Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gratitude as the Answer to Tragedy

I wish it weren't so, but it is. I've just discovered that Robert C. Solomon, my favorite professor, died earlier this year. I don't often curse, because I don't want to devalue the expressive effect of curse words; I save them for those special occasions when I care to communicate something visceral. Upon reading the news of Professor Solomon's passing, I bellowed a "fuck" or two -- even though no one but I could hear.

A bit strange how I came to discover the news. Earlier tonight, a friend who's preparing for a philosophy exam asked me whether existentialists are metaphysicists. I couldn't answer. Even had she asked while I was immersed in existentialism during my undergraduate days, I likely still couldn't have answered because metaphysics, epistemology, ontology and other such placeholders for rigid, ordered theories never much mattered to me. What attracts me to existentialism, and Camus in particular, is its embrace of the emotions in a philosophical sense.

That was the first time someone had asked me a question about existentialism in a long while. When I got home, an article in the NYT caught my attention. It's about an MIT professor who has become something of an Internet phenomenon because videos of his quirky lectures are available online. The article introduced me to iTunes U, which is an online distribution center for podcasts of lectures from academia. I took a look and saw that "Phil 7: Existentialism in Literature and Film," a course taught at U.C. Berkley, is at the top of the charts.

Just then, nostalgia kicked in, and I wondered whether Professor Solomon's lectures were available online. So I started searching. And that's when news of his death at the much too young age of 64 left my mouth gaping.

During my second semester of college, I had doubts as to whether I had chosen the right major. But Professor Solomon's ethereal lectures on existentialism displaced those doubts. He had such a gift for wowing without trying, all while making light shine through the opaque.

It saddened me tremendously to learn of his passing. But as I read the various tributes to his life, I felt a sense of joy and gratitude for having encountered him in mine.

Gratitude, I want to suggest, is not only the best answer to the tragedies of life. It is the best approach to life itself. This is not to say, as I keep insisting, an excuse for quietism or resignation. It is no reason to see ourselves simply as passive recipients and not as active participants full of responsibilities. On the contrary, as Kant and Nietzsche among many others insisted, being born with talents and having opportunities imposes a heavy duty on us to exercise those talents and make good use of those opportunities. It is also odd and unfortunate that we take the blessings of life for granted -- or insist that we deserve them -- but then take special offense at the bad things in life, as if we could not possibly deserve those. The proper recognition of tragedy and the tragic sense of life is not shaking one's fist at the gods or the universe "in scorn and defiance" but rather, as Kierkegaard writes in a religious context, "going down on one's knees" and giving thanks. Whether or not there is a God or there are gods to be thanked, however, seems not the issue to me. It is the importance and the significance of being thankful, to whomever or whatever, for life itself.

- Robert C. Solomon, Spirituality for the Skeptic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 105.

- Robert C. Solomon in Richard Linklater's Waking Life

Sunday, November 18, 2007

No talking, please.

Saw Broken Social Scene Plays Kevin Drew's Spirit If at Webster Hall a few nights ago.

Perhaps I'm a bit burnt out from seeing so many shows. Or maybe I'm just getting really old. (Probably both.) But there were parts of the show that I found quite annoying. And BSS is one of my favorite bands.

Wish they wouldn't be so chatty. And it's especially bothersome when their chatter borders on the dopey when almost all their songs are rather serious and intense. Kind of screws up the mood.

As my irritation grew, they, on occasion, began to sound like a hillbilly collective from the Great White North. But all was forgiven when Emily Haines came on stage -- especially when she she filled in for Feist on "7/4 (Shoreline)." I'm certain I wouldn't be nearly as big a BSS fan if they didn't have vocal contributions from Emily, Feist and Amy Millan. They're like scraggly frat boys who need the intervention of girlfriends to shape up.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Same But Different

Saw an interesting segment of Bill Moyers Journal featuring Thomas Cahill, a historian. Cahill made some rather insightful observations. He pointed out how the people who hate each other most tend to be those who are the most alike except for some minor difference. As an example, he referred to the Catholic-Protestant conflict in the 16th century. He said that, if a Martian had come down to earth and listened to the two sides, the Martian probably would've wondered why the two sides were fighting when they seemed to believe basically the same things. Cahill then noted the parallels between the Catholic-Protestant conflict and the Shiite-Sunni conflict. And perhaps we're the Martians wondering why the two Muslim factions are fighting when they seem to believe basically the same things.

But his most interesting observation concerned racism. As Cahill put it, each country has its dream and its nightmare, and racism is the American nightmare. He noted that we (the collective "we," of course) essentially committed genocide on the indigenous people of this continent; we then enslaved Africans; and we dropped atomic bombs on Asians. In Cahill's estimation, the U.S. would never have dropped an atomic bomb on Europeans.

I'm not sure that I agree with him, but it's certainly an intriguing viewpoint. Had the Japanese surrendered first and the Germans persisted, would the U.S. have dropped atomic bombs on Frankfurt and Hamburg?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Living in Oblivion

While riding the train to work this morning, I noticed a disheveled man sprawled across a short segment of seats. He looked to be in bad shape, and I wondered whether he was alive. That thought wouldn't have crossed my mind had I not read a story a while back about a dead man who rode the 1 train for several hours before anyone noticed that he was dead. When I read that story, I was troubled by the seeming invisibility of the dead man. But it wasn't difficult to understand how something like that could happen. I could easily imagine myself as one of the other passengers enveloped within the three-inch perimeter around me that formed my zone of concern. And that bothered me.

So this morning, after the thoughts above swirled through my head, I made it a point to look for the subway car's ID number. I figured I'd call MTA after getting above ground to advise that they should send someone to check up on the man. Not long afterwards, we pulled into Penn Station, and two policemen stepped in to examine the man. I was glad that someone had been thoughtful enough to alert the police. But as the minutes passed with the train idling while the police did their thing, my thoughts skipped tracks from concern for the man to concern about getting to the office on time for a conference call. And I quickly hopped off and scurried to the uptown local platform, betting that a local train would come and depart before the police finished their thing.

Just another reminder of how fast things move in this city.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Hazards of Observation

It's getting chilly finally, which means knee-high boots are once again out in full force. The whole jeans-tucked-into-boots look took some getting used to, but I rather like it now. There's no getting used to that look on guys, though. Each time I see a guy trying to pull that off (which is much more often than it ought to be), I wince and silently exclaim, "Ew!" Surely I'm not the only one.

I'm pretty sure I won't be seeing much of that this weekend. That sort of thing can put you in grave danger down in Texas.

I Don't Get to Feel It All

I'm on my way to EWR and, ultimately, Dallas. Been traveling a lot lately. So much so that it's not quite as bothersome anymore.

But I'm rather bothered by the timing of this trip. A couple of nights ago, I found out that Feist is going to be on SNL this Saturday.

I passed that bit of information to others who may be interested, including my Canadian co-worker who introduced me to Feist. Lo and behold, a short while later, she called to offer me a pair of tickets to the dress rehearsal. (She's got a friend who's friendly with Broken Social Scene and Feist. So friendly that she got to partake in a brunch with Brendan Canning in Toronto a few weeks back.). Anyhow ... I'm quite bummed that I had to turn down the tickets.

Oh well. I'll take solace in seeing Shout Out Louds for the third time tomorrow. Woohoo!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Shouting Out Loud at the Bowery

Are my priorities out of whack if I'm more concerned about hearing loss than high cholesterol?

Just got in from seeing Shout Out Louds at Bowery Ballroom. Another wonderful show. I saw them a couple of months ago at Luna Lounge in Williamsburg. It pangs me to say this, but after seeing the same band at both venues during the same tour, I may have to concede that Luna Lounge is a slightly better venue. (But that's only if you assess things in a vacuum, which is a rather pointless exercise. Bowery and its sentimentalities are inseparable.)

I somehow managed to drift, drift and drift some more until I ended up at the very front. So far in front that I conveniently set my jacket on the stage. But, alas, that's not such a great place to be because it's a bit of a sonic dead spot. I'm pretty sure the sound would've been better a few feet back.

I've read several comparisons of Shout Out Louds to The Cure, but that never made any sense to me because the Shouts are much too peppy. But tonight, as they played "Shut Your Eyes," I started to hear "In Between Days." And then it started to feel as if they could launch into "In Between Days" in the middle of any song. So, okay. I understand The Cure references now. But only if we're talking The Cure on Prozac, like on "In Between Days" and "Friday I'm in Love." (The Shouts apparently aren't fond of the comparison, which is understandable. Who wants to be compared to anybody when the aim is to be original? I think they're plenty original. It just so happens that a few of their chords and Adam's achy voice now sometimes make me reminisce about The Cure, which is good thing, really.)

Here's a pretty amusing write-up on the matter from Oh My Rockness:

Shout Out Louds are four lads and one lady that have a similar sound to The Cure, although Shout Out Louds come armed with a brighter perspective on life. Singer Adam Olenius does a spot-on impersonation of Robert Smith at his most happy. And that's really the biggest difference between the two groups (besides, you know, millions and millions of album sales). Shout Out Louds don't reach for that anguished diary drama like The Cure often did.

Instead, this band opts for those fun, catchy cowbells and hyper-melodic choruses (more like "Friday, I'm in Love" maybe). Yee haw! And it's a good thing Olenius doesn't incessantly sing about heartbreak, because Shout Out Louds don't have a whole lot to be sad about these days. I mean, they're on Merge Records after all, and are winning tons of fans left and right as they consistently tour the world. I wouldn't be sad either.

People also like to compare Shout Out Louds to their compatriots, Peter Bjorn and John. But whatever, these guys are The Cure.

Anyhow ... all was great until a severely rhythmless and toneless girl somehow ducked in front of me. Fortunately, she and her slightly less rhythmless and toneless friend left before the encore. And the first song the Shouts played during the encore was the one song I was most looking forward to hearing live: "Hard Rain." (That was the only letdown at the Luna Lounge performance: they didn't play "Hard Rain.")

The set ended with a rambunctious performance of "Very Loud," which was (naturally) very loud. A few of their friends from home came on stage to help make things noisier. One of them wore a nifty t-shirt that had an artsy rendition of the Swedish flag emblazoned across the front. I saw that and got all nostalgic. Wish I could've seen them live in Stockholm.

Oh well. For now, seeing them again next Saturday in Dallas will have to do. Can't wait, especially since my Stockholm cohorts will be with me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

You're no Friendster of mine.

Someone forwarded an article to me from the NYT. I couldn't tell who it was because I didn't recognize the nondescript e-mail address of the sender. But I did remember that this person had also forwarded an article to me about a month ago. I had started to write a very generic response to the first message ("Thanks. I saw this as well. Not sure which side I agree with. But it's definitely interesting."), but I never sent it because ... well, bad things can happen when you respond blindly. This time, I figured I should try to decipher the identity of this mysterious figure. So I ran a search of the e-mail address on Friendtser. (That's what the kids do these days, no? Oh wait ... I think they're on to Facebook now. I'm such a fogy.) Turns out that this wasn't a mysterious figure at all but a good buddy using a shadowy, unrecognizable e-mail address. (I wonder why he needs one? Freak.)

What's more interesting about this tale of awkward Internet interactions is that, while on Friendster, I noticed that my last serious girlfriend is still listed as a friend of my buddy. This wouldn't have been so troublesome had I not recently discovered on a semi-annual perusal of my account at Friendster that she had de-listed me as a friend.

Why should I care, right? I mean, we really aren't friends anymore. We don't even talk to each other. But rationality rarely plays a prominent role in situations such as this. I was the precipitating force in the break-up. (And I say that not in a righteous manner but as an acknowledgment of my responsibility in the ordeal.) So why am I so troubled that she de-friended me?

It's just always a jolting feeling when things that have always been cease to be. I wonder if this is what Andie felt when Duckie grabbed Iona, kissed her, and exclaimed, "You've been replaced!" (Did I just make a Pretty in Pink reference? Leave me alone. It has a good soundtrack, damn it. Oh, the perils of growing up with three sisters ...)

At the heart of it, I think what's bothering me is that I do wish things were otherwise. I do wish that we were still friends. But I know that, for her sake, we shouldn't (and perhaps can't) be.

Such is life.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

You Go First

Quite the beautiful day for a bike ride. Nice and breezy, but not too windy. Not a cloud in the sky. Upper 70s in late October. Couldn't help but be in a good mood.

After I made it up to the 70s by the Trump buildings, I ventured out onto the pier to sit for a while and stare out at the George Washington Bridge -- my favorite bridge in the city, especially at night. Not sure why, but while sitting there, a strange memory flashed through my mind.

A few months ago, while walking through Grand Central, I saw a kid run across the main concourse and launch into a slide on his belly. I felt as if I were watching a fantasy sequence from a movie. You know, one of those scenes that unfolds in slow motion with music box sounds in the background. And I thought: Wow, how fun would that be?

The times, they are a-changin'

I think it's safe to say that I've undergone a metamorphic change in the past few years. I went through all of high school, college and law school without drinking -- not so much because it was taught as the wrong thing to do but because of a philosophical objection. It's hard enough when I've got all my faculties about me to figure out which experiences are genuinely mine; I didn't want my experiences to be clouded by a foreign influence. Besides, drinking was the cool thing to do, and that made it undesirable by default given my distaste for the mainstream.

All of that is a long-winded setup for this: I just got in from a bike ride, and the first thing I did was reach for a beer in the fridge.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

He's Lost Control

Oh wow. Just saw Control, Anton Corbijn's debut feature film about the unraveling of the life of Ian Curtis -- the woeful lead singer of Joy Division. I haven't written for a while, but after I saw Control, I knew I couldn't go to sleep without writing. It's experiences such as this that make a blog worth keeping.

I've never really been a big Joy Division fan, but I've always known their history by way of obsessing about New Order. So the general subject matter of the movie wasn't foreign to me. And much of the specifics weren't either because I had read three glowing write-ups about the film (here, here and here). Usually, that's a pretty good formula for a letdown. But I was blown away. Far away.

The movie made me feel. It tugged my heartstrings hard every which way. I felt joy. I felt disdain. I felt sympathy. And I felt desolation. I seemingly felt what Ian felt.

The last movie to elicit such a reaction from me was Lost in Translation. It has a certain understated elegance that's bolstered by a sublime synchronization of moods between songs and scenes. And Control shares that convention. Joy Division songs have such a haunting quality that they may as well have been written with the intention of being used as the soundtrack for a movie about Ian's life. When I heard the initial synthesized drone of "Atmosphere" as the closing credits rolled, I felt a sinking feeling within -- a feeling not unlike the sensation of falling experienced while in descent on a roller coaster. A feeling also not unlike that experienced when breaking up. It's as if Joy Division had recorded an elegy for Ian's funeral.

I read that the cast actually performed the music in the concert scenes (in front of audiences of actual Joy Division fans). They sounded quite convincing. Often times, they sounded so good that I'd buy their album if they were to make one. Perhaps it's just that they were performing Joy Division songs with the help of modern production techniques. Maybe that's what the new remastered Joy Division albums will sound like when they're released later this month.

Sam Riley, who played Ian, was particularly impressive in his performance -- both as a musician and as an actor. He rarely had to say anything to communicate a sense of despair. That vacant, forlorn look on his face always said plenty.

Of course, Anton's brilliant direction surely helped. My favorite shot is that of Ian looking at his newborn sitting in her crib. The shot was framed from the perspective of the newborn, such that Ian appears to be behind bars as he looks at his child. That shot mastefully captures the constrictive nature of Ian's existence as he must have seen it.

I do wonder whether I'd have enjoyed the movie as much if I weren't a fan of New Order and, by extension, Joy Division. I suspect that it wouldn't have been as awe-inspiring, but it still would've been engrossing. (Kinda like Lost in Translation. The music elevated the movie from the status of pretty good to that of unforgettable.)

It's not often that a movie makes me feel. And I'm anxious to feel it all again soon.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Who Do You Think?

My life feels more complete now: I've finally seen Interpol live.

Not the greatest of shows, but it'll do. They're extremely polished live. Almost too polished. If Interpol live were a performance vehicle, it'd be more "mechanical BMW" than "flashy Ferrari." Straight lines, all business.

I can't remember what the first song was. Maybe "Pioneer to the Falls." But I definitely remember the second one: "Obstacle 1."

That's my favorite Interpol song. Perhaps my favorite song. It's the only track on my iPod that enjoys "never-skip" status. Happy, sad, angry, sunny, cloudy, rainy: it gets played. A bit anticlimactic to hear it so early in the show.

And the crowd was strangely subdued. (Odd comment from me, right? I'm as lackadaisical as they come at a show. But I'm always like that.) I think the vastness of the venue had a lot to do with it, much like the atmosphere for Modest Mouse at the Nokia Theater. Interpol's got a bit of a Goldie Locks problem right now: too big to play with the little boys, but too small to play with the big boys. MSG wasn't close to being full, which meant that many people there didn't have to try very hard to get there. No wonder there was a mass of people who scurried for the exits after the first of two encores. You'd never see that at Bowery Ballroom because it'd be filled with true fans.

Oh well. Whatta ya gonna do? All distractions aside, it was a very good performance. My only serious gripe is that they didn't play "Who Do You Think." Quite surprising, since that's the latest single off their new album.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Greedy Bastard, Aren't You?

So I'm asking a friend at the office if he's got any friends who might want a pair of tickets for Interpol. He wonders aloud why my friends don't want them. I tell him that my concert-going friends aren't anywhere near the city. My friends who are in the city aren't of the right sensibilities. I tell him that they'd wonder: "Interpol? Why do you want to see a law enforcement agency?"

[Update: I'm out at dinner with a friend a few days after the show, and I mention that I saw Interpol. Rather predictably, he responds: "Who? The international police?" This is the same friend who had music on in the background while we were on the phone earlier this week. I pointed out how unusual it was to hear music on his end of the line. He told me that he was streaming music from the web, trying to stay hip. I asked what he was listening to. "John Mayer," he said. And I said, "Try harder."]

I finally got rid of the last of my extra tickets for tonight's show. I've definitely learned my lesson. (Well, maybe.) I almost never buy albums on iTunes, but I pre-ordered the new Interpol a couple of months ago just so I could get the pre-sale code for tickets to tonight's show at MSG. (Of course, I still intend to get the album in CD form.) I should've known from past experience that a pre-sale doesn't guarantee good seats. The best I could get was two for Section 38, which is at the very rear of the arena, albeit on the floor. When the general sale came along, I jumped in for another pair and got something much closer. Being the obsessive freak that I am, I kept checking to see what else was available, and I snagged two more tickets in the pit -- the "standing room only" area directly in front of the stage. Couldn't decide whether having a seat would be preferable to being in the pit. Besides, I figured I could easily dump the extras.

Man, was I wrong. It seems Interpol may have been a bit too ambitious. They couldn't sell out MSG, and there's a flood of tickets available on eBay and Craigslist. Fortunately, I was able to find someone pretty quickly to take the two tickets for the pit at face value. But I had to dump the two tickets in Section 38 at a loss a couple of hours ago.

Maybe Interpol will have learned a lesson, too. Maybe they'll play five nights at Bowery Ballroom next time instead of one night at MSG. I hate big venues. So impersonal.

Regardless, I'm as excited as can be to see them tonight. They're at the top of my list of favorite bands whom I haven't seen live. In a few hours, I'll have to find someone to take their place atop that list.

(Already figured it out: The Radio. Dept.)

Friday, August 31, 2007

Relax. Take a Deep Breath.

Argh. I hate flying. I’m aboard a plane right now that’s engaged in that most annoying of maneuvers called a holding pattern. I think we’re only minutes away from Houston, but we can’t land because the airport’s closed due to a thunderstorm. The pilot thinks that we’ll have to divert to New Orleans to refuel.

Woohoo! He just came back on the PA. The airport’s open again, and we’ll be able to land without making a detour. I wonder if he was playing the same trick on us that doctors play? You know, that game where doctors ooze doom and gloom and tell their patients that the prognosis is not good. And then, by some miracle (say, perhaps, the doctor’s amazing skills), the patient makes a full recovery.

I’m just glad this three-hour flight won’t turn into a six-hour flight. Mom’s beef noodles are waiting. Mmm … beef noodles. And mmm … chicken fried steak. (I once said “I’ve missed you" to a chicken fried steak -- acknowledging its long absence from my belly -- before devouring it.) And mmm … barbecue. Can’t wait to go to The Salt Lick.

I think this thin air is messing with my brain cells. Better stop writing before silly gives way to incomprehensible.

Splish Splash Along the Skykomish River

Last month, I finally made my way out to Seattle and Vancouver. I’d been meaning to go for a long while. In fact, a couple of years ago, the trip came so close to materializing that I had actually booked a flight. But because of the bunglings of a friend who should be glad that I don’t name names in this forum, the trip was cancelled.

It’s definitely a beautiful part of the continent – Vancouver especially. Water everywhere. (I have a certain affinity for water. I don’t understand how people survive in landlocked cities. Like Dallas.) Mountains everywhere. And Asians everywhere. I’ve never had dim sum that was better than what I ate in Vancouver. Wish I had more time to spend there, but we had much to do elsewhere.
From Seattle & Vancouver

Our very hospitable tour guide was an old friend from high school. He recently moved to Seattle from Phoenix just so he could go “yaking” all the time. (That’s “kayaking” for the uninitiated, by which I mean normal people. He’s a fanatic!)

Yaker friend put together an amazingly fun whitewater excursion for us along the Skykomish River. The river wound through some picturesque snowcapped mountains, the runoff from which fed the river, so it was freakin’ cold! The water temperature couldn’t have been much higher than 50 degrees. We had to wear wetsuits, as if we were going surfing in Alaska.

My only other experience whitewater rafting was along the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. Well, it wasn’t so much whitewater rafting as it was brownwater drifting. The water level was so low that we had to walk our raft at times.

But the Skykomish River is the real deal. It was a class III+ run with one IV+ rapid. The fear of being tossed overboard has a strange way of making you feel alive.

Thanks, yaker friend, for showing us a good time.

Off He Goes

A friend of mine who’s a fellow lawyer quit his job last week. He had been working for one of the largest firms in the world and was on the verge of beginning his fourth year. He didn’t quit to work in-house at a hedge fund. Nor did he quit to work anywhere else. He quit to travel the world for eight months. You can follow his adventures here.

Upon hearing the official word, I felt equal parts envy and admiration. Envy because he’ll be relaxing at an outdoor café in the far reaches of Eastern Europe next week while I’m slaving away inside my mind-numbing office in the bowels of Midtown Manhattan. Admiration because so many of us have dreamed of doing the same thing, but he found the courage to stop dreaming and start living.

He mentioned the idea to me a while back. I think that was the same occasion during which we mused about the idea of starting a record label. I thought that it was all just talk – fun talk, but talk. But now ... off he goes.

Along with envy and admiration comes a sense of sadness. His itinerary concludes in San Diego, where he’ll replant his roots. That’s one friend fewer for me in New York.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Let Them Stay Thirsty

Oh, wow! "Song for the Fields" is the Single of the Week on iTunes. Not the best of Fields songs, but good nonetheless. Maybe this free download will win them some well-deserved fans. But judging from the 2.5 star rating and the vast number of knuckleheaded reviews, maybe not. Oh well. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't force it to drink.

Spelling Bee

So that last post finally gets me off the schneid. I started writing that one a couple of months ago but never got around to finishing until now. Let's see how long the will to write stays with me this time.

Given my Swedish state of mind after that last entry, I'll continue with an entry inspired by my friend's cousin when she visited from Stockholm a couple of weeks ago. She told me about an amusing site called Overheard in New York, which reminded me of a funny exchange I overheard while waiting in the very long line for a First Friday at the Guggenheim.

Guy: So what's the contingency plan if we can't get in?
Girl: What's a contingency?
Guy: A contingency? It's like, when you plan to do something, and you can't do it, so you need to have a backup plan.

Quite the cogent explanation, I thought. But then it all unraveled.

Girl: Spell it.
Guy: C-O-N, um ...

If you ever watched In Living Color, you may recall the hilarious "oppressed inmate" sketch. You know, the one where Damon Wayans plays an inmate who uses big words to complain about the injustices of the criminal justice system, at one time calling it a "conspiracy -- a C-O-N [pause] 'spiracy.'" If only guy in line had seen that episode, he could've impressed his companion with his ability to ad-lib: C-O-N [pause] "tingency." Then again, he really could've just thrown together any string of letters. I doubt his companion made it very deep in the spelling bee.

It's 2:50 in the morning. Rise and shine!

Wow. If an electronic journal could gather dust, I'd be sneezing right now. Almost a half year without an entry. Quite pathetic. And it's not as if there haven't been things worth writing about.

I'm such a prisoner of inertia sometimes. Sure, I've suffered from a case or two of what a Francophile whom I once knew well would refer to as ennui. But I've also had an interesting experience or two. Let's see ... I've been to about a dozen shows, attended my first two operas, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first (and second and third) time(s), gotten into and out of a relationship, and taken a couple of vacations -- including a trip to Stockholm.

Ah, Stockholm. My new favorite city in Europe.

From Stockholm - Day 3

I had such high expectations before going. After all, the trip had been in the works for a good seven months -- beginning shortly after my Swedish-born friend at work became pregnant. Her parents were planning to visit after she gave birth, and they've got this thing against staying at hotels, so they were looking for someone to trade apartments with. I gladly volunteered, because I'd wanted to go to Sweden since visiting Scandinavia World at Epcot Center about six years ago. (Yes, I visited Disney World as a childless adult. Don't judge.) And that interest kept growing as more and more Swedish bands became my favorites. Shout Out Louds, Club 8, The Radio Dept., Acid House Kings, The Legends, and most everyone else on Labrador Records.

(Ah, hell. Just did some fact checking and found out that there's no Scandinavia World at Epcot Center. The closest thing is Norway Pavilion. Swedish friend won't be happy if she sees this. Good thing she's preoccupied with the baby.)

Anyhow ... Stockholm exceeded all my expectations. It's an intriguing combination of new and old -- both sleek and quaint at the same time, all seemingly without trying. The waters are beautiful, the streets are beautiful, the buildings are beautiful and the people are beautiful. None of that was much of a surprise, really. What did surprise me a bit was the incredible friendliness of the Swedes and their amazing command of English. It was easier for me to figure things out there than in Taiwan.

And staying at my friend's parents' wonderful apartment made things even more enjoyable. They live in a very artsy but ultra family-friendly neighborhood called Södermalm. It has a SoHo/LES feel about it, except for the family-friendly part. Hmm ... so maybe it's more like Park Slope? But Park Slope's not all-too-artsy. See why
Södermalm is special?

The highlights of the trip were an excursion to Gotland and a traditional Swedish dinner at the apartment of my friend's aunt. Gotland is a large island to the southeast of Stockholm. (If Stockholm were Boston, Gotland would be Nantucket.) You get onto it by taking a three-hour ferry ride to Visby, its largest city. The place feels as if it had stopped aging after medieval times. The remnants of a medieval wall surround its center, and medieval ruins dot the narrow cobblestone roads that crisscross every which way.

From Gotland
And the dinner with my friend's relatives ... it was already a treat to live as a local at an apartment in the city, but a traditional dinner made us feel even more at home. Learned so much about Swedish customs, politics, history and hospitality. It was a bit embarrassing how much more my friend's relatives -- including her very bright 19-year-old cousin -- knew about the U.S. and the world than the average American.

Definitely can't wait to go back. My friend tells me that her parents are planning to visit again around Christmas time. Another swap, perhaps?

Oh! Almost forgot to circle things back to the title. Take a look at a picture I snapped after a night out.

From Stockholm - Day 2
See the orange band in the horizon? That's no Photoshop trick. That's the sun rising at 2:50 in the morning. And it had only set about five hours earlier at 10:00. Just crazy.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

From Norway with Verve

Just got back from seeing 120 Days at Mercury Lounge. Seeing a band live can be a real hit or miss experience. It takes a certain skill to sound good live -- a skill that isn't a necessary consequence of being a good musician. 120 Days definitely has that skill.

Perhaps all that gear they travel with helps. The stage at Mercury Lounge is tiny, so it's a wonder that all the synthesizers, drum machines, effects boxes, amplifiers and what not managed to find space. One gizmo was stacked atop another gizmo and yet another, creating what looked (and sounded) like a wall of sound.

Before tonight, I hadn't realized that they don't make much use of any guitars. When I first came upon them, they struck me as very reminiscent of Joy Division, which is a band that's decidedly non-electronic. I had assumed that much of the source of 120 Days' atmospheric swirls were the result of effects-processed guitars. But that's just not the case. They bring out a guitar every now and then, but it's the synthesizers that do the bulk of the work. Quite surprising for a band that has such a hard-edge sound.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Have You Tried Standing?

Work has afforded me quite a few opportunities to travel to interesting places lately. Last weekend, I was in Keystone for a retreat put together for my firm's Intellectual Property Practice Group. The main purpose was for people in the group from our various offices to get to know each other better and integrate their practices more effectively. The slightly-less-main purpose was to have lots of fun.

We were welcome to invite guests so long as they paid their own way, and I took full advantage. (I found it amusing that the only two associates who invited more than one guest were both Asian. We sure do know how to maximize value.) I've got one friend from Orange County (California, that is -- as in the O.C.) who's an avid snowboarder, and another from Dallas who just got started. So I asked them to come along and show me the ropes.

From Keystone
Guess which one's the beginner? Yup. That's right. The dope without a helmet who's futzing with a camera on the lift. I'd never snowboarded, and it was definitely a challenge. Take a look below for a recurring theme from the weekend.

It's no surprise that the parts of my body that ached most were my arms -- from picking my ass off the ground so many times. But a jolly good time was had by all. Thanks, O.C. friend, for documenting my ineptitude.

Crying Man Child Lives

A short while ago, I recounted my run-in with the Crying Man Child and my friend's brilliant idea of registering Lo and behold, he did it, and Crying Man Child is alive! We should each quit our jobs now and move on to bigger and better things, like coming up with yet another thing that no one will understand or care about. And we wonder why we slave away at a law firm ...

We Met in a Chat Room

I've been shamefully delinquent with the postings. It got so bad that I was mocked from Hong Kong today. Of course, the mockery was unnecessary. It's embarrassing enough to see that I went through all of February without writing a damn thing. And the two entries since then consist of a placeholder and an article pilfered from the AP. Good thing shame has a way of getting you off your ass.

There's quite a backlog of things to write about. But, for the moment, the backlog will have to remain undisturbed, because I just read a rather strange story about Mew that deserves to jump the queue. (They're playing Irving Plaza in a couple of weeks. Woohoo!)

The journey started on Myspace, as I curiously hopped from one band site to another to see the people each band features as friends. Robin Guthrie has Rachel Goswell, who has Saint Etienne, who has Annie, and so on and so forth. You could probably get a pretty good game of "Six Degrees of David Bowie" going. Anyhow ... I eventually worked my way over to Mew's site and was reminded that Frengers finally became available stateside a few weeks ago. (Hokey, yet catchy. Not quite friends, not quite strangers. Frengers.) Because I'd been on Pitchfork earlier in the day to get a glimpse of what they had to say about The Arcade Fire's new album (out tomorrow -- woohoo!), I figured I'd stop by to see their take on Frengers. (Not that it matters, because I bought Frengers as an import long ago, and who really cares what Pitchfork says anyway. Yeah, I do see the non sequitir.) No review of Frengers, but there was this interesting blurb about the female vocals on "Symmetry."

Basically, the female vocals were provided by a 13-year-old American girl whom Jonas met online when she was all of 11. As she tells it (read the Biography and the interview), she met Jonas in a chat room while looking for others interested in Hanson. Jonas said he wasn't interested (phew!) but asked her what else she liked listening to. One thing led to another, and eventually the little girl was flying off to Copenhagen with her mom to record "Symmetry."

A bit creepy, yet kinda sweet. Let that be a lesson to ya. There's no shame in meeting a girl online, or in professing your love for Hanson.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Please Excuse the Intrusion

Couldn't help but laugh when I saw the headline for this story.

Swiss Accidentally Invade Liechtenstein

Published: March 2, 2007

Filed at 8:43 a.m. ET

ZURICH, Switzerland (AP) -- What began as a routine training exercise almost ended in an embarrassing diplomatic incident after a company of Swiss soldiers got lost at night and marched into neighboring Liechtenstein.

According to Swiss daily Blick, the 170 infantry soldiers wandered 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) across an unmarked border into the tiny principality early Thursday before realizing their mistake and turning back.

A spokesman for the Swiss army confirmed the story but said that there were unlikely to be any serious repercussions for the mistaken invasion.

''We've spoken to the authorities in Liechtenstein and it's not a problem,'' Daniel Reist told The Associated Press.

Officials in Liechtenstein also played down the incident.

Interior ministry spokesman Markus Amman said nobody in Liechtenstein had even noticed the soldiers, who were carrying assault rifles but no ammunition. ''It's not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something,'' he said.

Liechtenstein, which has about 34,000 inhabitants and is slightly smaller than Washington DC, doesn't have an army.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

And Now, for Something Completely Different

Just a short entry to displace the last one. A bit too eerie to have an entry about death hang around at the top for such a long time. Of course, the better solution would be to write more regularly. But this will have to do for now. Sometimes, "not horrible" has to be good enough.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The End of Consciousness

The funeral last weekend got me to ruminate on something I used to obsess about: death. When I was growing up, the thought that I'd cease to exist one day scared the hell out of me -- often to the point of paralysis. Of course, I first had to grasp the concept before I could be scared by it.

I remember with vivid clarity the moment I came to understand what it means to die. I was at a church camp in Huntsville during the summer between third and fourth grade. (When my family first got to the States, we went to church regularly. Being Buddhist didn't mesh with the fabric of our Americanized social circle. Let's put aside my current views on religion for another day.) At one of the morning Bible study sessions, the topic of discussion was the concept of heaven and what happens to your soul when you die. The whole thing just didn't make sense to me.

That night, I attended a mixer that was really intended for older kids. I felt out of place and went outside with one of my buddies -- a buddy whose family attended church not to fit in but because they were believers. (Or so it seemed to me anyway.) I figured he must've understood the Bible study session that morning better than I did, so I asked him to explain what happens to us when we die. I found his response unsatisfying, and I must've let it show, because he took off and went back inside.

As I stood there on my own, I stared up at the sky and saw the many stars staring back at me. Just then, it hit me. I'm not going to be able to remember any of this one day. I won't be able to think anymore one day. I'm going to lose consciousness forever one day. That realization scared me, but it also angered me, because it all seemed so senseless.

I don't remember so vividly what happened next. But I do remember lying in bed many a night afterwards praying to a God whose existence I doubted for his grace in not letting me die.

An even more devastating moment came a few years later, when I learned that the sun would one day cease to shine. Before that moment, I took some solace in the thought that, even when you die, your legacy stays behind -- whether in the memories of others, in the things that you've written or in the form of your children. When I learned that the sun would one day cease to shine, I understood that, one day, the world would cease to exist. That realization seemed even more senseless than the realization that I'd die some day.

I suppose it's little coincidence that I eventually discovered and grew to admire Camus. As he puts it: "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide." I guess, even as a kid, I was already an existentialist.


This just came to me. I wish I had my heavily marked-up copy of The Stanger handy so that I could insert direct quotes, but paraphrasing will have to do. (I lent that copy to my sister, which essentially means that I sent it into a black hole.)

While Meursault was in prison, an official became annoyed with his godlessness and demanded to know what he wanted in the afterlife. Meursault's response?

To remember this one.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Tick Tock of Life

I had to go home to Houston to attend a funeral over the weekend. My mom called last week to tell me that my "uncle" from Kingsville died. He wasn't really my "uncle" in the blood relations sense, but that's beside the point.

I really don't know him very well, but I hold fond memories of him and his family. When I first got to the States, my sisters and I spent weeks each summer at their house in Kingsville. Those were the summers during which I was introduced to Americana. I ate meals with the family at the dining table. I swam in the backyard swimming pool. I splashed about in the waves at South Padre Island. I learned to play Uno. I bought a Nolan Ryan glove at the local Wal-Mart. In short, I became more American. For an FOB kid struggling to fit in at school, that meant a lot.

The funeral wasn't a somber occasion, which was refreshing. Most everyone was in good spirits -- a life-affirmation sort of mode. It was good to see all my "cousins" again. I hadn't seen most of them in years.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sirens in the Desert Beckon Again

The lineup for Coachella 2007 has been announced, and I'm concerned how we're gonna make this work.

I've known for a while that the festival would run for three days instead of two this year. When I got that news, I felt a sense of dread instead of excitement. Sure, an extra day means extra bands. But it also means that the talent pool each day will be even more diluted than it already was.

Aside from a concern about the talent, I was also concerned about getting everyone to show up for three days worth of sweating in the desert. It was hard enough last year as it was. I knew three days would be a near-impossible sell.

So the lineup comes out, and my sense of dread is affirmed. A couple of must-sees here and there sprinkled amongst a whole lot of "huh?" I mean, Willie Nelson? Makes even less sense than Madonna. I relented last year and dropped by the dance tent to catch a glimpse of Madonna. If I'm there for Day Three this year, you can bet that I won't be swinging by Willie's tent.

Of the bands on the roster this year, I'm most excited about seeing Interpol. I've been a huge fan for several years now, but I've somehow managed not to catch them live ... and they're from NYC.

I can still remember quite vividly the first time I heard about Interpol. It was March of 2003, and I was having brunch with someone who had just seen Interpol the night before. She raved and raved about them, but I had no idea what she was talking about. Part of the reason we were having brunch together was that I thought we had similar musical sensibilities. But her ebullient summation of the Interpol show made me realize that we weren't on the same page: she was living in the present whereas I was stuck in the 90's. I went home that afternoon and bought 10 new CDs. I think that was the beginning of the re-immersion process. Interesting how someone who drifts into your life for only a fleeting moment can have such a dramatic effect on the course of your development.

We'll see how Coachella 2007 shakes out.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

To Sell But Not Sell Out

Given my sensibilities, commercials have always been a good source for introductions to new bands. I think Volkswagen started the trend of featuring stylish, obscure music in its commercials back in 1997 or so. What was that tag line? "On the road of life, there are passengers, and there are drivers. Drivers wanted." If I remember correctly, there was one commercial each for the Golf, Jetta, Passat and Cabrio. One of the commercials featured "Sweetness and Light" by Lush. Another (I'm pretty sure it was the Cabrio) featured a catchy tune sung by a woman with a breathy voice. (Yeah. That was the "ethereal female vocals" era of my musical enlightenment.) The song was so catchy that I just had to know who sang it. One day, I decided to call 1-800-DRIVE-VW to try to find out. I didn't really expect to get anywhere. But, lo and behold, VW anticipated getting calls from wackos like me! Their operator was fully prepared to give the name of the artist and title for each track featured in their commercials. Of course, she also wanted my address so that she could send me a VW brochure. But that wasn't a big deal. I was so tickled by that point that she could've sold me a Passat over the phone. Anyhow ... that was how I discovered Ivy.

On occasion nowadays, I actually find myself a bit ahead of the curve, no doubt due to my recent re-immersion in music. When I saw the Honda Civic "Freedom" commercial, I was very excited to hear
The Go! Team's "Huddle Formation" in the background. I wasn't surprised to hear their music used in that context, given the peppiness of their songs. But the commercial itself isn't what prompted me to write this entry.
(That's Kevin Spacey doing the voiceover, by the way. More useless information for ya.)

I'd seen the Cadillac "Roll" commercial a few times, and each time I'd found the song in the background to be rather intriguing. Until a couple of days ago, I hadn't been intrigued enough to look up what it was. But I finally headed over to Adtunes to take a look. (Great site for figuring out the name of any song used in a commercial, TV show or movie.) Turns out the song is "Punkrocker" by Teddybears (featuring Iggy Pop). (So much for being ahead of the curve, huh?)

But let's get back to The Go! Team. Adtunes has a retrospective on its homepage called "Top Ad Music of 2006," and No. 4 on the list is an entry called "It Didn't Stop The Go! Team."

The Go! Team band founder Ian Parton claims he doesn't like licensing music for ads. "I think music should be kept special, and I don't think selling it for a commercial is a good way to do that." So why is The Go! Team song "Huddle Formation" in a Honda Civic "Freedom" commercial as part of the Honda "Reverse your thinking" campaign? The band offers an explanation in their official forum.

Here's the explanation.

This is a fair comment and I knew people would be disappointed (including me)

certainly no change of heart - I hate bands who do adverts. I've turned down lots in the past - forgoing potentially lots of money. It got to the point where the people who publish go team songs were getting so fucked off that being dropped was looking very likely - they weren't making any money. theres a limit to how many times people will take a No.

I'm not worried about fucking people off but the trouble is that for the second album we need a publishing company to clear the samples (which is what a publishing company does) before it gets released to avoid the mistake of the first album. It would be a serious handicap to have an album full of uncleared samples.

basically this ad was a concession so that there would be someone to clear the samples. Hypocritical i know but its a tricky thing to navigate through when you make sample based music. it's a minefield.

Quite refreshing to see a band respond to the concerns of its fans. I feel for bands like The Go! Team. Their fans (myself included) often subscribe to an overly romanticized indie ethos that entails an irrational scorn for commercial success. Why should The Go! Team have to justify their licensing of "Huddle Formation" to Honda?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Veritable Blizzard (Okay, Not Quite)

It finally snowed today! Sure, it only lasted for a minute. Maybe two. But when it came down, it came down hard. Okay. Perhaps it was just a light flurry. But it looked ominous. Or maybe my perspective was a bit skewed given the number of months I've gone without seeing the white stuff. I'm just glad I caught the fleeting scene. (Had I been at the office, I would've surely missed it. But I happened to be working from home this morning.)

Sunday, January 7, 2007

It's Still Home

I've really gotta be more timely with the postings. You know how sometimes you get a message from someone with whom you're not close and you don't respond right away, but the thought of responding lingers at the back of your mind? As more time passes, the inertia that needs to be overcome to respond becomes greater and greater until it seems almost insurmountable. (At least that's what you convince yourself.) After a couple of weeks, you surmise that you can't respond with a short, "Hey, nice to hear from you." With the passage of that much time, you really should have an essay ready, no? (Either that or a handy bout of pneumonia so that you'd at least have a halfway decent excuse for the delay in responding.) And then the thought of writing that essay overwhelms you, and you let things drift into oblivion. Well, that's what almost happened to this entry ... sort of.

I meant to write quite a few entries while I was back in Texas over Christmas and New Year's. (I'm always meaning to write, among other things.) But I got distracted. (And I'm always so easily distracted.) It seems odd to write about New Year's a full week after the fact, but ... well, why should it?

For the first time in a long while, I had an extremely enjoyable time back home. No irrational flare-ups from any family members. No persistent obligations to shuttle from house to house to yet another house. No incessant screaming from the kids. (Well, there was that trip to Toys 'R Us, but I brought that on myself. I took my niece and nephews there and told them that they could have whatever they wanted. Poor kids were so overwhelmed that they couldn't figure out what to get. They left annoyed and empty-handed.) Even stayed up one night until 3:00 having a thoughtful conversation with my parents.

And I had the occasion to experience a couple of long-delayed firsts. My oldest sister invited me out for drinks. After I got through the initial paranoia of being mistaken for a couple (it's happened a few times), I had fun. On Christmas night, my cousin visiting from L.A. invited me and a buddy of mine out for drinks with him and his friends. I didn't get home until 5:00. (Those crazy kids. Put us fogies to shame. And who knew such diversion is available in Houston on Christmas night?) So, what are the firsts? I'd never gone out for drinks with any of my sisters or cousins. That kind of thing happens when you go through the first 24 years of your life without drinking.

When Thursday rolled around, I drove up to Dallas with a couple of friends. (But not before my mom not-so-subtlely pointed out that I'd be spending more days in Dallas than Houston. Sometimes, there's just no pleasing her, I tell ya.) Spent the first night at a dingy, yet character-endowed, bar where I couldn't help but feel self-conscious holding a Stella while most everyone else was holding a Bud. Oh well. Whattaya gonna do? (On the bright side, each Stella only set me back $4. That's Texas for ya.)

The next night, we stayed in at a friend's place and played a round of Pop Cranium. (Not as fun as the original Cranium, I must say.) Girls versus boys, and the boys won handily. (Of course!) The night after was spent at an outdoor terrace bar that presented a soothing view of the skyline. (Who knew such places exist in Dallas?) That was followed by a trip to a rather stylish gay bar. (Didn't know that such places exist in Texas, did you?) Quite amusing.

And then New Year's Eve rolled around. Probably the best I've had. But that's not saying much, since I almost never go out for NYE. Before this NYE, the most entertaining one I had was from the year before -- spent at a spacious loft in the Village with a peculiar mix of people that included several who were decked out in latex bodysuits. But that wasn't so much entertaining as it was a unique opportunity to see the ultra-weird side of NYC that you usually only glimpse on late-night cable TV.

NYE in Dallas was entertaining in a more basic way. Photos will do a more efficient job than words in describing the mood.

From New Year's Eve Weekend in Dallas

(Hmm ... I think I may have just violated the spirit of my self-imposed rule against identifying anyone by name in this forum. Oh well. It was a an arbitrary rule anyway. Besides, I still haven't identified anyone by name.)

Before the main event, we stopped by a get-together at the three-story condo of an Internet entrepreneur. (Yeah. It's as fancy as it sounds.) Right before the somewhat large group dispersed, the host made everyone give a toast to what he or she was thankful for from the year that was coming to an end. At first, I thought it was a rather hokey exercise. But it turned out to be quite amusing and sincere. I was thankful for good friends who showed me how fun Dallas can be.

So that was the holidays in Texas.

Oh ... I almost forgot about the food, which is perhaps one of the most important aspects of any trip I take. Had the requisite Christmas Eve feast of turkey, stuffing, sushi and japchae. (We're Asian, after all.) And there were heaping helpings of mom-made beef noodles (her signature dish), dumplings, fried rice and fried chicken. Authentic Tex-Mex. Two visits to Taco Cabana. (Sure, it's fast food, but it's yummy! Usually.) Barbecue. And a big ol' blob of chicken fried steak. My arteries begged for mercy, but I had none to give.

The Climate God Must Be Drunk

What a strangely glorious day. 70+ degrees in January. I like incongruity.

After lunch, I looked out the window and realized that a bike ride was in order. Never thought that I'd be out for a ride in January. Plenty of others had the same idea. The promenade was more clogged today than many days during the summer.

Fun as it was, I still rather miss snow.