Because life is a series of edits

Archive for April, 2008|Monthly archive page

Review: Hideaway by The Weepies

In Musicians on April 30, 2008 at 2:00 am

It would be easy enough to relegate The Weepies to little more than a soundtrack band innocuously featured (as they have been) on TV shows like Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill. After all, Deb Talan’s voice is just pretty enough to be ignored and Steve Tannen’s melodies seem simple and familiar, all of which works well to pad any magical moment when a plot turns, a kiss is shared, and the sun sets over the ocean at just the right time.

But weeping for The Weepies and any supposed demotion to primetime teen/twentysomething television is not necessary, especially when their new project, Hideaway, is what it is – an album of melancholy and meaning that maintains a healthy equilibrium between the two without falling headlong over itself in doing so.

Hideaway’s title track is a chronicle of sorts of The Weepies’ past couple years of being stars in the spotlight. “We were empty,” says Talan (on their website). “We both felt dark after being in the bright lights for a year. We were looking to reconnect with what moved us about music in the first place. We needed to hide out and write.” Or, to put it another way: "Take the sky / for example / a canvas of a billion suns / but our local hero / shines them out by day / save for the winking of a Venus or Mars / even the stars / sometimes fade to gray / even the stars / hideaway.”

One thing I appreciate about The Weepies’ songwriting is what seems a genuine curiosity about (and struggle with) life – from “Little Bird”: “Sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth from the lies / nobody knows what’s in the hold of your minds”; from “Takes So Long”: “Sam and Libby / Lib and Sam / made a little one of them / a baby's born a man to die / I don't know why / I don't know why”; from “Lighting Candles”: "Trying not to hope too hard / for what I want / trying not to go too far / with all the dreaming / all the disappointment / so hard to handle / I’m still in the dark / lighting candles.”

Relationships (good/not so good) are another songwriting theme, with plenty of good songs about the challenge of living with and loving others – from “Wish I Could Forget”: "Standing in the sun / smoking quiet cigarettes / just before I let you down / funny how a heart shatters all at once /seems like it should make a sound.” “All Good Things,” a tune about a break-up, resists bitterness and offers blessing (despite a wee bit of fatalism – “all good things come to an end”) instead: "I was accustomed to showing you / all good things (all good things) / oh I wish you / all good things (all good things) / come to an end / all good things (all good things) / oh I wish you well.”

Personally, I didn’t care that much for “Old Coyote” or “Just Blue,” as they seem the weaker of the 14 songs both musically and lyrically; still, while not the strongest of songs melodically, they don’t take away from the overall tone in terms of feel – from “Just Blue”: “Look into the window / see what's caught my eye / duck in to avoid the rain / a baby wants to cry / so do I / so do I.” Again, perhaps a bit melodramatic on its own, but within the context of the song and the album, it fits, just as another rainy day in an overly rainy week sometimes feels even though its all too familiar (and we’ve all had days and weeks like those before).

“How You Survived the War” obviously has some kind of back story I’d be interested to know more about to better understand the song, so I hope that comes up in future interviews, as it’s a little vague without more background.

Some will complain that Hideaway is too “produced” to truly be pop “folk,” but you’ll get no complaints from me; the layers (strings, pads, Rhodes, piano) surrounding the clean acoustic and rhythm guitars are tasteful and subtle as the musicians backing the duo make good use of the stereo spectrum. While the artists are not afraid to use a little more reverb than most in the genre might (palpable more through headphones than speakers), it’s appropriate in keeping the vocals (especially the harmonies, which are unusual and exact) from being too painfully dry.

Some songs are better mixed than others (“Orbiting” is too squishy with reverb, even for me), but I like Talan’s voice layered over and over to create backgrounds with personality (though I’m not a fan of her voice molted – or doubled – on some of the leads as it makes her sound a little too non-human). Tannen’s voice is plain but accessible on the songs he sings lead on (I especially like him on “Can’t Go Back Now” and “Not Dead Yet”) but his singing is best suited to the tight backgrounds on songs like “Antarctica,” which is the catchiest tune on the disc.

The song’s last track, “All This Beauty,” is a cheery reminder of our human need to find and embrace beauty wherever and whenever we can: “All this beauty / you might have to close your eyes / and slowly open wide / all this beauty / we traveled all night / we drank the ocean dry / and watched the sun rise.” This positive parting thought is set to music that would fit well on any road trip mix, playfully (but purposefully) reminding us that in a world as broken as ours, sometimes the pursuit of beauty is, indeed, a pursuit.

That said, whether pursuing the beauty of creation or the messages within The Weepies' Hideaway, either way “it's a matter of getting deeper in / anyway you can.”

Recommended.

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Just as I Suspected

In Pop Culture, Westminster on April 29, 2008 at 9:02 am

Cheerleading try-outs are this week and it’s taking a toll of dramatic proportions. Here’s proof, as related to me by a female student who is (and will be next year) a cheerleader:

Cheerleading – it will mess with your head if you do it too long.

Just as I suspected, but now I finally have actual insider evidence.

Two Million Minutes

In Education, Movies, Westminster on April 27, 2008 at 8:08 pm

Westminster didn’t have school last Friday as we teachers had a teacher in-service during which we watched the short film, Two Million Minutes. Here’s the spiel:

“Regardless of nationality, as soon as a student completes the 8th grade, the clock starts ticking. From that very moment the child has approximately Two Million Minutes until high school graduation…Two Million Minutes to build their intellectual foundation…Two Million Minutes to prepare for college and ultimately career…Two Million Minutes to go from a teenager to an adult.”

While I bristle at the melodrama of the last few lines, I was intrigued by the film’s goal:

“This film takes a deeper look at how the three superpowers of the 21st Century – China, India and the United States – are preparing their students for the future. As we follow two students – a boy and a girl – from each of these countries, we compose a global snapshot of education, from the viewpoint of kids preparing for their future.”

As you might imagine, American students come out on the short end of the stick compared to the Asian work ethic and commitment to academics instead of extra-/co-curriculars. The film exploits the stereotypes a bit as a whole, but the American students from Carmel, Indiana don’t necessarily fight the typecasting (the arrogance is almost too much to take).

Some interesting quotes and notes from the film:

  • Nearly 40% of U.S. high school students do not take any science class more challenging than general biology.
  • 55% do not take any math courses beyond two years of algebra and one year of geometry.
  • 70% of parents think their child’s high school is teaching the right amount of math and science.
  • 79% of high school principals say they are not worried about low academic standards.
  • American students score highly in one area relative to their international peers: self-confidence.

A few more:

  • 66% of college-bound high school seniors have no more than one hour of homework per night and none on weekends.
  • 110 million students in China are studying English.
  • 50,000 American students are studying Chinese.
  • Nearly 60% of engineering PhD degrees awarded annualy in the United States are earned by foreign nationals.

For a look at how American high schoolers stack up with their Finnish counterparts, read this article from the Wall Street Journal, a piece more focused on liberal arts/humanities studies than the film’s math/science preoccupation. Oh, and here’s a decent summary op-ed on the issue from last week’s NY Times.

Thoughts?

Five Things of Late

In Books, Education, Friends, Pop Culture, Seminary, Technology, Westminster on April 24, 2008 at 2:00 am

1. I can't remember where I read it, but I've been thinking a lot about the idea that, with the proliferation of so many news/infotainment sites, headlines tend to be more and more alarmist in nature so as to capture (and re-capture) readership. No wonder the world feels like it's falling apart at such a frightening rate as of late.

2. Though I'll always be a baseball fan first, soccer is starting to grow on me. I've been watching Westminster's girls varsity soccer games the past couple of weeks with my 6- and 4-year-olds and the constant action has been fun for them and for me. It also helps that we've been winning.

3. The month of May is filling fast with end-of-the-school-year events, seminary graduation parties, ballet and choir recitals for the girls, and other various and sundry challenges to finishing my remaining assignments for my own classes. I've blocked the next three Saturdays in hopes of wrapping up, but it's going to be close.

4. Teaching the Eighth Commandment and pleading with my sophomores and juniors to apply God's Word to their (illegal) music downloading/sharing practices may just get me killed. To their credit, some students are really wrestling with the issue now, even publicly asking for prayer at the end of class for the desire to change their ways. Hard but encouraging.

5. It seems like I'm reading a lot but not finishing much at all. I'd list the half-read titles here, but they'll be the same in another month, so I'll spare you the details. One thing's for sure: I'm going on a fiction binge at the end of May.

Happy Earth Day

In Holidays on April 22, 2008 at 7:36 am

Are you/how are you acknowledging Earth Day today?

Good News (I Think)

In Thought on April 21, 2008 at 2:00 am

As a follow-up to my degree transition post last week, I thought I'd let you know Covenant approved my request; the memo, however, was a little strange. Consider this paragraph:

"Congratulations! At its meeting yesterday, the Faculty approved your request to change to the Master of Arts, Theological Studies/Master of Arts in Educational Ministry double degree program. The faculty asked me [Diane Preston, Associate Dean for Academic Services] specifically to express their regret at your request. They recognize your love for teaching (your current job) but they also recognize the great ability with which the Lord has gifted you. They want to encourage you to continue to pursue the perfecting of those gifts."

Without reading too much into it, I confess I'm not quite sure what exactly to make of this. Is this the standard template for requests like these, or is it meant as specifically as it seems? And if the latter, what specifically is meant here? Maybe I'm not as intuitive as I thought.

I'm probably going to email a couple of my profs for more insight, but I thought I'd at least share the good news that the transition has officially been approved…now to actually get some work done on the remainder of my assignments this semester and live up (or down – whichever it is now) to my degree requirements.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

In Thought on April 17, 2008 at 6:51 am

Just read that the new X-Files movie is officially titled: “I Want to Believe.” I suppose it works, though the object of faith apparently shifts from UFOs to religion in this one:

“‘It’s a natural title,’ (Director Chris) Carter said in a telephone interview Tuesday during a break from editing the film. ‘It’s a story that involves the difficulties in mediating faith and science. `I Want to Believe.’ It really does suggest Mulder’s struggle with his faith.'”

Sounds a little overly-modern in its approach, but okay. Let’s just hope there’s no CSJ (Cigarette-Smoking Jesus) leading some syndicate of world religions for the good of mankind.

A Degree of Transition

In Family, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Westminster on April 16, 2008 at 5:02 am

A reader named Kevin recently left a comment inquiring as to my reasons for transitioning from a Masters of Divinity to MA degrees in theological studies and educational ministries at Covenant. As I just wrote my official transition request letter to the seminary faculty a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d post it here for him (and anyone else) who might be interested.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to a decision like this than a one-page letter can capture, but for the sake of everybody’s attention spans, this should suffice for now. Feel free to leave a comment if you want more specifics and I’ll be glad to share a few (or at least make some up).

Dear Covenant Faculty,

This letter is an appeal for your approval of my request to transition from Covenant’s M.Div. track to a dual-track of M.A.T.S. and M.A.E.M., effective at the end of this spring semester. My reasons for making this change stem from both calling and common sense.

In 2005, my main reason for coming to Covenant was to invite new voices of input to speak into my life – personally, emotionally, spiritually, theologically. I had little aspiration to pursue ordained pastoral ministry, but had set my sights on the M.Div. nonetheless, as it was the most comprehensive degree Covenant offered.

After two years as a full-time seminary student, as well as this past year as a part-time student also teaching full-time at Westminster Christian Academy, a switch from the M.Div. to a double masters in theological studies and educational ministries seems apropos to equip me in my call to write at a popular level and teach at a high school level.

If all goes according to plan, I anticipate finishing the M.A.T.S. one year from now, then completing the M.A.E.M. the following year. The conclusion of these degrees is important not only for what it represents of my studies, but also for the sake of beginning to reallocate resources of time and finances to our four daughters’ education.

Megan and I look forward to staying in St. Louis after completing these degrees. In addition to our involvement at Memorial Presbyterian, I plan to continue teaching at Westminster in the areas of Biblical Ethics and New Testament, as well as be of any help to the seminary (and The Schaeffer Institute) that I can.

All that said, I would appreciate your endorsement of our plan by approving this request. It goes without saying, but thank you for your investment in my life and ministry in my time at Covenant. I count it a privilege to have had this opportunity to learn from you.

Gratefully,

Craig Dunham

PS: For more information about my thought process, please consult Drs. Douglass, Guthrie, or Barrs, as they have been on the receiving end (perhaps to their chagrin) of most of my degree transition conversations and know my heart in the matter.

I’ll let you know what the faculty say when I hear back from them next week.

Totally Illogical

In Family, Humanity, Young Ones on April 13, 2008 at 8:27 pm

“Spock is a main character in the original Star Trek TV series, and one of the most enduring characters from American 1960s television. He is the only alien in the permanent cast: half-Vulcan, half-Human, and serves as the science officer and executive officer of the USS Enterprise, under Captain James T. Kirk. His personal struggle between the Vulcan logical self and his human emotional self is the centerpiece of the character and created some evocative drama.” (Wikipedia)

My 9-year-old was to complete a pre-writing assignment for a little half-page paper about a member of her family. She chose to write about me. One of the prompt questions was, “What facial expression is most common for the person?” My daughter’s answer: “His face is mostly straight.” She did elaborate, though: “He sometimes uses his hands to explain better.”

I’ve gotten the whole “Stoic/Spock” thing from others over the years, but it was so strange to read my child’s words describing the phenomenon. Granted, I’ve never had a very expressive face, which was always a problem when I did summer theater during my high school years (I was a lousy actor), but it’s weird to be perceived by others (especially family) as so seemingly unemotional. I just don’t think of myself that way.

A month ago, as part of an attempt to continue to learn how my students see me, I asked them to draw me from their perspective (you should have seen some of the drawings), as well as to write down five honest words to describe me. While there were twice the number of positives to negatives (a good thing), the adjectives that surprised me the most were along the lines of the unemotional: “boring,” “dull,” “monotone,” “passionless,” and “zone out to la-la land.”

Monotone? Passionless? Really?

Part of the challenge (at least with my students) is my dry sense of humor, which few freshmen get the first time; part of it is my INTJ strategist/scientist/mastermind personality type, which I supposedly share with such “notable” figures (among others) as Ayn Rand, William F. Buckley, Isaac Asimov, John Maynard Keynes, Susan B. Anthony, Peter the Great, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Wouldn’t we throw a party you’d just love to miss?

Which brings me back to a question I’ve wrestled with for years: When the Scriptures talk about a glad heart making a cheerful face (Proverbs 15:13), what if you just don’t have a face that is all that good a conductor of joy…or, apparently, anything else?

Top Three Jobs I Wouldn’t Want Today

In Calling, Pop Culture on April 9, 2008 at 10:37 am

In light of the news, this short list of not-so-great jobs came to mind. I’m glad I’m not

  1. an Olympic torchbearer in San Francisco
  2. a debate coach for General Petraeus
  3. a desk attendant for American Airlines

Others?

Coach’s Couch

In Sports on April 6, 2008 at 8:05 pm

After an opening six-game homestand, the St. Louis Cardinals are 5-1, winning two of three from the Colorado Rockies and sweeping the Washington Nationals by way of (surprise) great starting pitching and an offensive line-up that’s finding the gaps in the outfield.

In my mind, the biggest liabilities the Redbirds have are its middle relief (to quote my friend, Nick: “Isn’t Russ Springer, like, 50?”) and perhaps too good of a start to the season (pardon my pessimism, but I’m bracing for a bit of a letdown on the upcoming roadtrip, which will be lousy since we’re playing the likes of Houston and San Francisco).

Still, after watching my first game of the season this afternoon (we don’t get FSN Midwest, so we can only watch games on KSDK – usually Sunday afternoons), I must admit it was fun seeing the Redbirds play today. It felt like good, honest baseball, and here’s why:

  • The new guys (and there are many) are all still fighting for jobs, realizing that part of their evaluation includes their attitudes; in my opinion, traded veterans like Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds did more whining than playing over the course of the past few years, and that got old fast
  • From what I’ve read, most of the players seem to have their heads screwed on straight and are still in awe of making it to the big leagues; gone are the likes of Scott Spiezio and the late Josh Hancock, who sadly let baseball become something they did between drinks
  • We’re playing who we have and not pining for who we don’t; in other words, because of the early success, there are fewer laments along the lines of “If we only had (insert favorite Cardinal on the DL here),” which has huge mental implications for those in the starting line-up (not to mention the fans)
  • Statistically speaking, we’ve yet to allow a team to score in the first three innings of a game; it’s amazing how much this plays to Tony La Russa’s coaching strengths (he’s better with a lead than without one, though he’s not bad then, either)

Can the Cards win 100 games this year? Most have said it’s doubtful, but I wonder, especially if they can play the game as kids just happy to be here rather than as free agents looking for their next contract. We also need to get El Hombre in sync (strangely, he’s had a slow start, though he’s still batting .353 and is on base over half the time from walks), as he’s key to keeping the younger guys in line, both on and off the field.

I’m taking the ladies to our first game on the 18th, as the Cards host the Giants (it’s Anheuser-Busch Wall Calendar Night – woot!). I’m sure we’ll all have a better feel even then for where the season may really be going.

Any readers who are Redbird fans? What have I missed?

Linklings

In Pop Culture on April 4, 2008 at 8:31 am

As it’s Friday, here are some links for the weekend (my treat):

It’s supposed to be nice (sunny and 65) in St. Louie this weekend, so we hope to get outside some. Other plans: watch the Final Four, listen to the Cards games, write two tests, take a mid-term, sing at church, and most importantly, worship and rest. Enjoy.

Never Settle

In Books, Writing on April 2, 2008 at 11:26 am

Early last month, I got interviewed by one Julia Furlan from New York University for a story she was doing on twenty-somethings. The story was for NYU’s LiveWire service:

“Livewire offers newspapers, magazines and digital publishers original feature stories meant to help capture a coveted audience: the under-30 reader. Our stories, written by New York University journalism students and rigorously edited by their working journalist professors, are about everything in life that interests young people. That is, they’re about everything – education and careers, politics and policy, adventures and music, the environment and the future.”

I’m not sure if it’s in finished form or not (it’s got a few typos), but her story, “Never Settle,” is up. It’d be great if one of their subscribers picked up an edited (or even longer – the interview was easily an hour) version of the piece, but we’ll see what happens.

No Joke

In Calling, Education, Seminary on April 2, 2008 at 2:00 am

I had an appointment for some academic advising at Covenant this afternoon and, in the process of doing the old degree audit and figuring out what I've taken and what I still need to take, I got some good news this April Fool's Day.

Barring any major screw-ups, I should finish my MA in Theological Studies one year from now. More good news: if class scheduling works out, I could be done with my MA in Educational Ministries the following spring.

Then I's bonafide.