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Archive for June, 2007

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling

June 27th, 2007

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Todays book report is on Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling written by Ross King. As it relates to a mixture of Art, the Renaissance, Religion and plenty of history the book jumped off the store shelves into my hands and it just seemed like a logical choice for my next reading. I have always been fascinated by history, as real life can sometimes be much more interesting than fiction. That being said:

Obviously the story revolves around Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. I think the book succeeds in trying to portray the difficult nature of how difficult it is to fresco much less fresco for an inexperienced painter like Michelangelo.

Yes, we would not expect this but Michelangelo was not the experienced painter but had more knowledge in sculpture as his statue David would suggest.

Intermixed in the story of trying to design, implement and paint the Sistine Chapel, we are fed plenty of tidbits of European history, especially in regards to the individual that commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling in the first place, Pope Julius II.

Not really having an impression of Michelangelo coming in to the book, I found him to be in many respects a very strong individual, devoted to his work, a complete perfectionist who both loved and loathed what he did. In one case, he would rant on and on to his family about how much he hated his work but on the other hand put so much of himself into his work. In a day when the images and the stories that were being painted were in themselves very much controlled by those that were commissioning the work, the artist didn’t have the same freedom to express himself like the current day artist. The images and portraits are told from the point of view of the Church with Michelangelo’s Artistic impression still in place. For instance, when the chapel ceiling was finished, Pope Julius wanted there to be more gold involved in the clothes of the various old testament pictorals. Michelangelo flatly refused informing the Pope that it would not be realistic to add gold and wealth to biblical characters that were not wealthy nor rich.

I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination so what I found refreshing about this book is that it was not a technical guide to the creation of the Sistine Chapel but rather a detailed history and story of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling from the onlooker that appreciates art. The technical issues that are brought up are just to reinforce just how difficult it was to fresco art as it was pointed out that even Leonardo DaVinci had issues in frescoing certain projects and even abandoned one from lack of success. By understanding all the work and effort that Michelangelo put into the work I can only say from a novice art fan that I am more impressed with his work now than ever before.

For those of you that are interested in history, I also found some of the tidbits of the Roman Catholic Church quite fascinating. The Roman Catholic Church is much different than it is today, with far much power then. We also see that understanding Christianity was not a prerequisite of having Papal power during that time. The Pope was more than just a figurehead for the Catholic Church but was also a monarch.

I do need to make it to see this amazing piece of work at some point, sit in the pew and just stare upward and be amazed at its sheer beauty.

Books

Larry King

June 27th, 2007

I was watching Larry King tonight as they had a special on the Beatles.  There is obviously no doubt in my mind that their music stands on their own and nobody can argue the success that they have received.

Tomorrow night, Larry Kings guest is Paris Hilton. There is obviously no doubt in my mind that her lack of talent stands on her own and nobody can argue that she has no talents whatsoever.

You have to love the individual that schedules these interviews back to back and you have to worry if more people care to watch the Paris Hilton interview over the Beatles one.

Life, Music

The Gay Pride and Prejudice

June 25th, 2007

Living in the Lakeview Chicago neighborhood for pretty much the last 10 years has prepared me for the last weekend in June which is pretty much always the Gay Pride Parade and for that time I have always been within an earshot of viewing it.

As the Gay and Lesbian community has made inroads in becoming more mainstream in our society, my impressions of the parade has gone from being eclectic to being irresponsible.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong in my opinion with Gays, or should I say I do not discriminate against them in any way, however, even minorities have their problems or issues that I do think deserve some commentary.

I think at the onset the Gay Pride Parade represented people finally “Coming Out of the Closet” and walking proudly down a street. For many years and years, their secret had to be kept hidden from the mainstream society as it was just not acceptable to be gay.

I think that the first steps have been taken to allow for Gays and Lesbians to not receive outward discrimination in a professional and personal environment. No, I am not saying that it is perfect and every minority will always receive some form of discrimination, however, I do think it is better than it was 10 years ago and in 10 more years it will even be better.

But the image of the homosexuals needs to reflect the idea that they are the same as everyone else and in order to move forward more responsibility among the gay community must be in order for there to be political changes.

I support the idea of gays to be able to marry, but it is not me that you have to convince but the conservative that watches images of the flambouyancy of Gays and this event. America has always been very conservative when it comes to values and thus images need to reflect more of Gays being the suburban neighbor couple rather than the bathhouse buddies.

The Gay Pride Parade has changed over time. While it still flaunts it’s sexuality, political responsibility has begun to take over. One of the areas that was very apparent were the number of religious institutions that marched in this years parade. While I have not been keeping count from previous years it just seemed, “Imagewise” that more churches are making it an important part of their ritual in inviting people of all colors, creeds, orientations and sizes.

Christianity has received a bad rap from those that are not Christian or European in seeing some of the stories that make headlines in America and what needs to be remembered is that some of the more evangelical churches take the teachings of the Old Testament too literally. More liberal churches have mainly relied on the teachings of Jesus and the ideas or thoughts of how Jesus led his life. This might be a blatant overgeneralization on my part, however, I do believe that different sects of Christianity take different aspects of its teachings as well as the vision of God and we see that commentary on news programs, talk shows, blogs, etc.

On top of this we have had the rapid politicization of Religion. Hot topic issues such as abortion and homosexuality have defined the Christian Right and I cannot believe that these are the only two topics Evangelicals discuss.

We fear what we do not understand especially if someone else tells us that we should.

Back to the Gay Pride parade. I think that overall they seem to be getting tamer rather than wilder. And given the current political climate I believe that Gays will one day get that equality. I know that there is a level of impatience by some homosexuals however, public opinion will change as our times change. Our youth are much more willing and open to these ideas than our seniors and that is basically out of knowledge. They are on the right track, just don’t rock the boat too much!

Life, Politics

I Appreciate No DRM

June 23rd, 2007

I was pleasantly surprised when going to I-Tunes to purchase Pink Floyd’s, Ummagumma, that the album was available in on iTunes Plus which is free from DRM. It seems that not all the Pink Floyd albums have made it DRM Free yet and that there will be more albums hitting the store shelves.

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What is interesting however is that they also increased the bitrates for this album from 128 to 256 kbps. I can only assume that this will be the cases for any other future releases.

If you like early Floyd, (Piper at the Gates, Atom Heart Mother, etc.) then Ummagumma would be something that you would enjoy. The live version of Astronomy Dominae is simply astounding.

For one, this little experiment into no DRM should not only encourage music listeners to buy albums on iTunes as they pleased but get a significantly better quality album in the process.

Music

A New Use For Your MacBook Pro

June 23rd, 2007

Even Mr. Steve Jobs probably didn’t think that a MacBook Pro could be used in this fashion.

So Burglar has a tendency to like to crack her neck and any other joint that is possible on her body. The sounds of joints cracking seems to soothe her inner soul. For those of you that are not into joint cracking it is the process of stretching your body in directions it should probably not be stretched to reach the desired effect of the loud cracking sound.

You can read more at the internet’s most famous encyclopedia.

So in her infinite wisdom of trying to get the most beneficial cracking she decided to use her MacBook as leverage on her skull to crack her neck and in the process has sprained her neck.

The MacBook seems to have held up to the pressure and runs fine. I would be curious if a PC Laptop would have been as successful.

At any rate, I should be posting soon my Consumer Guide on what products work best on a sprained neck.

As for the Burglar, she has assured me that she is never cracking her neck again. To Mr. Jobs, we will not be suing you. . . at least not yet!

Life

The National – Boxer

June 20th, 2007

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At first I was not so sure of the hype that this album was getting. Albums can be sometimes coated in solid gold by fans wanting to claim that next big thing and it is easy to get caught up in an album or band in this manner. The sheep that I am I think that I actually waited for the commotion to calm down before acquiring this album.

Like Alligator, Boxer lures its listeners in a subtle manner and songs do not always bounce off the ears like say Arcade Fire. In a way, the album is destined to be loved by critics who, sitting in their living room with stacks of lps sitting on their guts, they have nothing better to do than listen to their favorite offerings over and over again.

In a way, the National offer something similar to R.E.M. While I would argue that their styles are different, the music is not filled with millions of singles; they lull you to sleep and before you know it the National is being played 24-7, however, the lyrics are like early Stipean, with non-linear lyrical quotes that often leave the listener guessing.

I had the same reaction to Alligator. I still remember playing it and thinking, ‘Okay, this is pretty good.’ And before you know it, you are ‘Looking for Astronauts.’

I still place Hissing Fauna as the best album so far this year followed closely by Panda Bear and Deerhunter’s ‘Cryptograms’, but the National’s depressing and guessing lyrics surpass other albums such as Wilco’s ‘Sky Blue Sky’.

As in some cases you pass up the reviews so that you do not try to copy what Pitchfuck says, I did glance at it at this point in the review I did go over and cheat and it seems they pointed out that the album is a “Grower”.

And yes, the album is strong for about 2/3rds before it becomes a bit more forgettable, however, this will probably not be the last time I bring them up.

Music

New York Doll

June 19th, 2007

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Sometimes there are movies that for whatever reason you never go out of your way to watch. This movie was always recommended by this person and or that and so late on a Saturday Night I searched Comcast’s free movies and New York Doll was staring me in the face. At two in the morning and only 78 minutes I thought this was the perfect time to enjoy this little nugget. However, the movie surprised me more than what I had expected.

New York Doll centers around the story of Arthur “Killer” Kane, the bassist of the previously defunct punk act the New York Dolls. We follow Arthur in dealing with his inner demons following the break-up of the Dolls recounting the depression of how his life never materialized to anything. Constantly, jealous of his former bandmates success, Kane became self-destructive only able to find solace in of all things the Mormon Church.

In a way, the punk in all of us might want to scoff at this and spit this out. How could Kane find any type of comfort in a religious entity and how does this supposed relationship work out as both being an uplifting story for the church, for Kane as well as the other Dolls?

The New York Dolls for me are one of those bands that I have learned to appreciate more and more as the years have gone on. I bought their initial album about 15 years ago on a hunch from reading a book about R.E.M., Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe all spoke of their influences and during those early 90’s one of my intentions was to pick up old Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Stooges, Television and Patti Smith albums to name a few. And for me the Dolls were always a bit of a joke reminding me more of a cheaper version of the Rocky Horror Picture show and also slightly not impressed with a full understanding of the music back in the 70s. Please understand, this is coming from a kid who grew up in Wheaton, Illinois and if you know where Wheaton, Illinois is, you will understand the religious presence that surrounded this town 15 years ago and even now.

Of those early albums that I purchased, it was the Velvets that kicked me in the ass and pissed all over my face. The Dolls album cover smeared a bit of lipstick onto my brain but it was one of those albums that aged like fine wine. I would pull the album out more and more every year, sometimes needing a moment to decompress from the serious side of rock and roll music.

The New York Dolls were needed to take the Anal Retentiveness out of rock and roll and I believe right now that they were probably one of the ten most important groups of that era and have important roots in the punk rock explosion that followed a couple years later.

There is not enough white page to fill the amount of groups that were influenced by them.

What I was not expecting to find in this story was a man like Arthur “Killer” Kane, a name that does not suit him. The sweetest, gentlest, humblest men you would ever meet. A man that had lived a full life with plenty of demons battling within himself, but with a huge heart, and always a desire to get the band back together. So when he received information that the New York Dolls would be reuniting again for London’s Meltdown Festival, he could not believe the opportunity of his life.

What I was also not expecting was how the Mormon Church dealt with all of this. The Church became his family, his comfort and his guide and encouraged him at all points to deal with all of these issues, especially his bad feelings with David Johanson. You might expect that the church would look down at an element like the Dolls which is really completely opposite to that which the Dolls were.

All rock fans, mormons and Stephen Patrick Morrissey fans should check it out.

Music, Video

Flight of the Conchords worth the Trip

June 19th, 2007

So today, I took a chance on watching my Tivo’ed version of the first episode of Flight of the Conchords and I think it lives up to it’s billing. The show deals with two New Zealander’s trying to make it big with their band in America, however, their current situation in America is lack of success, (only one female fan), a part time band manager who happens to work at the New Zealand consulate and a semi-depressing personal life that they wrap up together amongst a multitude of songs that mock and rock at the same time. Their subtle lyrics allow you for being able to laugh at without being in your face. You don’t feel cheated in the end.

Their subtle dark humor will be a blessing to those rock fans that don’t mind to laugh at themselves and their fandom once and awhile as well as laugh at the bands they love.

As it’s initial episode was on HBO Sunday and I believe streaming on it’s site I would definitely take a gander over to check it out as well as checking out Mel’s Blog or as she says her Vlog as they would say in Russia.

Video

Driving, TV, and iPhone

June 17th, 2007

As Summer begins and the city of Chicago becomes notoriously busy I am finding myself hating driving around more than ever. In trying to exit the city, it took me an hour to get the car filled out and outside of the city. A simple accident stops traffic forever and I find walking is much more pleasurable.

And it’s a shame because there is so much that I would love to do, however, my impatience bekons me more than ever.

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I have been looking forward to the new show on HBO, “Flight of the Conchords”, a parody on the hipster music community that we love. I have been somewhat disappointed lately with the output from HBO, on the lack of good output. Sure, Bill Maher is classic as has the Ricky Gervais and Larry David’s shows but other than that its been instead offered consumers elements that cannot be offered on regular television without the aspect of it being a great drama or comedy. Let’s hope that this is better.

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Anyone else getting into the iPhone hype? I have to say that I am. I love my iPod and will give the mass public time to consume and rip apart the iPhone. Anything that is loved by many will ultimately be loathed by others, especially when it comes to Apple products. I can only say that I have been particularly impressed with Apple products in the past. I find a Mac far superior than a PC in terms of ease of use as well as reliability. I have cut down my rebooting ten-fold.

The buzz that the iPhone has caused is enough to warrant attention. Sometimes products or services come around where a company does not have to market it. I think that this is the biggest thing since the Wii. I am not sure if Apple is any more cutting edge than Microsoft, but I think that it’s the perception that they are that is more telling among consumers. Microsoft in effect has become big blue while Apple sits on the fringe offering its customers a unique product and an image that is Anti-Windows. While still promoting that image they create a unique buzz among Macaholics.

I still remember going home the day that the Apple Store opened on Michigan Ave. and saw fans lined up around the block just to enter the store. As the bloggers fight it out, I will sit in the background and mind my own business but if anyone wants to give this lowly boy an iPhone I will take it with open arms.

Life

Sopranos Finale Huge Letdown

June 11th, 2007

In many respects the finale to the Sopranos left more questions rather than conclusions and the show seems more destined not to be completed rather than to be shifted to a different venue such as a movie. I think what the Sopranos juggernaut would prove is that 5 years down the line there could be a movie. The ending keeps the door open for any possible shift to the big screen.

In a way we are dealt with the same issues that the show has dealt with before: a conflict with the Brooklyn Family that has now been solved in the shooting of Phil which in itself brings peace between the two families, yet again.

But what else, or how else can this show survive with all of its characters getting shot, hacked, stabbed and or otherwise deemed disposable?

The only story that could live on would be the eventual growth of the Soprano children for it is the next generation that we would be most concerned about. Little Anthony is given a chance at an aspiring movie producer role and possible club ownership if he straightens up his act, wereas Meadow Soprano finally came to grips with her upbringing deciding that she wants to be a lawyer and defend the likes of “Italian Americans”.

I think that overall, there is a level of disappointment, however. I think there is a calling for Tony to realize some redeeming aspect in his character and I am not sure that it really shone through. The years of dealing with his issues were for naught, his possible death was for naught and this last season showed him having less trust in his friends than ever.

The demise of Christopher who was trying to change his ways was blocked by Tony as if Christopher’s alcohol and drug addictions could not be handled.

But it really was the last couple seasons that dragged on way too long. I stuck it through thinking that there must be some huge climatic ending to the series and we are just left hanging. I think that is the problem with these cliffhanger shows that gain huge popularity…lets keep them alive so that the series can continue on.

Video