Musings, Nits, and Praises: February 2006

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher

Time-Defining Music

This is my first installment in a series of blogs on what I call "time-defining music." I don't use the term in a cultural sense but in a personal sense--the music that immediately comes to mind when I think of certain periods of my life. I won't venture into anecdotes and memories involving a specific song, although I have plenty of those--throwing slippers, cushions, and Skittles (the bananas came later) into the ceiling fan in the house on Market Street while listening to "You've Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party" comes to mind. What I have in mind is to write about songs or albums that functioned as the proverbial "soundtrack to my life" at given times.

So, without further ado, I give you my first installment in "Time-Defining Music: The College Years." (Warning: since I'm writing about music that moved me deeply at one time or still does, there's a good chance these installments will be a bit lengthy.)

I became an instant fan of Barenaked Ladies when I saw them perform on Vh1's Hard Rock Live in the summer of '97, but it wasn't until that fall in Searcy that I bought my first BNL album, Born on a Pirate Ship. (At this point the band was gaining some notoriety with their live album, Rock Spectacle, and they got Top 40 airplay with "Old Apartment" and a reissue of "Brian Wilson." It would be another year before they became "The 'One Week' band.") BOAPS isn't the band's most consistent album. In fact, among the fourteen tracks, there are several missteps, including three songs that I can't even muster sufficiently derisive comments about--"Call Me Calmly," "Spider in My Room," and "In the Drink." However, the brilliant songs on the album (and there are plenty) easily offset the aforementioned throwaways.

Although BNL have always injected their albums with some humor (something that critics jump on, often dismissing them as a "comedic" band), the bulk of their musical catalogue evokes a lot more from the listener than just a laugh, and on no album is that clearer than on BOAPS. The exploration of the effects of guilt and time holds the album together thematically. The first time I listened to the album I sat alone in my dorm room, reading the lyrics as I listened, and it blew me away.

The album would be worth owning just for songs like "Break Your Heart," "Straw Hat and Dirty Hank," and "Shoebox" but five songs in particular made me into a BNL fanatic, extoling the band's brilliance to all my friends. In "This Is Where It Ends," Page (Steven Page, the singer with glasses) expresses the frustration of combating depression (worsened by alcohol and med abuse) and the inter- and intra- struggles it causes: "Make excuses for behavior/Can my illness be my savior?/I hid my heart while you still gave yours." "When I Fall," told from the perspective of a lonely window washer, perfectly captures isolation and a yearning for human connection: "I wish I could step from this scaffold/onto soft green pastures, shopping malls, or bed/with my family/and my pasteur and my grandfather who's dead."

The back-to-back songs of "I Live..." and "Old Apartment" best demonstrate the album's dominate theme. "I Live With..." opens with the speaker describing a childhood accident in which he shot a friend at point blank range in the face with a BB gun. Given the description in the following verses of the speaker's emotional tailspin, I think it's safe to assume he killed his friend or at least hurt him. The bridge, one of BNL's best lyrical and musical moments, expounds on the broader effects of regret:

The love you put away
like games that children play
The hearts you choose to break
like cars dumped in the lake
The laugh lines on your face
The life I won't erase
The cold house I won't leave
The guests I won't receive

To this day "Old Apartment" is still probably my favorite BNL song and for good reason--it rocks, the melody is catchy, and the lyrics are fantastic. The speaker breaks into his old apartment in a fit of nostalgia and laments the way in which the physical changes and time affect his memories of his life there. The song is chocked full of good lines, but my favorites come at the end: "Only memories, fading memories/blending into dull tableaux/I want them back."

The fifth song I alluded to earlier is "Same Thing." I've expounded on enough songs already, but I will say that the song is achingly beautiful and on some days is my favorite BNL song--see my Top 5 Songs blog.

I can honestly say that if I hadn't bought this album, my college experience would've been different in many ways. Without it, Chris Mirante and I wouldn't have named our band Shoebox and learned nearly every song in the BNL catalogue, nor would we have taken our own music in the direction we did. Each time I listened to the album, I developed a greater appreciation for the artistry and craft that went into making it; the five songs I detailed (and others) demonstrate the capacity of pop songs to be more than ear candy and the power of music to impact your life, revealing something of the human experience.

The Prayer of Faith

On Sunday we wrapped up our study of James, which brought us to a few verses which with I've always had difficulty: "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven." (James 5:14-15)

A cursory reading of these verses suggests that a prayer offered in faith for the healing of a sick person will result in God restoring him/her. Of course, there is a real difficulty reconciling what James says with the experiences we've all had in which a congregation has prayed fervently for someone's healing only for that person to die. Is James wrong? Are our prayers not offered in faith? Why does God choose to heal some and allow others to die?

I think these two verses must be read in the context of the verses around them and with a mind to Christ's life and teachings. In verses 10-11 James encourages his readers to persevere in suffering and trust that God will ultimately reward them, reminding them of the prophets and Job. I'd be hard-pressed to think of an Old Testament prophet who didn't reap persecution and hardship for doing God's work--I'm reminded of Hebrews 11:13. As for the story of Job, although God rewards Job in the end, He never offers Job an explanation for his suffering but reminds Job that He is sovereign and His ways are often inscrutable to man. Both examples reinforce our humility before God, and how faith requires us to submit to His will, not to conform Him to ours. Of course, the ultimate example of submitting to the Father's will is in Christ's prayer before His betrayal--"not my will, but Thine be done." In studying this verse I was reminded of the movie Shadowlands in which Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis explains to a friend that he believes prayer has more to do with changing him than changing God's mind--I believe Lewis expands on that in A Grief Observed.

However, I think ultimately James is more concerned with spiritual healing than physical. In verse 16 the healing he speaks of seems spiritual in nature given the charge to Christians to confess their sins to each other and pray for each other.

Turn the Other Cheek

"But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Matthew 5:39

Having worked in Citi's customer service branch during my summers home from college, I was reminded just how difficult Christ's command is to follow. Adhering to the business credo "the customer is always right," often required a great deal of cheek turning for insolent customers. I'm quite thankful that I only had to endure that job for a month or two each summer. If that were my career, I'm rather certain I'd be a full fledged misanthrope or lunatic by now. Or both.

I say all that to segue into an experience I had this afternoon at CVS. When I went to the check-out line, there was only one cashier working, so I just took my place in line behind a mother and her son, who looked to be about four or five. After a minute or two, another cashier came and opened up the other register. Not noticing the mother, who was thumbing through some Valentine's cards a few feet away from the line, the clerk called for me to come to her register. Before I had the chance to explain I wasn't next in line, the mother yelled at the cashier, "I'm next in line!"

The clerk, a bit embarrassed, said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were in line."

The mother lashed back, "Well, why don't you try asking instead of just assuming I wasn't in line?!"

**Note: If the cashier has to ask if you're in line, then you're probably not in line.

The mother marched her son up to the counter to pay for the card he had picked out, all the while still ranting about the clerk overlooking her. The son was extremely courteous, saying things like "Here's my money, ma'am" and "thank you very much." The cashier complemented the little boy on his manners, and the mother jumped in with "You should learn to be that polite!"

At this point I half-expected the cashier to jump the counter and pummel the mother Chuck Norris-style. I seriously thought about speaking up, but it's probably best I didn't since the only sentence I had formulated in my mind was "She said she was sorry, lady, so shut up." The cashier only replied, "Ma'am, I apologized, and I'm not going to continue talking about it."

She went on to chat with the boy a bit, who told her, "Happy Valentine's Day!" on his way out the door with his mother (still steaming, of course).

Two things struck me from the experience: the cashier's patience and the boy's politeness. Now, I realize it's the cashier's job to be polite in any circumstance, but I can think of several occasions during my stints at Citi when I replied to rude customers with a verbal fist. I'm sure the cashier's complementing of the boy's manners was intended partly as a jibe toward the mother, but still it was done with a great deal of politeness (What's the verse in Proverbs about kindness toward an enemy being like heaping coals on his head?) and more insinuation than I would've used--I would've gone with something like "Well, you sure are polite. I guess your dad must've taught you good manners." But that brings me to my appreciation of the boy. Seriously, where did he learn to be so polite? Was his mom just having a bad day? (That happens to everyone, but in most cases people will acknowledge it if they realize they've been idiots--"I'm sorry. I'm just having a bad day.") If the mother is always a bellicose loudmouth, then how long can the boy retain his innocent demeanor? The optimist in me hopes that sometime this evening when the mother is at home, she'll reflect back on the encounter and learn something from her son and the cashier. I know I did.

2006 Grammy Wrap Up

On the night that could've been the "celebration of Mimi," Bono and Co. snagged five gramaphones, allowing Bono to make a moving acceptance speech, sport some red sunglasses, and to demonstrate that he's arguably the best frontman of all-time. (Note to Bono and the gang: You guys are still rockin' in your early-mid forties, but when it eventually comes time to hang it up, do it--see Rolling Stones' Super Bowl performance.)

Here's a look at some of the Grammy winners:

Record of the Year

"Boulevard of Broken Dreams" - Green Day

Is the song catchy? Yes. Does it have some mildly intelligent lyrics? Yes. Can Oasis' "Wonderwall" be sung over top the song? Yes. Can the lead-in to the last chorus--"I walk a, I walk a"--be mistaken for Fozzie Bear's "Wocka, w0cka"? Yes.

Album of the Year

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb - U2

The album is not really innovative for its genre (see Kanye West's album) or for U2 (for U2 innovation see Achtung Baby and the experimental but inconsistent Zooropa and Pop). Nonetheless, the album shows a band who has mastered its craft over the past two and half decades and will likely be significant for years to come. Although the album is quintessential U2, the band provides variety musically and thematically from the pounding "Vertigo," to the plaintive "Yahweh."

Song of the Year

"Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" - U2

It's a powerful, elegaic tune that some fans place on par with "One," which may be a bit of a stretch, but it's still a fantastic song.

Best New Artist

John Legend

He has the talent and the surname to have a lasting impact, but the fates of past winners of the award suggest that in no time he'll live out his remaining days on a desert island with other Best New Artists. (In an upcoming episode of Lost, the crash survivors will encounter a small, dilapidated encampment inhabited by Christopher Cross, Marc Cohn, Paula Cole, and the members of Arrested Development.)

Best Female Vocal Pop Performance

"Since U Been Gone" - Kelly Clarkson

Well, at least this song doesn't sound like a cheerleading routine.

Best Male Vocal Pop Performance

"From the Bottom of My Heart" - Stevie Wonder

While Stevie Wonder is a musical genius with one of the most melifluous voices ever, I give you the following quote from High Fidelity:

"Rob, top 5 musical crimes perpetuated by Stevie Wonder in the 80's and 90's. Go."

This award seems like the Grammys meeting their requisite "leave the viewers scratching their heads in dismay and asking questions like 'That guy still makes music?'" choice.

Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal

"This Love" - Maroon 5

Didn't this song come out over a year and a half ago?! Did they re-release it just to spite me?
After hearing it somewhere around 10,000 times, this song made my "Songs That My Life Will Be Better If I Never Hear Them Again" list, which also includes "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and every song released by Three Doors Down. The list should not be confused with my "Songs That May One Day Force Me to Take a Screwdriver to My Eardrums" list. That list is headed by, of course, "My Heart Will Go On."

Best Alternative Music Album

Get Behind Me, Satan - The White Stripes

The Whites Stripes remind me of the gadets I see on infomercials at 2 a.m.--innovative, clever, well-crafted, and novel but rarely of any real use to me. I would've been happier with Arcade Fire or Deathcab for Cutie.

Best Hard Rock Performance

"B.Y.O.B." - System of a Down

If the award was "Cacophonous Song Most Akin to the Sound of Cows Mating in Hell," then yes, by all means, choose System of a Down.

Have you heard the one about the litigious Italian aetheist?

And I thought people that sued restaurants over hot coffee were dumb.

From today:

ROME, Italy (AP) -- An Italian judge has dismissed an atheist's petition that a small-town priest should stand trial for asserting that Jesus Christ existed, both sides said on Friday.
Luigi Cascioli, a 72-year-old retired agronomist, had accused the Rev. Enrico Righi of violating two laws with the assertion, which he called a deceptive fable propagated by the Roman Catholic Church.
"The Rev. Righi is very satisfied and moved," Righi's attorney, Severo Bruno, said. "He is an old, small-town parish priest who never would have thought he'd be in the spotlight for something like this."
Cascioli, a former schoolmate of Righi's, said he had not expected the case to succeed in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Italy.
"This is not surprising but it doesn't mean it all ends here," he said, adding that he's considering taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
"This is an important case and it deserves to go ahead," he said.
Judge Gaetano Mautone said in his decision that prosecutors should investigate Cascioli for possible slander.
The ruling was released Thursday in Viterbo, a town north of Rome where the priest is based. Cascioli filed a criminal complaint against Righi in 2002 after Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus existed, that he was born to a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and that he lived in Nazareth.
Righi, 76, said substantial historical evidence proves Jesus' existence.
Cascioli claimed that Righi's assertions violated two Italian laws: one barring "abuse of popular belief," or fraudulently deceiving people; and another barring "impersonation" or personal gain from attributing a false name to someone.

Guilty Pleasure Songs

I suppose this is a companion to my previous blog. What songs do you like that you know are borderline (or downright) drivel, but there's just something catchy about them for you? Here's my list:

"You Sexy Thing" - Hot Chocolate
"How Bizarre" - OMC
"I Know What You're Doing" - Dionne Farris
"You Gotta Be" - Desiree
"Finally" - CeCe Peniston
"Steal My Sunshine" - Len

I'm sure I could come up with others if I thought for a while, but I think I've embarrassed myself enough for the time being.

Top 5 Songs

Two weeks ago on "Love Monkey," (a fine new show on CBS, Tuesdays at 10:00 EST if you haven't seen it), two characters discussed their "Top 5 Songs," which got me wondering what my Top 5 are. As someone who has difficulty winnowing down my Top 5 anything, I've cheated a bit and expanded my list to Top 5 Songs from a Given Decade, restricting myself to one song per band/singer in each decade. Also, I only considered the rock/pop genre for my selections. So, now that I've provided a litany of disclaimers and parameters, here are my lists:

My Top 5 Songs of the '60's (in no particular order)
1. "Like a Rolling Stone" - Bob Dylan
2. "Penny Lane" - Beatles
3. "Who'll Stop the Rain?" - Creedence Clearwater Revival
4. "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" - Otis Redding (okay, it's not rock/pop, but I love it)
5. "For What It's Worth" - Buffalo Springfield

My Top 5 Songs of the 70's (in no particular order)

1. "Born to Run" - Bruce Springsteen
2. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" - Rolling Stones
3. "The Boxer" - Simon and Garfunkel
4. "Shelter from the Storm" - Bob Dylan
5. "The Weight" - The Band

My Top 5 Songs of the 80's (inpo)
1. "Every Breath You Take" - The Police
2. "One Tree Hill" - U2
3. "Atlantic City" - Bruce Springsteen
4. "Don't Dream It's Over" - Crowded House
5. "Time After Time" - Cyndi Lauper (That's right. I said Cyndi Lauper.)

My Top 5 Songs of the 90's (inpo) - Easily the hardest category for me to narrow down and would probably be different if I made the list tomorrow
1. "I'm Always in Love" - Wilco
2. "Same Thing" - Barenaked Ladies
3. "Hook" - Blues Traveler
4. "Ants Marching" - Dave Matthews Band
5. "Everlong" - Foo Fighters

My Top 5 of the '00's (inpo)
1. "Rollerskate Skinny" - Old 97's
2. "Cry on Demand" - Ryan Adams
3. "For Nancy" - Pete Yorn
4. "Amsterdam" - Coldplay
5. "If You Don't, Don't" - Jimmy Eat World

Health Alert

An alarmingly deleterious disease has gone unchecked, resulting in a disease that has reached epidemic proportions and threatens to kill the English language. As a grammar physician, I urge you to be on guard against Liketourret’s Syndrome (LS).

The highly contagious virus is communicated via conversation. Once it enters the body, it targets Broca’s Area in the left hemisphere of the brain, where it feeds on the language processing area and contaminates the individual’s vocabulary, rendering his or her speech positively annoying. The disease predominately affects teenage females although there is an alarming increase of cases in both genders under the age of forty.

A simple self-examination will alert you to the presence of the disease in your system. Read the following dialogue:
“So, like was your dad mad when you told him you had like totaled his car?”
“Oh, for serious! He was like, “A toddler could have driven better than you!”
If this sounds similar to conversations you have, then you have contracted LS.

Now, you may be questioning the significance of the disease. How harmful is the word "like"? The word possesses several meanings and can contribute effectively to a sentence when it’s used properly. In cases of LS, however, "like" wreaks havoc. Imagine if Shakespeare, crafting the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, was struck with the disease:

"Like what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would like smell as sweet you know."

If Abraham Lincoln had suffered from LS, historians would assign “The Gettysburg Address” to the annals of atrocious presidential speeches:

"Four score and like seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this like continent, you know, a new nation, conceived in Liberty and stuff, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are like created equal."

President Bush would be a juggernaut of elocution in comparison.

Although you may not endeavor to become president or a famous playwright, LS could impact your future. For example, like-infested speech in an interview for a much-coveted job isn’t likely to prompt an employer to hire you (unless it’s in the hopes that you get so excited you can’t speak).

Luckily, treatment options exist. One of the most common forms of treatment is peer intervention. When you suffer an LS episode, peers chide you: “You sound so stupid! You’re killing the English language!” If your friends’ berating lacks vigor, contact me. I'm a trained professional.

If peer intervention fails, you must resort to the most radical form of treatment: stop talking. Garrulous carriers of LS often express bewilderment at the apparent harshness of this treatment: “So, like I’m not allowed to like talk and stuff?”


So if you suspect you may have contracted Liketourret’s, do yourself, your peers, and the English language a favor and consult a grammar physician. Your linguistic health is like worth it.

Mercurial Terrapins

As someone who has been a loyal University of Maryland basketball fan for nearly twenty years, I've lived through the tragedy of Len Bias's death (granted, I was eight at the time and only have some vague memories involving the event), suffered through the lean years of NCAA sanctions, enjoyed the program's resurgence and annual invites to the NCAA Tourney in the mid-90's, and reveled in the sheer bliss of back-to-back Final Fours and a National Championship in 2001 and 2002. (I would also include the unexpected ACC Tournament Title in 2004, but I was in Scotland at the time where the only televised sports were cricket and soccer so that sucked some of the joy from the Terps' victory.)

But for the past two seasons the team has transformed into the Mercurial Terrapins--a peculiar combination of athleticism and an apparent lack of basketball I.Q., periods of intense determination belied by borderline apathy, and moments of flawless execution voided by stretches of YMCA Youth League precision. This frustrating amalgam has resulted in sweeping Duke last year but missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years, and yo-yoing to a 14-7 record (4-4 in the ACC) this season (they're now on a three-game losing streak), inching themselves dangerously close once again to NIT territory.

The latest blow to their NCAA chances came yesterday with a 63-58 loss at NcState. Now, sure it's tough to win on the road in the ACC, the Wolfpack are a good team, blah, blah, blah. With two minutes left in the first half, the Terps had a seven point lead, but in '05-'06 Terp fashion, they squandered away chances to push the lead to double digits and only lead by one at the half. In the second half the Terps' utter futility to defend the three-point shot (something so certain it's on the brink of pushing its way into the "death and taxes" cliche) yielded eight three-point baskets. Nonetheless, the Terps managed to stay in contention only to come up a bit short.

At 4-4 in the ACC, the Terps still have a realistic shot at finishing 8-8 and nabbing an NCAA bid. Of course, they've also shown they have a realistic chance to lose all eight of their remaining games.

I've wondered at times what causes people to root for particular sports teams, to take such a personal interest in a team that they wind up experiencing euphoria or digust. Whatever the reasons, I've long since resigned myself to being a Terp addict. If this season ends in disappointment, then there's always the hope of a new one less than seven months away.

End of the Spear

We went to see End of the Spear this evening. Here's a brief synopsis of the movie from

"End of the Spear is the story of Mincayani, a Waodani tribesman from the jungles of Ecuador. When five young missionaries, among them Jim Elliot and Nate Saint, are speared to death by the Waodani in 1956, a series of events unfold to change the lives of not only the slain missionaries' families, but also Mincayani and his people."

Since I need to go to bed soon in order to be alert enough in the morning to teach class, I won't delve into a lengthy review of the movie. In short, it's one of the most poignant Christian motion pictures ever, and it's a moving testimony to self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and the power of the gospel (especially moving since it's based on a true story). The movie doesn't have a "preachy" tone; the story speaks for itself in many cases.

Check out

or look for the documentary "Beyond the Gates" that centers on Nate's son Steve returning to live with the tribe in 1995 (also covered in End of the Spear).

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