Trust the Gene Genie

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Where the hell are the singing cats?

Update: Here's David paying tribute to Paul Newman on the Late Show Tuesday night. And yes, Thank you, David, you get to see Paul shout about singing cats.

It's been an interesting week. David Letterman has proved once again why my 20-year devotion to him is not misplaced. John McCain was supposed to appear on the Late Show Wednesday night but a couple hours before he was to go on, his handlers called the show and said McCain had to rush to the airport to get to D.C. to help with the bailout. At about the time he was supposed to be at the airport, McCain was actually sitting down with Katie Couric to be interviewed on CBS Evening News.

Letterman was merciless and took McCain to task for blowing him off midweek. But he did it classic Letterman fashion -- he was always respectful, but was still cutting and sarcastic about it all.

And in a stunt that reminded me of his NBC days, he had his engineer tap into CBS News' live feed while McCain was sitting done getting ready to be interviewed by Katie Couric and shouted snartky remarks at him. It was awesome.

Executives at CBS News of course were furious at having been hacked into and then ridiculed by Letterman. But it's David Letterman. What are they going to do? Their official comment in the New York Post was, "He does whatever he wants and always has."

Here's the video if you're curious. Trust me, it's a good time.

Also, Paul Newman died today. I'm actually pretty bummed about it. My mom and dad, being of the generation they are, were huge Newman fans and so we grew up watching great films like "The Sting" and "The Young Philadelphians" and "Cool Hand Luke" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." He's just a guy we all grew up loving and really respecting. It's sad that he's gone.

Since we're already talking about Letterman, Newman is a longtime fan and has appeared on both Late Night and the Late Show a number of times, probably most memorably in 1993 when Letterman was brand new on CBS and still getting adjusted to the change. Letterman, in one of first shows in the Ed Sullivan theater, calls on of course Ed Sullivan, whose ghost appears. Sullivan, floating above Dave, introduces Paul Newman, who, it turns out, is sitting in the audience. Newman stands up and asks, "Hey! Where the hell are the singing cats?" I quoted that line all through high school.

I actually found the clip on YouTube, but the quality is terrible. So instead, here's Paul's last appearance on the show, talking about racing:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Peace like a river

Let's talk trinkets.

I've got the next batch of tunes for our look at really good cover songs and, not to weigh it down with too much Britt Daniel, but I've included a killer Paul Simon cover by Spoon. So let's start there. You can catch up with the rest of the list here and here.

7. Spoon's "Peace Like a River" -- Some songs become inseparable from the artists who write and record them. Paul Simon I think would fit handily into this category. And then you listen to Spoon take on "Peace Like a River" and it sounds like a song written specifically for the band. From the thumping-groove bass line to Britt Daniel slipping into a falsetto during the track's middle eight, the song sounds like home-grown Spoon. The bittersweet melody dissolves into the malaise-stricken lyrics and it all matches the band's sensibilty perfectly. It's an amazing cover. It helps that Paul Simon writes a damn good pop song.

8. Wilco's "True Love Will Find You (In the End)" -- This was a song I fell in love with at college. Napster was at its hight and I used it to find a lot of obscure stuff, this track included. I still have no idea when the band recorded it or where they released it -- I've never seen it anywhere else. And it wasn't until about a year ago that I learned it was a Daniel Johnston cover. Daniel Johnston, if you're not aware, is kind of like the patron saint of indie hipster singer/songwriters. He's battled his whole with crippling mental illness and still turns out gems like "True Love." The song, like Spoon's cover of "Peace," fits perfectly within the Wilco sensibility and makes the case for the existance of cover songs. It doesn't have a lot of zest -- it's mellow but optimistic. However, it's an absolutely beautiful song and Jeff Tweedy's vocals are moving. It's amazing how he emotes on the song.

9. Johnny Cash's "Solitary Man" -- Like any good country music star, Cash has covered a lot of songs. His 60s-era take on Kris Kristoferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" is great. But in his later years, Cash started covering artists well outside his genre and, I'm sure to some extent, outside his comfort zone. Some of the songs work (his cover of Danzig's "Rusty Cage") and some don't (his cover of "One"). But it's his cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" that I really dig. It's perfect Cash, catching him on the right song at just the right time.

It's also Three Word Wednesday today. Rob Report favorite Thom G is handling the desk for the time being so go check out some cool stuff there and catch my three words above.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mmmm, chocolate pecan pie

Yesterday was the big day. I turned 33. It's not old, but it's older. I reckon hitting the back side of 35 will be tough. But I've got a few years before I have to worry about that.

But back to yesterday, it was a good birthday. Becky knows how to make a boy feel special. Not only did she wake up at the butt crack of dawn (as we used to say in junior high) to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast, she got me the Wilco t-shirt I've been dying to own for a year. It's ugly and kind of obnoxious and just plain perfect for me. She also made chocolate pecan pie. I've never been a fan of cake and I realized a few years ago I don't have to have cake on my birthday, I can have whatever I want. Which, usually, is chocolate pecan pie. Not only is it a good dessert, it's a good breakfast.

So that was my day. Tomorrow, we'll talk more cover songs and maybe recap my summer predictions. Or maybe not. They were pretty far off this year.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rocky Mountain High

It's almost October. Wow, am I a slacker. We've got a lot of business to take care of. Summer vacations to report, goals to cover and music to talk about.

Let's start with trips. We've traveled across Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, been to two family reunions and spent countless hours in the pool. And we were smoked out of our own town a couple times (I wish I had photos of that). And since pictures are worth a thousand words, I shall simply post pictures rather than write about it.

This is Claire and Leigh in front of Vanderhoof Elementary in Arvada, Colo. I did kindergarten through sixth grade there. It looks exactly the same.

Here are the girls with their cousins in front of the Arvada house, my childhood home. It's always weird going back. 'Cause you go back, but you really don't go back.

This Claire, walking across the Bonneville Salt Flats. She was convinced she could walk to the mountain there in the distance. And she tried. And then we brought her back.

A lovely summer rain storm in Winter Park, Colo. and an accompanying rainbow. Aren't rainbows pretty?

And here are the girls keeping themselves entertained. From Redding to Denver, round trip, it was a total of 44 hours of driving. We were all going insane by the end.


Okay, moving on. Part of the reason it's been difficult to blog lately is, well, lots of traveling this summer. We attending my family reunion in Colorado and then Becky's family reunion in Washington three weeks later, for a grand total of six western states visited. Not bad.

Sometime in August, near the end of it all, I was called to be an early morning seminary teacher. For those you out there not of the Mormon faith, high school kids in the church, from ninth grade on up, take daily religion classes. In most places those classes are held before school. My class, 11th and 12th graders, meets at 6:30. Which means I'm up at 5:30. It's pretty intense.

The curriculum this year is the New Testament and every night after the girls go down I sit down to prepare my lesson. I'm loving it. I'm finding it to be surprisingly fulfilling. Akin to experiences I had on my mission. But it's intense. Kinda like my mission. And I've got seven more months of it in front of me.

How about another picture? This from our trip to Washington. I'm in a relay race with my brothers in law. Notice my socks:

We'll do one more picture. The last day of summer vacation the girls and I put on a lime-ade stand. It was awesome. The girls made nearly 20 bucks and we were only out there an hour. Not bad:

And now that summer's all caught up, we can check in with my goals and talk a little music. In the meantime, here's some light reading (another reason I'm not writing as much):

Rob's little newspaper column project

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Those three little words

Thom G.'s a pro at this. I'm not. But here we go anyway, my contribution to three word Wednesday. The words this week are Avoid, Class and Sticky.

I looked around the classroom and immediately saw him: John Armijo, pronounced "Ar-ME-hoe." His dad was Mexican, his mom was Czech and he was all bully. Our class bully. A world-class jerk, thanks to his international heritage.

I managed to avoid him most days. Whether it was by ducking behind the temp next to the playground when recess started and ended or by waiting until lunch was just about over to enter the cafeteria. If I didn't make eye contact with him during class, he usually left me alone.

Today, I wasn't so lucky. It was Tuesday, the day our class spends the hour after lunch in the library. John hated most everything about school, but hated the library especially. Who could blame him, really. It was full of books and everyone knew he couldn't read. And he knew that everyone knew. So, as if to prove his worth to the world at large, he picked on kids the worst at the library.

And I'll admit to not always playing nice. Living under the constant threat of an attack by John was exhausting. Sometimes, me, the quiet kid who usually just minded his own business, I would make a snide comment under my breath as he walked by. Most of the time it was the garden-variety schoolroom insults. You know, "John's so fat because he was born under a La-Z-boy recliner." We were fourth-graders, it was the best we could come up with.

But today, in the library, I was tired. I was mad at John and ready to be done with him. Why couldn't he go to some other school or find some other class to terrorize? I sat on a bean bag with a copy of "Where the Sidewalk Ends" flipping through trying to find my favorite poems. And John walked by.

I watched him, careful to keep my eyes on his knees and feet and not make eye contact. And before I could stop myself, before I really even felt my mouth move and my vocal chords tighten, I said aloud, "Keep looking, John, all these books have words."

He stopped and for a second just looked at me. As though he was processing what I said or simply couldn't believe he heard it. Then, faster than I'd ever seen him move, he snapped his arm out and slapped the back of "Where the Sidewalk Ends." My hands still gripped the edges of the book, tightened by reflex-contracted muscles when the Shel Silverstein classic hit me full in the face. I actually heard my nose crack and felt the blood quickly run down my face.

I tried tackling him but it did no good. It was like a monkey wrestling a gorilla. He kicked me in the gut and pushed me to the ground. He was getting ready to sit on me and, I presume, begin pounding my face when our teacher walked over and pulled him off. I'm not sure how long she had been watching.

We were both sent to the office. John glowering and sullen; me smiling, bloody-faced and sticky.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I'm your sea lion woman

It's July, in case you don't have a calendar. In Redding that of course means unsufferable heat. The countryside all around us has been burning up in wildfires for the past two weeks and all the smoke it has dumped into the atmosphere has kept temperatures to the low 90s. Pretty great. Except all that smoke. You get home at the end of the day feeling like you've smoked two packs of unfiltered Camels.

Well, the fires are still burning. The wind has changed the direction of the smoke so the air was nice and clear. Which means our proper July temperatures are back. It was 112 yesterday and today was 111. It's funny. The heat during the day wouldn't really get to me. It's bad, but it's not like I'm out all day in it. No, what kills me about this place is that it never cools down at night. The low last night (or, I guess, this morning technically) was 90. You read that right, 90 degrees. All night long it never dropped below 90 degrees. That's the kind of weather that drives people crazy.

Anyway, my point with all this was to say it's time to check in with my summer predictions and maybe zap off another addition of perfect pop songs.

First, the predictions:

1. At the interstate gas stations, regular unleaded is $4.69 a gallon. I'm sure we'll see $5 at least by the end of the month.

2. I haven't seen "The Incredible Hulk" (nor do I plan to) but it seemed to garner slightly better reviews than it's predecessor, but was still greeted by a general unanimous "meh." To quote Brian Hamblin, who really should have his own blog, "I didn't love that movie and I didn't hate that movie. It was better than the first Hulk movie, and there weren't any flaws that really screamed out at me (you know, if you accept the premise of the Incredible Hulk in the first place), but that said, it was just a little bit better than 'blah.'"

And M. Night Shyamlalnsnalnadnalanduan's "The Happening" has already been forgetten by most everyone who's seen it. As a result, no one still cares about our little Manny.

3. I'm more excited than ever for "Dark Knight." "Wall-E" was amazing. And "Get Smart" was mediocre.

4. I'm halfway to dropping my 10 pounds. I started at 200 and now I'm at a solid 195. I successfully made it four weeks without sugar and I've been more than happy to go back on. Interestingly enough, I haven't noticed much change to my weight since doing that. But I'm pretty sure if I want to drop the next five pounds I'll need to start exercising or something.

5. I'm still planning on doing something awesome. And I still don't know what that will be.

So there we are with that. Now let's talk music. If you recall, we're talking about perfect pop songs that happen to be covers. You may also recall that once we get through with our list of songs, a few lucky winners receive the compilation on CD. That's so we're all on the same page.

4. Britt Daniel's "Bring it on Home to Me" -- It's a cover of the old Sam Cooke standard and it's brilliant. Britt, Spoon's lead singer and principal songwriter, keeps the rockabilly vibe of the song but strips it down to it's bare essentials, turning it into a kind of percussion-led driving indie-pop song. It's got a killer groove.

5. Feist's "Sea Lion Woman" -- Another indie darling, I really dig Feist because she seems so capable at balancing her near-boundless creativity with supersharp pop insticts. Her version of "Sea Lion Woman," a Nina Simone cover, rings with jangly guitar hooks and this great foot-stamping backbeat. It even come complete with hand-claps. It's a brave cover -- Simone owns, and I means owns, just about every song she sings. But Feist does a textbook perfect job of reinterpretting the song and making it hers.

6. Franz Ferdinand's "All My Friends" -- This is a great example of how to cover a song. "All My Friends" is an LCD Soundsystem track from their 2007 album "Sound of Silver." It was still warm when Franz tackled it and they do it justice, adding their trademark gargage guitar and pushing the electronica to background. It works, leaving the song's great beat intact but pushing the melody up a little further to the top making it a really groovy little song.

So that's where we're at. Weigh in if you've got thoughts.

Friday, July 04, 2008

It's magic

I wanted to get this up earlier today. It's Marvin Gaye performing one of the single greatest interpretations of the national anthem I've ever heard. And just today I've heard already three terrible versions.

Anyway it's the perfect antidote to Lee Greenwood's embarrassingly gauzy and jingoistic "God Bless the U.S.A." Use this to wash it from your mind:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

It's called emotional truthiness

We've gotta take care of some house-keeping and then I'm going to give you my two cents on Pixar's new film "Wall-E." Because everyone wants my two cents on "Wall-E."

First, if you'll look to the right you'll see my links updated. Included in the list is Nik Dirga's blog, "Spatula Forum." Nik is an old editor of mine now living the adventure with his wife and spritely young boy in New Zealand. You'll be hard-pressed to find better pop culture analysis and commentary on the Web.

Also on the list is Traci Gunderson's blog, "The G-Funk Era." Traci is an old high school aquaintance who I'm sure I would have hung out with much more often had I known what a wickedly sharp wit she had. Her blog is brilliant. Now if only Hamblin would start one.

So, onto other things.

Becky and I took the girls to go see "Wall-E" on Saturday. The film is wonderful. Like most Pixar films -- well, all of them except for "Cars" -- "Wall-E" pulls off the seemingly impossible high-wire act of being fun, smart, exciting and really funny without alienating adults or boring children. And it's gorgeous. The computer animation is litterally breath-taking in many spots. Pixar makes other computer films out there look like junior high computer club projects. It's amazing.

It also got me thinking about Pixar's long string of success. Their films aren't just good by animated film standards or family film standards or even comedy film standards. They're just plain good by major film standards.

And I realized it's because every one of their films -- whether its about talking toys or talking fish or talking ants or talking rats or monsters or superheroes -- is emotionally honest at its core. With the exception of "Cars" of course, which only seems to get worse the more you watch it.

But regardless of the plot or the characters, there's true emotion organically embedded in each of their films. That means you sit through the movie and never hear a false note, never feel manipulated and never feel pandered to. Remarkable for any film in this day and age.

And if you think about it, emotional honesty is what makes most of the great films out there great. Whether it's Michael Corleone running away from and then embracing his familial destiny or Rick Blaine coming to grips with his past and finding a way to do the right thing in World War II-era French Morocco, great films ring emotionally true.

Romantic comedies live and die on this principal -- or should. Imagine a world without films like "Made of Honor," "Runaway Bride" or "The Notebook." It would be so pleasing. Most romcoms fall flat or just plain suck because they go through these impossibly back-bending plot conventions and genre requirements.

You know, you've got the hoary R&B musical montage at about the half-way point (usually Aretha Franklin), you've got the gay male best friend (really? every single high-society gal that has some "important truth" to learn about herself before she can make good with the love of her life has a gay best friend every step along the way always quick dispense fashion and relationship advice?), you've got the mistaken infidelity and finally the chase to the airport/bus station/dock and/or wedding to confess true love. "The Holiday" anyone?

In contrast, look at film like "When Harry Met Sally" or "Say Anything." Had "Say Anything" been a conventional romantic comedy Diane's dad would have found remedemption and/or been found innocent at the end of the film and attended the couple's wedding. Instead, Lloyd shuts the door on him pretty good at the federal penatentury ("I'm the distraction that's going with her to England, sir.") and he and Diane take off for Europe far from having a secure relationship. It's brilliant and miles away from sentimentalistic. It feels real-life.

But enough about that. I'll end my rant complaining about summer TV. It's the summer of the reality show. Every night on every channel. It's killing me. And they have that producer think-tank, lowest-common-denomonator, completely common-sense-insulting stank about them.

I mean "Greatest American Dog"? Really? You're a broadcast network television station and you're going devote 12 hours of primetime to the search for America's greatest dog? Which will actually end up being a search for an astoundingly out-of-touch, wealthy, emotionally stunted dog loving American with waaaaaay too much time and money on their hands who believe their pet is actually a child. In the commercials one woman actually calls her dog her soul mate. Her soul mate. Please, someone find this woman help her connect with society around her, with our human fraternity, with the real world. She's in need of serious help.

Friday, June 27, 2008

An American Mormon Tale

Blame Thom G for this post. I'm like that patch of crab grass, which if you give an inch it takes a yard. Plus, today is the 27th. So, really it was unavoidable.

I think most folks are following along over at the Surface Tension, but in case you're not, Thom G spent the first half of the week traveling from Redding to Sioux Falls, SD. He took his mad writing skills and joined the paper there.

Anyway, he took the scenic route, driving slow to ensure better gas mileage. One of the many historical and Americana points of interest that he passed was Martin's Cove. He made the mistake of inviting me to explain its significance to my people.

Today also happens to be June 27. On this date in 1844 Mormondom's first prophet Joseph Smith was shot to death, along with his brother, in a jail by a mob of angry, idle Illinois militiamen.

So this is what I'm going to do. Sit back, get comfortable for I am going to tell you the tale of old Joe Smith, his gold Bible and how my people decided to move west. Don't fret -- it's a tale of adventure, bloodshed and survival. (I'd probably just move on to the next blog at this point, if I were you.)

The story begins in upstate New York in 1820. Historians describe the time as one of great religious excitement and revival. Joseph Smith was 14 and along with his family he was very much caught up in the spirit of the times. Like many he wanted to join a church, ensure salvation for his soul and live a good Christian life.

The only problem was he didn't really know which church to join. Everyone had their own take on the Bible and their view, of course, was right and everyone else's was wrong. As a 14-year-old, I imagine Joseph was old enough to figure out that not everyone could be right and not quite old enough to be terribly cynical about it.

So he figured, rather simplistically, that if God wanted him to join a church God would tell him what church to join. He'd read the Bible and specifically he'd read that verse in James that says if you want to know something ask God about it. I think it seemed pretty straight-forward to old Joe.

He set out early one morning to a grove of trees behind his house. (His family was basically on the frontier in the early 19th century and his house, like all houses at the time, was crowded with like 45 kids and 18 adults. Not really, but it was a big family in a small house. You wanted privacy? You went outside.)

Anyway, he went to this grove of trees and kneeled down to pray. He figured he'd ask God which church to join, get his answer and be on his way. Well that's what he did. He prayed, asked his question and was amazed to see a light slowly descend around him. In the air above him he saw two men, one of whom introduced himself as God the Father. He pointed to the other, said he was his son, and told Joseph he should listen to what he had to say.

Joseph listened. Jesus spoke and told him not to join any churches because none of them were true. Over the course of the last 1700 years they had apparently kinda lost their way. It wasn't the answer Joseph was expecting. But he was understandably excited.

He went and told his parents, who, to their credit, weren't skeptical at all. Then he told his family's preacher, thinking he'd be as excited as Joseph to learn that the Heavens weren't closed and God was speaking to men again. The family's preacher wasn't very excited. He told Joseph to wise up and probably repent.

Well over the next decade, the groundwork was laid for God to establish his church anew on the earth. Part of that included new scripture. Old Joe was visited by an angel named Moroni. Moroni had lived on the Americas 1,400 years before. His dad was a prophet named Mormon who had spent much of his life compiling the writings of other prophets who had come before him.

It turned out Jesus had come and visited the Americas after his death, resurrection and ascention into heaven at Jerusalem. All this stuff had been written on thin plates of gold and stored in a stone box in hill near Joseph's homestead. As a newly called prophet of God, Joseph eventually was given the plates and commanded to translate them, which, of course, he did. His gold Bible became the Book of Mormon. And Mormons were forever after known as Mormons.

This is taking a while. Let's jump forward a dozen years. Old Joe Smith had established a church and sent missionaries out to preach. The church grew, but Mormons proved to be obnoxious neighbors. If you've ever been to Utah you understand. When they're all gathered in big groups, they get kind of insular and self-righteous and end up really bugging anyone who lives anywhere near them.

This happened in New York, Ohio, Missouri and finally Illinois. I should add here that the governor of Missouri acutally passed a law making it legal to kill a Mormon if he was bothering you. With great subtlety and wit, he entitled it the "Extermination Order" and it stayed on the books until 1976. Really.

Anyway, the church ended up in Navuoo, Ill. along the banks of the Mississipi. The town was huge -- it began to rival Chicago in size -- and had its own militia, of which Joe was general. General Joe, the people called him. Not really. He was always Brother Joseph.

As you can imagine, the large group of Mormons and their militia made everyone who lived around them nervous. Tensions flared, Joseph ordered an anti-Mormon newspaper destroyed and was arrested for it. He was given a court date but some of the angrier Illinios folks felt that probably wasn't going to cut it. So someone suggested they charge him with treason and throw him jail. Maybe it would even bust up the church. That seemed like a good idea (at the time) and that's what they did.

So Joseph and his brother Hyrum rode their horses to Carthage, Ill. and surrendered to the authorities there. He was jailed with Hyrum and a couple other church leaders at the time. The jail they were in was a house -- cells on the first floor, rooms on the second. Someone thought they'd all be safer on the second floor so on the evening to June 27, that's where they found themselves.

And that's when the mob showed up. They had painted their faces black and stormed the jail. They shot through the door, killing Hyrum and pushing Joseph to the window where he was shot a few times and fell to the ground dead.

Everyone figured the church at that point would break up. But it didn't and so Illinois, in the middle of winter, ordered all Mormons out of the state. Brigham Young, who was the most senior of the 12 Apostles took charge at that point and, following a revelation Joseph had had years earlier, led the church to the Rocky Mountains.

In classic pioneer fashion, they loaded covered wagons, followed a portion of the Oregon Trail and then blazed their own down into the Salt Lake Valley. That was July 24, 1847. If you're ever in Utah on July 24 and you can't figure out why there are big parades and celebrations every where, that's why.

Well for the next 10 years, converts continued to stream into the valley. The intercontinental railroad had yet to be finished so people still walked the 3,000 miles. As you can imagine, the church soon refined it down to a science. Converts, many comeing from Europe, were organized into companies, given handcarts to pull (they were small and cheap) and led west.

For the most part it worked incredibly well. Hundreds of handcart companies made it to the Salt Lake Valley that way. Except for two. They were the Willy and Martin handcart companies and they ran into serious trouble in Wyoming. If you've driven across Wyoming you understand.

The two compaines started out from St. Louis late in the year, like July, and were ill-prepared for their journey. As soon as October hit, they were in Wyoming at this point, it started to snow. And then it started to blizzard. Already tired and malnurished they came to a dead halt.

The two companies were about two, three weeks apart on the trail, the Willy Company in the lead. Once the snow hit and tempuratures bottomed out well below zero people started to die. Luckily, advanced riders had gone well ahead of companies and had given word to Salt Lake that these two companies were late in the season, slow moving and that they had seen frost in September. An early, harsh winter was likely. A day before the first snowstorm hit the two companies in Wyoming, Brigham Young in Salt Lake ordered a rescue party to go after them.

It took them almost a month to get to the two companies, which at that point were in pretty dire straits. They had little to no food and their clothing was in tatters. The Martin Company had managed to get to a small rock outcropping on the plains and took shelter there. They called it Martin's Cove and it was there that a handful of the pioneers died of the cold and exposure. Kind of a solemn place.

But the companies were rescued and the majority made it to Salt Lake. They all probably would have been lost had the rescue party not left when it did. And one of my favorite historical quotes comes from one of the members of the Martin company.

For years after the experience, church members critized leaders for allowing the companies to start so late in the season and viewed the survivors (again, many of them immigrants) as kind of stupid for getting caught in that kind of situation in the first place. I mean it been devasting -- people lost their lives and others were permantantly mamed. Kind of embarrassing for the church.

Well one Sunday about 40 years after the incident, someone in some Sunday school class was critizing the two companies. So Francis Webster, one of the survivors (I guess the heckler was unaware), stood up and put the man in his place:

"I have pulled my handcart," he said, "when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, 'I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it.' I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a priviledge to pay."

Monday, June 09, 2008

Summer is better than Indiana Jones IV -- which was crap

It's the first real day of summer vacation here, so without any further ado, let's get my summer predictions out of the way. I hope you're sitting down 'cause it's going to be a good time.

Here's last year's results, where we learned some very special lessons. Here's this year's (we can only hope for better results).

1. Gas will hit $5.50 by Labor Day. It's sad that last year my crazy prediction was $4 a gallon sticker price.

2. "The Incredible Hulk" will be only slightly better than "The Hulk" and will tank at the box office. No one cares about M. Night Shyamalanananlanalanam and after "The Happening" hits, no one will continue to care about M. Night Shyamalanananlan8lanam.

3. Conversely, I will love "The Dark Knight," "Wall*E" will be as good as "Finding Nemo" and "Get Smart" will be just as mediocre as everyone's expecting.

4. I will loose 10 lbs. by the end of the summer. I started at 200 about two weeks ago and I'm already at about 196. I'm most happy about this because I was at 210 a little over a year ago. My secret? The flu. Really. At the end of last summer I dropped five pounds after puking my guts out for almost 24 hours. It was terrible. I'm pretty sure I can do it again.

5. I will do something awesome by the end of the summer. I don't know what it is yet, but when the time comes, the opportunity will present itself. Maybe I'll house-train David Bowie, maybe I'll contribute to Obama's campaign or maybe, just maybe, I'll finally take that leap off the roof and fly! Well, maybe I won't do that. I already have a torn rotator cuff.

So there it is. We'll check back in ocassionally as the summer wears on, see how we do. In the meantime, I don't want to leave you completely empty-handed. So here it is, your moment of Zen:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Covers and perfect pop songs

I have a love-hate relationship with cover songs. When done right and done well, they can blow your mind. That, of course, is a rare thing. Most of the time, the cover is nothing better or more elegant than a late-night neighorhood karaoke performance. (The Web site, is a great database of who's covered who.)

A couple examples to illustrate my point. Sometime in the mid-'90s The Sundays did a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." It works as well as it does because The Sundays tap into the original vibe of the song while giving it their signature mellow, clarion sound, which is a perfect fit for a classic Jagger/Richards song like "Horses."

Then there's Eva Cassidy's famous cover of Sting's "Fields of Gold," a textbook example of doing a cover right. She doesn't try to do things with the song it wasn't meant to do. She keeps it simple, uses her best asset -- her voice -- and makes that the center of the performance. It's one of the few cover songs I prefer to the original.

Now, some argue some songs simply can't or shouldn't be covered. Talk to any die-hard Beatles fan. But I say no song is untouchable. However, the more popular the song, the more beloved, the more respected, then the more inventive the artist who's covering it needs to be. Because ultimately, you've got to prove that there's a reason to cover the song in the first place. And if that's not setting yourself up to fail I don't know what is. The more inventive you try to be with a well-known, well-loved song, the greater chance for complete and utter failure.

You remember that link I posted a few months back of Celine Dion's terrible, terrible cover of ACDC's "You Shook Me All Night Long"? Yeah, sorry to remind you about that. But it's a perfect example of how awful covers can be.

But picking on Celine Dion for performing bad covers is a little like picking on the retarded kid in class who always craps his pants. It's not his fault. It's just what he does.

No, the famously bad covers are by bands or artists who are just setting themselves up to fail. Like Madonna covering "American Pie" or Limp Bizkit doing "Behind Blue Eyes." They're just terrible.

I have kids. That means we own "Cars." Which means I've heard Rascal Flatts' high school basement band-worthy cover of "Life Is a Highway" more times than I can count. I die a little every time I hear a Rascal Flatts song. And I remember a few summers ago when the Ataris -- one of those early '00s pretty punk bands that sound and look slicker than most career studio bands -- did their cover of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer." It just fell flat.

And there's a whole 'nother category I'm purposely avoiding. You know, the so-bad-it's-good cover song. William Shatner's famous "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" or Dolly Parton's, believe it or not, cover of "Stairway to Heaven." Deep down I believe these songs are intentionally ironic and so I'll leave 'em for another day.

So, with summer coming on I think it's time to start another round of our only running feature, Perfect Pop Songs. This will be the covers version. If you need a refresher, here's Vol. 1 and here's Vol. 2.

So let's get it started with three of my most favoritest covers ever.

1. The Afgham Whigs' "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe" -- This, in my opinion, is one of the all time great cover songs. The Whigs were an early '90s post-punk band from the midwest. Their cover of Barry White's soulful classic is the perfect mix of irony, devotion and sheer attitude. Becky hates the song.

2. Waz's "I Will Follow" -- U2's a hard band to cover. They're sound is so specific and their songs are so well known that they're just difficult to escape. And still a lot of people try. To middling success. KMFDM's cover of "Mysterious Ways" is very, well, KMFDM. And the Pet Shop Boys' cover of "Streets" is fun but far from noteworthy. But Waz, who used to play guitar with Pete Yorn, takes "I Will Follow" and completely turns the song on it's head, finding it's emotional core and turning it into a beautiful, romantic love song. It's absolutely stunning.

3. U2's "Can't Help Falling in Love" -- Likewise, U2 isn't really at their best when they're covering other bands. They famously developed the sound they did becuase as teenagers they couldn't play anyone else music. Some of that still exists today. Their covers of the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" and Cole Porter's "Night and Day" are kind of interesting and fun to hear in a I-wonder-what-this-song-would-sound-like-with-U2's-sound, but they're far from great. And then there's "Unchained Melody" -- one of the band's biggest missteps ever, in my opinion. Which makes "Can't Help" such a surprise. It's beautiful and haunting and just amazing. It's makes perfect use of Bono's falsetto and really takes the song far beyond its rock-a-billy roots -- in a very good way.

Anyway. There it is. Covers. Everyone's got an opinion, so jump into the comments and give me yours. What covers do you hate, which do you love and which songs shuold never be touched?

And then I'll get back on next week, post some of the better comments and list my summer predictions for 2008. It'll be fun.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

With the boys

So I'm a little late, the important thing is that it hasn't been a month since my last post. So here we go. Four years of taking my girls to a fathers/sons campout and I still get a few looks. Mostly now it's from guys in different wards. But deep down, I suppose, that's part of the appeal for me.

Anyway, we all had a blast. I found I was a little busier with both girls than with just one, which I think makes sense. But it was still unexpected. The girls loved being outdoors, having their own flashlights, sleeping in a big open tent and seeing nature up close. They were both really intrigued by the fire. When we went to use the latrine after dinner, Claire got a little freaked out when a bunch of flies flew out of the toilet. I think that was the first time I genuinely felt bad girls can't stand up and pee.

We didn't get a lot of sleep. It wasn't nearly as cold as in years past, but the girls still got a little chilled in the night. Then, at about 5, 5:30 a.m. Claire woke up having to pee. Which woke Leigh up and there was no way she was staying in the tent alone while Claire and I went to the latrine. And she didn't want to put on her shoes. So I carried her, and Claire and I walked to the bathroom.

Of course, by the time we got back to the tent we were all awake. So we laid down and read "When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit." It was actually kind of fun. By breakfast, the girls were much more comfortable with the fire, so much so that Claire was sticking large pine branches into the flame until the end would light up. We put an end to that pretty quick. And then they discovered the plastic flatware. They didn't even have to hold it in the fire for the utensils to melt. They got a really kick watching each individual tong on the forks curl up and turn black. We came home with handfuls of them.

Later in the day we took off to the Subway Caves just up the highway and did some exploring. The girls loved that. The caves themselves are pretty cool. The area east of Redding was pretty active volcanically centuries ago and the tubes formed when great flows of lava burst up from the ground. The surface of the lava flow would harden in the cool air and insulate the still molten lava deep in the flow. Once the lava had run, the outer shells remained around now-empty tubes where the liquid lava had flowed. They're huge. We turned off the lights a couple times plunging everyone into pitch blackness. The girls loved that. We got to the end and decided to walk back through one more time. Except Leigh, who thought it was too cold inside the cave. We've gotta get this girl out of California.

Anyway, it was a great time. I really enjoy taking the girls camping.

And while I'm at it, let me throw this out. It's one of the reasons I love Tom Waits. It's from a recent interview:

Sample question: "Do you have words to live by?"

Waits: "Jim Jarmusch once told me, 'Fast, Cheap, and Good ... pick two. If it’s fast and cheap, it wont be good. If it’s cheap and good, it won’t be fast. If it’s fast and good, it wont be cheap.' Fast, cheap and good .. pick (2) words to live by."

Friday, May 16, 2008

The heat, it appears, is on

Well, it's May 16 (I think. I guess I should have checked the date before I sat down to write). Anyway, we broke 100 yesterday and May is only half over. One-hundred degrees. I think the official high out at the airport was 103. Whoever settle this town is an idiot. It's going to be a long summer.

I've kinda been on a U2 jag as of late. It's got me thinking about a few things not necessarily U2-related. Last Christmas I got a copy of the book "U2 By U2" -- it's basically the band's history as told by the band. And it's pretty interesting.

But man, it kills the mystique. I remember discovering the band in high school and trading around books like "Unforgettable Fire" and "At the End of the World" learning things about the band's history and the relationship between the members. You felt like a researcher, learning things no one else knew and finding out little facts that helped unlock some of the songs.

I learned cool stuff, like how Larry had posted the band notice at Mount Temple when they were all in high school and essentially gave birth to the band. And arcane stuff, like "With or Without You" is a song about heroine addiction. I'll admit, it made the song cooler. And I don't know that that was really widely known in the early '90s.

Anyway, on the other hand, there were always things that you didn't know, things shrouded in mystery. For instance, was "One" really about the band wanting to break up? Or was it an imagined tale, like a lot of fans in the '90s argued, about what Bono would say to a hypothetical gay son. It was one of those things that was fun to debate among friends and fans.

Of course, a lot of those notions were dispelled as the internet age grew. At nearly the same exact time, the band was trying to come back to the pop culture mainstream after their perceived "Pop" debacle and so all of a sudden, the band was showing up in places they'd never been seen before. They were promoting "All That You Can't Leave Behind" and showing up on SNL and CNN and Vh1 to a lot of fanfare.

And all it was archived online. It was really easy to get tons of info on the band. Which was really cool. My most favoritest band was completely accessible in so many ways for the first time. But it's funny, I was getting to know more about the band and the songs and, almost imperceptively, my interest in them was fading.

And then a couple years ago, "U2 By U2" came out. As I read it over Christmas break, I discovered two things. One: the format is really tedious. It's essentially a 350-page interview transcript. Two: The band has a really cool history.

And that's when it hit. Rock bands, along with great music, need to have some kind of mystique to remain interesting.

Knowing almost everything it's possible to know about U2 leaves little to the imagination. Which, in turn, makes it a little harder to get lost in the music, a little harder to get excited when you see them show up in "unexpected" places and a little harder to get excited about what they've done.

Is this how Beatles fans feel?

Or maybe I'm just getting old and caring about all these kinds of things less.

Believe it or not, the internet has led to another problem.

I remember being in high school and friend of mine, Brian Memmott, coming in with a taped copy of U2's cover of "Can't Help Falling in Love" -- it was a reasonably rare "Zoorpa"-era b-side. We didn't eally know that in high school -- we just figured we'd disovered gold.

And that's what I really miss in the internet age -- that sense of discovery you have when you stumbled across things rare and arcane. That doesn't happen anymore. You don't discover anything anymore because everything's out there and instantly accessible. I mean INSTANTLY accessible. That's not to say the Internet is bad. It just kind of spoils you.

A friend, Ryan Jensen, pointed that out few years ago when U2 put their entire catalogue up on iTunes for a while. He spent most of high school trying to get his hands on a rare U2 "Unforgettable Fire"-era B-side called "Sixty Seconds in Kingdom Come." He talked about that inimitable feeling of finally finding it in some dive, taking it home and listening to it.

Of course, when U2 did the iTunes thing, it was immediately available to anyone with 99 cents. Which isn't a bad thing, it's a pretty cool tune. But man, it sure takes away the fun.

And that's off my chest. It's been rattling around my head since January. Anyway, if you're still reading, that means you're either bored or my mom.

I leave tonight for the annual fathers/sons campout and in true Rogers fashion, I'll be taking my daughters. I'll get something up here about it on Sunday. I swear.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Has it been a month already?

Tom Friedman is back and he's on fire.

It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

Read his column -- it'll take all of five minutes and you'll be glad you did.

In other news it turns out teenage boys today -- as in right now, spring 2008 -- listen to the same exact music teenage boys listened to in 1988. And probably 1978 for that matter. If you'll think back to this post here, you'll remember that I took a group of our young men to Conference.

It's a 12-hour drive one way and so, as you can imagine, we listened to a lot of music. We outlawed headphones in the car so that we could all have the same experience driving there and back. And we each brought music to share.

Anyone want to guess what the boys brought? That's right, Boston, Journey, Guns 'n' Roses, Foreigner and Weird Al. I think there was .38 Special and Blue Oyster Cult in there as well. And Billy Squire.

The point is, this is the same exact stuff I was listening to when I was in junior high. And a little bit in high school. Which reminded me of an arguement I've made many times before. As a teenager, I had terrible taste in music. I'm not saying that there's anything really wrong with schlock rock bands like Journey and Boston -- well, yes I am.

The point is, it's nice to know that as quickly and greatly as times seem to change, so many things remain so very much the same. It's like the wheel in the sky keeps on turning and we don't know where we'll be tomorrow.

Or something.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Reading, my friends, is power.

Becky was at the park a couple days ago with a friend. They both had their kids with them, which meant Claire was with her two pals, Jason and Tyler. They were playing in a tube slide on the playground equipment, crawling up inside, laughing and talking.

Now, keep in mind the three of them are seven-year-olds, in second grade. They all read really well, but because they've only been reading for a couple years and, at that, reading proficiently really for only a year, their language skills are still, well, pretty elementary.

The tube slide itself acts like a mega phone, so even though they were just laughing and talking among themselves, the moms sitting at a bench across the playground could comfortably hear them. Listening in, Becky's friend hears the boys begin to curse like sailors. Shocking, given that none of the parents swear. It quickly dawns on her that the three kids are reading graffitti etched into the tube.

She kind of chuckles, given the absurdity of the situation. And then she hears her son say, "Ha ha, this one says 'Joe is a mother father.'"

And then she hears Claire laugh and say, "And they spelled 'father' wrong." All three of them laughed at that.

And we laughed, too. Really hard. Spelled 'father' wrong indeed.

You want another laugh? Becky's sister Steph has great little tale over at her blog, complete with visual aids. Check it out.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


I don't know about you all, but I'm tired of seeing that picture of Hillary.

It's been nearly two months, so let me take care of some housekeeping and then in the next couple of days we can move forward with more substansive posts. You know, important things like where my favorite spot on my back is.

But first, let's talk U2. (I hear the collective groan out there). Becky and I got down to Sacramento a couple weekends ago and saw U2 3D. It was incredible. The film was shot in high definition and was, obviously, in 3D. We saw it on an IMAX and so the experience was just overwhelming. And the music was pretty good, too. If you really want my full-blown take on the film let me know, otherwise, I'll leave it here. (I hear those sighs of relief).

General Conference is this weekend -- a big deal for us Mormons as we'll be sustaining a new president and prophet, a relatively rare experience in the church. The past president, Gordon B. Hinckley, had been prophet for 13 years and beloved by members of the church. For most of the youth, he was the only president they'd known. So, the bishop and I are taking the 16 and 17 year-old boys in the ward out to Salt Lake this week to attend conference. We'll all stay at Mom and Dad's and drive back early Monday morning. I'm actually pretty excited.

Lastly, if you look to the right, you'll see the links list updated. There's a lot of talent in this area now committing their skills to the internets. Good friends Jim Dyar, Doni Greenberg, Ian Ballentine and Phil Fountain have blogs and they're well worth a visit. And Jayson's mom, the regal and hilarious Sylvia Wilkinson now has Web pressence, detailing her adventures as a grandmother of quintuplets. Trust me, check it out.

Also, a big congratuations to Ryan Jensen. The old chap got married and had a small reception at his parent's home this weekend. In Kaysville. You couldn't have waited a week, Jense?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Barry and Billary

I figure a little political posting on the eve of the presidential primaries isn't a bad thing. Especially when it involves Claire and a seemingly skeevy-looking Hillary Clinton.

(It's been a while since I've blogged, apparently, so let me bring you up to speed. Claire is my second-grader. She goes to second grade every day.)

So I was driving Claire to school this morning and she was talking about her class. All last week they've been talking about all the different presidential candidates and the process we go through electing them. Late last week she told me that there was a woman running to be the first woman president and a black man running to be the first black president. I told her there was also a Mormon running to be the first Mormon president. She thought that was pretty cool. She then told me she still wanted to vote for Obama. I told her that was a pretty good pick.

Well this morning in the car she brought it up again. Only this time she talked about seeing pictures of the candidates. She said she and her group had seen the picture of the woman and decided they didn't like her because she looked like she robbed banks.

"I think her name is Hillary," she said.

"Yeah, she looks pretty shifty," I said. "Did you see a picture of Obama?" I then asked.

"Yeah, and our group decided he looked nice. I still want to vote for him."

She wanted to know who Mommy and I were going to vote. So I told her it was a closed primary for the Republicans and so Mom would probably vote for Romney. The Democratic primary is open to independents and I was going to vote for Obama. She seemed genuinely pleased by that.

The lesson to be learned here of course is to not vote for Hillary because she looks like she robs banks.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Old Letterman for the New Year

I tried to blog on Saturday and couldn't really think of anything substantial to write. I'm clearly out of practice. So to tide you and me over, I'm going to spread a little Letterman love. That's not a bad thing.

Below are a couple of Top Ten lists from the good days, back when Letterman was on NBC and was genuinely fresh and funny. Not that he isn't funny now, I'm not going bad-mouth Dave. But a simple comparison of Top Ten lists from then and now reveal enough.

And the sad thing, and maybe that's why I'm posting this, is that these lists --well the first one really -- are as pertinent today as they were 15 years ago. I blame you, W.

Here they are -- and if you want to know how serious I am, there's no cutting and pasting involved here. I'm typing these in by hand from my own personal copy of "Roman Numeral Two!"

Top Ten Government Euphemisms for a Recession

10. Lifestyle downscaling opportunity
9. Our Little Problem
8. The ugly, stupid cousin of robust growth
7. Something for '30s nostalgia buffs
6. Cheap meat-eatin' days
5. A treat for our bankruptcy lawyer friends
4. A good time to switch to RC Cola
3. Still a hell of a lot better than any country in South America, pal
2. The National Bummer
1. It's Krazy Dollar Days!

Some Guy Named Jim's Top Ten Names For His New Hat Store

10. Jimbo's Cap Shack
9. Jim's Brims
8. Admiral Jim's Hats Ahoy!
7. The Jim O'Shantery
6. Hats 'R' Jim
5. Jim's Bulletproof/Knifeproof/Spitproof Hats (New York City only)
4. Jim, Your Hat Smells Terrific
3. Wally's Hat Shop (under new management)
2. If You Don't Want a Hat, Then Screw You
1. Colonel Jim's Kentucky Fried Hats

(No. 4 makes me laugh so hard I cry.)

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