Monday, March 31, 2008

I Can Name That Tune in Three Words

I’ve been out of town for the past week, and traveling always generates fodder for posts of the “I’m surrounded by idiots” type.

But I’ll spare you the tales of the moronic airline check-in counter “help,” my crappy hotel, and the waitress who thought I was her personal spill receptacle.

Trust me, you’re better off not hearing me vent. This wasn’t my best trip. I even lost my computer while going through security. (Yes, I found it. I’m hugging it lovingly even now.)

But I did take advantage of the opportunity to have my iPod do a whole lotta shufflin’.

Among the tunes it chose to share with me were several songs with remarkable lyrics—or, to be more precise, with some odd words spread out in the song.

Without resorting to lyrics websites—which would be sad given that this is a contest without any reward—can you identify these Amulet iPod songs from only three words?

Hints: I’ve listed the words in the order in which they appear in their songs, and because they came from my iPod the answers are well known songs are in the classic rock, '80s, and/or metal genres.

Good luck!

(1) Brussels, vegemite, Bombay

(2) glitters, songbird, hedgerow

(3) Scylla, Mephistopholes, alabaster

(4) preachers, fools, dropouts

(5) Brando, scared, swastikas

(6) Ukraine, Georgia, comrade

(7) fuel-injected, Wendy, velvet

(8) bookmarking, staffroom, Nabokov

(9) colitas, Tiffany-twisted, Mercedes-Benz

(10) Scaramouche, Galileo, Bismillah

(11) Anastasia, biltzkreig, Kennedys

(12) blacksmith, philosophers, plowmen

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Underappreciated ’80s: July 1986—The Month of Genesis

Earth-shattering revelations don’t hit us very often.

It seems to happen disproportionately to men in deserts, or so they claim, but it also happens sometimes to teenagers listening to the radio. Particularly to one teenager (me) listening to the radio in one month (July 1986) and realizing the musical dynasty spawned by one group:

Let me start with a bit of background. Although by 1986 Genesis was well on its way to commercial juggernaut status as it followed its pop muse, the band’s work was a pale echo of the vibrant music of the early 1970s lineup: Peter Gabriel on vocals (and often flute), Tony Banks on keyboards, Mike Rutherford on bass and guitars, Steve Hackett on lead guitar, and Phil Collins on drums.

If you’re a fan of classic rock music, you have no excuse not to know and love the stunning, complex music the band made in the 1970s, including:
  • Gabriel’s vocal gymnastics in “The Musical Box” (from 1971’s Nursery Cryme);
  • Hackett’s guitar solo of pure emotion in “Firth of Fifth” (from 1973’s Selling England by the Pound);
  • Banks’ amazing keyboard work on songs like the same album’s “The Cinema Show;” and
  • Collins’ dazzling drum fills—in 9/8 time—in the 23-minute epic “Supper’s Ready” (from 1972’s Foxtrot).
But this wasn’t all clear to me in the summer of 1986. Sure, I liked a few early ‘80s Genesis songs … and Phil Collins had made a big splash with “In the Air Tonight” and subsequent hits … and I’d even heard “Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel. But I hadn’t realized all the artists and quality careers Genesis produced.

Then, during one week in late July 1986, an amazing thing happened.

Genesis, its members, and its former members were responsible for SEVEN songs in Billboard’s top 100 during the same week:
  • First, there was “Invisible Touch,” the number one smash that was still selling better than Izod shirts.
  • Second, Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” replaced “Invisible Touch” in the number one spot.
  • Third and Fourth, the Mike Rutherford-fronted Mike + the Mechanics had two singles on the charts, “All I Need Is a Miracle” and the lesser hit “Taken In.”
  • Fifth and Six were Phil Collins’ fading smash “Take Me Home” and the song he produced (and played drums on) for Howard Jones, “No One Is To Blame.”
  • Seventh, listeners were buying up the first single from the band GTR, the joint project of Steve Hackett and ex-Yes guitarist Steve Howe. GTR's biggest hit, which reached #14 in the US, was “When the Heart Rules the Mind.”
Wow. It astonished me that so much music on the charts could come from so many directions, yet still claim a common origin.

And it all started one amazing week in July 1986.

Monday, March 17, 2008

What Do These Things Have in Common?


I’ve been thinking for a couple of years about ways to test you.

Not that it’s been on my mind every minute of every day—that would be sad. It’s more like every few weeks that I think it would be nice to post a trivia contest or some other way to tickle your brains.

I’ve remembered a lot of useless information in my life. And I’d love to see which among you, my loyal dedicated readers, will come up answers to the questions of miscellany I throw your way.

There’s one problem. It’s called the Internet, and you can search it.

No matter what cool factoid I have somehow stored in this crazy brain, it’s almost always found easily on Google or Clusty. I could ask you for the original lead singer of Genesis, the capital of Svalbard, or the first novel from the author of Fight Club, and you could hunt it down and pretend you knew it all along.

You’re sneaky, and I know it. That’s what I like about you.

So I’ve devised some questions that do not benefit much from your searches. So don’t. For most of these, you won’t discover anything anyway. You’re better off using memory, intellect, or psychic methods to get these answers.

My only rule: Each person can answer only one question per day. With no further ado …

What Do These Things Have in Common?

(1) Brazil, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique (other than being countries) ANSWER: All have Portuguese as an official language.

(2) Mötley Crüe, INXS, Journey, Def Leppard, Colin Hay (other than being male musical artists) ANSWER: All have had concerts reviewed on this blog.

(3) Yankee, Suffragette, Tar Heel ANSWER: All are terms originally used to insult, but which came to be adopted as terms of pride.

(4) Pat Benatar, Rick Wakeman (Yes), Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Geoff Downes (Yes, The Buggles, Asia), Tori Amos (other than being musicians able to play piano) ANSWER: All are classically trained rock musicians.

(5) Author Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, The Road); magician and pseudoscience debunker James Randi; actress Anna Deavere Smith (movies like The American President and TV shows like The West Wing and The Practice) ANSWER: All have won a MacArthur Grant, also known as a "Genius Award."

(6) South Africa, Colombia, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Belarus, Costa Rica (other than being countries) ANSWER: These are the only countries in the world with a higher rate of murder with firearms per capita than the United States. They are in order, being the world's top seven in a category in which the US is 8th.

(7) Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York; Dealey Plaza in Dallas; Camp David in Maryland; George Stanley’s “Muse” statues at the Hollywood Bowl in California ANSWER: All were created/constructed with money from the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration (WPA).

(8) Brendan Frasier, Michael J. Fox, Rick Schroder, Heather Locklear, Mandy Moore, Heather Graham, Tara Reid (other than being actors) ANSWER: All have appeared as guest stars in more than one episode of Scrubs.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Underappreciated ’80s: The Belgariad by David Eddings

I read a lot as a kid.

In the ’80s, it didn’t matter if it was fiction like Tom Clancy books and 1984 or nonfiction like The World Almanac and Trump: The Art of the Deal. I soaked up just about everything I could get my hands on.

I especially loved science fiction and fantasy. It’s no surprise, then, that I found myself reading one of the most successful fantasy series of the decade: David Eddings’ The Belgariad.

These five books with chess-influenced titles—Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician’s Gambit, Castle of Wizardry, and Enchanters’ End Game—mixed politics, sorcery, and epic adventure in an easily accessible prose.

Let me tell you: It takes a long time to get through five books.

The story follows the coming-of-age of young Garion, who doesn’t yet know his earth-shattering destiny and consistently bitches and moans about it when he does figure it out. What saves the series from Garion’s churlish whining is the diverse cast of characters—ranging from a knight to a spy to sorcerers—accompanying him on a grand quest that spans all five books.

Some elements of the series, in my young mind, paralleled life around me in the ‘80s. For example, Eddings’ world contains a global struggle between the nations of the West, disunited internally and squabbling among themselves, and an evil Eastern alliance of countries.

The country names (like Cthol Murgos, Tolnedra, and Gar og Nadrak) sure were different, but it wasn’t a stretch to see this as a superficial rendering of the Cold War.

But like all good fantasy, The Belgariad had elements alien to our own world. Most notably, Eddings centered this world’s magic around “the Will and the Word,” by which a sorcerer could make amazing things happen by focusing his or her willpower and finding the right spoken word to channel it.

The books weren’t without downsides. Eddings generally gave citizens of each country the same characteristics—making the nations easy to distinguish, but annoyingly one-dimensional. Maybe that’s fine for a few hundred pages. Unfortunately, this series went on and on, making such racism increasingly grating.

The writing itself was quite simple and too often repeated predictable character interplay or stale jokes. This became more of the problem in Eddings’ five book sequel series, The Malloreon, which was virtually unreadable from the hack repetition.

Notwithstanding these elements, The Belgariad was fun—a way to see our world better by living briefly in another.

Even if it took five books to get there.