September 30, 2005

Paul's Case and Easy Rider

Author's Note: The following is a post I made on a literature discussion board for my English 205 class. It discusses a corallory I perceive between a short story by Willa Cather titled "Paul's Case" and the classic film "Easy Rider." To read the full short story click here.

“It was a losing game in the end, it seemed, this revolt against the homilies by which the world is run.”

It appears as if the editors of our textbook, as well Professor Saupe, tend to associate literary fiction with stories that don't have an easily identifiable "moral," and I would tend to agree. I also think that in order to gain the most understanding from any piece of writing it is important to not jump to conclusions about the intended meaning.

This may be especially true for Paul's Case. Indeed, possibly the most objective statement in the whole story (the line quoted above) may be the most open to subjective interpretation. There are even dangerous would not be a huge stretch of the imagination to infer that Paul's Case advocates suicide as a way of escaping the inescapable. I would say that this probably was not the intention of the author, especially when considering Paul's moment of remorse for "what he had left undone" just before the impact of the train. So if it doesn't advocate suicide, what is it saying? Is that final conclusion of Paul's transmitting the message of: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE? Man, that would be a downer.

On a slightly different note, has anyone seen the 1969 classic Easy Rider? You may recognize the motif of the film from the recent Starsky & Hutch reference. At first glance this is just a throwaway hippie flick about two mangy bikers who smoke a lot of dope. The basic plot is as follows: Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper make a big score in an illegal drug deal and use the ill-gotten cash to fund a groovy cross country journey from Los Angeles to Mardi Gras. Oh, and they pick up Jack Nicholson along the way. However, there is an ongoing current of social commentary throughout the film, especially in the portion which features Jack.

Despite the content such social commentary, it would still be easy to identify the overall message of the film as an advocacy for the "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll" worldview. All the resistance the pair meets along the way comes from people who are labeled "intolerant" of their free-wheeling lifestyle. However, there is a cryptic line in a scene near the end of the film in which Fonda and Hopper are sitting by the campfire. Hopper's character is optimistic because of all the money they had stashed in the tear-drop gas tank of Fonda's bike, but Fonda replies with a look of extreme remorse, "We blew it." I really think that this line is meant to show an epiphany on Fonda's part (not dissimilar to the one Paul has) that the path they had chosen was ultimately the wrong one. Shortly thereafter the two meet a similar end to many of the characters from the literary fiction we've read.

I believe that the meaning (if not the theme) of Paul's Case and Easy Rider are very similar in their respective conclusions. Both Paul and the guys from the film were living in a fantasy world fueled by funds that were stolen from society. In the end, neither could sustain their counter-cultural lifestyle and both met untimely demises as a result. I would hate to try and boil down the broad wave of meaning that this has to a reductionism such as "Resistance [to societal norms] is futile," especially because I think that there is a more uplifting way up presenting it. It is my contention that both the story and the film could lead to the conclusion that in order to be truly free and happy one must be productive and contribute to society as opposed to leeching off of it in order to fuel a hedonistic lifestyle. It almost pains me to say it, but this is ringing some major "Prelude" bells about the Calvinist ideas of vocation and stewardship. Perhaps there's a reason why Easy Rider is available on DVD in Hekman Library after all.

September 26, 2005

Pub Crawl Update

The hunt continues...been to several new watering holes since the last Pub-post. Here goes:

Founders Brewing Company
A true micro-brewery, the IPA was decent and the Oatmeal Stoudt under nitrogen was fabulous.

The Cambridge House
The only place in town for scotch. Their multi-tier system covered the gamut, and to put it in perspective, Glennfiddich and Laphroig were in the lowest tier. For $7.50 you can get three 1.5oz samples of the "low" tier scotches - lovely. Plus, the game room in the back was very nice.

Rocky's Bar & Grill
Don't blink. Tucked away on a backstreet in a heavily industrial area, Rocky's was quite the nice surprise. It's a true hole in the wall, but the atmosphere was excellent as were the pours on the Jameson (thanks to my man Cliff). Good/Cheap burgers, too - what more could you ask for?

Bull's Head Tavern
Live music with no cover on a Friday night? That's what I'm talking about (Bill Withers' "Use Me" was being covered when we stopped in). However, Bull's Head is smack in the middle of things on Ionia Street, so you've gotta deal with the crowd/noise. That being said, it was definitely a Five-o'clock set as opposed to the typical Ionia Street [Jerk]-o-rama (read: Taps).

Another Ionia Street bar, typical scene - very crowded/noisy, but cheap enough. At that point we weren't to worried about the fine details anyway. It does make one appreciate Rocky's all that much more.

The Cottage Bar
I've been to this place before, just never sat at the bar. More of a restaurant than a watering hole, Cottage is a great place, but I'm not in a hurry to "have a drink" there again.

Despite the fact that they have 30 beers on draft (hence the name) this place was pushing a very "Club" atmosphere. It was the first time I had to wait in a line -albeit very short- to get in the door, and the place was packed. Yeah, did I mention it's on Ionia Street. The Guinness was fine, not to mention 25c cheaper than Cottage, but I won't be running back to taps anytime soon either.

Overall Message: In the future, anyone trying to find me on a Friday night should not be looking on Ionia Street.

September 25, 2005

Supertramp Rocks at...LaGrave CRC?

I went to church again this week, and was very surprised to hear the somewhat elderly pastor make a reference to one of my all-time favorite bands - Supertramp. I know, the whole "all-time greatest" list thing comes from the movie High Fidelity in which John Cussack totally disses Supertramp, but they are still one of the greatest progressive/pop rock bands. Curiosly enough, I'm currently going through a phase where I'm gleaning a lot of deeper meaning from music, so it was perfectly suitable for there to be an application from a Supertramp song into this weekend's sermon (after all, as the Bible and Pink Floyd say, everything under the sun is in tune).

Not only was the band referenced, but he made mention of the specific song and even went so far as to read (not sing) the entire first verse and chorus:

The Logical Song
...Then they sent me away
To teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world
Where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

-There are times-
When all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
-Won’t you please-
Please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
Please tell me who I am.

I'm not sure if the lyrics were super applicable to the actual message, but it's a good tune regardless. Plus, this is not a pop song. "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks is a pop song, but who listens to that crap anyway. If anyone ever raises any questions regarding Supertramp's "pop" status, I recomend referring them to "Fool's Overture" - the last song on Even In The Quitest Moments. I believe the running time is over ten minutes, and there's even some background sampling from a Winston Churchill speech (We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall defend our honor. We shall never surrender!).

"History recalls, how great the Fall can be, while everyone is sleeping, the boats put out to sea."

Didn't N*Sync do a cover of that song?

September 23, 2005

The Art of the Resume

I'm currently in the process of drafting a resume to hand in to the Career Development people at Calvin. They've sent a couple of speakers over to the Engineering Senior Design class to talk about the importance of interviewing skills and a good resume. It's kind of funny, after all those years of classes dealing with theoroms and abstract, seemingly inapplicable busy-work, this is really the only stuff that matters in terms of converting everything you've worked on into $$. Sadly, however, I feel that I am the only person in the entire class who has some philosophical perspective on what's really going on.

The last time Career Development gave a lecture the representative spoke about the value of good interviewing skills, resume, suit, etc. And he's absolutely correct, these "little" practical matters are extremely important, far more than capability to perform the job well. After all, if you can't connect with the person who decides who to hire, how will they know you can perform the job well? Anyway, the students seemed to be bubbling with excitement over the prospect of finally starting salary positions in real live engineering firms, and the Career Development people were going to help them essentially play the system to get those jobs. "Yeah, I'm gonna go buy a suit, beef up my resume, practice interviewing - I can't wait to get $40,000 a year!"

Despite the practical issues the dude from C.D. was talking about, something he said offended my sensibilities quite a bit. It was along the lines of this:

"There's no point in spending $100,000 on college if you don't do what it takes to get a job when you graduate. After all, you don't want to be living in your parents' basement ten years from now."

I looked around and everyone was smiling and nodding, amusing themselves about how sucky it would be to have to live with their parents. It does seem like a fairly common, innoculous statement, so why was I so offended? There are multiple reasons, the least of which is not that he reduced the entire college experience to a $100K "Get a Job" ticket, which can be purchased at a College or University near you! I absolutely HATE this way of thinking, it practically makes me sick to think about it. Regardless of what happens upon my own graduation, I will know that I have developed and grown in enormous ways, ways that would not have been possible if it weren't for my experience(s) at Calvin. I have learned about the world, philosophy and theology. I have learned about truths and theories, facts and abstractions. I have learned an immense amount about what it means to be human, and I've gained a lot of perspective on the things that occur on this earth. I have gained this knowledge both from the professors that have taught me in class and also (possibly more importantly) from the interpersonal relationships which have sprung up along the way. I am now incorporating it into my daily life, putting what I've learned into actual contemplative practice. How dare someone cheapen the value and worth of my experiences to a mere meal-ticket!

Then when I thought about it more I realized that there was another element to his statement which I found to be interesting, if not objectionable. It was the part about living with one's parents (I do understand that this comment was made in good nature, but it helps me draw a point). For the most part, according to my observation and personal testament, I have found that students at Calvin are usually free-rolling on their parents' dime. According to the model presented by the guy from C.D. this means that the parents purchase the kid a ticket into the work world so that he/she can start their independent life. Wow, where do I start with this one? I think for me the main point is this: if you're so anxious to get away from your parents while at the same time relieving them of approximately $100,000, why don't you just take the money directly from them and just leave? You'd gain four years of "freedom" (i.e. - not school) and could start your independent life without a trace of debt. I think that most people could parlay a $100K headstart and a little effort into a relatively successful life.

What's that? How will they get a job without a degree? Well, that's sort of the whole point isn't it. Businesses originally valued the experience and growth that people gained by going to college. As a result, a college degree gradually became a pre-requisite for many companies (simple enough). The problem is, as I am inclined to believe, that over time the cart slowly got moved in front of the horse. Now the institution of "college" is a machine, gorging on billions of private dollars each year, pumping out hundreds of thousands of so called graduates every Spring. College degrees, ergo, have become practically useless except for the fact that they are 100% necessary (know what I mean?) Everybody has to pay for their stamp of approval before they can move down the corporate assembly line. I find this sysytem to be backwards, not to mention foul, and it upsets me that I, like everyone else, will inevitably be forced to kneel before this corporate-political behemoth. It's like Microsoft - you can run but you can't hide - this system has a deathgrip monopoly on our society.

So what I've done here is twist the amicable words of someone who was trying to help me be successful into an enraged commentary about the state of American (Western) society as it relates to higher education and the work force. I hope it caused some readers to think, even if they were just thinking about how strange and unreasonable my objections are. Anyway, back to that resume...

"It's not what you know, it's who you know."
-Conventional Wisdom

September 21, 2005

And I'm Still (In a Whole Lot of Trouble)

It is entirely possible that Waiting for Columbus is the best live album ever. What am I saying, that's silly. Of course it's the best live album ever. I seriously contend that each and every track on this disc is better than the studio version of those same songs.

My favorites are:

Dixie Chicken
Fat Man in the Bathtub (a.k.a. - My Sweet Juanita)
All That You Dream

...but the best one is probably the "hymnic" interpretation of Willin'. There is some serious soul in this song, and I love the Smokey & The Bandit-style truck driver motif (granted, a much more serious version).

I've been -
Warped by the Rain,
Driven by the Snow,
Drunk and Dirty,
Don'tcha know.

In my literature class we've been discussing the distinction between commercial and literary fiction writing. Commercial fiction can be purchased in the grocery store and does not typically challenge the reader to contemplate or reflect beyond absorbing a formulaic plot. Literary writing is supposed to draw questions about larger meanings than just what is happening in the book. I know that in the past I haven't necessarily had loads of appreciation for literary fiction, but I'm learning how to unlock the meaning in a lot of it - something I may have thought of as BS in high school. In comparison, reading good literary fiction makes the more commercial stuff seem frivolous at best, downright wrong at worst. In turn, I'm starting to feel the same way about music.

Example: "Why Can't This Be Love?" by Van Halen (Van Haggar, actually). I liked this song the very first time I heard it. It's a catchy tune, no doubt about it. However, the more I listen to it the more I realize that it's pretty flat. The instumentals are compelling, but there is a decided lack of depth and range - squealing guitar chords with a constant back-beat overlaid with some sort of synth. For the whole song. The vocals, in turn, are of decent quality, but the songwriting is super cheesy - not to mention repetitive.

This is not to say that I don't still listen to Van Halen, I do. The difference is in the way I engage it, typically on a strictly entertainment basis. Conversely, my appreciation for more literary music such as Little Feat has grown immensely.

I've gotten out of the habit of ending with a quote, and that's no good. Perhaps the quotes add a nice little flavor of perspective at the end of each post, or maybe it's just good to sign off with a sentence or two that I didn't write.

Stood alone on a mountain top,
Starin’ out at the great divide
I could go east, I could go west,
It was all up to me to decide
Just then I saw a young hawk flyin’
And my soul began to rise
And pretty soon
My heart was singin’

-From "Roll Me Away" by Bob Seger

September 19, 2005

Dos Gringos Mediocre at Logan's Alley

The band at Logan's last night was weak, especially compared to NightCrawler last week. They were calling themselves "Dos Gringos," although it seemed more like three guys to me - guitar/vocals, bass, drums (bongo drums). While they were mellow enough and seemed to have some talent, it was far short of transendent. While we were there the only song I recognized was - admittedly a very nice selection - "The Weight" by The Band. It really doesn't matter who's playing it, I like hearing that song, but Gringos' version was pretty lame. Incidentally, I was thinking about rocking the jukebox prior to the band starting and I was going to play that exact song off of the Starsky & Hutch soundtrack. I decided to wait (eh, wait/weight) because it was already after 9:00 at that point and I didn't want to have my songs preempted when the band started.

If you have a few minutes click on this link.

Speaking of the Starsky & Hutch soundtrack, one might wonder why "The Weight" by The Band was in a recent parody-type film starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. The reason, of course, is the inclusion of a brilliant reference to a classic scene from Easy Rider, which contains the very same song. I only wish I had seen Easy Rider before I saw Starsky & Hutch. Regardless, it was an identifiable reference - plus that's and awesome song, one of the best.

P.S. - Another good one by The Band is "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," actually I have no idea what the name of the song is, but that's the chorus.

P.P.S. - They put some chalk out by the board in the bathroom, so "NightCrawler Rocks" now appears there twice, as well as a simple shout out to "Little Feat." Each of the "NightCrawler Rocks" messages were done on totally separate incidences, with no idea that the other had taken place. Great minds think alike, I guess.

September 14, 2005

Grand Rapids Brewing Company

The joys of the micro-brewery! I'd have to imagine that Gritty McDuff's on Fore Street in Portland, Maine was the first brew-pub I ever went to, and I was probably about 8 or 9 years old. On the right day the smell of the cooking grains and malts, etc can be nearly overpowering, and that smell always stirs up good memories for me. Now before you question why I was in such an establishment, well they have a restaraunt also. Regardless, the micro-brewery is in my blood, so to speak. Ol' padre even used to brew up some funky batches in our basement.

Off the top of my head I can recall a few establishments that brew their own beer which I have frequented along the way:

Iron Hill Brewery (Newark and Wilmington, Delaware)
John Harvard's (Wilmington, Delaware)
Brandywine Brewing Company (Greenville, Delaware)
Gritty McDuff's (Portland, Maine)
Stewart's (Newark, Delaware)
Grand Rapids Brewing Company (you guessed it - Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Here's the catcher. I turned 21 only nine days ago, so as one might reckon, I've only ever ordered a beer at one of these places (I live in Michigan...). This is not to say that I have not sampled the beers from these fine establishments, only in the past it was all sips and never pints. Speaking of pints, who needs 'em? I'm Mr. Mug Club now at GRBC - a low ranking #354, but it counts. Mugs are supposedly ~ 20 oz, which is a few ounces more per draught than a pint glass (four, to be precise). This is great and all, but the real benefit of being on the mug club is on Tuesdays: $2 Mugs all day long. Yesterday was the first Tuesday since my I got signed up, and I felt I would be remiss to not pay GRBC a little visit. So instead of going northbound from Calvin back to my place after classes I simply hopped on the southbound bus and made my way to the bar. It's just that easy, and in order to assuage any concerns that any guardian-type reader may have, here's this:

A. I have no car. You can't get in trouble for driving home from the bar if you have no car.

B. Let's just say that I didn't exactly have my first drink on my 21st birthday. Responsible contact with alchohol has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, both by example and practice.

I believe that the worst thing that parents can do is try to keep their kids away from stuff like that entirely for as long as they can. What's the point of that? Then the kid goes from 0-60 all at once when they hit college and has no clue what the deal is. Anyway, it seems irresponsible to not train one's kids to know what alchohol is all about (of course, this is if one were to consume alchohol at all). That being said, I still think my parents are feeling hesitant regardless. Just remember that the drinking age was 18 back in the day...and I'm an old school kind of guy, know what I mean?

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

This is (was) the best new show on television. Last night was the season finale, and I suspect that this seventh episode will be the last we see of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Oh well, it was a good run while it lasted. FX is on a binge of TV-MA shows which supposedly "push the envelope" by dropping a few sh--s and a racy sex scene or two into each episode. While the looser restrictions of the TV-MA rating do allow a lot more creative freedom for the writers of the show, I feel like they also are restricting themselves by being subjected some sort of "edgy quota." At some point it feels forced, and I think that shows like Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me, Starved and Always Sunny would benefit by not being pigeon-holed into a TV-MA rating for every single episode.

Granted, I'm not saying that I've been offended by any of the material, as I doubt anyone who would choose to watch an entire episode would be. My point is only that FX should concentrate on promoting quality, long-lasting series and not on getting as much objectionable fare as the advertisors will tolerate.

September 12, 2005

NightCrawler Rocks at Logan's Alley

We decided to go out for a quick drink last night at around 8:00 and headed up to Michigan Street. Logan's Alley was selected and the atmosphere/music was decent. Drink prices were cheap enough, but the kicker was the selection. There were probably 20 beers on tap, many of them local as well as imports, and there were almost 100 beers from around the world available in bottles.

As is happens, Sunday night is Live Music at Logan's, and as it happens the band playing was called NightCrawler. We got to the bar at around 8:15 and normally would have been about ready to go by 9:00, but the band started playing and they were awesome. It was just two guys - Max Morrison on guitar/vocals and Dan Jaccobazzi on winds (i.e.- flute/sax). They were covering a lot of classic rock songs, and everything had a very mellow flavor as a result of the acoustic guitar and lack of percussions. Of the bands they covered, the ones I can remember are Beatles, America, Donovan, Lou Reed, Men At Work, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Allman Brothers, "Shanty Song," "Baker Street," Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmy Buffet, John Lennon, a sweet instrumental of Van Morrison's "Moondance*," and of course Jethro Tull.

Both players seemed to be quite comfortable with the most of the songs, and Jaccobazzi's wind instruments skills were pristine at times - his rendition of the sax solos from Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" were unbelievable, spot on. Of course, since someone was playing the flute lots of people were shouting out "Jethro Tull!" They saved Locomotive Breath for the second set. Definitely going to make efforts to check those guys out again.

*That's "Moondance," not to be confused with King Harvest's "Dancing in the Moonlight."

P.S. - Both shows were free, but NightCrawler was better than Eddie Money the previous night at Rosa Parks Circle - although the big outdoor concert did have its appeal, and that's a compliment to NightCrawler not a dis of Eddie Money.

Music vs. Poker

Author's note: this post was originally made on WEALTHY STREET POKER and has been moved here since the creation of this site.

Maybe I should start a separate blog for this kind of stuff. It would seem silly to keep posting stuff about the music I'm into these days on a site titled "WEALTHY STREET POKER." Either way, I'm posting it here for now because I simply don't have anything to talk about regarding poker. Anyone who has been keeping up with the posts may have noticed that my discussion of hands/strategy, etc. has ceased as of late. The reason for this is that I have not been playing any hands to discuss. I have fallen off of the face of the poker scene, both online and local - maybe it's been almost two months since I played a hand of poker? Probably less than that, but certainly nothing regular.

"So what's been occupying all of those hours?" one might ask. School started last week, and that has kept me very busy with all sorts of correspondence and paperwork I have to complete which pertains to my graduation in the Spring. So far nothing is locked in, and that's not a good thing. But I'm working on it, and anyway, school doesn't really count as a replacement for poker. At least in the past I haven't cut cards out of the equation once classes start. If I had to identify one thing that's occupied my "interest zone" is the music. I've been paying a lot more attention to music recently - appreciating it more. Not only am I trying to appreciate newly discovered qualities of music that I know, I'm also discovering new bands/songs altogether. There hasn't exactly been a clean break with heavier rock from the 70's/80's, but I've been more partial recently to gentler, more intricate fare like Alan Parsons, Allman Brothers, America, The Band, CSN&Y, Marshall Tucker Band, Steely Dan, Tom Petty, Yes, etc.

One band that I've been aware of my entire life but never invested much effort into investigating is Little Feat. Fortunately I got my dad the 4-disc box set a few years ago for Christmas, so now I have more Feat than I know what to do with. I think it represents a very interesting dynamic when many of the band's best songs are live versions of album tracks. Perhaps stating opinions as absolutes is not the most tactful thing, but anyone who thinks that the album version of "Dixie Chicken" is better than the live one from Waiting for Columbus is a fool. "Willin" is pretty good live, too.

Oh, I forgot to mention Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Phil Collins (yes, I know that he was in Genesis). The list could go on, but you get the picture. Here's an idea: get the full eight minute version of Phil Collin's "Take Me Home" and listen to through good quality headphones with plenty of volume. I'll just say that there's some wild stuff going on in that song that you definitely cannot hear when it's playing over the grocery store Muzac speakers. The same goes for Toto's "Africa" (another all-time elevator music classic).

"I seek to cure what's deep inside,
Frightened of this thing that I've become."

Pretty deep, Toto.