2008 > 2009

It’s about 11:10 p.m. on Dec. 31. This won’t be posted for another hour, but I have some things I wanted to share about the past year, and I thought this would a good time to get started.

At the moment, I’m sitting on a bright red-orange couch in the middle of my new living room. On the television is a DVD of a 1987 Grateful Dead show in Oakland. The New Year’s Eve show was a tradition for GD for many, many years; it’s now a tradition for me as well, going back as far as the year we were skiing at Breckenridge and I badgered the DJ at KSMT to play an hour of Dead starting at the stroke of midnight Mountain Time. Maybe it’s a little odd, but that brief shot of weirdness always does a nice job of making me feel centered for the year to come.

Come to think of it, I didn’t really have to push the guy all that hard…

—–

In the five years, I’ve kept Uncle Crappy (the blog) alive, I’ve stopped nearly every year, sometime in December or January, and made some kind of statement about what happened the year before and what I was looking for in the year to come. I’m generally an optimistic person, and I usually made grand, but sort of nonspecific predictions about what was to come.

And I was usually wrong.

Last year, though, I was a little more specific, and as it turned out, I did pretty well:

  • I said that I wanted to start a podcast or two; I didn’t do that, although I did tape and edit a show featuring The Wife and me. Let’s go ahead and make this a goal for 2009.
  • I said I would do a better job at posting regularly here. I think I’ve done that, and I think it shows. In the last three months of the year, my daily page views have doubled; I’m not sure who I have to thank for that, but whoever it is: Thanks. That’s pretty cool.
  • I predicted I’d weasel my way into some additional new media projects at work. This has been mildly successful, even with the roadblocks erected by layoffs and other limitations at the paper. We have a 2-month-old Twitter account which already has about 70 followers. We’ve continued to do video, slideshows and audio presentations, even after the newsroom’s biggest proponent of new media tools was switched to a different department.
  • I said we’d buy a house. We did that, and we couldn’t possibly be happier about it. The purchase will mean we have less time and less money than we had before, but to have a place we own … it’s hard to describe, but it feels very good.

—–

There’s one other thing I accomplished this year, something that wasn’t on my list from a year ago. I’ve met a ton of people who have become very good friends in the past 12 months. I’ve always been grateful for the friendships I’ve kept over time, some going back to grade school. But I’m equally grateful for my new friendships, and I think they’re going to go a long way in keeping me young — OK, a little younger, maybe — in the years to come.

How cool are these folks? There may be as many as a dozen of them joining me in a few hours to jump in the Mon, as a commemoration of the start of 2009. No one is doing this because of me, but I asked the question a couple of days ago, and a surprisingly large number of friends — by which I mean idiots, just like me — responded. I may be a bit drunk at the moment, but I mean this with all the sincerity I can muster — I love you guys.

—–

I ended 2007 — and started 2008 — with a bottle of the 2006 version of Gratitude, the barleywine produced every year by East End Brewing. Other than a very small taste of the previous year’s vintage, I hadn’t had Gratitude before; I was not only blown away, but it seemed to set a nice, positive tone for the year that was just getting underway. I’m not particularly superstitious, but listen — Gratitude was my first beer of 2008, and that year turned out to be pretty good. So I’m doing the same thing this time around; it’s about 11:45 p.m. now, and I just cracked open the 2007 Gratitude I picked up a day ago at the brewery. Here’s hoping it brings similar results.

And here’s hoping 2009 is everything you want it to be.

merry merry.

This has been a bit of an odd Christmas, as my name came up on theĀ  newsroom’s holiday list to work today. It’s not the end of the world — this is my first Christmas shift in eight years here, and the extra holiday pay makes it worthwhile — but it has put a twist on our usual holiday schedules and routines.

In that light, I have a kind of different Christmas offering for you:

Years ago I came across a bootleg Tom Waits CD, recorded in Australia sometime in the late 1970s. Despite the fact that the show was performed in May, we’ve always referred to it as the Christmas record, because of the inclusion of “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.” It’s one of our more offbeat traditions, but it’s a tradition nonetheless.

And don’t worry about me. I’m planning on having Chinese for Christmas dinner tonight — because A Christmas Story has been on the TV at home pretty much non-stop since the marathon started last night, and because the Chinese restaurant here is open — and I get presents and a more traditional Christmas dinner when I’m off tomorrow.

I hope you’ve had happy times today and tonight — giving and getting great gifts, eating too much because it’s so good you can’t stop and, most of all, spending the day with people you care about.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

dark.

Today is the darkest day of the year and my new favorite satellite radio station is doing something amazing to celebrate.

In observance of the winter solstice, the Grateful Dead Channel has lined up an endless stream of what most heads see as the pinnacle of the Dead’s repertoire: “Dark Star.” At some point in the late 1960s, members of the band set out to write a song without rules, something that would free them to play any structure or mood they felt — or play without structure entirely if that’s where the music took them.

The song was a staple through about the mid-1970s, and then virtually disappeared from the GD lineup until the late 1980s. I got to hear a couple versions live; they were both shorter take, not at all like the sprawling versions they played in good old days. No matter; the versions I heard were still adventureous, full of evidence that the telepathy among the members of the band was still alive and well.

gfIt’s difficult to describe “Dark Star,” because the song changed each time it appeared. There are a couple of verses and a bridge, and a dark, shifting melody that served as the jumping-off point for whatever the band wanted to do. There were a few themes and jams that appeared more than once; a good way to hear some of those — and a good way to introduce yourself to “Dark Star” in general — is to listen to Grayfolded, a double-CD peice assembled from the Dead’s vault by John Oswald. It’s a little like listening to a Grateful Dead orchestra, with layers of Jerry Garcia solos dancing in and out of the melody Oswald constructed for the record.

It’s dark outside now, and the wind is howling — appropriate for the darkest day of the year. I was ready for a short break from Christmas; listening to “Dark Stars” all day — and all night — seems to be about perfect to me.

13. all better.

gdc

A couple years ago, I bitched here when XM removed its Music Lab channel — the only one that played my hippie music with any regularity — from its on-air lineup, banishing it to online-only status.

And although I haven’t posted about it, I’ve been wondering more recently how the XM-Sirius merger would manifest itself on my radio. XM has been pushing a “Best of Sirius” package recently — for a few extra bucks a month, XM subscribers could get NFL games, Martha Stewart and all the Howard Stern we could handle — but there has been little discussion about how the satellite networks would actually combine their programming.

It would be cool to have the NFL broadcasts, but I didn’t want Martha Stewart. I really didn’t want Howard Stern. I wanted Sirius’ Grateful Dead channel. I wanted its Jam On channel. And I had no idea whether I’d ever get them.

Until today.

I noticed this morning that some of my presets were showing up on different channels, but as I was still distracted by the Ellington show, I didn’t really think anything about it. Until I saw a thing on Plurk about someone searching for Ethel — an alt-rock station on XM — and not being able to find it.

And then it clicked in my tiny little brain. I went to the XM web site and found:

I have the Grateful Dead channel.

I have Jam On.

I also have a new full-time NPR channel.

And I still have the indy music stations, including The Verge, which features Canadian artists and is waaaaaay better than XMU.

I made an excuse at work — said I was going to get some dinner — and rushed out to the car to re-program all the presets. And then I drove around for an hour, listening to GD straight out of the vault.

Happy. Happyhappyhappyhappyhappyhappy.

I wish XM and Sirius had done a better job of keeping its subscribers informed about what was going to happen.

But as I mentioned before, I’m happy that my questions were answered today.

12. that part in between.

dukeI need to thank Fred for jogging my memory a few days ago. He completed his alphabet assignment in a timely fashion, a great list based on the letter N.

You can see his list here; pay particular attention to the entry about “Newport Jazz,” and the Duke Ellington show at the Newport festival in 1956. Fred emphasizes the performance of “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue,” two old Ellington pieces that were connected by an instrumental break performed by tenor sax player Paul Gonsalves.

I have read about this performance before; I knew that it was a turning point for Ellington and his band, which was increasingly viewed as a relic when compared with emerging forms like cool jazz on the West Coast and hard bop in the east. But I had never listened to the recordings of the show, and I wanted to hear “Diminuendo” and “Crescendo” in particular.

A quick visit to iTunes got me the music, and that’s all I’ve been listening to for the last two days. The “Diminuendo” and “Crescendo” piece is about 14 minutes long, and the break — just Gonsalves, Ellington plinking color chords and the band’s drummer — takes up about half the track. It’s an amazing solo, but not in the way that John Coltrane would stretch musical limits in the decade to come; it’s done within the confines of Ellington’s swing — and it swings so hard that it brought a timid audience out of its seats.

The Wikipedia entry describes the pandemonium at the show. It also says it was the performance — and Gonsalves’ solo was the very moment — that the Ellington band resurrected its career. I love finding instances of the power of music and its ability to energize an audience; that was the thing that kept me going back to Grateful Dead and Phish shows over the years. But although the setting and the style are very different, this piece is a perfect example of how that works. When you listen to the track, you’ll hear members of Ellington’s band urging Gonsalves on; you’ll also hear the audience become more and more raucous as the solo continues.

I bought the whole album from iTunes for $16, and I think it’s worth it. But at least do this — for a buck you can download the track at Amazon. It represents a turning point the career of one of the more important American musicans ever, and it’s a kick in the ass like you we may not ever hear again.

the. best. ever.

I started thinking about the Grammys after I found out about the Dead’s upcoming lifetime achievement award, and couldn’t help recall this performance from the 2005 show, a tribute to Janis Joplin by Joss Stone and Melissa Etheridge.

Wow. It was the first time I’d seen Joss Stone sing anything, and Melissa was making her first appearance since completing chemo treatments for breast cancer, and they absolutely nailed the songs. I was at work when this was on, and I remember standing in front of the televisions simply dumbfounded.

I mentioned a couple of days ago that the Grammys have never done much for me, but this … this was just one of the best musical performances I’ve ever seen, anywhere, at any time, by any performers. I’ll even go as far to call it the best thing that’s ever graced a Grammy broadcast.