Saturday, December 30, 2006

Can 2006 be summed up in one internet video? Well, maybe it can...

Oh yeah... Which Superhero are you?

Your results:
You are Spider-Man

Iron Man
Green Lantern
The Flash
Wonder Woman
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Day after Christmas Blues

What happened to those 53 toy cars I got for Christmas?

Merry Christmas!

This is a little video my brother made with his cellphone. They love thier Christmas in Brooklyn.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Holiday Letter 2006

This letter went out in the mail with our Christmas cards to all sorts of people. If you didn't get it, we probably don't have your physical mailing address. We placed it here it is here, on the blog, for you to read. And it has pictures, which the printed version doesn't have.

Merry Christmas!

We hope this letter finds you well, happy, and joyful this holiday season. Each year we spend in this world seems to get better and better.

This past contained quite a bit of news to report. The biggest change is RT’s job situation. When we last wrote a Christmas letter, RT was working for AT&T, which was going through a merger. We do not know how familiar you are with working for a company going through a merger, but this is how it works: You need to present yourself as completely invaluable and profitable to the company (so they don’t decide to downsize you) while at the same time, be completely anonymous and blend in to the background (so they don’t notice you enough to downsize you).

Now, RT does not work well in situations like this because he really likes standing out from the crowd. He goes out there and says, “I can do this and I can do that and I can help out and we can do something amazing.” Unfortunately, what was expected from him was “Do anything except amaze us. Sit down, be quiet and wait for something to happen to you. Repeat this course of action for at least two years.”

Well, the two years didn’t even wind up being six months. RT got a job for a Seattle-based consulting company called The Mosaic Company ( So far, things are going quite well. RT is doing constructive things, gaining power, and shaping the world to his particular vision. And by this, we mean he has gone crazy mad doing home repairs that have been put off since before the wedding.

So, as of this writing, there are no floors on the first level of the house. But, by the time you read this (depending on the postal service) there will be hardwoods everywhere. It will be the ultimate playground for children with rubber bouncy balls. We have a large and growing number of friends with kids who should give it a try.

So… what else is going on besides work and home repairs? Not much. Well, what would be about average for us, which seems like a lot whenever we compare notes with other people. Just goes to show what all you can do when you never turn on the TV.

We did not go on a vacation this year unless you count a weekend in Chicago, but considering we both worked during that trip, it can hardly be called a vacation. We did get to sneak off to east Texas for 4th of July to stay with friends and watch birds flit in the trees and go out in a boat on a body of water. That was pretty cool. We didn’t realize until we got there how much we needed to just rest.

CT got to go to dayjob-sponsored conferences in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Boston. The Chicago show was combined with a weekend on the town with RT beforehand, which made the trip much more worthwhile. Conferences, however, are not the same thing as a vacation. At all.

We are still continuing to produce the SALON home concert series, and inaugurated a couple of new homes for that. CT sang at one of them, for the first time in years. She also got to record a new song by composer Mike Capps, “Easter Wings”, who also recorded 2 wonderful piano pieces and another piece for tenor and organ. (Even the greatest composers seem to write for tenor eventually. ) And yes, there are .mp3s of CT singing out there, but you have to email us for them. This is just our sneaky way of saying, “Drop us a line!”

RT continues to put up his shenanigans on his blog

We produced a podcast for a high school art class, and RT made a little film about things he learned in a coffee appreciation class. CT gave hour-long workshops at 2 Toastmasters conferences about the voice, drawing from her music studies to help professional speakers. We both ended our officerships in Toastmasters to focus on other things. RT presented a session on podcasting at the Trinity Arts Conference.

The book pile is as big as ever. RT is going through the complete Flannery O’Connor, while also taking in a huge pile of periodicals and comics and podcasts every month. CT got through some marketing books and (via the miracle of audiobooks on iPods) a biography of Will Shakespeare. We are both listening to Seth Godin books via iPod (he writes about marketing). CT also got to take in a collection of Jane Austen’s very early works and fragments, and hopes to get through one of the long novels. It was nice to discover that JA was not at all a good writer when just starting out, but got much better the more she wrote.

We are looking forward to 2007 and all the change it holds. We are going on a family trip to Oregon in May, we may be selling our house, and quite possibly we will finally get that concealed/carry permit that seems to be a citizenship requirement in Texas. On that holiday-inspired note…

We hope you are doing well, and hope for an exciting 2007. The best we have to offer goes out to you this holiday season. We cherish you and are continually grateful for the time we have together.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

He sees you when you're sleeping, and, apparently, he videos you when you go to the bathroom

Nothing Ever Happens to Me...

I was at a Christmas party recently and found myself in the corner – my normal spot when things get too exciting and loud. Soon someone else drifted into the corner to join me. Because this is a party and because no one likes standing in the corner in uncomfortable silence, we started making chit-chat.

I am not so great in large groups of people, but I am fine talking one-on-one with someone. My family is one of the best families ever, and it is always a good source of party anecdotes. I shared interesting and fun experiences about relatives near and far, young and old. And my corner-buddy did likewise, entertaining me with tales of wild uncles and grandparents.

Then we kind of sighed and went, “You know. All these great things happen to people in our families, but not much happens to us. Why do suppose that is?”

So then we dared to share a story, a recent story about something that happened to us, recently.

Here is what I said. Feel free to use it on your next party:

Last time I got on a flight, there was a guy in first class who looked just like Bruce Vilanch. I said, “Hey! You look just like Bruce Vilanch!” and he said, “I get that a lot.”

The End

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hollywood Pitch Fest

“Ok. So there is this guy- An everyman – a Toby McGuire or Heath Ledger type. Just a normal guy. He packs up his wife and kid to go visit his Dad for Christmas. On the way there, his wife tells him she wants a divorce.”
“So it’s a drama.”
“We’re talking Best Picture family drama here. So he gets to his Dad’s house and sees his mom there. And he freaks out. Because his parents got a divorce 25 years ago when he was a kid. It was the single most traumatic experience in his life, and in some ways, he is still trying to get over it. So he’s got his own marriage falling apart while he sees his parents’ marriage miraculously rising from the ashes. So over the Christmas holiday everyone will talk and scream and cry and hug each other.”
“And here’s the kicker. We get Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep to play the parents. We don’t make any direct reference to that film where they got a divorce, but we do get…
“Emotional resonance.”
“That’s it. It is like we know them already. Like we know their story.”
“So it is like a sequel.”
“A quasi-sequel, yes.”
“I understand quasi-sequels are the next prequels.”
“Seriously, I have read this script a dozen times over and I promise you… Oscar buzz.”
“Do you think we could call it Kramer meets Kramer?”
“I don’t know. It might be a little too ‘cutesey’ for what I had in mind.”
“That reminds me of this thing I saw on YouTube. They edited in scenes of that guy from Seinfeld with Meryl Streep and made it look like they were getting a divorce. You know, like KRAMER vs. Kramer. Do you think Michael Richards is available for this project? He could play the son.”
“Uhhh… I-“
“You’re right. He might be a bit old for the part. Maybe the wacky uncle? Just to lighten things up a little. I mean, no one wants to see another dysfunctional family yell at each other through a Christmas setting. It is so… so…”
“Serious 1970s cinema?”
“I was thinking ‘cheap independent film cliché,’ but what you said works.”
“Some of the best films made the past decade came from independent cinema.”
“Tell me what you think. That instead of your Toby McGuire everyman son, what if we have a Will Farrell type as the son? Or a Jim Carrey? And instead of everyone sitting around talking about their feelings, what if the son decides he doesn’t want his parents to get back together and starts playing tricks on them to get them to split up again.”
“Like an anti-Parent Trap?”
“Yes. We can have you speeches and your soul-searching and your great actors, but we can have a few funny bits in it, too.”
“I don’t know.”
“People like to laugh. You can’t argue with that.”
“I suppose I can’t.”
“I like what you’ve done here, but if you can rework it a little, lighten it up, and make it funnier, we’ll talk then.”

Why I Will Never Be In Politics #9,432,177

Here is a great little video of Dallas City Councilman, Leo Chaney, walking out of a bad public meeting, mumbling a nice little insult under his breath.

Ok, I don't say things like this, but I THINK things like this all the time. And I know if I were in a stressful situation, these kind of words would definitely come out.

So I got this from one of the news sites I read, and it has all of this tut-tutting text around the video about how this guy is an elected official and needs to set a standard for public decorum and yadda yadda.

Yep. There is no way for me to achieve this high standard. Part of me is too much of an eight-year old who still laughs at "yo momma" comebacks.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

One Man Show

The famous Horton educational podcast continues!

This one has me talking on it. Although Me, the actor, really loved hamming it up and shoving fingers up my nose while talking, Me, the director thought the performance was hammy. To round it out, Me, the editor, just had fun mixing in burps whenever possible.

All in the name of education...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Yet Another Peek into My Big Ol' Media Input Pile

I love RSS feeds. There are only a few RSS feeds I choose to pass up. Most of the time, when a website offers RSS, it is like your favorite cute waitress offering you a free second cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain with a tiny block of dark chocolate on the side. I mean, how can you pass something like that up?

I use Google Reader to keep up with all of my RSS feeds. And it collects over 100 items from these RSS feeds every hour.

When people are over-saturated or super-saturated with information, there is a compulsion to share. To copy/paste the news item in an email or to slam it into a blog and comment all over it.

Google Reader, in an attempt to keep down unnecessary email FWDs or blog entries, has set it up so that if you click a Share button and it automatically posts to your very own Google Reader blog.

So, if you want to see my Shared News Item list, it is here.

And, of course, it has a RSS feed here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Apparently, I am the Nemesis of Filmspotting

According to Filmspotting #139 (just at the one hour mark), I am the nemesis of the show. And my attempts at constructing sentences result in run-ons.

I am not quite sure what to do with this new position. My guess is now that I am officially a nemesis, I will finally have the motivation to build that underground lair I've always wanted. And once I have it, I can get a pit and fill it with cyborg crocidiles and other freaks of nature in hopes of luring Adam and Sam into my sinister clutches.

Yes! That is it! I will rely on elaborate traps and schemes - perhaps convincing them that they are invited to a special screening of 'Apocalypse Now Redux REDUX' - The Never Before Seen Longer than Long version - NOW WITH MORE BULL-SLAUGHTERING SYMBOLISM! - and then springing a diabolical-yet-undetermined-trap on them.

Once in my clutches, they will be forced to watch repeated viewings of 'The Lake House,' 'The Wild Bunch,' and 'Sin City: The Extended Edition' until they bicker and banter so much that their incredible podcast chemistry falters and fades. Once that happens, I will reveal my own podcast, MovieWatching or CineSeeing or some elusive noun-gerund combination, where I discuss movies with Mr. Binky, my sock puppet. Every episode we will list off the same Top 5 films, but will present them in a different order each time, so the audience won't catch on to what we are doing. We will rule the podcast-film-reviewing community, Mr. Binky and I. And after that, THE WORLD!


Aw, who am I kidding? I'll probably just send them an email, telling them how much I love the show, how much I wish I were as cool as them, and how I don't get out much. Then I'll send them donations in hopes that Sam gives me a cool nickname.


Well played, Filmspotting guys. Foiled again.

Shows how often I read my comments...


I just read this in my comments area:

Dear Mr. Turnage,
I just read your blog post dated 11/15/06 and I am sorry for any confusion you may have experienced regarding the strange email. So that I may investigate the matter further, please send the email in question to me at the address below. I look forward to your email. Thank you and have a great day!

Best Regards,
Dell Customer Advocate

That is totally awesome! Too bad I deleted that email weeks ago because, frankly, it is better to be safe than sorry, and anything that promises to give me a new Dell laptop is too good to be true.

But I'm happy to know where to go when I have a problem. I like the whole idea the Dell trolls the blogs, looking for complaints. That is a great business practice and Marie deserves a raise.

Believe me, if I ever run into a problem again, I will be emailing Marie. (If her text is any indication, she probably is the spitting image of Olivia Newton-John.) Marie, you are truly a wonder.

This made my day.

Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me About This?

I'm trying to put together my 2006 CD list of songs I really liked this past year. When, out of the blue, I fall totally in love with Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins.

The first inclination I had, especiallly when I saw the January 2006 release date, was, "WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME ABOUT THIS?" I asked around to a few hipster friends, and they were all, "Whoa. That is an awesome album. I thought you already knew about it."

So I did some checking around with my normal media feeds. One of her songs was played in the Coverville podcast and NPR featured her in a concert.

Somehow I missed the boat on this one. Oh, well. Thank to several Top 10 Albums of 2006 lists, I was able to find Jenny Lewis, the Watson Twins, and their music.

This music is so good, it is hard for me to believe they are all from L.A.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More Education (in Podcast Form)

The latest educational podcast is up. This is the first one where you can really hear some of my contributions (the scoring, primarily).

Email me privately and I'll tell you a funny story about an early take of the David and Goliath portion of the podcast.

The Nightmare Before Christmas?

Neatarama posted this great link to a gallery of pictures of children being frightened by Santa.

I really like the Santas in the pictures, and I just think of all the grief they're putting up with for what probably works out to $10 an hour.

This photo is my favorite.

Friday, December 01, 2006

What I Want for Christmas is Bleak and Dreary

The trailer for Children of Men really turned me off of the film. Visually, it looked fine, but the trailer seemed to hammer in the obvious, what with the Clive Owen “women stopped having babies” narration and the climax montage set to cheery pop music. It adhered to a formula mocked by such wonders as the Shining remix trailer.

And if the advertising campaign is so formulaic, it means one of two things – the film is either going to be formulaic or the film is going to be so wildly unusual that the marketing team has gone into overdrive to make it look tepid.

So I wrote off the film as a rental, if that.

But then I heard this month’s Audition podcast, which begins with this introductory speech:

Films that open during the Christmas season are traditionally either upbeat and heartwarming or mindless eye candy. On Christmas Day this year, a film will open in American theaters that has been described as dystopian, terrifying, and bleak. The film is Children of Men, starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine. Set in the year 2027, the story ushers us into a world where no babies have been born for 18 years. Some undetectable has rendered all women on the planet barren. The last generation of humans has become hopeless. Societies are torn by war, terrorism, and savagery, and suicide is a positive possibility for many. Merry Christmas.

Ok, this may reflect more on me unfavorably, but THAT TEXT sold me more than the trailer ever could.

Christmas comes at a dark and melancholy time in the year. The days are shorter, the air is colder, and, on the surface, it doesn’t seem like a good time to celebrate anything. But just as dark helps define the light, hopelessness can define hope.

I think I’m finally getting into the holiday spirit. I can't wait to read the book.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Shhhh! Podcast in progress

The educational podcast I produced is up and running. I received this nice little email from the teacher:

Okay, the day I introduced it, I played “the test” in my classroom, as I was explaining. I could tell the kids wanted to laugh, but they are too cool to do so, so I observed them just looking at each other, like I was totally off my rocker.

With an explaination that I wouldn’t do it again, we listened to Christy’s “Gray or Grey” in class. I explained that I wouldn’t talk with them about the subject matter, but I would answer technical questions.

I’ve been receiving their Lesson 1: Gray or Grey homework photos and they, for the most part, are so cool!!! I think they are enjoying the work. Today I gave them the permission to “do” the next assignment: Impressionism. It’s all so new to them that I don’t have a full impression of what they are thinking, but I will keep you posted.

Rich blessings my friend,


And, because I want to share, here is Week 2: Impressionism.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Another Customer Complaint

I recently bought a Dell laptop.

I recently got an email, apparently from Dell, saying that if I take this survey about my laptop, I might win another laptop.

This sounded fishy to me, or, more specifically, phishy.

So I filled out a customer form to Dell, copying and pasting the email into their form with a quick note, "Is this spam? Is this a phishing scam?"

And this was the response:

I would have been glad to assist you in this query, however, let me please inform you that we , at Customer Care only deals with post-sales and logistics issues.

Therefore, I would request you to please contact our Customer care department at
the toll free number 1-800-624-9897 between 7AM to 11 PM CST Monday through
Saturday for this particular issue as they would only be able to verify the
requested information.


I would think that, on a corporate level, that any company would love to have internet con artists not sullying their good corporate names and logos. Paypal, eBay, and Cingular all have email addresses for you to FWD emails to if you think they're suspect. Why isn't this an industry standard? And why can't the Dell support guy simply click the hyperlink in the email to see what happens? I'm totally afraid to, but why can't someone behind a Dell corporate firewall do so? And why can't someone in customer support just look at current marketing promotions and see if this is a legitimate one or not?

These are some of the problems with being a large corporation with a strong brand presence. I just don't understand why Dell isn't prepared for this.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Argument Against YouTube

What does a producer do, excactly?

I produced an educational podcast for a friend. Actually, I did very little, but I like the idea of having the word "Producer" on my resume and no one involved in the project has objected, so it is sticking. Maybe if I do even less next time, I can bill myself as an "Executive Producer."

Anyway, the first episode launched today.

You can listen to it here:

Or subscribe to the podcast here:

There will be 10 Episodes, one a week, for the next 10 school weeks.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Customer Complaint and Corporate Joy

As some of the more business-minded ones of you out there may know, Bank of America just bought out/merged with MBNA.

My wife and I have been MBNA customers for some time, and have been really pleased with their service, even when they jacked around their agreement terms that one time.

Here’s that story. When we first signed on with MBNA for a credit card, the rule was this: if you pay the bill in full before the end of the bill cycle, they don’t charge any interest. So we set up all of our bills to hit before the end of the bill cycle. After several months of this they changed the policy so that they charge interest unless the bill is paid in full by the BILL DUE DATE, which is about a WEEK EARLIER than the end of bill cycle. So one month – WHAM – our bill is chock full of interest charges where there were never any before. We called to complain, were connected WITHOUT ANY WAIT TIME to an intelligent, courteous, living person who WAIVED OUR INTEREST FEES until we could readjust our bill paying schedule to accommodate this new timeline. The call from dial to departure, took all of five minutes. We were blown away. This was one of those positive experiences that made us evangelical for the company.
End Digression

So it was with disappointment and sadness when I saw that they were bought out by Bank of America. This is how I found out: I tried to log into my credit card account to view my balance and got redirected to a new website.

This new website not only told me I couldn’t view my balance until I agreed to new terms of service, but it made me click through TWO PAGES OF ADVERTISEMENTS before getting to the service agreement.

Because I distrust banks that rely on advertising revenue, I actually sat down and read the service level agreement. Which is hard to do because it was written by lawyers and if you read material like this too much, you start thinking like a lawyer. And, frankly, I don’t want to start oozing piles of ick.

The text of the service level agreement is quite impenetrable, but I highlighted all the areas where the words “fee” and “charge” were used. And then I called my trusty ol’ MBNA phone rep to explain the exciting new fees and charges to me.

First thing I noticed was a 15 minute hold time. This was something I NEVER experienced before with MBNA. The first thing my wife said was, “We miss the old MBNA.”

The rep said, “Oh, we’re still the same company.”

“Then why did I have a 15 minute hold time when I’ve never had that before?”

“Ummm… how can I help you today?”

Then the rep didn’t know the details about the fees, and would put us on hold while she found out. Whoops! Wouldn’t you know it, the phone got just a wee little disconnected.

So… eventually we got the official word which was this – If you download your credit card data in a Quicken file while you have Quicken running in the background, they charge you $20 a month. But if you download the Quicken file and DON'T have Quicken running in the background, banking with Quicken is free.

Which made us… happy is not the right word… neither is satisfied… um… NOT AS ANGRY AS WE COULD HAVE BEEN.

Except – get this – you CAN’T DOWNLOAD QUICKEN DATA FROM THE WEBSITE UNLESS YOU AGREE TO PAY THE $20 A MONTH SERVICE FEE. Which means the person on the phone lied to us, or was lied to and just passed that lie along.

This is bad because our household lives and breathes Quicken. We pay for the software and the upgrades, and somehow, that doesn't seem like enough money out of our pockets. Banks and credit card companies see this need to CHARGE CUSTOMERS EXTRA for using Quicken, when, in my opinion, they should be FINANCIALLY INSENTING people to use Quicken instead.

Seriously. Quicken SAVES time and money. So why do financial institutions feel this neet to make it suddenly WASTE time and money? It baffles me.

Oh, and they put the credit card on a new billing cycle so this month the window to pay our credit card bill without getting charged interest went from 28 days to 14 days. Thank you, Bank of America. Thank you for spreading misery all over the world. Your evil overlords are pleased with your work.

And I write all this because while getting more than angry about what a lousy customer/corporation relaitonship I was forced into, I was forwarded a nice little video of the Bank of America executives celebrating the merger. Good to see my issues are being dealt with in such a serious manner.

Normally supporting struggling musicians makes me happy. Not this time.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Because no one else on the entire internet will post this in their blogs...

Here is the latest Spider-Man 3 trailer.

Yes, I love the Spider-Man movies.

Another Commecial Idea

Advertisers! Feel free to use this idea for your 30-second commercial spot!

Overhead shot of someone sleeping in bed.

Are you one of the millions of Americans who suffer from automatic arm syndrome?

An alarm clock goes off. Without waking up, the person in the bed shoots out his/her arm, whacking the clock and stopping the noise.

Well, now there is a cure.

Insert product. Insert product pitch. Insert narrator reading ad copy.

Shot of person sleeping in bed with the camera at eye level. Behind them the alarm clock clearly reads “9:48.”

You need [product name]… Because your boss doesn’t think automatic arm syndrome is a good excuse.

The person in bed opens his/her eyes wide in a full-on panic.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

And so it begins...

As you may remember, I've been on Trigger Street for a few months, reviewing screenplays and yadda yadda. Out of my eight work-in-progress screenplays, I finally finished one and posted it.

Behold the wonder of Comicon Pimps.

The whole idea is that I want Christopher Guest and his crew to make a movie about comic book fans, and it doesn't look like he will do this any time soon. So I wrote a wish-fulfillment screenplay for his acting group. (For fun, see if you can figure out the actors I had in mind for the parts. Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara should be easy to spot.)

I am also fascinated with the common insult to comic book / fantasy / sci-fi fans - you just need to get laid and all your obsessions / problems will go away. This insult is patently untrue.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I have participated in all-night Dungeons and Dragons games where the wife / girlfriend of the host made it pretty clear that if the host would just kick out all of his loser D&D friends, she will be more than willing to... ah... be... um... intimate.

And EVERY TIME that happens, the host is always, "Honey, PLEASE. I'm trying to PLAY A GAME here."

A lot of humor from the script comes from the fact that given the choice to have a moment of physical pleasure and owning a Limited Edition Star Trek Collector's Plate, certain people will always go with the plate.

Love fades, but those plates will last forever, man.

Websites I Like: Overheard in New York

Me: The people at that table are breaking up.
Friend: I know.
Me: You're listening in too?
Friend: Oh yeah. I do it all the time.
Me: So do I. I like to think it makes me a better writer. You know, listening to vocal patterns... conversation topics... insights.
Friend: I'm just nosy.

Overheard in New York is a website for people like us.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Adrienne Shelly, 1966 - 2006

I just read on Green Cine Daily that writer/director/actress Adrienne Shelley passed away.

Everyone is unique and special, and during times like these, the struggle is to find unique and special words for this person. The frustration is, of course, that the only words that come to mind are well-worn and trite.

I'm in shock. We are truly at a loss. She was a wonderful person.

My first experience watching her work was in the Hal Hartley film, Trust. The first shot of the film is an extreme close-up of her face. She is petulent and bratty, spending the first scene treating her parents with contempt and anger. Through the course of the film, she grows and eventually becomes a force of giving instead a force of taking. (Plus, she proved beyonda a shadow of a doubt that you can be more attractive in a long dress and glasses than you can be in flashy tops that expose your mid drift.)

I had the pleasure of meeting her once at the USA Film Festival when she screened her film, I'll Take You There. And, like what happens every time I meet an attractive woman, I totally froze up. I think all I ever said to her was, "Buh buh buh... sign please?" She was gracious and kind to me when she didn't have to.

And that's how I'll always remember her... gracious and kind. She was a force of giving, and I will truly miss what she gave to us.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Podcasts I Like: My Favorite Podcast

There are podcasts I can’t wait to listen to. Buzz Out Loud is a podcast I start listening to about 5 seconds after I download it. Same goes for Filmspotting.

But I will say this about all of them – they’re temporal. Sure these podcasts occasionally have moments that merit revisiting (how I wish for an eventual Best of Massacre Theater CD), but none of them leave me wanting to hear the entire podcast again.

This brings me to Audition. Audition is the official podcast of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Not only is every podcast a real treat, they all can be heard over and over with little or no diminishing returns.

Here’s why – they’re not dumbed-down. These are academics or writers writing to academics, and they love talking about the high-minded and esoteric. So sometimes it takes a few listens to really understand what is being said. And once an understanding is obtained, either a counter-argument forms or a challenge is presented to your life. Either way, you are transformed on a very fundamental level by the information presented.

The most recent podcast is a perfect example of this – it covers discussions of W.H. Auden, Flannery O’Connor, and C. S. Lewis. I have a cursory reading relationship with all of these authors, but this program made me want to return to them, devour and savor each of their collected works, and then relisten to the podcast. It makes me want to write my thoughts down and send them to the interviewees, and add my own thoughts to the discussion.

In short, it makes me want to be a better person.

It reminds me of what I love about higher education - the passion for ideas and the insight that comes with intellectual discourse. If only there was a way to have experience that without experiencing the soul-sucking bureaucracy known as the Registrar’s office.

Oh wait, there is a way for this to happen. It is called listening to this podcast.

Podcasts I Like: Professional Podcasts

Part of the entire appeal of podcasting is that it is relatively cheap to become a home audio producer. Plus there is the whole community aspect to it – you don’t know who your next-door neighbors are, but there are about 30 or so podcasters who regularly check in with you.

This is all nice, but a quick glance at the iTunes Top Ten Podcasts shows you that professionally produced podcasts dominate the market. Some of them are existing radio shows being distributed on the internet, and some of them are from existing media empires branching out into the world of podcasting. Either way, they set the standard for what podcasts should aspire to.

So I decided to list out all of my favorite podcasts created by major media outlet. I’m putting This American Life and all of the news podcasts (even the fake news podcast from The Onion) I listen to are in a little penalty box. Seriously, they do not need me to blog about them to get more listeners.

1. Slate / Slate Explainer – I never read Slate Magazine before they started doing podcasts. (And, to be honest, the main reason I first subscribed to the podcast was because Slate has a column about neat podcasts to listen to.) Every day, the podcast presents either an article reading or discussion about a news item. And on Fridays, they have a political gabfest.

2. On the Media – My second favorite NPR program (next to This American Life). It is a media program about the media. Sounds like a potential for a navel-gazing mess, doesn’t it? But it is not, it is one of the most insightful programs about what it is like to live a mediated existence.

3. Left, Right, and Center – Every Friday, I get a one-two punch of this political talk show and the Slate Political Gabfest. Does it make me smarter? No. Does it make me understand politics more? Not really. Does it make me keenly aware how most pundits are more personality then principle? You betcha. You can also make a drinking game out of how many times there are screaming talking heads on a show that claims to be an antidote to screaming talking heads.

4. Creative Screenwriting – If you’ve ever aspired to be a screenwriter, this is the podcast to listen to. Basically, it is a one-on-one conversation with a screenwriter about a completed film. One of my favorite ones is the interview with Zac Penn discussing the script to X3: The Last Stand. Basically, he says that screenwriters on big-budget action films wind up being the logic police more than anything else. The director thinks it would be cool if such-and-such character fought such-and-such character so it is the screenwriter’s job to provide the motivation in a way that makes sense. Truly fascinating.

5. Fanboy Radio – It is so easy to love comics when you are listening to people who love comics.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

50,000 words and you win!

Today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month.

Everyone should be encouraged to go out and write a 50,000 word novel, finish it by the end of the month, and send it to everyone for Christmas. That way, you have a novel, your friends and family all have gifts, and once everyone notices the sheer number of typos, you will all have something to laugh about for years.

No, I'm not writing a novel this month, but I AM planning on writing a screenplay this month. I just got wind of a new writing contest and am psyching myself up for it.

Even When there is No Homework, I Make Homework

I recently attended a series of coffee classes at White Rock Coffee (hands down the BEST COFFEE SHOP in the Dallas area).

The owners were kind enough to let me bring my camcorder and film the classes, so I made a little video about the class. And here it is...

Monday, October 30, 2006

It is all about how the information is presented…

I have an addiction to comic books.

Ten to fifteen years ago, I started spending on the average of $150 to $250 a month on comics. I did not see this as a problem, even in the time period where I would sometimes choose comics over the weekly pizza that would stretch out over at least four days.

Then I got married, and my wife pointed out to me that I was buying the comics three times each – once when they came out in the monthly serialized format, once again when they came out in a collected paperback version, and a third time when they came out in a slick, hardcover version. The marriage mandate was that I only could buy a comic once. And now I have a nice collection of sweet, sweet artistic-looking hard covers and a little more storage space than I had before.

I was still spending over $100 a month on these hard covers, but didn’t see that as a problem, because it wasn’t like the old days when I spend $250 a month.

Recently, I switched from swinging by the comic book store to pick up my books to having them mailed to my doorstep. And now that I see the manifests, I discovered that I get about 29 pounds of comics a month.

29 pounds.

For whatever reason, showing me the amount of money I spent on comics, or showing the amount of square footage the comics take up in the house didn’t impress me as much as the sheer weight of these books.

29 pounds.

I have a problem. For years people have been telling me that this is a problem, but it hasn’t sunk in until now. Because money is one thing but weight is something else entirely.

29 pounds.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Why I Could Never Run for Office

It looks like I'm in the top 20 of a Huffington Post Write the Caption for this Photo Contest. Because everyone is voting in the comments thread, I keep checking the post every three and a half minutes, just to see if more people are voting for me. And what do you know? Some people are.

Watching the voting process in action is quite nerve-wracking. More than I thought possible.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

So I signed up for a Flickr Account...

It looks like I was able to post few pictures from the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure this morning.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Christmas Gift Idea

Ok, I saw this on one of the science blogs I read.

But, truly, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel when we need stuffed pee and poo.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Test test test

Ok, so in my spare time I'm producing an educational podcast. I'm doing things a little differently behind-the-scenes wise, and need to tweak things here and there.

So I'm putting out this test file to see if this works.

Pay no attention to this post.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Podcasts I Like: Techie Podcasts

Remember how you searched for the word “the” on Google and got over 15,470,000,000 responses? Ok, when you search for technology-related podcasts, you will get about twice that number.

Narrowing it down to five was difficult, and I might get some heat because three of the five come from CNET. Sorry folks, CNET does some really great work. They deserve every bit of kudos the world has to offer.

These techie podcasts reflect more of my particular sensibilities, too. They are geeky, but still accessible for tha layman with interest in the shiny fandangle world of the internets. Many of these podcasts also focus on the business and politics of technology, which can be even more interesting than eloquent code.

  1. Buzz Out Loud from CNET – This is the news of the day bundled with commentary and snark. What really makes this (and all of CNET’s podcasts, really) stand out from the crowd is the combination of vibrant personalities and the awareness that the audience is going to be a mix of super-techies and non-techies. You don’t have to be an electrical engineer to “get” the show – it works on the layman’s level as well. Plus 2/3 of the people on the shows are ladies who like technology. Anthropologists should listen to this show just to observe the peek into internet-based gender relations. (My favorite moments are the occasional bits of pleading centered around “Stop the marriage proposals.”)
  2. Slashdot Review – Andy McCasky reads the headlines from Slashdot, and adds an occasional piece of commentary. This is a great, brief dash of technology news that is perfect for driving to work.
  3. One Minute Tip – It is very rarely exactly one minute long, but this podcast contains a little, “nice to know” tip on a weekly basis. Most of the tips focus on iTunes, Photoshop, and Macintosh issues, but every once in awhile, other topics are discussed.
  4. Tech News from – This is like Buzz Out Loud minus the snark and commentary. Just the news, with an occasional reporters roundtable. If anything, it should fill aspiring podcasters with hope, because at least once a week, they blow a line and have to start over.
  5. The Real Deal from CNET – Oh, how I love this podcast. Not necessarily because every podcast is a real winner, but because whenever someone asks me about a popular form of technology, all I have to do is refer him or her to this podcast for a high-level overview of the topic. Say your mom wants to start a blog, just send her to the Real Deal blog podcast. Say your uncle wants to know the lowdown on Ubuntu, send him to the Real Deal podcast about Ubuntu. Directing people to this podcast will make your non-techie pals happy they came to you, but without you going to all that effort of directly helping them.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Podcasts I Like: Home-Grown Podcasts

In theory, I run a podcast on this blog. I haven’t made an entry in awhile, but that doesn’t mean I’m not involved in the podcast community. Mainly, my participation is limited to listening. And sometimes, like in this and the next few blog entries entries, I list them out for the world to see.

I’ve divided my main list into categories for easy consumption. This list is comprised of my favorite home-grown podcasts. These are podcasts started by people not associated with the mass media industry. Some are more professional sounding with others, but all contain the goodness of regular people taking the power of media into their own hands.

  1. Filmspotting / Reel Reviews – I love movies, and these are the two best movie podcasts out there. Filmspotting is the better of the two, primarily because it comes out on a regular basis and it is more of a conversation about current films rather than a monologue/gush about one particular film.
  2. Rocketboom – This is a Monday to Friday daily video podcast starring Joanne Colan. To be completely honest, I had not even heard of it until the original hostess, Amanda Congdon, left the show in a flurry of publicity. The show is fairly random, focusing on “whatever we discovered that is neat today.” There is some techie news, some political news, some internet news, and some silly stuff (like Joanne wandering around Central Park asking people to dance a waltz with her).
  3. AlterEgo / Comic Pants – These are both podcasts by a bunch of guys in a comic shop and it sounds like… like a bunch of guys hanging out in a comic shop. These podcasts are about an hour long each and are really fun for the niche market that is the uber goober crowd.
  4. Winecast – Tim Elliott loves to talk about wine, and his passion inspires me to care more about wine. This podcast has a special place in my heart, because through it, I found my favorite winery – Humanitas Wines.
  5. Thing a WeekJonathan Coulton puts out a song a week, more or less. For whatever reason, I forgot to include him in my monster music blog entry. There is some really great stuff here.

Next entry – tech podcasts!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Where did you hear that?

I don’t listen to radio anymore, and if on the odd chance I do, I listen to talk radio (primarily NPR). But I like finding out about new music. So where are some good places for internet-savvy folk?

Aquarium Drunkard (Aquarium Drunkard MySpace)

Good: Great music posted on a blog. Almost every day, at least two mp3s turn up. There is a little bit of everything in there, whether it be contemporary or classic rock. Most of the music is of the rock/pop variety – very little classical-classical or jazz.

Bad: Despite the fact it has an RSS feed – for whatever reason iTunes doesn’t “see” the mp3 files. You have to go to the webpage and manually download the songs. PLUS, I have NO IDEA how they get away with it. I keep expecting one day to find the website shut down with a little note saying “You came to this website – we’re coming for you NEXT!”

Format: mp3

Frequency: Random, but often

Time: One song at a time

Dallas Does Indie (Dallas Does Indie MySpace)

Good: A nice mix of independent artists, put together in one big sound file. It is like an alternarock mixtape, with the occasional piece from Louis Armstrong or other vintage jazz or blues artist.

Bad: Sometimes the episode is a repeat – but that isn’t all that bad, really.

Format: Podcast

Frequency: Weekly

Time: About 30 minutes


Good: One of the best theme-based music podcasts. Brian Ibbott is one of the most personable podcasters out there. This is truly Brian's love, and that shines through. Usually, there are six songs per show, and sometimes there is a thematic link between the songs.

Bad: Brian says um a lot. You may choose to think of this as a charming foible.

Format: Podcast

Frequency: Two to three times a week

Time: Thirty minutes to an hour

Not Lame Podcast

Good: Coverville’s Brian Ibbott puts together a list of catchy power pop songs for people to listen to. He chats between songs and is seems less like a podcast than like a cool friend playing you some choice tracks from his CD collection.

Bad: One of my buddies says you can make a drinking game out of how many times Brian says a song sounds like it was influenced by Elvis Costello.

Format: Podcast

Frequency: Sorta Monthly

Time: Thirty to forty-five minutes

NPR's Song of the Day

Good: Oh how I love it when people with great taste pass along good music. If I haven’t liked the song, I have at least respected it as a representation for a genre.

Bad: This is all streamed media so you have to go to the NPR website and click the “Listen” button. You can’t download or load up your.mp3 player with this music. There are no links to the iTunes listing for the song, the Amazon listing for the album or the artist’s web site.

Format: Streaming

Frequency: Updated Daily

Time: One pop song length

NPR’s “All Songs Considered” Podcast.

Good: Full-on live concerts from beginning to end. Usually about an hour’s worth of music.

Bad: All the problems with live recording – the sound quality isn’t always the best. The crowd cheering and singing along tends to dominate the music. Sometimes the concerts are not mixed well (in particular, the drums tend to drown out the singer). In between song banter isn’t always entertaining. Because it is an hour, the file size is really, really large.

Format: Podcast

Frequency: Sorta Weekly

Time: One concert – usually a half-hour to an hour

KUT’s Austin Music Minute

Good: Austin is a great place for live music. Every day, KUT gives the equivalent of a one-minute shout-out to a band.

Bad: Sometimes one minute just isn’t enough. Right when the song gets good, the podcast ends. This is essentially a commercial for a live show playing somewhere in Austin.

Format: Podcast

Frequency: Daily Monday through Friday

Time: One minute EXACTLY

KUT’s Radio witout Borders Live Music Podcast

Good: A nice mix of local and national acts playing live in KUT’s studios.

Bad: The fidelity of the recordings isn’t the best because KUT’s recording equipment is just average. But this is incredibly nitpicky.

Format: Podcast

Frequency: Weekly

Time: About half an hour

New York Times Popcast

Good: The staff of the New York Times do what they do in the paper – interview bands and review albums. Only this time, it is an audio version and it includes snippets from the songs so you can hear when they’re talking about when they tell you Jessica Simpson’s new album is “total crapola.”

Bad: Like all music critics, these people are very opinionated and occasionally very, very wrong. Also, you don’t get whole songs as much as song snippets with critics talking over them.

Format: Podcast

Frequency: Weekly

Time: About 15 to 20 minutes.

Dallas Observer Music Blog

Good: Full mp3s of Dallas-based musicians that are posted willy-nilly in the Dall Observer’s blog.

Bad: Not updated regularly and can’t sync up with a podcast reader like iTunes. You have to read the blog entry (which may or may not be related to the song) and then manually download the song.

Format: mp3

Frequency: Whenever they feel like it

Time: One song at a time


Good: Lots of electronic music strung together for hours.

Bad: Lots of electronic music strung together for hours.

Format: Podcast

Frequency: Various – there are several different podcasts on the site, and they all say they are different, but to be completely honest, I cannot tell the difference between trance and emo and high-energy trip hop. It is all thump thump thump with some keyboards thrown in. It all sounds like the time Strong Bad made a techno song. The main reason I listen to these podcasts is to give me ideas on how to use the Sony Acid software package I own.

Time: Various, but most of them last an hour

Where I don’t go


MySpace is a great place to connect with bands after you’ve found them, but it is not a good space to explore and find new bands. Here’s why – the MySpace player is fundamentally flawed. If you want to listen to a song, you cannot navigate away from the particular MySpace page without the song stopping. To be completely honest, what MySpace page merits 3 to 5 minutes worth of attention? Puh-leese.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The things I do for breasts...

Dear Friends and Family,

It is difficult to write about breasts.

Sure they’re everywhere, and I should really just be an adult about this, but I know my mom is going to read this email and quite possibly my in-laws. When I think of them reading an email of me rhapsodizing about mammary glands and then asking for money to keep them healthy, my hands lock up about two inches above the keyboard. Sorry, I’m just a little repressed about these things.


I’m trying not to be dirty about this, but breasts are absolutely wonderful, and healthy breasts are even better. There, I said it.

I could quote statistics, but we’ve heard them, and frankly dismissed them, before. I will share with you something better. Something real.

I have two ladies in my life who have struggled with breast cancer. One is in remission and doing great – she’s even walking in the race this year.

The other one went through the surgery, the chemotherapy, and everything… only to find that it didn’t work. She has to start over at square one now, with another surgery and another round of chemotherapy and another round of tests and… another everything.

It is tough. It is tough to see this and to live through this, and I’m just on the sidelines. When you let someone into your heart, you let in all the love they have to offer, but you also let in all their hurt. It bothers me that someone so good and so undeserving can hurt so much.

There has to be a better way to fight breast cancer. There has to be a cure that doesn’t hurt the body more than the sickness. We are capable of so much, we should be capable of finding something better. A cure for all cancers would be incredible; a cure for breast cancer be amazing, but something better than what we currently have… something better is well within our grasp.

So this is what I’m doing to make something better happen - I am walking 5 km in the Komen Dallas Race for the Cure on October 21, 2006. I will wear a T-shirt and will try my best to be a good husband and not to stare at all the breasts when I walk.

And this is what you can do - support in the form of a cash donation. You can skip the Grande Half-Caff Vanilla Latte one morning and send the $5.00 to the Komen foundation. You can put off that iPod purchase for another few months and send a few hundred dollars to the Komen foundation. Whatever you feel is appropriate, I will appreciate it. Your donation is tax-deductible, so you can’t beat that.

You can follow this link and make a donation…

…but if you distrust this internet, please send a donation to this address.

Komen Dallas Affiliate & Race for the Cure®

460 NorthPark Center

P.O. Box 12010

Dallas, TX 75225

I really appreciate time, your contribution, and your attention. You are such a good person.

Love the breasts,

M. Robert Turnage

Monday, October 02, 2006

Websites I Like: Daily Lit

Pretty simple, nifty idea.

Daily Lit takes classic pieces of literature in the public domain, divides them into daily portions, and emails them to you on a daily basis. Impress your friends by telling them how you're reading (or re-reading) books like Common Sense, The Republic, or Leaves of Grass.

Maybe now, your circle of friends will think it is cool that you want to continue educating yourself and will not try to beat you up for being such a nerd.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Envy of Every Toy Collector

Toy Collectors everywhere bristle with envy over the attention Andrejz Jones recieved on the September 27th show of NPR's All Things Considered.

"What makes him so special?" they say. "Why does he get to be on a public radio show for doing what we do every time we pick up a toy?"

Then, they all cried.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Texan Spelling Lesson

Websites I Like: Marmaduke Explained

It isn't funny when you explain the joke. Unless, of course, it is a really bad joke.

And now...

Marmaduke Explained

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Portfolio Piece - The Office Script

I found the secret to getting a promotion in corporate America - do the job for free for at least a year. Corporate guilt doesn't exist unless you possess numbers that shame, and the only way to get numbers is to get an annual comparison of some sort.

No one will listen to you until you have to have the ability to say, "Look at these numbers! I've been saving this company x amount of dollars for a year and haven't gotten compensated for it. I need a raise/promotion or I'll have to go someplace else that pays me what I'm worth."

This principle applies everywhere, especially in entertainment corporations. If you want to write for a TV show, the only thing you can do is write a spec script. Then you develop a portfolio of writing that is recognizable and exciting.

And since I practice what I preach, I'm including in this blog post a spec scrip for the popular television show, The Office.

The Office - "Vacation Day"

Making Lemonade IV - Not Suitable for Children

Most of my scripts stay in the safe comfortable PG to PG-13 area.

Not this one. You have been warned.

This screenplay has a long, rich history that I do now want to mull over right now. But here is the summary - I wrote this screenplay originally to submit to the Sundance Film Festival.

I am definitely not a fan of most of the product that comes out of Sundance. Sundance films tend to be dull and formuliac, but are stuffed full of unnecessary pedophilia, incest, or necrophilia in a desperate attempt to be "edgy."

So, I thought, as an artistic experiment, I would write a Sundance screenplay. It would be true to my particular voice, and deal with issues I care about, but somehow I could manage to cram all of that of Sundance nonsense into it.

So here you go.

Intimate Objects Screenplay

Making Lemonade III - Sour Grapes

I belong to this screenwriter's website where truly atrocious screenplays get defended by pretentious, condescending screenwriters. And every time I write a review along the lines of, "Dude, your screenplay shouldn't be about a dude who writes a screenplay and somehow, someway, the screenplay makes Catherine Zeta-Jones fall in love with him. If you do that, people will be able to dissect that meta-narrative pretty easily," I get a response that runs along the lines of, "Illiterate mongoloid! One day when you grow a vocabulary, you will begin to comprehend my genius. Sincerely, Cre8tive_Booger9928"

So it is a bit of a humbling when I write a screenplay I really like, but it doesn't even place in a short film screenplay contest. Because now I relate to the MonkeyDudes226es and the Cre8tive_Booger9928s of the world. The writer's arrogance flares up, and part of me wants to lash out at people who don't recognize the sheer genius of the work. Of course, the first step is simply acknowledging you have a problem.

Here's the downside - I didn't even get notes, so I don't know why they didn't pick the script. If it needs to be improved, fine. Tell me what you want and I'll make it better. But silence... sometimes silence is too much.

So what can I do about it except gripe in my blog about it?

Well, nothing. So there was the gripe, and here is the script.

Working Girl

Making Lemonade II - More lemonade...

I attend an art group, but I never seem to show up with material to present to the group.

So one afternoon before the meeting, I dashed off this short film screenplay. The art group seemed to like it, so I entered it in the Screenwriting Expo contest. It didn't make it to the quarterfinals, so- Hey look! I found some blog content.

The working title I had for this was, "Oceans 11, but with idiots." Because you don't rob a bank for the money, you rob a bank to get a woman to fall back in love with you.

Eight Days After screenplay

Making lemonade...

So there is this Screenwriting Expo going on in October. And they're giving away free passes to winners of this Screenwriting Expo writing contest.

Since I like free things, I entered four short film screenplays.

Sadly for me, none of them even placed. They didn't even make it into the top 25%.

Happily, they can now go onto the blog when I'm too busy to make a real entry.

So here you go, the screenplay for the short film Rough Draft.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Why English Majors Don't Win Trivia contests

I remember one time when I entered a trivia contest. The question was, "Name the secret link between 'Ghostbusters' and 'The Crow.' "

My answer was a 5000 word essay about how both films are meditations on the divided nature of mankind due to the separation of the genders, and how this separation keeps people from fully accessing the realm of the spirit. The two films, 'Ghostbusters' and 'The Crow,' explore this limited-ness inherent in human nature within the context of a life journey moving from a corporealworld to a spiritual one.

'Ghostbusters' takes a coarser, more sexually explicit approach, one that invokes pagan rituals and the bestial nature of mankind. In order to open a gate to another world, the cheap Freudian symbols of Key Master (as a representative for the archetypal masculine) and Gate Keeper (as a representative for the archetypal feminine) have to join together, become beasts, and then open a portal to another spiritual world. By doing so, the physical world is threatened with extinction by an androgynous being without apparent gender - Gozer the God who first appears as a glam rock star, but then assumes the gender-neutral form of the Stay Pufft Marshmallow Man. The film mixes the Puritan sexual anxiety (i.e. a fear of punishment) with a bawdy sense of anything goes. The tension between these two forces is presented to a humorous effect.

'The Crow' on the other hand is more about the purification of the masculine spirit by systematically removing the anger and hatred residing within it. Once the masculine half is ritualistically purified through violence, the feminine half appears, as if a gift from heaven, joins with the masculine soul, and then guides him into the spiritual world.

Both films focus on masculinity, femininity, and spirituality, but each take different approaches. While 'Ghostbusters' takes more of a pagan approach, 'The Crow' is more steeped in high romanticism, justifying violence and revenge ultimately by the power of love. But despite these differences, both films reflect the mystery of the human existence and striving of the human soul for something spiritual.

The answer they were looking for was this:

Ernie Hudson was in both 'Ghostbusters' and 'The Crow.'

Needless to say, I did not win the contest.

Which is fine, because in retrospect, what would I have done with a 'Crow 2' poster, anyway?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ann Richards, Rest in Peace

There are many litmus tests that designate Texans from non-Texans. Here’s one - how do you refer to Ann Richards. People who call her “Former Governor Ann Richards” are not Texans. Real Texans equate the Governorship as a lifetime appointment. Even though she hasn’t served in office for years, Texans still call her Governor Ann Richards.

I had the pleasure of hearing her speak once at the Texas Book Festival. Well, not really speak so much as invite us to pull up a chair and listen to her tell stories. She talked about Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson, Texas’ first female governor. Apparently, in the 1920s, there was a heated debate about bilingual education. Ma Ferguson stomped her feet and put an end to the debate with the proclamation, “If the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ, the English language is good enough for the good children of Texas.”

Texas breeds characters. We aren’t the smartest, or the best, but we are the most distinctive. We know a good joke and we know how to tell a good tall tale. Set aside politics, set aside ideology, and you have Texas grit. And that is what I will remember the most about Our Governor – she was truly a Texan.

She was larger than life.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Listen Up Follow-Up: Fidelity Video

Really nice art direction throughout. Very simple and elegant.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Listen Up: In the Clouds

Growing up in the 70s, my first musical memories are all of disco and muskrat love. Most of my adult life has been spent cultivating taste and conquering the impulses that tell me the finest moment in human musical achievement is “More than a Woman.”

So when I say that Under the Influence of Giants is a Bee Gees for a new generation, it is not necessarily a compliment. Even though it is totally true.

The song “In the Clouds” is a perfect example of the band’s particular form of retro musical power. Striking the bad boy pose with the line, “I like the morning after pill, hello!” the song follows up with these sweet lyrics.

“I want to f___ you in the fire, yeah.

I want to hold you til you breathe no more.”

Nothing quite says, "I love you," like immolation and suffocation. You would think that if the singer finds a partner who doesn’t mind being on the receiving end of such affection, the rest of the song would be just a series of joyful proclamations. Hooray! I found someone as messed up as me and somehow, some way, we are perfect for each other.

But no… instead we get to the chorus and we hear:

“Let me have my doubts.

Let me work it out.

Don’t you take it personal.”

So, after a rousing evening of fire f___ing and erotic asphyxiation, you get to hear “And on top of all that, I’m just not into you.” Niiiiice.

The only way a band like this can get away with saying something like this if the dark edge of the lyrics is mixed with a heckuva lot of musical charm. And, like Outkast’s meditation on punctuation in “Hey Ya!” (“Don’t want to meet your momma / just want to make you comma”), Under the Influence of Giants somehow manages to present something offensive with a cheer and a groove that makes you not care at all.

The only thing that could save lyrics like this is some sweet music, and, indeed, the music rises to the occasion. A funky, thumping beat drives the song and practically transforms you into an extra in the cast of “Zoolander.” It makes you want to dance and prance, to primp and pose. Decades of cultivated taste just wash away as the doom-doom-doom of disco fills the senses.

So I find myself in a position where I wind up saying, “Yeah, it has offensive posturing, and yeah, I can see how it could offend someone. But, man, this song rocks!” Because it does. Besides, rock and roll is all about offending sensibilities whether you are Gene Simmons offending mothers everywhere or Phil Collins offending fans of Gene Simmons. The best thing to do it just sit back and enjoy the ride.

There was a real energy in the music of the seventies that has been mixed up with the cultural trappings of the decade. The music of Under the Influence of Giants manages to capture the essence of that style of music while separating it from the bell bottoms and flared hair of the time. The song is exciting, vibrant, and definitely worth a listen.

Under the Influence of Giants homepage

Under the Influence of Giants MySpace page (listen to In the Clouds and other music here)

In the Clouds – iTunes

Under the Influence of Giants –

Under the Influence of Giants – iTunes

Brilliant Song, Brilliant Concept, Brilliant Execution, Brilliant Video

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Listen Up: Fidelity

Regina Spektor holds up the raw sounds of her songs and examines them, showing off little nuances you would have never thought of. In The Ghost of Corporate Future, she advises the listener to drink a lot less coffee or even lick a rock. This fascination with raw sensuality (not necessarily sexual, just living fully within your senses) makes her musical escapades so fun to listen to. She takes a musical phrase or syllable and repeats it, putting different emphasis on the tones or forming the words with different accents. This kind of noise experimentation seems more suited for late night coffee houses and art classes, but Regina Spektor merges this experimentation with pop music. Catchy, fun, accessible pop music.

In her songs, she works in such oddities as clicking noises in the back of her throat or the rhythmic beating of a stick on concrete, but still the result is pure pop. Each of her songs begs a degree of scrutiny, and each one merits a mini essay.

I chose to write about Fidelity for a number of superficial reasons – it happens to be the first song on her new album, Begin to Hope. It is also one of the better examples of Ms. Spektor’s brand of experimental music/radio playable pop, and, finally, it has a music video I happen to like.

The song begins with the words “Shake it up,” and then crisp, staccato strings and a thumping bass line that invoke both classical music and hip hop. When Ms. Spektor’s voice begins, she sounds delicate and thin with the words, “I’ve never loved nobody fully, but then quickly disturbs this image with an accented, accented pronunciation of the word “ground.” If the opening beats don’t hook the ears, this vocal trick certainly will.

She quickly begins to draw parallels between insanity, being in love, and the creative process as a whole, leading up with the lines:

I hear in my mind all of these voices.

I hear in my mind all of these words.

I hear in my mind all of this music.

And it breaks my heart.

At this point the song reaches the rich, sensual world of Regina Spektor, as she repeats the “breaks my heart” line repeatedly, but never in the same way twice. The word “heart” can be anywhere from one to fourteen syllables. The accent can be vaguely Eastern European or vaguely Brooklyn. The song, having hooked you at the beginning, takes you on a journey through the sheer joy of making joyful noises.

The song performs a similar sonic experiment moments later, this time with the word, “better.” Are the “t” noises hard or soft? Is the ‘e’ noise at the beginning in the top of the mouth or the back of the throat? Is the emphasis on the first syllable or the second? The answer is always yes yes and yes. The power of music can be anything and everything.

The song concludes with Ms. Spektor rocking back and forth on the meter, letting you know that not only does “it BREAK my heart” but that “it breaks my HEART.” Yes, a heart is broken, but now we can all share in the joy that was trapped inside it.

Regina Spektor homepage (view the video here, listen to the music here, too)

Regina Spektor MySpace page (listen to Fidelity and other music here)

Fidelity – iTunes

Begin to Hope –

Begin to Hope – iTunes