Category Archives: Amazon Advent Calendar 2008

iPad 2 Event: The Liveblog

11:03 — gb will be $4.99 on march 11.

Welcome back steve.

Recaps, and introduces a new video.

(Healthwatchers: Steve still looks fine, his voice is solid at the end if thie event.)


“technolog isn’t enough (that’s in Apple’s DNA) we are the intersection of technology and liberal arts.”

“these are post-pc devices that need to be even easier to use than a pc, even more intitive. The hardware and applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than on e pc. We think were on the right track.”

“we stand a pretty good chance of being competitive in this market.”

Tradition: he asks everyone who worked on iPad to stand p for a round of applause. They get it.

Also thanks everyone’s families. “because they support us and let us do what we do.”

Thanks and try the hands on area,

10:55 — keyboard has multiple very good modes, including a Hammond b3. Console turns into the controls you’d see on a real b3.

Drum kit is also veloci sensitive. And ig knows where you’re hitting the cymbal and drumhead…makes different sounds depending on where you hit and how hard,

Guitar amp. You can plug a guitar straight in. But also includes a “smart instrument” for guitars, keyboards, bass, drums…let’s people play who can’t play,

(let’s call it American idol mode)

Guitar: just tap on a chord and strum. Or you can tap individual strings, or even dampen strings,

Many smart instruments have an auto play dial. Tao a c chord and it’ll fingerpick that chord. “its like musical training wheels.”

You can record from these intruments to GarageBand, just ap on the record button and youre adding a new track,

Looks like lots of fun. Again i say: this is a big “screw you” to every Google tablet. Nothing made by anybody else can provide this kind of demo, or look THIS cool to consumers.

Track editing looks very much like it does in the desktop. Can edit up to 8 tracks, control the mix levels, cut in and out.

“back when the Beatles recorded sergeant pepper, they only had 4 tracks on a machine the size of a washing machine.”

It’s all swiping and pinching and tapping. It’s also a great demo of how a great iPad app should function.

can export an AAC file right from the app. Can put it ib the iPad itunes library where it’ll be imported like any other new music, or export it as a gb file the usual way.

10:49 — can share directly to YouTube, me, facebook, even CNN and others,

New front facing camera is dead-center in frame, by the way.

Steve returns to the stage.

“it’s awesome. It blows my mind!”

iMovie is $4.99 on the app store, march 11.

Garage Band for iOS. Tuch instruments (piano, organ, guitars, drums, bass)

Amos and effects, 8-track recording, AAC export, can also work with e desktop GarageBand,

Xander Soren (director of music marketing) gives demo.

(IMovie and garage band are a big middle finger to every others tablet on the market. Message “Your so-called ‘tablet’ can’t do anything even marginally as powerful, dynamic, and difficult and cool as this. Screw y’all!!!”)

Keyboard is even velocity sensitive: ioad can tell how much it’s rattling thanks to the accelerometer. Hit it hard, and the keys sound like. Oure. Hitting them hard.

10:45 — precision editing (can cut down to the right frame, it looks like). You can use themes and transitions.

Audio: you see audio waveforms for all of your cli OS (great for precise editing of video) yu can change volume level, add sound effects (over 50 effects included).

Audio clips can overlap…just drag to where you want audio to overlay on other 3 audio tracks. Can also add a voice over right on thhe ipad,

3 new themes for a total of 8.

Does face detection on stills. Ken burns effect keeps faces in frame,

10:42 — two new apps (“we feel that by doing our own apps, we set the bar for independent developers”)

iMovie for iPad. Precision editor, multitrack audio recording, new themes, airplay to AppleTV, share videos in HD.

Universal app…will also work on iPhone 4.

Randy ubillos shows off a demo (chief architect, video apps)

Opens with a view of an old timey theater showing your projects.

It really does look like the desktop iMovie. Makes me want to identify last year’s iMovie as the first example of Apple desktop being influenced by iOS ideas. The demo really does make video editing look like it’s fun.

10:39 — FaceTime, of course. Can video chat between anything and anything (iPad iPhone desktop)

Points out how cool it is to do chat on such a big device. I can definitely see that.

(aside: I am sitting one row away from someone with unfortunate lower-gi disorders. The things i do for you people)

iOS is a free download on March 11.

10:34 — Airplay can now use photo transitions if viewing photos. And intent videos can now also airplay video as well as video.

Now there’s a preference for the ipad switch: use it for mute or for orientation lock. (damn right, this should have been the way it worked from day one)

Personal hotspot feature has been enabled for the iPhone 4 (not for the iPad).

New software for the new cameras:

Photobooth on the iPad, live demo.

Nice demo: shows 9 live video views each one with a live preview of a different video effect. Not a single frame drops…man, thats fast graphics.

10:27 —
Video makes this look very slick, commercial just puts the cover off and on, “it reminds me of a pixar short.” says steve.

Magnets in the iPad itself and the cover, available in 10 different colors. $39 for poly, $69 for leather.

New release of iOS: iOS 3. Scott Forestal takes us through.


Safari performance. Runs javascript twice as fast thanks to nitro javasrivt engine.

iTunes home sharing. Can wirelessly stream library right from computer to iPad.

Airplay improvements.

10:26 — ships March 11 in the US.

Two new accessories:

HDMI out…he called out that this is for teachers. Includes mirrored video out! Yay. Up to 1080p. Works with all apps. Supports rotation. No setup or configuration, can rven charge while using (has HDMi anqd dock connector. Just $39.

“something that’s even going to be more popular” — “Smart covers.”

“we made his beautiful iPad design, andq covered it with a case, adds thickness, blocks stuff.

We designed the case alongside e produce. It isnt a case, it’s a cover. It bends around like the covef of s book,

Automatically wakeqs the iPad when you open it, automatically sleeps when you close it. Can fold into an easel Or typingq easel.

Has magnets that grab ipad and auto aligns itself. Microtones linings.

Polyurethane or leather.

(looks very nice…like it’s hard-mounted.)

10:22 — also lighter by .2 ounces.

Available in black and white… “white eill be available from DAY ONE,” he said, to laughter and applause.

Available on both AT&T and Verizon from day one.

“something’s got to give” after all of these improvements. But no: engineers say it gets the same 10 hour battery life, despite hotter processor, new hardware, thinner and lighter.

Steve pointedly compares this new iPad to all of the new Google tabs: thicker, heavier, less battery.

We also presented he price: “same prices across the board,” also note in table: max storage is still 64 gig.

“we have only one model thats more expensive than $799” (the price of the Xoom).

“we think 2011 will be the year of iPad 2”

10:20 — “2011: the year of the copycats.” most of these aren’t even catching up with the firs iPad.

What can we improve?

A completely need design. It’s dramatically faster. A5 CPu. Dial core processors, up to twice as fast ad the a4.

Geine all out on graphics performance: up to 9x faster.

Same low power, don’t want to give up battery life.

“first dual core tablet to ship. In volume.” (what about Xoom?)

Video cameras: bac and front,


One of the most startling things about thhe iPad 2 is that it’s dramatically thinner.” 33% thinner: 8.8 mm instead of 13.4.

“actually thinner than the iPhone 4”

“it feels totally different.”

10:11 — Video of “the year of the iPad.” steve stands just offstage.

10:09. — 65,000 apps optimized or made for iPad.

User interface, large canvas, more resources, he cites as reasons for ipad’s success.

“Android has at most…100 tablet apps.”

10:05 — “I didnt want to miss this.”

users have download 100m books in less than a year. And Random house is joining the catalogue.

Just crossed 200 million accounts on the iTunes stores. “Likely the most accounts with credit cards on the Internet.”

“We recently paid out over 2 billion dollars to developers.” yes, let’s flex muscles and explain why publishers and developers aren’t going to leave Apple iTunes marketplace, like, ever.

Just shipped 100m th iPhone.

IPad: “our third post-pc blockbuster product” after iPod, iPhone.

“most of our revenue comes from thee post-pc products.”

Sold 15 million in 2010, more than every tablet pc ever sold, generated 9.5 billion in revenue in just 9 months.

“Competitors were flummoxed!”

10:03 — Steve himself takes the stage, to standing ovation. Looks pretty good!

9:59 — Any second now. “Last call” announcement, please turn all devices to Silent.

Typing on ipad held in my hands, with virtual keyboard. just can’t find a comfortable angle on the Bluetooth keyboard in my lap. Have a snazzy seat with plenty of room and a power strip, though.

9:55 — Now seated, and ready to roll. 6tasteful Beatles music is now ping in, soothing us all. lending credence to the rumors that the Beatles catalogue arrived on the iTunes store late last year.

9:36 — Hooray! My (loaner) T-Mobile 4G works here. Hope to fight against…

Line moving! Doors open!

9:23 — I have eaten a free scone. Now in a big group in the lobby waiting to get in. Trying hard to at best, retain some personal space and at worst, at least get a marriage proposal.

7:03 AM
Ideally, this post will be my iPad 2 event liveblog.


See, I don’t have any fancy-schmancy live coverage app here on my iPad. Instead, I simply paste in the correct CSS code form and then fill it in as necessary.

It’s possible that this might not go well.

I also need to write and post as I listen to what’s going on.

This, too, might not go well.

But it’s worthwhile for me to set everything up here in the hotel room before I hit the mean streets of Slightly South of Market.

Push the button, Frank…

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 22: “Fairytale Of New York”

Fairytale Of New York

The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl

The Best Of The Pogues

Genre: Alternative

Amazon MP3: Fairytale Of New York

There’s just a narrow window during which I can sling “Fairytale Of New York” into the Advent Calendar and I keep missing it, year after year.

To those of you who have asked: no, I don’t start putting a list together weeks in advance. I don’t have a list at all; I write it daily, “live” as it were, as a play in three acts:

Act I: Superawesome songs in general. I head straight for an iTunes Smart Playlist that automatically maintains my personal Billboard Hot 100 of high-rated, high-playcount tracks and look for likely candidates. I keep a particular eye peeled for tracks that I bought this year and which folks aren’t terribly likely to have heard before.

Act 2: (Let’s return to this in a moment.)

Act 3: Actual holiday-themed songs. As Christmas draws nearer, the tracks have to start passing an important test. If I were playing this on the Apple TV while trimming the tree, and neighbors stopped by unexpectedly with a festive bundt cake, would I immediately think “Oh, ****…how long have they been at the door hearing this song?” If I’d suddenly dive for the remote and desperately click forward to another song, dear God, any other song…then I prolly don’t want to include it in the Advent calendar. Not so close to the actual holiday, anyway.

The Advent Calendar always officially ends with my favorite Christmas song, presented without irony or smirk.

Act 2 is that brief period when I’m in the mood for real holiday-themed tunes, and there’s still enough air between today and December 25 that I don’t mind talking about a drunk in jail on Christmas Eve musing about how, hell, his alcoholism will probably kill him before New Year’s, let alone the next Christmas Eve.

But a Twitterer reminded me about this classic Pogues tune and I was instantly filled with regret. Yes, for failing to use this song year after year. And at least because at the time of that important Tweet, the next song was going to be one from the soundtrack to “The Christmas Shoes,” which is utterly the sappiest Christmas movie ever made. I’m not wrong in thinking the reason why the protagonist in “”Fairytale” got so violently drunk was because he saw parts of this Hallmark special.

No, wait: I must be wrong. Because if he’d just seen that show, he would quite simply have drunk himself straight into the grave and wouldn’t have survived to sing the song.

Check that. Sorry, wrong again: there isn’t enough alcohol to scrub away the stain left behind by “The Christmas Shoes.”

(Later, my sweeties…later.)

I’m not sure that most fans of “Fairytale” really get this song, due to the peculiar romanticism associated with a literate inebriate. Like the old man at the pub who’s wrapped in wool and sitting by the fire, making his stately way through a whiskey bottle, and telling you about lost loves, pages not yet written, opportunities lost, making it through to live another day and drink another night, et cetera.

Ah, but you see, the next morning, you’ll be at work, or with your family and friends, thinking about what a pleasant time you had listening to the man’s lyrical wisdom. At that same moment, the old man is still drunk somewhere, or he’s setting into motion the chain of events necessary for him to get drunk again. Maybe he’s even even planning a setlist of the stories he’ll tell at the tonight’s bar, to charm someone else into buying him a grade of alcohol that he hasn’t been able to afford since the days when he had a job and a family and friends.

“Fairytale Of New York” is a charming song. It becomes a powerful song when you really focus on the lyrics. Which isn’t easy, I admit. Shane McGowan has selfishly chosen to sing them in his natural voice. That’s fine for the Irish and the English, but isn’t it about time the needs of Americans were met, just once?

I urge you to head on over to the Pogues’ site and read the words. There is no joy in Poguesville; Mighty Casey has passed out. This isn’t a case of a man who spends a Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, thinking about failed relationships and missed opportunities, convinced that this is the last one he’ll spend aboveground.

No, clearly, this is a man who spends every Christmas Eve this way. Maybe even every day. He’s locked in a cycle and will never break out of it. His life is a series of wounds that have scarred over themselves so thickly that he’s barely even aware of that he keeps cutting himself in the exact same places day after day.

But that’s not us.

I hope that’s not us.

If it’s us, I hope we get some help.

When you don’t focus on the lyrics, you wind up dismissing “Fairytale Of New York” as merely a charming Irish song that serves as an edgy counterpoint to the vacuous jingle bells being rung at every mall. That denies the Pogues their due. “Fairytale” is a satisfying essay which presents a series of basic observations, while having enough respect for the listener to leave the final lessons unsaid.

And just like the drunken old man in the pub, the lyrics are…well, lyrical. I call your attention to the ending:

He: I could have been someone

She: Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you

He: I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you

I wonder what became of that girlfriend. Is she spending that same Christmas Eve in another drunk tank somewhere? Is she dead? Or did she have a transformative moment of shocking self-awareness that set her free?

Hmm. See, the trouble goes beyond a simple lack of self-awareness. It’s important to be able to observe yourself and your choices dispassionately but I’m certain that most drunks are perfectly aware of what their drinking has cost them. The missing factor is usually Hope…an utterly irrational but critically-important belief that things can get better.

Which is why I rather enjoy Act Three of the Advent Calendar.

Hope is generally a bear market, both in its practice and its promotion. It’s quite a relief to be able to spend a few weeks talking about peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind without having to follow it up with a YouTube of some skateboarder getting hit in the nuts by a parking meter, just to make sure people don’t think you’re all sappy.

Even in the Holiday season, I’m not such a sap that I won’t encourage you to buy this track via Amazon MP3, which will put a few pennies in my pocket:

Amazon MP3: Fairytale Of New York

And yet I still offer you the iTunes Store link as an alternative. I guess I really am just an old softie at heart.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 21: “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)

Tony Bennett

Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album

Genre: Holiday

Amazon MP3: The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)

Doing a musical Advent Calendar is a piece of cake, honestly. If you have any taste in music at all, then you have nearly every album Tony Bennett ever recorded. Just choose one at random and post it every morning. There. Done. And you couldn’t be doing your readers a better service.

I’m not pursuing this obviously sensible algorithm myself, but only for the same reasons why Olympic divers don’t just cannonball off the side of the pool. It’s a foolproof and effective method of transferring from air to water, true. You can’t help but think that you’ll make a bigger impression if you just change it up a little.

We’re now in the shank of the season, when I’m encouraged to go exclusively with holiday-themed tunes. Even when I limit myself to the Bennett catalogue, I’m paralyzed with choices. He is, quite simply, The Man. You could argue that he’s had a greater singing career than any other performer of the 20th century. He never had any ambition to be anything more than a singer, so he never got distracted into movies or TV shows. He never got so famous that his audience’s expectations got in the way of his continued growth as an artist. He never got so bored with his career that he either became a parody of himself or simply walked away entirely.

Even Sinatra got typecast in the role he created. He got so trapped in it that his audience refused to accept him as any other kind of singer, performing any other kind of music. audience’s insistence that he never break character stymied any attempts to innovate. Maybe it actually killed the desire that made him such a force between the Thirties and Fifties.

Not Bennett. His career had a perilous downswing (not entirely unconnected to a period of recreational drug use that thankfully never swung fully into addiction) but through it all, he was free to keep on working, keep on picking the best songs and working with the greatest musicians.

I’m choosing “The Christmas Song” because it’s just about a perfect pairing of material to singer. No wonder. The song was written by Mel Tormé, another virtuoso interpreter of songs. When Bennett makes his way through these lyrics it’s like Jeff Gordon settling into the cockpit of a racecar designed by Richard Petty. It’s a song that demands excellence. The lyrics and the melody stroll along together at the same pace, but never in the same step. The singer can either tool around the course at a safe and stately pace, or crash into the first or second turn. Bennett is one of a handful of singers who finish it by doing donuts and burnouts in the infield, doing a backflip off the roof, and then chugging the whole quart of milk.

Yes, I know: the milk thing is Indy racing, not NASCAR. Look, as it is I had to check Wikipedia to make sure that Richard Petty was the guy I thought he was. Cut me some slack.

And tip some coppers into my Amazon Associates account by purchasing this song via Amazon MP3, where all tracks are sold DRM-free and at high bitrate. Viz:

Amazon MP3: The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)

At this time of year, when abundance abounds and Want is so sorely felt…what’s that, Mr. Scrooge? The treadmill and the workhouse? Why yes, they remain in working order, Mr. Scrooge, though I wish I could state otherwise. Yes, and the iTunes store as well, sir…

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 20: “Sleigh Ride (The Ventures)”

Sleigh Ride

The Ventures

The Ventures Christmas Album

Genre: Holiday

Amazon MP3: Sleigh Ride

Standards and covers. I love ’em. I love the idea of throwing the exact same piece of music at several different artists and seeing so many different solutions emerge.

It’s particularly keen with a tune like “Sleigh Ride.” You’d think that the world had heard enough of this song, but nope…singers and bands keep finding new things to do with it every year.

Not all bands, of course. Some groups will just crank out a cover without putting their own stamp on it. Result: the song sinks without a trace, like a spoonful of  Minute Rice on top of a bowl of Uncle Ben’s.

But others use this as an opportunity to answer the question “As an artist, who are you, and what brought you here?”

“The Ventures” is a band record nothing but instrumentals. And no wonder. Why would you allow vocals to cover up this kind of guitar playing? They’re synonymous with virtuosity. They’ve reached that stage of technical perfection where they can make their instruments do exactly what they want it to do at any given time. You never get the sense that they would have liked to have put in a fill riff that goes bing-bing-TWANNNG-twang-thummmmm right there, if only they knew how.

The only spots in a Ventures track when they’re playing in a simple and direct manner are when the band thought “We need a slower passage right here, to set up the next run that’s coming” or possibly “I can use these forty seconds to plunge my right hand in a bucket of ice water and get some relief from this excruciating muscle and joint pain.”

These boys attack their guitars as though they caught it in the backseat of a Chevrolet with their sisters. Surely this took a physical toll on their knuckles.

Of the overall remarkability of their version of “Sleigh Ride” I can only state that they have won an amendment to Ihnatko House Resolution 28.281.R, which states that “All approved recordings of ‘Sleigh Ride’ must contain a simulacrum of a whip-crack at the end of the line ‘Giddyup, giddyup, giddyup let’s go’.”

All the same, they knew not to press their luck: sleigh bells are indeed jingling rhythmically throughout. Though I reckon that this track is sufficiently awesome that if they’d “forgotten” to put it in, the DA would be encouraged to find some technicality, and decline to prosecute.

Why yes…the track is available from Amazon MP3, as an unlocked, high-bitrate MP3! And well, if you insist on my embedding my Amazon Associates link, well, who am I to deny your request? Here you go, hon:

Amazon MP3: Sleigh Ride

iTunes appears to have it as well. You can purchase it from the aforementioned store via this link.

But will that fill that gnawing void you’ve been feeling for the past eleven years? Will it?

It’s time to put away such things and move on. There’s only one thing that will help to spackle that emotional gulf. You know it and I know it. You must face the golden, unfolding down and promise to only purchase your music in such a way that it puts me closer to getting a free lens for my camera or something else cool.

Really. I’m a doctor and everything. I just don’t like to flash around my Harvard medical degree like some insecure physicians I could mention, who don’t feel like they’ve accomplished anything unless they have an office and a medical practice and a medical degree that isn’t largely hypothetical.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 19: “Still Alive”

Still Alive

GlaDOS and John Coulton

The Orange Box (Original Soundtrack)

Genre: Soundtrack

Amazon MP3: Still Alive

Let’s discuss the concept of a person or a thing being “world-famous in Poland.”

This is one of my favorite lines from “To Be Or Not To Be” (the 1942 film with Jack Benny, or the 1983 remake with Mel Brooks). It’s wartime Poland, and a national theater company (owned by its two stars, a husband-and-wife team) is by turns adapting to German occupation and trying to find a way out of all this trouble.

The German general in charge wants to shut the theater down as a nonessential waste of electricity and resources. The wife meets with the general in private, trying to reverse his decision by talking up the importance and popularity of the theater.

“I’m surprised that you’ve never heard of my husband,” she says. “In Poland, he’s world-famous.”

And here you have in a nutshell the whole concept of Internet-vectored Fame. In my culture, in my community, the Tron Guy is famous. So much so that I think I can make a reference to him in polite society and everyone will know who the hell I’m talking about.

This rarely goes smoothly.

I, too, am World-Famous In Poland. I’m amazed that in certain specific places — again, Poland — people come up and tell me that they read and enjoy my work and ask if they can get a picture with me. But I don’t fool myself into thinking that this sort of notoriety extends even one meter beyond the Polish border.

(But on those rare occasions when I’m recognized in the street and a there happens to be a friend with me to witness the event, I’m smart enough to pretend that this happens to me alllll the time and that it’s just part of the burden of being an internationally-beloved Industry pundit.)

In Poland, “Still Alive” — the end-credits tune from the awesome puzzle/action game “Portal” — is every bit as big a hit as any track from The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album. And at this moment, the Polish among you are mentally (or actually) pumping your fist in the air and shouting “Yeah! GlaDOS! I KNEW it just from the title!”

The rest of you are thinking “You mean there’s a video game that ends with that 1970’s disco song?”

It’s amazing. The nature of Internet Fame means that “famous” is becoming a binary setting. I may have never seen “I Heart Huckabees” but at least I’m familiar with it. Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman play quirky alternative pop-psychologists who follow the protagonist around…er…for some reason.

Well, there you go. The movie is genuinely famous. I didn’t see it but I couldn’t escape awareness of it.

In “Internet Fame” it’s not possible to have merely heard of “Still Alive.” Either the track’s in your iTunes library and it’s in a whole bunch of your top playlists and maybe you even went out and bought the game after buying the song, instead of the other way around. OR, you were completely unaware that the song ever existed. Never heard of the composer, never even heard of the game.

Binary fame. On or off. No middle ground

(Possible spoilers for “Portal” now follow)

“Still Alive” is indeed one of the top songs in my library, and not merely because I’m (metaphorically) Polish. It’s a great tune, with a unique signature that’s more or less impossible to cover. The lyrics also have that same sort of double-meaning that marks some of the best Broadway songs.

Check out these lyrics:

I'm not even angry.
I'm being so sincere right now.
Even though you broke my heart and killed me.
And tore me to pieces.
And threw every piece into a fire.
And as they burned it hurt because
I was so happy for you.

Very lithe and malleable. You kind of want to meet the woman who sings these lines. She seems a bit intense, perhaps, but it’d probably be an interesting lunch all the same.

But of course you wouldn’t want to meet the woman who sings these lines, because the woman who sings these lines is GlaDOS, the self-aware computer that’s already killed every human in the entire research facility and did her damnest to kill you as well.

GlaDOS is one of the most wonderful characters ever created for a game. The end-credits song is an extended “Nyahh-nyahh” to the player: despite what you thought when you chucked her orb-like ore into the fire, GlaDOS is still alive and well, thank you much, and the fact that you temporarily shut it down means that it’s just become smarter about how to defend itself. The next human to enter the complex will face much more effective weapons and tactics.

But there's no sense crying over every mistake
You just keep on trying till you run out of cake
And the science gets done and you make a neat gun
For the people who are still alive.

It is probably the most troubling testemony to optimism and determination that’s ever been set to music. Not exactly “Hello, Dolly!” is it?

Back to the idea of cover versions of this song. I keep thinking of tunes like “If He Walked Into My Life” from “Mame.” Jerry Herman wrote it as a straightforward character piece (or so he claims), in which Auntie Mame wonders if she raised her nephew well and if she’d repeat the same mistakes if she had to do it all over again. But then Shirley Bassey and others started recording it as a torch song, and the same (or just lightly-tweaked) lyrics took on a new meaning.

“Still Alive” has too many problems to ever make it over the border. It’s a pleasant tune all by itself and I think this recording works. But for it to ever make it across the border and be covered by other singers, every copy needs to come up with a note of explanation about  who GlaDOS is and what she’s done or else the lyrics don’t make much sense. In the Jerry Herman song you can sort of gloss over lines like “Why did I ever buy him those damned long pants?” but making guns and killing people…well, no. Obama is coming over and we have to make the place look nice. We can’t have lyrics like that in our house.

Also, the recording itself is just too idiosyncratic to ever be covered. You need the electronic, deceptively-innocent  voice of GlaDOS. There’s a version recorded by the song’s composer which simply doesn’t work.

For reasons best left unexplored, I have been amusing myself for the past few minutes by singing “Still Alive” as though I were Robert Goulet:

Free MP3: Andy Ihnatko IS! Robert Goulet AS! GlaDOS IN! “Portal!” Singing! “Still Alive!”

Let’s just back away from that slowly and end this post before more people get hurt. But before I do, I will call your attention to the fact that Robert Goulet himself can’t sing “Still Alive” because he isn’t.

Quick, while you still continue to live! Purchase “Still Alive” from Amazon MP3 and send a few coins into my Amazon Associates referral account:

Still Alive

And if you’re so upset about the Goulet impression that you want to make sure that I profit not one sou from this post, you can purchase the track from the iTunes Store instead.

I’ll miss the cash, but in this case…I understand. Really.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 18: “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

The Reverend Horton Heat

We Three Kings

Genre: Holiday

Amazon MP3: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

My BFF John has really screwed himself. Truly.

At one point or another, many of us have spontaneously decided to put together a Christmas mix tape and make a dozen copies and send them out to our friends. Maybe we even did it again a year or two later. But pretty much it’s a one-and-done proposition.

John does it annually. Which was a big enough blunder, but then he compounded it by turning out nothing but awesome compilations. Year after year, every track is pure Tabasco. So much so that sometime in November I start sleeping out by the mailbox until I’m rewarded with the delivery of a padded mailer from New York.

And lo…the Holiday season begins.

So you see John’s problem: he’s been at this for well over fifteen years now and at this point, the only excuse that his friends and family will accept for not coming through with these two dozen tracks is The Sweet, Cold Kiss Of The Grave.

(Even so: is that really an excuse, John? Would it be that hard to make up a few of these collections for post-mortem release, just to give us all ample time to line up a new supplier? We’re really sorry about the speeding bicycle courier knocking you into that open manhole while a crowd of laughing and jeering onlookers did nothing to aid you while you floundered and drowned in sewage — I’m guessing; but you work in New York City, so it’s not all that unlikely. All the same I’m sure that you would want us to move on with our lives at some point.)

This year’s anthology (“ALTER-NATIVITY IV”) is up to his usual high standard and contains 25 tracks of awesome.

I could save myself a lot of trouble by just posting one of John’s tracks every day, for the duration of the Advent Calendar.

But no, I couldn’t. I have this unfailing moral compass, you see. Also, I just came up with that idea now, eighteen days too late.

The delivery media has changed over the years. The first ones were cassettes. I’d rip open John’s mailer right in the front seat of the car and presto, that was my holiday soundtrack during every drive for the next few weeks. Then John moved to CDs. Those were still fine because I had my Discman in the car.

Now I have to rip it into MP3s. Which is kind of cool because John’s holiday mixtape is the only playlist on my iPhone whose songs are labeled only as “Track 01…Track 02…Track 03…” Which means that I don’t know that I’m about to hear The O.C. Supertones’ edition of “Joy To The World” until I’m hearing it.

The online music revolution has added a new wrinkle: now, if I like a certain song, I can quickly hit the iTunes store or Amazon and check out the whole rest of the album. And so I have come to own “We Three Kings,” the Reverend Horton Heat’s holiday album. On principle, I can’t recommend the track that John included in this year’s compilation (“Frosty The Snowman”), but in the universe of made-up Holiday characters, Rudolph has always been Batman to Frosty’s Superman.

(Wait, Frosty’s hat is magical. And magic is Superman’s sole weakness other than Kryptonite. But Rudoph’s backstory — a childhood during which he learned that the world is a cruel place where only the strong endure — is a better fit for Batman, isn’t it? Maybe Frosty is Bizarro-Superman, who is only vulnerable when the magic is removed?)

(I might be overthinking this.)

(Or unintentionally writing a “Big Bang Theory” spec script.)


I love the Good Reverend. And this is the sort of Christmas cover song that I like: the musicians seem to be  envisioning a day when they’ll be playing this tune for their own kids. So there’s no need for clumsy, self-conscious “edginess,” adding lyrics about how Santa is going to butcher Rudolph into stew meat for the elves if he doesn’t drag his ass into harness and pull the damned sleigh.

It does provoke you to muse a bit about how well these various editions work. It’s said that despite your attempts to change or deny your tastes, they’re set pretty firmly by the time you get out high school. If you hate a certain movie, it’s at least partly because it’s nothing like a similar movie you enjoyed as a kid. Ditto for music, ditto for TV shows, comics…anything.

I associate most of these standard Christmas songs with childhood Christmas Eves at my grandparents’ house. So when I think “Frosty The Snowman” I think of music pumping out of a blondwood console stereo, either tuned into a 60-year-old couple’s favorite FM station, or spinning an old LP pulled out of a sliding compartment underneath the turntable.

But the kids today, with their flared trousers and their Spacepages and such! Will they define “Rudolph” by the modern versions? Or will all of these bedrock standards just die off completely in favor of songs recorded in the Eighties and Nineties?


Well, back to you, John. I’d like to see a rough cut of the 2009 edition by…shall we say January 20? That’ll give you plenty of time. And don’t even try making this one suck in an attempt to get out of doing this every year; I’ll see right through that trick.

Linky-linky, Amazon MP3, you please to buy now, thank you:

Amazon MP3: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Purchasing the track from the iTunes Store remains an option. You’ll get it at puny 128K bitrate and it’ll be shackled in the unjust furious chains of DRM. And I won’t get those few coppers from my Amazon Associates link.

But yes: you can buy it from the iTunes Store. I didn’t figure you for being “that guy.” Well, it’s a free country.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 17: “Joy To The World (The Klezmonauts)”

Joy To The World

The Klezmonauts

Oy To The World

Genre: Holiday

Amazon MP3: Joy To The World (the Klezmonauts)

The spaceship is on its dull, free-return-trajectory back to Earth, about to re-enter the atmosphere…when the crew suddenly sees a purple glow enveloping the blue planet! It flashes out to overwhelm all there is!

And all is normal again. Or is it?

They splash down and the recovery chopper quickly finds them. Presently, the crew sees the goggled face of a Navy diver peering in expectantly through the grimy capsule window. They flash him a thumbs-up to signal that the crew has “safed” the craft, precisely according to the mission plan, and the divers duly remove the hatch from the outside and lean inside to welcome the crew back to Earth.

But they instantly leap backwards in a blind panic. “Aliens!” they shout into their radios, in a voice that seems too high and chittery for humans. “The crew has been captured and eaten by horrible aliens!”

And just as the capsule’s commander is shouting for the divers to settle the hell down, the sun finally catches their rescuers’ faces in the right way and he’s shocked into silence: the divers are basically human in form…but they’re BADGERS!

As a Zodiac boat filled with furry, lumpy sailors skips across the waves towards the capsule, every one of them with a weapon drawn and aimed, the crew wonders just what the hell that purple flash was…and where they’ve wound up!


(Deleted: Unnecessarily-long story about a physicist who proves time-travel is possible by traveling 150 years in the past and shooting hi-def color video of grimy, industrial London, successfully evading any interaction with history; but he’s denied the glory of the discovery because when he gets back, he finds that every method of scientific and mathematical notation created since 1858 is now different. In the eleven months it takes him to re-learn all that stuff so he can successfully defend his paper, a rival from another university completes and publishes his own time-travel research.)

Yup, that’s a staple of time travel. The “Whew! My time travel didn’t affect the present in the very least! …Or DID it?!?” thing.

You write these stories from back-to-front, you see. You have this idea for The Big Revelation and then you wonder just what the hell could have happened to the timestream so that everything else turned out exactly the same, except for this one thing that you’ve come up with.

I promise you: this has relevance to today’s Advent Calendar tune.

Over on Twitter, @acdolph recommended this version of “Joy To The World.” I searched, I listened.

And then, like Charlton Heston in “Planet Of The Apes,” I blinked hard. “A planet where Klezmer music was developed by the Christians?!?” I sputtered. “It’s MADNESSS!!!!

The whole album is like that. I want to lean back and sip at something cold and refreshing and try to figure out how that alternative reality managed to diverge from our own. I am unwise in the ways of timestream disruption and Jewish services. Would it be sort of an even-trade proposition? In the Yom Kippur services in this world, does the cantor solemnly approach the lecturn, clear his throat, and then belt out the prayer using the melody and energy of James Brown singing “The Old Landmark” during Baptist services in “The Blues Brothers”?

I leave further speculations as an excercise for the reader.

This is great music. It’s damned peculiar to hear a song rejoicing about the coming of the Messiah performed in a style that’s so inseparably associated with Jewish culture, but what can I tell you: the Humans are an odd and unpredictable species.

But here’s one thing I can predict with utter certainty: if you purchase this track via Amazon MP3, I will spend the Amazon Associates kickback I receive in a way that will make you proud. I will spent it foolishly. Not on food or clothing or junk like that. I will spend it on stuff that will do no good for me or anybody else. Bang:

Amazon MP3: Joy To The World (the Klezmonauts)

Or, you can buy it from the iTunes Store. This is one of those rare tracks that’s in iTunes Plus, and can be downloaded at high bitrate and free of DRM…just like every track from Amazon MP3.

An iTunes Store where every track is high bitrate and free from DRM?!? It’s SENNNNNSIBLE!!! SENSIBLE, I tells you!!!

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 15: “By Myself [from The Band Wagon]”

By Myself [from The Band Wagon]

Fred Astaire

That’s Entertainment!

Genre: Soundtrack

Amazon MP3: By Myself [from The Band Wagon]

Okay, “The Band Wagon.” You need to know two things about this movie: One, that it is indeed “The Band Wagon” and not “The Bandwagon.” Getting it wrong is a rookie mistake and the true film snobs to whom you were so shabbily attempting to ingratiate yourself will see to it that you’ll never get into a Max Ophuls film festival in this town again.

Secondly, that it is the single greatest musical ever made.

We film snobs are a crafty lot and our predecessors produced “Singin’ In The Rain” just to smoke you fakers out. When we ask a newcomer “What’s the single greatest musical ever made?” we are trying to see if he or she actually watches movies. So many people are just there to stare at bright flashing lights for a couple of hours. “Singin’ In The Rain” — though a very pleasant movie — is two hours of bright, flashing lights. “The Band Wagon” is a movie.

This song is a key case in point. Fred Astaire plays his age in a role that might have felt a little to close to real life for comfort. He plays Tony Hunter, an aging song-and-dance man. He’s a celebrity, but a nostalgic one; he’s a relic of the black-and-white top hat and tails-era of musicals and hasn’t made a decent picture in years. Today, Tony Hunter would be judging a TV reality dance competition.

He takes a train from Hollywood back to New York to recharge his batteries. Upon arrival, he’s delighted and slightly relieved to find that the press has learned about his trip and is waiting for him at the platform. But after a minute or two of interviews they abruptly dash away; they were actually there to get photos of Ava Gardner, who is now stepping off the train.

And then Fred Astaire strolls into the terminal, singing “By Myself.” It’s not a maudlin song about loneliness. Nor is it a brave anthem about independence and self-reliance. It’s a simple matter-of-fact acknowledgment. From Tony’s perspective, it’s more than how things are at that moment. It’s how things seem to be in general.

(And to prevent the audience from feeling sorry for Tony, he’s met by a couple of pals as soon as the song’s over.)

That’s the difference between a great movie musical and one that’s merely Good. Is there any song in “Singin’ In The Rain” that does any heavy lifting? I’m replaying the flick in my head and I can’t think of a single on that reveals anything about the characters or advances the plot. The only songs in “The Band Wagon” that do nothing apart from sounding pretty are the ones in the show-within-the-show.

So that’s settled, then: “The Band Wagon” is the greatest movie musical ever. Let’s hear no more of this “Singin’ In The Rain” nonsense.

I do love this song. I hum it almost every time I’m walking through an airport, particularly during the walk to the baggage carousels at the end of my trip. The director of life, just as the director of that movie, uses that scene to underscore to the audience that this man is unattached. I walk past the little kids who drop their glittery “Welcome Home!” signs and run from the feet of one parent to the arms of the other one, who’s been away for far too long. I walk past the friends hugging. I step over the couple on the floor who really ought to show a little decorum, honestly.

It’s the perfect situation in which to find yourself reflecting upon the status of being single.

I'll face the unknown
I'll build a world of my own
No one knows better than I myself
I'm by myself, alone

As in the movie, it’s not self-pitying; it’s just reality. For the record, when I visited a dear friend of mine last week, I was met at the train station and I immediately received a hug of true chiropractic intensity.

I am forced by Duty to now embed a whole bunch of links. Yup, here’s the tune itself, courtesy of Amazon MP3:

Amazon MP3: By Myself [from The Band Wagon]

But honestly. How can I not also insist that you at least consider buying the movie? Amazon has the two-disc special edition DVD for $25, but they also have box set that includes that exact same edition plus four other musicals for just five bucks more: The Classic Musicals Collection – Broadway to Hollywood (Easter Parade Two Disc Special Edition / The Band Wagon Two Disc Special Edition / Bells Are Ringing / Finian’s Rainbow / Brigadoon)

Brace yourselves. My Amazon Associates referrals today have jumped from a dollar to $30. And now it’s getting even pricier. Deep breath, now:

Amazon MP3: That’s Entertainment! [Digital Version]

When I looked for “By Myself,” I discovered that one of my favorite music boxed sets of all time had arrived in the MP3 Store.

I did one of thos squealy things that a heterosexual man can only get away with if he works at home.

The “That’s Entertainment” set contains damned-near every fantastic piece of music from every great MGM musical ever made, ever. I bought it on CD years ago and I’ve re-ripped it at least three times, as encoding technology improved and the capacities of my iPods have expanded.

As to the expense, it’s probably better if you don’t think about it. Just hold your thumb over the corner of the window where the price will appear and click “Buy It Now.” Look, it’s 132 tracks and they’re nearly all winners.

(Sigh. At this point I sort of regret making all those jokes about scamming my readers via Amazon referral fees. But those of you who like this sort of thing will LOVE this sort of thing. And to be honest, if I regretted it all that much I would have embedded a plain old link, wouldn’t I?)

As usual, I offer small penance by also including an iTunes Store link, from which I reap naught but the satisfaction of steering my readers towards an eminently diggable track.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 14: “Santa Claus Is Back In Town”

Santa Claus Is Back In Town

Elvis Presley

Elvis Christmas

Genre: Holiday

Amazon MP3: Santa Claus Is Back In Town

Well, let’s be adults and acknowledge this right at the top: this is a song in which Elvis promises to visit each one of his female fans on Christmas and have sex with them. Possibly right on top of all of her visiting relatives’ coats there on the bed.

There. I said it and the world didn’t end, did it? Aren’t you glad that it’s all out in the open? Your 18-year-old daughter, home from her first semester in college. Glancing at the front door all during dinner on Christmas Eve with an eager anticipation you haven’t seen in her since she still believed in Santa Claus.

Oh, a man in a red suit is stopping by tonight. Count on it. Except it’s close-fitting leather, not flocked velvet. And the “elves” are two muttonchopped walls of muscle who wordlessly station themselves at the bottom of the stairs after “Santa” leads your giggling daughter up to the second floor, and who offer to trade a crisp $100 bill for the film in your 11-year-old son’s camera.

We who were born about thirty or forty years too late for this stuff are made to believe that American men feared this scenario far more than the idea of atomic war or Communism. They imagined that Elvis had a huge, hangar-like command center dominated by a map of the United States, with red light bulbs marking the homes of daughters he had yet to have sex with, and bits of string plotting out the most efficient and economical routes between them.

It seems like such an irrational fear. And yet a song like this did nothing to reassure these crewcutted fretters. For such men, the only reassuring sign to be found anywhere in “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” is the fact that there are no suggestive references to Elvis’ South Pole, candy cane, etc. So maybe (quote) “Santa Claus is coming down your chimney tonight” (unquote) could be taken at face value.

Sorry, but…no. Elvis so totally had sex with your daughter. C’mon. She had that big, stupid grin on her face all the way to New Year’s. Do you think she liked the Paint-By-Numbers Last Supper you gave her that much?

If it’s any consolation, Elvis left her with an enviable library of high-definition memories that helped her to sail through ten years’ worth of efficiently-executed marital coitus. Don’t those three adorable grandkids more than make up for your need to send your fist through the wall every time “Viva Las Vegas” comes on  TV?

Buy the track from Amazon MP3. I get a small kickback and I’m told that am Amazon MP3 purchase will prevent your own daughters from having sex with The Game.

Amazon MP3: Santa Claus Is Back In Town

Or, you can buy it from iTunes and just take your chances.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 13: “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Dean Martin

Christmas With Dino

Genre: Holiday

Amazon MP3: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (1998 Digital Remaster)

It’s time for a couple of actual Christmas songs, fellow sensation-seekers.

Every September and October the stores are jammed with new Christmas CDs from every Tom, Dick, and former “American Idol” contestant making one last stop in the music industry before returning to Jiffy Lube and picking up where he or she left off a couple of years ago. There’s no law stopping them from recording “White Christmas” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “The Christmas Song.”

(This is just one of the many reasons why I voted for Obama this year. It’s time for us Americans to find our pride again.)

But even if the singer in question is actually a talented vocalist, it’s just Holiday Karaoke. You can sing “White Christmas” as sweetly and perfectly as it can possibly be sung, discovering new layers and nuances with every phrase. Your audience will still just applaud politely and then say “We’ll be sure to get in touch with you if every single 78, 45, LP, 8-track, cassette, CD and digital copy of the Bing Crosby version is ever destroyed.”

Even thirty-years dead, Bing Crosby owns “White Christmas.” Occasionally some green kid with a belly full of whiskey steps into the Holiday Music Thunderdome and challenges the old man. But older, wiser, and more sober heads quietly lead him back out again before Der Bingle even becomes aware of his presence.

Dean Martin doesn’t have quite the same lock on “Let It Snow!³” but he’s risen to six consecutive challenges (also with a belly full of whiskey) and proven that his version is the product that people want.

It’s a perfect match of subject to singer. It’s cold outside, and it’s snowing and dark. But who would want to leave? You’re “stuck” for an indeterminate amount of time, but you’re in a cabin with Joan Baez!

See? Of course: the only sensible thing to do under those circumstances is to just take your chances with the blizzard. Sure, Jack Nicholson froze to death at the end of “The Shining” but at least he went with a smile on his face. That’s not the face of someone who spent the last four hours of his life being lectured about the need to prevail upon the Great Spirit to come down from the Tree of Life and finally do something about the rise of chromium levels in Chilean waterways.

But who wouldn’t want to be stuck in a cabin with Dean Martin? You acquire +30 Charisma and +50 Smooth points just by breathing the same air as him for an evening.

Also, at least a .30 blood alcohol level. Hell, it’s not like you’ll be driving anytime soon.

Dean Martin definitely would have used the Amazon MP3 store if it had been around ten years ago. Buy “Let It Snow!³” from there and the whole world will see you in a new and highly positive light (and I’ll get a small kickback).

Amazon MP3: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (1998 Digital Remaster)

Or you can buy it from iTunes. Clay Aiken swears by it.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 12: “Higher And Higher”

Higher And Higher

Jackie Wilson

The Ultimate Jackie Wilson

Genre: R&B/Soul

Amazon MP3: Higher & Higher

This is precisely what I was talking about when I discussed Tenor Envy yesterday. Good God. I hope I have enough common sense not to trade away a single day of my life under any circumstances, but if I was offered the ability to sing just one time like Jackie Wilson in exchange for dying a week earlier than scheduled…well, I know I’d have to sleep on it before inevitably saying no.

“Higher And Higher” is an articulation of pure joy. Shameless, uninhibited, uncontainable, dancing in the street joy. It puts the damnest smile on your face and it makes you feel slightly ashamed about every cynical thought or action you’ve ever been responsible for.

I’m sitting here and trying to think of a cynical thought or action that I might be ashamed about. I’m coming up blank, here. I’m smart enough to know that this can only mean I’ve been a cynic for so long that I’ve long-since stopped being ashamed about it.

Which of course means that I ought to put this song on Repeat and listen to it over and over again during an hour’s drive I’ve got scheduled for this afternoon.

Its restorative powers are unstoppable. I often listen to these Advent Calendar songs while I write about them but it can’t be done with “Higher And Higher.” My butt might be planted in the chair but my upper body is in full celebration mode, with each arm interpreting a different one of the dance moves that the kids in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” perform.

This is not wholly conducive to touch-typing.

Jackie Wilson earned the nickname “Mr. Excitement.” Here I think they were just reading the birthmark off the back of his head. Surely the Bible foretold of the coming of one such as he, or else the book doesn’t even halfway live up to its hype.

Speaking of the Bible, “Higher And Higher” is often included in spiritual compilations. Okay. I can see that. Change a couple of words to eradicate any implication of wanting to get to second base and it becomes a song about the joy that certain believers feel about being loved by God.

I do enjoy a certain spiritual component in this song myself. “Higher And Higher” proves that there is indeed Joy in the world. It’s there. Just be open to it, and you’ll find it.

On second thought, maybe I’ll just listen to this song over an over again while I prepare to go out and do my errands. “Higher And Higher” is truly prescription-grade stuff and use of a motor vehicle while joyful is probably contraindicated on the packaging.

Naturally, it would give me great joy if you were to buy this track from Amazon MP3. I promise you that the money I get from the referral fees will go towards no charity or Good Cause whatsoever. I will spend the Amazon credits on an as-yet undetermined object in that broad category of “Machines That Go ‘Ping!’.”

Amazon MP3: Higher & Higher

But go ahead and buy it from the iTunes Store if you must. I should point out that this is one of those piddling few tracks on iTunes that are actually sold at high bitrate and DRM-free, just like every single track on Amazon.

Go ahead. I’ll get by. Jackie Wilson will cheer me up. That’s how powerful this track is.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 11: “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön”


Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön

Fritz Wunderlich

Fritz Wunderlich: Musical Pearls

Genre: Opera

Amazon MP3: Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön (Tamino)

I was surprised and flattered by some of the responses to my Flip Mino HD v. Kodak Zi6 demo videos on Vimeo. In addition to the wrong (wrong wrong so very WRONG) comments that claimed that the Kodak video was superior to the Mino’s, I got a couple of messages from people who said I had a Lovely Singing Voice™.

Well, thank you. I do enjoy singing. But I have a serious case of Tenor Envy.

God saw fit to equip me with what (in a better singer) would be termed a Lush, Full Baritone™. Which is all well and good, but in general, the most awesome rock songs are sung by tenors. Jazz standards are a little better: we’ve got Sinatra and Bennett on our side.

(Okay, okay…also Ike Turner. We don’t like to talk about him. There’s nothing worse than a baritone gone bad, is there?)

We move on to opera, however, and the tenors win, two sets to one. Consider Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” The Handsome Young Prince™ (you know him better as Tamino) is a tenor part. Bumbling Sidekick™? a baritone. So Papageno the birdcatcher sings about chasing filthy birds all day long and not being able to score with women, while Tamino pours out his soul in devoted longing to the portrait of the woman of his dreams, before setting off to rescue her from the temple priest who kidnapped her.

That’s fair.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry. This is why Envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins™. I shouldn’t burden you with my own petty and ugly disappointments. “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” is one hell of an aria, and before he kakked it in 1966, Fritz Wunderlich was one hell of a tenor.

You’re all smart people, so if you haven’t already gotten into opera, you’ll get into it eventually. I didn’t really discover opera until my early thirties. What got me hooked was the discovery that an opera singer’s career is all about the pursuit of mastery. They can’t succeed by starring in a hit musical and then landing a supporting role in a sitcom. Nope, have to work their way through the repertoire, opera after opera, role after role, performance after performance, demonstrating a range and agility not just for the music, but for the acting roles themselves.

This is unlike the way things work in rock or pop. Singers do indeed record covers. They’ve paid for the whole day at the studio and if they want to burn off the last forty minutes by having the Sex Pistols do their best with “My Way,” what’s the harm?

[Roughly 1400 words on the topic of “The harm of the Sex Pistols trying to cover Sinatra,” deleted for space]

In opera, by the time a tenor stands in front of people and sings “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” he does so with Intent To Distribute™. You just don’t toss out a line like “An diesen heissen Busen drücken/Und ewig wäre sie dann mein!” without getting all of your paperwork in order.

(Heh heh heh…he said “busen”! Dude!)

By the time you develop a reputation like Fritz Wunderlich’s, you’ve really wrestled this tune to the ground and found your answers. The upshot of all this is that 99 cents spent on an opera recording generally delivers the greatest value. Assuming that you want the performers to annoy and stress themselves out as much as possible for your entertainment dollar.

Buy Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön from the Amazon MP3 Store. That’s what heroes do.

Amazon MP3: Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön (Tamino)

The iTunes Store has it, too. Though I understand that most of their stock comes from Asia and is not covered by US warranties. Apple also rummages through the box and pulls out the charger and the manual and all of the cables and they try to sell them to you separately. All in all, it seems like the smart thing would be to buy it from Amazon, where you’ll get it unlocked and at high bitrate and funnel another few cents into my Amazon Frivolity Fund, doesn’t it?

Amazon Advent Calendar 10: “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)”


God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)

Randy Newman

The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1

Genre: Rock

Amazon MP3: God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)

I am in the unusual but by no means unfamiliar position of having to admit that I was wrong, while simultaneously insisting that I was right.

Take this Randy Newman fellow. I didn’t know much about him, but I knew two things about his work:

(1) Every Randy Newman song sounds like every other Randy Newman song.
(2) Every Randy Newman song sounds like a jingle from a toilet paper commercial.

And that was certainly true for all instances in the class randyNewman_songs_ive_heard. Mostly I’d only heard the songs that he’d written for films. Honestly, I urge you to listen to “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” “If I Didn’t Have You,” and “I Love To See You Smile” and then tell me I’m wrong.

Warning: Listening to these three songs and then telling me I’m wrong will cause your lying tongue to turn black and fall out of your lying mouth and then for the rest of your life everyone will be able to see instantly that you’re just a lying liar who lies.

Yes, clearly I’m right. It’s three copies of the same song. At the very least, you can staple the start of one onto the middle of another and then tack on the ending from the third — in any order — and you’d still have a single, consistent song.

Is it like a toilet paper jingle? Okay. That’s a judgement call. But I’m absolutely right about the other thing.

But eventually I realized that Randy Newman has written more than three songs in his lifetime. And I knew that my judgment had been premature.

While I’m at it, I should correct something else I may or may not have said or written: It’s not true that every song he writes sounds like he just holds a canned ham in each hand and thuds them down on the keyboard LEFT-right-LEFT-right-LEFT-right until the song’s over.

The management and staff of Andy Ihnatko’s Celestial Waste of Bandwidth regrets the error.

I’ve become a fan. Randy Newman paints these amazing pictures, completing a full scene that’s frozen into a single four minute slice of music. Like one of the better dealies at the art museum, you can stand there taking in the story and seeing additional details and different viewpoints as the minutes tick on by.

“God’s Song” is actually not the first song I selected. The first one was actually too heavy for me, as many Randy Newman songs are. “God’s Song” is a good kind of heavy, the sort of song that puts you in a philosophical mood. The other one was the bad kind of heavy that makes you dab at your eyes and tap the key to shove you along to the next song in the playlist before you get so upset that you have to call in and cancel your dental appointment.

The fact that I think a song about God’s indifference to Mankind’s suffering is “less heavy” should say something about the song I rejected.

Or about Randy Newman’s skills. Great songs affect everyone differently. “God’s Song” represents an inkblot that equally vivid to everybody, but whose personal meaning relies on your individual experiences and perceptions. A quick Google to refresh myself on the lyrics revealed plenty of comments about this song, from Atheists who think it’s a delicious illustration of the absurdity of belief in God, and Believers who think it’s ignorant and blasphemous, and deeply disappointed explorers who searched for “Man Love” with SafeSearch turned on.

I think there’s a human tendency to interpret a vague statement in such a way that it seems to support your point of view. I can definitely tell you that I recognized my own beliefs in the lyrics.

On that basis: this Randy Newman guy is a goddamned genius.

Speaking of genius: I’ve wised up and converted this annual labor of love into a profit-generating exercise. So if you buy this track from Amazon, I get a small cut of the proceeds which will be applied towards Something I Clearly Can Get By Without. Shazam:

Amazon MP3: God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)

If you’re not a genius, really, go ahead and buy it from Amazon anyway. Yes, it’s where all the smart shoppers buy all of their digital music but it’s not like they make you take an exam or anything before they let you in. Remember, if you wind up buying the track from the iTunes Store, they’ll sell it to you at half the bitrate and locked up in DRM and they’ll have a big, big laugh at your expense. It breaks my heart just to think of it.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 09: “Hold It In”

Hold It In

Jukebox The Ghost

Let Live And Let Ghosts

Genre: Alternative Rock

Amazon MP3: Hold It In

This track appears in my iTunes library as “Alternative Rock.” I think that’s a mistake. “Hold It In” is Pop, pure, plain and simple. And that shouldn’t be considered a mark of shame.

Pop is confection. It’s a windup toy that’s colorful and full of movement and you can’t help but play with it endlessly. And although a pop song isn’t exactly written with the intent of building a monument to the human spirit, a great pop song has a timeless element.

It’s in the melody. Musical styles change, but the human software for processing melodic input is about as stagnant as the Windows UI. I’ve been listening to this tune a few times in preparation for its appearance here in the Advent Calendar and clicking my perceptions backward ten years at a time. I can easily imagine this being recorded by the Proclaimers in the Nineties or the Go-Gos in the Eighties or…

Okay, I was too young to be following the music scene in the Seventies so I’ll take a mulligan on specific groups from here on out. But! Any of the British Invasion pop acts that followed the Beatles would have done well with this tune in the Sixties, as would the close-harmony groups of the Forties and Fifties.

Here in the Aughties, the subwoofer must be thumping, the piano keys must be beaten mercilessly, and there must be an implication that the singer is wearing nerdy retro eyeglasses. And yet there’s still room for soe rhythmic hand-claps that wouldn’t be out of place in a Sixties girl-group tune.

I love this tune. The catchy but aggressive melody definitely creates a sensation of weapons of war being employed towards more frivolous purposes, like soap bubbles being blown through the barrel of a gun.

Speaking of frivolous purposes, if you buy “Hold It In” from Amazon MP3, I get a small kickback that I’ll apply towards something gloriously stupid, like a chromed ceremonial shovel that I’ll hang on my wall. I’ll tell visitors that it was presented to me by the Secretary of Agriculture in gratitude for my research in the field of soil subsistence.

Amazon MP3: Hold It In

Or you can buy it from the iTunes Store. Uncharacteristically, it’s an iTunes Plus track, meaning that it’s unprotected and encoded at a high bitrate, like all of the Amazon MP3 tracks. But I won’t get the referral fee. I’ll be forced to lie to visitors and tell them that I can’t show them my ceremonial shovel because the Smithsonian asked to borrow it for their permanent “Gifts To Famous American Journalists” exhibition.

So if you’re OK with being responsible for a deception, go right ahead and buy it from iTunes. If you believe in Truth, you really ought to buy it from Amazon, don’t you think?

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 08: “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (Album Version)

Andy Williams

The Andy Williams Christmas Album

Genre: Holiday

Amazon MP3: It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (Album Version)

No Advent Calendar yesterday? Well, of course not. It was Sunday. That’s the Lord’s day.

(I’ll make it up later today.)

Okay. This series is like being  club DJ. You don’t want to hit the crowd with the theme stuff right away. People are still at home, putting another coat of Armor-All on their plastic pants and charging the induction batteries on the subdermal Kraftwerk logo they had implanted in their forehead last month. So you fill the first hour with regular great music.

Then the club has definitely started to fill up. You’re now free to hit ’em with “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.”

(If the night’s theme is “KRINGLE JAMS!!!! A Musical Advent Calendar” or somesuch, anyway.)

Yes, ladies and gents, here’s the first explicit Christmas song of the Calendar. Because the other rule of club DJing is that you don’t want your first song to weakly walk up and tap the bell. It should leap forward and RING the bell.

“It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” is a song that was pretty much designed to be screwed up. Was it Target that used the Johnny Mathis version to introduce and back up all of their holiday commercials a couple of years ago? Or did they contract a tactical orchestra from North Korea to weaponize the basic melody?

Well, there was definitely a Rogue Former Soviet Republic air about it, at minimum. I cringed the first time one of those commercials came on and I changed the channel every time it came on thereafter. Every bar of music was a BLAST! of trumpets and drum fills and the overall effect was like having eight elves pin down your arms and legs while Santa beats you about the head and chest with a toy sack filled with frozen oranges.

(Speaking of Santa: I also remember getting more and more angry with the Santa who wordlessly closed the commercial by winking playfully at the camera. The dude could not WINK. Was it a botox problem or something? Whatever, he’d just sort of smile and bob his head forward a little and squint his eyes shut for a quarter-second. And from far back in the mists of July, when the commercial was shot, you could hear the director screaming “CUT! Okay, you mother*****r!!!! We’re going to do JUST ONE MORE mother******g take, and if you CAN’T do a mother******g wink at the goddamn ******g camera, I AM GOING TO STAPLE YOUR ******G EYE closed and THAT’s how we’re going to get this ******g shot!!!!!! TAKE 72! GO, YOU MOTHER*****R, GO!!!!!!”)

(Ho! Ho! Ho!)

This is a tune with a clear freshness date. It gets recorded once and really, that’s all we need. It’s like having multiple versions of the Chipmunks Song. It’s a perfectly charming tune, performed perfectly well. But it isn’t like “Autumn Leaves,” a part of the Great American Songbook that every great singer must interpret and visit at least once during his or her career.

And I’m not denigrating Andy Williams here. It’s a great song and performance. I grow weary of post-modernism, irony, sarcasm. And alas, sarcasm is the Super Unleaded of blogs. Pick a random hunk of cheese, make fun of it, and complete that last final check before you click “Post.”

This Last Final Check is a careful read-through in which you make sure that it’s clear to your readers that you’re way too cool for a song from an Andy Williams special. They cannot be allowed to learn the truth: that every time you hear this recording in a store or in a commercial or at your grandparents’ house, you’re inexplicably transported back to every wonderful childhood holiday memory in your inventory, and you’re warm and happy for a solid fifteen minutes afterward.

So yes, I own this track and I enjoy this track. Buy it from the Amazon MP3 Store, which much in keeping with the spirit of the season, gives me a small kickback which I barely deserve:

Amazon MP3: It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (Album Version)

It’s also available on iTunes. In keeping with the spirit of the season, the guy at Apple in charge of iTunes bitterly allows his personal assistant just a single day off to spend Christmas with his wife and his handicapped son, and get furious if he deigns to raise the temperature of his squalid, freezing-cold office by a single degree.