What I’ve Been Listening To–5.30.16

I’ve written a few times here about music, seeing as it is a major (pun intended) part of my life. In the last three weeks since my spring semester has finished, I’ve been writing a lot, and when I write prose (not poetry—there’s a post for some future time) I often listen to music. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been listening to in my earbuds, through my Bluetooth speaker, my living room stereo, the car stereo. 

Art Blakey & The Jazz MessengersMoanin

My favorite cut on this album is the title track. I can’t listen to this track without snapping my fingers, tapping my toes, or moving in my chair. The solos are extensive (as I prefer), and the piano solo is my favorite. It’s a song my daughter (age three) and I like to dance to. I definitely plan to delve more into Blakey’s catalog.

ColdplayA Head Full of Dreams

This is one of the few musical artists (including Hammock) that the entire family agrees on, and with Ghost Stories not impressing me much, I was apprehensive about this album’s quality. But the family and I agree that this is a great album. My favorite tracks are “Everglow” and “Up & Up.” Lots of good piano on the album, which makes me happy.

HammockEverything and Nothing

While there’s rarely a day when I don’t listen to this wonderful duo, I have been listening to this newest album a lot. It’s equal to Departure Songs, my favorite album. There are more vocals, more guitars, more drums. It’s just beautiful. When I run outside in the early mornings (instead of at the gym), I let the beauty of this album play softly from my iPhone speakers.

Antonio Carlos JobimWave

Perhaps the month of May, coming as it does after the end of the academic year, puts me in the mood for some laid-back music. (I’ve been a Jobim fan since high school when I discovered him via Stan Getz.) Wave has been in constant rotation. I put on the album for my six-year-old son the other day while we were playing a board game, and he couldn’t sit still—he liked the rhythms and instrumentation. Jobim’s music has a seemingly simple surface, but the jazz fan in me loves all the chord progressions and movement.

MastodonOnce More ’Round the Sun

When I’m on the treadmill or lifting weights at the gym, this is some of my go-to music to energize myself. “Tread Lightly” and “High Road” are my two favorite tracks, with the catchy rhythms and awesome guitar work. That said, it’s still a great album from start to finish—it’s my pick from their catalog in which I enjoy every song on the album.

“Morning Classics” on South Dakota Public Broadcasting

Even though I haven’t lived in South Dakota for six years, I’m still a fan of this weekday classic program that runs from nine to noon. I listen to it whenever I can because it’s great background music to accompany whatever I’m working on. It’s especially fun to hear the weather reports in the winter, and I forget that I’m in Texas, not in the Badlands state.

OpethWatershed & Pale Communion

Besides Mastodon, Opeth has been another band in heavy rotation during my workouts. My affection for this group dates way back to my marathon training runs (before kids, before full-time jobs). The often-lengthy songs are perfect, and their complexity and nuance reward multiple listens. Although their catalog is extensive, these two albums are what I’ve been listening to the most, and they’re probably my favorites. Their songwriting, their vocal work (more harmonies, more selective “growls”), their inclusion of more keyboards all contribute to my appreciation.

George WinstonSummer

This solo piano album ushers me into the right state of mind to draft, revise, or edit. I find it relaxing, yet motivating. Winston has a knack for crafting memorable melodies, and even after I’m done listening to the album, I find the notes running through my brain. I’m also a big fan of his albums Winter Into Spring and Autumn, which I tend to listen to during their respective seasons.

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2015 in Review

It’s four days into 2016, so I’m due to offer some reflections on 2015. I’m grateful for so many wonderful memories I made over those 365 days. The year was significant for me in several ways, some of which I’ll be sharing here, some of which I’ll be sharing over at altarwork.com (where I’m now blogging every Friday). In the latter venue, I’ve already written about my most important day of the year.

But now, in lieu of a more cohesive post, I’ll share some random “tops” and “favorites” of the year.

Favorite New Album: Shockwave Supernova, by Joe Satriani

Other Favorite New Albums: Hand. Cannot. Erase. by Steven Wilson.

Love, Fear, and the Time Machine, by Riverside.

Helios / Erebus, by God Is An Astronaut.

A Head Full of Dreams, by Coldplay

Most Important Book: Life Without Ed, by Jenni Schaefer

Favorite Book: The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Other Favorite Books: Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather.

Beyond the Bedroom Wall, by Larry Woiwode.

The Geography of Memory, by Jeanne Murray Walker

Love’s Labors, by Brent Newsom

Favorite Concert: The Choir (playing the full Circle Slide album)

Favorite Movie: The Peanuts Movie

Favorite Weekend Activity: playing keys and singing bgvs at Vista Community Church

Favorite “Athletic” Moments: running a 10k and two 5ks

Favorite Celebrity Meeting: Monty Colvin, bass player/vocalist in Galactic Cowboys, guitarist/vocalist for Crunchy.

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Favorite Interesting Experience: sitting in on a Sunday-school class taught by Oklahoma Poet Laureate, Benjamin Myers @OKPoetLaureate

Favorite Teaching Moment(s): My summer Religion and Literature course (with works by Bret Lott, Tania Runyan, Gina Ochsner, Brent Newsom, Addie Zierman, Larry Woiwode, Jeanne Murray Walker, and Benjamin Myers).

Fun Trip Destinations: Minneapolis, Galveston Island, Kansas City, Lake Michigan, rural Minnesota

Favorite Publication: “The North-Central Iowa Spring Break Blizzard Tour” (published in The Cresset)

Favorite Photo I Took: 

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I’m looking forward to a good 2016, filled with good books and music, lots of writing, good classes to teach, and supportive friends and family.

Aspirations 

In second grade, a new kid named Ryan Meinert joined my class. He befriended me; I befriended him. So far all normal. I’m not sure how it started, from where the idea descended, but I began giving him a weekly handwritten newspaper: Nate’s News. 

I know I included jokes I gathered from other places. I’m confident I included some news stories; whether they were serious or not, I can’t say. Maybe I included baseball scores, football scores. Maybe I included other sections–I’m just not sure. And I only made one copy of each issue: the one I gave to him.

No copies of this august publication remain.

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Summer of ’86 was hot and dry across Minnesota. There was lots of dust, and for much of the summer, my house didn’t yet have central AC. We utilized the “fan method” of cooling: put the fan in the window at night. We also had a ceiling fan in the living room, which helped move around the hot air.

Just as with Nate’s News, I’m not sure what prompted this, but I drew a one-panel comic strip. In it, a somewhat human-looking individual is sitting in a chair, the ceiling fan spinning overhead. The joke is the juxtaposition of the man saying, “Boy, is it hot!” with the switch marked “Hot/Cool” set to “Hot.” An attempt ironic humor.

I rode my bike downtown to the office of the local weekly newspaper and asked to speak with the editor. For whatever reason, perhaps because my mom worked as a receptionist there, he agreed to see me. Of course nearly thirty years later I remember none of the conversation I had with the editor, but I do know that I handed him the cartoon, and a week later, I had my first official publication.

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Two years later, I was immersed in the world of reading comic strips and comic books as well as in making my own. My comic strip was Stupid Cowmix, and among my other creations was the comic book Molecule Man. I spent hours in my room first using my wooden ruler to draw panels and then filling them with text and pictures that I thought were funny, clever, and entertaining. My parents humored me.

But in that time from 6th grade through 8th grade when I was dedicated to the comic world, my drawing ability peaked, and the following year other interests grew and continued on through high school: basketball, music, role-playing games, and theater.

*

And what I realize looking back is that it wasn’t so much about the drawing. It was about story. About pacing and timing. About humor. About making something of my own. Taking ideas and materials and creating something that someone else could read and connect with.

Since my mid-twenties, I’ve dedicated my life to making things: poems, stories, essays, blog posts, literary journals. I can trace a line back through those earlier experiences, realizing that they were preparing me for what I love to do.

Even now, all of my efforts begin with a blank page.

[Note: see this prior post about how I came to write poetry again.]

Music Appreciation #3: Joe Satriani

Guitarist extraordinaire Joe Satriani just released his newest album, Shockwave Supernova, and since the album arrived at my house on Friday, July 24, it has been receiving substantial airplay. My son and daughter are already well familiar with several songs, my son singing along with the melodies.

The other night my son and I were playing a game of Dominion (one of our favorites), and at one point he stopped in the middle of his turn and said, “Dad, aren’t you forgetting something?” At first I thought I had violated one of the game’s rules. “What?” I asked. “Joe Satriani,” he answered. (Meaning, play the new album already, Dad.) That was a special moment for me as a dad and as a long-time Joe Satriani fan.

My history with Joe Satriani’s music goes back decades to my sophomore year of high school, when in that glorious Minnesota autumn I purchased The Extremist. The album quickly became my go-to for background music when doing homework since there were no vocals to distract me. It was also the album my band and I learned to play. Or to put it more accurately, the album that turned our guitar player, Matt, into a serious guitar player.

I’ve seen Joe Satriani live three times, the first time when he was touring in support of his self-titled album (in Spring 1996). I saw him a second time on the G3 tour in 1997 with Steve Vai and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The last time I saw him was on the Engines of Creation tour in Spring 2000. It was during that third show when he played one of my favorite songs: “Love Thing.” This was also a time when I was pursuing a girl who would eventually become my wife, and this song became one we wanted played at our wedding dance two years later.

His music has served as the backdrop to the grading and the teaching prep I’ve done over 12 years teaching college English courses. His music has served as the backdrop for my countless hours of writing. His music has been the backdrop to countless drives, from the short jaunts to the multi-state excursions. His music has been some of the earliest music both of my children heard, and it has become some of their favorite music.

With each successive listen of Shockwave Supernova, I gain a deeper appreciation for the man whose music has been part of my life’s soundtrack for so many years.