Musings, Nits, and Praises: April 2006

Musings, Nits, and Praises

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

Too Much of an Already Soporific Thing

Is there a more over-hyped, mind-numbingly dull sports-related event than the NFL draft? It'd be bad enough if the only coverage of it consisted of the 86 day-long draft itself (okay, maybe it's only four or five and they only cover Day One), but every Sportscenter for the past three weeks has had a breakdown of a particular team's perceived draft needs by ESPN's "expert analysts," including Mel "If This Gig Ever Falls Through I Have the Hair to be a Televangelist" Kiper, Jr. On top of that, ESPN aired a two-hour "Draft Preview Special"! March Madness receives a similar glut of pre-event coverage, but that leads into coverage of actual games. It's only a few weeks into the baseball season, the NBA playoffs are underway--heck, even the NHL playoffs are underway--yet ESPN has spent more time with NFL draft predictions than covering any of those things.

So what makes the draft coverage so dreadfully painful? Well, for starters, to quote the Bard of Avon, it's "full of sound and fury signifying nothing"--or next to nothing anyway. It wouldn't take long to make quite a lengthy list of "draft busts." A lot of guys who are superb players at the collegiate level never achieve stardom in the professional ranks. Conversely, some guys who go overlooked until later in the draft wind up being great in the NFL--Favre and Brady come to mind. Certainly, by watching a lot of game tape, researching stats, hosting combines in which players run, lift, throw, catch, burp the ABC's, cross a highway blinfolded, etc., a team's coaching staff can reasonably assess a player's ability. But hardly any player is a surefire bet. As for ESPN's experts, I'm fairly certain an avid college football fan could provide equally "insightful analysis." Furthermore, I don't derive any excitement by seeing if I can correctly predict which team will pick which player. It's not March Madness. No one is printing up draft brackets and starting up office pools to see who predicts the most picks correctly. If someone somewhere actually does do such things, then I can say without hesitation he is a loser.

This is where I'd normally try to craft some sort of mildly insightful conclusion, but I've begun to drift into boredom just from pondering the NFL Draft for more than three minutes.

Poem of the Week

Since today was the sixth annual "Coffee House Poetry Reading Day" in my English class, I thought I'd start a "Poem of the Week" blog in which I select a poem, classic or contemporary, that I particularly enjoy. At some point, I may post a poem of my own, but I will warn you in advance of their inferiority.

Anyhow, this week's poem is "I Should Be More French. Or Japanese" by Beth Ann Fennelly:

Then I wouldn’t prefer the California wine,
its big sugar, big fruit rolling down my tongue,
a cornucopia spilled across a tacky tablecloth.
I’d prefer the French, its smoke and rot.
Said Cézanne: Le monde—c’est terrible!
Which means, The world—it bites the big weenie.
People sound smarter in French.
The Japanese prefer the crescent moon to the full,
prefer the rose before it blooms.
Oh, I have been to the temples of Kyoto,
I have stood on the Pont Neuf, and my eyes,
they drank it in, but my taste buds
shuffled along in the beer line at Wrigley Field.
It was the day they gave out foam fingers.
I hereby pledge to wear more gray, less yellow
of the beaks of baby mockingbirds,
that huge yellow yawping open on wobbly necks,
trusting something yummy will be dropped inside,
soon. I hereby pledge to be reserved.
When the French designer learned
I didn’t like her mockups for my book cover,
she sniffed, They’re not for everyone. They’re
subtle. What area code is 662 anyway? I said,
Mississippi, sweetheart. Bet you couldn’t find it
with a map. Okay: I didn’t really. But so what
if I’m subtle as May in Mississippi, my nose
in the wine-bowl of this magnolia bloom, so what
if I’m mellow as the punch-drunk bee.
If I were Japanese I’d write about magnolias
in March, how tonal, each bud long as a pencil,
sheathed in celadon suede, jutting from a cluster
of glossy leaves. I’d end the poem before anything
bloomed, end with rain swelling the buds
and the sheaths bursting, then falling to the grass
like a fairy’s castoff slippers, like candy wrappers,
like spent firecrackers. Yes, my poem
would end there, spent firecrackers.
If I were French, I’d capture post-peak, in July,
the petals floppy, creased brown with age,
the stamens naked, stripped of yellow filaments.
The bees lazy now, bungling the ballet, thinking
for the first time about October. If I were French,
I’d prefer this, end with the red-tipped filaments
scattered on the scorched brown grass,
and my poem would incite the sophisticated,
the French and the Japanese readers—
because the filaments look like matchsticks,
and it’s matchsticks, we all know, that start the fire.

Copyright © Beth Ann Fennelly

Held Over the Barrel

A barrel of crude oil is now over $75, bringing the average cost of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline to $2.83, according to an article I read on yahoo. "Concerns about Iran" was cited among the reasons for the price hike.

Gee, I wish I could use "concerns" to my advantage, too. Maybe come December when there's a chance of snow but no sign of it on the ground, I'll call into work and tell them I can't make it because of concerns I have regarding inclimate weather.

Leave That Song Alone!

As if it's not bad enough that big-budget filmakers have increasingly churned out countless banal remakes and unnecessary sequals the past few years, now they're recycling movie scores in trailers, in particular the end theme of The Shawshank Redemption.

TSR is far and away my all-time favorite film. I've watched it probably upwards of 100 times; I can quote copious amounts of dialogue from the movie; I own the two-disc special edition DVD; my wife and I saw it at Arbor Cinema here in Austin two years ago when it was re-released to theaters to commemorate its ten-year anniversary-- yes, I'm a dork. The movie moves me in a way that no other film ever has (I admit I get teary-eyed during several pivotal scenes, especially after "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies") and part of that has to do with the music. The score is brilliant throughout the film, but the end theme--the song that begins when Red boards the bus for Fort Hancock and continues through his reunion with Andy and into the closing credits--stirs more emotion in the viewer than any film score I can think of. For me, the film and the score are inseparable.*

*The end theme and my wedding are also inseparable. Janet walked down the aisle to it. We then honeymooned in Zihuatanejo but saw no signs of Andy or Red.

So that's why last year when Million Dollar Baby was making its pre-Oscar push and I heard the song in the T.V. promo, I nearly threw the remote. How could such an uplifting song be used to promote such a downer of a movie? But it only got worse. This year the song was used in commercials for Brokeback Mountain! I don't think I really need to explain why that perturbed me. Then today I went to to see if I could find a trailer for All the King's Men, an adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's classic novel. The movie stars Sean Penn, Jude Law, and some other big-name actors and will be released in December. Well, not ten seconds into the trailer, as Sean Penn delivers an enlivened speech--he plays Willy Stark, a man-of-the-people politician in 1930's Louisiana who eventually takes a Machiavellian approach to governing--what do I hear but the sweet melody of The Shawshank Redemption's end theme.

I'm well aware why the folks in charge of promoting these movies chose to use the song--it's heartbreakingly beautiful. But those movies have their own musical scores. Use them! Before long the song will become the veritable "Canon in D" of the film industry. (Come to think of it, that piece gained a wider contemporary audience after Robert Redford used it in 1981's Ordinary People.) I guess I can take some consolation in knowing the aforementioned films didn't rip off dialogue from The Shawshank Redemption. I would've hunted down and mercilessly bludgeoned Ang Lee if at some point in the Brokeback trailer Heath Ledger turned to Jake Gyllenhaal and said, "You either get busy livin' or get busy dyin'."

Going Nuclear

No, I don't intend to make a tired joke about our Commander-in-Chief's pronunciation of the word nuclear--that we live in 'merca is so much funnier anyway. I'm looking to stir up a little discussion regarding the mounting contention surrounding Iran's uranium enrichment program.

I must confess my knowledge of Iran only slightly surpasses my knowledge of A Flock of Seagulls' 1982 hit, "I Ran." That being said, I've tried to stay abreast of the U.S.'s efforts to form a coalition to aid in pressuring Iran into abandoning their nuclear ambitions.

Luckily, everything seems to be going swimmingly. Today, when asked by what means he would prevent Iran from pursuing uranium enrichment, President Bush replied, "We want to solve this problem diplomatically, and we're working hard to do so," but "all options are on the table."

And, in celebration of Army Day in Iran, President Amadinejad declared, "
The land of Iran has created a powerful army that can powerfully defend the political borders and the integrity of the Iranian nation and cut off the hand of any aggressor and place the sign of disgrace on their forehead." *

Them sounds like fightin' words.

*Would a powerful army defend any way but powerfully?

Now, I certainly side with those who believe the world is a safer place without Iran eventually possessing the ability to produce nuclear weapons. (Of course, they may already have some the old-fashioned way--arms dealers from the ex-Soviet Union.) It'd be presumptuous to say every Arab leader is a bellicose, jihad-loving lunatic, but from all indications, Amadinejad certainly is one. For example, following a suicide attack in Israel in October of 2005, he said, "There is no doubt that the new wave in Palestine will soon wipe off this disgraceful blot from the face of the Islamic world." (How can anyone say the phrase Middle East peace talks with a straight face?) However, how realistic is it that diplomacy will resolve the issue? The IAEA is scheduled to visit Natanz and other nuclear sites on Friday and inspect Iran's existing program. Since most Middle East countries are open books when it comes to foreign inspectors, the whole issue should get cleared up on Friday. But if by some chance the inspectors cow from Iranian pressure, or Iran prefers to keep some information undisclosed, then the next option would appear to be the aforementioned coalition or the U.N. Security Council, whose declarations are genuinely as feckless as arena security guards trying to keep fans from storming a basketball court.

So eventually we're left with what? Another preemptive strike?

Thank You for Smoking

Before I head off to bed tonight, I have to recommend the new movie Thank You for Smoking. Janet and I saw it tonight with two friends of ours. It's easily the funniest film I've seen in at least five years, and it's one of the best satires I've ever seen. As the title suggests, it deals with smoking. The movie centers on Nick Naylor (played by Aaron Eckhart), a lobbyist for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, whose job is to defend tobacco companies while also looking for means to subtly promote their products. The movie provides a ton of laugh-out-loud moments (we cracked up during the movie and all the way home as we recalled hilarious scenes) and intelligently satirizes all parties involved--the tobacco industry, politicians, the press, Hollywood, and the public. The cast is superb as well, with the aforementioned Eckhart as well as William H. Macy, Rob Lowe, Sam Elliot, Robert Duvall, J.K. Simmons, and Katie Holmes.

It's not a mainstream, blockbuster-type film, so if you don't live in a metropolitan area, you may have to wait a few months for the DVD, or you could just drive a little way to go see it. It's worth the trip.

For All Haters of Duke Men's BBall

I came across this post by lloydjack on ESPN's message boards, and I thought it was too funny not to share:

"Hi folks, Dickie V here. Whew, what a tournament! The suspense and excitement were superb. I’m flat out exhausted, baby!

And what a sensational season it was too, start to finish. Let’s review the entire season, coast to coast, big conferences and small, equal time for all, for the greatest moments.

Here’s my list of the top ten events from the 2005-2006 college hoops season, which should go down as one of the greatest in history:

10. Duke’s preseason No. 1 ranking. Yes sir, SI asked the question best in its preseason issue, “Can anybody beat Duke?” Turned out the answer was yes, four times, but that’s not the big deal. The big accomplishment was going into such a competitive season ranked No. 1 and having people believe that you were unbeatable. It says so much about the reputation of Duke basketball.

9. Duke capturing the preseason NIT title. Oh, what a superb measure of greatness that was. Yes sir, my friends, Duke clearly showed that it deserved that No. 1 ranking with that amazing accomplishment.

8. Duke beating Texas by 31 points. It was supposed to be a great battle between the No. 1 and 2 ranked teams. But it turned out to be an M&Mer, largely because of the awesome shooting of a Mr. JJ Redick. Yes sir, JJ’s 40 point shooting day was unbelievable, baby!!! I really thought that game alone should have decided the national champion, and in my mind it did. But fortunately the season continued with still more great moments.

7. JJ Redick capturing the ACC career scoring title. Who would have thought it possible: to eclipse the career scoring mark set by Dickie Hemric. I know a lot of hoops fans out there don’t even know who this guy was, but believe you me it was an unbelievable achievement. Yes sir, JJ Redick is quite simply the greatest outside shooter who ever lived.

6. Duke’s senior night celebration for JJ and company. You just gotta love those Cameron Crazies. What dedication – camping out for three months to show the love for this awesome senior class. I mean, sure, it’s too bad Duke lost that game to a freshman oriented team from their arch-rival UNC, but Coach K and Duke are all about building character, not just W's. And what better way to build character than to have your head handed to you by a bunch of freshmen? Even with the L, it was still just an awesome spectacle seeing the crowd say goodbye to the greatest one-two punch in the history of the game! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including mine! Mike Patrick was fighting me for the last tissue. Hey, Mike, get your own box of Klennex next time, baby!!!

5. Duke winning the ACC tournament. They did it again, folks. And how many ACC titles is that for the Dukies? Ah, it’s just not fair, baby! Come on Coach K, give someone else a chance!!

4. Duke beating Southern in the first round of the NCAA tourney. Yes friends, for a while Southern thought they would make history as the first 16 seed to beat a No. 1. But it was not to be, as Duke proudly kept the tradition alive and well with a dramatic victory! Another great coaching achievement by Coach K! Is there anything this man can't do?

3. Duke making it to the Sweet 16 for a ninth straight year. Man, what an accomplishment -- and a testament to the greatest coach in the game, Mike Krzyzewski. Nine sweet 16s. Think about it. That’s the most incredible thing since Carolina went to 13 straight during the 80’s and 90’s. And since people don’t pay nearly as much attention to other schools like UNC, it’s really an even bigger accomplishment! And what more could you possibly ask of a school that only had two All-Americans and the player of the year? What an overachieving group this Duke team has been!

2. JJ Redick winning player of the year co-honors. Never was an award so richly deserved. I just can’t say enough about this guy. He scores, he passes, he plays D. He’s the 3-S man: he’s super, he’s scintillating, he’s sensational. Ah, why can’t I be more like JJ? It’s just not fair, baby!! And congrats also to the guy who shared in the honor, Adam Morris or something like that. Good job, fella!

1. Shelden Williams wins defensive player of the year honors. We can’t forget about the landlord, can we? What a prime time specimen this guy is. And such a space eater, too. Yes sir, Shaquille O’Neal better be on the lookout. There’s a new post leader coming to town, baby!!!

So that’s it. The top 10 moments in this glorious hoops season. I could go on and on with some more examples from that great program down in Durham, N.C., but I promised the moderator to keep the list to ten. Oh, and I almost forgot, honorable mention goes to the University of Florida for winning the NCAA title."

Time-Defining Music Part II

Reading J.A.'s blog on Mary Chapin-Carpenter reminded me that I've been terribly remiss to continue my "Time-Defining Music" blogs. But no more!

My freshman year at Harding, Jars of Clay's debut album, Jars of Clay, might as well have been included in the student survival packages. In some circles, owning the album was nearly as imperative to salvation as confessing Christ as Lord. (I suppose I was hell-bound then. I never took the trouble to buy the album because it was ubiquitous.)

Prior to college I never had much exposure to Contemporary Christian music. And, frankly, from what I had heard, I didn't want any more. Most of the songs I'd heard were just vacuous, repetitive praise lyrics set to second-rate pop songs. (Sadly, those sort of songs still dominate Christian radio, and CoC's bastardize them into devo songs.) In fact, two of the three all-time most mawkish songs (the other being "My Heart Will Go On") are performed by Christian singers--"Friends" and "Butterfly Kisses." Hold on, I need to go kneel by the toilet for a bit.

Ok, I feel better now. Anyhow, JoC's debut showed me that CC music could actually be good music, with the capacity to move the listener in a way that didn't cause nausea. I'd still place "Worlds Apart" among my "Top 5 Most Convicting CC Songs." Derek Webb's "Wedding Song" easily heads that list. If you've never heard the song, you need to.

Jars of Clay is probably the most influential CC album ever, which is a mixed blessing. While it was certainly a ground-breaking album, it also spawned a myriad of less-talented poseur bands, and pretentious guitar-playing college guys had another way to be cool Christians, wooing girls and praising God.

I don't like the album as much as I used to. I listened to it a few weeks ago for the first time in years, and I couldn't get over how somniferous most of it is. There are some terrific songs--"Like a Child" (but what's with the stupid penny whistle?), "Flood," "Love Song for a Savior," and especially "Worlds Apart"--but a lot of the tracks sound like the same mid-tempo song with different lyrics, which can prove detrimental to staying awake if you're listening to the CD while driving. JoC has expanded their musical repetiore quite a bit since then, and they have a better sense for varying melody and dynamics.

Maybe the flaws of the album convey a more signifcant message than any of the lyrics, though. For all its imperfections, the album has moved listeners and furthered the Lord's kingdom. We, too, as imperfect people can do the same by God's grace.

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