Trust the Gene Genie

Thursday, June 29, 2006

No, please, not more U2

I'm sorry. But I feel compelled to say something....

The Underground Online has been posting all sorts of Top 11 songs lists lately -- like the top 11 songs about God, the top 11 songs about Satan, the top 11 catchiest songs, the top 11 songs you've never heard and on and on. Well, I'm a sucker for lists and after reading the U2 lists, I thought, "Maybe I need to get in on the action."

Last week they had a list of the 11 greatest U2 songs and then this week a list of the 11 worst U2 songs. The author who compiles them and writes the commentary is a good writer; he's really funny, he obviously knows his U2 and he holds "Joshua Tree" in no special esteem. You have to like him for that.

But, then he screwed up. Big time. To whit, he left "One" off his greatest list and had "Bullet the Blue Sky" on his worst list. I think most folks -- even the most casual of U2 fans -- would agree this is just crazy talk (and I know Dave is somewhere saying to himself right now, "I can name a lot more than 11 lame U2 songs" and I've made peace with that).

Anyway, enough talk, on to a more definitive list.

Rob's 11 Greatest U2 Songs
11. "Pride (In the Name of Love)" -- undisputedly classic U2. The song moves, it sounds big and it effortlessly, and I mean effortlessly, moves between themes of politics, religion and love like nobody's business.

10. "The Sweetest Thing" the B-side not the single -- Plays opposite to the big anthems and political statement songs that are, of course, signature U2. It's a fun, bouncy pop song about painful love.

9. From a long time ago "Stories for Boys" -- Half of the "Boy" album should probably be on this list, but "Stories" rises to the top. Simply an amazingly catchy song on teenage angst, growing up and trying to figure out life.

8. "Beautiful Day" -- It's almost paint-by-the-numbers U2. But what ultimately saves it and makes it great is the huge guitar riff and killer melody.

7. "New Year's Day" -- Another song that is simply U2 at their finest. And you listen to the live version from the '83 Red Rocks show and you hear Edge's guitar just blister with sound. It's pretty intense.

6. "Bad" -- When I think U2 live, I think "Bad." A lot of people might argue "Streets" is U2's signature live song. And maybe it is. But for my money, "Bad" encapsulates everything that makes U2 great.

5. "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" -- You can't do a list like this and just regurgitate their great hits. "Velvet Dress" has long been a favorite of mine simply because it's one of the most subtle, beautiful and atmospheric songs the band has ever recorded. It's only surpassed by...

4. "With or Without You" -- As overplayed as it is, as worn out as it is by junior high school dance DJs, this song still hits all the right emotional cues. It's just an amazing piece of work.

3. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" -- This one doesn't even need commentary. "Wipe the tears from your blood shot eyes."

2. "One" -- An absolutely amazing song. It has a simple, wonderful melody, it hits all sorts of big themes and ideas and it's just beautiful to listen to. Easily one of the greatest songs anyone has ever written.

1. "Stay (Far Away, So Close) -- The greatest song U2 has ever written? That's what I'm saying and not just because Bono agrees. The song is like a well crafted puzzle. It takes the individual strengths from all four members of the band and becomes something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The lyrics are deceptively complex and wonderfully descriptive. The melody is emotional and bittersweet. The band came together and produced something they have yet to surpass.

Rob's Worst 11 U2 Songs
11. "The Refugee" -- H.L. really digs this song, and I would argue it could easily reside on both the best and worst lists. For the simple reason that the song is so bad, it's good. But in the interest of time and simplicity, we'll just call it a really bad song and throw it on this list. The song itself is the result of a collaboration between U2 and the Clash's producer Bill Whelan. And the result is clear: don't mix U2 with the Clash. It's like eating Doritos with chocolate milk.

10. "The Playboy Mansion" -- I know, another one H.L. likes, so again, I'm sorry. But I can't stand this song. A great example of Bono just trying way too hard. "If O.J. is more than a drink/And a Big Mac bigger than you think" and on to the gates of the Playboy Mansion.

9. "Original of Species" -- Cool title, great concept. I want to like this song. I really do. But I just can't, hard as I try. "I'll give you everything you want/Except that thing that you want." I'm sorry. I can't excuse that.

8. "Stranger in a Strange Land" -- "October" has a handful of sub-par tracks and this is probably the biggest offender. It's starts off really strong and then just as quickly goes absolutely no where. Kind of disappointing.

7. "Summer Rain" -- An out take from the "All That You Can't Leave Behind" sessions (man, this album really takes a hit) the song just infuriates me. Listening to it is the sonic equivalent of spinning around forever on one of those playground carousels.

6. "Unchained Melody" -- A cover from the "Achtung Baby" era. I've never really liked the song, well, I've always kind of hated it, and U2 certainly gives it nothing new. It's a bad cover of a bad song.

5. "Miami" -- I used to kind of dig this song. But the more I listen to it, the less I like it. It's awkward, tries to paint a picture of something, American culture? Floridian culture? A young boy's love of all things kitsch? It's just not very good.

4. "Wild Honey" -- Witness these lyrics, the opening stanza from the song: "In the days/When we were swinging from the trees/I was a monkey/Stealing honey from a swarm of bees." 'Nuff said.

3. "New York" -- They got the song to kind of work in the live show. But there's not really anything you can do to make it good. It's a mess of lyrics with no real melody.

2. "Angel of Harlem" -- I've hated this song for a long time. "Rattle and Hum" has some great tracks on it and U2 does some really cool stuff experimenting with old school rhythm and blues. But "Angel" is not one of them. Even if it was recorded at Sun Studios. It's obnoxious, it's grating and I just can't stand the horn section. That doesn't mean U2 can't have a horn section. "Red Light" off of "War" is a great song in large part because of the horn section. Anyway, I could go the rest of my life and never hear "Angel" again and be very happy.

1. "Grace" -- I've never been able to listen to this song all the way through. It's so stupid it makes me angry. Mainly, it's looking at the lyrics to the song and comparing them with anything else the band has written. It makes you want to bang your head on something hard. "Grace/It's a name for a girl/It's also a thought that changed the world." It's a nice sentiment. But man, talk about crappy execution.

So there it is. I know this is way too long and if you've read this far you deserve some kind of a special treat. The Rob Report will reward you for it. But first I have to get out the Perfect Pop Song Cds. That's right, I haven't forgotten. I'm just out of burnable CDs.

When the family gets together

That great summer event, Family Reunion Days, has ended. Back in Redding, the heat is oppresive. We returned from Aspen Grove -- just up the road from Sundance in Provo Canyon (that's Utah) -- where temperatures were in the balmy mid-70s to sun-baked Redding, where, rolling down the windows as we drove in to town, we were blasted with 114-dergee wind. The next day, temps climbed to 117. Who chooses to settle in places like these?

"Well Henry, we've made it all the way from St. Louis through wastes of grasslands, scorching deserts and unforgiving mountains. The Donners ate themselves on their way here, but we made it. So after all that we could settle over there in the forest, where the air is cool and the land is fertile and there's plenty of vegetation and animal life on which to subsist. Or we could set up shop here at the top of the valley where it's so hot I can hardly breath and there's no trees, shade or real signs of life."

"Sounds great, John. If this journey has taught me anything, it's that life just isn't fun unless it's miserable."

I imagine something similar happened in Phoenix about 150 years ago. Anyway, facing the Redding heat upon returning from the Utah mountains was the perfect metaphor for returning from the freedoms of vacation to the oppression of regular life. That's not to say regular life is bad. It's just not as carefree and frivolous as vacation life.

We did four days with Becky's family in this huge vacation rental in Heber, which you can read all about at The Scogg. It was a lot of fun -- plenty of room for everyone -- kids mostly -- to run and be free. We spent the mornings watching the World Cup and the afternoons and evenings eating and talking and singing karaoke.

The vacation home had a theater room with eight leather recliners, a projector and wall-size screen. It was something to behold -- and something, on retrospect, we probably should have used more. Like the good little boy scout I am, I came prepared. I had U2's latest concert video on hand and put it in maybe 30 minutes after arriving at the house. It was like actually watching the show. Everything was life-size and the 5.1 surround sound made it sound astounding. I got chills watching it. For that alone I need to thank Becky's parents for making the reunion happen and Becky for finding the place.

We left Heber Saturday morning and headed down to Provo for my family's reunion at Aspen Grove. The Grove, as I like to call it, is run by BYU's alumni association, and is kind of like your classic summer camp, except it has classes and activities for adults as well as the kids. All in all it was pretty great. The kids split up into groups everyday leaving the adults to do as they wish. You eat in a cafeteria (more on that later) so there's no cooking and cleaning up afterwards. It's not a bad way to do a family reunion.

In fact there's so much provided that Becky and I left feeling a little guilty. We didn't do any of the little classes and only participated in a handful of the activities -- not the best way to get your (parent's) money's worth. Or maybe we did. I discovered a handful of Ian Flemming novels in one of rooms at the main lodge and decided I borrow them for a while. I certainly plan on returning them, and in the meantime, well, I am a BYU alum and I pay my tithing, so either way I'm covered.

Anyway, for me, vacation is about doing stuff you don't normally get to do day to day. Lounging around doing next to nothing is something frankly I don't get to do enough of. So for that, the Grove was worth it to me.

And having the meals provided seemed worth it for the first few days. But after about Tuesday, everything started to taste the same. On Wednesday you noticed you had a slight stomach ache after finishing you meal. By Thursday, the pine cones and aspen leaves seemed more appetizing than anything off those buffet tables. Thank goodness for cereal every morning and all the milk and juice you could drink.

The best of course was just being able to see family. Living in California we don't see much of anyone too often. I have sisters in Arizona, Washington and Utah and brothers in Indiana and D.C. So the reunions are definitely a way to reconnect and just enjoy your siblings.

It's also a reminder of how old you're getting. Becky's family did a tribute to Dad Darrington who's turning 60 next month. And we did a little to-do for Dad Rogers who just retired after 40 years with CES. If our parents are getting that old, we must be getting old. Dan, my olderst brother casually reminded us that in 10 years he'd turn 50. And everyone gasped.

So reunions are good. You realize your nieces and nephews are a lot of fun and your siblings and their spouses are cooler than you remember and you own kids aren't so annoying when their gone eight hours a day. You leave feeling maybe family is alright.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Goodbye Linus

Well, it looks like little Linus will have to wait. Becky and the girls and I just got back from the doctor's and it appears we're having ...

A GIRL. But it's not a done deal yet. Apparently there was an umbilical cord and some legs and other things obstructing the view. The doc said, probably a girl but not 100 percent, and she'll tell us for sure next month. We're not sweating it. We're used to having girls -- it's like it's become our family identity. Claire on the other hand isn't so sure. last night she told us a boy would be great, but that she was okay with whatever Heavenly Father sent us. "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit," she said.

Well that went right out the window when the doctor told us it was probably a girl. "But I didn't want a girl," she said. It was great. Anyway, the problem now, of course, is coming up with a name. Maybe we'll let the girls choose. Claire would name her Diamond Sparkle and Leigh would probably name her Purple. Hmmmm. Purple. I kind of like that.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Of bees and zeds

Well, it's been a lonely walk through the wilderness, but I'm back. Washington, D.C. as always was a blast and the bee was pretty insane.

I'm a little disappointed as a matter of fact. I was kind of hoping to blog a little bit during Bee Week just because you see such insane stuff going on. But the days were busy and my Internet connection was about as reliable as a Ryan Jensen. Which is to say, not very.

So I'll give you the cliff notes version before I hit the sack. As it's been widely reported, ABC Sports broadcast the event for the first time in prime time. ESPN has carried the event for the past 12 years, but the 2006 bee was the first to be beamed on network TV.

In years past, the only time you'd see the TV cameras -- and even most of the reporters -- was during the actual days of competition, Wednesday and Thursday. But with ABC involved, cameras were every where, all the time. It was pretty crazy. And, believe it or not, the bee kids ate it up. I don't know if it's because they're starved for attention or feel a crushing desire to prove to the world they're normal just like everyone else. But the spellers played to the camera every chance they got, whether it was studying in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt or mugging for the cameras at the barbecue. They were all over it.

In fact, the cameras caught me a couple of times. At the barbecue, I was eating with Maheen's brother when the ABC camera man shows up and starts filming the two of us eating. We make a couple jokes to ourselves about it being bad enough to have people watch you eat, but to have a camera in your face, too? Anyway, I figured why not mock this guy in my own little way. You know, let him know I'm not dying for the attention. So I turned, looked into the camera and then picked my nose. And I mean I just started digging like I was going to find gold if I tried hard enough. I don't think Ahmad saw and I certainly didn't get a reaction from the camera man. Needless to say, it didn't make the barbecue montage ABC put together later that week. I probably screwed Ahamd's chances of getting on national TV.

And a word about the spellers themselves. They're a fun bunch. I would say a good two-thirds are your stereotypical spelling bee contestants. Just straight up, unabashed nerds. They revel in their geekiness and when they all get together, it's like they form some kind of hive. The core group of these kids are a collection of about 20 who keep in touch online during the off-season to help each other study and prepare for the next bee. The same groups spends the majority of bee week in the hotel lobby sitting on the couches and chairs, simulating the spelling bee. The alpha male of the group controls the computer and reads the words which the other kids then have to spell. They get knocked out when they misspell -- just like in the real thing -- and sometimes they even ridicule eachother. It's pretty funny. They're like 11, 12, 13 and 14 years old and they all act like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders.

And the lobby of the Grand Hyatt is about as wide open as lobbies get. It's open all the way to the glass-windowed ceiling with twelve floors of rooms on either side looking down. Everyone who walks in, checks out or heads to the ballrooms sees these kids sitting and studying. So, I was a little surprised, but equally entertained, by one speller -- a favorite who had already participated a couple years -- who sat studying most of Tuesday morning in his pajamas. But not pajamas like you'd think a teenager would wear -- this kids is 13, I believe. He had matching white pajamas decorated with little colored snowboarders. You know, like pajamas you see a 6- or 7-year-old wear. It kind of creeped me out after a while.

My favorite moment of speller geekdom, though, occurred when the Canadian speller -- the one who ended up taking second -- spelled a word that ended with the letter "z." Being from Canada, she of course said "zed" not "zee." All the little spellers sitting around me guffawed and snorted qas soon as they heard it, and said things like, "she did not just say 'zed'" or "I can't believe she said 'zed.'" It was classic.

So there's my week at a glance. I got to see H.L. and Randall, and H.L. and I even went out to lunch at this little dive across the street from the Department of Labor's building. It was pretty cool. Saw Mom and Dad off. They were actually going to stay with me Tuesday night (for some reason, each year the paper has booked me for the bee, they've stuck me in a room with two beds). But they ditched me at the last minute for the comforts of their almost empty apartment. It appears I'm not as cool as I used to be.

And on a final note, congrats to H.L., Steph (I'll get up to see you and Travis next year, I swear) and D, for winning a copy of The Rob Report's Perfect Songs Vol. 1. That's just exciting.

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