Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Top 5 Favorite Bands/Artists Circa 1995

Here's a list that precludes any apologizing--the top five bands that you were into in 1995. In other words, imagine you are doing a Top 5 Bands/Artists list of all-time--as your 1995 self.

Ryan's Top Five

1. Smashing Pumpkins - Around this time, I was dead-convinced that 1979 was as good as a song could get, and I was in love with the video. For videos, see also "Tonight Tonight," which may be the greatest music video ever made. "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" really captured that angst I was feeling...and by "angst" I mean a predilection for playing rock music with cool lyrics very loudly. See also "Zero," which still is the one of the best songs to play when you're angry (thank you, Baker).

2. Green Day - Enamored with "Dookie," I acquired (my mom bought) "Insomniac" without hearing any of the music, which is a rare thing nowadays (thenadays?). I remember playing "Brain Stew/Jaded" quite loudly, on one occasion getting my grandma to remark, "This isn't music." For a 12-year-old, I felt pretty empowered with my righteous rebelliousness. Of course, I was overlooking the fact that I owned CDs by: Hootie and the Blowfish, the Rembrandts, and Sheryl fucking Crow. Anyway, I really loved Green Day at this point in my life, and they've successfully done everything to destroy that relationship since.

3. Offspring - Oh man, did I ever love "Smash." The song "Self Esteem" epitomizes my infatuation with playing rock loudly, and to this day I can't pass it on the radio without turning the volume up to 11 and singing along. I also bought their prior albums without hearing any of the music and, well, ... I can't recall a track.

4. Oasis - Ranking Oasis behind Offspring is painful even if this list has little to do with objective awesomeness. Anyway, the two big songs I was obsessed with from this album were "Wonderwall" (still great) and "Champagne Supernova" (I don't really need to hear it anymore). I was not that into "Don't Look Back in Anger," which for some reason I heard again in 2000 and fell in love with.

5. Weezer - Here's the thing: I loved the blue album, but I didn't really get into all of it until later in life. This was the first album I ever got, and I was still very much single-track-minded; when I found a single I liked, I honed in on it to an extreme fault. Thus, in 1995 I listened "Buddy Holly," "The Sweater Song," and "No One Else" way too much, and other (better) songs like "Only in Dreams" and "My Name is Jonas" not as much.

Honorable: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weird Al Yankovic, and it feels like I'm probably leaving some folk out... I think I've pretty much nailed this list though.

Dan's Top 5:

This is actually extremely hard, since I did not even get into popular music until 1999, and even then I was only into classic rock. It took a long time before I became a fan of more modern artists. That said, I'm going to turn back the clock a bit and list a few bands that were popular at the time, as well as some of my early favorites from my beginnings in '99.

1. Van Halen - Oh my god, have you heard Eddie Van Halen play the guitar? Van Halen will always hold a special place in my heart as the first rock band I really liked. For a hard rock band, they were really pretty original during the early David Lee Roth years. There were a lot of different swing and jazz influences when it came to song structure and style, and there was an undeniable sense of humor in their performances. As much as I've worn out their songs in my head, there's still a pretty good chance that I won't skip over them in my music library.

2. Pink Floyd - I remember when I first listened to The Wall. It actually really freaked me out, the way Trainspotting did. Beyond serving as my personal introduction to the concept of concept albums, Pink Floyd really became the first band I really took ownership of. i considered them visionaries, and I still love the band to this day.

3. Weezer - By 1995, only the Blue album had been released, so I have to factor in my would-be impression that Weezer would continue with such greatness. Apart from a few Pinkerton and Maladroit songs, however, this turned out to not be the case. Still, since I consider that album one of the finest of the 90's, I imagine it would have had a significant impact on my by this point.

4. Blur - I'm assuming I would have been able to find out about Parklife in '94, and subsequently hail it as the best thing to hit music since the decade started. I would have had to rely on the Internet, though, and I can't remember if I had access to it back then. Anyway, that album kicked ass and it sold me on Blur.

5. R.E.M. - I still don't know this band well, but I imagine that if I were into music in 1995, they would be one of my top 5. Man on the Moon is one of my favorite songs, albeit pretty much the only R.E.M. song I know apart from their biggest radio hits. I imagine that if I bothered to collect the rest of their albums, I could find something good on all of them, even though this is just intuition talking.

Honorable Mentions: Probably everything Ryan mentioned with exception of Offspring.

Tim's Top 5:
This is kind of difficult, because I really remember my taste in 7th grade (shudder) and I remember my taste once I was forced to fend for myself when I started college (whew). In between, not so much. Apparently, however, a couple of the answers are easy. Really, given that I had a brother four years older than me, the better title for my list would be "Things My Brother Was Into and I Followed Him Into"...

Frankly, I don't recall Oasis - What's The Story (Morning Glory) or Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness until 1996 (which is when I saw The Smashing Pumpkins at my first ever concert...but apparently both were released in 1995, or so ITunes tells me.

My list isn't really my idea of the top 5 bands of all time circa 1995, but they were the people I was listening to. Hell, I know The Beatles are better than The Dead Kennedys, but just ask me which I've listened to in the last few months.

1) R.E.M. - This was one of the few spillovers from junior high that hung around. I still think Monster is their second best album ever, and Automatic For the People was the highlight, so it's not hard to defend R.E.M. fanhood. They would then go on to release Up, and there was no reason to fear for the future. Then they released Reveal and there was no reason to forgive.

2) Matthew Sweet - Well, well, well, the truth comes out. It's not really a guilty pleasure because his work after In Reverse is a sheer house of horrors, and I can argue in favor of both 100% Fun and Girlfriend. But really it came just as much from a hyper-pop sensibility merged with my newfound arrival in Nebraska which really required you to support local artists...and it was either Matthew Sweet or 311 and Blue Moon Ghetto. Lord, be glad I chose Matthew Sweet.

3) John Lennon - The John Lennon Collection was the first album in my BMG investment of my freshman year and I listened to it relentlessly. I didn't get into the Beatles full-on until 1996, but I'm pretty sure this album was in the collection in 1995 and predated my full British invasion investment since the Who and The Sex Pistols would follow in ensuing months. The single greatest hits album was like a gateway drug to good taste, and all the albums I owned before it can't take that away.

4) Oasis - I was still hung up on Rock 'n' Roll Star from Definitely Maybe, and I got really hooked on a very emo-ish Don't Look Back In Anger somewhere around this time, and I definitely followed my brother hook, line, and sinker into Oasis. Oddly enough, though, I never bought the album. I still don't own it...and I own Heathen Chemistry and The Masterplan. I'm not entirely sure whether it was really 1995 that Oasis made it impossible to ignore them, but it was close enough to count them.

5) Gin Blossoms - I'd like to pretend I could put Guided by Voices or Pavement into this spot and get some indie street cred, but it'd be a total lie. I was four years away from getting any genuine interest in those bands, so it's got to be Gin Blossoms. At the time, I'd had maybe three sips of alcohol, but apparently I had optimistic views of potential future alcoholism and loved the relentlessly bleak pop sensibilities of New Miserable Experience. I liked Weezer's songs on the radio, but didn't buy the Blue album until a year or two later, Nirvana's Unplugged in New York didn't make it into the rotation of albums I'd get obsessed with until the last month of my freshman year, and I had just moved, so I was really finding my footing in Nebraska and didn't have time to develop good taste. At least that's my story.

Not-at-all Honorable mention: definitely Weird Al Yankovic, Foo Fighters, U2, yikes...Genesis, Inner Circle? I really liked fake reggae when I moved, but only reggae that clearly distanced themselves from any sort of drug use (my relentless hatred for frat boys was preordained)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Top 5 side a, track 1's

Having temporarily resuscitated the blog and doubled our production from last month, I figure I should up the ante once more before I leave the country for a week so I can finally buy the new Nine Black Alps album.

I had concocted my list a great deal of time ago, but never posted the homage, so here it is. My only preamble would be that I'm not going to snipe songs that I enjoy on an individual level because as great as "Gimme Some Lovin'" is, I don't know that it suits the album it introduces at I don't mention it in the list.

Rob’s Top 5:
1) “Janie Jones” by The Clash from the album The Clash [UK]
2) “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye from the album Let’s Get It On
3) “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana from the album Nevermind
4) “White light/White Heat” by The Velvet Underground
5) “Radiation Ruling the Nation” by Massive Attack

Having lent out my copy of the novel ages ago and never having it returned unto me, I can't provide you whatever analysis Hornby would here.

Tim’s Top 5:
*The US version of The Clash led off with “Clash City Rockers”, not nearly the track Janie Jones is, hence, I have to leave it off my list because I’ve never heard the UK album in its pure unaltered form. So, although my list looks a fair amount like Rob's, it's not the same.

It is also not a coincidence that four of the five albums (the first four) would rank among the top 50 on my list if I were ever to venture into such a fool's errand.

1) “Tangled Up In Blue” by Bob Dylan from the album Blood on the Tracks - I have, throughout many periods in my life, been certain that this is my favorite song. I'm not entirely sure why or how it reached this status, but it is Dylan's finest hour. He'd moved away from his overtly political period, gone through his diversions into Nashville Skyline and a period of underwhelming material that history has essentially overlooked. All the lyrics are memorable, even though they never really add up into one coherent story and are essentially dispensable -- Dylan himself has continued to change the lyrics after the album was released -- but the song essentially captures the story of a man wandering, which seems to describe Dylan himself for most of the decade preceding the song, trying to find himself in folk music, electrified rock, Nashville country, only to find himself in a new place with no direction -- the only thing to do was to keep on keepin' on. And so he did, and this is the result.

2) “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye from the album What’s Going On - Edwin Starr's "War" might typify what the post-Reagan generations will typify as a protest song from the 1960s, but this is the perfect protest in my mind. While other protest songs might inspire anger or motivate you to lash out, this is a seductive plea for humanity, not the dispatching of violence with another kind of violence. Until you really listen to the lyrics, you could have just mistaken it for another Marvin Gaye track. The song itself is so richly layered, part orchestral, part celebration of life and friendship, and part pleading for hope. It's the song that saved and destroyed Motown, and a lead-in to an uneven, but fantastic album that no one should be without. Combine this song with "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" and "Mercy Mercy Me" and Marvin Gaye accomplishes more with those tracks than most great artists will in an entire career of singles.

3) “Rocks Off” by The Rolling Stones from the album Exile on Main Street - Exile is widely regarded as The Rolling Stones' finest album, and I'm not one to argue. It's certainly the only one I own, though a case could be made for Let It Bleed or Sticky Fingers. The song is almost the antithesis of What's Going On, while there's ostensible production, everything about the track sounds extremely raw and conveys a sense that you're actually in the same room with the band that just isn't present on any other song I can recall. It's pure energy, both frenetic and kinetic, with a half-dozen instruments and vocals taking the lead at some point. The rest of the Stones' work may only be rock 'n' roll and generally likeable, but this IS rock 'n' roll, defined. It is also worth mentioning that the producer of this track, Jimmy Miller, also was the producer on the aforementioned "Gimme Some Lovin'". Pure genius.

4) “London Calling” by The Clash from the album London Calling - While #1 and #5 on the album seem to convey a sense of unfettered optimism, London Calling is their polar opposite -- a near-suicidal screed -- that the world was facing impending disaster. It was not a subtle message, whether it was burning up in the sun, nuclear war, a new ice age, floods, or, yes, zombies. It has a screamed urgency that creates a perfect counterpoint to the fatalistic and apocalyptic inevitability. In a world certain to be wiped away in a nuclear explosion, perhaps the best you can hope for is to drown first. If you're ever facing nuclear annihilation, take the song with you to your bunker. You'll understand.

5) “Mother We Can’t Get Enough” by The New Radicals from the album Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too - That's right I'm installing "new classic status" after a list of safe ones. The New Radicals' album was totally overlooked because the only reason people bought it (myself included) was "You Get What You Give", the ubiquitous song of 1999, ranking right up there with "Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen". With the lead single and a price of $6.99 when I bought it at Best Buy, I had little to no intention of listening to the rest of the album. Thankfully, I did. From the Yoko Ono-ish voice saying "Make my nipples hard, let's go!", this song and most of the album is pop mastery that explains easily why Gregg Alexander (the primary member of The New Radicals, as well as the producer of the album) has since become a leading producer of other music. This track, however, ranks as the pinnacle of the album, despite its too-obvious attacks on consumer culture. The rest of the album fails to reach this point, although there are three or four other semi-essential tracks, including "Jehovah Made This Whole Joint For You" and astoundingly "You Get What You Give".

Honorable mention: "Help!" by the Beatles from the album Help!; “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen from Born to Run; "The Boy in the Bubble" by Paul Simon from Graceland

Ryan's Top Five
I'm a bit surprised, I didn't expect my Top 5 to turn out like it did...but I felt compelled to go with the new-one-among-some-old-safe-ones strategy, which led to me bumping some worthy contenders. But I digress.

1. "Imagine" by John Lennon from the album Imagine - Well, this is one of the best songs ever written, so, you know. It gets downplayed (even by myself) because of its omnipresence and, as Jack Black would put it, it's obviousness. Oh well.

2. "Purple Haze" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience from the (US) album Are You Experienced? - Personally, I prefer songs 3-5 on my list, but you cannot underestimate the legendary sound of this song's opening guitar riff. Led off one kick-ass album, to be sure, and one of the best albums from one of the best decades of music (excluding, of course, the 1890s).

3. "London Calling" by The Clash from the album London Calling - What Tim said. No argument here--much like song #2 on my list, this song wastes absolutely no time in kicking ass.

4. "Hells Bells" by AC/DC from the album Back in Black - And this one too. I'd be lying if I said I was the biggest AC/DC fan in the world, but that's only because I know too many other fans who are obsessed. Surely this is one of the greatest classic rock albums of all-time. I'm a big fan of ominous openings, and frankly ominousness in general; the bells here achieve said goal. Bonus points for being a better sports intro song than Welcome To The Jungle (says I).

5. "The Crane Wife 3" by The Decemberists from the album The Crane Wife - Well, here's my new one, but this song really is awesome. "The Crane Wife" is definitely one of the best albums of this decade and a masterpiece of, as Colbert put it, "hyper-literate prog rock." This song adeptly sets the tone for the rest of the album, which gels quite well.

Honorable mentions (lots, and in no order, except for the first two): "Baba O'Riley" by The Who [Who's Next], "Back in the USSR," "Sgt. Pepper," and "Taxman" by the Beatles, "Who Loves the Sun?" by The Velvet Underground [Loaded], "Take a Bow" by Muse [Black Holes & Revelations], "My Name Is Jonas" by Weezer [Weezer], "The Sounds of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel [Sounds of Silence], "Gotta Get Up" by Harry Nilsson [Nilsson Schmilsson], "Space Oddity" by David Bowie [Space Oddity], "Five Years" by David Bowie [Ziggy], "Fight Test" by The Flaming Lips [Yoshimi], and "Go-Go Gadget Gospel" by Gnarls Barkley [St. Elsewhere]. Phew.

Dan's top 5:

I'm a bit unsatisfied with my list, since I feel like (a) I'm cleaning up after two pretty good lists by simply listing obvious omissions, and (b) there's not too much that's fresh or original about my list. I'm sure that I'll probably regret it once I stumble on something I missed on Wikipedia within the next few hours. I also maintain Tim's criterion of a decent-to-good album is also necessary for inclusion. That being said...

"Baba O'Riley" by The Who from the album Who's Next - I remember making a mix CD of the best tracks ever. The scheme was, I would pick the best track 1, the best track 2, et cetera until I ran out of room on the CD. So naturally, track one of that CD is my number one here. I remember looking through a lot of potential candidates before firmly deciding on this one the second I saw it. The "synthesizer" intro (actually just created using the arpeggio effects on a Lowrey home organ) is one of the best introductions to a song I've ever heard, and it blossoms into all-out rocking shortly thereafter.

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" by The Beach Boys from the album Pet Sounds - Barry would give me so much shit for this one, since it's such an obvious choice. I had to include it though, since none of you other jerks decided to give props to one of the best pop albums ever. Probably the album's most recognizable song, as well, and the epitome of chamber pop.

"Space Oddity" by David Bowie from the album Space Oddity - One of Bowie's masterpieces, I think it's a shame that it hasn't been mentioned yet. Even though it sounds dated, especially when compared to everything else Bowie has done, it's still a masterful bit of songwriting and performance. Loses just a few points because the song tends to overshadow most of the rest of the album (at least in my eyes. Yes, I do realize how much "Memory of a Free Festival" kicks ass.)

"Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" by the Killers from the album Hot Fuss - My new classic status is bumped up to #4 instead of the usual #5, simply because Hot Fuss was such a great album. This first kickass track was a sign that this band was fresh and new, sort of the same way Jacqueline was a great start to Franz Ferdinand's eponymous debut. Of course, if I had chosen that one, it would have been way too obvious that I was sucking up to Tim. This way, it's a bit more subtle.

"Tom Sawyer" by Rush from the album Moving Pictures - I doubt anyone else from the Top 5 likes progressive rock at all, much less Rush. I figured I'd give credit to this album, and this song in particular, which is probably Rush's biggest hit. It was a major step forward in the 80's synthesizer era, as it was released in 1981. This album, along with Van Halen's 1984 album, would prove that synthesizers could be used in rock music and still kick ass.

Honorable Mention - "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel from the album Bridge Over Troubled Water, also most of Ryan's honorable mentions.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Top 5 Books You've Read Recently

Kind of a wussy title, a bit like a column you might read in the O magazine. (Well, not 'you,' or 'me,' but whoever reads such columns.) That said, I went with 'recently' so that we could all define this Top 5 as we wish--Tim, for instance, has read (I'm guessing) about 40 more books than I have this year (I thought it was the 15 Book Challenge!). So 'recently' can be whatever you wish, within reason--this year, since June, etc. (The idea for me is that I couldn't include something like Great Gatsby, Sun Also Rises, etc., basically any of the greats that I haven't read in ages. You get me. I'll stop rambling.)

Ryan's Top Five

1. Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut - I read this earlier this year, and I really believe it is Vonnegut at his finest. I hesitate to say it is his greatest novel, but I don't hesitate to say it's my personal favorite.

2. The Zombie Survival Guide, Max Brooks - To me, reading this book was like one of those movies you never just sit down and watch, but you see enough parts of it to have seen it at least twice. I've read just about every section, some more than once, but never in sequential order. (I read the first 70 pages sequentially and got a bit tired of reading about types of gun, wanting instead to read about fortification techniques.) The whole concept, of course, is brilliant, and the tone of realistic concern and straightforward explanation that defines this book is admirable. Good show, Max Brooks.

3. Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie - A shoo-in as this was the last book I read, so it is very "recent." This was a book of short stories. Such books are generally tough for me to follow as I prefer complete novels, but Alexie's writing flows very smoothly and keeps you interested. (He writes a bit like a Native American Nick Hornby who's more concerned great writing than humor.) In the end, it is a book of short stories, and any such book unfortunately varies in quality. Some were excellent ("What You Pawn I Will Redeem") while others were decent, but not great. Hence, Alexie wins the bronze.

4. Bringing Down the House, Ben Mezrich - Here's a book that's not one of my favorite reads ever, nor is it going to win any awards or have any legacy as a "great"--it's just a good and compelling nonfiction narrative. Mezrich is a solid writer; it's not hard to imagine this book garnering similar popular accolades based on its subject matter, but with subpar writing. So it's refreshing that the narrative feels tight, structured, never boring and never too indulgent. Oh, right, it's about counting cards in blackjack, if anyone didn't know...

5. Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut - In terms of greatness, this surely is better than Alexie's collection of short stories. But, you know, ranking two Vonnegut works so high would be boring. It suffers from the same problems I have with collections of short stories, which normally shouldn't be read straight through; I place a lot of importance on completing a book, so short story collections generally don't interest me. That said, I sometimes follow this belief to a fault, as it's led to me overlooking some damn fine short stories--as in this book. "All The King's Horses" is about an East Asian guerrilla warlord literally playing chess with American soldiers' lives, and it is fucking awesome. "More Stately Mansions" also stands out to me, and "Harrison Bergeron" and "Welcome to the Monkey House" are classic, of course.

Tim's Top 5:
Given that of the 49 books I've read this year, 24 of them were read in their entirety before February 28, I'm going to define "recently" as after May 1, 2007, because it'd be a mockery to define recently as spanning 11 months, but it'd be even more ludicrous to say the last three months, since that would cover 4 books. And I can honestly say I enjoyed at least five of the 17 books I've read since May.

1. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Read in July (3 days) - This is my favorite Vonnegut work, I'd grown enamored with the premise when they ran ads during MST3K for the Nick Nolte film version that I never got around to seeing. The premise is executed more flawlessly than I could have imagined, since I've always been pretty lukewarm towards Vonnegut's work, thinking I should enjoy it far more than I do. It's more story-based than most of his work, but the story is a simple one, so it really is mostly style that pays off.

2. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer - Read in November (2 days) - The book is relentlessly sad, Christopher McCandless is a tragic figure who struck me as someone who was in many ways like me, just without the relentless tendency to sell out. We share a common interest in getting far too interested in things and taking things way beyond their plausible conclusion. McCandless' commitment to trying to find another path for himself was, in many ways, foolhardy, but it's one that even in failure, strikes me as more respectable than the lives of quiet desperation for which most of us are willing to settle. I'm a romantic, I guess.

3. Too Far From Home by Chris Jones - Read in May (1 week) - I've always been fascinated by the idea of being an astronaut. It's certainly not for me, given that I am 1) not much of a risk-taker, 2) not interested in math, science, or joining the military, and 3) way too old to start planning for a fatality-based career at this point. But their stories are fascinating, and this book tells a story that hadn't been told to death, since people's interest in the Columbia disaster was pretty much limited to the astronauts aboard the Columbia, not those who were indirectly affected by it. Its story of cooperation with the Russians reads like an entertaining study in political science, and it has its share of gripping drama.

4. Can I Keep My Jersey? by Paul Shirley - Read in May (1 day) - Paul Shirley is one of the few blogger-types who can genuinely entertain. He's an athlete, he's an ISU alum, but he's also the person who writes the most like I think I do among people I've read. Anyone who can make me genuinely interested in reading about the NBA must be pretty entertaining.

5. Horsemen of the Esophagus by Jason Fagone - Read in June (2 weeks?) - It's certainly not a must-read, but Fagone's study of competitive eating, its performers, and the popularity growth in the field was more memorable than most of the books I've read this year. Fagone created actual characters, so that I rmeember more people from the book than I do from nearly any other I've read. Whether it's Joey Chestnut, Sonya Thomas, Kobayashi, El Wingador, Tim Janus, or any of the dozens of competitive eaters that have reached quasi-fame, Fagone does a good job of telling their stories and discussing the controversies surrounding the most American of all competitive activities (I will not call it a sport).

Honorable mention: The Bad Guys Won! by Jeff Pearlman, The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon; Blowing My Cover by Lindsay Moran

Books not worth mentioning: Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez; Forty Million Dollar Slaves by William C. Rhoden; Shampoo Planet; I Am America (and So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert; Wigfield: the Can-Do Town that Just May Not by Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, and Paul Dinello; The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd, and Veeck as in Wreck by Bill Veeck

Dan's Top 5:

(Disclaimer: As I simply do not ever get around to reading without great impetus, this list is essentially a ranked list of the last five books I can recall picking up.)

1. Kurt Vonnegut - Mother Night - This one is all Ryan's doing. Looking for something good to read, and ignoring the stack of books that I've bought already and haven't picked up, I called Ryan from the bookstore and asked him for a good Vonnegut book. He recommended this and something else, and his synopsis of this one intrigued me more. It's the best book I've read in a while, but even though it wins by default, it would probably still hold that distinction if I actually bothered to read.

2. Hunter S. Thompson - The Rum Diary - Being a Hunter S. Thompson fan, I was excited to read his novel. I left it for a while, but in the end, it was really good. There was a profound sense of randomness and confusion as I was reading it, but I expect that was the desired effect. One of the strongest settings I've ever experienced.

3. Richard Hack - Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos and Letters: The Definitive Biography of the First American Billionaire - I finished this book right as The Aviator came out in theaters. It made me really appreciate the movie, and I now consider Howard Hughes to be one of my personal heroes (craziness aside).

4. Jared Diamond - Guns, Germs, and Steel - To be fair, I haven't finished this one yet. I'm still trying to get around to plowing through it, as it's really trying to actively teach you something - a quality I'm not used to when reading books. Once I do finish, though, I doubt it would rank anywhere lower than #2 on this list. It's so informative, and it really changes your perspective on human history.

5. Nick Hornby - A Long Way Down - I loved this, as it was a quick read, and how can you not love Hornby? However, it didn't leave a lasting impression like About a Boy or High Fidelity (if I ever bothered to read it).

Cortney's Top 5

I will preface this by saying that I am not good at ranking things at all-- Ryan constantly asks me what my top 5's are, and I find the rigidity of a ranking system to be a little difficult to work with (maybe that's why I don't like sports). But I'm going to give it a shot.

1. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: This book is remarkable. Clearly I'm not alone on this one, as it won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2004. Eugenides intertwines many different themes and stories in such a way that I'm convinced his style is superior to his story (though the story was great too).

2. Night by Elie Wiesel: Another award-winner, thought this won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. This was my introduction to the literature of the Holocaust, and everything I've read since echoes its sentiments. Wiesel is an amazing storyteller, with a lyrical, almost biblical style. Heartbreakingly honest, this book sets the bar for Holocaust narratives.

3. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier: I have yet to read a Chevalier book I haven't liked or loved. Chevalier's style is difficult to describe-- it's more or less historical fiction centered around fictional and nonfictional characters. This specific novel was a fictional account of how two very different youths in London inspired William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, which happen to be among my favorite works. Sounds dry, but it was quite the page turner.

4. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult: This was one of those bestsellers that I'd heard of through someone or another and picked up at the used bookstore for about $2 (which, truth be told, is where I get most of my reading material these days, which explains a major presence of bestselling contemporary fiction). Little did I expect to be so enraptured by this story. This novel is by no means perfect, but it made me think, and sometimes that's enough for me. Now it's been optioned for a movie, which should be interesting.

5. Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer: This isn't completely fair because I haven't finished it yet, but I'm well on my way to doing so. Krakauer's investigation of the lives of Mormon fundamentalists in the Arizona Strip is chilling. To make a long story short, he's explained how the fundamentalist (read: polygamists) broke off from the LDS church, and how it's basically a glorified way to rape children. Reading this book is like watching a well-executed train's fascinating and horrifying all at once.

*Making this list has been painful, but only because it's shown me how little I've read recently. I really ought to get back on the ball.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Top 5 Things You Do Not Know How to Do

Tim's Top 5:
1) Swim - Everyone has such incredulity towards my inability to swim. My father only learned because he had to in order to graduate from college, and I don't think my mother is extremely confident in her swimming abilities. And I've lived my entire life landlocked in an era where there were video games like Pitfall and Seaquest to remind me that water is overrun with sharks, electric eels, and alligators who have no goal in life except killing you and sending you over to the start of the level. And, let's be honest, as much as I love water in shower and drinkable forms, as a venue for activity, it's pretty gross. Kids pee in the pool, fish do nothing but have sex and defecate in our rivers and's like you're spending your time laying facedown in Reno. No thanks.

2) Play the guitar - This reaches my list for obvious reasons, given that I'm trying to do something about it. I've always felt my life was missing something, and I think it could be filled by being that dude who tells people he's thinking of starting a band, just as soon as he masters "London Bridge is Falling Down" on his Les Paul. My goal is to start the band, then graciously let someone else take lead guitar and rhythm guitar and second rhythm guitar and bass while volunteering to be the dynamic front man who lacks all musical ability but will get all the groupies. It's a hard knock life.

3) Dance - I shouldn't even include this, because it's abundantly clear that I'm white, so by including it, I'm a cliche. But it's that I quite literally don't know how. I may actually possess the ability, but it can't be intuited, it can only be unlocked by a heroic intake of booze. It's like an extra level on a video game...and the fact that I would think of that as the most apt analogy pretty much explains how we got to the point where I can't dance...followed closely by the fact that I just now am thinking of the nearly-eponymous Genesis song/album.

4) Drive a manual transmission - This is barely appropriate for the list here because I know how, I just didn't manage to pull it off in my fifteen minutes of attempting in my dad's truck.

5) Watch American Idol - It's clearly something one must learn, and I'm definitely in the remedial class where students do so poorly that they take pride in their underachieving. Whatever is fascinating about 1) people who can't sing, 2) people who can sing and choose to do so by performing songs you already know in a way that will make you run to your ITunes to let Stevie Wonder defend himself, 3) fake drama about getting a record contract even though every asshole who makes it past week 1 (and some who don't) gets a record contract of their own anyway, 4) extra fake drama because apparently the phone systems can't even accurately handle the millions of calls people are placing to vote in this all-too-failed democracy, and 5) unnecessarily long recaps of things that happened in the past even though they are totally irrelevant to the end result of the show -- is apparently totally lost on me, so I must be a cultural heathen. Or you're just a pack of morons who couldn't tell Clive Davis from Clive Barker without a recap show and have some sort of bizarre ambivalent sadism, because you enjoy seeing people's dreams shattered by getting voted off, but seeing them simultaneously fulfilled by securing a deal to sell records to housewives who thought you were cute.

Dan's Top 5:

1. Get Paid for These Various Writing Endeavors - Seriously, how sweet would it be if we could actually get these things published beyond this blog that virtually no one reads? In addition, over at my own blog, I come up with an occasional post that's not unfunny. Surely that's worth something to someone? I'm not asking to be a millionaire, but how about a free sandwich? But nope, my other blog with its invasive Google advertising has so far earned me five cents.

2. Juggle - Seriously, juggling is never truly uncool. Once you know it, it seems like it would take very little energy to do, and it's always kind of fun. If you have three of something, you can always enjoy cheap entertainment. On that note, damn you, Ryan.

3. Drive a Manual Transmission - I had one lesson in a truck with a stick shift, and it just frustrates me that he's moved away. So I kinda sorta know how to do this one, but only when there is no other traffic on the road and I get about half an hour of practice beforehand in a church parking lot.

4. Write Lyrics and Vocal Melodies/Sing - I suck at singing, as is true of many people (see Tim's #5), but when I write music, I also suck at coming up with (a) what the vocals should sound like and (b) the actual words that should be sung. Hence, virtually everything I've recorded to tape disk is hopelessly instrumental, and some lyrics would sure sound good.

5. Swim - OK, I really know how to do this one. But the extent of my swimming ability is limited to preventing my own death and propelling myself while floating on my back. I'd like to know how to do the standard freestyle stroke so I could get in some exercise that doesn't involve me getting all sweaty and stinking.

Ryan's Top Five

1. Know a foreign language - Any language would suffice. One of the reasons I wasn't incredibly keen on grad school (read: one of many) was that I didn't want to devote the time to learning a foreign language (as this necessitates going to another country at some point, essentially). I'd really like to magically speak German (I know a little) or Spanish.

2. Play Guitar Hero on a difficulty above medium - Nuts to actual music, I'd like to have the ability to excel at guitar hero. I do not.

3. Participate in an organized sport - I'm actually pretty good at sports, or I would be if I gave a shit and participated in them. I'd like to know enough people to have an organized game of ultimate frisbee (emphasis on the word 'know,' by which I mean not just any of the random hippies I could find at KU).

4. Disciplining Kids - I am getting better at this. I'm still not, however, good. I tend to subscribe to the notion that if I'm cool enough and my students like me, they will eventually listen to what I tell them to do for this reason. Problem: I'm not cool--not only uncool among my peers, but resoundingly uncool to kids. I also have a difficult time punishing kids who I like but who are nonetheless lazy jackasses. Anyway, this is an ongoing battle that plagues first-year teachers, so I don't feel especially bad at discipline, per se.

5. Review books - To be cocky, I am pretty damn good at reviewing books compared to a lot of the shit I read in papers. I do lack whatever knowledge it takes to get published, as any half-hearted efforts I've made at doing so have not really been followed myself. I'm now tempted to make this a Top 1 List and put "Not Be Lazy" at the top.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Top 5 Things Unworthy of Top 5 Lists

(Edit: Tim's preamble)Inspired by an email I saw describing Ratdog as the leading member of what I regarded as the least prestigious honor of all time (see my #1), I concocted this list...things that by ranking, you subconsciously would have to accept that there was something -- anything -- positive about them. (e.g., it's hard to call anything about them "top" -- for instance, "top five members of Creed" would be a possible choice for the list -- assuming both that there are five members and that you could actually bring yourself to somehow differentiate their shittiness)

Dan's Top 5:

1. Top 5 Brutal Dictators - Hitler is #1, of course. That very sentence is the reason this Top 5 would suck, as Hitler is widely regarded as the most evil man in human history. Truly he and all other dictators are unworthy of Top 5 status.

2. Top 5 Lamar Odom Injuries - If you've played me in fantasy basketball, you know that I was plagued by the Lamar Odom curse. This guy has even been injured in a team shootaround. I would have put that as my #1, but a quick Google search shows that he JUST GOT INJURED AGAIN two days ago. This time he didn't even make it to the shootaround. He was driving to the shootaround when he got into a car accident and suffered a concussion.

3. Top 5 Steely Dan Singles - Really, Steely Dan has been on top of my hate list of music for quite some time. In fact, they're the reason I said I hated the 70's for so long. Then I later realized that so much good, non-Steely-Dan-sounding music was made in the 70's.

4. Top 5 Diseases - Malaria, Dysentery, Cancer... Very similar reasoning to Top 5 Creed members.

5. Top 5 Moments in Golf - Golf is a boring sport to watch. Every highlight in this top five is probably just going to be an insanely long putt.

Tim's Top 5:
1. Top 5 Jam Bands - Ratdog was described as "one of the top five jam bands of all time", putting them in company with Phish, Widespread Panic and The Grateful Dead (which itself spawned Ratdog). I can not only not name a fifth, nor can anyone who enjoys jam bands, because they're operating under such a minimal level of consciousness thanks to the pharmacopia that surrounds jam bands that they're not frequent list-makers.

2. Top 5 Terminal Cancers - It's one thing to say Terminal Diseases here...but let's be honest, leprosy is still funny, because you won't get it, no one you know will get it, it involves your fingers falling off, and if you somehow did get it, you really really earned it.

3. Top 5 Reasons to Join a Fraternity - #1-5 You're a douchebag and hope to meet other douchebags with an interest in douchebaggery and/or Dane Cook.

4. Top 5 Sofia Coppola movies - I have to say that, far and away, The Virgin Suicides is the best Sofia Coppola movie...and it is sheer horror from beginning to end. Even though she's not reached five films, just to include her in a sentence with words like "non-shitty", "competent", "workmanlike", "inoffensive", "harmless", and "notpureevil" is a strain upon the boundaries of the English lexicon.

5. Top 5 NASCAR Races - This is actually quite easy...whichever races go the fastest...the Pocono 25, for instance, would be an easy chart-topper, if they didn't then follow it up with 475 more miles. In a world of global warming and oil shortage, I know where we can cut back and save mother earth at the minor expense of destroying the South like none but Billy Tecumseh has before.

Ryan's Top Five

1. Top 5 McDonald's Ad Campaigns - Any list that had to include (or had to admit the existence of) the "I'm Lovin' It" campaign would probably negate the relevance of this website for perpetuity.

2. Top 5 John Stamos TV Shows - Anytime you have to say to yourself "Well I guess Full House would be #1," it's time to consider how much those guns at Wal-Mart cost. You only need one bullet.

3. Top 5 Ethnic Genocides - Similar to dictators. Not a lot of opportunities for laughs.

4. Top 5 Any Teams That ESPN Has Dubbed America's Teams, e.g. Notre Dame Football Moments, Red Sox-Yankees Moments, Patriots Moments, Etc. - These teams are generally fucking evil and should not be spoken of any more than the 9 hours of SportsCenter coverage forced down our throats daily.

5. Top 5 Nickelback Singles - This is an easy answer but the thought of it is still so vomit-inducing, I think it deserves mention on this list.