Journal of Record

When I upgraded my iPhone this summer to the new 3GS, one of the benefits was that it gave me the ability to buy songs from iTunes anywhere from my phone. This is, of course, a mixed blessing — one the one hand, it’s terribly convenient, but on the other hand, well, it’s terribly convenient. It’s resulted in quite a few impulse purchases of songs that have come to mind, most recently on my morning walk today. It’s made worse in combination with the Shazam app; I can go seamlessly from hearing an unfamiliar song to knowing what it is to owning it in seconds.

Point being, I’ve been buying a lot of individual tracks since getting my new phone in June. Lately, though, I’ve gotten into a kick of buying albums. I go through music-buying phases, but the last two or three weeks have marked, for me, a high-water mark for album purchases.

The picture at the top of this post is a subset of that — weekend before last, there was a record and CD sale at a local radio station. These weren’t serious music purchases, they were just fun. I have a pretty thorough collection of Paul Simon on CD and iTunes, but I’ve also collected a bit on vinyl, just for the sake of it. The Mary Poppins soundtrack was just fun, and Richard Marx was solely because I thought it would be cool to listen to “Hold On To The Nights” on LP. And The Jazz Singer … ah, The Jazz Singer. One of the great guilty pleasure albums of all time, and one I remember being played on eight-track in my house growing up.

Also at the sale, I bought some CDs, as part of my efforts to expand my musical horizons. To wit, I picked up some Lonestar, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood. The Lonestar had one song that I know and like, “What About Now,” which I actually had already bought on my phone, but I figured that meant there was at least a possibility that I would like other songs on it. Faith Hill is a little borderline for my taste in country, but I had bought Breathe recently on my phone, and figured I would give the album it came from a chance. The Carrie Underwood CD I bought, Some Hearts, had nothing that I was really familiar with, though I’d heard a couple of them, but she’s somebody I’ve enjoyed other stuff by, so, again, figured I’d give it a shot.

Around the same time, I made a trip to Best Buy that drove home just how much other people have contributed to my musical tastes lately. The purpose for the trip was to pick up an EP they were advertising by Miranda Lambert, who was recommended to me earlier this year by someone who has introduced me to some great stuff. I’d bought a couple of Miranda Lambert songs earlier in the year, tracks that this friend would have described as “attitude” songs — “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Gunpowder and Lead” — and really enjoyed them. This CD was a little slower, but still decent stuff. At the same time, I also bought an Aerosmith Greatest Hits CD, not one of my favorite bands, but one that I was exposed to some and figured there was enough stuff I liked to make the (cheap) purchase worthwhile.

About a week later, I returned to Best Buy for another CD that I had seen for sale on that trip and had debated buying, Lady Antebellum’s eponymous album, from which I already had “I Run To You,” which I blogged about a while back.

I ordered a Goo Goo Dolls CD after a recent trip to the theater; their song “Better Days” played during the trailer for “Love Happens,” and from that clip of the song — “So take these words / And sing out loud / ‘Cause everyone is forgiven now / ‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again” — I had to get it. It was almost an iPhone song purchase, but I saw a greatest hits CD cheap enough that it was worth getting. (Though I remain to this day troubled by the fact that baby’s black balloon doesn’t simply let her fly.)

iTunes ran a sale on country albums, from which I bought Dierks Bentley’s Feel That Fire, largely for the title track. I was also familiar with Sideways, and, while it’s not one of my favorite songs, I do like the sound, which I figured was a decent indicator I would like other songs on the album. That said, I haven’t had a chance to listen to it enough to really find out, what with all the albums I’ve been buying lately.

A friend introduced me to Elbow with The Seldom Seen Kid. Just got it Monday, so haven’t had the chance to really explore it, but I do like the sound.

As I mentioned Monday, at Big Spring Jam, I picked up Heidi Newfield’s CD “What Am I Waiting For.” Again, I’m still exploring it, but am very much digging “Johnny & June,” which I’ve played multiple times a day since getting it; the Lori-McKenna-penned “Wreck You,” which strikes some familiar chords for me; and “Nothin’ Burns LIke A Memory,” which is just fun. Also after Big Spring Jam I ordered Trace Adkins’ second greatest hits compilation, which I’m waiting to arrive.

Also in the mail is Garbage’s debut album, which I had on tape back in the day. My two favorite tracks, “Stupid Girl,” and “I’m Only Happy When It Rains,” I’ve had in iTunes for a while, but the other day, I had Real Life’s Send Me An Angel in my head for some reason, which in turned morphed into Garbage’s “My Lover’s Box” (“Send me an angel — piece by piece.”) and made me decide it would be worth the four bucks or so it cost me to get the CD so I could listen to the whole thing again.

And, thankfully, the fact that I’m limiting this to the deluge of albums I’ve bought in the last two or three weeks means that I don’t have to disclose the fact that last month I finally broke down and bought Britney Spears’ Circus from iTunes, because that would just be embarassing.

So Deep In Love

Sad songs they say so much. Yet some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs.

I was having this conversation with a friend recently. She was talking about the fact that her husband, in general, prefers break-up songs to love songs. His argument is that break-up songs often have more substance, more depth than love songs.

To be sure, there’s a lot of subjectiveness in that. Two people can disagree easily on what constitutes a “deep” song. And a song that really resonates for one person may seem completely superficial to the next. But it made me stop to think about how much merit his argument has.

And he’s right — there are a lot of superficial love songs out there. (“And whats wrong with that, I’d like to know.”) As I started working on counter-examples, though, I found, right or wrong, that what seemed to be the standard was a rootedness in reality. So many love songs are just variations of “you’re wonderful,” “you’re beautiful,” “I love you,” “always,” and “I want to hold/kiss/dance with/whatever you,” put as poetically as possible. And, to be sure, those things are worthwhile in and of themselves, but …

I don’t know. I guess maybe a lot of love songs sound like they come from the first month of a new relationship, not the tenth year. They’re flush with the excitement and emotion of the new, not rooted in a love that’s been tested and proven and maybe isn’t as flashy but is real.

In trying to come up with love songs with substance, my immediate go-to was one of my favorite artists, Lori McKenna, who is a phenomenally brilliant songwriter and, in my mind, the poet laureate of human emotion today. To be sure, she does a lot of good break-up songs. I mean, a lot of good break-up songs.

But she’s got some love songs that I would think qualify as well — one of my favorite songs, Witness to Your Life (lyrics); How Romantic Is That (lyrics); and Like No One Ever Hurt You At All (lyrics); among others.

Another one that came to mind this weekend that inspired me to go ahead and write this post was Fail by Kendall Payne (lyrics), which is very true, and speaks to something I think people have to understand in order to have a working relationship.

Somewhat along those lines is Everything by Alanis Morissette (lyrics), which occupies a similar emotional landscape. And is also the first mainstream song on the list; I had a harder time coming up with popular love songs that would qualify. (Arguably, Alanis has the ultimate deep love song with You Owe Me Nothing In Return [lyrics], but … wow … yeah.)

And as an example of the subjective part, since Sunday night I’ve had Heidi Newfield’s Johnny & June (lyrics) in my head, and would argue that it might qualify. Nothing terribly deep, but, to me, evocative enough to qualify as having substance, if substance borrowed from elsewhere.

Anyway, I could throw out more examples, but would rather open it up to discussion at this points.

Any thoughts on the hypothesis, regarding love songs versus break-up songs? Agree? Disagree?

And, either way, any favorite “substantial” love songs you would cite as counterexamples?

In A Jam

Randy Owen at Big Spring Jam 2009

Randy Owen at Big Spring Jam 2009

OK, this is going to start a series of posts about music over the next few days, I think.

This weekend, for the first time, I went to all three days of Huntsville’s Big Spring Jam music festival. To be honest, I had debated whether to try to go the whole time, or even whether to try to go at all. Big Spring Jam each year increasingly makes me feel more old and out of touch — I recognize fewer and fewer of the acts, and find the headline acts less and less compelling, and those that I do get excited about are rarely the current acts anymore, but the ones that I enjoyed from college or earlier. (Three Dog Night last year, for example.)

As it turned out, I was fortunate this year to go with a friend whose musical taste I’ve come to trust, which solved the issue of not knowing a lot of the acts. This friend was among the ones who has helped introduce me to and get me to appreciate country music over the past year, so we spent most of our time at the WDRM country stage. This amused me greatly; I don’t think I’d ever been to that stage at all in any of my prior Jam visits, and was there a huge majority of the time this year.

But I’ve gotten to where I love doing that — seeing new artists in concert, and leaving liking music I’d never heard. So far, this year’s Jam has resulted in a couple of album purchases and some money spent on tracks from iTunes.

Friday was the Kentucky Headhunters, which I enjoyed, but which didn’t result in anything that I just had to have, music-wise. After that, we just wandered for a bit, checking out bits of the sets from WAR, Black Crowes, Village People and Randy Owen.

WAR closed with possibly their biggest hit, Low Rider, which their lead singer co-wrote. You have to wonder if he had any idea when he was writing it that people would still be waiting for them to play it decades later. I mean, honestly, was there a moment where he thought, “‘Low rider drives a little slower …’ That’s genius! This is the best thing I’ve ever written!”

Randy Owen was also a lot of fun; possibly the only country music I grew up with regularly was an Alabama Greatest Hits tape from the ’80s that my dad would play, and it was very cool getting to see a couple of those songs live.

Saturday I had an improv show (which went well, thanks for asking) and so was only able to make it for the last act. Again, going with this friend made things convenient — left to my own devices, I wasn’t sure whether to go hear The Fray or Collective Soul; instead I went to see Trace Adkins. Which turned out to be a great choice; it was my favorite performance of the weekend, if not for music, than for showmanship. I had a misperception of the sort of music Adkins does; I only knew two songs, which turned out to be atypical. I ended up ordering a Greatest Hits CD, and buying one other track off iTunes.

In true Big Spring Jam fashion, it rained on me a bit as I was arriving for that show, and the park was more than a little muddy, but I was fortunate all weekend that the weather remained largely agreeable.

Sunday was Heide Newfield and Sara Evans. Heide, I’d not heard of at all before, but enjoyed greatly; I ended up buying her CD at the venue, and plan to borrow some of her pre-solo Trick Pony stuff. As an added bonus, when I bought the CD, I discovered that one of the songs that I had really enjoyed was written by possibly my favorite artists, Lori McKenna. Sara Evans I knew of, and had one song that I really liked (a cover of, ironically, Lori McKenna’s Bible Song). Haven’t bought any Sara Evans yet, but, again, some will most likely be acquired soon.

All in all, a great experience at the Jam — I had an amazing time, and my iPod is better for it!

If I Could Turn Back Time

Earlier in the year, I was leafing through The Book of Questions with someone, and got to the one about what you would change if you could change something in your life.

For the longest time, I didn’t have an answer to that question. I was sufficiently content that where I was at that moment was the ideal culmination of everything I had walked — good, bad and ugly — over the years that changing anything would only run the risk of ruining that ideal. Today, I’m less confident in that.

But, at the same time, the typical answers don’t appeal to me. The other person’s answer that particular day was that she would have gone to grad school right after college. For someone else, the question is whether they still would have married the person they did, knowing how it turned out. I’ve always wondered, purely academically, what would have happened if I’d taken a particular job offer a decade and change ago.

That, for me, is the heart of the issue, though — I can only wonder. I don’t know. Even if I were given the opportunity to make the changes, I don’t know whether any of those would make my life better today. Would I be better off if I’d taken that job? If I’d majored in something else? If I’d made a different decision about marriage or buying a house? Maybe. Maybe not.

Last night, though, for the first time, I decided that if I had it all to do over again, I just might do it. Knowing, for the first time, what I would do differently.

I would listen to different radio stations. I would borrow more CDs. I would go to more concerts, and pop into more bars to hear more musicians I knew nothing about. I would have danced. Badly, of course, because I couldn’t do otherwise, but unselfconsciously. I would have danced with her at that wedding, many many years ago. I would have danced at mine.

I would have spent more time outside. I would have gone for more walks. I would have done more things outside. I would have taken better care of myself. I would have let myself be bad at outdoor activities, until I wasn’t as bad at them.

I would have talked to God more. I would have listened to God a lot more. I would have prayed properly a lot less. I would have taken church groups more seriously. I would have taken church services less seriously. I would have read more things about God I disagreed with passionately, to see if I knew why.

I would have read more books and watched more movies I thought were mindless mainstream pablum, to see if I was right. I would have learned what people liked about them. I would have learned what I didn’t.

I would have learned to identify more than one constellation. I would have appreciated that the heavens are a testament to the magnitude of the Father. I would have appreciated the same about the thunderstorms and the brilliant summer sky and the dreary fall day that seems utterly unappreciable. I would have spent more time in the rain. I would have danced in the rain.

I would have watched even less television.

I would have dared more for love. I would have risked more for attraction. I would have been rejected more. I would have been hurt more. I would have cried more, but I would have cried tears that were worth their price.

I would have smiled more. I would have laughed a whole heck of a lot more.

I would have paid more attention to which of my acquaintances were really my friends. I would have valued family a whole lot more. I would have talked to strangers. I would have accepted a lot more invitations.

I would have eaten foods that were utterly unappealing to me, at least once. I would have gone to a lot more restaurants instead of falling into patterns.

I would have bought more Apple stock, even when I couldn’t afford it.

I would have valued the random.

I would have been more open-minded. I would have had the courage of my convictions. I would have been less of a snob. I would have been more confident.

I would have tried to figure out who David Hitt was, instead of letting him be who the situation called for him to be. I would have been me, and I would have believed in me. I would have tried to figure out what it means to be the beloved handiwork of the author of the universe.

And, you know, I think if I had done those things, the little details — what should I study? where should I live? who should I marry? — would probably have taken care of themselves.

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” — Carl Bard

Wine And Roses Sunflowers

My sunflower painting!

My sunflower painting!

That sunflower up there? I painted that! Cool, huh?

I still have no talent for painting, but it turns out that doesn’t necessarily matter. I went last night with some friends to Spirited Art, where even the least artistically inclined can paint something they’re proud of.

I’d heard about it a while back, and had been interested in going. So last week, some people at work were talking about it, and one of them and I saw the sunflower, and decided that we were going to do it. And so we did.

Basically, the class is led by a local artist, who does the paintings, and then walks people, step-by-step, through how to recreate them. The process is not only simpler than it has any right to be, but is a lot of fun. It’s a great evening to just hang out and have a good time with friends, and, at the end of it, you have a painting. Good stuff.

Week In Review

So, to review:

Saturday — Had a visit with college friends that was tweeted by a nationally known columnist.
Sunday — Gave a lecture about my book at a science-fiction convention.
Monday — Rehearsed a new style of performance with my comedy improv troupe.
Tuesday — Watched a movie at the Rave. (Hey, everybody needs an off-night.)
Wednesday — Played the heretic at my weekly Bible study, which is a bit tougher at Sojourn.
Thursday — Drank wine and painted sunflowers with friends.
Friday — Going to listen to country artists I’ve never heard of in concert.

Not a bad week, really.

Gut Check Time

Last night, in the wake of Ole Miss’ surprising-to-those-who-don’t-know-Ole-Miss loss to South Carolina, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger’s brilliant editorial cartoonist Marshall Ramsey wrote this on his rather prolific Twitter feed:

Gut check time. How will Ole Miss respond to getting knocked on their a$$? Will they quit or come back and run the table?

How would U respond? When life kicks U do U crumple or dust off and come back swinging? People who come back from adversity inspire me.

Good question. I like it.

(I also liked his tweet about the fact that he was going to be on a radio show that was airing after that of his “cousin Dave” [check the last name — yeah, that cousin Dave]): “I get to follow my cousin’s show. I can be the Bizarro Ramsey. I can tell people to run up their credit cards, get whole life insurance and lease a car.”)


OK, catching up on a variety of things that got dropped in the slightly more topical posts the last couple of weeks, and the more sporadic blogging last week. (And someday I’ll get back to posting actual content, instead of just “here’s what I’ve done lately.”)

— I wrote the other day about my visit with Lain and Liz this past weekend; I neglected to mention that I now live in a world in which the fact that I hung out over the weekend with a couple of friends from college now merits notice by a nationally known columnist and random strangers. Liz tweeted a picture of the three of us with our books to David Pogue, who posted his own tweet about it, and then complete strangers retweeted Pogue’s post with the pic. Even yesterday, three days later, somebody tweeted the picture of me with Lain and Liz. How insane is that?

— Also in the “neglected to mention” category, I meant to say in yesterday’s fall post, but didn’t, that to mark the fact that it was officiallly fall, I switched yesterday to using the pumpkin spice creamer I’d bought for my coffee.

— I gave my Homesteading Space lecture over the weekend at the Con*Stellation science-fiction convention. By definition, any time you do anything more than once, there will be a best time and a worst time, so saying that this past Sunday was the worst doesn’t necessarily mean it was that bad, just that it wasn’t as good as the others. I’ve never actually succesfully given my hour-long lecture in an hour, and felt more pressure this time to try to keep it to the proper length, and I think that hurt me. My benchmark is one joke halfway through the presentation — it got a tepid result the first time, was hilarious the second time, and wasn’t even recognized as a joke this time. Alas. Plus, there was the guy that came up to my afterwards in the hall, put his arm around my shoulders, and said, “You don’t do a lot of public speaking, do you?” Thanks, dude.

— So what if I were ever actually completely honest on here? I mean, not that the things I write on this blog aren’t true; this blog is probably the most open I’ve ever really been publically. But, generally speaking, I don’t mention things like the fact that it really sucked doing a book event, having a book milestone, for the first time without her. But, to be honest, it did. So there you go.

— The weekend before last, I went to Chuck E. Cheese. It wasn’t the first time in my adult life; my family took my brother there for his birthday the year he got married. He had loved it as a kid, and it was just a fun thing to do. This was the first time in years, though, and was the first time I ever bought Chuck E. Cheese pizza for myself. Going with a friend of mine, a contemporary, and watching her daughter go play games was a weird experience. I’m not as young as I once was.

— This past weekend, I went to an LP and CD sale at a local radio station. I bought several vinyl LPs, which makes me happy. I also bought three CDs, all of which were country music, which sort of amuses me.

— OK, I know I’m leaving stuff out again, but I need to wrap this up. Later, folks.

Free Fallin’

Today is the autumnal equinox, a day on which Earth’s subsolar point is on the equator, and on which many people believe the hours of daylight and night are equal, except that apparently they’re really not, except that really it’s maybe pretty close, unless it’s not. Anyway …

For, I think, that reason, today is also the first day of fall.

Those that know me know that I don’t really do favorites. I don’t have a favorite color, or a favorite food, or whatever. I recently had trouble accessing a computer account because it asked my favorite color as a security question and I had no idea what I had answered.

But, increasingly, I think fall may be my favorite season. Part of that is pragmatic — I prefer the more agreeable temperature to the heat of summer or the cold of winter. For me, fall is the most likely season to have a day that’s just perfect. Part of that is associational — having been around people who loved fall has only served to increase my affection for it.

The funny thing, though, is that part of it is for a reason that’s completely irrelevant. Going outside on a day that’s archetypically fall to me, on a day that just feels like fall, I can’t help but be taken back to the feeling of beginning a new school year.

Fall weather takes me back to that feeling, of starting something new, of unlimited possibilities, of anticipation of meeting new people, doing new things, getting a fresh start. Even though it’s been more than a couple of years since I started a new school year, that feeling remains.

And, really, there have been a few times in my adult life that have reinforced that — I graduated from college and moved to Indianola in August, so was very much experiencing the new that fall. Two years later, I moved from Indianola to Houston in early October. I moved back to Huntsville in the month of August, and moved into my house the following fall.

It’s a good feeling, and a good reminder — that, even now, there are unlimited possibilities, fresh starts, and new beginnings; that there are new friends to make, new places to explore and unwritten adventures just waiting around the corner to be had.

Recent Random Photos