Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Night Videos

The B-52s have always been a trippy, good-time party band, but before guitarist Ricky Wilson died and they found mainstream success with their "Cosmic Thing" album, they seemed to take particular delight in crafting songs that were utter nonsense. "Song for a Future Generation" fits that mold, but its leavened with a healthy dose of satire as well. And the video is well-nigh inscrutable (not to the extent of their mondo-bizarre "Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland," but that's a much weaker song all around).

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Greg Kihn Band.

Now Playing: Bowling for Soup Drunk Enough to Dance

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chicken Ranch: Chapter One

Part of writing a successful book is getting the opening just right. Any writer or editor will tell you that the reader's attention must be grabbed in the first few sentences or else all is lost. With that in mind, I've been struggling to find the proper approach to take with the first chapter in my book on the infamous La Grange Chicken Ranch. So I figured, "Hey, everyone who reads my blog is essentially a first reader! That's something approaching six people, give or take." So here's the opening paragraph for your review. I think it sets up a dignified presentation, with an ominous foreboding of what's to come.
No one would have believed in the early years of the nineteen-seventies that this brothel was being watched keenly and closely by a media personality more flamboyant than the sheriff though not yet as renowned ; that as prostitutes busied themselves about their various tricks they were scrutinized and surveilled, perhaps almost as intensely as a teenage boy with a stack of his father's Playboys purloined from under the bed. With infinite complacency Johns went to and fro down Highway 71 from Austin or College Station and beyond, gleeful in anticipation of the carnal pleasures that awaited. No one gave a thought that to become a legend, one must first kill a legend. It is curious to recall some of the sexual habits of those departed days. At most, horny Texans fancied there might be other, jealous men in Oklahoma or Louisiana, perhaps less virile than themselves and ready to settle for the missionary position. Yet across the airwaves in Houston, an ego that is to our egos as ours are to those of the chickens at the ranch, toupee white and unrealistic, regarded this brothel with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew his plans against it. And early in the nineteen-seventies came the great disillusionment.

Mind you, it's still a work in progress. This could all change if I come up with something I think works better.

Now Playing: Rush Chronicles

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Night Videos

They just don't write 'em like this anymore.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Loverboy.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Last Temptation of Eli's Book of Legion

Quite unintentionally, we had three religious-themed movies come in from NetFlix this past weekend. They made for an... odd triple feature, even when spaced out over several nights.

First up was Legion a sort of apocalyptic end-of-the-world actioner with Dennis Quaid and Charles S. Dutton. You'd think that would mean a good film. You'd think wrong. Legion is idiotic from start to finish. Apparently, God is disgusted with humans, and sends the hosts of Heaven to destroy mankind. Only Archangel Michael thinks this is kinda harsh, and is cast out of Heaven for his opposition. He cuts off his wings and loads up with lots of firepower before driving out into the desert to protect a pregnant truck stop waitress who's baby will be "The One" to lead humanity out of the Matrix, or some bullshit. The angles possess "weak-willed" humans and get all demonic, biting people throats out and conducting all sorts of evil, hellish acts. Gabriel shows up, and is a total and complete asshole. There's lots of gunfire, the bodycount stacks up and then Gabriel kills Michael, who comes back from Heaven as the anointed of God. As near as I can figure, the whole thing was a test, and those angels who carried out God's will flunked and are now banished to Hell, whereas Michael, the only one to defy God since Lucifer (who, ironically, isn't even mentioned once during the film) gets a shiny gold star or something. It's a bad, bad movie with bad, bad acting. Even the hand-waving attempts at explanations contradict themselves. Avoid this turd, please.

The Book of Eli on the other hand was more thoughtful, even if it did have some significant gaps in logic. For a desolate, post-apocalyptic tale, it worked well with Denzel Washington as a wanderer who happens to possess the last existing copy of the Bible. He's pretty much a badass, literally sniffing out ambushes and wielding a wicked-sharp machete like it's nobody's business. Gary Oldman is an evil powerbroker who discovers what Eli owns, and wants it as his own because he views the Bible is the "ultimate weapon," that he could use its words to legitimize and justify his despotic rule. Mila Kunis is a persistent false note as a beautiful, pseudo-empowered modern woman who seems utterly unscarred by the harsh reality she's grown up in. What struck me the most about the film was that it could easily be considered a prequel to Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s brilliant novel A Canticle For Leibowitz. All the elements are there, so much so that I'd be shocked if scriptwriter Gary Whitta hadn't read Canticle at some point and deliberately cribbed elements alluded to in that novel. I kept waiting for Eli to be referred to as a "booklegger," but alas, that never happened. The ending, unfortunately, is turgid, and drags on easily twice as long as it needs simply for the film to show every last detail of what's going on, just in case the viewer is too stupid to figure out the obvious on their own.

The Last Temptation of Christ was the last one I watched, and one I'd wanted to see since it's controversial release back in 1988. It was a tremendous disappointment. Willem Dafoe is jarringly miscast as a blonde, blue-eyed Jesus. He's such a distinctive actor, with a unique delivery, that I couldn't get past the Green Goblin. Harvey Keitel as his buddy Judas was also a distraction. I mean, Harvey Keitel in anything is a distraction. The film is close to three hours long, which is at least an hour longer than it needs to be. The film opens with Jesus as a cowardly cross-maker for the Romans, a Jew collaborating with the occupying force. He lusts after prostitute Mary Magdalene, but is afraid to act on his desires. This Jesus is a wholly unsympathetic character, and the setup is jarring--the viewer is left wondering if this is his temptation? Is he already living a life shorn of divinity? It's easy to see how many people were offended by this introduction of the character. To my mind, this sequence adds almost nothing to the later events of the film. There's some vague idea of redemption, but it's fuzzy. The only real resonance is that of a one-time cross maker being crucified on a cross himself, but that's cheap symbolism. Just when you think you've got it figured out, and that this is an alternate reality life of Christ, he abruptly veers hard left and jumps feet-first into the Gospels, loosely following the history most are familiar with. This is where it starts to get interesting, with wild-eyed religious fervor bordering on madness with John the Baptist being a particular treat. Dafoe's Jesus throughout this sequence is alternately dreamy and arrogant, uncertain and cocky. David Bowie's Pontius Pilate is gleefully blunt and pragmatic. Peter is portrayed as something of a dolt, while Judas is Jesus' true confidant. This is an interesting take, and much of this relationship is influenced in a general way by the Gnostic Gospel of Judas (the text wasn't known when the script was written, of course, but Judas as the true servant of God idea was). I don't think this was developed as much as it needed in order to be effective, but it was a refreshing divergence from the traditional approach. The actual last temptation, however--which I'd erroneously assumed would constitute the bulk of the movie--was a tremendous letdown. A "guardian angel" appears to Jesus, claiming to be sent by God to spare him the crucifixion. Jesus weds Mary Magdalene, who dies while pregnant, so Jesus ends up shacking up with two other women and has a large brood of kids. All the while life is hard, with the Romans burning Jerusalem and killing Jews. He meets St. Paul, who berates him for not dying on the cross, and them the Apostles show up when Jesus is on his death bed, pretty much showering him with contempt--Judas in particular, who's miffed that his betrayal went for naught. The guardian angel, who is actually Satan--Big Surprise!--goes "Ha ha! Fooled you!" Jesus says, "Gee, Father, I really screwed this one up big time. Can I get a mulligan?" God says "Sure, son!" And Jesus ends up back in time and dies on the cross.

Several things ticked me off about the resolution. First of all, the alternate life Jesus got was really pretty shitty. I mean, if you're going to tempt Christ with a fully human life and family, you'd think it ought to be idyllic and happy, rather than filled with death and destruction. A bleak future ain't much enticement, you know? But secondly, and most important in the context of the film and the whole theme of redemption, Jesus doesn't reject the temptation of his own free will. He's badgered by those around him, taunted by Satan and ultimately shamed back onto the cross. I was utterly dumbfounded by the film at this point. For all director Martin Scorsese's stated intent to deconstruct Christianity to better understand his own faith, there is remarkable superficial thinking going on here that betrays the viewer and gives a cheap, path-of-least-resistance finale rather than anything even approaching profound, or even philosophical. I appreciate what was attempted here, I really do, but ultimately ambition is not enough to keep this from being a disappointing, muddled mess.

Now Playing: Buffalo Springfield Retrospective

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Night Videos

Today's Friday Night Video goes out to Joe Crowe, who, rumor has it, has been suffering from Loverboy withdrawal. "Lovin' Every Minute of It" was a popular hit around the time I started high school, but as I watch the video I can't help but being amused by these guys trying to present a bad-ass rocker image, all the while sporting nascent pot bellies and receding hairlines as they approach middle age. Funny stuff.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Timelords.

Now Playing:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

#&$@% asp!

So I find The Wife in our bedroom watching an episode of Buffy, so I flop down on the bed to spend a little quality time with her. Right away I notice a slight stinging sensation on the back of my right calf. I look, but don't see anything. Then I notice a similar feeling on the top of my right foot. I rub it and look, but nothing is visible. Spider bite? It's not bad, so I shrug it off.

About the time Cordelia realizes the guy she's dancing with is a vampire, the feeling has turned to a more intense burning and I see a raised welt. Actually, several. Mutant mosquito? The Wife asks if I got into fire ants, but this is a different type of pain entirely. Both spots are inflamed, and the back of my left calf is starting to sting as well. And Bug comes up complaining of burning on the side of his arm.

I get up, flustered because I'm really starting to hurt--very intense burning--and then I see it: A white, teardrop-shaped caterpillar about half an inch long on the bed. It's a damn asp, just like the one that stung the heck out of The Wife so badly last summer. I scooped it up in some toilet paper and flushed it. We still have no idea how it got into the upstairs bedroom. It got The Wife on the leg as well, we soon realized. But I got the brunt of it. Joy.

Tomorrow I'm breaking out the pressure sprayer and loading it up with good old caterpillar-destroying thuricide, and dousing every tree on our lot something good. We've lived here seven years, and last summer was the first time we'd so much as seen an asp. I'll be damned if I'm going to let them take up permanent residence.

Now Playing:

Friday, July 09, 2010

Friday Night Videos

Enjoy the spectacle that is "Doctorin' the Tardis" by The Timelords, a.k.a. the KLF, a.k.a. the Jams. I'm not certain what the story is behind the various band names, but at least we know Gary Glitter isn't involved. Well, actually, he was. On the "Best Of" compilation, there's a remix version of this song titled "Garyin' the Tardis" so there's that. I'm inordinately amused by the high-tech Daleks in the video. What I wouldn't give to see a similar scene played out on the current Doctor Who series with a Ford Galaxy. And Billie Piper. But that kinda goes without saying, huh?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Kenny Loggins.

Now Playing:

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Little dog lost

Our younger female beagle, Precious, has disappeared.


It's not entirely clear when she got out of the yard--sometime mid-morning July 6 is our best guess--and it's not certain how she got out. Monkeyshine, our older beagle, was something of a Houdini in her younger days but is still in the back yard, although she's a bit lonesome. I'd dog-proofed the yard way back when we first moved in, and a couple of perimeter checks turn up no obvious escape routes. There are a couple of possible exit routes she might've taken, but these seem unlikely given the effort that'd be involved.

She's not at the New Braunfels Animal Shelter, but The Wife's filled out a missing dog report in case she does turn up there. Fliers will go up around the neighborhood this afternoon. On the off chance she was stolen from our locked yard, I checked the phone book for any listings of "Baggins," "Underhill," "Took" and "Hobbit" but alas, that turned out to be a dead end.

Now Playing: Various Artists That Thing You Do

Monday, July 05, 2010

Caramelized honey

Some of the various meadmaking blogs I've followed in the past have fallen into disuse over time, so I found myself poking around the old internetz trying to find some new blogs offering interesting reading. In the process, I came across this:

Now I don't know about you, but the thought of caramelized honey with nutty overtones serving as the base for a mead sets my mouth watering. This "bochet" style mead has a name that means "burnt" but if you ask me, the guy in the video takes that a little too literally. Cooking the honey until it's a deep golden brown seems more than enough without out all that nasty pine tar residue. I may well have to experiment with a little gallon batch before long. Here's the recipe featured in the video:
To make six sesters of bochet take six pints of very soft honey and set it in a cauldron on the fire, and boil it and stir it for as long as it goes on rising and as long as you see it throwing up liquid in little bubbles which burst and in bursting give off a little blackish steam; and then move it, and put in seven sesters of water and boil them until it is reduced to six sesters, always stirring. And then put it in a tub to cool until it be just warm, and then run it through a sieve, and afterwards put it in a cask and add half a pint of leaven of beer, for it is this which makes it piquant (and if you put in leaven of bread, it is as good for the taste, but the colour will be duller), and cover it warmly and well when you prepare it. And if you would make it very good, add thereto an ounce of ginger, long pepper, grain of Paradise and cloves, as much of the one as of the other, save that there shall be less of the cloves, and put them in a linen bag and cast it therein. And when it hath been therein for two or three days, and the brochet tastes enough of the spices and is sufficiently piquant, take out the bag and squeeze it and put it in the other barrel that you are making. And thus this powder will serve you well two or three times over."

Now Playing: New World Renaissance Band Live the Legend

Brew 4th, and drinkify

Took a road trip this weekend to Utopia to drop Monkey Girl off for horse camp. Which means there will be 98 percent less sass in the house this coming week. Yet the squabbling between Fairy Girl and Bug has exponentially expanded to fill that void. Funny that.

In a misguided effort to be productive with the remaining time available to me over the weekend, I racked the plum wine I've had fermenting since June 7, separating the plum solids from the proto-wine liquid. Which may sound simple and straightforward, but it isn't. The plums had essentially decomposed into fragments of skin and pulp, none of which had any coherence except when it came to plugging the bung spigot in my fermenter--they were plenty solid for that. So I was reduced to using a ladle to scoop out the wine and pulp and place it in a cloth-lined colander, straining the liquid from the solids. You'd be surprised how quickly those solids can plug up the weave of even a loosely-knit cloth. Eventually, I didn't even have a clearly defined mix to work with as I ladled. What I was getting out was more of a thick slurry, with the fruit and liquid indistinguishable. Out of the six gallons I started with, I ended up with four--the pulpy fruit solids thrown out on the back yard compost heap. I then dissolved four pounds of sugar in a gallon of water to top the proto-wine up to 5 gallons, and provide the yeasties with enough sweet fermentables to bring the alcohol content up to a storage-friendly 12 percent. The good news is that when I sampled a bit of the stuff--it certainly smelled like wine--I was rewarded with a dry wine that tasted very strongly of plums. I think, despite my misguided efforts, that my first attempt at winemaking may be a success.

I have to say here that my racking task was made much easier by the addition of two extra 6-gallon fermenters. My brother Chris was kind enough to loan me his, since he hasn't done any homebrew in several years and doesn't expect to return to the hobby any time soon. So, with the wine safely locked away in one of the new fermenters, I had mine available immediately for more brewing.

I had 9 pounds of honey on hand, and wanted to try some plum melomel, as well as take another crack at the infamous jalapeno metheglin, so my course was clear. I emptied all nine pounds of honey in a large pot and topped up with about a gallon of water, heating the mix gently so the honey would dissolve. Since I want the starting mead to be moderately sweet instead of dry, I decided to only make 3 gallons worth. I put the honey mix in the fermenter, then added 1.5 teaspoons of yeast nutrient and yeast energizer before stirring vigorously to oxygenate the must. I topped it up with cool water to make just over 3 gallons, and then pitched the yeast starter. This is a new yeast for me, Bourgovin. It's a Burgundy yeast, supposedly good for dark fruit wines such as plum. We'll see. I made a mix of honey water and grape juice, to which I added the dry yeast. An hour later it was fermenting vigorously, so I expect good things from it. A month from now, when primary fermentation tapers off, I'll rack the mead into a 1.5 gallon vessel to which I'll add a bit more honey, for enhanced sweetness, and a single large jalapeno. The previous results were quite striking--akin to biting a live wire--and I expect no less this time around. To the remainder I will add no less than 7 pounds of chopped plums. The resulting fruit profile in the finished melomel should be robust. If you ask nicely, I might even share some!

Now Playing:

Friday, July 02, 2010

Roadside service

So Wednesday I had to go to a construction zone for an interview, and apparently whilst there my rear passenger tire picked up a nail or somesuch. I know this because by the end of the day, when it was time to go home, the tire was completely flat. I got to spend 30 minutes changing the darn thing in the rain and hoping the little donut spare would get me the 25 miles back home. The puncture was obvious, though--a clear hole in the tread where a nail must've punctured it and then fallen out once the pressure dropped. Easily plugged.

Thursday I pick up a tire repair kit on the way home from work and set about fixing the tire (again, in hurricane-spawned rain showers), because I really didn't feel like dropping $70 or so on a new wheel. I get the plug in, along with a good amount of rubber cement, and set the portable air compressor to filling it up. The little compressor works slowly, so it was 15 minutes at least before the tire reached its recommended 15 psi. I turn the compressor off and get ready to mount it on the car when I hear... hissing. And it's not coming from the plug. I roll the tire over and there, on the opposite side, is a screw buried in the tread. I mean, what are the odds?

I got a pair of pliers, removed the screw, deflated the tire and repeated the process. The tire's held up now for 24 hours, but man, talk about a misfire in the luck department!

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads

Friday Night Videos

Okay, Kenny Loggins was still riding a wave of popularity right when I hit those "into music" teenage years. I had his "Vox Humana" album on cassette and played the heck out of it until it reached that screechy stage all cassettes do, and eventually threw it out. I even had a big concert tour poster put out by Levis I acquired unexpectedly through some store promotion or other (and it was a quality poster--the glossy print was oversized and of a much heavier stock than most pop-culture wall posters of the day). I really liked the weird, discordant rocking sound of the title track, and the "gypsy woman on the road to Tennessee" lyrics still make me smile. But the video, oh goodness, the video is a revelation unto itself. It's a gloriously bizarre mix of slapdash surreality that may very well have been conceived of during a late-night kegger in which the party-goers indulged in way too much drink--among other things. Really, is there another video out there that so definitely exemplifies everything that was great as well as terrible about the 80s simultaneously? Leather pants! Break dancing! You've got to see it to believe it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Kinks.

Now Playing: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Whipped Cream & Other Delights