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Archive for March, 2007

Iceland meets Rockies

Just got tickets to see this, in this place.

And this is how I feel about it.

(I can’t think of a better match of performer and venue; I mean, neither really seems to belong to the “fragile island home” that we call Earth.)

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A rare sight

Daffy dills for daffy weather

A strangely beautiful day today in Denver – we woke up to several inches of snow, and just last night we barbecued outside. The flowers are surely confused, and if they die because of the freezing weather (do they do that? I’m no botanist), their sacrifice will not be unnoticed. I have to say that if I were a flower and knew that I would die at the height of my blooming, I might try to negotiate a deferral, or file for an extension, or something like that. So, daffodils: here’s to your admirable flamboyance and your refusal to let a couple of cold days get in the way of your dazzle.

Popcorn Popping

Two trees. One with the natural – but temporary – blossoms of an early spring day, the other with the even more temporary snowclumps of a late winter day. Which tree is which? Only their stylists know.

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The best of small animals

I heard a blurb on NPR this morning about Thumbelina, the world’s smallest horse. There are lots of images and news stories about her out there in cyberspace, but this is my favorite, probably because it’s pretty clear to me that the dog totally wins that contest.

As proof that all small animals are not ‘awww’-inducing, check out this news report. You only need to watch the first 40 seconds or so.

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Raw talent

I’m a sucker for one of the ooziest blemishes on America’s cultural face: American Idol. I used to call it a guilty pleasure, but I’ve decided to ditch the guilt and just go for the pleasure. (It’s always better that way, isn’t it?) I was thinking about this today after hearing Ira Glass of This American Life fawn over the O.C., confessing that every time he and his wife watched it, they sang along joyously to the theme song, and that every week by the end of the show he felt more in love with her and with the world. I’ve never seen the show and do not know firsthand about its aphrodisiac properties, but hearing this segment did make me feel that if Ira Glass can admit to loving the O.C., I can own my love of American Idol.

I’ll grant that most of the contestants’ performances are mediocre. I’ll grant that advertisers use the show for shameless plugs of their phones, drinks, and cars. And I’ll grant that the show’s producers seem to do some puppeteering from behind the curtain – it appears, for example, that they want a woman to win this season. (And on last night’s episode, it appears that they paid an overemotional 10-year-old girl to weep ecstatically every time Sanjaya or Melinda took the stage. Very bizarre. If they’re going to play that kind of game, then they might as well go all out and up the weirdness ante by making the crying audience member a middle-aged businessman. Or David Hasselhoff – oh wait, they did that last year.)

But every once in a while a contestant comes along and floors me with raw, unschooled talent that refreshes because it’s not trying to be an imitation of anyone. Take this, for example:

Actually, she is almost the only reason we watch AI this time around. But she’s enough of a reason that I even find myself taping the show. And then there are those performers who are way too idiosyncratic for American Idol, those voices whose cracks and squeaks are part of a sound that is so unique, so particular, that one can’t help but feel moved by what seems to be a deep human vulnerability.

So here’s to a few of them:

  • Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Billy, a.k.a. Palace Brothers. Melancholy, soul-revealing lyrics that are reflected in every break and crack in his fragile voice. Check him out, too, in Old Joy, an equally melancholy, soul-revealing movie that I haven’t stop thinking about since I saw it.
  • Joanna Newsom. Where to start? Think of the lovechild of Bjork and an elf. She’s seems otherworldly, but hidden among the witty, alliterative lyrics are some really beautiful, profound observations about love, poetry, and death. And sometimes her voice literally squeaks – often when she’s at the top of her (and our) register, as if matching the squeaks that her fingers make on her harp’s strings. Her intensity is palpable, and if you have a chance to see her perform live, do it!
  • Daniel Johnston. Where to start (part II)? Read a little bit about him before you listen. Then picture your 45-year-old distant cousin who lives in his parents’ basement, has no social grace, and writes and records tapes of his songs obsessively. He’s low on star quality, and not a very competent vocalist, but unabashedly himself. And quite joyful about it, too.

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About the banner

This is an image from a haunting movie, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu monogatari, one of the latest great films to fall from that very long list of movies I’m supposed to have seen by now.

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