” Way to Normal (Epic, 2008).
When I was in graduate school, my roommate was often confused by my eclectic mixes, and she would often ask, "What is the segue here?" Well, here it is thematic. Both the last song and this song deal with the ways that modern life can shock the hell out of us. Both are a little psychedelic though each of its historical moment and region of origin. Ben Folds is the king of break-up songs, hails from North Carolina, and usually plays the piano. Here you almost lose that keyboard under the other layers of synthetic hooha--but that's perfect given the singer's confusion, which is a lot like that described in "Once in a Lifetime," but overlaid with stardom:
Called in sick one day
Stepped out my front door
Squinted up at the sky
And strapped on my backpack
Got into a van
And when I returned I had
Ex-wives and children
Boxes of photographs
And they gave me some food
And they didn't charge me
And they gave me some coffee
But they didn't charge me
And when I was broke I needed more
But now that I'm rich they give me coffee

Kíla, “Ríl Rossa (5:30 a.m.),” Handel’s Fantasy (Kíla, 1992).
I discoveredDublin-based Kíla this summer in a pub near Trinity College, where I was staying. The pub in question had become my favorite rather quickly, as the food was good (and served at the dinner hour--not always true) and not too expensive (also a big deal for Dublin), the pints were well-pulled, and the atmosphere was small and cozy, though I never had a problem finding a place to sit. One night I was in there for my Guinness and stew, and the barman was playing Kíla. The table of Canadians next to me asked him to change it out for "some real Irish music." "But this is the best band in Ireland!" he replied, before agreeing to follow their request. I managed to track him down for some disc recommendations. Their sound is not as purely Celtic as this track would lead you to believe--indeed they fuseIrish and Eastern European sounds--and they have recently released an album recorded with Japanese singer Oki. This is only a small flute frenzy evoking the several albums of theirs that I came home with.

R.E.M., “I’m Gonna DJ,” Accelerate (Warner Brothers, 2008).
Did you see R.E.M. play on The Colbert Report? Had I not, I might not have gone out and bought this disc, but it has spent a lot of time riding around in my car stereo, and the more I have listened, the more it has grown on me. Besides, politically it was a great soundtrack for the last months of the Bush regime. A number of tracks on here have already made it onto my mixes in 2008, even though most of those have been themed, and centered around politics. Who knew that "Houston" would be so apt again this year? And all that? But this last track sums up some of my own ambitions--and what a way to end the mix.

That was 2008, y'all. Ready for 2009?

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Happy 2009. I am so finished with 2008, except that I need to go back and assess my resolutions for that year. As usual, it was a mixed bag, emphasis on bag.

1. Begin getting back into shape. I guess I did this, and then I experienced more set-backs, and I got a little frustrated from time to time, and I took some time off here and there, but I did keep better perspective, I think. This year I also began strength training as a part of my exercise regime. I have continued swimming and doing my rehab exercises. I wish I could say I had achieved more exercise volume, but I guess that was not the goal.

2. Keep working at nipping the solitaire addiction. I am so over solitaire. In its place, for much of the fall, I had a serious addiction to political blogs, but I am over those now too, at least for the time being. I wish I could claim that the same were true for PathWords and WordTwist on Facebook, but I suppose we all have our weaknesses. One thing I learned was that the solitaire addiction was less about not being able not to play solitaire, and more about being afraid to do more substantive things with my time. Lame, I know, but there it is.

3. Stretch. Check.

4. Learn to knit complicated cables. Not really check, mostly because my knitting interests went elsewhere. Instead, I learned to do stranded colorwork, and that is extremely cool.

5. Learn to turn the heel of a sock. Check. Since January 2008, I have completed six pairs of socks.

6. Remember how far I have come. Wow. I was really smart back in January 2008. But seriously, I am getting better at this. It is still a battle not to look back at the "before" pictures (literal and figurative), but mostly I am succeeding.

And now, for 2009:

1. Continue bringing the body back to strength. I think this year this means prioritizing exercise, continuing to pursue methods of balancing my body (chiropractic, yoga, and perhaps, as Scott wisely suggested, Alexander Technique), continuing my stretching regime, and cross-training.

2. Be aware of the need for work/life, mental/physical, professional/social, knitting/everything-else balances. This will be especially important this year, because I have a year-long fellowship to pursue my research. (Whoop!) I know that under such circumstances, I tend to become overly hermit-like, living so much in my head that I lose touch with other people, and then start to feel sad.

3. Take on knitting challenges. This year--in addition to learning how to knit with two hands, felt, turn a heel, work kitchener stitch--I learned how to pick up dropped stitches, rip back without a life line, and give up on a project that was not working. I am proud of these accomplishments, and in addition to adding skills to my kit, they have made me less hesitant to try new things. As I look back over the year's finished objects (3 baby hats, 7 adult hats, 2 Fair Isle ear wraps, 2 pairs of mittens, 3 lace shawls, 1 ribbon scarf, 1 felted bowl, 6 pairs of socks, 6 dish cloths, 1 sweater vest, and 1 beer cozy), I also think about the sweater vest that did not turn out at all, and that really is not salvagable, and that I will just need to rip out and make something else from the yarn. So it goes. I tried, and it did not work. Keep trying.

4. Finish the book. This, after all, is the point of the fellowship, and it is, I believe attainable.

5. In pursuance of #4, say "NO" to garbage professional requests that I do not really care about anyway. 'Nuff said.

6. Continue remembering how far I have come. That was a wise one--let's see if it can keep working.

Happy New Year, everyone!