Monthly Archives: April 2006

iTunes thinks I want what?!!

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iTunes thinks I want WHAT?!

Amazon started this thing several years ago where based on your purchases and some questionnaires, it would make recommendations for things you might like. And most of the time, it wasn’t bad at all — though it was very important to immediately get certain gift items (like, say, a Britney Spears CD that was a gift for a daughter) out of the listing in order to prevent some really bad offers. But in general, whatever algorithm they were using wasn’t bad.

Now iTunes has been doing the same thing for a few months. Well, I’ll buy a single of something that I would never consider buying an entire CD of, so the offerings are a bit more oddly skewed. And so here you have my current offerings from iTunes’ “Just For You”.

  • Elvis Costello and Marian McPartland? Yes, I’m a huge Elvis fan. I’ve bought everything, everything he has put out. But I’ll be passing on this, thank you very much. It’s jazz.
  • The New Pornographers? No. I’m not ready to explain to my daughters what a pornographer is.
  • Elliott Smith? I know I’m supposed to love his stuff. I don’t. Not even slightly.
  • Keren Ann? Never heard of her. The review says she’s been compared to Dido and Portishead. Have barely heard of them.
  • “My Generation” — I’m insulted that iTunes would assume that I don’t already have about 12 copies of “My Generation” lying around.
  • Duncan Sheik? You’re kidding, right? He opened for Aimee Mann a couple of years back. It was excruciating. (Though he did a credible Noel Gallagher imitation on “Wonderwall.”)
  • Modest Mouse? In a year, they will have been forgotten.
  • Romeo Void? Please. I don’t even like it, and I still already have it.
  • Green Day’s “I Fought the Law”? Listen, even The Clash had no room to improve Bobby Fuller’s version, so I can’t imagine these guys bring anything to the table.
  • “I Melt With You,” a song just about ruined by its rampant commercial use and endless play in movie soundtracks, and yes, of course I already have it.
  • Can someone please explain what I did to deserve a Thin Lizzy song in my recommendations?
  • Ditto for Simple Plan.
  • The Buckinghams? Well, all right. I could get into that.
  • “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone? This is where I pay for all those ’70s songs I bought last summer to put together a summertime CD.

So, if I don’t want any of that crap, what am I listening to? My most recent additions are

  • Coach Said Not To
  • The brilliant “Pretty Girls Go Insane” by Outrageous Cherry — and you can pick up some of their earlier MP3s here.
  • “Dr. Evil: Doctor of Evil,” by The Minus 5, first heard on the Underground Garage. Gotta love the keyboard work in this, just dripping ’60s garage band.
  • “Hotel California (Spanish Mix)” by the Gipsy Kings, which I just really heard for the first time in “The Big Lebowski.” My collection is filled with covers of Hotel California, though not the original item itself.

Earworms on the March

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Can anyone explain to me how it is possible, at this remove, in this day and age, to wake up on a sunny Spring Sunday and have the Muppets’ version of “Lydia The Tattooed Lady” firmly esconced in my brain?

Sign of a good wife

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On your way out the door to catch a train, knowing that you’ll be gone until quite late and she’s stuck with the kids on her own (both of which, you’ll later learn, need to be brought home from school suffering various ailments), she says, “Go and have coffee in Bryant Park,” knowing it’s about my favorite thing in the world to do. And so I did. There was even poetry, it having been “Poem In Your Pocket Day.”


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The City of Saratoga Springs gets my first shout out of the year for being a bike-friendly community. Not for their extensive system of paths (they have none), not for their use of bike lanes (none of those, either) or their glass-like pavement (’cause this is the northeast, after all). No, it’s simply because while I was riding around the city on Friday, drivers gave me a break on a nearly unprecedented three occasions. Imagine it. One not only failed to run me over, but held up traffic behind her and waved me through a difficult left-turn. One slowed down considerably so we could both get through a bit of a gooseneck squeeze. And the third, a cop, no less, actually waited for me to wheel through an intersection instead of speeding ahead of me and then making a right turn across my front wheel.

That’s the state of things in the world of bike-car interactions . . . simple courtesy deserves a major award ceremony. But there you have it.

Memento Mori

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Don’t know how this escaped my notice over the weekend, but Muriel Spark has died. While The Times and just about every other outlet will endlessly prattle on about “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” admittedly her most famous work, that to me was the least of Ms. Spark’s tremendous accomplishments. I don’t remember what introduced her to me, but I spent the ’80s reading and re-reading her short story collections, a wonderful mix of end-of-the-empire British settings, tests of faith, and random acts of violence. She wrote about Catholicism with the cocked eye of a convert who loved it despite its many, many flaws. She wrote about smart, decisive women. She wrote about what England was like after the war for a single girl (the wittily titled “The Girls of Slender Means”). And most importantly to me, she wrote “The Only Problem,” a splendid, odd little rumination about the Book of Job, the only book of the bible I’ve ever been inspired to read and study. “The Only Problem” is a book I’ve read again and again, and now that she has died I know that I shall once again settle into its jumbled French setting and the messes its characters have made of their lives, and what that means in the context of suffering. (“Job,” too, I have read over and over. I find it fascinating inasmuch as it has nothing to do with the rest of the bible, really, coming from a different provenance. It is the only book that tells a single story and tells it well, concisely, and yet its point is the most important point there is — we’re not in a place to understand all this. I highly recommend the Stephen Mitchell translation.)

She also wrote, of course, “Memento Mori.”

For a long time, I judged a bookstore (when there were several more of them) by whether they had Muriel Spark (for though well-known, she wasn’t well-bought). And if they had “The Only Problem,” they would carry a special place in my heart.


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As your attorney, I strongly advise you to check out Coach Said Not To.

Why? Because this is one of their lyrics (“Words That I Employ”):”I don’t want your mouth to move anymore.When your words fall out my knees fall down.It seems like you’ve learned a lot about love.So, you’re in love?And so is she.Well, that’s so sweet. It makes me sick. It makes me sick and happy for you.”

Thoughts on the train

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I wonder how many times I’ve taken the train to New York and back? I wonder if I could even guess? The need to roll back and forth between the city comes and goes in waves — sometimes I may not go for weeks, other times I may go twice in a week. Ten years ago, I was going so often (and so early) that I decided something had to give, and so I gave up shaving (though not for Lent) and grew a beard, making it just that much easier to grab that 7:05 train.

Now it’s a 6:55, the beard is gone, and there’s a new station. Our hideous little ’70s box of a station has been replaced by a fairly grand structure — probably more grand than was called for, but there was a time when public institutions were expected to do much more than the bare minimum, and it is nice when something at least good, if not great, can be built these days. The previous station was essentially a bus station that happened to serve rail, right down to the nasty seats with coin-operated television sets attached.

However, we gave some things up when they built the new place, including the ability to get in and out in a hurry. It used to be that you could pull up five minutes before the train left and have no trouble making it at all. And there was the pleasure of standing out on the platform on a spring or summer morning, enjoying the fresh air (fresh until the train arrived, of course). And when one got back after a trip, it was a simple thing to slip off the platform and squeeze through the fence to get to the parking lot without having to go through the station.

With the new station, they built a parking garage. Parking garages are expensive (and, in this case, badly built), and so they had to charge for parking. Having to charge for parking means when a train lets out, the lines to pay are long. On a bad day, I sit in the line longer than it will take me to drive home, which I find very annoying.

And so what we’ve gained in grandiosity, we’ve lost in the simple convenience that makes living here so great. It’s not a big deal, just a little annoyance, but still.

It’s always interesting to ride the train and notice people who’ve never taken it before. I always want to point out the sights, tell them what they’re looking at — the bridges, the power plants, West Point, and of course Bannerman’s Island, the ruins of an arms dealer’s “castle” that sits in the Hudson River across from Storm King. That one always opens eyes, and they never know what it is. I never do, of course — that’s just not me. I still intend to do a map of the sights as you ride along the Hudson, one of the most beautiful train rides in America, and post it on the web. One of many uncompleted projects, but one I could probably whip off in a weekend if I just got to it.

Teenage zombie

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It was extremely strange being without elder daughter for an entire week. After our weekend in Washington, we dropped her off with some kind of maroon-shirted cult of smiling “leaders” we met at the airport, who then proceeded to run her and a couple hundred other young students all over creation — down to Jamestown, up to Gettysburg, and I’m surprised they didn’t make them bushwack the Cumberland Gap. I knew from the start this would be less about anything she might learn than about meeting people from all over the country, seeing things she hadn’t seen before, and getting a chance to invent herself. And I swear she came back different. She also came back exhausted — slept nearly all day Sunday, had to be dragged from bed yesterday, took another nap in the afternoon, dragged her way through dance and then hit the bed again. This morning she was able to get up on her own, which is her normal mode, so perhaps the zombie is fading.

Putting most of my creative efforts into photos these days, not so much the writing (as if you hadn’t noticed.) Not long ago, I spent a morning shooting in downtown Schenectady, a place that may actually be springing back a little bit after decades of non-stop plummet. But I screwed up a setting mid-way through and ruined many of the photos I most wanted, so I went back on Sunday, and I’m here to tell you that downtown on a Sunday is when the crazies and the derelicts really run loose (which is saying something). Got my shots and got out of there. A number of those already done are posted here, and I’ll have more later in the week.