Thursday, November 29, 2007

Coming Soon: A Musical Advent Calendar

I like Christmas music, to the degree where I’ll listen to Christmas music in genres that I would rarely listen to otherwise (New Age, for instance). There is also a lot of Christmas music that I can’t stand; music that literally makes me want to run from the room when it comes on. That’s one of the main reasons I never listen to radio stations that convert to an all-Christmas format (usually by mid-November) – you never know when something truly dreadful is going to compel you to drive into the nearest telephone pole.

For the month of December, I’ll be posting about Christmas music on a daily basis, either with a review of one of what I believe to be the greatest Christmas albums of all time, or with a notable video that features a Christmas song. And just remember, “notable” does not necessarily mean “good.”

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Longest Week Continues

Day two of annual conference week, and I'm either getting old or my stamina just isn't what it used to be, because I feel way too exhausted for there being four more days on the docket. Hopefully the second wind will kick in tomorrow. Who knows, maybe I need to quit getting up early for a run - but the route is so scenic, it's hard to pass up.

Tonight was our traditional (if you can call two years a tradition) departmental dinner, and the choice was a good one: Red Pearl Kitchen, in the Gaslamp District. We had the less expensive of two fixed-price options, and there was so much food that I can't imagine what the more expensive of the two options must be like. The Web site describes the cuisine as follows:

The extensive menu offers a new twist on traditional Pan-Asian Cuisine and is great for individual or family-style dining; guests can select from a wide array of Dim Sum, Salad, Hot Pot, Curry, Noodle, Wok-Fired, and Vegetable dishes.

I don't even remember everything we had, but from dim sum to dessert, it was all excellent. And it was definitely a wide array - in fact, I feel wider already.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Green Bay Packers Stat of the Day

Courtesy of Peter King:

Best Records, First 27 Games, Packers Coach:

1. Mike McCarthy 18-9
2. Vince Lombardi 17-10
3. Curly Lambeau 14-8-5

Obviously McCarthy has a long way to go before he can be spoken about in the same breath as Lombardi and Lambeau, but it's an interesting stat, nonetheless.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Random Notes From A Holiday Weekend

A lot going on the past few days, so the posting has been scarce.

• It was another hectic but fun Thanksgiving, featuring 25 guests and 39 pounds of turkey. My wife was a true superstar, doing the lion’s share of the hard work – getting the house ready, preparing the meal for cooking, getting the turkeys in the oven early Thursday morning, and then overseeing the entire production, from the arrival of the first guest until the last glass was washed on Friday morning. I wouldn’t say that I stood around doing nothing, but my contributions were minimal compared to hers.

• Not much of a restful weekend for son #1, with the high school band playing Friday night at a playoff football game, and then Saturday night during the annual Elk Grove Santa Parade.

• Plenty of football, of course. The first highlight was during the Green Bay-Detroit game, not so much for the game itself but for the halftime show, which was choreographed by my brother, who teaches dance at Cal State Long Beach. The second highlight, if you can call it that, was USC’s dominating performance against Arizona State. The Trojans are playing their best football of the season, and on a neutral field you’d be hard pressed to make them an underdog against any of the teams who are ranked above them in the BCS. This season is probably the best argument yet for a playoff, but I’m sure the nattering nabobs at the top of the NCAA will come up with some laughable excuses for not moving in that direction.

• And now my home for the next six nights is the Marriott Hotel & Marina in San Diego, where the Association I work for is holding its Annual Conference & Trade Show (I'm in the South Tower, building on the left, 20th floor, far end, with a nice view of the Marina). The preparations for this year’s event were even more harried than usual, making the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving pass like a blur. It will be a long week, but there should also be some fun to go along with the work. By the time it’s over, we’ll all be ready for a long winter’s nap.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Barney Lives - And Is A Kings Fan

I never realized until last night that Barney from The Simpsons is a real, live person.

In real life, his hair is a little darker, and he wears his shirts untucked so you can't see the rolls of fat cascading over his pants.

He owns two foam fingers, and can drink a beer - many beers, in fact - with them on.

He's very sneaky - manages to break all the rules just as the section usher is looking the other way or is otherwise occupied.

When the opposing team shoot free throws, it's not enough for him to block the view of the person sitting right in front of him. Rather, he moves into the aisle, where he can block the view of several people sitting behind him.

The voice? Exactly the same.

How do I know all of this? He was at the Sacramento Kings game last night, sitting two rows in front of me, across from the aisle.

Hope you enjoyed yourself, Barney. And I hope you have the world's worst hangover this morning.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

25 Years Ago Today

"The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heartrending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football!"

- Joe Starkey, 11/20/82

Monday, November 19, 2007

"That One Moment of Time Keeps Me Going"

I had just returned Berkeley after spring break in late March of 1981, and of course we were using the occasion to party. It was a Sunday evening; classes didn’t start until Wednesday. As far as we were concerned, it was just another long weekend. Midway through the night, a girl who lived on another floor brought around one of her friends from high school, who was just coming into the dorm for the spring quarter. He had the unusual name of Mariet Ford, and we found out later that he was on the football team. That surprised us because he was small for a football player (not even close to threatening six feet), and because he didn’t have the arrogance and the “I’m doing you a favor by hanging around with you” attitude that you saw in a lot of the players who lived in the dorms. Basically a nice guy, and I remember that throughout that spring, even though he ended up hanging out with the other football players, he always greeted me by name, and gave me a “how’s everything going?” that made me believe that he meant it, as opposed to something that he said to people just so that he could be on his way.

Flash forward 18 months later. I’ve graduated from college, and Mariet Ford now starts for the Golden Bears, in their first season under Coach Joe Kapp. Because of his size he becomes known as a “scrappy” player, one that leaves his heart and soul on the field but never makes you think that he has a future in the pros. And then, out of nowhere, he plays a key role in The Play – to this day, the most famous play in the history of college football. If you’ve seen it, and you know you have, Ford is the guy who makes the last lateral, obviously having no idea whether there are any other Bears trailing the play. Through some combination of blind luck and divine intervention, Ford was able to hit Kevin Moen right in the hands, in stride, allowing him to run into history, plowing through an unfortunate Stanford trombone player in the process. I wasn’t at the game, but I was listening to the legendary call by Joe Starkey, and of course I went crazy. And when I found out that Ford was involved in the play, I thought to myself, “hey, that’s cool – I know that guy.”

More than ten years later, I’m living in Elk Grove, California, and somehow learn that Mariet Ford has also made Elk Grove his home. I can’t remember how I found out, but I remember thinking, again, “hey, that’s cool – one of the most famous players in Cal history lives right down the road from where I do.” I thought about trying to make some kind of contact, but ended up deciding that would be lame, and could only result in embarrassment for everyone involved – particularly myself.

A couple of years later, tragedy – Ford’s wife and young son perish in a fire at their home. He finds out when his wife fails to answer the phone; he calls his brother, who discovers the dead bodies in the smoldering home. And then a few months later, Ford is charged with the crime of killing his wife and young son, killing them in a rage and starting the fire to cover up the crime. According to the district attorney who prosecuted the case, “I just think he lost control in an angry, unpremeditated explosion of violence – and it was over within seconds. He did something rash and then he tried to weave his lies in to cover it up.”

Ford remains in prison today. Interviewed during the 20th anniversary celebration of The Play, he told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, “When I get very depressed, I think back to that game. It brings me joy. I have a place I can always go. That one moment of time keeps me going.”

For Cal fans, it remains the terribly sad coda to the most joyous moment in the school’s football history.

With All The Trimmings

I never get tired of reading this essay by Garrison Keillor, which originally appeared in TIME Magazine back in 1995. It's a good way to start the Thanksgiving festivities, even if it is a bit early.

With All The Trimmings

It is a wicked world in which the power of any individual to cause suffering is so great and the power to do good is so slight; but here we are, the week of our beloved national feast, our annual homecoming, and signs of loving Providence are everywhere around us.

I am thankful to be alive. In Minnesota the lakes are freezing over in late November, and some men who envision a leadership role for themselves take their snowmobiles out onto the thin ice and fall through and drown in the cold water--their last thought in this life: "Boy, was this dumb or what?"--and so far I have not been one of them. Caution was bred into me: I never played with guns or made a hobby of pharmaceuticals or flung myself off a cliff while clinging to a kite. I read books instead. I read books in which men hearken to wild imperatives, and that is enough for me.

I am thankful for living in a place where winter gets good and cold and you need to build a fire in a stove and wrap a blanket around you. Cold draws people closer together. Crime drops. Acts of kindness proliferate between strangers. I have been in Los Angeles on a balmy day in January and seen the glum faces of people poking at their salads in outdoor restaurants, brooding over their unproduced screenplays. People in Minnesota are much cheerier, lurching across the ice, leaning into the wind as sheets of snow swirl up in their faces. Because they feel needed and because cold weather takes the place of personal guilt. Maybe you haven't been the shining star you should have been, but now is not the time to worry about it.

I am thankful for E-mail, which allows us to keep in touch with our children, and for the ubiquity of fresh coffee, the persistence of good newspapers, the bravery of artists, the small talk of sales clerks, the general competence and good humor I encounter every day. None of us is self-sufficient, despite what some politicians claim. Every good thing, every morsel of food comes directly from God, who expects us to pay attention and be joyful, a large task for people from the Midwest, where our idea of a compliment is, "It could have been worse."

I am thankful, of course, for Thanksgiving, a joyful and simple day that never suffered commercial exploitation and so is the same day as when I was a boy and we played touch football on the frozen turf and came to the table sweaty and in high spirits and kept our eyes open for flying food. My sister had good moves; you'd look away for an instant, and she'd flip her knife and park a pat of butter on your forehead. Nobody throws food at our table now, but in the giddiness of the festive moment, I have held a spoonful of cranberry for a moment and measured the distance to Uncle Earl, his gleaming head, like El Capitan, bent over the plate.As I grew up, Thanksgiving evolved perfectly.

It used to be that men had the hard work, which is to sit in the living room and make conversation about gas mileage and lower back pain, and women got the good job, which is cooking. Women owned the franchise, and men milled around the trough mooing, and if any man dared enter the kitchen, he was watched closely lest he touch something and damage it permanently. But I bided my time, and the aunts who ran the show grew old, and young, liberated lady relatives came along who were proud of their inability to cook, and one year I revolted and took over the kitchen--and now I am It. The Big Turkey. Mr. Masher. The Pie Man.

Except for gravy and pie crust, which take patience and practice, Thanksgiving dinner is as easy to make as it is to eat. You're a right-handed batter in a park that's 150 feet down the left-field line—it doesn't take a genius to poke it out.Years of selective breeding have produced turkeys that are nothing but cooking pouches with legs. You rub the bird's inside with lemon, stuff it with bread dressing seasoned with sage and tarragon and jazzed up with chunks of sausage and nuts and wild rice, shove it in a hot oven; meanwhile, you whomp up yams and spuds and bake your pies.

The dirty little secret of the dinner is melted animal fats: in all the recipes, somewhere it says, "Melt a quarter-pound of butter."Think of the fancy dishes you slaved over that became disasters, big dishes that were lost in the late innings. Here's roast turkey, which tastes great, and all you do is baste. You melt butter, you nip at the wine, and when the turkey is done, you seat everyone, carve the bird, sing the doxology and pass the food.

The candles are lit in the winter dusk, and we look at one another, the old faces and some new ones, and silently toast the Good Life, which is here before us. Enjoy the animal fats and to hell with apologies. No need to defend our opinions or pretend to be young and brilliant. We still have our faculties, and the food still tastes good to us.

Walt Whitman said, "I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God's name." Thanksgiving is one of those signed letters. Anyone can open it and see what it says.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Bear Will Not Quit, The Bear Will Not Die

Cal Bear legend Joe Kapp was brought in to coach the Bears in 1982 after a couple of really disappointing seasons (which, naturally, coincided with my two years in Berkeley) under Roger Theder. Theder's reign as coach had begun with promise; the Bears reached a Bowl game (the Garden City Bowl, of which there were few) in his first year, but in 1980 and 1981 underachieved to a remarkable degree - posting 3-8 and 2-9 seasons when the talent was there for 7-4 or 8-3. I remember how excited folks were when Kapp was announced as the new coach - his enthusiasm was infectious, and it was easy (if foolish) to overlook the fact that he'd never coached a game in his life.

By far, 1982 was his best season. The Bears finished 7-4, not good enough for a bowl game, but more than enough to keep the Old Blues happy. On the bright side, Kapp brought the dark blue uniforms back to Cal, but on the flip side, was also responsible for the questionable bear paw helmet insignia. And of course, he will be forever remembered as being Coach when The Play happened. From there it was all downhill, but he closed out his coaching career with another stunning upset of Stanford in 1986 - a fine way for any Cal coach to wrap it up.

To this day, he remains one of the Bears' most enthusiastic backers. No doubt he yearns for the day when Cal returns to the Rose Bowl, where it hasn't played since he was quarterback.

The Lost Season

It's still hard to believe how far and fast Cal has fallen this season. One play from being ranked the #1 team in the nation, to one loss away from turning the season into a complete failure - all in the span of six short weeks. I was about to say that things can't get any worse after today's shellacking at the hands of Washington, but unfortunately it isn't true - a loss to Stanford would be worse. And the way Cal is playing right now that looks like a distinct possibility, and if it happens it would leave the Bears bowl-eligible but without even the ability to point to a winning season.

Today, it looked as if they had nothing left after having left it out on the field against USC. The defense was a sieve, and the receivers looked like they'd prepared for the game with vaseline. Over the long run, the injury to Nate Longshore against Oregon was obviously the turning point.

A sixth straight win against the Cardinal would certainly help salve their wounds. If they can't get up for that game, they can't get up for anything - and fired up, I like them by 31-14.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Good and Evil

The story that has stormed the Internet this week about the woman who created a false MySpace account which she ultimately used to drive a neighbor’s teenage daughter to suicide demonstrates with alarming clarity that there is evil out there, and that it is probably closer than you think. No doubt, some would argue that the description I just used is far too black-and-white to discuss this particular case. I don’t think so. Had the woman in question shown any sign of remorse for what she did, I might have felt differently. But no, instead she became very friendly and “supportive” to the grieving family, doing her best to “help” them in their time of need. And with that, she forfeited any right she had to forgiveness. Her life deserves to be ruined for what she did.

You can read the story here. Michele speaks forcefully and eloquently about the case here and here. Beware – this is a story that stays with you, the kind that digs through your psyche and makes you wonder whether the world is even worth saving, climate crisis or no.

So it was good that after enduring that story, I came across this one, Sheila O’Malley’s account of a random encounter with a beret-wearing Dickens fan while waiting in line to see No Country For Old Men. It’s a simple story, but also one that sticks with you - in this case, a life-affirming one; something to cleanse your soul after the dark depths of the previous story.

And life goes on.

Bumper Sticker of the Day

"What Would Scooby Do?"

Monday, November 12, 2007

Another View of "Magic"

Quiet Bubble offers some well-written, insightful thoughts on Magic. I don't agree with all of it, especially the comments about the second half of the album, but these observations on "Radio Nowhere" are a keeper:

The song—well, almost all the songs here—are about trying to find connections with other people, about the desire and need for human touch, for the sound of another person’s voice. Mostly, the search ends in failure; occasionally, Springsteen gives us equivocal success. Here, and throughout the rest of Magic, Springsteen’s voice is fighting to be heard over the music, over the production that sounds murkier and more frayed than he’s ever let the E Street Band sound before. The guitars slur and muddy the water; even Clarence Clemons’s normally clear-ringing saxophone is brash, roughly recorded, as though its sound is unable to match the clarity of its message.

In his 1970s and 1980s concerts, Springsteen’s battle cry to the crowd between songs was “Is there anybody really alive out there?!” Two decades ago, it was a yell of solidarity; the audience responded with a roar. In “Radio Nowhere,” however, Springsteen’s voice is weary, trying hard not to be desolate as he decries that he’s “spinning around a dead dial/ Just another lost number in a file.” As his narrator succinctly describes his isolation and desperate search for anything approaching communion, Springsteen’s voice is buried by sound. “I just want to hear some rhythm,” chanted over and over again, becomes increasingly ferocious, but also pathetic. He knows he’s being drowned out.

Good stuff.

Veterans Day Parade 2007

Son #1, far left on the drums, playing in the annual Elk Grove Veterans Day Parade with the Pleasant Grove High School Marching Band.

World War II Veteran, later in the parade.

Belated Happy Veterans Day!

Punk, or Disco?

An interesting post that poses an interesting question - has punk or disco had the more lasting impact on music and pop culture?

My contribution to the discussion can be found in the comments, but there's one thing I want to add, in response to the notion (early in the post) that by the mid-seventies, pop music had become corporate, safe and bland. There is some truth to that, but there was also some great music being made during that period. A couple of months ago I made a tape to listen to in the car of music released in 1975, which included songs from the following albums:

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan
Tonight's the Night, Neil Young
Siren, Roxy Music
Horses, Patti Smith
Katy Lied, Steely Dan
Young Americans, David Bowie
Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin

Certainly, a lot of those artists had been around for a while, but that's not a bad list - and that wasn't even all of it. The moral of the story is that even in the worst of times, there's some pretty darn good stuff waiting to be found.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mad Enough To Change My Template

I really hate how I feel after games like tonight's Cal-USC game. In the 47 years of my life, I've watched literally thousands of sporting events, and have been blessed to see teams like the Joe Montana 49ers, the Will Clark Giants, the Barry Bonds Giants, and the Ken Stabler Raiders in action. But the "damn it, I just want to find the nearest USC fan and put their f*&#ing head through the window" type of loss is the stuff that always stays with you.

So what do I do? Change my blog template. Maybe that will change their luck. And I think this one might be easier to read. Whatever...I think I'll change every year or so, and it's been almost a year since I went to the "blue look."


A classic conversation between siblings.

I Want To Break Things

Man, if there was ever a night that was tailor-made for a Cal win over USC, this was it.

But it was not to be...a great performance by Justin Forsett, by far his best of the year, was negated by another terrible performance from Nate Longshore. Obviously the Bears' season turned with his injury in the Oregon game, because Longshore hasn't been the same since.

So the throwback 1975 uniforms (see above), to honor the late Joe Roth, went to waste. And Cal will look back on this season as a waste - what could have been.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Event-izing the Weekend

I'm afraid the effort to event-ize my life (for full details, see here) may get off to a slow start this weekend, because truth be told I'm looking forward to doing as little as possible.

The only things on the docket thus far:

- haircut, Saturday morning.

- Cal-USC game, Saturday evening. This is bound to be an aggravating experience, as USC appears to have pulled themselves out of their doldrums just in time to play us. But hope springs eternal!

- the big ticket item of the weekend is the Elk Grove Veterans Day Parade, in which son #1 will be marching as part of the drum line for the Pleasant Grove High School marching band.

Not much, but a start. Finding suitable events is proving harder than expected.

Something I'm Going to Get On Right Away

This week, the Fox network explained why episodes of the new season of 24 will be held until the writer's strike is over:

"This was a show that three years ago was showing some signs of wear from a ratings point of view, until we came up with a strategy to event-ize the show," Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman says of the series' shift to mid-season back in 2005. "It would be a disservice to the show and to the audience to run eight episodes and just go, 'Okay, let's stop the clock.'"

Thank you, Mr. Beckman. Due solely to your creative vocabulary, I now have a new purpose: to event-ize my life. I'm working on a strategy as we speak, and updates will be posted here on a regular basis. Anyone with ideas, feel free to share them.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Vinyl Collection

In addition to owning somewhere between 1000 and 1200 CDs, I have around 1000 vinyl records in my collection. Today begins a regular feature, somewhat obviously titled “The Vinyl Collection," where I put the spotlight on a couple of those albums. For the purposes of this feature, I’ll focus solely on those albums that I own only on vinyl, and not on CD. I’ll also skip most of the easy, obvious choices – stuff like Abbey Road, Willie & the Poor Boys, Purple Rain, Thriller – in favor of less popular and more obscure titles. And before writing something about these albums, I’m actually going to force myself to listen to them, which in some cases may be quite a chore. I’m starting at the beginning of the alphabet, but reserve the right to skip around if something catches my eye.

ABC, The Lexicon of Love (1982). The Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records points out that this band “revolves around the talented Martin Fry, whose detailed notions of style include setting his own Bowiesque vocals in lustrous pop production laden with keyboards and strings, mostly to a supple techno-soul disco pulse.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, so why try? Essentially, this album boils down to three great songs, songs that I wouldn’t mind putting on a party mix or a tape to listen to in the car: “The Look of Love,” “Poison Arrow,” and “All of My Heart.” The rest is more of the same, but not as good. All of which leaves me with the impression that a little ABC goes a long way. I actually own one other album by the group, Beauty Stab, and remember thinking at the time that it was better than the (more popular) debut. Might come back to that one later.

Adverts, Crossing the Red Sea With the Adverts (1978). This one I picked up because Greil Marcus included it in the “Treasure Island” section of Stranded: Rock and Roll For A Desert Island. Marcus wrote of the album, “head-down, into-the-wind punk from a band with the humor and determination to make you think their album title wasn’t altogether a joke.” Trouser Press opines, “In its own way, Red Sea is the equal of the first Sex Pistols or Clash LP, a hasty statement that captures an exciting point in time.”

Whatever they were hearing, I’m missing. To me the record sounds like it could have come from any of a hundred other punk bands. I could see putting it on during a punk party (were we ever to host one), but it would be well behind the Pistols, Clash, Ramones, and many others.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Worth 1000 Words, Navy beats Notre Dame edition

Piling On The Irish

I didn't have a personal stake in the outcome one way or another, but it's hard to resist adding something to the fray on Notre Dame's historic loss to Navy. So here's my contribution:

Tyrone Willingham never lost to Navy.

Bob Davie never lost to Navy.

Gerry Faust never lost to Navy.

Taking History Into Their Own Hands

An enlightening exchange between Steven Rubio and the Baseball Hall of Fame, on the subject of Barry Bonds' record-breaking home run ball.

The Hall's key defense of displaying the ball with the asterisk intact:

In our opinion, the baseball speaks to many significant parallels between baseball and culture in 2007, some of which include: a representation of baseball fans’ sentiments about the home record, for a one-week period in September 2007; a symbol of the adversity Barry Bonds had to endure in passing Hank Aaron to become the all-time home run champion, and; the passion baseball fans have for baseball history, as evidenced by the popularity of the online poll, in which 10 million votes were cast during a one-week period.

By that line of thinking, had someone written the "N word" on Hank Aaron's 715th home run ball, it would have been just as acceptable.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Another Take on Eden

An alternative view of Long Road to Eden is provided by the always insightful and entertaining Shamus.

My favorite graf, where his observations of the boys in the band are spot on:

Don Henley remains a smart, edgy and somewhat insufferable schoolmarm, with plenty of invective and few answers. (Henley’s hypocritical contortions over selling this disc through Wal-Mart have amused The Shamus to no end. Henley is the only artist I’ve ever heckled in concert, because he wouldn’t shut up about Walden Woods and sing “The Boys Of Summer.” Oops, digressed again.) Anyway, Joe Walsh is still your weird Uncle Fritz in the corner fiddling with his whammy bar. Glenn Frey still is bulked up and slicked back, and still has one of the most beautiful, underrated tenor voices in rock and roll. And aren't you amazed at how Timothy B. Schmit keeps that long hair so lustrous after all these years?

Even though I don't agree that this is their best album (Hotel California stands head and shoulders above the rest, to this day), in a way I feel like we're saying the same things about the new album, albeit in a different way. The only thing I don't know that I buy is the Shamus' comment, But they’re also saying, “We’ve done all we can. Here’s what needs to be said. Now, you new groups, you carry on.” I'm just not sure that they're capable of that kind of humility.

Just Because...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Eagles Hold A White Elephant Sale

In a 1962 essay, film critic Manny Farber described what he had come to see as two distinct types of art: “White Elephant Art,” defined as “an expensive hunk of well-regulated area,” and “Termite Art,” which he outlined as something that “termite-like, feels its way through walls of particularization, with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement.” For the most part, Farber was applying the concepts to film; years later, Greil Marcus would apply them to rock music in a column for New West (later California) Magazine.

What prompted me last night to pull out the Farber book which includes “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art” was the new album by the Eagles, Long Road Out of Eden. Because if there has ever been an album that could be described as “an expensive hunk of well-regulated area,” Eden is the one. In this instance, that’s not entirely a bad thing – in and of itself, it is a major accomplishment that nearly thirty years on, Frey, Henley, Walsh and Schmit were able to create a 2-CD set that sounds not just a little bit, but exactly like the Eagles, circa 1979. Assuming that folks are able to find their way to the nearest Wal-Mart to buy it, I expect that it will be an enormous hit.

On the one hand, that accomplishment should not be downplayed – the album sounds great (if this album were a floor, you could eat off of it); from the first strains of “How Long,” when the guitars click in and the harmonies soar, you think “Holy Sh--! Nothing has changed!” You’ve got your mid-tempo Henley chuggers, your bemused and sardonically amusing “can’t believe I ever got this lucky” Walsh tunes, and your “time for the girls to swoon” romantic songs with Schmit singing lead – they’re all there, all enjoyable. On the other hand, whether any of these songs will ever become anything more than background noise is hard to know.

Most of the political stuff comes on the second CD, where the band does stretch itself a bit. But listening to songs like “Long Road Out of Eden” and “Frail Grasp On the Big Picture,” I can’t help but wonder how they might have sounded with a little less sheen – the fact that every damn note is so perfect; everything is so pristine; just seems to sap the songs of their power.

In the end, I’m torn. By no means is this a bad album; it’s one that I’ll find room for in my CD changer for a while (and maybe longer than that). But in many ways, it also feels like a cowardly one. 35 years ago, Robert Christgau wrote of the band, “in the end the product is suave and synthetic – brilliant, but false.” You could probably say the same thing about much of Eden, and much of what Farber would call “White Elephant Art.”

Suddenly, It's Christmas

Making my biennial sojourn into Wal-Mart on Tuesday to buy the new Eagles album (more on that later), I noticed that their display of Christmas music was fully stocked and ready to go. I'm sure that in many other places within the cavernous regions of the store, the holiday decorations were just waiting to pounce on those Halloween costumes and boot them back into storage.

All of which brings to mind, as it always does this time of year, a song by the great Loudon Wainwright III: "Suddenly, It's Christmas," from his 1993 album Career Moves.

Suddenly it's Christmas,
Right after Hallowe'en.
Forget about Thanksgiving;
It's just a buffet in between.
There's lights and tinsel in the windows;
They're stocking up the shelves;
Santa's slaving at the North Pole
In his sweatshop full of elves.

There's got to be a build-up
To the day that Christ was born:
The halls are decked with pumpkins
And the ears of Indian corn.
Dragging through the falling leaves
In a one-horse open sleigh,
Suddenly it's Christmas,
Seven weeks before the day.

Suddenly it's Christmas,
The longest holiday.
When they say "Season's Greetings"
They mean just what they say:
It's a season, it's a marathon,
Retail eternity.
It's not over till it's over
And you throw away the tree.

Outside it's positively balmy,
In the air nary a nip;
Suddenly it's Christmas,
Unbuttoned and unzipped.
Yes, they're working overtime,
Santa's little runts;
Christmas comes but once a year
And goes on for two months.

Christmas carols in December
And November, too;
It's no wonder we're depressed
When the whole thing is through.
Finally it's January;
Let's sing "Auld Lang Syne";
But here comes another heartache,
Shaped like a Valentine.

Suddenly it's Christmas,
The longest holiday.
The season is upon us;
A pox, it won't go away.
It's a season, it's a marathon,
Retail eternity.
It's not over till it's over
And you throw away the tree.

No, it's not over till it's over
And you throw away the tree;
It's still not over till it's over
And you throw away the tree.