Friday, April 18, 2014

New Blog Alert

Check out my new blog: Break the Covenant, dedicated to exposing the history of the Lamb of God Community in Baltimore in particular and the "covenant communities" movement in general. I've made a number of posts throughout the blog you're currently reading.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Creepy Girl

Hanover, PA, September 22, 1995, the night before our wedding.

After celebrating my mom's birthday (a couple days late), my groomsman John (may he rest in peace) and I drove up from Baltimore to Hanover where the wedding would take place. Needing dinner, I suggested we visit Lil' Bit Of Chicago, a bar/restaurant that made really good Chicago-style pizza; Sandy and I had dined there a number of times. Having consumed the pizza, we decided to kill some time by playing some pool at the bar.

And then Creepy Girl came over.

She was in her mid- to late 30s, had frizzy blonde hair, a leather skirt, high heels, and fishnet stockings, and obviously noticed we were the New Guys in the joint on a Friday night. She started engaging me in conversation, to which I gave polite but brief answers and returned to the pool table. That didn't dissuade her any, so John informed her that I was getting married the next day. If anything, that made her more interested, but all she did was talk; she didn't try to touch me or anything.

When our game was finished, we got the heck out of there, and Creepy Girl fortunately did not follow us to our motel. But I was now apprehensive; what if she tried to show up at the wedding? That was the reason I didn't say anything about getting married, not because I gave a millisecond of thought to having anything further to do with her. Fortunately, she was nowhere to be seen.

And if anyone set her up to hit on me that night, no one's ever admitted it, but since we had no idea what we were going to do, it would have been almost impossible to do.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Things I Have Learned While Shopping For Music At Thrift Stores

With my disposable income limited because of my ongoing unemployment, I've taken to searching through Goodwill, Salvation Army, Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission and other thrift stores for used CDs, cassette tapes, and LPs.  I've used my turntable (and now, Chris and Shirley Beasley's turntable; mine has an out-of-balance toner arm) and tape teck to load these into my computer, edit with audio software, and make mp3s out of them.

So far, I've snagged some good finds, such as:
  • Tangerine Dream's Le Parc
  • Vince Guaraldi Trio's Cast Your Fate To The Wind; Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus
    • Andreas Vollenweider's Down to the Moon
    • Hiroshima's East
    • Big Country's The Crossing
    • Electric Light Orchestra's Out Of The Blue
    • A number of R.E.M. albums
    • Three Liona Boyd albums
    • And Colts Stampede, a spoken word album about the 1968 Baltimore Colts who would lose the famous Super Bowl III to Joe Namath and the New York Jets.  Quite a discovery in Reno!
    In the stores, most CDs and a surprising number of LPs are in good shape.  Cassette tapes can be a risky buy, as it's impossible to determine from observation whether the tape is stretched or mangled.  But when it's only a dollar or less for the albums, the risk is usually worth it.  Also, make sure the record, tape, or CD actually matches the cover; I thought I was getting a David Benoit cassette, but the tape inside was John Tesh, which I didn't find out until I got home.

    It's been fascinating to plow through the stacks of LPs in the stores that offer them; not all do.  They've taken me back in time.

    First of all, many instrumental artists would make compilation cover albums of current hits almost immediately after their release, such as Ray Conniff (above), Percy Faith, Mantovani, Ferrante and Teicher, and Andre Kostelanetz.  Even Henry Mancini got into it.  Nobody does it anymore; now, artists get "featured" on each other's songs.  But this trend of instrumental covers lasted well into the 1970s.

    Looking through all these Music Of Your Life albums reminds me of how powerful a radio format MOYL used to be, when pretty much all that got played was those kind of instrumentalists along with Roger Whittaker, Tom Jones, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, et al. It dominated the Baltimore market until the mid-80s, when more formats (contemporary hits, country) moved from AM to FM radio.  Smooth jazz was an attempt to keep MOYL going, but it's almost nonexistent now.

    Speaking of jazz, there's a dearth of good jazz albums in these stores.  Whether they've all been bought up, or people are holding onto them, I don't know.  I'd like to come across some more Vince Guaraldi or Dave Brubeck, or their contemporaries.

    One thing there isn't a dearth of is Christmas albums.  If you need to expand your Christmas music library, the thrift stores can help you out and then some.  Also, old soundtracks are easy to find; LC came across Doctor Zhivago, while I procured The Sting.  Finally, classical albums are in ready supply.

    Oh, back to the album cover above: when I was a kid, I remember seeing so many Ray Conniff albums with women on the cover, I was convinced Ray Conniff really had to be a woman!

    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    Less Weather (And More Of It!) on The Weather Channel

    It's been years since I've had cable TV, but that doesn't mean I haven't had exposure to it.  When I first got cable about 20 years ago, I became something of a Weather Channel (TWC) nerd.  I kept track of who came and went from the channel, including which of the meteorologists were pregnant (Jeanetta Jones seemed to be so much of the time).  I even discovered some of my favorite music (The Rippingtons, Patrick O'Hearn) off what they played during the local forecasts.  More on that in a bit.

    Well, there have been storm clouds on the horizon for TWC, which is now owned by Commucast and NBC.  According to the Wall Street Journal, TWC has been losing viewers while it's been busy gobbling up competitors like Weather Underground in true Comcast-esque fashion.

    And if TWC eventually fades from the dial or just becomes its initials a la A&E, this may be the reason: "We are moving to longer formats and docudramas."  That's TWC CEO David Kenny from the above article. No, don't give us more WEATHER, Weather Channel: distract us with cheaply-made reality shows like Turbine Cowboys, Twist of Fate, and Lifeguard!, along with more Al Roker (ex officio from NBC) and Stephanie Sorta-Sexpot Abrams.  Bread, meet circuses.  At least Storm Stories, albeit with the boorish Jim Cantore, was usually about real events we saw unfold on TWC.

    One of the times when TWC was at its best was during the approach of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.  The channel at least had the foresight to get a really good theme from Stephen Arnold Music for its Storm Alert versions of the Local On The Eights, called "Eye Of The Storm":

    Now if TWC had played this all the time, it would have gotten old.  But what I like about it is how it grabs your attention without being excessively over the top; just when you think one instrument is going to dominate, it gives way.  It also has a good chord progression.  Hearing it at one of my prior jobs, I found it quite effective as "Oh, {bleep}" music.  A good theme like this creates an association in the viewer/listener's mind.  A counter-example is the current theme to Wheel of Fortune; it's really an anti-theme, one you'll never find yourself humming, unlike this previous one.

    Sadly, TWC looks like it's going for style over substance and/or what costs the least.  I doubt it will win them any new viewers.

    Sunday, June 17, 2012

    A useful resource on the abuses by "covenant communities"

    BluAquarius on Scribd, a collection of illuminating documents by Servants of Christ the King co-founder (and one-time P&W songwriter) John Flaherty.

    There's A New "Covenant Community" In Town

    Looks like the covenant communities/shepherding-discipleship movement is alive and well in Maryland, and within walking distance of where I used to live.

    Its website describes Triumph of the Cross Community in Frederick as "an ecumenical charismatic Christian community of disciples on mission" (translation: If you're Catholic, yours will be the compromised beliefs).  And they're also part of the "Sword of the Spirit," the umbrella organization of such communities which imparts even more top-down structure and doctrine without the ecclesiastical authority to do so (example: SOS' page on "media resources," not for contact with the media, but how to control the media in one's home.  Far be it for parents to try doing that alone!).

    Like the Lamb of God Community from which I escaped, TCC (their abbreviation) has weekly "community gatherings" that are half prayer meeting, half teachings of some sort.  Chances are that like in LOG, you're expected to attend these meetings before all else, and they're more important than Mass or other services.  Also, woe be to you if you're not experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit through "praying in tongues" "words of knowledge," or best of all, being "slain in the Spirit."  All experience of the presence of God is emotional, right?  And I won't even start about the "praise and worship" music which feeds such hyper-emotionalism.

    TCC also has weekly "celebrations of the Lord's Day," a Christianized verion of the Hebrew Shabbat.  Having been part of them, I question the need or the basis for such ceremonies, especially given the celebration of the Eucharist at each Mass; is the purpose of the celebration to make the leader into a quasi-priest?  Finally, regular attendance is expected in men's and women's groups, where it's highly possible that members will get pastoral counseling from those who have zero experience or training in it.

    It appears TCC largely arose out of the Mother of God Community in Montgomery County, and thus is not as "new" as the title of this post would make it appear (thanks LC).

    Perhaps TCC will be an exception, but I wouldn't surprised if it eventually yields many of the same problems that besieged LOG and other such communities:

    • Who watches the Watchmen?  No oversight of leaders 
    • Leaders like Jeff Smith proclaiming they know God's will for the community and its members (I was listening to one of his community gathering teaching talks on "fraternal and pastoral care."  #shudder#)
    • Leaders implying that disobedience of them is disobedience of God
    • The community and its highly structured activities supplanting the family in importance
    • Groupthink (dissenting opinions are quashed, no exchange of ideas)
    • Leaders learning of private personal issues that are none of their business
    • Lack of transparency about the community's finances
    • An inward focus, even in "outreach" activities (by that, I mean the ultimate point of outreach, say, to universities and youth, is not to improve their spirituality or religion, but to bring them into the community)
    • Consequent suspicion of outsiders
    I hope I'm wrong, but it sure doesn't look like it.

    Friday, June 01, 2012

    Guilty Pleasure: Parking Wars

    Not having cable, we have to resort to Netflix to see more of pop culture than what's on the broadcast networks.  A friend of mine tipped me off to A&E's Parking Wars, and we've been enjoying it ever since.  The shows are nice and short, and include an array of fascinating and passionate characters.  Each episode includes almost as many bleeps as your average Gordon Ramsay show, although almost never from the parking authority workers (to their credit).  And I love the cartoon-esque sound effects and graphics.

    Yes, it's Reality TV, part of what's made cable channels stray afield from their names.  For example, when's the last time TLC had anything truly educational ("The Learning Channel")?  Only occasionally does A&E's History Channel swerve into anything historical anymore; I thought it was becoming the new all-Hitler channel, like A&E ("Arts and Entertainment") once was (O Jack Perkins, where art thou?).  And MTV, well, you know.  But shows like Parking Wars are popular and, more importantly, cheap to produce.

    Anyway, things I have learned or remembered from watching Parking Wars:
    • I'd never do so, but I can see why people whose cars aren't worth much choose not to pay tickets and let their car get booted, towed, and auctioned off.  Of course, they still have to pay anyway.
    • I bet the various parking authorities didn't have quite as much to do back in the 1970's and before when each house had one car . . . maybe.
    • People lose all sense of time when they park illegally.  Only in the store "ten seconds"?  Really.
    • While it's important not to park in handicapped spaces, and they are needed, it's also true that, generally speaking, there are more handicapped spaces than necessary.
    • I regularly check to make sure my current registration and insurance are in the car.
    • Flashers/hazard lights never excuse illegal parking.  Ever.
    • In college, I frequently parked on a street where parking was only allowed during off-peak hours.  Never stayed too long, but I remember there was a fire hydrant.  I may have parked too close to it a time or two (not blocking it), but I wasn't ticketed.
    • Philly ticket writer Brian has the proper attitude to be a pro wrestler or wrestling manager.  My other favorites include Sherry and Garfield; Marlene, a "hon" who would fit in perfectly in my former home of Glen Burnie, MD; and DeAndre "Ponytail" from Detroit.
    • Philadelphia accents bear a strong resemblance to Baltimore ("Bawlamer") accents.  The neighborhoods of the two cities also look a lot alike.  So maybe the show makes this Bawlamer boy a little homesick, although it's not set in Charm City.  Yet.

    Monday, March 26, 2012

    Put Your Hands Down!

    Oh, do I wish I had a montage of Judge Judy saying, "Put your hand down!" to play after the Prayer Over the Gifts and during the Our Father.  And since my parish relies heavily on its Power Point presentations on the Big Screens for the missal changes [1], it'd be easy to put there.  One problem: too many of the uncatechized would think I was advocating for wymynpriests.

    I'm so done with everyone assuming the orans position with their hands, which is supposed to be reserved for the priest.  I blame the Charismatic Renewal, which popularized the practice; I hope I never have to endure another charismatic Mass.  I submit this sort of hand raising is an act of Sneetches-esque self-righteousness in which the practitioners say, "Look at how holy I am!" 

    HT: Dymphna's Road

    [1] I love our pastor, but for some reason, he never, ever says the Confiteor.  Another priest saying the Mass this past weekend said the Confiteor, but because the pastor doesn't do so, the new wording wasn't on the Big Screens.  I can live without those screens also.

    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    I'm so tired - Part Something

    It's been nearly three years since I gave an update on my struggle for sleep.  In that time, I've still never felt rested.  Working the graveyard shift during that time didn't help much.

    Now my sleep specialist, Dr. Michael Lucia, thinks he knows why.  He believes I was misdiagnosed years ago with depression, when it was really narcolepsy.  And that's on top of my sleep apnea.  Makes sense in that sleepy people aren't usually happy people.  My most recent bloodwork lends credence to this theory, but I'll need (you guessed it) another sleep study to find out for sure.  This one will even extend into the daytime.

    As a result, I've had to stop taking Celexa, and I'm feeling the withdrawal effects (I said my use of Celexa and Ambien was like, as Steven Wright put it, putting a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room and letting them fight it out).  Dr. Lucia also prescribed for me the stimulant Nuvigil, but that too has side effects that forced me to stop taking it.  Frankly, I wouldn't mind getting off as many meds as I can; Lucia even wants me to dump the Ambien eventually.  That usually makes me feel hung over, so I approve of that also.

    Saturday, March 10, 2012

    Perhaps The Most Interesting Birthday I Ever Had

    Last year for my birthday, LC and I decided to spend a long weekend in northwest California, along the Pacific coast.  We wanted to see the redwoods north and south of Eureka, as well as check out the historic town itself.

    After I finished work Thursday morning, we picked up our rental Chevy HHR and headed north through Susanville, then turned west on Highway 36 past Lake Almanor.  At the higher elevations, it snowed, but we carefully made our way over toward Red Bluff, where we stopped for lunch.  Then for the next several hours, we wound across the rest of 36 toward Eureka.  I've never driven on a road with so many hairpin turns, sharp dropoffs, and changes in elevation all rolled into one.  Oh, and rain and fog that made me feel like I was back in the British Isles (although I was way too young to drive then!).  Worn out from the trip, we checked into the Best Western Plus Bayshore Inn, had dinner at the nearby Marie Callender's, and headed to bed.

    Before we fell asleep, we noticed on the Weather Channel a report of a powerful earthquake having struck off the northeast coast of Japan. 

    About 5 AM Friday (my birthday), we heard something in the room, but couldn't figure out what it was.  At 6 AM, we heard it again, and finally discovered it was the telephone.  It was the Bayshore Inn's front desk, telling us the hotel was closed and we were under mandatory evacuation because we were in a tsunami zone.  Some things you just don't mess with.  We threw on some clothes, gathered a few of our possessions, and climbed in the HHR.  Now . . . to where?

    We decided to head south on Highway 101 to the town of Fortuna, which had a ridge between it and the sea.  We figured if the tsunami made it over that, we might as well just report to the closest house of worship.  Pepper's Restaurant sufficed quite nicely for breakfast, and the tsunami was the dominant topic of conversation; we weren't the only Eureka "refugees."  It turned out the warning was quite valid, as the surge caused more than 25 million dollars in damage to the Crescent City harbor to the north.  One person was killed, and we would not get to see the redwoods north of Crescent City, as 101 was closed there.  Eureka's harbor was relatively unscathed, but a small wave did roll up the nearby Mad River.  (Note: All this, of course, paled in comparison to the thousands of Japanese who perished in the devastating tsunami.)

    Rather than just wait around for the hotel to reopen, we decided to start playing tourist.  We ventured further south along 101 and drove through Humboldt Redwoods State Park along the Avenue of the Giants.  We spent a lot of time looking up, ooh-ing and ahh-ing.  I'll spare you our umpteen dozen tree pics.  That afternoon, we came back north and found the hotel had reopened, and everything was OK.

    We had a nice pizza lunch at Don's Donuts, Pizza, and Deli in Arcata, the college town just north of Eureka.  From the square in the middle of town and those in it, Arcata looked like it could give Berkeley a run for its money in the liberalism department.

    As the sun began to set, we headed north along the coastline through the fishing community of Trinidad.   Whether it was the normal tide or remnants of the tsunami, most of the fishing boats at mooring were listing violently from side to side.

    We stood on a cliff overlooking the beach, and it's a good thing we didn't try to go down there as some tidal surges out of nowhere swept over the sand.  A plaque on the historic lighthouse reminded us many fishermen never made it back from the sea.

    With the tsunami warnings expired on Saturday, we decided to head south again and drive along the Lost Coast.   After passing through the Victorian town of Ferndale, the small road turned sharply downhill through farmland toward the rugged coastline.  We braved intermittent rain to admire the waves from a closer viewpoint than the previous day.

    Instead of turning back through Ferndale, we decided to press on south.  We were hoping to find someplace good for lunch, but there wasn't much of anything.  Sections of the road were poorly maintained, and on one downhill stretch, we heard and felt a WHAM! on the HHR's front tire.  Sure enough, we had hit a pothole.  I then realized we were entering the same section of Humboldt Redwoods State Park that we'd been in just 24 hours ago, and that the tire was losing air.  We limped to a clearing near Highway 101 and changed the tire, putting the "donut" in its place.  Then we went back north on 101 at only 50 MPH, getting glares from those unfortunate to be behind us in the right lane.

    I recalled seeing a Les Schwab store (a West Coast tire chain, for those of you east of the Rockies) in Fortuna, but I wasn't sure how late it was open.  We arrived just past 5 PM . . . when it closed.  But one of the technicians saw us and said he'd take a look at the tire.  He quickly determined the rim had been bent from the pothole, but the tire wasn't punctured.  So he bent the rim back into place, inflated the tire, put it back on . . . and didn't charge us anything.  "And that's our Les Schwab story."  I wrote a most appreciative  letter to the store manager the following week.  So we didn't get to go to Mass before the DST time change that night, and were quite hungry, but also grateful to have our rental in one piece.

    That night we had a nice birthday dinner (one day late) at Cafe Waterfront in historic downtown Eureka.  On the nearby pier, someone was riding one of those 10-foot-tall, multi-frame bicycles.

    We lost an hour of sleep, but still managed to get to 8 AM Mass.  Unfortunately, the priest showed up about 10 minutes late as he'd forgotten to reset his clock.  We had to be the only people in there under age 70.

    LC drove home as we took the not-nearly-as-winding Highway 299 east to Redding, then we went north of Lassen Volcanic National Park on Highway 44 to Susanville, then down 395 back home.  We told the rental company what had happened with the tire, but they didn't have a problem with it, especially since it was fixed.

    We would like to go back and see more of the area north of Eureka that we didn't get to see this time.  But this short trip was an unforgettable one for us.

    Friday, March 02, 2012

    Trade Test Films

    I admit it; as a kid, I watched WAY too much television.  Naturally, I blame my parents, although they eventually kicked me out of the house when they thought I had enough.

    When we lived in England, colo(u)r TV was still a relatively new phenomenon, and our set was only black and white (it wasn't until the late 70's that we got a color TV).  At the time, BBC2 spent most of the daytime hours running what were known as "trade test films," "trade" because most of them were produced by industries or companies, and "test" because they were used to test BBC2's color broadcasts.

    These short films fascinated me to no end, and a surprising number have made it onto YouTube.  One covered an annual science expo in the Netherlands called "Evoluon."  Naturally, I thought it was quite futuristic back then, but parts of it appear quite campy now.  The music seems to be a mashup of Up With People and early Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.  See and hear for yourself.

     Long before I ever saw "The Graduate," I knew about plastics, thanks to a film called "Prospect for Plastics."

    "Maria!  Franco!"  Romance and all sorts of other stuff at an Italian autostrada rest area in "Cantagallo."

    "SIDE: Switch off - Isolate - Dump - Earth."  Electrical plant safety in "On the Safe Side."

    A strange look at a few Canadian Maritime parks in, oddly enough, "Atlantic Parks."   I always remember the map at the end and noticing how the Gulf of St. Lawrence looked like the head of a wolf.

    You'll be tapping your foot to the tune of "Cattlemen'" from "The Cattle Carters," set in Western Australia, a place that makes Nevada look like an oasis.  What is it with Aussies and the accordion?  That was the primary instrument in "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo" also.

    I first learned about powerboat racing from "Ride The White Horses."  I remember the music more than anything else; it sounds like it came from a Folk Mass someplace.

    I wonder whether the Top Gear guys remember "Home Made Car", with some pretty nice guitar work in it?

    The travelogue "Britain" includes two semi-bickering narrators ("Tintern's an abbey, not a castle") and some places I got to see for myself, including Edinburgh and Coventry.

    And if you watched all those videos (and their Part 2's and 3's), you must have less of a life than me.  Still, it's a great reminder of my childhood.

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    Singing In a Gregorian Chant/Polyphony Choir

    What I think I do:

    What my friends think I do:

    What my parents think I do:

    What the Diocese of Reno thinks I do:

    What my director thinks I do:

    What I really do:

    Monday, January 09, 2012

    Never Forget How Bad It Was

    As of when I'm posting this, 14 deluded souls "like" these hideous relics of post-VII "liturgical" music.  But as Jeffrey Tucker says in Chant Cafe, we must not forget why we need Sacred Music in the liturgy.  (I'll deal with him later for unearthing these.)

    So cover your ears and have another taste of "We Really Used To Sing This."  About time Ray Repp gets his just desserts as a Bad Liturgical Music Perpetrator:

    When left up to us post-Baltimore Catechism Little Flower kids, we always chose "To Be Alive" as an opening song.  Opening for a bluegrass concert, maybe.

    Sunday, January 01, 2012

    What, Didn't The Sheet Music To "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" Arrive In Time?

    Bad enough: The choir at Immaculate Conception's 11:15 Mass today sang "Mary, Did You Know" for Offertory.  Anita Moore explains better than I ever could why this song is completely inappropriate for Mass.  "You mean the Immaculate Conception wasn't that of Jesus?"

    Worse: After the Agnus Dei and the "Lord, I am not worthy," the instrumentalists (not the choir) played "Winter Wonderland" (!) for the distribution of the Eucharist, hence this post's title.  I kept thinking of this, about a neighborhood near where I grew up.

    Almost as bad: the lame music for the revised Mass parts, and the setting of the Gloria (with the old mistranslation) to "Angels We Have Heard On High."  The Gloria is not, not, not a verse and refrain piece!

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Come to the Table of Plent-Wii

    If you have a Nintendo Wii,  put in the Wii Sports disc and choose "Training." Then choose any of the golf training games.  The music that plays in the background sounds just like Dan Schutte's "Table of Plenty" . . . only slower and better.  Of course, better than "Table of Plenty" isn't saying much!