Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweet Dreams, #267

Yesterday I was looking through one of my old idea notebooks for a concept for a new writing project. Often I'll write down recent dreams in these notebooks as well. As I sat in my car before class yesterday, I stumbled across this:

"Dream that I'm driving a large bus (double-decker?) in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. I'm running down hippies because I can't see right in front of the bus. I may also be dating Tiffany Amber-Theissen of 'Saved by the Bell,' but I can't be certain."

I'm pretty sure this is how Victor Hugo came up with "Les Miserables."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The way to a man's heart...

A couple of years back my buddy Randy put me on the spot when he volunteered me to get up in front of a group of Toastmasters and tell them about my favorite Christmas gift. It was a tough call to make, but as of last weekend I think I have a candidate for "best birthday present" honors.

Last Sunday afternoon I arrived at my parents' house for a traditional family dinner. It also happened to be my Birthday Dinner*, which was to be celebrated with a full roast's worth of my paternal grandmother's legendary barbecue beef. But as I opened the kitchen oven, I was surprised to discover a genuine Giordano's deep-dish pizza, shipped in dry ice from Chicago.

Not to be outdone, my sister and brother-in-law presented me with a $21 gift certificate to Barbacoa. Why $21, you say? Because my traditional burrito bowl with pinto beans, spicy pork, two scoops of pico de gallo and one scoop of hot sauce costs exactly seven dollars with tax.

When you get older, you aren't as happy to see your birthday roll around. But when those birthdays remind you of just how great your family is, they're a little easier to take.


*I actually do have a birthday, which will be news to anyone I may have misled into believing that I was a test tube child.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Resume of a Wanna-be Rock God

My track record with garage bands is beginning to look as bad as my record with real jobs. Sporadic flashes of promise, inconsistent areas of emphasis, and above all, no long-term commitment.

Here's a sampling of my band experience thus far:

Zebedee Coltrane, 1998-1999
Style: Alternative/blues, some pop covers, odes to dung beetles.
Highlights: Made our public debut at the University 32nd Ward Talent Show in the spring of 1999. Two weeks later a friend of ours gave us a strawberry pie to play a special gig in a handicapped girl's living room for her birthday.
Reason for leaving: Creative Differences.

Why2K, 1999
Style: Borderline-sacreligious electric covers of LDS church hymns.
Highlights: Formed exclusively to make a short film for a Stake film festival in the summer of 1999. The result won "best soundtrack" at the festival, and has attracted the most venomous comments on my You Tube channel of any video post to date.
Reason for leaving: Fear of excommunication.

The Atomic Thunderlips Traveling Ministry, 2000-2001
Style: Obscure proto-punk covers, original tributes to local fast food chains mixed with classical chord progressions.
Highlights: Tried to make our debut at the 2001 U32 Toga Party, but were thwarted when lightning killed the power at the church. Played modest public performance from guitarist and bass player's garage (they were married) the following November, and I got dumped by my would-be girlfriend immediately following the gig.
Reason for leaving: Graduate school and increasing family obligations (for guitarist and bass player).

Dreamy Phil and the Diamond Dazzlers/Hassenpheffer and the Bomdiggity, 2003
Style: Initially a Neil Diamond cover band, wound up playing a set of acoustic-rock originals through the spring of 2003.
Highlights: Headlined 2003 Utah State University Valentines Dance, 2003 Earth Day performance on Taggart Student Center patio.
Reason for leaving: School I could never get the violinist to go out with me.

Lionel Ritchie, 2003
Style: Classic rock covers, including "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Sister Golden Hair."
Highlights: Headlined sister's variety show fundraiser for her New Zealand study abroad. Also played a set at a ward talent show a couple of weeks later.
Reason for leaving: Lead guitarist left on LDS mission.

The Tony Danza Experience, 2005
Style: Modern(ish) rock covers, including selections from Cake ("Short Skirt/Long Jacket") and The Black Crowes ("Hard to Handle")
Highlights: Formed to play at University Stake FHE outdoor music event, but canceled last minute when bass player couldn't get off work. Played ward talent show two months later.
Reason for leaving: Two members went to law school.

The Last Starfighters, 2007
Style: Original alternative rock numbers, penned by rhythm guitarist.
Highlights: Played U32 Talent Show in November of 2007, where I actually kind of sort of played my first mid-performance drum solo.
Reason for leaving: Lead guitarist moved back to Illinois, I started working graveyards at KJZZ.

In the midst of all this, I've held periodic jam sessions with friends that never quite made it to public performance level, though some did wind up on You Tube. Whatever the reason, a long-term album-cutting rock band has never been in the cards for me, though I always have a great time whenever I play. (Well, except for that time I got dumped afterwards, but that's another story.)

Anyhoo, it's time to add another band to the list, though with a little luck, we might stick together for a while longer. About a month ago my buddy Breto's wife recruited us to play at a charter school assembly in North Salt Lake. The performance was connected to some kind of fundraising competition at the school, and by the time we took the stage last Friday morning, we were penciled in to play two different assemblies, one for each half of the student body.

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much, and after our two practices, I wasn't even sure if we were going to make it through our three-song set. The plan was to open with a punk version of "This Land is Your Land"--something the kids could sing along to--then follow it up with a couple of pop covers that would embody a spirit of inspiration and patriotism, namely, Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" and Neil Diamond's "America." Since we were going to be playing at a school, I thought it might be appropriate to name the band "Abstinence" or "Intelligent Design," but we settled on "The Guitar Heroes" since it connected to our message about how it was a lot more fun to play real musical instruments than fake plastic ones for video games. We also considered changing "Livin' on a Prayer" to "Livin' on a Non-Denominational Personal Moment of Silence and/or Meditation," but decided that real rock and rollers would take the risk of introducing the concept of prayer in a public educational setting.

But in spite of my own lowered expectations, the morning assemblies turned out to be a total blast. I've played for hormone-fueled teens, angry neighbors and disinterested peers, but there's something totally different about playing for hundreds of little kids. For one thing, you don't feel as much pressure to avoid screwing up (our lead singer Randy--one of my old Thunderlips bandmates--had a nightmare the prior evening that he was going to forget all the words onstage). But it's also just a lot of fun to see a bunch of nine-year-olds jumping and dancing in the aisles while you play. I think a few of them were even making devil horns at us in our honor.

The whole gig left us thinking we should consider the idea of staying together. There are all kinds of kids up and down the Wasatch Front we could corrupt. I've always figured that playing in bands would just be for fun, a side project to channel my inner rock star every once in a while while pursuing more distinguished professional pursuits, but maybe I was wrong.

Maybe I just needed to find the right audience.

The Guitar Heroes
Style: Kitchy 80's rock anthem covers, punk distortions of folk protest songs that people have turned into patriotic standards.
Highlights: Headlining a set of school assemblies at the Legacy charter school/jamming out a painfully awkward re-hash of "Livin' on a Prayer" with the top fundraising class while they stage-dived off my drum riser and did bunny ears behind my head.
Reason for leaving: N/A...we're keeping our fingers crossed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How (Not) to Commit Plagiarism

Been back in the teaching saddle for a couple of months now. It's been good to be back in front of a class, shooting the bull, waxing poetic, using clips from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" to illustrate composition concepts. It's kind of like coming home again.

But as fun as all that is, you never really feel like you're a teacher until you nail someone for cheating. In my case, that cheating comes via plagiarism, and I've busted two students in the last week.

For the uninitiated, plagiarism is ripping off someone else's work and calling it your own. It's the next natural step once fattening your margins and boosting your font and spacing won't do the job anymore. There's always some magical moment in every semester where I'm going through a stack of papers and suddenly come across a sentence that sounds a little odd for an English 1010 student. Especially if that student has only been coming to class about a third of the time.

So you hop on your computer and punch a suspect sentence or two into Google, and voila! Looks like Little Bobby either moonlights as a content writer for Wikipedia, or there just wasn't enough time after last night's kegger to write up a cause-effect analysis of The Great Depression.

The sad thing about plagiarism is that it can get you kicked out of school. The fun thing about plagiarism is that the people desperate enough to try it are usually too desperate to do it right.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Human Nature?

Even after staying up past 2AM last night, I was still having trouble going to sleep, so I popped on my iPod and started listening to a 310-track playlist called "Soul Marathon." About ten minutes in, halfway through the Jackson 5's "(Stop) The Love You Save," I had a stunning realization:

Michael Jackson is dead.

I mean, I already knew he was dead. I'd already declared him the Elvis of my generation, and lamented that the Jackson we all knew and loved had really been gone for twenty-plus years now. I knew it...but I didn't feel it. Then last night, all the dust from the media hype and the sordid allegations and the post-1985 uber-weirdness finally settled, and it dawned on me that one of the biggest icons of my youth was really gone.

It strikes me as strange that as mainstream news continues to merge with entertainment, the effect isn't that entertainment becomes more newsworthy. Instead, mainstream news feels less real. The reality only sets in once the hype has passed.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Of Burns and Bandanas

Last weekend while taking in a late viewing of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie I found myself distracted by an article in Details Magazine on the topic of sideburns. I found this item distracting for multiple reasons:

A. I am not all that into the Ninja Turtles.
B. I have had sideburns in one form or another since the age of fourteen, save for a one-week stretch in the mission field when I removed them after a scolding by one of my leaders (who was apparently unaware that mission rules clearly dictated that sideburns were allowed to extend to the mid-ear).

Believe it or not, the inspiration for my first legitimate facial hair came from the 90210 boys. I only caught a half hour of a single episode of Brandon and Dylan's early 90's Beverly Hills saga, but those few minutes were enough to convince my teenage mind that sideburns were the way to go. Besides, at that age, facial hair growth accounted for about 95% of one's street cred. (The other 5% was still coming from basketball sneakers.)

My flashy new sideburns generated a lot more positive press than my Karl Malone Catapult sneakers ever did, but by the beginning of my junior year, Dustin Harrison's full beard had taken center stage. Still, the sideburns remained, whether acting as the underpinnings of one of my longer hippie-grunge hairstyles or merely bridging the gap between a nice anti-social beard and the top of my now-shaven head. I've trimmed them into a variety of lengths and styles, most notably during the week I cut them into baby mutton-chop spikes. To my everlasting humiliation, this week also happened to fall around the traditional once-every-two-decade extended family portrait shoot.

But according to Details Magazine, I shouldn't be so carefree with my face fuzz. Depending on the size and shape of my head and face, they have laid out specific instructions as to what shape my burns should take. I have to admit that I am not a regular reader of Details, and it concerns me to think about how many other style issues I have so callously taken for granted over the years. I learned how to tie my neckties at the proper length from ex-Detroit Piston coach Chuck Daly, and someone once told me that the color of my belt needs to match my shoes, but who's to say I'm not violating a dozen other rules of bro-fashion on a daily basis? Could I be tying my shoes the wrong way? How long should my pants be? If I wear a hipster T-shirt from with a pair of retro Air Jordans, will the space time continuum rip apart and obliterate my precious DNA?

Maybe those Ninja Turtles were onto something, after all. They only had to worry about grabbing the right colored bandana.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Path to World Domination

Submitted my article on Michael Jordan to a Utah Jazz blog yesterday. They actually posted it. Same content, much more attractive aesthetic design!