Tag Archives: Amazon Advent Calendar 2010

“Theme from ‘Shaun the Sheep'” – Amazon Advent Calendar Day 12

Album Art

Theme from Shaun the Sheep: Life’s a Treat

TV Sounds Unlimited

A Decade of TV Hits: 2000-2009

Genre: Soundtrack

God bless the Netflix Watch Instantly service. God bless the Roku box. God damn the Netflix Watch Instantly service. God damn the Roku box.

(In no particular order.)

Here I am, in my office. Which is also my home, which means it’s a petri dish for distractions, resting inside an incubator of lost productivity. With multiple computers, a bed, a sofa, a fridge, and every book and movie I own all within a short radius of my Swivel Chair of Journalistic Might, it was a miracle that I ever got anything done even before that particular service and that specific device entered the mix.

Now, Netflix is willing and able to send me just about any movie or TV show I want, mere seconds after it occurs to me that I’d like to see it. And the Roku is ready and waiting to pipe it directly onto the big HDTV in front of the soft, cozy couch. What can I say. Something’s gotta give, dear editors, and I’m sorry to say that it’s the work that I agreed to give you today.

Case in point: my fairly recent discovery of “Shaun the Sheep.” Those of you with exquisite taste will recognize the name. Shaun is the lamb that Wallace and Gromit rescued from their carelessly-efficient automated shearing and knitting machine in 1995’s Oscar-winning animated short, “A Close Shave.” The guys manage to pull him out of there in the nick of time, but not before multiple nicks of skin: the machine shaved him all the way down to the sheepskin.

“We’ll call you ‘Shaun’,” pronounces Wallace.

The first time I saw “A Close Shave,” it was in a theater with a full audience. It was the kind of joke that passes under the radar at first, but which results in a burst of laughter 1.8 seconds later.

(Think about it a sec. You’ll get it.)

Who knows how I learned that Aardman had spun Shaun off into his own series of TV shorts for the BBC? But I soon went from watching the teaser clips on the official website to finding the (inevitable) full-episode bootlegs that have been posted here and there…

(I’m embedding this one only because I’m so awesomely totally completely sure that it’s so completely and totally awesomely a 100% legal post, as far as I know.)

(And if I’m mistaken about that, which I’m not, I can only apologize for the behavior of Becca, my office assistant, who found this video and assured me it was legal and who will be sacked for having made such a terrible, terrible mistake. So if it’s actually illegal, go ahead and tell me about that right away, because she will be fired and she will lose her health coverage despite the fact that her kid was finally scheduled to get his ear reattached next week. I want you to promise me that none of that will stop you from telling me about it if this video violates an Aardman copyright.)

…and from there, I discovered that Netflix has 13 episodes of “Shaun the Sheep” available for instant viewing.

So.

That’s where the rest of my day went.

How have Aardman toons remained so consistently funny? I cringed a little when I first heard about the spinoff. Surely they were pushing their luck. Part of what makes “Wallace and Gromit” wonderful is the fact that we get these epic little movies only once every few years. Was there really Franchise Potential in this bit character?

Oh, boy…yes. Shaun’s farm is a well-planned-out ecosystem for situational comedy. The writers’ first Brilliant Stroke was to play by the same rules that apply to W&G’s world. Shaun and the other animals on the farm are animals. The sheep have sheep roles to play; the pigs play pigs; Bitzer the sheepdog is a dog. They don’t talk and they don’t walk around in human clothes.

(Except for that time when the sheep and Bitzer figured out that they could probably get a huge takeout order from the local pizza place if they could throw together a somewhat convincing Human costume and then present themselves at the counter for the pickup. Hilarity most assuredly ensued.)

I marvel at the craftsmanship of the both the animation and the writing. I wonder just how intricately this show’s world was mapped out beforehand. Or did it all evolve organically as the team worked out story ideas? Shaun’s farm is a rich field for storytelling and as near as I can make out, that’s because of its various factions’ multiple zones of conflict and opportunities for collaboration:

  • The Farmer wants the whole farm to run smoothly and efficiently, while still having enough free time to enjoy his simple hobbies and pleasures. Toward that end, he delegates to Bitzer most of the responsibilities of keeping the flock together and out of trouble. He represents the Dire Consequences that will result if things go badly.
  • Bitzer is responsible for keeping the Farmer happy…or at least, making sure that any messes are addressed before they come to the Farmer’s attention. So he’s often in conflict with the sheep.
  • Shaun is the strongest thinker of all of the sheep. He’s not necessarily their leader, but his obvious skills at abstract thought and his ability to link actions to consequences mean that he’s usually the first of the sheep to sense an opportunity and how to take advantage of it. He’s also the first to see a disaster coming and work out how to avert it. In the first kind of situation, he’s at odds with Bitzer. In the second, he’s at odds with the rest of the flock.
  • The Sheep act as a unit, mostly, and are usually oblivious to anything but their immediate situation.
  • The Pigs are simple, classical agents of Chaos, placed there by mischievous gods to make sure that any smoothly-oiled machine or carefully-considered plan goes haywire. Though they respect and fear the authority of the Farmer, via his assigned deputy, Bitzer.

Look, I’m going somewhere with this. Actually, it’s possible that I should be going to a whiteboard, to diagram all of this out. It’s equally possible that I shouldn’t think so hard about the dynamics between the characters.

What I’m getting at is that I love how the writers have set up a closed, dynamic system in which the roles are never completely fixed. In one story, it’s Shaun and the flock teaming up to put one past Bitzer. In another, it’s Shaun and Bitzer teaming up to prevent the flock from running so far amok that a problem gets completely out of hand and their collective home is placed in jeopardy. Sometimes — as with the pursuit of takeout pizza — Shaun, the flock, and Bitzer are all working together towards a shared goal: get pizza for everybody, without the Farmer finding out about it.

There’s a lesson here for anybody interested in telling a good story. Separating your cast into “good guys” and “bad guys” is an amateur approach. Your real goal is to see them as individuals with distinct goals. In any group, there are going to be those whose goals support each other and those who are going to be in conflict. The story flows from there.

(reads that back)

Damn, I would have made a terrific associate professor. That sounds like sharp, shrewd analysis of a literary construct, while explaining nothing and failing to enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the subject the least tiniest bit. This paper would definitely gotten published and I’d be one step closer to a state of professorial bliss known as “tenure,” a Latin word that roughly translates to “Everybody below my pay grade can just kiss my ***.”

Suffice to say: It’s a funny cartoon. It has animals in it and they do lots of funny stuff. You ought to watch it.

It also has a fab theme song. On top of its melodic strengths and overall catchiness the singer has a recognizable accent that I can cartoonishly emulate, and escalate, in the privacy and solitude of my office. It’s not The Proclaimers singing “500 Miles,” but it’ll do.

Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t be blaming Netflix and Roku. It would appear that I can distract myself from legitimate, prosperous work using as little as one chopstick and a twist-tie from a loaf of bread. I’m like the MacGyver of productivity demolition. I suppose that’s something.

Listen to the Theme From Shaun The Sheep (“Life’s A Treat”) on Amazon MP3.

After spending about a thousand words complaining about how good I am at surrounding myself with distractions, I suppose I shouldn’t encourage you to provide me with more of them. Nonetheless, the above link is tagged with my Amazon Associates code, and that after you click it everything you buy on Amazon will result in my getting a small kickback from every purchase (in the form of Amazon gift credits). Which I’ll spend on more Bright, Shiny Objects.

Well, you’ll know what to do.

(Hey, if I made a fortune with these credits, it’s not inconceivable that I’d use them to buy three electric scooters and a good camcorder. I could destroy one of them in a “Will It Blend?” sort of thing, total the second one trying to replicate a stunt I saw on a “Jackass” marathon on MTV2, post the two videos to YouTube, and still have a third one left to zip around town on. Not that this should influence your decision-making in any way, of course.)

“Big Mess” by Devo (Amazon Advent Calendar day 11)

Album Art

Big Mess

Devo

Greatest Hits

Genre: Rock

Kids, there was a true Golden Age twenty or thirty years ago when your biggest commercial asset as a musician was to be the sort of person who, in high school, spent a lot of time yelling “Hey! Quit it! This isn’t funny, guys!!!” at burly upperclassmen, to little or no effect. It was a era when your big stars were your Ric Ocaseks, your David Byrnes, your Thomas Dolbys, and your L. Ron Costellos.

Was there a time before or since when Devo could have hit it so big? Their flashy act was tailor-made for MTV, but I have to remind myself that the band formed during the Nixon administration. It’s tough enough just to imagine what they must have sounded like in 1973, when electronic instruments consisted of just the Theremin, and pocket calculators with poorly-grounded cathode displays.

A proper Devo song will follow the basic blueprint demonstrated by “Big Mess.” It’s tricky to explain the signature style of a band using just words. I suppose the best way for me to describe it is to say “If you can’t imagine a music video for this song in which someone’s running in place in front of a bluescreen, it isn’t really a Devo song.”

The fine men and women of Hulu have endeavored to preserve the 1980’s Devo Experience, in the form of their guest spot on the 80’s superhit teen sitcom “Square Pegs.” I know you’re sick to death of seeing the nonstop reruns of this show in syndication…but give it a look anyway:

As with all TV sitcoms that are set in a high school, the middle-aged men and women of the network at that time perfectly replicated what teenage culture was like. The Mayor of Television would have put his foot down if they hadn’t done a careful job of it.

The clip reminds me of how different schools are today. “Big Mess” was one of my favorite songs back in school. I try to imagine what would happen if a teacher or principal today were walking through the halls and overheard a student humming these lyrics:

I’m a man with a mission
A boy with a gun
I’ve got a picture in my pocket of the lucky one
Who doesn’t know
I’m a big mess
I mean a really big mess

…Yeah, that kid would probably get to see his family and daylight again in about forty years.

Listen to “Big Mess” on the Amazon MP3 Store.

This link is embedded with my Amazon Associates code. If you click it, any purchases you make during that Amazon session will send into motion a complex chain of events that will ultimately result in my getting some Amazon gift credits, which I shall use to purchase glorious and foolish things.

“Everything Put Together Falls Apart” by Paul Simon – Amazon Advent Calendar Day 10

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Everything Put Together Falls Apart

Paul Simon

Paul Simon

Genre: Pop

Behold: Paul Simon’s anthem to entropy.

Though he just as easily could have been writing about my ongoing relationship with the technology in my home and office. My own little monologue piece on this topic goes along the lines of

“Oh, for God’s sake. Seriously? You know, this morning, when I was in bed reading comic strips and gossip sites, you know, just messing around, you were working perfectly. Perfectly. But now, you seem to sense that I’m in my office and it’s actually important that you help me to reach this goal and complete this task before a specific deadline. Because you’ve chosen now, of all times, to convert yourself from a sleek and powerful analytical engine to a single-function generator of Spinning Beachballs.

“Which is not to say that the beachball you’re showing me isn’t lovely.. Such bright, cheery colors! Look how it spins, spins, spins. And spins. Spinspinspinspin. Why, I could stare at that all afternoon. Oh, right: that’s precisely what I’ve been doing. Instead of working and getting things done, you see.

“I think I understand what you’re up to, here. You’re two years old and you know that I’m probably thinking about replacing you in a year or so. You figure that if you can prevent me from getting any of my work done, I’ll lose all of my writing gigs and then I won’t be able to even afford a new MacBook.

“Is that it? I’m exactly right, aren’t I?”

Paul Simon happens to be a singer/songwriter. So his own reaction to the same sort of mental state goes like this:

Everything put together
Sooner or later falls apart
There’s nothing to it, nothing to it
You can cry
You can lie
For all the good it’ll do you

It’s a far more listenable, I must admit. Though hold off on your final judgment until my composer gets back with a few sketches of the melody. I really think “You Choose NOW To Lose Contact With Your Nameservers?” could be the “My Way” of our modern generation.

“Everything Put Together Falls Apart” is a fascinating tune. I’ve heard it a hundred times…

No, wait: this is the Digital Age. I shouldn’t sleepwalk through this and slug in a piece of tired old hyperbole, when I can tab over to iTunes, call up the Get Info box on this track, and get you an exact figure.

Hmm. OK, apparently, I’ve heard it twelve times.

Well, no matter. Even if I had played it a hundred times I still don’t think I’d understand the song’s structure. If it ever shows up on Rock Band — they’d have to issue it a special Folk/Pop waiver, I realize — you could only play it on “expert” level because the melody keeps getting distracted by shiny objects in the distance and wandering away. If your marching band can play and and march to this song, then yours is a very, very good band indeed and I wish to encourage your hard work with the purchase of waxy fundraising candy.

And I do like the sentiment the song expresses (after we set aside the “Dude, taking uppers and downers to get through the day will have long-ranging consequences of both a medical and a legal nature” part). Entropy always wins. Things will fall apart. You can take that to mean “…so what’s the point?” but I see it as a reminder of why it’s so important to keep building.

It’s easy…so long as your damned MacBook feels like it wants to actually function today.

(Yes, my workday began about an hour late this morning. Things were so slow that I needed to close every document, window and app and restart.)

Listen to “Everything Put Together Falls Apart” on the Amazon MP3 Store.

Yes indeed: that link is embedded with my Amazon Associated code. If you click it, everything you buy during that session will result in a small kickback for me in the form of Amazon gift credits. I swear on my love of God and Country that I’ll spend those credits wisely. Which is to say: on foolish things.

Or maybe I’ll use them to buy a new MacBook.

(Aside to readers: probably not. But I’m writing this on Lilith 9, my current MacBook. I think it’s a good motivator to remind your staff from time to time that nobody’s irreplaceable.)

“G-Spot Tornado” by Frank Zappa (perf. by Ensemble Ambrosius) – Amazon Advent Calendar Day 9

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G-Spot Tornado (arr. E. Lievonen)

Ensemble Ambrosius

Zappa Album (The)

Genre: Classical

This track proves two things.

First, that Frank Zappa was manifestly a composer. He was destined to spend his life hunched over a clavichord, a quill in his hand, sheets of foolscap under his quill pen, and a bottle of claret within reach. The fact that Zappa was born a couple of centuries too late to be a contemporary of Mozart didn’t deter him in the least. He was a man of drive and determination: he simply made do with the meager tools that were at his disposal in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

I’m fumbling for a way to explain the statement “Clearly, he was a composer.” Well, duh: Zappa squeezed all of those tunes out of his head and into a form that could be filed with the Copyright Office. But somehow, you don’t think of (say) the person who wrote “I’m Too Sexy (For This Song)” as a Composer. You think of him as a “Songwriter.” Maybe as “That weird bald valet guy who wouldn’t stop talking about this hit song he says he wrote twenty years ago, and who almost made me miss my plane.”

Zappa? Oh, absolutely. He was laying down a blueprint for a musical work that was designed to be played live by a great many different groups for centuries to come. This music has layers, it has textures; it’s in no way tethered to the times in which it was created. It was originally composed and performed on a Synclavier and (if Wikipedia is to be believed…for Heaven’s sake, why shouldn’t it?) Zappa pretty much assumed that it was so complex that it could never be performed live, by actual humans.

Hah! Well, here’s a semi-famous orchestral interpretation of “G-Spot Tornado,” conducted by The Man himself. The choreography is by Human Steps.

In fact, the composition is so ambitious that the Amazon MP3 Store lists three different orchestral and baroque arrangements. There’s even a whole band that named itself after this song…with something like two dozen tracks available for download.

Which brings us to Point Two: withholding your catalogue from digital download stores almost never works out well for the Artist’s legacy. The Amazon MP3 Store and iTunes can sell you these weird renditions of “G-Spot Tornado,” but they can’t sell you the Zappa’s original recording, or any other track from 1986’s “Jazz From Hell.”

If you want the Zappa version, you’ll have to buy the CD from Amazon or wherever. But that’s certainly not how people discover new music these days, is it? We come across these things in blog posts and in YouTube videos. We get the itch, we spend 99 cents (or, ugh. $1.29) and we hear the full track. After one or more trips to the download well, maybe we’ll buy the whole CD.

But ordering the disc sight-unseen? And then having it…couriered over? How disgustingly analog! And even if you’re OK with waiting a couple of days to get it, should you gamble $13 on the basis of a single track that you might not even like?

Answer: yes. “Jazz From Hell” is an awesome album. But that’s not the point. The point is that we’re being forced to buy our Zappa via the same mechanism we used way back in the (goddamn) Nineties, when “Full House” was still on the air and they let Pauly Shore make movies. Let’s not go back to those dark and wicked days.

If much of the Zappa catalogue isn’t available on iTunes or Amazon, then that’s obviously the result of a deliberate choice and not a clerical error. It’s also a damned shame. Every time I hear of a high-profile artist whose work is unavailable for (legal) download, I respect that artist’s choice but I wonder if they aren’t overlooking the simple need to keep their music alive for future generations.

I mean, The Beatles could afford to take that risk. There was never any real chance of The Beatles’ “Revolver” ever being forgotten. But nearly twenty years after Zappa’s death, one of the most exciting composers of the late Twentieth century is in danger of becoming just a familiar name, instead of living on as an exciting list of familiar tunes.

Oh, wait…it’s even worse: it’s entirely possible that the very last Zappa tune to fade from memory will be his greatest popular hit. I still cringe whenever I hear a late, great actor listed as “Raul (‘Street Fighter’) Julia.” What a terrible shame it would be for our cultural consciousness if one day Frank Zappa was remembered mostly for “Valley Girl.”

And why? Only because there wasn’t enough of Zappa’s work to go around. With every year, the lesson becomes more clear: if you keep your music out of the iTunes Store or Amazon MP3, it can only mean that keeping these tracks alive is something less than your #1 priority.

Listen to G-Spot Tornado (arr. E. Lievonen) on the Amazon MP3 Store.

As always, all Amazon music links are embedded with my Amazon Associates code. If you click it, any Amazon purchases you make during that session will result in a small kickback to me in the form of Amazon gift credits…which I shall spend foolishly and lavishly on things I’ll enjoy.

“You Gotta Get A Gimmick” (from “Gypsy”) – Amazon Advent Calendar Day 8

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You Gotta Get A Gimmick

Heather Lee, Kate Buddeke, & Julie Halston

Gypsy (2003 Broadway Revival Cast)

Genre: Soundtrack

It’s another damn Monday. Let’s do another show tune, eh?

I saw the 2003 revival of “Gypsy” during its surprisingly brief run on Broadway. Shocked, I was, that I could get tickets for a classic musical in a big-budget revival with a big-name director and a big-name star…

(Note: a star of musical theater, not someone who made it into the Top 6 in season four of “American Idol”)

…for half-price on the day of the performance.

Clearly, the environment that had allowed this show to close early is populated by idiots because it was fantastic. The staging was creative and engaging and the whole experience underscored why I love live theater, and how deeply I wish I could see more shows.

Here’s an example. “Gypsy” follows Gypsy Rose Lee’s path through show business, from her beginnings as a child vaudeville performer to mainstream stardom as a burlesque performer. The real star of the show is Mama Rose. Denied acknowledgement of her own talent and potential, she drags her two daughters into show business just to prove to the world how wrong everybody was to deny Mama her rightful place in the spotlight.

The conceit of the show’s design was that the physical sets got bigger as the show progressed. At the very end of the show, when Gypsy’s a huge star, she strips on a glitzy stage set that fills the whole dimensions of the Schubert Theater’s actual stage. But the first time we see her perform as a little girl alongside her sister, it’s on a fake theater stage about two thirds that size, with its own proscenium arch. The rest of the Schubert stage is bare, all the way to the back wall.

Early in the show, we get to see the little girls’ whole stage act from start to finish. Meanwhile, you can see Mama Rose in the wings, through ambient lighting. She has no lines and no “business.” In fact, it’s not even set up to look like the wings of a stage. She’s just sort of stranded out there in Twilight Zone space after she makes her exit. You’re sort of wondering why Bernadette Peters even has to bother standing there when she could be relaxing offstage for five minutes.

Ah: but in the middle of the girls’ performance, one of the two little girls has a costume change. The girl dances off of the fake stage into the wings, where Mama Rose helps her do a quick-change in time for her re-entrance after the other girl’s solo. Again, there’s no special lighting, dialogue, or business. The audience’s attention is clearly supposed to be on the solo performance taking place on the mini-stage.

You see what I’m getting at? The director had this great idea of having the fake theaters get larger as the show progresses. But at some point in the planning, everyone’s faced with the fact that this real girl needs to do a real costume change…only now, she really has nowhere to go to do it.

There’s only one way out of the problem. Bernadette Peters, one of Broadway’s biggest stars, who’s being paid a hell of a lot of money, has to act as this little girl’s dresser. Sure, that makes sense from a dramatic point of view. Mama Rose would be standing just offstage, and she would be helping her kids change. But I’m certain that in six to eight performances a week, during those thirty seconds, Peters wasn’t playing the role of Mama Rose. It was way, way more important that she be a damned good dresser and made sure that a fellow castmember was in full costume by her next cue.

The second act is full of big, showstopping numbers. This is one of them. At this point, Mama Rose’s tyrannical obsession with success has driven away one of her two daughters and the manager who was this close to becoming Mama’s husband and allowing Mama and Gypsy to finally have normal lives. Now it’s driven her to this: she’s pushed her youngest daughter into stripping in burlesque. A few established — I suppose the adjective “weatherbeaten” wouldn’t be a stretch — pros help the newly-christened Gypsy Rose get ready for her first strip.

I loved the song and the performance. But I also loved the backstage — sorry, the “real backstage,” not the “fake backstage” — stuff. I didn’t spot any of these three women in the first act. They were probably understudying other roles. With their minimal onstage involvement in the rest of the show, I think these three performers would have summarized the story of “Gypsy” thusly:

  • (blah, blah, blah)
  • In a powerful scene that acts as the obvious emotional and dramatic center of the show, three wise women teach the young Gypsy Rose Lee everything she needs to know about dancing…and, about life; Gypsy leaves their tutelage with all of the tools she needs to finally assert herself and rise above the minor supporting castmember who plays her insane and domineering mother.
  • (blah, blah, blah…curtain.)

The theater is a bit like baseball, or at least Al Capone’s description of it. Yes, you’re out there playing as a team, but for most of the players theres also an opportunity for individual accomplishment.

(And then you beat your rival to death with a bat.)

I do like the fact that for a full four minutes and fifty seconds, not including ovations, the entire show is about these three women. And boy, do they perform the song that way.

If you own a +10 Sword of Dispersement of Broadway Magic, “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” still holds valuable lessons. It’s pretty much everything you need to know about successful Internet marketing. “A blog about serialized graphical storytelling” won’t get much traction. But if you tell me “I make fun of ‘Mary Worth’ and other comic strips several times a week” within a few days, I’ll be buying tee shirts from your online store.

Listen to “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” on the Amazon MP3 Store.

My own gimmick is to somehow bamboozle you into clicking an Amazon Associates link, so that I can get a small kickback from all of your Amazon purchases. Because paying to have my own personal and private bouncy-house in my office would just be silly.

(Yes, it’s office equipment. How stupid would I look if I had an important briefing and a Google project director walked in and saw me writing inside a sofa-cushion fort? Use your head!)

“Coming Home” by John Legend (Amazon Advent Calendar day 7)

Album Art

Coming Home

John Legend

Once Again

Genre: R&B/Soul

This is a masterful song. No other observation or rumination should go ahead of that statement. It stopped me dead when I heard Legend perform it on TV, and then after I bought it (immediately following the show) I kept tapping a button in iTunes to hear it again.

Legend’s singing and production on this song remind me of one of Aesop’s fables. The wind and the sun are arguing about which one is stronger. Actually, the wind is doing most of the arguing. He sees a man walking along a road below and demonstrates his power by lashing down at him with full force, trying to blow his cloak off of his back. He doubles and redoubles his force, which only makes the man hold his cloak around himself even more tightly.

The wind is spent. The Sun makes his point by simply radiating. The traveler walks a few hundred yards, and releases his grip on the cloak. A few hundred more, and he undoes the clasps. And soon, he’s taken it off entirely and slung it over his shoulder.

John Legend’s performance here is all about radiance, not force. It’s simple and unadorned and maybe because of that, you open yourself up to it. It’s a very moving piece about a soldier worrying about his family back home and hoping that he lives to return to them. Failing that, he hopes that they’ll carry on without him. It brings the stakes of war home to you in a way that no hammy flag-waving eagle-soaring power-anthem, nor any smug and heavy-handed hippie ballad, ever could.

I’m sure that it resonates personally with just about everybody. “Coming Home” is an intensely personal meme. A sufficiently advanced and exotic method of observing and mapping brain activity would rely on this phrase as a trigger. “Think of coming home,” the technician tells the subject. The scanner can ride that thought through the entire operating system.

I’m thinking of that concept a lot at the moment. Thanksgiving, I’ve come to understand, serves as a clear map to a defining issue for you and your stage in life. If you’re traveling somewhere for Thanksgiving, is “home” the place you’re traveling to at the start of the four-day weekend, or is it the place where you land at the very end of it?

Turn that thought over in your head. When was the year when you felt like you were leaving your home and traveling to your folks’ house? Even if you were staying put, there were many years when you described it as “I’m not going home for Thanksgiving this year.”

I suppose everyone would define this differently. You kind of automatically make the switch when you get married. Even if there are a few fuzzy years after you start co-habitating, it almost certainly happens by the time you have kids.

It’s fuzzier still when you’re single. I tend to define “home” as that place where I have access to (in alphabetical order, to show no favoritism) my family, my friends and my Mac. Which actually means that if I have the third thing, I’m practically 80% there.

Every year of my life (at least since 1989, when I got my first Mac) I’ve spent Thanksgiving with one of the first two groups. This year, I spent it with the third. I didn’t discourage Thanksgiving invitations, nor did I fish for them. For reasons that would be dull to discuss, I felt like this would be a good year to spend the holiday alone in thought. By Wednesday morning, my options still seemed to be open, so I committed…by purchasing a quarter-turkey and the other required elements of a Thanksgiving dinner.

I did receive a couple of invitations late in the game, but I politely declined them. I made a pie Wednesday night at 2 AM. While it baked, I snuck outside with my SLR on a tripod to take photos of an absolutely brilliantly-clear starry sky. I got to bed very late, but I woke up early enough to watch the parade. I started on the bread dough. I watched a movie during the first rise. After I got the bread started on its second rise, I went for a long drive. When I got back, I prepped the turkey and got it in the oven. Kipped on the sofa for another movie on Netflix. Started shuttling pans of rolls through the toaster oven and got started on the beans.

Everything came out great. I spent the rest of the night reading a new book, and iChatting with friends to compare notes on their own Thanksgivings. At 1 AM, I had a turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich, on homemade bread. This, I’m sure you realize, is the whole reason why I bothered to cook a full, proper Thanksgiving dinner instead of just making a pot of pasta.

I wouldn’t say that it was the very best Thanksgiving I’ve ever had. But it was up there in the top five, and the reason is pretty simple: I was Home. I can’t say that I stopped at any point to explicitly enumerate all of my many blessings in life. I didn’t really need to. They were all around me.

Today’s another one of those Worst Travel Days Of The Year. Or so the many press releases in my Inbox tell me. Whether you’re spending Sunday leaving home or returning to it…safe travels to you.

Coming Home

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (Frank Sinatra & Cyndi Lauper) – Amazon Advent Calendar day 6

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Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

Cyndi Lauper & Frank Sinatra

A Very Special Christmas, Vol. 2

Genre: Holiday

It’s certainly appropriate to have some actual Holiday Music in the mix this weekend. 90% of you are spending part of this time either shopping for gifts, or decorating the house, or writing out cards. Or perhaps you’re preparing a blistering post for your Facebook page about how incredibly childish it is to believe that a magical bearded man whom nobody ever sees is covering the entire world giving people the things that they ask for.

(A warning to everyone in that last group: we could see the “But I’m not talking about Santa Claus: I’m talking about…GOD!!!” payoff coming. Keep at it; the whole point of a first draft is to get you to that second draft.)

The first half of the holiday season is usually more bouncy and upbeat than the second half. This is the ho-ho-ho giddyup-jingle-horse section of the proceedings. The music should be big, and cheery, and so jolly that you can even see the humor in a set of novelty Christmas underpants with some naughty wordplay silkscreened across the front.

Yes: this is when Frank Sinatra and a 24-piece orchestra get up off the bench and put on their helmets.

To my way of thinking, there are only two ways to hear “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”: either it’s performed by a cafegymatoriam stage full of middle-schoolers, or it’s sung by Frank Sinatra. I imagine a musical version of “Chopped.” Your basket only contains one ingredient: this harmless and bland holiday tune. You have thirty minutes to turn it into something exciting and time starts…now!

Some singers serve this bowl of oatmeal as-is. Here you have your Pat Boones, your Andy Williamses, and others who were once on TV every year with a top-rated Christmas special but who are now on the Hallmark Channel four times an hour trying to scam senior citizens into taking out reverse-mortgages on their homes. Others, like Springsteen, lose their confidence and dump in malt vinegar and habanero peppers to spice it up. It’s an interesting recording, but you can no longer taste the original ingredient…so does that even count?

Sinatra wins this contest easily. Practically everything you need to know about Sinatra’s mastery is in this track. How did he manage to make “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” actually swing?

(With a lit cigarette in one hand and a tumbler of scotch in the other, I imagine.)

I prefer the “Very Special Christmas” version to the original. It’s tough to improve a Sinatra track but yup, Cyndi Lauper one of those people who can pull that off. Year after year, she validates the faith that I placed in this spunky, colorful pop artist back when I was in high school. Hit singles fade from consciousness and cultural phenomenons come and go. Only talent endures. This is why, two decades after their first hits, Madonna is opening a new chain of fitness centers and Cyndi Lauper is still recording remarkable performances.

And good gravy, she can actually keep up with Sinatra.

Frank’s career ground down to a somewhat undignified end, like a magnificent 1952 Cadillac that kept rolling long after it was only being held together by duct tape and primer. His final recordings were duets with a sometimes highly-improbable range of performers who looked and sounded as though they’d won some sort of radio contest instead of earning their way into the studio. Not the case with Lauper.

I had long assumed that this track had been recorded like all of Sintra’s late-career duets: Sinatra’s singing partner steps into a booth in a mall somewhere, deposits eight quarters into the slot, selects an available track that Frank pre-recorded months ago, presses a green button, and does his or her best.

Now, though, I suspect that the producers used vintage master tapes. Compared to his other 1990’s recordings, Sinatra is much more “present” here. And he’s in much stronger voice.

Also: oh, for God’s sake…if Sinatra were an active participant in this track, would he have agreed to second billing behind some broad with orange hair?

Listen to “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” on the Amazon MP3 Store.

This link is tagged with my Amazon Associates ID. Everything you buy during that Amazon session will result in a small kickback in the form of Amazon gift credits. I solemnly vow to blow those credits on fun things.

“I Never Woke Up In Handcuffs Before (by Hans Zimmer) – Amazon Advent Calendar Day 5

Album Art

I Never Woke Up In Handcuffs Before

Hans Zimmer

Sherlock Holmes (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Genre: Soundtrack

How are you celebrating Black Friday?

You are celebrating it, aren’t you? Because apparently, it’s now a national holiday. And you’re supposed to do something on this day because that’s what all the ads are telling us.

Oy. I’m amazed by the skill with which America’s elite corps of tactical-ops marketers can take any circumstance and ruin it, no matter how commercially-positive it already was. Without any interference or direction whatsoever, American consumers decided that the day after Thanksgiving was a lovely day to start our holiday shopping. It’s perfect. We all have the day off. Plus, we’ve just spent a whole day with our families and have finally locked down the gift list.

Example: your sister Carlene had a big screaming fight with your brother Earl, and has vowed to never set foot in his house again. Earl hosts the big family Christmas party. So: scratch one gift for Carlene. And because she’s a raging homophobe, it looks like your sister Nora can finally bring her longtime girlfriend. I bet she could use a scarf. Do lesbians even wear scarves? Oh, God, what a stupid question of course they do.

Great. But somehow, this happy state of affairs simply wasn’t good enough for retailers. So they gave the damned day a name and that was the first domino towards turning Black Fr…the day after Thanksgiving into a giant vortex of soul-crushing suck. The ads begin just after Halloween, the deals from even the big-box stores are sketchy (“Huh. So, Goya makes both black beans and HDTVs, apparently”), and you feel like an easily-manipulated rube if you buy so much as a tank of gas on that day.

How the bloody hell did they manage to take something that was commercial to begin with and somehow make me feel like they ruined it by over-commercializing it? I swear, I think we’re just another two years away from Hallmark selling a line of Black Friday sympathy cards.

Sorry to hear that you didn’t get
The game console you lined up at 3 AM for.

(open)

But congratulations on ripping out
That sales clerk’s hair extensions.
You really gave that b**** something to think about.

Geez. I maintained a beloved day-after-thanksgiving tradition for years. I’d drive to the mall way, way early — like, stupid-crazy early…a whole two hours before the stores opened — choose the best parking spot, and spend the entire day passively annoying my fellow citizens by teasing them with my parking space. I’d buy something and then walk through the now-completely-jammed parking lot with my bag, aware that I was being slowly stalked by multiple drivers desperate for a spot. I’d get to my car and when I finally get the door open after fumbling with my keys…I’d put the bag inside and walk back into the mall.

Yes, it was childish. But it was also therapeutic. I drive around in Boston-area traffic all the time. It’s not for wimps. Usually, you get the impression that the windshields on every other car on the road are on a ten-second delay, or that 30 percent of all other drivers are licking toads.

But I’m not one of those people who seethe and scream in traffic. My solution was to bank all of my aggression against my fellow drivers and get all of my revenge on a single, gloriously-satisfying day.

I wouldn’t dare do that this week. You’d need to get to the mall at about 5 PM on Thanksgiving to have any chance at getting a decent space. And if you so much as fail to say “I beg your pardon” after someone crashes a shopping cart into your aunt’s wheelchair…you’ll get shot.

Oh, yes…today’s tune. It’s the perfect companion for a day spent scrambling through stores and malls. “I Never Woke Up In Handcuffs Before” is stress, set to music. It’s from the soundtrack to “Sherlock Holmes.”

Hans Zimmer got promoted to a higher level in my Awareness Scale this year. Here, let’s try something. Read this line:

BWAAAAAAAHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMM

And now you’re thinking “Inception,” right? That’s Hans Zimmer. He’s Christopher Nolan’s favorite scorer. I’ve been listening to his music for years (it turns out) and now I’m actually aware that there’s this guy who writes some terrific music that I want to own.

Listen to “I Never Woke Up In Handcuffs Before” on the Amazon MP3 Store.

As always, this link is tagged with my Amazon Associates account, which will be credited with a small kickback for all of the purchases you make during that Amazon.com session. And as always, it comes with the promise that I shall use all of those Amazon gift credits to purchase silly but awesome things for my personal amusement.

I mean, if you’re going to spend this day online shopping anyway. I lost my Beloved Holiday Tradition Of Passive-Aggressive Annoyance but maybe I can cop me a new camera or something out of the deal anyway.

“Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” by Arlo Guthrie (Amazon Advent Calendar day 4)

Album Art

Alice’s Restaurant Massacree

Arlo Guthrie

Alice’s Restaurant

Genre: Folk

Finally, after going back and forth on this for a while I thought “**** it: I’m going with ‘Obvious’.”

Of course I love this song: I’m a thoughtful American. It’s gone beyond “like” and made into part of my user interface to the world. When I’m facing down the maw of a deadline and confronted by a piece of equipment that refuses to do something simple that it’s done a million times in non-critical situations, I find myself quoting this song to my monitor.

I adopt an incredulous, slightly high-pitched tone.

“I mean,” I say. “I meannnn, I’m just sittin’ here on a bench. I’m just SITTIN’ here on the Group-dubbya bench…”

This song is so well-known that my computer immediately recognizes what I’m getting at. It acknowledges that it’s being silly and petulant. It immediately cuts the crap and starts behaving in a rational manner.

So how does a song make it to this spot in the cultural consciousness? It’s a tricky road for a song to navigate. It needs to become successful enough that everybody’s heard of it, but not so over-played that everyone’s sick of it. I guess the smartest thing Guthrie did here was make the song run for about 18 minutes. That’s a mighty long time to expect a radio station not to run an ad for a tire store.

The other key move is to file the right paperwork with the appropriate government office to register your song as a Beloved Holiday Tradition. That $40 filing fee money well-spent: once you’ve set your commercial hooks into somebody’s childhood, you’ve got ’em for life. I’m doing a slow 180-degree pan of my living right now and the Boba Fett cold-cast minibust, the Chewbacca Rumph Originals milk mug and the big R2-D2 cookie jar silently agree with me on this point.

(They also remind me that the new “Clone Wars” Lego figures are pretty cool and shouldn’t I keep an eye peeled for them the next time I’m at the mall?)

I’m sure that nearly everybody can remember hearing this on the radio every Thanksgiving. As soon as that acoustic guitar starts to ramble, you immediately get a mental image of your parents’ stereo, or the car stereo, or the radio in your room, and the floor you sat on while you listened to the whole thing from start to finish.

“Alice’s Restaurant” is the great American cultural equalizer. If you had a great childhood, you associate this with memories of the whole family pausing during a hectic morning to smile at this enduring tale of a Sixties Antiestablishment Thanksgiving. If you had a tough one, you cherish the memory of those lone 20 minutes of solace you had upstairs in your room, pressing your Walkman headphones deep, deep against your ears to blot out the noise of your Dad and his drunken new girlfriend arguing about who left a carton of cigarettes in the oven and forgot to take it out before putting in the turkey.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard lots of people — lots of little, whiney people — shouting that the only way to Send A Message to the TSA about how The People Shan’t Stand For Their Tyrrany, etc, is to stage a massive slowdown at all TSA checkpoints on the busiest travel weekend of the year.

I say thee Nay. For one, the TSA won’t notice if an additional 3 out of every 10,000 people ask to opt-out of the backscatter-imaging scanner. For another, delaying allllll of your fellow passengers just to make a flaccid and unnoticed point is silly and selfish.

No, if you’re really upset with the new “scanner or patdown” rules, here’s what you should do:

Step into the scanner, put your arms above your head as requested, and then do what Arlo did at the induction center. Sing a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant”…and walk out.

(Er, after the TSA has cleared you, obviously).

If just one person does it, they’ll think he’s crazy. But if fifty people do it, why, it might be recognized as a movement. The Alice’s Restaurant Massacree Anti-TSA Advanced Screening Movement…

One note about the following song link: there are two versions of this tune on Amazon. You really want the live version. It just plays so much better when Guthrie is working with an audience. (“I’ve been singing this song for 25 minutes. I could sing it for another 25 minutes. I’m not proud…”). Alas, it’s only available with the purchase of the whole album.

(Which, I needn’t remind you, is exactly the sort of crap that The Man is always pulling on us.)

Maybe you should just go ahead and buy the whole album, though. I mean, c’mon: like getting another eight dollars into debt is really going to matter at this point. It’s a $7.99 album. Plus, Amazon is doing a special deal where you get $5 in credits toward video-on-demand titles with an album purchase.

Preview “Alice’s Restaurant” on the Amazon MP3 Store.

Furthermore, Amazon is offering $3 in free MP3 credits to anybody who claims a code and makes their purchases before Monday. You could actually wind up in profit. Click here for the details.

As usual, any Amazon purchases you make after clicking these links will result in my getting a small kickback, in the form of Amazon gift credits. Keep that in mind if you were planning on buying your grandparents something pricey this holiday season.

“I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” by Suicide Machines (Amazon Advent Calendar, Day 3)

Album Art

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

Suicide Machines

The Suicide Machines

Genre: Rock

Yesterday, I wrote about a horrifically sappy 70’s love song that I enjoy because it’s just so treacly and tasteless and awful and omigod I am, like, so much BETTER than whoever wrote it!

Today, it’s a horrifically sappy 70’s love song that I enjoy because it’s a legitimately fantastic track. And it’s a fantastic track because a different band put a whole new twist on it.

Remember the movie “That Thing You Do”? A replacement drummer singlehandedly sends a local Pennsylvania band straight to the Billboard Top Ten by spontaneously kicking up the tempo of the lead singer’s mushy ballad and instantly creating a song of almost weapons-grade danceability. That’s what Suicide Machines did to “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden.” It’s a fast, pumpy track that’ll make you jump up and down a lot. The original song was intended to be sung by an overly blow-dried blonde woman wearing a thick dress, walking through a TV stage filled with fake flowers. In soft-focus.

Here’s Lynn Anderson singing it on TV in 1973, before the blow-comb was invented. But I think you get the gist:

The two recordings couldn’t possibly be more different in tone. And yet — here’s something I didn’t truly grasp until hearing the original just now — it’s truly the same song. I was going to praise the rocksteady bassline of the Suicide Machines version as a terrific innovation but nope: there it is in the 1973 edition, being played by a session musician who was probably thinking about the best way to install a wire shelving unit he just bought for the upstairs bathroom the whole time he was playing.

“Take a lame easy-listening hit and record it faster and louder” is a common way to fill a gap or two in an album. These things rarely satisfy, though. It just comes through as sarcasm. But sometimes, the right band brings the right approach to the right song, and reinvents the source material. Look at the lyrics:

I could sing you a tune or promise you the moon,
But if that’s what it takes to hold you,
I’d just as soon let you go, but there’s one thing I want you to know.
You better look before you leap, still waters run deep,
And there won’t always be someone there to pull you out,
And you know what I’m talkin’ about.
So smile for a while and let’s be jolly:
Love shouldn’t be so melancholy.
Come along and share the good times while we can.

It turns out that there was always a harder edge hiding in that song, waiting to come out. Essentially, the singer is telling his or her partner to grow a pair and have a grownup relationship.

One imagines that the couple’s argument began when the singer’s partner said “You stole my iPad and traded it for all that pot you and your friends smoked last weekend, didn’t you?” But you have to admit, a musical response of this calibre just might convince the offended party to stick with the relationship for another couple of weeks. Or until he or she discovers that their good wristwatch has gone missing, too.

Listen to “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” on the Amazon MP3 store.

As usual, any Amazon purchases you make after clicking that link will result in my getting a small kickback, which I shall gratefully spend on silly things.

[UPDATE: I’ve just found out that Amazon is giving everybody $3 in free MP3 downloads. Use this link to claim the code and apply it to your account. You’ll have until Monday night to use your credits.]

“Through the Eyes of Love” (Theme from ‘Ice Castles’) by Melissa Manchester (Amazon Advent Calendar Day 2)

Album Art

Through the Eyes of Love (Theme from the Motion Picture “Ice Castles”)

Melissa Manchester

Platinum & Gold Collection: Melissa Manchester

Genre: Pop

“You’re just recommending this song because it sucks,” you’re saying. Well, that just goes to show you how dangerous it is to leap to irresponsible conclusions. I’m recommending this song because it makes me extremely happy every time I hear it.

(And the reason why it makes me so happy is because it sucks so much. Okay, let’s call that one a draw.)

I acknowledge that “I’m only listening to this because it’s so awful” is a pretty cheap attitude and that it’s often a sign of a weak mind. That said, though, this song has a consistent and powerful effect on me. Like a bouquet of ragweed to an allergy sufferer, I can’t be exposed to this song without involuntarily laughing. Not “chuckling.” Laughing. That’s a big problem at weddings and an even bigger problem at funerals, where the modern vogue is to loop some sort of (genuinely lovely) video montage that’s been set to sappy music.

At a wedding, I can at last say “I’m just so happy for the couple.” At a funeral? Honestly, the only dignified way out is to hurl myself on top of the casket and hope everyone assumes that the barking laugh was actually a wail of sorrow.

It’s the acme of cornball romantic ballads. Which makes sense, because it’s the theme from the epitome of 1980-ish cornball romance movies. Identification marks associated with this curious species:

  1. It stars Robbie Benson.
  2. It features a small-town girl with big-city dreams.
  3. …And their love is threatened by her relentless pursuit of success,
  4. …But then she suffers a shattering medical crisis,
  5. …Which only causes the two lovers to commit even more completely to their love,
  6. …Ending the story with the two hugging each other in the face of an uncertain future while the music swells and literally hundreds cheer in slow motion.

The only problem with “Ice Castles” is that the Shattering Medical Crisis involves sudden blindness. I guess cancer hadn’t been invented back in 1978.

This song is the music equivalent of that movie. It’s so over-the-top that it’s impossible to take it seriously. Here’s what I mean. Click to any random scene in this massive demonstration of China’s awesome military might:

You see the second most formidable and dangerous military in the world, making an unequivocal statement about its country’s ability to both defend itself from invaders and to enforce its will upon the world stage.

Now, use your imagination and replace the marching music with “Through the Eyes of Love.” Slow down the footage to half-speed, if you want. If you’re a Tibetan holy man, you’re suddenly filled with an urge to tell China to go **** itself. I imagine that this is a normal background process in the average Tibetan holy man, but this video matched with this soundtrack would give him the courage to pile himself and five other Tibetan holy men into a Camaro and TP the local State Council office, fearing no reprisal.

My point is this: when you hear “Hey, Jude” the room fills with hope and spiritual renewal. When you hear “Pretty Vacant” you think about youthful rage, unfocused and unstoppable.

When you hear “Through the Eyes of Love,” you imagine a middle-aged male associate-professor at an arts college, barefoot in a black leotard, on a stage and waving a long ribbon on a stick with an expression of intense artistic gravity on his face. I have to regard that as a mission failure of some kind.

I should say that if you think “Through The Eyes Of Love” is a moving work of art and that you connect to it on a profoundly basic level, well, that’s just fine. I’m just saying that if I ever should be so blessed that a woman should agree to give me her hand in marriage, and we got into the planning of the event and she insisted that this song would be the connecting theme of the entire ceremony and reception…I would have some very, very harsh words for the member of my office staff to whom I’d assigned the task of auditioning and vetting prospective wives for me.

Sample “Through The Eyes Of Love” on the Amazon MP3 Store.

“Reviewing The Situation” (Rowan Atkinson) – Amazon Advent Calendar Day 1

Album Art

Reviewing the Situation

Rowan Atkinson

Oliver! (2009 London Cast Recording)

Genre: Soundtrack

Day One of the 2010 Advent Calendar. I should warn you newcomers: there will be show tunes.

I love this song. I also love the mechanics behind this song. “Reviewing The Situation” is from the classic category of Show-Stopping Numbers. In a novel, you just write whatever the hell you want. In movies, the script passes through several hands and the finished product ultimately cowers to what can be physically accomplished, given the film’s budget and the limited wilingness of the public to just sort of shrug off a production-related death or three.

In live theater, there’s another factor: a real actor is involved and he has to be engaged with his performance every single night for months. He’s going to want to have something to do besides set the expositional table for other actors.

PG Wodehouse — certified by all right-thinking people as One Of The Greatest Damned Novelists Who Ever Lived — wrote a lot of theater in his early days. He said that he used much of the same kinds of thinking when writing the novels. He regarded each character not as a living, breathing person, but as a living, breathing actor who would be performing that role; if, for some reason, the story seemed to drag, he pictured one of his actors complaining that the rest of the cast has all of the great scenes and that his character does practically nothing but stand around holding a tennis racquet and saying “Gosh!” until Act Two.

So Wodehouse, after assuring himself and his actor that the character is way too important to be cut, would make sure that the actor has plenty to do and that he or she has at least one moment in which they’re indelibly in the spotlight.

I often think of this when I’m watching live theater or listening to a soundtrack and I come across a number like this. If you were trying to cut a half an hour from this show for the Las Vegas cast, this would be one of the first numbers to go. It isn’t one of the big hits and though it gives Fagin a little added depth, that whole hunk lifts straight out cleanly. I know nothing about how “Oliver!” was written but I can so easily imagine the producers commissioning this number late in the game, when they realized how well their Fagin was working out, and how eager the preview audiences were to see more of him.

“Reviewing The Situation” is such an perfect four-spotlight moment for Rowan Atkinson’s talents that I had to check to make sure that the song was, in fact, part of the original 1960 production and not something new for the 2009 revival. Still, it’s clear that after the producers signed Atkinson they added a new line to the anticipated runthrough time: “Minute-long ovation after Fagin solo.”

How’s his singing? Okay, agreed: clearly, the lucrative seduction of television and stage comedy didn’t rob the music world of an exciting new talent. But mere technical perfection is a low goal for any singer, particularly in musicals. Hitting every note perfectly (and still having air in your lungs with five minutes down and one more minute to go) isn’t what lifts the audience out of its seats. It’s the performance. Atkinson isn’t singing the song…he’s acting it. Brilliantly.

Don’t take my word for it. This is a recording of a live performance of the show and you can hear how well the number’s going over. Can’t you picture what Atkinson is doing to sell every line?

I really wish all musical cast albums were recorded this way. There’s an energy here that probably wouldn’t have come through in a studio. It’s sort of like the difference between footage of a pro basketballer dunking during a real game in which every point matters, and the footage of that same athlete doing the same move on an Electronic Arts motion-capture stage.

It’s still early to tell whether this 2009 recording will stand the test of time. I can say something right now: it’s withstood the test of AppleScript. Yesterday, I spent a little time building some scripts to automate the posting process. I highlight a track in iTunes, click a script from a menu, and whoosh: a block of CSS-formatted HTML is ready to be pasted in, complete with the track info, and a properly-resized version of the album art is ready to be uploaded.

But my programming skills rely heavily on the Braille Method. I need to feel my way around it before my code does what I want it to. I must have listened to this track ten times in a row before I got everything working.

Did I get sick of it? Hell, no. I went out to dinner and listened to it three more times on my way to the restaurant.

Preview “Reviewing The Situation” on the Amazon MP3 Store.

Amazon Advent Calendar 2010…The Kickoff

Image of a traditional Advent calendar, with the first door open.

I’m single. This means that holiday traditions are tougher to maintain. When you have a spouse and kids, your Sleigh of Life tends to find the familiar ruts of late November and early December on its own. You walk into the house one day and immediately realize that someone has replaced all of the Glade Plug-In Scents cartridges with the kind that smell like gingerbread, and you immediately realize that this is the weekend you need to go out and buy a tree.

It’s different in my house. Last year, I didn’t actually get my Bachelor Tree set up and decorated until a few days before the holiday. And the house only smelled of the usual aroma of vaguely-overstressed electronic components.

But I’m really going to go for it this year: that tree’s going up while the box that my Swanson’s Single-Serve Microwave Thanksgiving Dinner is still in the kitchen recycling bin. And I’m going to start my Amazon Advent Calendar the week of Thanksgiving, instead of the day after.

For those of you who are new to my Beloved Holiday Tradition, it’s a simple concept:

  • Every day between now and Christmas, I’m going to recommend a different song, available from the Amazon MP3 Store.
  • Some of these will be holiday-themed tunes. But for the most part, I’m just going to recommend songs that I like.
  • Every one of these Amazon links will be embedded with my Amazon Associates ID.

So: if you should happen to click the link to listen to a sample of the song I’ve picked for the day, and then you should happen to remember that you were going to order your Aunt Boadicea a Velocity Micro :x775 six-core gaming PC, my Amazon account will be credited for a percentage of $5000 retail price of the PC that you purchased, as well as anything else you might have bought during that same Amazon session.

You have my word of honor that the accumulated Amazon credits will only be used to purchase Fun Things that I wouldn’t normally buy for myself. Recently, I bought a rather nifty Panasonic pancake lens for my Micro Four Thirds camera. It’s an excellent example of how I use my Amazon credits. I love shooting with it, but it’s well above my Automatically-Approved Impulse Buy level. Rational, responsible thoughts would have triggered a mandatory counter argument of “Yes, but you already have a perfectly fine wide-aperture lens for the SLR” and then a cheerless response of “I guess.”

In previous years, I’ve rather defensively explained this concept in every Advent Calendar post, and also included a link to the same song in iTunes. I’ll try to do the latter but will dispense with the former. I agree that Associates links can be slightly tricky for someone in my line of work. I did give it a lot of thought a few years ago and reached a few conclusions:

1) I certainly can’t profit in any way from any Amazon item that’s even remotely tech-related. But when I recommend music and books and movies, I’m doing it as a civilian.

Which is why those two Amazon links I just embedded are just plain-jane store links. If someone were to email me and complain “You only wrote favorably about the iPad because you get an Associates referral kickback from everyone who clicks the link and buys it!” then yes, he’s clearly just a cantankerous pain in the butt. But even CPitB’s can raise a valid point every once in a while. I think I defend my opinions — whether they’re positive or negative ones — in the things I write. Nonetheless, it’s so very easy for me to remove this one source of potential skepticism.

I also concluded that

2) The Associates program allows me to get paid for some of these fun things I write without burdening my readers in any way.

and, admittedly,

3) Damn. It’d be nice to have a MacBook Air, or an ultrawide fixed-aperture zoom for my SLR, or one of those gadgets that can extract the seed from a mango in just one stroke.

So. Do keep these things in mind. If you were planning on doing lots of your holiday shopping at Amazon, and you happen to make those purchases after clicking one of my Amazon Advent Calendar links, then: awesome. Otherwise, enjoy these tracks. Because I sure do.

Another part of the tradition: I start it off on a daily schedule, inevitably lose a day due to the slings and arrows of outrageous deadlines, and wind up making anywhere from ten to two-dozen posts.

I think this is the fifth year I’ve done this. Here are links to previous years’ offerings (at least here are the ones I’ve posted since I switched the CWoB to WordPress a few years ago):

If you never want to be distracted by anything else on the Celestial Waste of Bandwidth, bookmark this link right here. It’ll always take you straight to the 2010 Advent Calendar entries:

I’ll close this intro by pointing you to my BFF John’s Movie Year project. A couple of years ago, I indirectly inspired John to try to see and review a new (to him) movie every day for an entire year. He cruised through the year and then, like Forrest Gump when he reached the edge of Alabama, decided to just keep on running until he runs out of movies.

I’m mentioning this because at some point, maybe it’s going to be really late at night and I’ll have put off the day’s Advent Calendar post until the end and I’m in bed and I just plain will fall asleep in mid-sentence. And then my daily 2010 Advent Calendar streak will end.

I solemnly believe that by inspiring John to post something interesting and well-written every day for nearly two years, I’ve sort of purchased Carbon Credits from him that allow me to claim compliance with the desired standard.

Postscript: I’ve just noticed something on my Advent calendar. Santa seems to be dropping off either copies of Google Chrome, or the Mac OS’ Spinning Beachball Of Death. Ho-ho-ho indeed.