Ruminations from Raleigh Court

Monday, February 13, 2006

Thoughts after a week of not posting

So, it has been a while since I wrote anything on here. It has been a hectic week here in the wife's birthday is tomorrow, going to a wedding on the weekend, working on revising the dissertation, starting a new article for a conference in Montreal, teaching two new time to do much of anything else, even cut my hair which is getting way too long and approaching mullet status. Right now, it looks kind of like James Spader's hair circa Some Kind of Wonderful.

Some thoughts that have been mulling around in my head of recent:
  • The biathalon is a fascinating bit of sports theatre. Any sport that combines skiing and guns is alright by me. I did not buy, however, the claim by the idiot NBC announcer the other day that it got the highest TV ratings of any sport in Europe...any empirical data to support this, Mr. Ted Robinson? Call me crazy but I imagine the Portuguese and the Greeks care not a bit about Finnish biathaloners in general. I could go on a rant about how it fits America's anti-soccer tendencies, but I will save that for another day.
  • Speaking of the beautiful game, good match by the US v a strong Japanese side in SF on Friday night. My current 23 is the same as the one after the Norway match except that I now have Todd Dunivant in and Pat Noonan in. I am now getting rid of Greg Berhalter and Josh Wolff, though O'Brien's place on the side is contingent on his health (he's never fit). In the EPL, Chelsea lost 3-0 to crappy Boro. I hate Chelsea with the flame of a 1000 suns. The right wing, fascist club of London owned by a billionaire Russian oil baron...they are as evil as it gets.
  • My wife and I are currently obsessed with grifter tales, both on TV and film. We're big into the AMC/BBC show Hustle, loved the grifter/Sawyer back story thread on Lost last week, and watched The Sting on Sunday night. Anyone interested in getting a crew together to get some long cons going? Let me know and send along your skills that might be useful to a serious crew. We're only going after rich ass Republicans.
  • Finally saw Walk the Line yesterday. Loved it and have had Ring of Fire in my head all day. Gotta say, that Reese Witherspoon can act. She's in one of my top five high school movies (Election) and was just brilliant as June Carter Cash. She got the SW Virginia twang down pat, ala the Carter Family from down Bristol town way.
  • is in the midst of retooling their business model to a subscription service. Good luck to 'em, I like the station. Too bad I'm poor and am trying to adopt a child or I would join myself. As is, I am foolishly squandering funds on food and shelter at the moment.
Anyway, ciao for now.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Thoughts on the week in tv and Teenage Fanclub

It's Super Bowl Sunday and I can hardly wait for the hype. My favorite is when the pre-game invariably degenerates into displays of hyper-nationalism-the bombers, salute to our troops defending our freedoms, and general worship of all things Americana. I expect the usual over the top display this evening. As for the game, I think I'm pulling for the Seahawks. I've always liked those helmets. Speaking of TV....

  • Glad to see Johnny bite the dust on the OC on Thursday. I actually kind of liked him as a character at first, then he just became pathetic. The OC is really close to running off the tracks this season. They need some energy and scandal pronto.
  • Veronica Mars gave us a great episode on Tuesday, as Weevil looks down and out and Keith Mars continues to uncover clues about the bus accident. This show is so better not be taken off the air with the whole UPN/WB merger afoot.
  • I don't know why but I actually enjoy watching Numb3ers on Friday evenings. It is so ridiculous and over-acted but I am strangely drawn to it. Perhaps Charlie can explain my attraction to the show in some complex formula. Maybe I've just got an old school man-crush on Judd Hirsch.
  • Fox shows the last four eps of Arrested Development on Friday evening...if that show is picked up by Showtime, I will have to coax my financial manager/wife into shelling out a bit of coin for the channel.
  • Good new show on BBC America called Conviction. When paired with Night Detective, Monday night is a must TIVO event on the beeb.
On a different note, as I was driving home from campus the other day, my trusty mini I-Pod chose to rock out a couple of Teenage Fanclub songs. It got me thinking about just how much I love that band and how much they are underappreciated in the American musicscape. I know my friends Chris and Mary from the NYC dig these Scots, as they played Planets as their first dance song at their wedding. Apart from them and my friend Euan, I don't really know any other devotees. And in terms of press and general appreciation in the USA, they had one brief moment in the sun in the early '90's after the release of Bandwagonesque on DGC records. It got them a gig on SNL in 1992, the episode with Jason Priestley hosting (a classic episode featuring a great 90210 send off).

That record, their first major label release, remains a solid one and includes early hints at the pop songwriting genius of the band. Though they had the grunge hair, the bands songs were 60's influenced power pop gems a la Big Star and the Byrds with harmonies galore. Norman Blake sang most of the songs on this record, with tunes like Star Sign, Metal Baby, What You Do To Me and I Don't Know ranking as my favorites from this record. (Note: As Chris rightly pointed out to me, I neglected to mention their first stateside release on Matador Records called A Catholic Education. An oversight on my part, as I never actually owned that record and have only heard the tracks on there via a crappy cassette mix I had back in the day. That said, my thoughts on that record are that it is very much in the Bandwagonesque vein, but not as slickly produced. One for the hardcore fans, to be sure, and somewhat hard to come by these days.)

Their 1993 follow up on DGC was Thirteen, a bit more uneven and scattershot than Bandwagonesque. I've grown to appreciate it more now that I see where the boys were headed. The songs forshadow a move towards more pure pop arrangements and hint at their potential as songwriters. Fave songs include Norman 3, 120 mins, and Hang On.

I sort of dropped interest in the band after this record and their 1995 release Grand Prix sort of passed me by. I only heard it b/c my roommate Euan at Syracuse had a copy. The big trend on this record was that Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Ray MacGinley began to share the songwriting duties. A big, big plus for the band, as all three bring a different sound to the mix. Like Sloan, Teenage Fanclub manages to incorporate all of the sounds of disparate songwriters together to create a sound that most bands with one songwriter cannot match. Grand Prix includes gems like Versimiltude, Mellow Doubt, and About You.

Two more years passed, I moved to North Carolina and was in a serious Guided By Voices phase in 1997. While at a record store in godforsaken Greenville, NC, I stumbled upon the newest Fanclub record Songs from Northern Britain. Needing something to listen to other than Mag Earwhig!, I bought it without having heard a track. Smart move by me, as this proved to be the best record of that year in my opinion. I remember Chris telling me at the time that it was the comeback record of the year and I have to agree. Quite simply, it is a classic pop record, one where the band finally lived up to all of their potential. This is a great late summer record and can transport you to the rural Scottish Highlands, a region they wax lyrically about in the classic song Planets. There is really not a band song on here and I rank Take the Long Way Round, I Don't Want Control of You, Ain't that Enough, Winter, Start Again, and Speed of Light among their best ever offerings. If you don't own this record, you are missing out on a classic.

Following SFNB, Fanclub recorded a record with Jad Fair that I'm somewhat indifferent to. Though they next recorded Howdy in 2000, it takes until 2002 for it to show up on American shores with Thirsty Ear Records releasing it. Another fine effort from the boys, including I Need Direction, Near You, If I Never See You Again, and Accidental Life ranking as my favorites. The review on I-Tunes for this record is quite harsh and claims the band showed no energy here. To use Scottish parlance, that's a bunch of shite.

Finally, Fanclub's most record stateside offering Man-Made was released last year on NC's Merge Records. Because of the production from John McIntire of Tortoise fame, this record has a darker and more reflective tone that some critics did not respond to. I find it a really interesting turn for the band, full of really somber pop songs that are the yang to the SFNB's upbeat yin. Time Stops, It's All in My Mind, Save, Nowhere, Cells, Fallen Leaves and Feel stand out for me here. The I-Tunes review calls it a cool fusion b/w the 70's band America and Stereolab. I'll buy that.

Anyway, that's my tribute to Teenage Fanclub, a band that has had a major influence on me over the past 15 years or so. They have a retrospective called 4,736 Seconds if you need a good introduction to the band pre-Man Made. As Ali G is wont to say, give 'em some respeck and a serious listen.

Until next time.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The State of Footie

After each of the friendly matches the US plays before Copa Mundial 2006, I am going to guess the 23 based on current form. Assuming full health (always a huge assumption when you are dealing with players like Johnnie O'Brien), this is my current 23:
GK: 3
Keller (Borss. Monchengladback-GER Bund)
Hannemann (Reading, ENG-Champ)
Howard (Man Utd-ENG-Premiership)

D: 8
Onyewu (Standard Leige-BEL Jupilar Prem)
Bocanegra (Fulham-ENG Premiership)-Nice winner versus Spurs yesterday...
Gibbs (Ado Den Haag-NETH Eridivisie)
Berhalter (Energie Cottbus-GERM 2nd)
Pope (Real Salt Lake-MLS)
Cherundolo (Hannover 96-Germ Bund)
Lewis (Leeds United-ENG Championship)
Hejduk (Columbus Crew-MLS)

M: 8
Reyna (Manchester City: ENG Premiership)
Donovan (LA Galaxy-MLS)
Maestroeni (Colorado Rapids-MLS)
O'Brien (Ado Den Haag-NETH Erid)
Convey (Reading-ENG Championship) Good goal for Reading yesterday, God bless Sky Sports News.
Beasley (PSV Eindhoven-NETH Erid)
Dempsey (New England Revolution-MLS)
Olsen (DC United-MLS)

F: 4
Brian McBride (Fulham: ENG Premiership)
Josh Wolff (KC Wizards-MLS)
Ed Johnson (FC Dallas-MLS)
Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution-MLS)

On the fringe/Next in Line:
Todd Dunivant (LA Galaxy) Left back
John Spector (Charlton Athletic) Versitile Defender
Chris Albright (LA Galaxy) Right Back
Jimmy Conrad (KC Wizards) CD
Heath Pearce (FC Nordsjaelling) Left back/midfield
Patty Noonan (New England Revolution) Outside M
Chris Rolfe (Chicago Fire) F
Nate Jacqua (Chicago Fire) F
Kerry Zavagnin (KC Wizards) M
Matt Reis (New England Revolution) GK

Any thoughts?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Random Thoughts from the Weekend..

On my way back from my office this afternoon, I had some random thoughts that I felt like writing down a la Larry Fricking King:

  • Driving past the Roanoke Civic Center, the marquee notes that the next two concerts are Nickelback and George Thurgood. If this does not say everything that needs to be said about the state of music in this area, I don't know what does.
  • Good games by Taylor Twellman, Clint Dempsey and Todd Dunivant for the US National Team in their destruction of Norway on Sunday. All three gave themselves a shot for Germany, with Twellman and Dempsey looking particularly good for the 23.
  • Props to the Hokies on a gutsy first ACC win over Wake Forest on the road without their two best inside players. It made me proud to be a Hokie, something that we've not had for a few weeks because of the Marcus Vick fiasco and the resulting media bashing from Wilbon and other tools.
  • Johnny on the OC is SO DEAD. ...that character was going nowhere, anyway. Oh, and Ryan needs to drop Marissa stat. She's gotten past annoying into the category of ridiculous.
  • Like my old school pal ChrisLarry, I am a big fan of the shuffle feature on the IPod. There are some days that the mix synchs together perfectly, like the best shows you ever did on college radio. The five songs I heard today in a row from campus were Black and White Town by Doves (mysterious and melodic ala the Smiths), Eye Know by De La Soul (still on my top five hip hop records of all time), Nightclub Jitters by the Mats, 16 Military Wives by the Decembrists and The Transaction by Sea and Cake. A little bit of alright on a Monday in the Valley.
  • I hate Super Bowl hype. There was an argument on ESPN about whether or not the Steelers should have gotten to Detroit a day earlier. Everyone knows they have better strip clubs in Pittsburgh, why would the players want to leave that?
  • Loving the new show Hustle on AMC...a weekly fix of the Ocean's Eleven/Italian Job grifting crew style. Not really digging, however, the new CBS Series Love Monkey. The guy from Ed is supposed to be a record exec at an indie label, yet he seems to have an affinity for crap music. It does have Jason Priestley which does give it a few bonus points.
  • I am going TIVO crazy tonight so that I have plenty of backup for case you did not know, it is State of the Union address time. Watching Bush speak causes me to wish I was watching Webster or Full House.
  • I like the Colbert Report better right now than the Daily Show. There, I said it. Colbert is just right on target at the moment.
  • I am teaching a course with 47 students at a supposed liberal arts college. Aren't I supposed to get a class with 12 coeds sitting attentively around a seminar table, eager to learn and contribute after a few sips of port and bites on shortbread? That was my vision of liberal arts education, anyway.
  • Saw the Matador. Good flick, worth catching. I have a big crush on Hope Davis.
Have a good day, all.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Star City Primer Part One

So...the Hokies lost again lost night in hoops. Has been a pretty damn hard season for us, lots of off the court problems really hurting the team. (washington post has a good article on that here.) Anyway, we'll be lucky to make the NIT at this rate.

Thought I would make a list of my favorite things in and around my fair city of Roanoke. The city was once called Big Lick, something that I wish continued to this day. Imagine the possibilities for a town with that name. Roanoke pretty much was a little piece of crap town until the Norfolk and Western Railroad connected with the Shenandoah RR here in the 1880's. Now, its a slightly bigger piece of crap town. Seriously, I do like the Noke and there are some great things about this place. In the first installment of a periodic series, here are some of the highlights for all of you passing through on Interstate 81 (the worst road in America):

Mill Mountain Star: On top of Mill Mountain (obviously), this is where local teens go to smoke pot and make out. Panoramic version of the entire city except in the summer when it is so humid, you can't make out anything below. Largest man made star in the world (was there a contest for this?) and can light up seven different colors. Supposedly back in the day it was lit red when there was a drunk driving fatality. Pretty morbid, if true. These days it is red, white and blue all the time to scare Osama and his minions

Victory Stadium: I'm writing a paper for a conference on this stadium, which is the #1 local issues in the Noke. Will they or won't they tear it down? They just played high school football games in it this fall despite the fact that it is condemned. It also is in the floodplain for the Roanoke River, as you can see from this picture. Virginia Tech and VMI used to play games there back in the day, one reason why local yokels seem hell bent on saving the thing.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Internet Radio and the Quest To Stay Cool

Back in the day....I used to be the program director of a solid college radio station. Like those characters in High Fidelity, I was the ultimate music snob that knew all of the good music out from 90-94. 7" records, EP's , the more obscure the better. Saw a ton of good shows, the whole indie rock thing suited me.

Fast forward twelve years and it is much harder to find out about new and interesting music that I would like. I vowed long ago to never be one of those guys that talks about how much better music was when they were growing up. The problem however is finding the good new music that I once was so up on. When you find yourself looking to Entertainment Weekly and episodes of the O.C. for introductions, you've lost all your cool cred.

Enter internet radio as a source. The main problem is, of course, that there are a gazillion stations to choose from and some of them just plain suck. One station I stumbled upon once was actually playing a Phil Collins song. Ouch. Anyway, I've since stumbled on a few stations that I really like and thought I would share them. I'd love to get some feedback on any others out there that you good folks might know about. My recent faves:

WOXY: My favorite and the one that gets played by me a lot these days. Used to be a non commercial station out of Ohio, they went internet only a few years back. A great selection of new music on there and dj's that know their stuff. They also have an absolutely killer vintage station on the site as well (go here) In the way old school category of bands I had totally forgotten about, I heard a songs by Mary's Danish, the Judybats, the Screaming Blue Messiahs, Magnapop, Lotion....lots of stuff from the 90-94 period.

BBC 6 Music: Lots of good new British stuff here and a very eclectic mix of stuff. They are all over the place in a good and professional way.

Last.FM: This is one of those stations that allow you to enter an artist you like and then they create a station with music on it somewhat similar to the band you entered. You can create multiple stations this way and they seem to have a lot of music in their database.

Some new music that I have since downloaded that I think is worth a listen:
Rogue Wave: Some songs sound like Nick Drake, others power pop. Good band from the bay area.
The Decembrists: Very original and interesting pop ensemble from Portland, the coolest city in America.
Nada Surf: Sure, I knew these guys from the old school but their new stuff is way better than that first record with the popular song on it.
Kaiser Chiefs: Brit flavor of the month, good band named after a South African soccer team.
The Editors: They have this really cool song called Bullets that is quite the catchy pop gem.
Doves: I really really like this band from Manchester. Kind of hypnotic and reminds me of Ride at times.
Aberfeldy: They have a great song about a vegetarian restaurant.
Futureheads: The return of the Buzzcocks and the Jam. They rock and do so in under two and a half minute songs, generally.
New Pornographers: I like Canadian bands. Sloan are my favorite but I do like these cats, as I did Carl's other band Zumpano.
The Trouble with Sweeney: I really love this band called the Barnabys that only like five people seem to remember and I know most of those people. They played my college a few times back in the day and put out this great record on Spin Art. Their lead singer and songwriter Joey Sweeney is now in this band out of Phily. Same great sound as the Barnabys.

Anyway, ciao for now.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My First Entry

In my long standing quest to become part of the cool, hip in-crowd, I've now chosen to give in and join the blogging nation. If nothing else, this gives me yet another in a long line of diversions that keep me from doing the academic work I should be focused entirely on. That being said, I thought it might be fun to share my thoughts on popular culture and politics in an open space.

A bit about myself...I'm a professor in the greater Roanoke/Blacksburg area and am finishing up my dissertation this year. Married, two cats, two televisions, two cars, the usual shite. Lived in upstate NY for a while, Eastern NC for even longer and taught school at a private academy for a time. Moved back to the land of my youth (SW VA) with my wife five years coaching soccer at my old high school. Walking into the old gym felt like a scene out of Welcome Back Kotter, minus the Sweathogs. Just a tidbit-high school gyms smell like teenage boys. I forgot (or never noticed) how bad teenage boys actually smell. It's an interesting and foul fushion of cheap cologne and lots of BO.

As for starting a blog, I wrote a couple of columns on television for my friend mark's website, the fabulous Both seemed to go over pretty well and I still get emails from people that I know who used the columns to reconnect with me. The first one is linked here TV Column and the second one here TV Column TWO . I will do much of the same kind of stuff in this here space, just much more often and with a bit of sass attached. Also, lots of crap on movies, music, internet sites, books, cultural and political theory, right-wing nutjobs, restaurants in the greater Roanoke/Blacksburg area (we're in a bit of a culinary wasteland here), soccer, the daily trauma and pain associated with being a Hokie sports fan, travel, and the occasional update on my academic status and the trials and tribulations of a young professor in the wild world of academia.

First topic:
My new found love for BBC America.

When this network first started, I was extremely excited. I envisioned access to all the cool BBC shows we've never seen and perhaps a bit of British footie thrown in. What we got at first was a lot of reruns of Fawlty Towers, Ab Fab and Are you being served? was like being at home on a Saturday night and watching PBS. Very disappointing....

Then came The Office and BBC America figured out that new original BBC programming might actually work in Jesusland. A whole bunch of new and interesting shows have showed up on that network at various times. Here's some of my favorites over the past year and a half or so:

Night Detective: New Season starts next week. Set in Newcastle, cop deals with racism and police corruption in a hard ass town. Very good stuff and well acted.

Viva Blackpool: This was one of the coolest shows on TV in the last decade, bar none. If you missed it (ran in the Fall), buy the DVD's from BBC America. Takes place in Blackpool and involves random music numbers where the actors lip sync songs by the Smiths, Elvis Costello, the Clash, the Faces, etc. Very cool and totally original stuff. I hate that there were only six episodes (maybe I need to write a column on how short BBC series are)

Rebus: Nice detective mystery series based on novels from the UK. Set in Edinburgh, the detective is a huge Hiberian fan, drinks a lot of pints, chain-smokes and is generally miserable all of the time. And we love him for it.

Bodies: Super disturbing medical drama where all of the doctors are on the take and are crap. Lots of lawsuits and general mayhem. The only medical drama I've ever seen where the doctors seem to be human and unsure of what to do in crisis situations. Lots of blood. Stars the guy who played Ricky Gervais boss in the 2nd season of The Office as the most evil and pathetic of the doctors.

Teachers: I quite liked this show, a kind of Scrubs UK set in a high school. Main teacher guy is totally Zak Braffesque and can't quite grow up and accept the responsibility that comes with being a young teacher. I saw a lot of my own trials and trevails as a young teacher in that character.

The Robinsons: A decent comedy about an eccentric family starring one of the cats from the office (guy who played Tim). Worth checking out.

Murder in Suburbia: Two sassy female cops solving cases. Like Cagney and Lacey but foxier and in the suburbs.

There are a few others that I've missed, as these shows sort of drift in and out of the lineup. Anyway, give the network your attention and you'll find some real gems on there.