A Different Violinist

Flashback Friday to a phot I took of a violinist not named Lindsey Stirling or Hilary Hahn or Rachel Barton Pine. . . mostly because I’ve never had the opportunity to shoot them.

This is Lili Haydn, at the pavilion in McArthur Park, just west of downtown Los Angeles. I remember it was on my birthday, but I don’t remember the year. I just love her interplay with Romeo the drummer.

;o)

Advertisements

Marina V Concert Photos 171112

So it took me two and a half weeks to get through the over 500 photos of the concert, in a new and dark venue with a ton of tech difficulties. Maybe that’s why. . .

She really thinks she’s a unicorn

Too much alcohol or band out of tune

Someone forgot the lyrics

Somewhere in Liverpool in the 60s. . .

Shannon Hurley pretending to be Ben

Ben Eisen pretending to be Shannon

;o)

Book Reviews: Rush, Librarians, and Sports

Banged a knuckle and yelled “Son of a–” Then saw a woman glaring at me with a kid, so I finished with, “Preacher Man.” (It pays to know music.)

On This Date
After an intriguing and thought-provoking intro, the book moves to one usually-long-forgotten historical anecdote a day, much more interesting than any one-small-page calendar. Some are more or less expected, even if the particular date wasn’t known, but the fun is in the topics that would usually have no right being in a serious history tome.
Some of my faves. . . okay, a lot of my faves:
March of Dimes (Wow!); Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer; Tokyo Rose; Lou Hoover; Edmund G Ross; Oppenheimer; Massacre on the Tuscarawas; Sherman and Johnston; Columbine; Jingle Bells; the low-altitude barrel roll in a 707; the birth of the Smiley; We Shall Overcome; Marshall wins Nobel Peace Prize; Jack Robinson and Pee Wee Reese (“someone with the guts NOT to fight back.”); Carson McCullers, Karen Blixen, and Marilyn Monroe walk into a lunch; Theodore Geisel (“He was a political cartoonist all his life, meaning he managed the difficult task of being amusing to kids and adults.”); Princess Bride (even Mark Knopfler gets a mention!); and “Surf music is just the sound of the waves being played on a guitar.”
Did not expect the author of a non-fiction history book to go meta, but in one entry he writes about Philadelphians booing their cricket team as a reason the capital was moved to DC. . . then, “Well, no, I was just seeing if you were paying attention.”
4/5

Rush: Album by Album
The title tells you everything you need to know: a bunch of Rush fans got together to shoot the breeze about each of the many studio albums. . . except these guys are either incredibly familiar with the band from working with them, or are musicians—some in tribute bands—music journalists, or similar.
Intriguing forward by the author, but then I’d expect no less when it comes to my favorite band. Oddly, the book isn’t all that long, even with tons of photos, from album covers to concert fliers to pages from comic books! (As graphic novels were called back then, kiddies.)
Not a fan of Dream Theater, but Mike Portnoy seems like a fun guy to hang out with: “The way most kids my age were staring at a Playboy centerfold, I was looking at a Modern Drummer centerfold and salivating over the whole kit.”
The one downside for me was a lot of musical verbiage that went way beyond my understanding, especially about drumming. Was also surprised by how short the Moving Pictures section was, considering everyone calls it the band’s seminal album. As I’m sure every reader/fan will think, they spend too little time talking about my favorites and too much on those songs I hardly ever listen to, if at all. Still, there are nice things said about The Pass and Bravado—yes, among my faves—especially Geddy claiming the latter is his fave to play live. There’s also a great feeling when someone says something I’d already thought of, such as the addendum in Ghost of A Chance. Most of all, the agreement of The Wreckers being such a beautiful song made me smile.
The last 15 pages or so list the contributors, offer a bibliography, and end with a pretty thorough index.
3.5/5

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like
Subtitled: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information
When I started this I thought it would be quick and easy; boy, was I wrong. The format is a photo of a librarian followed by a short quote, with some longer articles to break up what eventually becomes monotony, though once in a while a cute line appears, like “ultimate search ninjas.” For those who have a stereotypical view of what librarians do—or look like—this will change that completely. Very few of the women shown here, for example, wear glasses, and even though I’ve only seen one with a pierced nose in person, there’s plenty of oddly-painted hair and such in here.
But it’s the longer stories that are the highlights. The doll-lending program has to be the cutest thing ever. Amy Dickinson and Cory Doctorow chime in with great articles, but if I had to pick a best, it would be the Montana Bookmobile.
There’s also a fascinating intro, in which the author says: “What made the library of Alexandria great wasn’t just the collection of books, but rather its intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilization.” Nothing more to say after that. . .
4/5

Battle of Arnhem
In what might be too short to even be called a novella, a veteran of the battle recounts his experience, filled with death, destruction, stupidity, and black humor. There’s tons of tiny details, some of them incredibly interesting.
“It was explained that, when we arrived, we would most likely be disappointed as all the fun would be over.” Wonder how often soldiers have heard that.
For such a short story, there’s a ton of detail. There’s also more to it than just the battle, as after his capture the author was taken to Dresden, along with 500 other prisoners, and was there for the famous firebombing.
But more than anything it gives you the grit and emotion of being that close to an enemy who’s trying to kill you just as bad as you’re trying to kill them. This is exceedingly rare in modern warfare; even as a former Marine I find it hard to imagine what these soldiers went through.
But some things never change, like the incompetence of staff officers, whom he disses over and over.
3.5/5

Women In Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win
Though it clocks in at 128 pages, it felt a lot longer. Formatted in tiny chapters, each section of prose is accompanied by a cartoonish painting with hard-to-read words in tiny script floating around the outsides. It mostly just states facts in a boring manner; every chapter starts with “she was born on” and then “she started to play.” They are good intros to each person, but the lack of style is such that I doubt it would inspire anyone to find out more. I realize this is for kids, but it underestimates the intelligence of its young readers.
The only chapter that I found remotely interesting—not that the women weren’t interesting, it’s the presentation that lacks—was about the final game of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, where over 90,000 spectators packed the Rose Bowl to watch the United States beat China in penalties. Why did I find this interesting? Because I was there.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: This Blog Is Graphic

Sometimes a cigar is just a cancer stick.

Savage
A David Beckham-ish soccer star—he’s even moving to the States to continue his career—and his rather shrewish wife, along with their latest baby, crash on a deserted island and have to survive against—gasp!—dinosaurs! And bad humans, with access to a portal. The soccer player’s last name is Sauvage, hence the title; cute.
There’s a brief clip of the present before flashing back to original crash, which is a lot funnier than I would have thought: as the crash occurs and stuff is flying around, including the two adults, there’s a shot of the baby looking all kinds of concerned, and it’s hilarious! Later the kid looks right at the “camera,” also really funny. Not that the rest was bad, but that was such a high point I couldn’t help but feel a little let down after that.
A few complaints, such as all the British-isms, and not familiar ones at that. The way the writer got rid of one of the main characters struck me as abrupt and unnecessary. It’s interesting that while the kid grew up without any schooling or even jungle training, he’s smarter than the other semi-humans on the island. And as always, it’s not the dinosaurs that are the most dangerous.
Not so much a cliffhanger ending as a jump point for his next adventure.
Each issue has author/artist commentary at end; the first has side-by-side versions of the same page showing the first draft, the inked version, and the colored. Interesting in a DVD extra kinda way.
Some vivid colors, maybe even go as far as bright, others muted. At times the artwork was a little too realistic, as in gory, but this is probably the most detailed I’ve ever seen dinosaurs drawn (not that there’s a huge pool to wade through on that). The colorist, in the last interview, says he wanted to make the setting “alarmingly beautiful,” a character in itself, and I think he succeeded.
3.5/5

Kiss: The Elder V.1: World Without Sun
“A world without heroes is like a world without sun.” Nice tag line, and lyric.
In a dystopian future where war has destroyed the surface of the planet, four kids explore where they’re not supposed to and change the course of history (there, got the requisite cliché out of the way).
What sets this apart from most other graphics is how well written it is. You know the government is up to no good when they call the society a “collective.” But once I saw how far in the future this was set, I wondered how the author was going to get KISS to be relevant. That worked out okay, though in the end I realized they didn’t need to be there at all to make the story work, so that was a little disappointing.
There’s some cool touches, like the Sphinx wearing sunglasses; just imagine how big those things must be. The “educational” (brainwashing) videos for the citizens remind me of the FedNet from Starship Troopers. Adi was my fave of the four main characters; the way she uses her butt to open the secret door is awesome. And most of all the dystopian story and setting were well made.
A couple of nitpicks, though. The robot battle was too confusing, couldn’t tell which side was which. And there’s an oopsie medical-wise; one of the characters sprains an ankle but is running fine a little later.
The artwork was okay in the old underground city, but once the story gets to the forbidden levels it really takes off. Much brighter in the garden, for example.
Bonus starts at 116 of 154, with the first two pages being congratulatory notes from two members of KISS. After that comes the expected early designs and alternate covers.
If only they could have worked Detroit Rock City into it. . .
4/5

Battlestar Galactica: Folly of the Gods
Original Galactica, not “reimagined,” so don’t whine about getting the wrong one.
Adama’s injured getting the fleet through a black hole, and his concussed mind has him thinking about Baltar and reliving the past. In the real world the Cylons are still following the fleet until they encounter the last enemy you would expect, and then Baltar shows up for realsies; this guy’s like a thousand bad pennies! In fact, the writers brought absolutely everyone they could think of back for this. . . except Athena!
Not happy with the deus ex machina that ends it. In fact, the story wasn’t much good from plenty of perspectives. There’s a lot of borrowing from other places; there’s even some Borg overtones in these new Cylons. For someone who was a huge fan of the original series, and who’d enjoyed previous graphics, this is really disappointing.
The artwork is watercolor-y, but the humans are drawn very strangely; it’s them in the general sense, like you might recognize someone at a distance, but in the close-ups it doesn’t look anything like the actors. Apollo in particular looks horrible. Oddly enough, Iblis is the one who looks most lifelike.
About a dozen pages of variant covers.
2/5

Betty Boop
She’s listed as “The most famous female cartoon star of all!” and I don’t know if I can argue with that.
Betty is a waitress and wannabe star trying to keep her grampy from losing his house, but not doing a good job of it; perhaps grampy shouldn’t waste all his time and money buying tiny jet engines to put on turtles. Despite there being numerous stories, they all have that same plot: bad spirits want the house.
The first thing you see is the cover art, and it looks kinda surreal: her pose, her clothes. . . the fact that’s a clown behind her. . .
An orchestra made of bones seems like a good idea. Not so great when a little dog has a crush on you. The double-headed blonde is creepy. There’s a shot from behind that shows just how little Betty’s dress is, but later we see she looks better in her winter skating gear. So does Sally, for that matter.
Some fun lines:
“Ain’t that a kick in the head?”
“Mephistopheles Metamorphosis!”
“Every member of the clown’s guild is required to carry a crowbar with them at all times.”
Best moment: the clown making the nightclub owner literally smile is awesome.
20 pages of extra stuff. Mostly alternate covers, with a sketch of her on a rolling log, for some reason.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Suns, Violins, Planets, and Song

Sunrise, Sunset
A Florida woman with balcony views shoots the sunrise and sunset. Her boyfriend and then other people add poems or words to the photos. Simple premise, elegantly done.
Enjoyed the story of each sunset being done by a famous painter, trying to figure out which one it looked like. No surprise that one went first.
“I never met a sunset I didn’t like. It means dinner’s almost ready.” Nice.
As expected, there’s a lot of rebirth and “life goes on” with the sunrise, while sunset is an opportunity to reflect. Other themes include gratitude and, of course, religion.
I’m sure most people would find these photographs great. As a professional photographer for over 25 years, I could quibble about that, but what would be the point?
Yet despite the preeeety pictures I found myself getting bored halfway through. Don’t try to read/look at this in one sitting.
3/5

Violin
Rather than a history of the violin, this is ten essays on various subjects, some a lot more fun than others.
Starts right off with how the violin was widely considered an instrument of the devil; now we know where Charlie Daniels got that idea. Another chapter talks about the violin in fiction—Sherlock Holmes made the list!—but probably because I was looking forward to it so much it didn’t live up to expectations.
Then the real problems start, with chapter 4. To understand anything that’s been said here you need a ton of knowledge about violin playing, or even music in general, particularly notation. Is this really intended for a general audience? Because I’d say there are a lot more people interested in music who don’t know anything about playing it than those who do. Because of this, entire chapters are of absolutely no interest at all. I’d just seen one of Mozart’s concertos the day before I read about it, and still had no idea what this was talking about. What should have been informative became only boring.
So there’s some interesting tidbits here, but so much of it talks in musical terms that leave us non-musicians in the metaphorical dust.
2.5/5

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do… But You Could’ve Done Better
Stories about how people broke up or were broken up with, obviously not edited, with the author including drawings to punctuate the story. That’s it. It’s like one of those Facebook links that take you to Reddit or some such.
The funniest parts were before and after the main event, like the dedication: “To that one dude, for being such an inspirational dick.” And in the blurbs, “Oh my god, you have a book!” – Hilary’s Mom.
But does she really? Other than some drawings that only highlighted the story—without adding anything original—this was all stuff sent to her. But even the stories weren’t that great. The author states in the forward that she drew a doodle in response to her own breakup, and it made her laugh and feel better; great thought, but I didn’t find much that was funny here. Sure, there were a few laughable instances, but most were either sad or simply mean.
2/5

Planet Song
An advanced long-lived race of fish base their entire civilization and economy on music, particularly sounds made by living beings. Having found the ultimate song—humpback whales—they come to Earth to take some home, in a story obviously inspired by the fourth Star Trek movie. (With a small touch of Harlan Ellison’s original draft of City on the Edge of Forever, where sound could be addicting.)
This is written on a huge scale, taking place over hundreds of years and having around thirty points of view. The main character seems to be one of the very few females of the Fahr species, who manages to work her way into a position of power and then just as quickly loses it. There’s a lot of political wrangling, both within the alien ship and the humans who finally figure out there’s trouble out there. Telescope technology is a fun running theme.
But for such a huge scope there isn’t all the much that takes place; most of it is talking. Thankfully there’s a lot of small touches of humor, and while it never gets boring I wish there could have been more to it. There’s an appendix that explains some of the aspects of the Fahr race that seemed incomprehensible while reading this book, so it might have been more helpful at the beginning.
There’s no actual ending, but since at the start it tells you this is the first of a trilogy, I didn’t mind.
3.5/5

Improper Conduct
The rich daughter of a Chicago politician runs to her first love to help her find her runaway sister. He cons her into having sex with him, not that she’s at all reluctant. In addition to that he makes her live the life of the homeless people she’s encountering—well, he cheats a bit—rather than go right out and find the sister, who’s in danger. He’s a bit of an ass, but then she’s no prize either. By the end they understand each other better, show they regret the times they acted like jerks, and come together. . . and oh yeah, remember about the sister in danger.
This was kinda bland. Can’t think of much to say about it. Actually a good story frame for the silly romance, but they spent so much time denying their feelings I got exasperated.
3/5

;o)

We DO Need Some Stinkin’ Badges!

That’s if you want to get into the cool places. With nothing all the special left on the horizon of December, here’s my top three of the year.
(Notice it does not include the Rio Olympics; even if I remembered what happened to it, it would not have made the cut.)

#3

#3

#2

#2

#1

#1

;o)

Music Review: Lindsey Stirling’s Brave Enough

For those people who don’t know—and should know better—Lindsey Stirling is a violinist who fuses classical with modern music, such as dubstep and other forms of EDM. She also happens to dance while playing, which is a huge part of the draw, but for me first and foremost is the fact she’s a great composer. As I mentioned in a previous blog, one of the songs on her last album, Take Flight, if it was stripped of everything except violin and piano, could be considered one of the best classical compositions of the last fifty years.
In addition to that, this lady is just fun. Besides her amazing music videos—she was a film major in college—she has another YouTube channel of behind the scenes and tour stuff, where you get to know her so well you think she’s been your buddy for years. She’s a lady who personifies the term “adorable badass.” In fact, it might have been invented for her.
On to the new music. As should be expected, the top two songs off this album are the ones released early, which I’ve already reviewed. That feels like so long ago that I was a bit disappointed in my first listen of this album, thinking there was nothing that really slammed me until I remembered the previous two. Usually it takes a while for a song to really worm into my heart—okay, that’s a disgusting metaphor—which is why I decided to take some time, almost a month and maybe a hundred runthroughs, before writing this review.

Lost Girls
Gentle plucking gives way to a soft romantic theme, real purty. Then a completely unnecessary vocoder wastes a few seconds before the song bursts into a fast Celtic melody that would not be out of place in Riverdance. This sequence repeats a couple of times. I imagine this is a song Lindsey and her dancers will enjoy doing live; with the right choreo and background this could end up being as much fun as Roundtable Rival.
8.5/10

Brave Enough ft. Christina Perri
Christina’s voice is not bad, although nothing special either. But then I’m not really here for the vocals. One of those reasons is the penchant for a lack of respect to the art of rhyming; too many of these attempts don’t come close.
The music is so much better. I love when the violin plays the vocal melody, reinforcing it. This solo also sounds Celtic, and is the best part of the song. I wish it didn’t end so abruptly into the next verse, though, but at least the outro continues that deliciousness.
And when you realize exactly what the lyrics are about. . . it’s heartbreaking.
7.5/10

The Arena
Already reviewed here. Best song on the album.
10/10

The Phoenix
The easy opening goes a little too long before hitting the main melody, which is soft and beautiful as it climbs. A minute later it’s at full power, with a clashing of drums that feels like a gift to Drew, who will go crazy playing this live. There’s a lot to like here, especially the violin, though with so many different parts it feels a little uneven/unfocused to me.
8/10

Where Do We Go ft. Carah Faye
Right off the bat, gotta say I’m not liking this singer’s voice. She certainly has the talent, but the tonal quality. . . it sounds like she has a cold. It’s distracting, but I find the more I hear this song the less it bothers me, it’s that good.
The chorus, while simple, is powerful. “Where do we go when our prayers are answered but the answer is no?” In a way it’s almost a perfect song: simple in execution, deep in meaning. As good a “message” song as you’ll likely find.
9/10

Those Days ft. Dan + Shay
I was a little wary when told this would be country, but the opening sure didn’t sound like it. In fact, nothing here sounds country at all, to my everlasting relief; no twang in either the vocals or instruments. The music makes this sound like a romantic jaunty non-ballad, but it’s not, if you pay attention to the lyrics.
As always the song shines when we get to the instrumental solo, with Lindsey playing off the melody with much more enthusiasm than between the vocals. Nothing spectacular here, more of a cute interlude. I like the cut ending better than had it faded out.
8/10

Prism
Possibly the most electronic/techno song, with a fun melody amongst all the other stuff layered in here. In fact, there’s so much here it makes it hard to describe. This is the kind of song where each person could invent their own dance moves for it, but since I’ve seen it live, I can’t get the image of Lindsey shaking her booty out of my mind. . .
9/10

Hold My Heart ft. ZZ Ward
A dramatic start gives way to dramatic vocals and violin melody. It’s somehow playful and heavy at the same time. The theme of being a strong woman who still wants love is powerful. On a personal note, there’s more of my pet peeve of misfiring on rhymes, which lessens my enjoyment.
7.5/10

Mirage ft. Raja Kumari
I have a love/hate relationship with Indian music, as I much prefer a sitar to vocals. The violin opening is wonderful, and Lindsey does make what I’m assuming is Excalibur sound like a sitar at times. I’d like to see this in concert just to find out if that’s her doing the extremely fast picking in the middle. The vocals are more melodic than atonal, thankfully. There’s a playful part where it seems the voice and the violin are having a discussion. But even though it’s playful it doesn’t get much further than cute.
7.5/10

Don’t Let This Feeling Fade ft. Rivers Cuomo & Lecrae
Hate rap, hate autotune. Best for me not to attempt a review of this.
0/0

First Light
At first glance this is an instrumental reminiscent of previous songs that were fun but didn’t make as much of an impression, for example Heist and Night Vision from the last album. But somehow this one is better. Chalk it up to experience; less frenetic, more polished. With alternating slow verses and heavily syncopated chorus, this is an amusing and enjoyable jam.
8.5/10

Love’s Just a Feeling ft. Rooty
This lady has a wonderful bluesy voice, and the violin is delicious. The chorus slows to showcase the vocals, and after it comes the inevitable bigger dance section, all fitting together very well.
With that said, this would get a higher score if the attempts at rhyming weren’t so atrocious.
8/10

Something Wild ft. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Already reviewed here. Second best song on the album. Lovely. Speaking of the video, I love how Lindsey filmed Andrew doing the rhythmic clapping. And that’s the first time I’ve seen Lindsey in jeans. . .
9.5/10

Gavi’s Song
For those of you not aware, Gavi was Lindsey’s best friend and keyboardist, who passed away last year, just before the start of recording this album, of complications from the chemo that treated his lymphoma. And it happened after he’d become cancer-free and everything was optimistic, which makes it all the harder.
This may be a simple violin piece with gentle piano under, but that’s what makes it so lovely. Lindsey has said she began writing this with Gavi, so it obviously had a different meaning to it at the time, but as a dirge—only the second I’ve ever liked—it’s spectacular, a fitting remembrance of one of the most important people in her life.
At the end the melody is played as if far away, coming through an old radio or gramophone; I choose to believe this is her interpretation of how it would sound in heaven. . .
9/10

Target Exclusives
Waltz
The title does not lie. The start is all violin, leading into electronica supporting the melody as it swirls around the dance floor. Feels simple, but there’s more involved here than is first apparent, soaring in the same way Beyond the Veil does near the end.
9/10

Afterglow
This is as old-school new age as I’ve heard from Lindsey, with a touch of techno. It’s so playful—reminiscent of Electric Daisy Violin—that I can see dance students using this for their performances. It’s too bad there’s little chance this’ll be played live, as I imagine it would be a ton of fun for Kit and his keyboards.
8.5/10

Powerlines
This has another dramatic beginning, but by the time it settles to just violin and fingersnaps it’s nothing but fun. After that the violin melody feels subtly Arabic, not as much as Yeah! but still noticeable. At some points there’s a bubbly playful keyboard, which somehow manages to fit right in, along with the high female vocalization reminiscent of Take Flight.
8.5/10

Forgotten Voyage
at the start this sounds like a continuation of the previous, then jumps into a slightly techno version of a Riverdance-style tune. Lindsey has mentioned that she thought “Space pirates!” about this one, but I don’t hear it.
Can’t help but point out that the extras were more vintage Lindsey, the more playful side of her musicality.
8.5/10

Entire album: 8.5/10

Bonus: The Only Pirate At the Party audiobook
Since I’ve already reviewed her book, this will only involve the vocal version, which I braved even though audiobooks usually put me to sleep.
Right away—I mean at the very start—it shows why in some limited cases this version can be better than the written: music! Not one of my favorite of her songs, but it proves its point. Another of the few ways audiobooks can be better is the way she yells “Scarfman!” with such joy, or the voice she uses when playing her alter-ego Phelba.
But as fun as that is, it can also be painful. When you read in the book “I hope I never have to hire another keyboard player,” it’s hard enough, but to hear her voice breaking as she reads it aloud. . . it’s heartrending, even more so at the end with a special page dedicated to Gavi.
But in general this is more fun than reading it, simply because you can hear the joy in her voice as she remembers certain good memories, as well as her sometimes hammy attempts at accents. I’m heartened to know that, as crazy as I might get, I won’t be the craziest person in the room; there’s a certain freedom to it. (As Lindsey says in her concerts, “Crazy in a good way!”)
BTW, if there’s a sequel it should be called The Only Pirate With a Pedicure.

;o)