Wednesday, March 30, 2011

David Foster Wallace

Note: I have no idea why this is formatted so bizarrely. Apologies.

The following is David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon College. I won't spoil the details or even attempt to summarize its contents. Suffice to say that it is the most affecting, inspiring and sobering speech I have ever read. It takes you by the lapels and shakes you out of your self-contained world for a few minutes in a way that only the best works of art can do. I wish it had been my commencement speech, and I had George Bush Sr and Bill Clinton. I first read it 2 years ago, but it continues to stick with me and gain traction in my psyche as I reread it from time to time and am reminded of it whenever I experience the moments of excruciating boredom he describes. His challenge is simple and daunting and a lifetime of work, but the more you think about it, the more it feels like the only way to live. 

His final book The Pale King, is out April 15. My copy shipped yesterday :)

Greetings and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.
Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think. If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.
Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."
It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.
The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.
Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.
Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education -- at least in my own case -- is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.
As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.
And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.
By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously fluorescently lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.
But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.
Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates' actual life routine, day after week after month after year.
But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.
Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so on and so forth.
You get the idea.
If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.
The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.
Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.
Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to.
But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.
This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it Yahweh or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.
The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.
It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
"This is water."
"This is water."
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.
I wish you way more than luck.

Monday, March 28, 2011

On Repeat: Colin Stetson - Judges

Fuck Kenny G. I said it. Someone had to. The guy set saxophones back 30 years. Before Kenny G relegated them to the elevator, it was the instrument of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. John COLTRANE for christ sakes. It doesn't get a lot cooler than that. But then he with the luscious curls sold 75 million records and saxophones received the kiss of death called "easy listening". Well have no fear brassophiles, because Colin Stetson is bringing sexy back.

You might be thinking, is that a huge instrument or is Colin Stetson quite diminutive? To answer your question, I have no idea. But I do know that he plays a bass saxophone (the 2nd largest member of the saxophone family, thanks Wiki!) and that the sounds he squeezes from it are otherworldly. Take Judges for instance, lead "single" off his new album, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges. That burbling Daft Punk synth you hear? That's the sax. The smothered goose squawking that comes after? Why that's simply Colin vocalizing THROUGH the saxophone. That low-flying plane passing overhead? Colin. That teeth-rattling Inception-style BWAHHHHH? Colin. That faint, gorgeous falsetto? That's him too. All these remarkable sounds from a single man with a single instrument. And it's not a simple novelty act. The dance between the beautiful and the terrifying, the thunderous and the delicate sounds effortless, but one look at his face tells you otherwise. And if you are intimidated by these sounds, know that he is equally capable of the utterly gorgeous. Just listen to All the Days I've Missed You and wish it went on another 10 minutes. I suppose "On Repeat" isn't exactly true.  "In Awe" is more like it.

Colin Stetson | Awake on Foreign Shores & Judges | A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Up With That? Episode 3

In todays installment of "What Up With That", we fix our critical eye upon a piece of Americana so ubiquitous, that you probably have never given it a second look. Soda Pop as we know it has been around since the early 19th century, and its popularity shows no signs of slowing. The history of soft drinks is not central to this article. What I am more intrigued by are the two words stamped lengthwise on every can and bottle that rolls off a conveyor belt: NO REFILL.

I don't want to encourage historical speculation, but in my experience, if something is explicitly forbidden, it's probably because someone has done it and got away with it due to inadequate signage. STAY OFF THE GRASS translates to WALK AROUND YOU HOOLIGANS, NO LOITERING is a polite way of saying GET OUT OF HERE DRUNKY and HOW'S MY DRIVING? CALL 1-800-EAT-SHIT means, well, you get the idea. So by that measure, NO REFILL must close some gaping loophole in the purchase agreement between consumer and carbonated beverage industry. I can imagine the miles and miles of West Virginians banging their 2 liter bottles of Mountain Dew on the door of a bottling plant, demanding their God-given right to unlimited "sodee-water", or kids in a caffeinated frenzy at the soda fountain, clutching their bottomless Coke bottle until they puke their little brains out and stagger home. Sadly, those days are gone.

If America wants to get serious about conservation, they will demand that companies remove the NO REFILL branding from every bottle and give every town a beverage distribution center where their empties can be made new again. Everyone has a reusable water bottle, because access to clean water is an inalienable right. Most people have a travel coffee mug, because they want to save the world and ten cents. It's time that soda joined the fight and let people spend their hard earned money where it belongs; on scratch tickets and cigarettes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Hobo

Hip-hop has embraced the phrase "No Homo" to describe affection between two men that is strictly platonic. While the politically correctness of the term is debatable, it is a succinct and clear way to show a softer side without sacrificing your masculinity. I believe it is high time for hipsters to coin a similar phrase to express support for things that are typically associated with homelessness and an otherwise sad existence. I've devised "No Hobo" to be used in such situations. Here are couple examples:

Fingerless gloves are awesome...


Malt liquor has redeeming qualities...


See? It clarifies any misconceptions that you may have about ones winter accessories or adult beverage choice. These are obvious examples of some of the most predictable stereotypes, but allow me to continue...

I've seriously considered stealing a grocery cart and filling it with empties to subsidize the next party...


I could probably make a nice bed out of a Sunday New York Times


I'm thinking about growing a beard...


I haven't showered since Sunday...




It's so versatile, and nips confusion in the bud before rumors can take hold. These 3 short syllables, uttered at the end of an ambiguous sentence, can be a life saver and keep friends and coworkers from taking up a collection for you.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On Repeat: Childish Gambino - Freaks and Geeks

Yes, Childish Gambino is Troy from Community. I know you've been duped by actors turned rappers before, but don't let the Joaquin Phoenixes of the world spoil it for everyone. Especially don't let the quirky name and hipster glasses give you the wrong impression of Donald Glovers talent or style. He can rap around anyone and he knows it, every song taking square aim at anyone who doubts his sincerity or dismiss him entirely. His hyper-literate rap and breakneck delivery bring to mind an Ivy-league Busta Rhymes, but you'd be mistaken if you assume this means "clean", it just makes his wordplay sharper (know any other rappers who namedrop poet ee cummings or Spiderman villians?). The trajectories of indie music and hip-hop have been converging for years now, with collaborations and covers emerging on a daily basis, but the phenomenon finally reached its natural conclusion last year when Childish Gambino released his I Am Just A Rapper mixtapes that had him rapping over popular indie tracks. That may not have done much to establish his street cred, but it certainly got the blogs atwitter.

Last week, he released EP, a collection of 5 songs with beats he made himself that he somehow made between filming Community and his stand-up tour. Someone with such a busy schedule has no business excelling in so many areas. The songs are incredibly strong, jam-packed with wordplay that doesn't sink-in until the 5th listen and beats that compare favorably to anything Kanye and Wayne are rapping on. "Freaks and Geeks" is the best amalgam of his talents, and the best approximation of a straight hip-hop track. Strings, snares and handclaps assemble into a beat that would fit nicely on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The verbiage is sharp and hilarious, while still remaining venomous and confident. Some wordplay is so complex that he tries to explain it midsong before getting exasperated and moving on to his next verse. I'll take rhymes that fly over my head any day. Here's to hoping he never dumbs himself down.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

EDU: Charlie Sheen Soup

So I've been making soups for a while now. Long enough to know what I like and know what I don't like. So, inspired by Charlie Sheen, I decided to say "Fuck it" and make a soup off the cuff. Some would say that I don't have enough cooking experience to be throwing things together all willy-nilly, but to tell you the truth, I'm tired of pretending I'm not some bitching rockstar from Mars. I mean, is it really that hard to make a good soup? If Charlie Sheen can bang 7 gram rocks and walk away from 1.5 million dollars for every hungover, strung-out performance, I can make a soup without as a crutch.

As I mentioned earlier, I know what I like at this point. I have about 20 soups under my belt, and I think I have pretty good idea of what tastes good together and what should be fed to fools and trolls. That said, I knew right away that I wanted to make it spicy. And not just because Charlie has fire-breathing fists. Spicy food adds a layer of excitement and mystery to normal dishes. It accentuates flavors and triggers the release of endorphins in the brain (translation: gives you tiger blood). At least in a normal brain. If your brain is not from this terrestrial realm, I don't know what to tell you.

Here is what we are working with. Lots of Trader Joes goodies, as you might have guessed. Some spicy Italian chicken sausage for some kick, some pancetta for my cured meat fix, a couple cans of garbanzo beans for depth and the rest of your standard lineup to round things out.

This is how things get rolling. Onions, garlic and pancetta get intimate like Charlie and his two goddesses. After 5-10 minutes, I added a bunch of spices (parsley, oregano, red pepper flakes, thyme, salt/pepper), and opened a 28oz can of TJ's peeled whole plum tomatoes (salted, with basil) to keep things from getting out of hand.

Of course, when you have whole plum tomatoes in sauce, you need to mush the tomatoes with your hands, and more often than not these little buggers are bursting with juice and would like nothing more than to cover you and yours with tomato innards. Well wouldn't you know it, one splattered itself all over AG and her camera and most of the countertop. Like an F-18, she kept her cool and didn't let it ruin the shot. In the meantime, I got the sausages going on another burner.

They sizzled and popped for about 15 minutes, while I added the chicken broth to the pot and adjusted the spices (2 bay leaves, 1/2 TSP cumin). To recap, here are the cast of characters to which I am referring, photographed by Ms. AG.

When the sausage was cooked through, I sliced it up and tossed it into the pot, added half a cup of Port and  brought everything to a simmer for 10 minutes or so. In the meantime, AG and I chowed down on meat and cheese and crackers.

AG also spent this time bringing some stale bread back from the brink of death by turning it into little Crostinis that were delightful. Here is a picture of the whole set-up.

Winning, anyone? Rhymes with winning? Yeah, it was pretty good, especially the broth. Nice and spicy and filing. I think It could have used something to fill it out a little bit more. I meant to put some Kale in it but I completely spaced, so that would have helped, but potatoes or lentils wouldn't have hurt either. AG liked it too. Round 1: Unanimous decision. Yummy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On Repeat: Adele - Turning Tables

Sometimes you are wrong about an artist, and sometimes you are WRONG about an artist. Maybe the song they have on the radio is terrible and you've unfairly maligned the rest of their discography. If I had only heard Lollipop by Lil Wayne for my entire life, I probably would have thought him a disgusting misogynist, and not the creative genius he truly is. Sometimes the band name is so pretentious or abhorrent that you can't even bring yourself to listen to a single song (see Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, even though they rule). Finally, you hear universal acclaim for an artist and you disregard it because the general populace is a bunch of drooling earthworms and you are an F-18. Well in the case of Adele, I was wrong.

Every generation has a signature voice. A voice with an unparalleled range and inexhaustible strength. A force of nature that stops you in your tracks and makes American Idol contestants look like tone-deaf simpletons. The 80's had Whitney Houston. The 90's had Mariah Carey. The 2000's brought Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera (sometimes). Well after hearing Adele's pipes, I'm going to hand over the next decade to this 21-year-old from London.

On Turning Tables, a cyclical piano part allows Adele to slip in virtually unnoticed, leisurely offering her first verse, yet keeping perfect time. She sneaks up to the bridge, offering a brief glimpse of her strength, before toppling into the chorus like the apex of a rollercoaster. She hopscotches blithely from octave to octave, cooing in her upper registers one moment and humming at a depth that would make Barry White blush. While the subject matter is secondary with a voice like hers, it also holds up to repeated listens, sharing a familiar break-up tale, while tiptoeing around cliches. At only 21 years old, her voice has a unbelievable maturity and soul that you would be hard-pressed to find at any age. I hope she can avoid the pratfalls of Ms. Houston and Ms. Aguilera.