Saturday, January 06, 2007

Chet Baker - Time after time

From one of those great musicians that unfortunately, fell prey to his own devices.

There is no voice like Chet’s.

Goodbye Momofuku Ando

Momofuku Ando, inventor of the instant noodles, dies at 96.

Thank you sir, I don’t know how I would have gotten through college without you.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Oprah: Right on Public Education

Oddly enough, some folks have been criticizing Oprah Winfrey for spending over 40 million dollars on a school for girls in South Africa, because she is not spending the money here in the States. It is apparently acceptable to help the world, only when your definition of the world ends at the United State’s boarders. Oprah also made some “controversial” statements about the state of education here in America.

“Oprah Winfrey is firing back at critics of her decision to build a $40 million school complex in South Africa - saying she didn't build it in the U.S. because inner-city kids here don't appreciate the value of a free education.

"I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there," the TV talk-show maven says in the current issue of Newsweek.

"If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school."

The tough talk comes as the famously philanthropic Winfrey unveils her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa - a sprawling, 28-building complex for impoverished teens that features a yoga studio and beauty salon, among other luxuries.

The 22-acre complex has taken more than five years to build and has raised eyebrows in the U.S. and abroad.”

The fact that these comments were controversial shows the sad state of affairs America currently finds itself in. Any single individual who doubts the lack of effort most American students put into their studies is in extreme denial or a downright liar.

I have recently been blessed with the opportunity to teach at a Jr. High School in the greater Napa area. Working in a public school has allowed me to see first hand how little effort many students put into their studies. There is a good chunk of the student body that is simply that: a body sitting in a classroom, doing as little as possible to get by. And forget about failing those students or showing them that there are consequences for their actions; social promotion will push them on into the next grade as if they deserved it. They will receive a diploma in another 4 years, and it will mean absolutely nothing.

Oh, and please don’t tell me it is because our Public Schools don’t receive enough funding (which is true however). These students would apply themselves the same way they are now if they were sitting in a million dollar classroom with the best teachers money can buy. The fact that a lot of students, and the families they have grown up in, do not value the free education they are given. This is a cultural problem that spans every ethnic group in our country, and something we all have to address. Oprah may have singled out inner city public schools, but the same can be said of the rural (& predominantly white) student body that I deal with.

We as a society do not respect education. I challenge any of you to go sit in a public school at the post-grade level. You will be shocked to see how much time a teacher spends controlling a few individuals that have no interest in learning the lesson and only wish to disrupt the class. Will these students be removed from the class? Will they be expelled or suspended? No frickin way! That would hurt their pride and self esteem, and we can’t have that.

I wish that the parents of the well behaved students would make a bigger fit of this blatant nonsense our public schools engage in. Our teachers are forced to spend an exuberant amount of time with students who have no intention of learning, and end up only taking time away from the students who do. Everyone gets screwed in our current system.

American’s have been living in a fantasy world where they will always be rich and rarely have to work hard to stay on top. There is always some poor country and its poor people who will do the “work we don’t want to do”. Well I have some surprising news for folks who have not yet realized it: most of the world has caught on to the fact that to be a player on the world stage, you society and its people must become educated, and that will create wealth. India and China clearly recognize this, and that is why their people struggle to such a degree to come to the states and get an education in our schools and universities. They know damn well that an education is the only way to guarantee a future for themselves and their country. I truly believe that Americans have lost a grip on this very basic concept that had previously made us a powerhouse.

I commend Oprah for telling it like it is, and I commend her for putting her money where her mouth is and helping children in a country that aren’t bestowed with such opportunities.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Rockin 2006 Away

2007 begins its life today, and now would be a fine time to reflect on the pieces of music that stood out in 2006. I felt having a handful of my favorite bloggers contribute to this “best of” list would be agreeable and interesting, and a good way for all of us to see a different side of them outside of their respected blogs and day jobs.

Even when I am at my most partisan, I have always enjoyed reading opinions from the bloggers that have contributed their favorite musical pieces here. If a bleeding heart crybaby liberal can enjoy the same record as a totalitarian pissed off fascist, than there is hope in this world. Not that any of us fall into either of those categories…some of us tend to be reactionary proletarian supremacists, so there.

I would like to thank all of those who helped out with this piece up front; it was a real treat to see what type of music sparked your interest this previous year. I wish all of you (and this includes you the reader) the best of luck in 2007. It is sure to be an interesting one!

Snoopy the Goon – Simply Jews

I was hard put to answer the question. I guess I am stuck in jazz and blues stuff to pay much attention to the goings-on.

1. This year I have discovered this promising lady from NYC: Regina Spektor.

She needs a lot of work, and one could safely skip the video clips, but her latest disk "Begin to hope" is very promising.

2. Yellowjackets - Twenty five

That was a real bliss for me. That old-fashioned I am.

3. Oh, and there is one local lady - Rona Keynan who is totally not in the pack. But I would not enforce her songs on a listener abroad.

Jams O’donnell – The Poor Mouth

Being a bit of an old fart who's set in his musical ways (well a forty something) I don't buy an awful lot of new stuff. Actually I haven't really bought very much at all this year but here goes...

1) Ole Tarantula - Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3.

If you read the Poor Mouth you will know that I am just a little bit of a Robyn fan but I am not the sort that would hail a recording of him reading from the Dunfermiline phone directory as an artistic triumph! Quite seriously this is one of Robyn's best works. I isn't quite on par with, say Underwater Moonlight or Fegmania but it is certainly not stand out tracks include Adventure Rocket Ship ( click here to see the promo video on you tube) , Belltown Rumble and N Y Doll.

2) Hawkwind - Take Me to your Future

Actually this is a bit more of a promo than an album. It is also the first dual disc I've ever purchased (CD one side, DVD on the other). The CD side consists of just 5 tracks including what must be the definitive version of their one major UK hit Silver Machine and the Reality of Poverty an interesting collaboration with Arthur Brown (who had also appeared on 2005's Take Me to Your Leader). The DVD side is mainly a selection of videos that are scheduled for release or re-release. In a richer year musically I would not have chosen this record. Nevertheless it shows that there is still a lot of life in the band after 37 years and numerous line up changes.

3) Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death

I must admit to being partial to a bit of Heavy Metal (of the spandex and long hair era) and, surprisingly I'm not ashamed to say so! Iron Maiden are a band well past their peak - they hadn't produced a really good album since the 80s - but this is an excellent return to past form.

Ron Coleman – Likelihood of Confusion

I don't think it was a great year for tunes. Here are three I was happy to hear, though.

1. Panic at the Disco - I Write Sins Not Tragedies

Great hook, very melodramatic, tells an absolutely illogical story completely incoherently. Did I say great hook?

2. UGK – Ridin Dirty

Another great hook, urgent and dangerous and menacing as urban music should be, great imagery.

3. Shakira - Hips Don't Lie

Really, if you listen enough, you realize what a mess of a hodgepodge this is, but Shakira makes it work.

Matt Murrell – An Insomniac

1. Muse – Knights of Cydonia

It's everything a Muse song should be: bombastic, odd, over-the-top and with some great guitar work. The best thing on the recent album and one of the best Muse songs ever. Altogether now: "No-one's gonna take me alive!"

2. Killers – When you were young

I wasn't a big fan of their first album. In fact I came to hate some of the tracks. Which is why this song caught me off-guard. It's difficult to say exactly why I love it so much, though the line "He doesn't look a thing like Jesus" was what hooked me at first. There's just a certain something to it, darker and more mature perhaps? There aren't many songs that force me to completely reconsider how I see a band.

3. Chris Cornell – You know my name

Theme song to the recent Bond film. What more do I need to say?

Roland Dodds – But I am a Liberal! (Yours Truly)

I used to buy an insane number of records, but adult responsibilities and my inkling for changing careers every year has forced me to pick up only a handful of records this year. I figured that I could have over-thought my favorites and over-analyzed my reasoning for picking them, so I ended up picking the 3 records that instantly came to mind when reflecting on 2006.

1. Johann Johannsson – IBM 1401

This Icelandic modernist composer can do no wrong in my opinion. Bringing the best aspects of classical music together with the better parts of electronic composition has allowed this man to enter a soft spot in my heart. A wonderful record that can be enjoyed by your grandparents and your hipster friends alike.

2. Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped

You know you are getting old when your school students don’t know who Sonic Youth is. None the less, this band keeps chugging along, forcing themselves to push their own personal boundaries and expectations, and that is why this record makes my list. With most of its members pushing 50, I can only dream of the musical accomplishments these folks will produce in the next decade.

3. Justin Timberlake – Futuresex/ Livesounds

Yea, I put it on my list! Deal with it! Now that I am an “old man”, I don’t have to worry about acting cool, I can bump Justin Timberlake confidently from my car as I drive around town. The boy truly is the new King of Pop, and with records this strong, he deserves the honor.

I hope the New Year brings all of you great blessings, and thanks again for showing me support on my first blogging year!