Monthly Archives: October 2010

Bouncing Souls and Bad Religion at the House of Blues Boston

It’s a good thing I’m not a reviewer (of music OR books), because this is not terribly current; then again, if it was my job to review things, I would review them promptly, and it would be other things that fell by the wayside instead. Can’t be all things to all people all the time.

Anyway, 10/18 was the Bouncing Souls/Bad Religion show at the House of Blues that I’d been looking forward to for ages. I’ve been listening to both these bands’ music for years; I’ve seen them live several times each, and their live shows have been consistently some of the best I’ve been to. They have great energy, a good attitude, appreciation for their fans (without being overly talkative), and great music. The Souls have been together for over twenty years – I saw them play on their 20th anniversary tour in New York – and Bad Religion has been together for thirty. So you could say they’ve also had some practice; for (punk) rock bands, they’re very workmanlike – not consumed with being rockstars, but also not bored with what they do. So, I was really looking forward to seeing them play together.

The Bouncing Souls went on first. I didn’t keep track of the setlist as closely as I usually do, and they played some songs I didn’t know – I don’t have all their albums – but they did play “Kate is Great” and “ECFU!” from Tie One On; “Hopeless Romantic” from Hopeless Romantic; “Highway Kings” from Anchors Aweigh; and “Lean On Sheena” from The Gold Record.

Bad Religion headlined, and were great as usual, though they played a lot of songs I didn’t recognize (again, I don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of their whole canon, but I was there with friends who were also fans, and they said the same). I know they played “Generator” and “21st Century Digital Boy” and “American Jesus” as they almost always do, in addition to “Los Angeles Is Burning,” “Infected,” “Sinister Rouge,” “New Dark Ages,” “Sorrow,” and “Requiem for Dissent.”

Bad Religion is one of those bands whose lyrics are dense, tightly packed, indecipherable to new listeners, and have a political agenda; Process of Belief was the first album of theirs that I really got into, and it took a while me to absorb it. I do love how there are words in their songs that you never expect to hear in music. For example, take this line from “Materialist” off Process: “You’re obsessed and distressed ’cause you can’t make any sense / of the ludicrous nonsense and incipient senescence / that will deem your common sense useless…” Incipient senescence?! I know a lot of liberal arts colleges now have History of Rock ‘n’ Roll courses; I think some history and political science professors could get together and make a great course based on Bad Religion lyrics. (Antioch? Hampshire? Wesleyan?)

Bad Religion certainly isn’t the only band with an extensive and unusual vocabulary; I recently noticed the word “dirigible” in the song “Sons & Daughters” on the Decemberists album The Crane Wife, and years ago I had to look up “autoclave” (from “Fall Victim” off Alkaline Trio’s Crimson). Interesting fact: 90 percent of all text consists of only 7,500 words. I read this in a textbook for school, Reference and Information Services in the 21st Century, in the chapter about dictionaries; the Macmillan English Dictionary bases its selection for inclusion on this fact. As there are, conservatively, a quarter of a million words in the English language, the fact that most books, newspapers, etc. only use the same 7,500 over and over again is…well, not so surprising, really, but it makes it all the more delightful when an unexpected one shows up, doesn’t it? [End of word nerd segment.]

Anyway, back to the House of Blues – it was a good show, and the audience was relaxing to be a part of; the average Bouncing Souls or Bad Religion fan is usually older and male, which is infinitely preferable to dealing with a mass of screaming thirteen-year-old girls making heart shapes with their hands and having the spatial sense, collectively, of a six-month-old golden retriever. (Thus spake the Ancient One who wore foam earplugs and went straight home to bed.)

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Infusion (Part II: Music)

In addition to reading some really good books lately – books that I haven’t just consumed, but engaged with – I’ve discovered some good music recently as well. (I say “discovered” not in a Christopher Columbus sense – or Leif Ericsson or Amerigo Vespucci or whomever – but to mean that I personally stumbled upon this music recently, usually on a friend’s recommendation. Which, in this analogy, would make me Columbus and my friends Vespucci or Ericsson. Moving on.)

The first of my recent finds is Ingrid Michaelson’s 2003 album Be OK; I first heard of it when a friend put some of the lyrics from the track “You And I” in her gchat status: “I will help you read those books / if you will soothe my worried looks / and we will put the lonesome on the shelf.” I inquired of her whence these lines came, and she sent me a YouTube video of the song (oh, technology!). Then I listened to some clips on iTunes, and when I heard a clip of “Fools Rush In” (though she calls it “Can’t Help Falling In Love”), I went ahead and bought it. Overall the album is much softer and more folk-y than most of what I listen to, and occasionally she is just too high-pitched for me, but I do like these two tracks as well as “Keep Breathing.”

Next up, El Momento Descuidado by The Church, to whom I was introduced via the inclusion of “Under the Milky Way” on a mix from another friend. I had one of The Church’s CDs in my hand at Newbury Comics at one point a month or two ago, and didn’t buy it; I eventually got this album through eMusic, and I’m glad I did. Nearly any of the tracks from this album, though it was released in 2005, sound like they would fit right in on the Empire Records soundtrack, which is all ’90s music. The Church sounds a little bit like the Gin Blossoms, a little like the Wallflowers; on some songs the singer sounds like Dylan (“Tristesse”), on others like Nick Cave in one of his stranger moods (“November”). Actually, with the exception of “November,” I adore this album, especially the first three tracks – “The Unguarded Moment,” “0408,” and “Almost With You” (hearing the sound clip for the last of these convinced me to buy the album). Maybe Australia is a decade behind, musically, but if you miss good ’90s music, I recommend this.

Also from eMusic, I got Alkaline Trio’s newest, This Addiction. Trio follows a slight but definite pattern of every other album being good, and the ones in between being great. Maybe I’ll Catch Fire (2000) was good; From Here to Infirmary (2001) was great. Good Mourning (2003) was good; Crimson (2005) was great. Agony & Irony (2008) was good, and This Addiction (2010) is great. It’s tight, polished, but not overproduced or boring – they’ve experimented a little, adding a trumpet (?!) to the third track. If you’ve liked their other music, you’ll like this; it’s musically similar, and lyrically, the themes haven’t changed much (blood, death, love/loss, distance, hitting bottom and scraping oneself up off the floor, etc.).

Finally, I also acquired Death Cab for Cutie’s album Plans (2005). I had Transatlanticism (2003) in college, but lost it due to a hard drive failure, and wasn’t sufficiently attached to it to look it up again, though I liked “The Sound of Settling” and, I think, “Tiny Vessels,” both of which are probably familiar from radio or soundtracks. (I did manage to hang on to the Postal Service album Give Up (2003) through the same hard drive crash – the link between the two being that Ben Gibbard is the lead singer for both the Postal Service and Death Cab.) As for Plans, I can certainly recommend it to fans of the Postal Service, as well as to anyone who’s a fan of the Garden State (2004) soundtrack. Lyrics-wise, they cram a lot into each song, rather like The Weakerthans. Here’s a sweetly morbid line from “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”: “Love of mine, someday you will die / but I’ll be close behind / I’ll follow you into the dark / No blinding light or tunnels to gates of light / just our hands clasped so tight / waiting for the hint of a spark / If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied / illuminate the NOs on their vacancy signs / if there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks / then I’ll follow you into the dark.”

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

What I’m reading: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson
What I’m listening to: Outer South, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band

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Infusion (Part I: Books)

About two weeks ago I made a pilgrimage to the New England Mobile Book Fair. It was truly marvelous (though I don’t see where the “mobile” part comes in…I didn’t see any wheels).

It’s organized primarily by publisher, which I thought was cool, though not terribly useful for non-publishing-industry people. I wandered around, looked through their catalog on the computer, browsed some more. And then…

I read this in serialized form online in The Guardian, but I didn’t know it had been published – in fact, it was only published earlier this year. I was so glad to find a copy. (In case the print in the image is too small to read, it’s The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry, The Three Incestuous Sisters, and The Adventuress.)

I’ve been enjoying an infusion of excellent reading and listening material lately. The Night Bookmobile was a great find and I was happy to add it to my library; I also indulged in another (significantly longer) re-read, Tana French’s The Likeness – my favorite of the three of her Irish psychological mystery novels I’ve read. In the Woods came out first, and the depth of character was astoundingly good, but I was disappointed and a little angry that the initial mystery was never resolved. Faithful Place came out recently, and I enjoyed it very much, but it didn’t grip me in quite the same way as the first two. Thus, The Likeness was my favorite; it has a unique premise, to say the least, and features Cassie, a character introduced in In the Woods. (Likewise, the main character in Faithful Place is also a character in both In the Woods and The Likeness.)

As for new reading material, I finally got around to reading Margot Livesey’s Eva Moves the Furniture, which I bought at the Strand a year and a half ago on a friend’s recommendation. Somehow I never wanted to read it badly enough, and it kept getting bumped down in the queue, but finally I began it, and – of course – fell in love. It’s what some in the publishing industry would call a “quiet” novel – nothing sensational or splashy, no big “hook” to reel in readers, no literary pyrotechnics – just a well-written story with a fully imagined main character, Eva, and her world, internal and external. Eva Moves the Furniture is set in Scotland in the first half of the twentieth century, and the setting is marvelously understated and realistic. From a young age, Eva has companions, a woman and a girl, who no one else can see; they follow her throughout her life, first in a small town with her father and her aunt, then to Glasgow as she trains as a nurse, and finally to another small village near her mother’s birthplace. Their identities are revealed only toward the heartbreaking – and I don’t use that word lightly – end of the story. I actually cried during the last few pages of this, and I can list on an amputee’s hand how many books have had that effect on me. I’m so glad Eva finally made her way to the top of my to-read pile.

I’ve also recently enjoyed a couple of titles sent to me by a friend who works at Random House – The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer, and Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow. Thieves was an entertaining send-up of the New York literary world, which I very much enjoyed. It was tongue-in-cheek and certainly intended for a specific audience, but did not overstep that fine line where the author is showing off his/her literary skill and cleverness. Langer is clearly a good writer, and I was hooked from the beginning, but the book really gained momentum about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through; it became, improbably, an adventure story. Homer & Langley, on the other hand – though it did have a certain sense of humor about it – was a much more serious (and, in the end, sad) portrait of the two Collyer brothers. Homer, who went blind in adolescence, narrates the story to his muse, Jacqueline, whose existence is only hinted at for most of the story. Homer & Langley tells a history of New York, the United States, and the world – through Langley’s experience in the First World War, the brothers’ parents’ deaths of the Spanish flu, Homer’s music, Langley’s obsession with creating an “eternally current, dateless newspaper.” I have to confess, I only now learned – thank you, Wikipedia – that the “legendary” Collyer brothers were not invented, only fictionalized. (I’m actually glad I did not know this while reading; the haunting end of the story was able to sneak up on me this way.) To my own opinion, I’ll add a snippet from a year-old review:

“Where other writers, titillated by the brothers’ ghoulish history, have asked, “How did they die?,” Doctorow asks the more respectful, and thus more surprising, question: “How did they live?” Reaching back to their Gilded Age beginnings and extending their life span into the 1980s, he resurrects 10 decades through the brothers’ imagined experience — matching the accumulation of junk within the Collyer home with the accumulation of epochal events in the world outside their walls.” –Liesl Schillinger, New York Times Book Review, September 8, 2009

Finally, another recent find, lent to me by my mother, was The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. The “uncommon reader” of the title is actually the Queen of England, who discovers, later in life, a passion for reading when she follows her corgis into a bookmobile and then feels obliged to take out a book. She gets off to a slow start, but the Queen is gradually transformed from someone who reads only out of duty to one who reads for pleasure. This book is a quick read with a lovely dry sense of humor and an arch tone; and, aside from being a pleasure in and of itself, it reminds those of us in the library and educational settings that young readers should be encouraged to read anything, not just what teachers and parents think is “good for them.” Forcing kids to read material they think is boring can turn them off reading altogether, and I think we can all agree that that is worse than if they enjoy reading something – even if that something is not a “literary classic.” If a kid wants to read a graphic novel or a comic book or a fantasy novel or manga – furthermore, if they want to read it on a screen of some sort (computer, e-reader, iPhone) rather than from a printed book – GREAT. At least they’re interested in reading something.

End of rant. Go read!

[Note: When I wrote this I hadn’t yet read this post from The Bloggess that ends exactly the same way. But there it is, and here’s a link to Neil Gaiman’s Halloween Scary Book Giveaway idea.]

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Focaccia bread (and how to make sure your yeast is live)

Inspired after my experience at my new internship – a wonderland of a place that has both kitchens AND a library – I decided to make focaccia bread when I got home last Thursday. But first, I wanted to test my baking yeast; the last time I baked bread, it didn’t rise as well as usual – it was good for mini-toast, not so good for sandwiches. I found this helpful tip on eHow: add one teaspoon of yeast to one cup of warm water, then add a tablespoon of sugar. The mixture should bubble up within ten minutes; if it doesn’t, your yeast is dead.

We had two jars of yeast in the fridge, and one produced bubblier results than the other, so that’s the one I used. And, ta-da, it worked!

I topped it with black olives, artichoke hearts, red bell pepper, olive oil, and salt. Focaccia is best fresh, but it was also good the next day (and the day after that) transformed into a pizza, with provolone cheese and another layer of toppings.

Now that I know the yeast is live (live enough, anyway), it’s time to bake a couple more loaves of bread.

What I’m reading: The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff
What I’m listening to: This Addiction, Alkaline Trio

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That Makes Sense

Since moving to the Porter Square area, I’ve been wondering exactly where the dividing line between Cambridge and Somerville is. Briefly I thought that Mass Ave was the dividing line, but quickly realized that wasn’t it (I could have ruled it out immediately on the grounds that it makes sense, and is therefore unlikely). Sure, I could have looked up a map online and figured this out, but before I got around to that, I was walking down Oxford Street (in Cambridge, not to be confused with Oxford Street in Somerville, and that’s another thing, there is zero creativity when it comes to street names – there’s at least one repeat of every name in Cambridge, Somerville, Boston proper, and probably all of the surrounding towns and suburbia as well. Mass(achusetts), Comm(onwealth), Concord, Prospect, Cambridge, Arlington, Highland, Summer/Winter/Spring/Autumn – not Fall, that would be confusing, heaven forbid – the list goes on), and lo and behold…

Smack dab in the middle of Oxford Street. In the middle of a BUILDING. I found another on Somerville Ave.

Because, you know, that makes sense.

What I’ve been reading: Homer & Langley, E.L. Doctorow
What I’ve been listening to: Plans, Death Cab for Cutie; Say I Am You, the Weepies

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Apples Three Ways

Project COOK ALL THE APPLES continued through the weekend. Sunday night we made “apples three ways”: apple cake, baked apples, and applesauce.

We found this recipe on Epicurious for Applesauce Spice Muffins, but we didn’t have a muffin tin, so we made Applesauce Spice Cake instead.

I had no part in these delicious baked apples – I had had an incident with the vegetable peeler whilst peeling the apples for applesauce, and was bleeding into the sink at the time. Basically, though, the idea is you take the core out of an apple and fill it with delicious things (butter, brown sugar, pecans, etc.).

Meanwhile, we also made applesauce. Then all together in a bowl…

…a la mode, of course.

What I’m reading: The Thieves of Manhattan, Adam Langer
What I’m listening to: This Addiction, Alkaline Trio

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Return of the Luminous Cider Donut

We’re having a run of gorgeous October weather. A friend and I took advantage of it over the weekend to go apple picking at Honey Pot Hill Orchards. It had been almost a year since I went. First off: cider donuts.

To get to the cider donuts, however, we first had to go past a goat obstacle course.

For real. The goats would climb up these long ramps to little platforms, and kids could send food up in cups on a kind of rope pulley system, which would dump the contents of the cup on the platform.

I believe the main plank in the goats’ platform was “more food,” but they were also campaigning for social justice and the new health care system.

Into the orchard itself: there were several varieties of apple available for picking. We started with Mutsu apples, which taste a little like Granny Smith, but milder.

Next, Empire apples, a cross between MacIntosh and Red Delicious. Then we moved on to Spencers (MacIntosh + Golden Delicious), some Cortlands, and MacIntosh and Macoun.

We did not buy a pumpkin.

On the way home, we brainstormed what to do with our apples. We ended up making an apple crisp – to begin with.

Stay tuned for more apple desserts, and homemade applesauce!

What I’ve been reading: The Likeness, Tana French; The Thieves of Manhattan, Adam Langer
What I’ve been listening to: This Addiction, Alkaline Trio; Plans, Death Cab for Cutie

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