Friday, February 22, 2008

In The Altogether.

In today's example of why words rock and why I'll never be anything more than a talentless hack sitting in front of this Blogger screen, I give you...Bill Bryson.

I'm sure many of you have heard of him, and some of you have read his books. A Walk In The Woods and A Short History of Nearly Everything are both quite popular, and although I haven't read either of them, Bryson's been on my "To Read" list for quite a while.

The other day I was wandering around a Barnes, with good intentions to pick up A Walk In The Woods and give it a go. But instead I found a collection of columns he wrote after moving back to the United States after having lived in England for twenty years, called, I'm A Stranger Here Myself.

While I fully intend to read Woods someday, I think I made the right choice with this purchase, because, only sixteen pages in, Bryson's already soared to hero status on my list, and I can't wait to read more.

In one of his columns he talks about how there's only one thing to watch on latenight TV in England, when returning home from the pub after six pints of beer...that being a lecture series called Open University.

And he goes on to mention the variety of viewing options on American television at all hours of the night, including (and I'm quoting directly here, though I hardly feel the need to clarify that, because there's no way you'd believe I made these words up myself) "...a small selection of movies on the premium movie channels mainly involving nubile actresses disporting in the altogether."

Go back and read that again.

Disporting in the altogether??

Come on now! How do people invent such phrases? In the context of the sentence, it's easy to decipher what he's saying, but...doesn't that sound infinitely more poetic than, "a bunch of hotties runnin' around nekkid on Skin-emax"?

(and yes...I immediately ran to my dictionary and looked up the word "disport.")

A couple pages later, he's out to eat at a fancy restaurant, listening to the waiter rattle off the specials for the evening. As he finds himself unable to understand any of the entrées being described, he turns and asks, "Do you have anything that once belonged to a cow?"

Seriously. Hero. A top-shelfer for sure.

"More than 300 million people in the world
speak English, and the rest,
it sometimes seems, try to."
—Bill Bryson

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Concert Etiquette: Is There Such A Thing?

So while plodding along on snowy interstate roads early last week, and ignoring the weatherman's forecast of more blizzardy conditions a couple days later (and joyfully finding bare, dry roads for the round trip), I logged quite a few miles to attend a couple good concerts.

On Tuesday, I drove to Milwaukee to see Alanis Morissette put on a pretty decent hour-long show. I'm a big fan of her stuff. She doesn't blow people away with her stage presence, but her presence in general is just...something that's fun to be a part of. And she writes some good, honest songs.

She was on tour with Matchbox Twenty, who came on after her and cranked out 24 songs in two solid hours on stage. Rob Thomas live is something to behold. (no, I don't mean cuz he's oh-so-dreamy.) How an artist can pour himself into a song he's probably sung several thousand times and make it appear like he's experiencing the emotions of the lyrics for the first time is beyond me. Rob Thomas kinda does that. Man, is he good.

During the show, two ladies were sitting next to me who ran the gamut of audience participation during the Matchbox Twenty set: they sat and jawed during the slow songs, talking loudly enough above the music to hear each other, and be heard by me; they spontaneously screamed at the stage from time to time, because, you was Matchbox Twenty, and Rob; and when the music was too loud for them to hold a conversation, they stood up and shook their groove thangs, fueled by the beers they were drinking.

For instance, during "If You're Gone," when the boys had things turned down pretty low, and Rob was out in front making all the girlies swoon, here's what I got in one ear:

Drunk Lady No. 1: "...and Rick was there, too. I haven't seen him in soooo long, not since that night at the cas—"

Drunk Lady No. 2: "WHOOOOOOO!!"


Drunk Lady No. 1: "...since that night at the casino when I won all that money, remember? I won like seven hundred fifty bucks!"

My reaction to all their loud talking:

"Ladies, ladies...if you wanted to sit and have a gossip session tonight, you could have just put a Matchbox Twenty disc in the CD player and sat on your couch with a few beers, shooting the bull, couldn't you? But see? *pointing* That's Rob Thomas up there, all live and in person. So would you please..shut..the fuck..up, and let him sing to you?"

[Note: All words in italics never actually made it out of my mouth, but they sounded good in my head.] old would I have sounded if I told two ladies at a concert to stop talking, while the room is filled with maybe 14,000 other cheering people? Fans can choose to do whatever they wish at concerts. I saw a girl last summer with her face buried in her phone during a Sister Hazel concert, sending text messages for at least half the show. And when her friends asked her the next day how she liked the concert, she probably raved, "You should have been there!! They were soooo good!"

— • — • —

Thursday night I found myself in Madison for a Will Hoge show. Much...much...smaller venue. As in, maybe a couple hundred people in a small bar, where we were ten feet from the stage, and five feet from the bar when we needed refills. Nice.

It was a twin bill show, and near the end of Hoge's set, I felt someone behind me bump into me. Happens, crowded big deal. But happened again. And again. I turned around to see a girl shaking her groove thang. On my groove thang. (What can I say? I'm completely irresistible.) She gave me a grin, and started laughing. I turned back around, because...well, she was, um, resistible.

She squeezed into a small space in front of me and my buddy, and motioned one of her friends to come and join her, and so for the last couple Hoge songs we had two personal space invaders in front of us, and my buddy had to be careful when he tipped his beer that he didn't have her hair in the bottle.

When Hoge was finished, that's the last we saw of those two. Aww.

Side note: When setting up a twin bill, shouldn't the more talented of the two groups perform last, and longest? I know music is all about personal preference, and very few people know who Will Hoge is. But the other act was...Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. (say it with me: "who??") He's a former member of the Drive-By Truckers (umm..."who??"), and struck out on his own. With the 400 Unit, I mean.

We got 50 minutes of Hoge that night, and more than an hour and a half of Jason Isbell. He's a guitar player. And there's another guitar player in the band, too. And they play a lot of guitar. Loud guitar. Some good guitar...but also some very average guitar.

He must have had his share of fans there, though, because many people in the crowd were doing the obligatory head bob during his songs.

Does anyone know Jason Isbell? Or the Drive-By Truckers? (or the 400 Unit??)

That ticket was only thirteen bucks. And I could have left satisfied after Hoge's last song.

Next time I hope he's the only act on the card.

"All my concerts had no sounds in them;
they were completely silent.
People had to make up their own
music in their minds!"
—Yoko Ono

Monday, February 04, 2008

Next Stop...A Wisconsin-Shaped Plaque

I very often have a self-deprecating personality and sense of humor, because I generally find people who can poke fun at themselves and don’t take themselves too seriously more engaging and tolerable than those who are completely self-absorbed.

Birds of a feather, I guess you could say.

However, if you’ll allow me to indulge in a few hundred words of self-aggrandizement in these paragraphs, I promise to go back in my next post to calling myself a dork, and probably acting like one, too.

You see, I got some pretty cool news today, but as soon as I start to talk about it, it’s going to sound a lot like bragging. I prefer to call it, um...sharing.

My newspaper column, What The Parrot Saw, received a second-place award in its division in the 2007 Better Newspaper Contest held by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

Granted, the division was for columnists who are six-foot-four, with three g’s in their first name, the word “parrot” in the column title and who’ve voluntarily gone swimming in Lake Michigan in January. And I still took second place! (The winner was a former women’s basketball player and wetsuit owner named Georggette, for her column, “My Parrot Outsquawks Your Parrot.” I don’t know how she won.)

No. Really, the divisions were based on circulation, and I don’t even know how many other columnists were in my division. But I’m not going to balk at second place. It was quite a pleasant surprise.

And I have to say, it came at a pretty good time. I’ve been in need of a shot in the arm regarding my column inches as of late. I love the idea of being a columnist, but there’s always that pesky challenge of filling the space every week, you know? Rather daunting at times. But when I ponder whether it’s time to surrender the space for a while, the answer always comes back a resounding, “No!”

When I started my column almost six years ago, I set a few broad goals. The first: get my first column written and actually published in the newspaper. If I would have jumped in right away, instead of listening to the doubt, I might have a dozen years of archives by now.

The second goal: keep it going. It would have been a worse fate than not starting at all if I would have written a handful of columns and then decided I had nothing to say. It’s entirely possible that I don’t have anything to say, in both my column and on this blog...that’s up to you, the reader, to decide. But I’ve at least been finding about 600 words of filler each week for my column.

And the third goal, which was soundly squashed by some almost before it came out of my mouth: maybe get one of those fancy wooden plaques in the shape of our state to hang on the wall. (The plaques are for first place. I received a certificate, which will still probably be framed and hung somewhere to brag about. I share.)

I may never get the plaque. And it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t.

But the second-place award this year caused me to stop and think that using a stronger verb here or there, replacing a few dangling modifiers and clichés, creating a more clever punch line once in a while, and perhaps not writing about condiments so often...just might be the recipe for first-place accolades somewhere down the road.

At the very least, it put me back in the right mindset, because the question of giving The Parrot a rest hasn’t even entered my mind in the last 12 hours.

Sorry, folks. You’re stuck with me for a while longer.
(We now return you to your regularly scheduled self-deprecation.)

“I don’t deserve this award,
but I have arthritis, and I
don’t deserve that, either.”
—Jack Benny