Thursday, April 24, 2008


 What do our musical choices say about us? Let’s find out, as we play...THE NEXT TEN SONGS ON MY IPOD!

   My ipod shuffle, which has about 250 songs on it -- pulled from a fairly extensive playlist -- is set to random. And here we go:

One Day More -- Les Miserables Soundtrack (London Cast): I’ve been going through a bit of a broadway revival lately. I hadn’t listened to any musicals for some time, suddenly I had the craving. I love this song. It’s a turning point in the story, where all of the various story arcs come together (and where the intermission is in the play -- no that that’s relevant). Incidentally, the London cast recording of Les Miserables is far superior to any of the other versions out there, for one reason -- Colm Wilkinson, as Jean Valjean. Actually, I’ve always thought it kind of strange that it’s the English version of a French Story that everyone loves so much...

Welcome to the Jungle -- Guns ‘n’ Roses: Wow, that’s a good way to strip your gears.  This is a pretty disturbing song, but man it sounds cool. The beginning of this song is one of the best ever. And the louder you play it, the better it sounds. What ever happened to these guys?

Ice Harvest, Miller’s Mill, New York -- Charles Kuralt: This is a recording from one of the On The Road segments that Kuralt used to do for the CBS Evening News. Charles Kuralt is one of my heroes. He spent his life traveling around the nation and telling us all about ourselves. His life’s work is the great epic poem of America. This particular story is about a community in New York that keeps the centuries old tradition of cutting and storing lake ice in the middle of the winter, to be used for the ice cream social later that summer. Vintage Kuralt.

Think of Me -- Phantom of the Opera soundtrack: There’s that broadway thing again. I actually haven’t listened to Phantom for a VERY long time. It’s nice to come back to it. There are some amazing vocal performances on this soundtrack. Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman defined these roles. I have to be honest, I like Les Miserables better -- it’s a better story and a better live production. It’s kind of like the Beatles/Rolling Stones thing, everyone has to have a favorite. 

The Impossible Dream - The Man of La Mancha Soundtrack: I read Don Quixote several years ago, but I was unfamiliar with this musical, until last year, when we went to see it at the Hale Centre Theatre. It’s was amazing. The idea of this song gets a little lost on people sometimes, I think. It’s not about facing tremendous obstacles, and eventually triumphing. It’s about fighting the good fight even though you know you cannot win. It’s an impossible dream, not an almost impossible dream. 

Through the Trees -- David Tolk: David Tolk is a local guy here in Utah. He plays piano for Peter Breinholt, but he also has several solo albums. I really like his music (oh it’s piano music, by the way) it’s simple and beautiful. And easy for a “by ear” piano player to pick up. 

 Wish You Were Here -- Pink Floyd: Pink Floyd used to scare the crap out of me. I had always heard of them as a kid, but had never actually heard their music. People described them as “acid rock” and I wasn’t sure what that meant (I’m still not sure it actually means anything -- no one even uses the term any more), but it sounded scary, so I wanted nothing to do with them. Then during my sophomore year in High School, my best friend Aaron came across this album -- The Delicate Sound of Thunder. It’s a live concert album. We listened to it. We weren’t seized upon by demons. And we never looked back. This is one of my favorite albums of all time. As good as Pink Floyd is, they sound even better live. That’s rare. I love this song -- and it’s fairly easy to play on the guitar. 

Love One Another -- (Shameless plug alert!!) Chris Thornblad: Yes, I listen to my own music. Sorry. This is the classic primary song (known in some circles as “As I have loved you”). Sharon, my wife, asked me to record a version of this song for her, as a birthday present a couple of years ago. I wasn’t sure how to make it interesting, so I put a bridge in the middle of it with a portion of another primary song, Heavenly Father Loves Me (or Whenever I hear the song of a bird...).

Old Paint -- Peter Breinholt: I’m surprised that it’s taken this long for a Peter Breinholt song to come up. I listen to his stuff more than anything else. One of the things I love about his music is how rich and interesting it is. His lyrics are a little confusing (it gets a little “stream of consciousness-ish” occasionally. But, he uses so many varied instruments in his songs, that they are very fun to listen to. This song descends into a vaudeville style melody, complete with trombones toward the end. And there’s a really tinny, barroom piano too. Oh, and a banjo. 

 I’ve Got You Under My Skin -- Frank Sinatra: I’ve always been a fan of Bing Crosby, but I’m a recent convert to Sinatra. He is so smooth. Frank Sinatra just makes everything sound cool. In fact, you just feel cooler when you listen to him.     

   Well, there you go.  I don't know what that says about me -- you'll have to be the judge. Thank you for playing THE NEXT TEN SONGS ON MY IPOD!                        

Friday, April 11, 2008

When good metaphors go bad

 Ok, let’s a have a talk about lyrics. I am a fan of words. Pound for pound, words are the most powerful thing in the universe -- that’s called hyperbole, kids. Words are at their most potent when paired with other words. We call that a sentence. Let there be light. Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury...signifying nothing. (Meow). Sometimes, we really want to describe something profound -- to give it more depth and meaning. In such a case, often we turn to metaphor. That’s one of those words that you vaguely remember from high school english. A metaphor is when you describe something by, essentially, describing something else. This is a device often employed in poetry and song writing. A metaphor is useful for portraying  ideas, by wrapping them in a physical object. 

   One of my favorite song metaphors is from the Peter Gabriel song “Biko”. Without getting too extensive, the song is about the death of Steven Biko, an African man killed by the white authorities of South Africa, in 1977. It happened during the dreadful apartheid era. The death of Steven Biko helped to bring on a revolution in thought and action, that helped to end apartheid. The line from the song is “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire. Once the flame begins to catch, the wind will blow it higher.” 

   That line is so full of meaning. And it needs no explanation -- unless you have no understanding of the way fire works. 

   And then there is my favorite stupid metaphor (in a song) of all time. No, it’s not “Pour some sugar on me in the name of love”, though that does get an honorable mention. No, the award goes to....Jon Bon Jovi, for the song Bed of Roses. Let me preface my comments by saying, musically, this is a pretty cool sounding song. You have to hand it to Jon Bon Jovi, the man sings PASSIONATELY. One might even say it’s melodramatic.  I desperately want to like this song. The problem is, I can’t help myself. I listen to the words. 

  Most of the words to this song are easy to understand. He longs to be with the woman he loves, but he’s stuck being who he is -- a fabulously famous and wealthy singer, adored by millions, with apparently no control over his life. Hey, we’ve all been there. So, he’s writing this love letter at the piano. He’s hung over (a bottle of vodka lodged in his head -- I hope that’s a metaphor), and there’s a scary blonde in his bed. Apparently this is not the woman he is writing the song for. Again, we understand him. We too have scary blondes in our beds. But then he lays this line on us -- “With an iron clad fist, I wake up and french kiss the morning.” (Sound of needle scratching across record. Sound of train derailing. Sound of stunned silence -- my apologies to Simon and Garfunkel).  Excuse me? You did what? And How? 

   Actually, to give Bon Jovi credit, he sings this line with such conviction, that at first we buy it. Yes! I too have awoken in the pre-dawn hours, my forearm completely encased in metal, and bestowed a lusty smooch upon this point the mental image kicks in...and I begin to scratch my head (with the non metallic hand). I understand what he is saying. He’s hung over. But I get that from the context of the line. Not from the line itself.  I cannot find meaning for the iron clad fist, and I cannot get the image of him making out, passionately I suppose, with the ethereal morning, out of my head. 

  So there you have it. The dumbest, intentionally serious metaphor I have ever heard. 

Oh, there is one other dumb line in the song “ I want to be just as close as the Holy Ghost is”. This is not hard to understand, it’s just hard to believe that after the scary blonde, the bottle of vodka lodged in his head, and whatever it was he did to the morning, that he would be anywhere near where the Holy Ghost was.  

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A weekend in the high desert

  Last weekend, March 29-30, I took my two oldest kids, Jordan and Matt, to Moab, Utah. Well, more precisely, I took them to the national parks in the area - Arches and Canyonlands. We just stayed overnight in Moab. I've decided that I really don't have much tolerance for the town of Moab. It's a dirty little tourist trap, full of over priced food, over priced little bits of junk, and thousands of self important people. I could do very well without the town of  Moab. Except that that is where the Motels are, and I admit that after long days of playing in the rugged outdoors, I like to be able to shower and sleep on a bed. And have somewhere to lock up my camera equipment. 
   So, on to the trip. It was a great experience for me, and I think for my children as well, to be able to spend that amount of time together seeing some of the most beautiful sights in the world. We learned some things that weekend. We learned that we can survive a moderately long car ride without killing each other. Ok, it was only about four hours, and we didn't have Emma with us, but blessings are blessings. We learned that Matthew has no fear of heights. I would not have guessed this. For those of you who know Matt, sometimes he's afraid of his own shadow, but some of the places we went last weekend were at heights of anywhere from 500 to 2000 feet high -- not to mention the places that he actually hiked to and then had to get back down from. It phased him not at all. Jordan, on the other hand, was about three seconds from heart failure most of the weekend. Actually she did fine as long as she was in control. She is much like her father, only braver, at that point of my life. I had an irrational fear of heights at that age. But, every time Matt did something, or went somewhere that made Jordan nervous -- which was most of the time -- Jordan would forget who the parent was, and begin ordering Matt down from wherever it was he had gone. 
   Matt learned that it hurts if you intentionally touch a cactus. We learned that Jordan is a pretty good photographer. She took 95% of the pictures that we have from the trip. Her father is very proud. All of the pictures that I have included with this post  -- except those of the kids -- are made by Jordan. 
   We spent Saturday at Arches, and Sunday morning at the Island in the Sky in Canyonlands (which is one the coolest names for a place I've ever been to). This is always my schedule when I go to the area, for one reason -- light.  Most of Arches gets prettier as the day goes on. The late afternoon sunlight turns the landscape fiery red. But the real treat is Mesa Arch, in Canyonlands, at dawn. The arch sits on the edge of a 1,200 foot cliff, overlooking a vast canyon to the east and the light of the sunrise comes right through the arch, lighting it up a bright red. It only lasts for a few minutes, but it's one of the prettiest things I've ever seen. And most people miss it. In fact, I've never seen anyone else up there at that time, except for a couple of photographers. And that is why this is always my favorite part of the trip. After spending  all Saturday experiencing the wonders of Arches, with thousands of other people from all over the world, I usually get Canyonlands almost entirely to myself -- or ourselves, as the case may be. 
   This weekend with my children was one of the highlights of my life as a father.