Sunday, December 30, 2007


There is such a stupendous feeling when you witness an act of perfection. It's an emotional response that is unique amongst other reactions, recorded in the memory much like the witnessing of a tragedy, and perhaps, thankfully, a little more common. But you can't tell the exact date or where you were, but you certainly know the feeling. It especially comes into play when watching sports (especially when it's something that you personally cannot do.) It is witnessing Tiger Woods dismantle everyone else on the course, until it is more a competition with himself and the gods of golf than anything else. It is holding your breath and sitting on the edge of your seat or whatever cliche you want to use. It's better when the act is someone you root for, but you have to acknowledge it when the act is done against you.

Since tonight the New England Patriots have gone 16-0, in a game that was, in itself, an act of perfection, I thought I'd look back at other events I've witnessed that were absolutely perfect:

The only perfect game I've ever seen personally, was, unfortunately, the 2005 Orange Bowl, where USC took apart OU 55-19 (the score might not be right, but it's close) Leinhart and Bush and Lyndale were playing catch out there against an Oklahoma team that, except for the Big 12 championship, looked like the best team ever to play college Football. Thank goodness for Texas and Vince Young the next year.

Brett Farve raised himself to the status of demi-god on the Monday night after his father died a few years back. Threw for 5 touchdowns and had a perfect passer rating.

Mary Lou Retton's perfect 10.0 on the jump to earn the girl gymnastics team a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics (mind you, these are events I've actually watched, which is why I'm not putting in Lance Armstrong's 7 strait Tour De France wins, cause I didn't see that, it didn't effect me at all.)

Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa's breaking the....oh, wait, nevermind....

Randy Johnson pitching a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves, which was amazing, even if it was the Braves that lost.

The Oklahoma defense during the 2000 Orange Bowl (BCS Championship Game) against Florida State. It didn't matter if OU turned over the ball or if they had to punt, FSU could do nothing with the ball, and the only points they made were the 2 points OU gave them as a safety as a measure of clock management.

I would almost put Ken Jennings Jeopardy run on here, but that's not sports perfection, and it wasn't perfect, by any means.

I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones that come immediately to mind when I ask myself about Perfection. Now all the Patriots have to do is win the playoffs and the Superbowl, without making it seem anti-climatic. If I know the teams still in the playoffs, those will be good games!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Living Years

Album Review: Declan Galbraith, Ego You

Trying to review albums performed by minors is difficult, especially when it's not their first, and when, as teenagers, their voices are constantly changing. So you can have songs on the same album with a voice that is an octave higher than others, depending on when they've been cut. And then there's the selection of music by those who are trying to manage the child singer's career. What do the fans want to hear? What will sell the most? What is the singer able to do? What songs are cheapest to get as far as royalties...etc... Inevitably, as a breakthrough artist grows up, and the voice changes and the "newness" wears off, money becomes harder to come by, the albums wan in quality.

An example... Billy Gilman. Whose first album was amazing, and following a Christmas album, a sophomore album, and an album project with the late Mattie Stepanek (Heartsongs fame), Billy was unexpectedly cut from Sony when the record companies merged and shed artists in order to cope with the loss of business (supposedly because of online downloading, which is another blog). All those previous albums were amazing in their own ways. Not all songs were listenable, but an easy re-edit, and you have albums with superb songs and an amazing talent which should have become the next superstar. Unfortunately, the people who supervised his career decided on Country ballads to woo young girls and their parents. So the next album, a self-titled one, was a major let down for me. The songs were safe, harmless, and full of instrumental fluffiness, background vocals which covered up his lowering voice (which wasn't as stable as it was earlier), and almost a desperate attempt to find a niche in the country scene, which is obviously not where he needed to go. My advice would be to get a new voice trainer, go to college, and emerge as a writer, maybe singing Christian or pop/rock songs, not country ballads which is only ruining his career in the way that those mindless movies did Elvis' acting career. I couldn't listen to it.

So enter Declan Galbraith, a nine year old with a voice as high and pure as an angel and the critical praise of his first album that gave him a very good record deal. Unfortunately for his fans, he waited a little too long for his second album, and his voice was changing by the time he recorded it. But still, there were wonderful tracks recorded with Declan's powerful voice. It seemed that he had mastered his changing voice and was being given songs that were ideal for his abilities.

Now he releases Ego You, an album full of pop ballads and covers of teenage wooing songs (i.e. the Partridge Family, I Think I Love You) with the same instrumental annoyances and background vocals that overshadow Declan's lowering voice. And I would totally write off the album and wait for him to gain independence and control over his career, except for a couple of things that makes this album worth looking on Itunes for.

There are four decent tracks. The title track, "Ego You" mixes a good rock background with some complex lyrics. "Sister Golden Hair", a cover from the band America, is great. I would almost rather hear him singing Eagles type music, maybe a country-rock blend. Declan does a great job of it. The unreleased track from the single EP is good, too.

What blew me away was track 15. "The Living Years," a cover from Mike and the Mechanics. the song is awesome by itself, the only hit for that group, and someone arrainged this cover for Declan and he hit a home run with it! I'm gonna put this one on my "repeat" album, a cd of songs that each one I can put on repeat and listen to repeatedly for hours.

The lyrics deserve mentioning... you can search for them easily by putting in the title. It deals with the difficulties of a father-son relationship, but I interpret it in a different way. If we broaden the perspective, it is the inability of the older generation to understand the fast moving, more liberal thinking philsophies of the computer generation. And I've seen countless examples of the quickening chasm between the technologies and lifestyles of older people and younger becoming an almost impossible hurdle to overcome. And yet... we are the children who are going to carry America on their shoulders, and so how damaging is it to let beliefs and traditions of a previous generation get in the way of supporting those who would make this world a better place for all to live in? The song speaks volumes for those that hurt within because of those differences, or who feel that those things that need to be said to those loved ones could never be said because of the walls between us (mixed metaphor, but it worked better.) I'll probably go into this later, when I have processed it more.


Okay, so this blog was probably boring, and I didn't say much, but that's okay. I'm resting from the constant retail zoo that is pre-Christmas shopping, and sometimes it's good just to let your mind be mush. I'll think later. Write now, I have to finish putting up the tree and wrapping my presents.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nostalgia Part 3


So close to Christmas, at Borders we have Holiday music on all the time. I know that most of my co-workers can't stand it, and for the most part, only the contemporary groups like TSO or Manneheim are tolerated. And those are fine, because those groups take the idea of Christmas and the holiday season (with all the emotions that go along with it) seriously. A good blend of secular, religious, and new Christmas music that throws the unexpected in with the familiar. When you go to places like Kroger or whereever, the majority of Christmas tunes you hear come from old crooners like Perry Como or Andy Williams. We know that Bing Crosby is dreaming of a White Christmas, because somewhere on Earth that song is being played right now. So I got to thinking, why is it that, while millions of other groups can cover the old classics, that those songs being played on retail overheads are the traditional songs, with the traditional lyrics (whether or not they are the religious or merely the secular is a thought for another day), and all seamlessly brought together to bring nostalgia and delight to those shoppers who are trying to buy just the right thing for their loved ones.

And perhaps that feeling is exactly why you never hear modern day versions of Christmas classics in retail stores. Nostalgia is not brought about by Coldplay singing Chestnuts Roasting, or the Spice Girls decking the halls. It is a note, a feeling brought about by the familiarity of the old singers. A deliberately created feeling, nostalgia is. Because at this point in the year, it is the music producers that try to incorporate the old classics into holiday muzak to create the yearning for the olden days, when people could afford to get presents and the food on the table was large and home cooked (which is advantageous to grocery stores).

It sounds like I'm being cynical towards the feeling of nostalgia, and if you read my other postings on the subject, there are times when I am. But the nostalgic feelings that are real and genuine are often indistinguishable from the ones created by Hollywood or the music producers whose sole purpose is to sell products, through the TV or walking down the halls of malls throughout the land.

While I'm on the subject, I find that nostalgia is not just defined as the yearning of things past, of cultural simplicity, of children running down the dirt road playing with something without batteries. Often, nostalgia is the yearning for these things, but placed in an ideal world. Not just the past, of happier times of childhood (which, and let's face it, not everyone, or almost no one, has a happy childhood), but rather the times that we would like for that childhood to be. Sure, I never climbed a tree when I was living in Oklahoma, and while I'm not heartbroken because I didn't, there is a sense of loss that that part of my childhood was missing. This is the feeling of nostalgia, of missing things that never happened. And so when we start to think of these things, when we get nostalgic, it is obviously the parts of our childhood that we never got to fulfill that makes wish we could go back and relive those times. That is nostalgia. And it's depressing, but it's often a sweet sadness. It is pain and pleasure all rolled into one. Just like most emotions; you can't have one without the other.

The group Counting Crows said:

"The price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings."

I think he said it right.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Some Random Thoughts

There have been things lately that I've noticed or thought about and said, "I should write a blog about that," but the thoughts never connected into something larger. So these are just small things that were of interest to me...

Christmas Ornament shopping... So I went to Hallmark to get the yearly Christmas ornaments to adorn our not yet put up tree. I usually try to get ornaments that have something to do with my life or the life of the person I'm buying for. So I was looking for a police Christmas ornament for my brother who is a police officer. I found Firefighters, Doctors, Teachers, Military... but no Police ornaments. It was amazing that all the service providers in our community are represented by Hallmark except the people that keep us safe at night from criminals. Yet Firefighters have their own fire engine series of ornaments. They give just as valuable a service, but cannot be villanized because they keep people from doing things they shouldn't be doing in the first place. We make policemen into heroes when they are tragically killed (as in 9/11), but when they are forced to kill a violent criminal who is aiming a gun at them, they are made into some monster who should have used some other method to save the life of a poor, unfortunate soul who suddenly becomes the victim of a "police" shooting. Maybe Hallmark, if not society in general (to be fair, I have not checked other places for an ornament honoring police officers), should look at honoring the people that keep the general population safe (at least more than what is already done).


I loved the statement in a recent Rockdale Citizen from someone who obviously works at Blockbuster: "If its just out in theatres, it's not going to be at your local video store." Or at Borders, which I have to follow, "If it just came out in Hardback, it's not going to be out in Paperback. It's amazing how many people asked if HP7 was out in Paperback the night it first came out!


Christopher, a worker at our Seattle's Best Cafe, and a professional bartender before he joined us, made the most amazing Hazelnut Kremecula a couple of nights ago. Go get one!

I went to the restroom a couple of nights ago (I'm sure you all wanted to know that. ), and found, on the TP rack next to the stool, a tract from some church telling how to be saved, and to repent of our sins. And while that is God's word and the foundation for the Christian faith, there are much better places to be contemplating Divinity than the public restroom at a mall! God deserves better than that. We need to have a contemplation room at public places. That would be a place where the walls would be sound proof, and all wireless signals would be cut off, so that no cell phones would work. It might have plants or whatever, but it would be a place for people to sit down and think and rest and escape from the world for a while. A person would make a fortune doing it.... although that's a stupid thought, cause if you leave the cell phone at home, and go for a leisurely stroll at any one of the state parks, God has provided you with places to contemplate life, the universe, and everything. We don't need to be so rushed that the only time we have for reading a prepared tract (things we should be finding out for ourselves and reading the Bible and such) in a public restroom.
My next post, I want to revisit some of my earlier posts, because there are emotions I'm seeing that I'm astonished at how superficial, and yet how real and powerful they can be.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Kid Icarus; difficulty in Video Games


On a whim, with the music of level one rolling around in my head, I decided to search for Kid Icarus on the web, to see what web sites were out there. Kid Icarus, for those who are unfamiliar with video game history, was a game originally put out for the 8 bit Nintendo system. It followed by a sequel for the Game Boy, but that was about it. It dealt with the hero, Kid Icarus, fighting mythological monsters in an attempt to rescue some fair damsel in distress. The normal fair for computer games. But anyway, I found a site that reviewed the game, since now you can play those classic games on the Wii system. The review went on and on about how hard the game was, how repetitive the levels and how annoying some of the jumps were. This got me to thinking, because I loved the game, and found it to be fairly easy. What makes an old 8-bit game like Kid Icarus a difficult game, while modern day games, while dazzling in graphics and action, seem fairly easy? My answer is this... that people now a days, with the instant availability of game walkthroughs and cheat codes, find that any game with any difficulty at all is too hard. There is no balance in a game, no thrill in beating a boss that, when you finally take away that last life meter, makes you exhale and feel like you've truly slayed a monster.

But that's not to say that all video games from that era are easy... there were different games with different difficulty levels, and the truly great ones were the ones that could keep the plot line and story detailed, with the action and the skill level not easy, by any means, but not extremely difficult, either. Let's take some of the greatest series in video game history for examples. The Mega Man series, which has now infiltrated every console system and the PC available, started out with Mega Man 1 and 2, which were amazing games, challenging and fun. Mega Man 3 was a little harder, but still beatable. 4 through 7, however, for the 8 bit system, were ridiculous. I couldn't get past even one level, and only managed to beat them using cheat codes. Ninja Gaiden for the 8 bit was impossible, as was NG3, but the second installment was thrilling, and when I finally beat it, after several hours on the same level, it was marvelous. Castlevania 2 was great, and I beat it after many hours playing it, but 1 was hard, but playable, and 3 was impossible. Luckily, when the Super Nintendo came out, Mega Man and Castlevania came out with amazing games. We're still waiting for NG. Zelda was the only game series that had the balance right the whole time, as far as the games that I have played. The Legend of Zelda series has some of the best video games ever made (1, 3, and Ocarina).

But now there are cheat codes for everything, and the games are usually so short because they have tried to up the graphics to such a point that there is more glitter than substance. One notable exception is Half-Life, which is the only first person shooter I'll play, mainly because it actually has a plot line. Also, play American Mcgee's Alice sometime.... an amazing plot line with a balance that I've not seen in quite a while. (Okay, so we had to use the god code for the last boss, but that's okay. The story line was completed, and that's the main thing.)

So balance, just like in life, is essential for a video game to continue it's life cycle beyond one system. And those video games which have the correct balance have become a part of our culture. Everyone knows who Mario is, or Zelda. And you put a copy of SMB1 in front of someone, even today, and they'll get hours of pleasure out of it. Thank goodness for the emulators to bring back the ability to play games that I have gathering dust in my closet, so that the memories that they contain can always be renewed... like visiting an old friend.