Thursday, September 29, 2011

you've got my song

After moving to Rexburg, Idaho, for school, it took me a couple semesters before I settled in with a group of friends who had interests similar to my own. You know, the type of people who liked going to shows and shopping at thrift stores and listening to records. For people with such great taste, I was surprised that many of these new friends hadn't spent their junior high and high school years listening to Weezer like my Arizona friends and I had (although a couple of them had). I set out to correct this supposed wrong and made them all a Weezer mix to download.

Pinkerton (Deluxe Edition) by Weezer
Yeah, yeah, I know, I already included this photo in a previous post. I guess this album, for better or worse, is that important to me. And try as I might, I can't seem to get past my current writer's block unless I blog about this album. Again.

I don't know why expect so many people to have the same childhood I did; it used to be so unfathomable that people my age could grow up without having seen Star Wars (OK, to be fair, I still have a hard time with that). When you connect with someone I guess you assume that you have common passions and that you care deeply about the same things. While there might be so truth to that assumption, you'll never have everything in common with anyone. Intrinsically, that's a pretty common-sense statement, but for whatever reason there are things like this that I have to learn by experience. That's a lesson Weezer helped teach me.

Notes and Miscellanea:
Pinkerton includes some of my favorite Weezer songs ("El Scorcho," "The Good Life"), as well as some of my favorite songs of all time. And I dare you to find an album with better b-sides -- see "You Gave Your Love to Me Softly" and "Waiting On You" as examples. (The b-sides are now conveniently included in the deluxe edition released last year.)

If you didn't grow up as a millennial listening to this album it might behoove you to check it out now. In 15 years or so it's destined to attain the status those classic rock albums from the '70s now enjoy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ben and Tap Root Manuscript

As I mentioned earlier this month, I've been somewhat inspired by my friends Tyson and Jeremy: they both have been counting down their 50 favorite albums. I love this idea but if I were to try it, two problems would arise: my tastes change too often to be happy with a list; and such a structured blogging regimen would bore me after two weeks (these are reasons why I admire Tyson and Jeremy for undertaking their respective projects).

So, in an effort to document my record collection, I'll be doing something that's a little more me. Over the coming weeks, months -- perhaps years? -- I'll post sporadic photos of a friend or family member posing with a record that means something to them. And I'll talk about what that record, the individual, and myself have in common.

Unfortunately, many of my friends I'd like to include in this project live far away. So if you're living in or visiting the Phoenix area, I hope you'll stop by and peruse my record collection and let me take a picture of you (and for the next six months (maybe longer?) I'll have this awesome brick wall that makes a perfect background).

Tap Root Manuscript by Neil Diamond

In addition to being an all around great friend, Ben has been a huge inspiration to me as a runner -- earlier this year he ran a couple half marathons (one of which we dominated together) and in April, he ran his first full marathon. Running with Ben always pushes me to go a little farther than I thought possible.

Another thing Ben and I share is a love for the venerable Neil Diamond. One night, it must've been last January, Ben and I were finishing a long run in my old neighborhood. I was tired and nearly out of breath when Ben began singing "Cracklin' Rosie" by Neil Diamond, which is the first track on Tap Root Manuscript, the album Ben is holding here. Despite my heavy breathing I joined in, and in seconds we were shouting it at the top of our depleted lungs, the lines of song punctuated by desperate gasps for air.

Notes and Miscellanea:
The second half of this record is very experimental: it's Neil's attempt to dig up the roots of music, which he believed to be buried in Africa.

I picked this up for 50 cents in January 2008 at Rasputin Music in Newark, CA (though it might have been Fremont, CA, since the store was on the border of the two cities. I tried to verify it online but apparently the store no longer exists. But what if the store never existed in the first place and my owning this record was the result of some inter-dimensional, Twilight Zone-esque adventure that has been since repressed from my brain by some clandestine government entity, and the Rasputin Music location in Newark/Fremont is a memory implanted by said government entity? That'd be awesome).

Friday, September 23, 2011

photo frustrations

Why I just don't use my DSLR much these days:

Since I was a teenager I've always loved taking photos. I remember buying my first camera around age 16. It was this bulky Canon point-and-shoot, and I'm pretty sure I bought it from Walmart for around $100. At that age I took two types of photos. One: Goofy, posed photos with my brother Matt or another family member or friend. Two: Photos of bands. I always brought my camera to band shows and concerts, and whenever my band played a show, I always gave my camera with a fresh roll of film (yes, these were the film days) to a friend to take pictures of us while we played.

This photo is a synthesis of both of those types: a goofy, posed band photo, circa late 2000. This was right outside a small convenience store (hence the beverages/snacks) in downtown Mesa right after playing a show at the Nile (incidentally, if I tried hard enough I could throw a rock at both of those places from my new apartment). Looks like I did a poor job of scanning it.

That camera lasted me through my mission, after which I replaced it with a digital point-and-shoot.

In January 2009 I was expecting a sizable tax refund*. Depending on the size, I would buy myself either a new iPod or a DSLR camera. Apparently it was sizable enough because a month later I ended up with a new DSLR. I began using it instantly and I couldn't put it down, especially after moving to Colorado a few months later.

So why haven't I been using it much nowadays? I will postulate two reasons:

Firstly: Shortly after picking up my DSLR I began shooting in RAW format (as opposed to shooting in the internet/software friendly JPG format). RAW captures colors, especially skin tones, just a little better and photos come out a bit more clear. I got to the point where I felt that if I was going to shoot JPG I might as well use a point-and-shoot.

Now, the problem with RAW is that, based on my limited experience anyway, only the high-end photo editing softwares (like Photoshop) can do a good job of editing RAW photos. Formerly, this wasn't a problem because, up until a few months ago, I had a bootleg version of Photoshop. But then I bought a new computer and now bootleg Photoshop doesn't work (which is probably a good thing, because, as the word bootleg implies, I hadn't paid for it). So now if I want to edit a photo or even just post it on Facebook or my blog I have to copy it over to my computer, convert it to JPG, and then continue with editing/posting. Sure, it's not that big of a deal, but it is cumbersome enough to be annoying.

This is one of my favorite photos I've taken with said camera.

Secondly: Who posts entire albums of photos on Facebook or Flickr these days? Most of my friends who take photos do one-at-a-time mobile uploads on Facebook and Twitter or they use popular photo apps like Instragram. (Is anyone else getting kinda sick Instragram? It seems like a great app (iPhone only and I'm an Android guy), but why does everything have to be filtered and square? It makes me glad that I have a few friends out there that still take real photos**.) If I'm not sharing or displaying my photos, be they on Facebook or elsewhere, I don't have as much of a motivation to actually take any.

Part of me thinks I should invest in a decent point-and-shoot -- my new phone, despite its glorious speed, has a pretty worthless camera -- but that's $200-300 (or whatever they cost these days) I could put toward a new guitar. Or a record player. Or records. Or a plane ticket. (Or something practical and useful, but who are we kidding?)

Now that I can get a student discount (I think) I should probably just bite the bullet and buy Photoshop.

In the meantime, to all my photographer friends, and to all my friends who take photos, what Photoshop alternatives do I have? And what motivates you to go out there and take tons of photos?

*People are always confusing the terms tax refund and tax return, and more often than not, people refer to their refund as a return. But they're not the same thing. A return is the actual form or series of forms you file with the IRS, not the money you get back when you overpay.

**No offense, Instragram users.

P.S. I almost titled this post "photo phrustrations." That was a close one.

Friday, September 16, 2011

triple threat

Some thoughts from last night's concert trifecta:

The singer for the Walkmen came across as a bit of a tool -- the only member of his band in a suit, the way he jokingly berated the absent sound guy before the start of their set -- although I feel like he somewhat redeemed himself with a gracious thank you to the audience as they left the stage. Wish I would've known their music better, but I wasn't left wanting to pick up one of their albums after. Still though, solid band and I'm glad I got to see them.

Apparently everyone and their mom loves the Fleet Foxes, though I'm pretty indifferent. I was hoping their performance would convert me to fandom, but alas, that conversion failed. However, I did come away with a respect for them as the talented bunch they are -- especially the dude who played the flute, upright bass, guitar, violin, and probably a few other things I'm forgetting. My favorite part of their set was when fans were shouting song requests, Rachael yelled out, "Just do your best!"

I love this(ese) version(s) of "For Emma," and the conversation with the French dude at the beginning is pretty great. Thanks to Zach who posted this on his blog a few years ago. His love for Bon Iver was infectious and it's partly the reason I love them too.

Bon Iver was the real reason I was there. I was surprised how large and full this band sounded -- but I shouldn't have been given the nine band members on stage (including two drummers and various brass and woodwind multi-instrumentalists). And who would've thought that "Blood Bank" could be such a great rock song? Let's talk about some of the great guitars on the Bon Iver stage -- a Jaguar, a Les Paul, an SG, what appeared to be Telecasters Deluxe and Thinline, a couple Gibson hollow bodies, an ancient dobro, and on "The Wolves" Justin Vernon played a guitar I didn't recognize -- it had three P-90 looking pickups and sounded great. Anyway, enough guitar talk, I just loved the variety -- so much better than Ben Gibbard switching out different Telecasters the entire night when I saw Death Cab last month. (More to their credit, the Fleet Foxes guitarist had a great selection as well).

I don't care much for Comerica Theatre -- it's so big and sterile -- but hanging in the GA standing area made quite a difference. Sadly, those are usually hard tickets to come by unless you have the extra cash to pay the resale price (I lucked out in the presale this time).

Oh, those nine or so guitars I mentioned weren't played simultaneously, they just passed them around among band members throughout the night.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

car wars

I bought a new car last May. It's a 2009 Nissan Altima SL. While next time I will pass on the leather interior (very glad summer is ending), I like the car quite a bit. I have therefore resolved to take better care of it than I did my last one.

About a month ago I took said car to get it washed. I went to the Genie Car Wash on McKellips and Lindsay in Mesa. As they were finishing up -- washing the windows and drying the car -- a gentleman who worked there approached me. He pointed out a scaly-looking white build-up on my car. He said it had been caused by exposure to hard water and sunlight, and unless I had that build-up removed soon, it could cause permanent damage to the paint job.

One thing you can always count on -- almost as sure as death and taxes -- is that car people will always try to sell you crap you don't need. For that reason, and the fact that I didn't have the $100 the guy wanted to remove the hard water scale, and because I couldn't think of a time when my car had been exposed to hard water, I told him I'd take it to the dealership where I bought it to get a second opinion.

I went home and tried removing some of the scale myself and it didn't come off so I figured there must have been some truth to what the guy told me.

After work last Thursday, I took my car to the same car wash to get the oil changed. The oil change comes with a free car wash -- just a cheap standard wash, nothing fancy -- so I had that done too. While they were finishing the wash, I expected someone to tell me that I needed to fork over another $100 to have the scale removed but this time no one said anything. As I approached my car, I was surprised -- and not surprised -- to see that the scaly build-up had been removed.

So the lesson here is, if you frequent the Genie Car Wash on McKellips and Lindsay and some dude wants to charge you $100 to remove scaly matter from your car, kindly punch him in the gut and tell him where to go. And then have him actually wash your car.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

brick and wax

About a week ago I decided I needed to photograph my record collection (or at least the ones I care about). I've been wanting to catalog my collection since Jeremy added a table of his records to his blog. Furthermore, Tyson, and now Jeremy, inspired by Tyson, have now consecrated their blogs to a top 50 countdown of their favorite albums, which has only fueled my desire more to document my record collection. Oh, that and I've been wanting to add my favorite albums to Pinterest without having to rip off someone else's photos.

Lucky for me, this weekend I moved into a new apartment with a brick wall that serves as a perfect backdrop for these photos. (I copied the idea for these pictures from my friend Becky, as seen in this post.) So last night when I should've been unpacking, I took my first batch of photos.

Heady Nuggs Hot August Night by Neil Diamond

Left: Heady Nuggs by the Flaming Lips. This hefty gem is a box set containing the Lips' first five albums on the Warner Bros label spanning a decade, from 1992 to 2002. This also happens to be some of their best stuff (The Soft Bulletin, 1999, is probably one of my top five records). It was released on Record Store Day earlier this year.

Right: Hot August Night by Neil Diamond. I bought this album because, upon browsing the liner notes, I discovered that it was recorded 10 years before I was born, to the day. And because I love Neil Diamond. But I usually don't like live albums. With most live albums the recording engineer fails to capture the raw energy of a live performance, and you're left with a version that's even more stale than the studio recording. That doesn't happen with Hot August Night, though. These live tracks are so rich and warm -- especially on vinyl -- it doesn't necessarily feel like you were there, rather, it's like Neil is in your head* performing for you personally. But you know that he's really not so it's not as creepy as it sounds.

Diary (2009 Reissue) by Sunny Day Real Estate Star Wars by John Williams

Left: Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate. I wish I'd be so lucky to have an original, now out-of-print pressing of this record but I was nowhere near that cool back in 1994. So I was pretty happy when this album was remastered and re-released in 2009, with added bonus tracks. This has to be one of my favorite album covers ever.

Right: Star Wars by John Williams. I've always wanted to quantify John Williams' contribution to the Star Wars franchise. For example, I'd like to be able to say, with the math and reasoning to back it up, "Thirty percent of the greatness that is Star Wars comes from the score by John Williams." But if greatness is subjective to begin with, then maybe I'm better off estimating a percent without all that math. If that's the case, I'm gonna stick with my previously purported number, 30%.

Pinkerton (Deluxe Edition) by Weezer

Pinkerton by Weezer. This is probably my favorite album ever. So I was elated when I learned Weezer would be releasing a deluxe version of this album both on CD and on vinyl (which is four records long, that's over 800 square inches of playable Pinkerton vinyl). The packaging is great too, with photos from the era and photocopied handwritten lyrics and a letter from Rivers to fans. Needless to say, it's one of the crown jewels of my record collection.

So there's the start of my record photo catalog. Five down... at least 100 more to go.

*For the record, I wouldn't mind being incepted by Neil Diamond.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

an open letter to George Lucas

Dear Mr. Lucas,

First of all, let me say, thank you for Star Wars. I can't even begin to catalog the number of hours I have spent -- as a child, teenager, and now adult -- with Star Wars. Watching the movies. Driving from Walmart to Toys"R"Us to Target to comic shops and beyond with my brothers looking for hard-to-find Star Wars action figures. Camping out at the movie theater and missing school -- when I was in danging of failing more than one class -- for tickets to see Episode I at the first moment possible. Missing even more school and work to see Episode I and Episode III (I was serving a mission for my church and unable to see movies when Episode II came out). Updating my Facebook status at least hourly -- perhaps to the chagrin of many of my Facebook friends -- with a Star Wars quote on May 4, the unofficial International Star Wars Day. Talking Star Wars, reading Star Wars, engaging in lightsaber battles with my brothers and cousins, finding new ways to arrange our family collection of Star Wars action figures. As they say, the list goes on and on.

Suffice it to say, I am a Star Wars fan. I know I'm not the biggest Star Wars, but apart from my brothers and my buddy Chip, I'm the biggest Star Wars fan I know.

As a teenager, and as a young adult, I came across people who had never seen a single Star Wars movie. I found this so hard to understand. For me, having not seen Star Wars as a kid was tantamount to having missed out on childhood altogether, that's how important Star Wars was for me growing up.

In 1997, you released the Special Edition versions of the original three Star Wars films, and I couldn't have been more excited. As I was either unborn or much too young to have seen them in a theatrical setting, I was now finally able to. I enjoyed and welcomed the changes you made (with the exception of replacing the Sy Snootles scene with the tacky CGI "Jedi Rocks" number). However, I'd like to make one thing clear: had these changes come about or not, I would still love these films. (Incidentally, my favorite of the series, The Empire Strikes Back -- possibly my favorite movie ever -- was the least changed by the Special Edition makeovers.)

As a filmmaker, how fortunate you were to have the resources, technology, and fan base to go back and effectuate these changes to make these films closer to the films you imagined.

When you released the original Star Wars Trilogy on DVD in 2004 another significant change was made at the end of Return of the Jedi. The final scene of the movie shows the ghostly figures of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Anakin Skywalker during the Rebel Alliance's celebration of their defeat over the evil Galatic Empire. The DVD release shows not Sebastian Shaw, the original actor who played Darth Vader sans mask, or Anakin Skywalker, but the prequel version of Anakin Skywalker, played by Hayden Christiansen. Justifiably, this change upset many fans, myself included. Eventually though, I grew into this change because it made Return of the Jedi work on an additional level, it gave needed poignancy to the prequel trilogy, and it occurred during less consequential, post-climactic part of the movie.

Like most Star Wars fans, I have eagerly been awaiting the release of all six Star Wars films on Blu-ray. And now we're two weeks away. But today I read a disturbing piece of news that has made me rethink my willingness to shell out another $100 in addition to the hundreds (thousands factoring in opportunity cost?) I've already spent on Star Wars-centric pursuits. Today I learned that the new Star Wars Blu-ray release will include even more changes.

The most grotesque of which, as you know, occurs during the end of the throne room scene of Return of the Jedi -- the true climax of the movie, of the entire series even. As the evil Emperor Palpatine tortures Darth Vader's son Luke Skywalker with the intent to kill him, Vader looks on at his suffering son, then at the Emperor, then to back his son. It's at this point where you decided to add some extra audio. In the new Blu-ray version, at this point Vader mutters, "No," and then yelling, "NOOOOOOOOO!" he hoists the evil Emperor Palpatine over his head and throws him down the nearest reactor shaft, thus rescuing his son Luke from imminent death. It's one of my favorite scenes of any movie, not just Star Wars, and Mr. Lucas, you've effectively ruined it.

With the creation of Star Wars, unquestionably you became one of greatest filmmakers of all time. And not only have you created a universe in which so many people have found enjoyment and pleasure, but you have created stories that have inspired hope and meaning in so many people. Most importantly you've created a medium through which friendships and family bonds have been made and strengthened. And yet, you risk cheapening all that with these willy-nilly changes to these films that have meant so much to so many.

On September 16, you won't see me in any line waiting to purchase a copy of Star Wars on Blu-ray.

Myke Olsen