Steel Bridge

photography
Steel Bridge - Portland, Ore.

Photo by Daniel Stout on a sunny day in Portland.

The Steel Bridge is a through truss, double-deck vertical-lift bridge across the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, opened in 1912. Its lower deck carries railroad and bicycle/pedestrian traffic, while the upper deck carries road traffic and light rail, making the bridge one of the most multimodal in the world. – Wikipedia

Bonus trivia question: What is the correct pronunciation of Willamette? $2.00 goes to the first YouTube or Vine video with the winning answer.

Savages

music

SavagesIt’s been a good week for live music. I’ve gotten to see a few of my favorite bands. The standout has been Savages. “Savages?” you ask. Simply, Savages are four chicks from London who know how to rock. They released their debut album on Spotify in May, and it’s been on heavy rotation ever since at Casa Stout. Silence Yourself is intense, loud, and fantastic.

Savages played a show here on Wednesday night. They sounded a little tight at first, but then came a new song “about Berlin” that totally clicked. Everything after that hit home.

Jehnny Beth, their French-born lead singer, said the song “She Will” was “for the ladies.”

She will enter the room / She will enter the bed / She will talk like a friend / She will kiss like a man

You can see their performance of it live on KEXP on YouTube. Nice videography, KEXP. Savages’ live sound is very close to what you hear on the album.

Adelle Waldman and the modern man

books

Adelle Waldman - The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.Men need to stick together. We’re a tribe, a gender-based tribe. Some people not in the tribe (read: females) may think that men have foibles. Hangups. Shortcomings. As a member of the male tribe, I categorically deny the existence of these so-called foibles. But, men, we have a mole in our midst. This mole, apparently, told all our secrets to Adelle Waldman who packed them into her brilliant debut novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

Released in July, Waldman’s novel was the book of the summer. I read it over the long Labor Day weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. Some reviewers are comparing her to Jane Austen, which may be premature as this is her first book in print, but what a debut! Men’s internal dialogue? Rationalizations? Waldman has them spot on. It’s a social novel and some of my favorite scenes in the book were the group dynamics of men and women in present day Brooklyn talking about life and careers and love.

Waldman wrote a five-part blog series for Powell’s over the summer that tells the tale of how her novel came to be. After finishing the book, she put in a lot of time polishing and that clearly shows in the finished work. Love Affairs is snappy, the kind of book you don’t want to put down.

Powell’s, of course, is the largest bookstore in the United States. I spent a good bit of time there in May and marveled at the sheer number of people in the store. I’ve been to plenty of large bookstores, but on the weekends, people pack into Powell’s. As another independent bookstore closes here in Madison, I’m mindful of what a jewel Powell’s is. That said, I’m not necessarily nostalgic for printed books and have done my part to shed physical media from my household. A friend of mine who moved from New Jersey to Iowa City for grad school last year did likewise and downsized her 15,000 book collection in half.

Adelle Waldman’s insights into the mind of the modern man make her novel a stunning read. This book appeals to both men and women. Men may be cringing, like I did, with self-recognition at some of Nathaniel P.‘s behavior, but she doesn’t belabor the point. My only criticism of the book itself is that I wished it was longer. I wanted to read more about Nathaniel and Hannah.

The book is about Nathaniel and Hannah’s relationship, but in the larger scope of Nathaniel’s love life, his relationship with Hannah is one of his least successful. We see that Nathaniel and Hannah are deeply compatible, but Nathaniel is self-involved and finds more cheer in dating women who he doesn’t have to think about as much. I was cheering on Nathaniel to make things right, but it was clear the relationship was doomed. Maybe it was immaturity or Nathaniel’s shallowness that made things not work with Hannah. As readers, we feel empathy for Hannah and wish Nathaniel was more self-aware. It’s a compelling and particularly modern drama.

I give a big thumbs up for Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. A book this good is rare.

Canadian summer c.1971

photography
Canadian summer 1971

Photo by my grandmother. Summer of 1971. Canada.

My grandfather is standing on the right in this photo taken during one of many Canadian fishing trips my grandparents took. This is from before I was born. Over the past couple of years, I had a big project scanning in all of my grandparents’ slides from the ‘60s and ’70s. I lost track of how many slides there were after about 1,500, but I completed that project earlier this year. My grandparents were young, and my parents even younger then. It was a delight scanning in these old family photos. My Epson Perfection V500 did a remarkable job of scanning and cleaning up these 40-year-old slides.

I love how comfortable my grandfather looks in this photo. He’s wearing his “work” clothes—like what he’d typically wear out to the tree farm—although at the tree farm he’d be wearing heavier footwear and would be wearing a cap instead of a hat.

Chic work duds from Ben Davis

design

Ben DavisIt was the late ‘90s. I was in grad school at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. One day I happened up to the Hall Mall. A few blocks of downtown Iowa City are a pedestrian mall. In the middle of one block, there was (is?) a stairwell that led to a hallway on the second story that had a bunch of tiny shops. It was the alternative. I remember an incense/new age store that sold a lot of zines back when zines were popular. The stores in the Hall Mall were micro-capitalism at work and generally pretty interesting.

One store in the Hall Mall sold urban clothing. I liked several of the brands they carried including Tribal Streetwear. Another favorite was Ben Davis. I bought a striped, half-zip shirt that I wore for many years. I donated that shirt to Goodwill only a few months ago. Ben Davis still sells that style of shirt. In fact, Ben Davis styles haven’t changed in years. They sell classic work clothes.

I recently watched a YouTube featuring violinist David Harrington of Kronos Quartet. He is wearing a Ben Davis shirt in the video. Ben Davis is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Kronos are based in SF. The Ben Davis brand is popular with some musicians especially rappers. The Wikipedia entry has the details.

If you’re looking for chic work duds, go no further than Ben Davis where you can order direct on the website. They just launched a great new website design in July. Check it out. I can attest: Ben Davis clothing is durable. The gorilla will treat you well.

Olbrich Gardens pollinating the future

photography
Olbrich Gardens - bee pollen
Photo by Daniel Stout

I was at Olbrich Botanical Gardens the other day and captured this photo of a bee pollinating some flowers. You’ll note that his legs are heavy with red-colored pollen. He was busy flying from flower to flower. Olbrich is a good place to see the season cycle–from spring to summer to fall–they have it all.

Americans will love their Al Jazeera America

media

Al Jazeera AmericaThe long-awaited TV news channel Al Jazeera America launches nationwide today. This is a good thing. Remember the Dark Ages? George W. Bush, with the help of the conservative media, had a bull’s-eye on Al Jazeera. The Bush administration said that Al Jazeera was the same as the terrorists. Al Jazeera showed clips from the statements of suicide bombers, and according to Bush’s dim line of reasoning, that made the news channel equivalent to terrorists themselves.

This was maybe eight or nine years ago–in the middle of the aughts, as I recall. A couple of people I know recited nearly identical lines about Al Jazeera’s wrongs. My response at the time was that Al Jazeera is a cable news network. Saying that they’re the same as terrorists is like saying CNN is evil for reporting the news. I noted that Al Jazeera (at that time) served primarily the Middle East, and the audience for the channel was different from the audience for American channels. That is, Arabs in the Middle East probably want to hear about what is said and done supposedly in the name of their religion.

The real reason the Bush administration went after Al Jazeera though was because Al Jazeera wasn’t presenting the party line according to Bush and Cheney. The American media had kowtowed to Bush. Even the great New York Times through Judith Miller’s mouth was parroting the Bush propaganda. Not held back by the constraints of the American media, Al Jazeera and others were free to present what was actually going on in Iraq.

Some Americans don’t want Al Jazeera America providing a news alternative. There is widespread prejudice in the U.S. against people of Arab descent. But Al Jazeera coming to America is the best PR for the Middle East that money can buy.

There was an instructive moment in the show Mad Men. I’m watching season four of that hit TV show set in the 1960s. In one of the episodes I just watched, Honda executives who are launching their first automobile invite Don Draper’s ad agency to make a pitch. We see prejudice against the Japanese execs from Roger Sterling, one of the senior partners at the firm, who fought in World War II. The younger Draper fought in Korea and doesn’t have the same jaundiced picture of the Japanese. And Bert Cooper, the most senior partner, has been portrayed as a Japanophile since the beginning of the series. Sterling is clearly seen as being in the minority.

The Honda automobile was the initial gateway that opened the doors of America. Some people still buy GM or Ford cars for nationalistic reasons, but most people long ago realized that Toyota and Honda vehicles are more reliable and better built. Toyota also likes to point out that some of their vehicles are American-made and contain more U.S.-built parts than the equivalent Ford or GM.

Exposure to Japanese goods and culture bred acceptance of them as people. Arab culture is interesting and exotic. Having traveled to several predominantly-Muslim countries, even during Ramadan, I’ve seen firsthand the beauty and amazing history of the Middle East. That culture, despite our decade in Iraq, remains remote to most Americans.

My hope is that Al Jazeera America will breed a new awareness of the Middle East based in curiosity and fact instead of animosity and delusion. I fully believe that this is the gateway that will help open people’s minds to what they are so adamantly closed off to now. I see the ignorant things some people post on Facebook including some of my own tea party-loving relatives. Simply, it’s fear of the unknown. Once the unknown becomes known, Americans will see that, as Depeche Mode so aptly put it, people are people.

Timing

life
Speeding
Flickr photo by Ronald Groenendijk

I was on the highway the other day. The Radiolab podcast I was listening to was stimulating, traffic was light, and I was merrily making the journey back to Madison.

Some guy came up from behind and pulled into the left-hand lane to pass. He was going a bit faster than I was when all of a sudden, he stomped on the gas pedal and buzzed by at a high rate of speed. It was comical looking over at his little speeding Subaru.

As he sailed by, we went under an overpass. The guy continued accelerating. What he didn’t know was that a state trooper was sitting on the far side of the overpass with his radar gun. Immediately, the trooper revved up and headed down the on-ramp with his lights flashing. He quickly caught the speeder.

I smiled at the guy in his Subaru as I passed by a few moments later. That guy had really poor timing.

All in all, it was a most pleasant day. The purpose of my trip was to visit my grandmother, who is quite old and still lively. She was in good spirits, and we enjoyed our time together.

Those raw old-timey blues

music
T-Model FordFlickr photo by Samantha Marble

T-Model Ford is dead. Obit at the NYTimes. It’s the end of the line for those raw old-timey blues. Ford married six times, had “at least” 26 children, and came to the blues rather late in life.

“I said: ‘What are you spending my money on that for, baby? I can’t play no guitar,’” Mr. Ford told The Chicago Tribune in 2002. “She said, ‘You can learn.’ She was all the time running off, leaving and coming back. And I said, ‘If I play it, will you stay?’ And she said yes. She left the next Friday night.”

From Giorgio Moroder to Blade Runner to Daft Punk

music

Giorgio MoroderGiorgio Moroder is both celebrated and a man behind-the-scenes. His music has earned him three Academy Awards and three Grammys over the years, and yet many are hearing of him for the first time on the song “Giorgio by Moroder” on the new Daft Punk album Random Access Memories. He’s known for working with a variety of artists and in particular, the late Donna Summer.

It was from one of the late ‘90s documentaries on electronic music (either “Better Living Through Circuitry” or “Modulations”) that I first heard about Moroder and his breakthrough with Summer. “Love to Love You Baby” in 1975 was Moroder’s first hit song with Donna Summer, but it was 1977’s “I Feel Love” that changed everything.

If you listen to Donna Summer's I Remember Yesterday from start to finish, it’s an odd album. The concept was a progression in time. The style of each track was different. It starts in the 1920s and ends somewhere in the distant future. The album holds together, but that last track “I Feel Love” is totally unlike anything else on the album. The music represents what is to come, and Moroder was totally right about that.

Brian Eno, according to David Bowie, said, “This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years.” What strikes you when listening to the track is the sequencing. There’s a perpetual motion in the bass line that is distinctly mechanical. Moroder envisioned the future of music, and to him, this is what it sounded like.

The track’s greatest influence was on Greek composer Vangelis’ soundtrack for the movie Blade Runner. You can hear that especially in the music that plays at the end of the film. Blade Runner still defines that urban polyglot dystopia found in many hard sci-fi books from the ‘80s. That end title music has the same sequencing as the Summer track did five years earlier.

Moroder is now 73 years old, and Vangelis is 70. Both pushed electronic music into totally new areas. Daft Punk are right to honor Moroder on their album. His pioneering sound influenced the world of music from the '70s to the present day.