Category Archives: Uncategorized

Flowers of the Sky

From The Public Domain Review comes “depictions spanning almost a whole millennium – in chronological order – of comets, meteors, meteorites and shooting stars.”

See the amazing full set here.

comets

V0024753 Astronomy: a meteor shower in the night sky. Mezzotint.

comet

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House of Stairs

stairsI read a handful of William Sleator’s YA novels when I was a kid and they left a mark, so when we bought a few for our son this year, I decided to re-read one of two myself. HOUSE OF STAIRS is such a potent little book, like LORD OF THE FLIES with mixed gender teens and, instead of an island, a vast prison of stairs that’s been devised (no real spoiler here) by an unseen, controlling power.

The characters are types ranging from the cocky handsome boy to the greedy rich girl, but there’s surprising depth and insight, and Sleator twists the group into fascinating tensions and disputes as they do whatever they can to earn the only prize available: bit of food released by a small, blinking machine. As a child, I completely missed that one of the characters was secretly gay (it’s obvious now), and his psychological evolution is moving and effective, especially given how short the book is.

The group’s shifting dynamic is the real main character, though, and it’s great stuff. A final chapter reveals What It All Meant, which is fine because it’s a book aimed at teens who might not yet have studied the psychological principles at play, and because the explanation isn’t needlessly dumbed down. I’m eager to see what our son takes away from it.

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I Miss the Red Squirrel

I miss the red squirrel, Fireball, who used to wreak havoc in our yard and chase the big gray squirrels away from the seed pile. Check out his marvelous leap-attack at the end of this video:

fireball

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Winter Night in the Mountains

Harald Sohlberg (Norwegian 1869 - 1935) , Winter Night in the Mountains 1921

Harald Sohlberg (Norwegian 1869 – 1935) , Winter Night in the Mountains 1921

via

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Urach Falls

Click the image to see an amazing time-lapse video of the moonlit, frozen falls of Bad Urach, Germany.

fullmoonurach24-p

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New Vinyl: “Vs”

vsIf a fortyish man ever asks you, “Were you a Nirvana fan or a Pearl Jam fan?”, you’re talking to a Nirvana fan. Pearl Jam fans never ask this question. Much was made of this early grunge rivalry, which was almost entirely manufactured by posers who pretended they had more cred than other posers. Cobain briefly expressed disdain for Eddie and Co.’s anthemic style, then retracted that disdain, had a nice talk with Eddie on the phone, and said he liked him. What remained was a lot of Nirvana fans who swallowed a media-conjured debate and pretended their favorite Top 40, MTV-darling, Rolling Stone-cover band was, you know, like, realer. But they’re both seminal bands with lots of great tunes, and it’s worth remembering that Pearl Jam (a) jumped off the MTV-video machine with their second album, and (b) gleefully released a genuinely weird and subcultural third LP that cost them legions of casual fans.

Is In Utero better than Vs.? Was Nirvana’s Unplugged more electrifying than Pearl Jam’s Unplugged? I’ll leave those debates to guys who are still trying to prove their Pixies/Westerberg/Sex Pistols taste is cooler than other guys’ Neil Young/Kiss/arena-rock taste.

Vs. is a gangbuster album. There’s so much tension and propulsion in “Go”, “Animal”, and “Rearviewmirror,” and so much heartfelt, oddball pop-hookery in “Daughter” and “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”, it’s hard to believe the album came from a band who was, at the time, badly dazed by the music world’s ludicrously high expectationsVs. holds up.

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New Vinyl: “As the Stars”

woodsThis was the year I got back into metal. I don’t mean the hair metal I listened to in high school (although I admit to still enjoying the fun idiocy of that genre; rock could use a little more fun idiocy these days). The metal I discovered and rediscovered this year is the quality stuff, beginning with Black Sabbath and Judas Priest — two bands I grossly underappreciated in the past — and continuing on to current bands such as Mastodon. When people talk of metal being a good-riddance flash in the pan, they’re generally talking about the L.A. glam scene of the 80s (Ratt, Posion, Warrant, & co.), but metal is astonishingly vital and current, and has existed as a large, active subculture since the 70s.

Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal is a superb primer, and VH1’s documentary series, Metal Evolution, is worth watching start to finish for its exploration of metal as an important artistic genre. You might not like metal music, but both the book and the documentary prove that the genre can’t be dismissed as stupid noise. In the last year, I listened to loads of albums, old and new, and found myself becoming a genuine fan, not from any nostalgic teenage connection with loud guitars, but from a real connection to the music. One great discovery was Woods of Desolation, headed by a musician known simply as D, and his 2014 LP “As the Stars”. It sounds cacophonous at first but quickly unfolds, and blooms, and reveals its layers and melodies. What a thing to hear such a mess of sound and realize it’s actually lovely inside. I bought the vinyl for myself and it just arrived from Germany. Sounds amazing loud.

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New Vinyl: “Trouble Will Find Me”

PrintI have an electric vinyl cleaner, so yes, of course I love The National. But really what I hear in The National isn’t hipster rock but midlife white guy rock. I’m a midlife white guy, so they speak to me. They’re sad and weary, but also cheeky and loose and actually kind of gleeful. It’s tempting to imagine lead singer Matt Berninger as a rumple-suited, quiet depressive writing songs with bourbon at the twilit end of the bar, but God he’s funny in interviews, and he’s married with a kid and seems perfectly happy about that. A Leonard Cohen flavor permeates The National’s music and lyrics, and Leonard Cohen is another guy who can write melancholy bruisers without appearing broken in life. It’s good to have silvering whiskers and think of yourself as an undergrad, or have a decade-plus marriage and still get buzzed from a look at your wife’s bare legs. Somebody said that in the first half of life, we’re figuring out how to live, and in the second half of life, we’re figuring out how to die. The National live in the middle.

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