Saturday, July 26, 2008

Further Thoughts During The Dark Knight

Do you remember how last week I joked about how suggested you have a batwarehouse since a batcave was a bit unreasonable and costs too much? Imagine my chagrin when The Dark Knight has Batman in a batwarehouse since Wayne Manor was destroyed at the end of Batman Begins, complete with gaudy fluorescent lighting.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thoughts During The Dark Knight

When we were watching The Dark Knight yesterday, I wondered if anyone else caught the sly bit of casting humor Nolan threw into an otherwise dark picture. The Mayor is played by Nestor Carbonell, currently known as "the member of the Others who never ages" on Lost, but always and forever Batmanuel on the live version of The Tick. In the comic, Batmanuel was known as Die Fleidermaus, but the producers must have thought the connection between the character and Batman wasn't obvious enough and so changed the name. Still, I found it hilarious that the man who played a slimy version of Batman on TV for 9 episodes was the mayor of Gotham City in the movie.

Oh, and if you're curious, all 9 episodes of The Tick can be seen here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Out of Step

When I am teaching and doing research, I tend to exist in my own little musicological bubble. I teach my students the story of music from the past 100 years as it makes sense to me; I've constructed my own narrative over the past few years and am gleefully passing it along. When I research and read, I focus on studies of music that interests me and often find scholars who agree with the significance of the works and composers I find important. It's a warm little bubble and I rarely stray from it.

But I am connected to the larger musicological world through various listservs. I generally ignore their arguments - the past few weeks, for instance, have seen heated debate on whether or not Mozart was left-handed or if Beethoven was black. I shrug, wondering about the fuss but not getting overly excited by it. However, every once and a while, a message comes through that reminds me why my proposals are never accepted by our largest professional society and shows me how out of step I am with much of my profession.

One such message appeared on Monday. Its author posted a month ago asking for input. It seems that she is going to teach a course on living composers and was wondering who we would suggest she teach. I was busy with a brand new baby, and so didn't take the time to respond. I should have. Here is the consensus response:

Top 4 (ranked in order of number of votes):
John Adams
Steve Reich
Kaija Saariaho
Osvaldo Golijov

Other contenders (all have even number of votes):
Thomas Ades
Tania Leon
Philip Glass
Stephen Sondheim
Gyorgi Ligeti
Ellen Taffe Zwillich
Witold Lutoslawski
John Williams
Elliot Carter
George Crumb
Joan Tower
Nico Muhly

Most of those names may be unfamiliar to you, but if you actively listen to modern music, you will recognize many of those names. Still, I had a few shocks looking at the list. The author wanted to teach living composers who are important right now. Ligeti died in 2005, Lutoslawski in 1994. Of the remaining 14, only two are under 40. Expand that to 50 and you pick up one more composer and another if you go to 60 and two more if you go to 70. So of the important living composers to musicologists, two are dead and the majority are over 70. Can you produce important, influential music in your 70s, 80s, or, in the case of Elliot Carter, when you are 100? Absolutely. What amazes me instead is that so many people's knowledge of new music stopped about the time they left graduate school. Most of these composers were new and making an impact in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, when most musicologists working today were in grad school.

Were I asked to teach a class on living composers, I would probably spend the first week surveying the "old guard," those composers who made a splash 30 or more years ago and are still producing vital music, but would spend most of the time on composers of the past 10-15 years. It just goes to show how out of touch I am with many of my colleagues just by seeking out new composers and new music constantly.

Monday, July 21, 2008

On Beauty in Music

Two weeks ago, when Jesse Helms passed away, I was astounded by one of the three issues constantly mentioned in obituaries:

1. He was a old-school, hard-line conservative
2. He was a Southern gentleman who, although dubbed "Dr. No" in the Senate, always had good manners

(and then the one that astounded me)

3. He fought, in the words of the New York Times obit, "against civil rights, gay rights, foreign aid and modern art."

That's right, to his dying day he was remembered for opposing federal funding for the arts because some of the money went to artists he didn't like. And what didn't he like? Anything that wasn't, in his definition, beautiful, including the marvelous Calder mobile "Mountains and Clouds" that sits in the Hart Senate Building's atrium.

I spend most of my days trying to convince people that art, specifically music, does not have to be beautiful, that it can usefully serve other purposes. Some of the most affecting art I know is not beautiful classically or popularly. It achieves its power by causing us to listen closely in new and unexpected ways to the world around us. Then, when it has gotten us to stop and listen, it brings us into empathy (harmony, if you don't mind the unintentional pun) with a view we've never considered. With conventionally beautiful art, I find that we allow our ears to, in Charles Ives's memorable phrase, sit back in an easy chair. We don't expand ourselves in any way, but reinforce prejudices we've had since we were teenagers.

The result of this view has been, to my mind, a segregating of music off from life. There are a variety of ways we do this - we let other people do our music, missing the vital role it can play in healing us and creating family and community; we constantly surround ourselves with music like a warm fuzzy blanket that we then leave in the background, let it subtly affect us but rarely engaging with it directly; we rarely discover what music actually has to say about the human condition. I was teaching about Meredith Monk this morning and found these strong relevant words from her about the state of art and music in the United States:

"Here, art has become a commodity rather than a way of life. It is thought of as a diversion rather than an essential need. … What we need to do in America now is to fight for our right to jump off the cliff; to create a climate that affirms the ability to take risks; to demand recognition, from the top, that art is a vital and pungent force in our lives. Art, even the most irreverent, is a vivid response to the time in which one lives. … It is possible to learn from each other, affirm each other, dissolve boundaries both between the art form and between cultural communities. Art should be a reflection of our rapidly changing world and our concern for the future of the planet."

Take a chance and take a listen. You never know what you'll hear.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Peanut Butter Monster

I can tell that having a second child is already effecting our parenting of the first. We are complete rule followers, keeping eggs and chocolate out of Sam's mouth for the required amount of time. We're supposed to wait until he's three for peanut butter, but today, as we were picnicking at a local park, Sam asked for some of Joy's peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She shrugged, "you're almost three," and gave him a bite.

Joy could barely eat her sandwich after that.

Now I know why you're supposed to wait - we've created a monster.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Cost of Batman

When I through out a title like "The Cost of Batman" on opening day of the new Batman movie, you might think I'm referring to that's movie's cost (which the New York Times puts "north of $100 million"). But no, I'm actually speaking of how much it would cost in raw dollars to be Batman.

One of Batman's primary allures is that anyone can be him. With enough money, training, and psychological scarring from a traumatic childhood event, any person could potentially fight crime. And run around in tights and a cape. You don't have to be an alien from the planet Krypton or be struck by gamma radiation or be bitten by a radioactive/genetically altered spider. No, you can be a superhero through sheer tenacity.

Well, tenacity and a $6.3 billion fortune that puts you at #28 on Forbes's list.

I've been reading through some of the early Batman comics from the early 1940s and have been struck that, though wealthy, Bruce Wayne was not a millionaire at first. But as costs have gone up over the past sixty years, so has his fortune, first to millionaire, then to multi-millionaire, and now to billionaire. But does he need all that money to be Batman? Surely a millionaire could do it.

Fortunately Forbes not only figured out where Bruce Wayne would be on the scale of wealthiest people, but also how much it would cost to be Batman per year. Their estimated cost? $3,365,449. But their list cheats. Batman Begins tells us that the batsuit costs $300,000. Forbes wants you to be realistic and so recommends a lightweight ProMAX OTV bulletproof jacket for $1,085 and a Kevlar helmet for $500. What about the legs? Every bad guy would know that a penknife to the legs would incapacitate you so you'd get a rouges gallery including the Fearsome Letter Opener. Obviously not acceptable.

What is worse about the list is that it only calls for $24,000 for the Batcave, which it recommends you put in a warehouse as there are no naturally occurring caves large enough in New York. The Batwarehouse? Really? No, you need to do as they've done in Kansas City and find an abandoned mine to convert. Will that cost you $24,000? No indeed.

But all in all, it's nice to see that for the cost of making the movie, you could probably fund a Batman for a year. So it's possible for any respectable millionaire to be Batman.

As long as they have a pension to go with it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Further Proof that My Son is Huge

Joy's sister Heather came to visit us this weekend along with her daughter Ana. That's right, we had two children under six months of age in our house at the same time. At the same time as a toddler. At the same time that we only had three adults.

Clearly we are crazy.

But we had an excellent time playing with our kids, or, really, watching Ana and Noah look cute and grab things that passed their field of vision and trying to keep Sam contained. Heather had to go home a bit early just because our house couldn't contain the cuteness any longer. I mean, look at this picture:Noah seems to be eyeing his cousin as if to say "What's she doing in my crib? And being so smiley about it?" But in any event, the two of them together is too much for one house to contain for too long. And speaking on long, look at this:
Ana was born in February, Noah in June. But he's already as long as her and almost as beefy. But he still has that newborn look (which must come from sleeping all the time - I want to try and see if I can get that look back) while Ana looks like a baby now. Noah's going to be a giant! (which for our families, is about 5 foot 11.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

My Other Son is Huge

This lack of sleep thing has kept me from almost all pursuits this past week except for going back to work (though my students might have appreciated if no sleep had kept me away from class as well). It also can evidently harm your growth, as a new large study out of India has shown. I try to tell this to Noah at 1:00 in the morning when we're having a heart to heart because he won't go to sleep. "Noah," I say, "you're a younger brother which means the best way to get back at your older brother for years of torment is to grow bigger than he."

Noah just blinks back at me, or makes his monkey face, or clicks his tongue. And then smiles as he refuses to go to sleep.

Still, I believed he would eventually come around to solid logic. Then, at his one-month well baby, his doctor ruined my reasoning. Noah dropped to 8 lbs 1 ounce after birth and was still 19 1/2 inches long. Yesterday he was 10 lbs, 4 ounces and 22 1/2 inches long. Obviously the lack of sleep isn't hurting him at all.

I see tough times when he's a teenager if he's already thwarting my logic.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

My Son is Charles Ives

This afternoon, it was pleasant outside and Joy was getting cabin fever, so we decided to break out the sprinkler. Sam got suited up, pulled out bubbles, and had a high old time playing in the water. He spent most of the time sticking his face in the spray and then picking up the sprinkler to try and get us wet.

Afterwards, he and I were sitting on his swingset, gently rocking back and forth on our swings when Sam turns to me and says, "You sing your favorite song and I'll sing mine." Knowing there was a trick to this game, I asked, "What's my favorite song?" "'I've been working on the Railroad,'" he declared, "and mine is 'Soaring.'" I dutifully began singing, and he quickly joined in in a key and tempo relationship that would have made Charles Ives proud.

I suppose this makes me George Ives. Which means that the next thing you know, we'll be sliding while singing quarter tones.

Friday, July 4, 2008

I Love a Parade

Every Fourth of July, all the neighborhood kids get together and parade down the street to a local church where the home owners association rents a big inflatable something for the kids to jump on and fly off. You may recall that last year, Sam rode in a wagon for the parade. This year, Sam was ready to join the big kids on his tricycle:Sure he needed a little help from me through the rope I tied to the front to keep him moving, but he steered all by himself, pedaled a bit, and rode in the stroller when he got tired. And everyone commented on his cool retro trike (thanks May and Pop). Noah enjoyed the parade by sleeping through it, but I'll bet next year he'll be in the wagon and we'll start all over again.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Things I'd Forgotten

Sam will only be three in October, but I've been astounded by how much I'd forgotten about a newborn in those few years.

Like how good their heads smell, especially after a bath. Joy laughs at me because I'll smell Noah's head for hours after bathing him. Bono was onto something.

Like how they take a few short, quick intakes of breath before letting out a long sigh when they are sleeping.

Like how their voice and bottom lip quavers when they cry particularly hard.

Like how they smile when they sleep and occasionally laugh.

Like how their skin looks like a Sharpei with rolls upon rolls of skin hiding all sorts of things in their grasp.

Like how people look askance at a dad out with small children. I took Noah and Sam to Walmart the other day so Joy could have a few moments by herself. Knowing getting into the store would require a one-man caravan, I parked next to the cart return so I could grab a cart easily. When I got out of the car I laughed because I not only parked next to the cart return, but next to two dirty diapers. I quickly forgot them in trying to get sleeping Noah into the Baby Bjorn and trying to lift Sam into the cart while holding Joy's shopping list and the grocery circular for price matching and avoiding the gaggle of ladies who parked next to me and were looking alarmed at what I was attempting. I had forgotten those looks of "are you really capable of taking care of small children" I used to get from women when out alone with Sam, but put it from my mind until I arrived home 30 minutes later. As I went to the back of the car to retrieve my groceries, I noticed that one of the dirty diapers had found its way into the crack between the spare tire and the back window of my car. That's right, as the ladies returned their cart, they saw the diapers and assumed that I, a single dad obviously barely hanging on in his first outing with two boys, had casually tossed both my sons' diapers on the ground after changing them. And then decided that since they were picking them up, instead of putting them in the trash can close by, they would wedge them on my car hard enough to survive the ride home.


Some things I'm going to try not to forget as Noah grows. Others I probably will.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why is Lost so Complicated

I love me some Lost. Sure the second season was meandering, but this last, truncated season was intense and exciting. Yet even though both Joy and I eagerly look forward to each week, we both recognize that its mythology is beginning to make the X-Files look tame. That's why I laughed and nodded along with this video. If you've never seen Lost, you may be a little, well, lost, but it gives you an idea of what its fans sometimes feel. Besides, who doesn't enjoy a little Weird Al take on Avril Lavigne?