A Final Whine for 2007

So yesterday I attempt to record a simple demo version of the preceding song for your listening pleasure. I wrote the thing as part of my presentation for a ward Book of Mormon mini read-a-thon, and the debut performance was so well received that I thought I ought to get a version of it in the can before I forgot the tune. For those of you who know my repertoire, the song sounds, right now, a little too much like The Ballad of Stallion Cornell for my taste. It’s in ¾ time and it’s in a kind of pseudo-country/folk style. I was looking forward to tweaking it further as I worked my digital magic, but then I discovered something awful.

It seems that my recording equipment, the DigiDesign MBox with Pro Tools LE 6.9, is woefully out of date, so much so that it no longer works with any recent version of the Mac OSX operating system. To upgrade, it’s going to cost me well over $300, plus a lot of time and effort and pains in the tuckus.

May I go on record as whining that built-in software obsolescence annoys the crap out of me. I also don’t like the new Mac OS much. It works fine on my newest laptop, but I have two older Macs that are struggling to keep up. One of them no longer recognizes my home wireless network unless I give it an enema first.

The old OS worked just fine. Heck, Mac OS 9 worked just fine. I upgraded in order to keep track with the programs that don’t work with old OS, but now I find that a program I needed doesn’t work with the new OS. It’s so deeply frustrating that I want to vomit, but I just can’t seem to make that happen. At least I don’t have Windows Vista.

It’s not all bad news. I found a workaround using Soundtrack Pro, a program that’s part of my Final Cut suite. So I may have a version online before you know it. And it won’t cost me a dime. Take that, DigiDesign!

In other news, I really don’t understand New Year’s Eve. Staying up until midnight seems like a waste of up to two hours of valuable sleep. Maybe New Year’s Eve was fun once upon a time, but I’m old and boring now. And New Year’s Day is a pointless, pointless holiday. For most folks, it’s National Hangover Day. For me, it’s just another chance to nap. Which is, now that I think about it, not bad at all.

Happy New Year. Please turn off the lights and lock the door on your way out.

Sing for the Lord a New Song

Ammon was ridin’
By the Waters of Sidon
He was tryin’ to work for the Lamanite King

The sheep were a feedin’
And no one was bleedin’
“Til somebody started a sheep stealin’ thing

All the king’s servants, they ran for their lives
All except Ammon who took out his knives

Because Ammon was fearless, he faced them alone
And soon began hacking through muscle and bone
He sliced through the Brachial Artery part
A big honkin’ artery straight from the heart

CHORUS:
So blood splattered and sputtered and splashed and it spilled
It spiked and it spurted and speckled the hills
If they’d left things alone, they’d have come to no harm
But the thing is, they didn’t, so Ammon cut off their arms

Ammon, he gathered
Up the bones that he shattered
The limbs were, in number, a lot, not a few

He went without malice
To the Lamanite palace
To give ol’ King Lamoni a “How-do-you-do”

“Cause the King was intrigued with his brave servant’s charms
But the dude was freaked out when he saw all those arms

Because Ammon was fearless, he faced them with scorn
And made them all wish that they’d never been born
He ripped through their biceps and triceps and stuff
And didn’t despair when the tendons were tough

CHORUS:
So blood splattered and sputtered and splashed and it spilled
It spiked and it spurted and speckled the hills
If they’d left things alone, they’d have come to no harm
But the thing is, they didn’t, so Ammon cut off their arms

Lamoni lamented
His sins and repentred
And then fell to the earth.
Was he dead, do you think?

No! He awakened
Though his people were shaken
They all had complained
When he started to stink

Because Ammon was strong, he converted the king
And the queen, and the people all started to sing
A song of redemption they couldn’t ignore
And all because Ammon was knee-deep in gore

CHORUS – SING ALONG!
So blood splattered and sputtered and splashed and it spilled
It spiked and it spurted and speckled the hills
If they’d left things alone, they’d have come to no harm
But the thing is, they didn’t, so Ammon cut off their arms

The thing is, they didn’t, so Ammon cut off their arms.

Thank you very much.

Christmas at the Movies

The Christmas season is the time when the Oscar-worthy movies come out to play, and, to my credit, I studiously avoid them.

This year, there really wasn’t much out there that I wanted to see, but I did manage to make it to three films that I quite enjoyed, despite the fact that one of them wasn’t very good and another was, without question, the most gruesome movie I’ve ever seen.

The first flick, which I can recommend without qualification, was Enchanted, which I saw ‘round about Thanksgiving time. The previews made this movie look a little too precious for my taste, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the cartoon-meets-real-life premise was executed flawlessly, when the same screenplay could have been filmed as a smarmy parody in the hands of a lesser cast. This is one film where the star, the blithely charming Amy Adams, made the entire picture. She doesn’t have a single false moment on screen. If this role had been given to someone like Cameron Diaz, the whole thing would have reeked of self-parody. And Susan Sarandon as a bitter, aging dragon lady is exquisite typecasting of the first order.

Just before Christmas, the Utah League of Credit Unions sponsored a screening of National Treasure: Book of Secrets, a dumbed-down retread of the already-stupid first movie. I don’t say that by way of criticism – I loved the first movie, largely because it was so earnestly silly. The problem is that the sequel brought the silly and forgot the earnestness. It’s marred by lazy writing that allows our heroes to breeze through impossible situations with the greatest of ease. Witness their “kidnapping” of `the President of the United States, which happens about ten seconds after they come up with the idea. Fortunately for them, the President goes out of his way to allow himself to be kidnapped, wandering away from his own party and waving off his Secret Service agents so he can end up in a dank tunnel with a party crasher he barely knows. This movie is filled with sloppy moments like this. The writers lurch from one gigantic set piece to another for the flimsiest of reasons, following Bizarro logic.

If you doubt me, try and see if you can follow this:

It seems that Nick Cage’s ancestor is implicated as a conspirator in the Lincoln assassination, so he decides to find a treasure that the ancestor was looking for, because that will somehow mean said ancestor is innocent for reasons that only leprechauns can understand. Meanwhile, Ed Harris goes to great lengths to track Cage’s every move, risking life and limb to badger Cage into doing something he would have done more eagerly if Harris had simply asked him. Soon they discover the treasure is hidden beneath Mt. Rushmore, which was built by the government to hide the treasure, which means that plenty of people knew where the treasure was but couldn’t be bothered to actually do anything about it. All this inexplicably proves the innocence of Cage’s Civil War ancestor, and that news is proudly proclaimed on the front page of the Washington Post, presumably next to the headline “Generalissimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead.”

Stupid, stupid, stupid. And yet…

My kids were engrossed. They didn’t move a muscle throughout the whole thing. And, while this movie insulted my intelligence, it also managed to stay entertaining throughout while being respectful of American traditions and squeaky clean to boot. There’s something to be said for that, and I’ve just said it. That doesn’t make Book of Secrets a particularly good movie, but it does mean that I’ll probably be there to sit through the inevitable sequel.

I doubt they’ll make a sequel to Sweeney Todd, which is just as well, as I doubt there’s enough blood left in the universe to make another movie like this. Against my better judgment, I saw it last night with my youngest sister, a fellow theatre geek who, like me, felt a solemn duty to see the adaptation of what many black-turtlenecked elitists call the Last Great American Musical. Both of us were wary for a number of reasons. We love the original stage version, and we were afraid that Tim Burton would Tim Burtonize the whole thing rather than let the material stand on its own. Johnny Depp as Sweeney seemed like stunt casting, and the R rating promised blood galore, which isn’t something that either of us really enjoys seeing onscreen.

So what’s the verdict?

It’s better than I could have hoped for. And I never want to see it again.

Let’s start with the good stuff, which was plentiful indeed. Other than the absence of saturated color, Tim Burton’s usual visual tics were nowhere to be seen. This was a remarkably faithful adaptation, and, astonishingly, Depp was a magnificent Sweeney. Reviews seemed to imply that he “speak-sang” much of the role a la Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, but that wasn’t true at all. He sang with a clear, simple baritone that was more than adequate, with the exception of a few moments that could have used more bombast than he could deliver. He would certainly have been lost on stage, but the intimacy of film inherently changes things, making Depp perfect for the role.

I wasn’t as fond of Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, even though she seemed a natural for the role of a dippy devil woman, something she plays in every film she’s ever made. Her voice was paper thin and airy throughout, which was regrettable in a show where she was required to do so much of the vocal heavy lifting. Still, while she’s no Angela Lansbury, she didn’t detract from the proceedings much.

The rest of the cast was wonderful, most notably Alan Rickman as an oily Judge Turpin and Sacha Baron Cohen as a delightfully foppy Pirelli. Toby seemed a bit young, but he won me over by the end of the film. And both Joanna and Antony were shining lights of purity in the midst of the unrelenting gloom that drenched this picture like a cinematic oil slick.

Or should I say blood slick. Son of a Dogcatcher’s Butt, there’s a lot of blood in this movie.

I wasn’t surprised. There’s a lot of blood in the play, too. The difference, of course, is that plays are a lot more artificial than movies are. When you’re watching something on stage, you can distance yourself from the whole thing. In contrast, the movie had no escape valve. You’re forced to watch as blood came gushing out of real-looking aortas, and you saw things that were only implied on stage, like each of Sweeney’s victims landing with a sickening crunch, head first, on Mrs. Lovett’s hard, stone floor. I covered my eyes when I could, and, since I knew the play, I was warned ahead of time when there was going to be trouble, but, even so, this was more than I could stomach. I congratulate everyone involved for a job well done, but, if it’s all right with you, I’ll stick to the stage version, thank you very much.

Bring on National Treasure III!

Post-Christmas Funk

The day after Christmas is always depressing. In fact, Christmas itself starts to get depressing as the day starts to wane and you realize that you have to wake up and face real life the next day.

I should be more chipper than I am. Today is my daughter Chloe’s 9th birthday, so she’s excited even if the rest of us are not. She loves having a birthday the day after Christmas, despite the fact that the rest of the world is often too busy to notice. It gives us an excuse to keep the party going, and I’m grateful for it.

I just dread January.

There’s nothing pleasant about January. (Yes, oldest daughter Cleta’s birthday is on the 7th, but that’s about it.) January is cold. It’s dreary. Lots of snow shoveling in freezing temperatures. And there are no Christmas lights to keep it artificially cheerful. It’s just a long, hard slog to Spring, which, for the past few years, hasn’t rolled around until April, if then.

Geesh, what a gloomy post this is turning out to be. That’s a shame, because Christmas was great. We had made all the preparations for Santa’s visit well ahead of time, and then at 11:30, my wife remembered that one of the big gifts was being stored at her brother’s house – which was about twenty miles away in the snow. We got to bed at 1:00 AM. So much for being ready ahead of time.

That’s gloomy, too! Knock it off!

Christmas morning was delightful. The kids ripped into their presents and had a wonderful time. We spent the morning playing Guitar Hero III on the Wii, and we spent the afternoon napping. Or at least trying to nap. I was engrossed in the book my wife gave me – the new Steve Martin biography about his stand-up years, titled, appropriately, Born Standing Up. It’s a fascinating look at what it takes to create a life in show biz, something I was unable, or unwilling, to do.

I have a wife and five kids and a life of relative normalcy, whereas Steve Martin spent his young adulthood slogging through funky clubs playing the banjo and squeezing bananas, trying desperately to make his mark. He succeeded, of course, but not without a price. He’ll never have five little sprites ripping open Santa presents on Christmas morning. But I paid a price, too. I think I got the better end of the deal, but something still aches when I imagine what my life would have been if I had taken his route instead of mine.

Gosh, I hope nobody decides to shoot themselves in the head after reading this.

I Believe in Santa Claus

No kidding. I really do. 

I didn’t used to. I remember, as a child, seeing a Sears price tag on a Christmas present and wondering whether Santa did all his shopping via catalogue. In fact, I can’t remember ever really believing as a kid. Some people have very traumatic memories of when they discovered harsh so-called “truths” – my mother recalls the very moment her Christmas dreams were crushed all around her. So she never pushed Santa on us too hard, and maybe that’s why I was always pretty fuzzy on the Santa motif.
My own children are now going through the process. We’re pretty sure that Cleta, our precocious 10-year-old teenager, has a more practical approach to Christmas than she used to have. And our six-year-old twins are hardcore believers. Two-year-old Stalliondo likes to eat Christmas cards, so I’m not sure where he is on the whole thing. 
It’s Chloe, the eight-year-old, who seems to be struggling this year. 
While we were unpacking the Christmas decorations, she stumbled on a note that Santa had left for the kids a few years ago that we’d saved. “This is Dad’s handwriting,” she observed, and Mrs. Cornell was quick to spirit the letter away. I assured her that the epistle was truly written by Santa and was quick to point out that my own handwriting is almost always illegible, so she must have been mistaken. 
Anyway, yesterday, as the kids were cleaning the basement and/or hurling bloodchilling invectives at each other, Chloe, consumed with fury, spat out acidic words at six-year-old Corbin, concluding with the announcement “Santa’s not real!” 
My heart sank, until I saw that Corbin was completely unfazed by this. “Yes, he is,” he answered back simply, with just a touch of smugness. “How else would we get all the presents?” Before Chloe could offer an alternative hypothesis, I intervened and sent her to her room.  
When Mrs. Cornell heard about this, she told Chloe that Santa doesn’t bring presents to people who don’t believe in him. So Chloe, at least nominally, is a believer once again. (To her credit, when all this was going down, skeptic Cleta didn’t say a blessed word.) 
I’m a believer, too, and not just in name only. I became a believer when I became a parent, one who works furiously all night long on Christmas Eve to make sure that Santa’s visit goes perfectly. If Santa himself were there giving orders, things wouldn’t go any more according to his plan than they already do. 
In every organization, the person at the top gets the credit. People talk about companies that are “saved” or “ruined” by their chief executives, or about the accomplishments or failures of any given U.S. President. The reality is that all the work – or lack thereof – is done by the people in the trenches, and the guy in charge does little more than offer direction. Parents everywhere do everything they can to ensure that Santa’s ideal for a perfect Christmas comes to life in their own home. People don’t do things like that for leaders that don’t exist. They’re only loyal to things when there’s something very real at the core of it all. 
I don’t want to get into Santa theology – his corporeality, for instance, or the geography of his factory, or the aerodynamics of flying reindeer. None of that matters much. What matters is what happens on Christmas morning, when the still-believing young’uns see what Santa has brought them, along with a plate of cookies with just a few crumbs left. 
Why should the parents take credit for that? 
Santa Claus allows grown-ups to fulfill the injunction of Christ, when he says:
“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”

That’s a true principle. More importantly, it’s real. And that’s why I believe. I’m not interested in living in a world without Santa Claus. 
Merry Christmas. 


Primary Thoughts

I don’t see any way that Rudy Giuliani can possibly win the Republican nomination. He’s lost his lead in the latest national poll – tied with Romney! – and he’s not competitive in any fo the early states. Stick a fork in him. He’s done. 

If Mitt wins Iowa, he wins New Hampshire. And then he’s the nominee. Period. 
If Huckabee wins Iowa and Mitt wins New Hampshire, it’s a mess. Thompson may very well win South Carolina, and then who the heck knows? It ill be fun/painful to watch. 
If Huckabee wins Iowa and McCain wins New Hampshire, Mitt’s got nowhere to go. The nominee? McCain. Blech. 
If I had to change places with any candidate at the moment, it would be Mitt. He’s got a better than 50/50 chance. Nobody else does. 
If Hillary loses Iowa and New Hampshire, say hello to President Barack Obama. I don’t think any of our guys can beat him – including Mitt. I’m relishing the schaudenfreude of watching Hillary flail, but she’s so much easier to beat in a general election than Barack is, so I ought to be rooting for her. But I don’t think I can. 
I’m eating too much Christmas crap. 
The end. 

Christmas Songs and Hucksters Blow

We three clods from Omaha are
Spending Christmas Eve in a car
Driving, drinking, glasses clinking
Who needs a lousy bar?

This, um, hilarious Christmas parody comes to you courtesy of ’70’s-era Mad Magazine, via my pre-adolescent memory of yesteryear. It’s wretched, but I’ve never been able to expunge it from my brain.

Today, I discovered that the same geniuses who produced this dreck very likely wrote my daughter’s choral program at her elementary school. Witness some of the lyrics I had to endure for a full half an hour:

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
You are a fire hazard
__________

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah
I like presents – what’s it to ya?
__________

Over the freeway and to the mall
A-shopping we will go

Suddenly, We Three Clods from Omaha looks like a Christmas classic.

At the outset, I was bracing myself for repeated use of the word “holiday” instead of “Christmas,” but in this case, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the opening song was a generic little ditty called “Holiday Lights,” but the word “Christmas” was used plentifully throughout the program, and the show ended with a hearty “Merry Christmas” being shouted by the kids.

Yet somehow I still managed to be bugged. Go figure.

Each Christmas song was altered to become this pseudo-Mad Magazine parody of itself, and I just didn’t understand why. Couldn’t they have actually sung “Over the River and Through the Woods” without mentioning shopping malls and credit cards? Why did “O Christmas Tree” have to be mutilated? I’ve long ago resigned myself to the fact that only secular carols will be sung in public, but, gee whiz! Why can’t you leave even those alone? And what’s with the slaughtering of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic?” That’s not even a Christmas tune, yet they still managed to mangle it.

At least “Battle Hymn” used to be religious. We also got a health helping of new, “shop ’til you drop” lyrics for “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” and “Bingo Was His Name-O.” With all the great Christmas tunes out there, why do you have to write nondescript new lyrics for such generic sludge?

Each song was so sickeningly “clever” that I wanted to vomit. This was true until the final number, a Celine Dionish power ballad about Christmas being in the heart. Which came as news to me, since I always thought Christmas was in the bowels. This program certainly was.

That’s not to say that I enjoy all religious Christmas greetings, either. Mike Huckabee’s new ad, which is a very simple Christmas message praising “the celebration of Christ’s birth,” is such a shrewd, simple, anti-Mormon hatefest that I want to scream. He lays the Christian stuff on with a trowel, gleefully exulting in the fact that Christian dupes in Iowa will see him as one of their own, with the tacit implication that Mitt Romney isn’t. Never mind the fact that Mitt could have delivered the same message. Actually, he couldn’t have, because the Huckabites would accuse him of pandering, or trying to pretend he’s a Christian when he’s really a cultist. Yet Huckabee can slather it on all day long and pat himself on the back for his own bigoted ingenuity. What a turd.

All in all, I’m feeling pretty damn Grinchy. Happy Festivus.

Christmas Eve

Not really, but my in-laws celebrate Christmas Eve with a massive seafood spread, and since we won’t all be in the same place this December 24th, we’re having it a week early. Crab legs. Shrimp Scampi. Smoked salmon. It’s the greatest fringe benefit of marrying into a family from the Pacific Northwest. 

The kids are watching A Christmas Story downstairs. Best Christmas movie ever. Darren McGavin was 61 freakin’ years old when he made that movie, and yet he’s still perfect as the father of a 9-year-old kid. 
Merry Christmas. You’ll shoot your eye out!

The Miracle of the Christmas Poo

This happened to me last year, and I intended to recount the story for a Christmas Day blog entry, but then I realized that if I’m actually blogging on Christmas Day, then there’s something seriously wrong with me – and you, if you’re wasting time on Christmas reading blogs.

So I thought I’d post it early enough for you to enjoy it. It’s the best story about Christmas and crap that I’ve ever heard.

I wrote up a version of this story when it happened, but my sister’s vesrion that she posted over at her group blog, mormonmommywars.com, is much better. So I reprint it here without permission. (I’ll take it down if she threatens to sue.)

___________________

H wanted to post this, but her computer’s sick, and mine’s not, so I get to do it! HA HA HA HA HA HA I am excited, because it really is a great story. True, as well, which is the best kind of story. Did not happen to me, but it did happen to my brother.

First, we got to create….da MOOOD. It was Christmas night, the presents have been opened, the fire died down, and the children (all 5 of them) sufficiently died down from their sugar highs to be asleep. Parents zonked out after an exausting, fulfilling Christmas.

Around 2 a.m., the youngest one, an 18 month old of the male persuasion, awakes crying. He had a poopy diaper, and not just any old poopy diaper. One of those blowouts, go up the back, disaster of a poopy diaper. Parents are like “wha? This kid has been sleeping through the night without a dirty diaper for over a YEAR. He NEVER does this.”

No use wondering, just clean him up, and try to get him back to sleep. Daddy cleaned him up, handed him over to Mom to get him back down, and took the diaper downstairs to get rid of the foul thing. Now, normally, in this situation, he would just put the diaper in the garage, to be removed to the outside later, when a trash bag is going out, but “for some reason”, he decided to go outside to deposit the diaper in the outside garbage can.

It was on fire.

It had burned entirely to the ground, and the fire was still going. It was beginning to melt the can next to it, the heat had cracked the window to the garage, and the sill was black from the smoke. He hurriedly runs in the house, grabs a coat and some boots, grabs a shovel from the garage, and shovels snow all over the fire, all the while thinking “My wife is going to be so mad that I’m not upstairs helping to get the baby back to sleep.”

When he did go back upstairs, he informed his wife that the disaster of a poopy diaper quite possibly saved their lives, and for sure saved their garage. He slept the remainder of the night downstairs by the garage, just to be sure.

The moral of the story is twofold:

1) The Lord will use anything, including your child’s bowels, to get your attention when necessary.

2) The Lord looks out for you, even when you’re stupid. Like when you put a bag full of hot ash into a receptacle clearly marked ”Do not put hot ash in can” on it.