It’s Christmas – Time to Kill a few Orcs!

December 16, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Posted in Being a Dad, Fun for Your Family, Musings | Leave a comment
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Hi Everyone, it has been – well – awhile since I posted on this blog.  OK, it’s been 5 years.  Weirdly enough, my kids have grown up as well.  They are now 8, 10 and 12…still very interesting ages, but not the ages when they want to be listening to their dad sing “Piggy” one more time.  No, what they want to be doing (at least the 10 year old), is going to see The Hobbit part deux with their dad at the local theater.  I mean, let’s face it, going to see your dad sing is not a guarantee of Snowcaps, Popcorn and a large, refillable drink – but watching a few (or shall I say 1000 (000000000000) ) orcs get killed definitely primes a (young) man’s appetite – and MAN was I hungry when I watched the latest Hobbit flick with my son…and I mean hungry to see a few nasty, smelly,  snarly, scarly, orcs meet their maker (Peter Jackson?)…and they did at the hands of two VERY ninja-esque elves.  (Yes, Harry Potter, Dobby was free, but pretty lame compared to these Bad A** elves – just think what would have happened to Bellatrix LeStrange if Tauriel had been on the job…)

As for the rest of the movie – it’s alright. OK, maybe more than alright, but other than the awesome Peter Jackson-esque vistas and the lovely soundtrack, it’s pretty standard fare. It’s the old story of a quest to recover the dwarves homeland, restore Thorin to his rightful place as King Under the Mountain and rid the world of the terrible scourge of Smaug (who should have been named ‘Smug’ with his know-it all attitude and British accent.  Seriously, how is it that a dragon can speak better English than the orcs when he lives alone and never talks to anyone?)   Then there is the mysterious Necromancer – threatening impending doom to all the world.

With that same-old heroes questy thing going on in the background, Jackson needed to jazz it up with some pretty exciting fight scenes – and he did.  A good example is the one when the dwarves are floating down a river in barrels beating off attacking orcs aided by the elves Tauriel and Legolas. Legolas leaps back and forth on the dwarves heads (I just can’t get over how far elves have come since Herbie wanted to be a dentist!) This fight scene, like every other one, involves impaling, shooting, beheading, tripping, teasing, and generally ridiculing orcs.  Not that they don’t deserve it, they are ugly and bad mannered, and their noses are all scrunched up so undoubtedly they snore.

On a literary note – orcs weren’t in the Hobbit.  The dwarves were bothered by goblins and some wolf-like things called, if memory serves, wargs.   No, Jackson created these pesky creatures himself.  And, they fit what seems to be Jackson’s pattern: the tougher and meaner you look, the more ridiculous a fighter you are – the big spiders fit this pattern and ***SPOILER ALERT*** so does Smaug who will end up being killed by a single arrow (in the next film, assuming Jackson follows the text).

My ten year old loved every minute of it.  As I watched him watch it, I was reminded of my 9 year old self watching the first Star Wars way back when.  In that movie it was the tough looking Storm Troopers who literally fell like flies.  I watched, wide-eyed and open mouthed with awe back then in the same way he watched today .  All in all, it was definitely worth the $20 it cost us to get through the door and then the additional $20 we spent on snowcaps, drinks and popcorn.  And, with it’s white bearded magic dude, elves who make miracles, snowy landscapes,  and desire to make the world a better place (albeit by killing orcs), it may just become the next great holiday classic.

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The Barnyard Tapes – The Basement Tapes and Bob Dylan’s Mandolin

November 1, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Posted in kids music, Musings, News and other stuff... | Leave a comment

As we were finishing our newly released CD, we were casting around for a title.   I happened to put Bob Dylan and the Band’s “The Basement Tapes” into the car CD player.  I hadn’t listened to it for a few years, but over the next few days, I listened again and again.

Everything about it, from the live recording (as opposed to polished studio tracking) to the sheer joy that these guys took in the music was  appealing.  I thought about the fact that we did the first recordings for our CD a couple of years ago and those tapes had sat our in the barn for a couple of years.  I thought about the fact that we were working to play the songs as live as possible, only creating tracks when one of us played more than one instrument on a song.  That requires a different studio set-up – lots of mics and lots of potential for background noise that you can’t get out of the mix – in other words, it might not end up as the type of clean (and sterile) recording that we’re so used to hearing, but it’s exactly what Bob did.   I thought about songs that appear on our CD, “Cluck Old Hen,” “Liza Jane” and others that feature barnyard animals.   Finally,  I thought about the fact that, like Bob and the Band, we love hanging out and recording – and our title was obvious.  The Barnyard Tapes was born.

Barnyard Tapes - Basement Tapes

The Barnyard Tapes – The Basement Tapes…Thanks Bob!

Now, about the Mandolin…I bought the mandolin on our back cover at a pawn shop in Virginia, Minnesota, a town about 10 miles from Bob’s home town, Hibbing, Minnesota.  (And no, the house where Bob grew up is not on the National Registry of Historic Places – it’s just a house where people live.)

Anyway, the mandolin is a cheap, homemade, heavily lacquered mandolin that just so happens to look an awfully lot like the one that Bob is holding on the Basement Tapes cover.  Look closely – it does!  So, the possibilities:

  1. It’s the same mandolin.   Bob pawned it on a trip home and it sat in that shop for 20 something years until I came along and bought it.
  2. It’s a mandolin made by the same person who made Bob’s.
  3. I just randomly found a mandolin that has nothing to do with Bob Dylan in the pawn shop close to where he grew up that looks exactly like one he is holding in a cover photo from early in his career.

Which sounds most likely?  I’ll tell you my vote, I have the mandolin stored in a secure, moisture and temperature monitored storage facility…Smithsonian, if you’re out there, drop me a line.

Cluck Old Hen, Buffalo Girls, Weaver John and much more – The Barnard Tapes!

October 28, 2009 at 5:53 am | Posted in Fun for Your Family, kids music, Reviews | 1 Comment

It has been a very long time since I have written…ooops, sorry.  Time does fly, and when I started this thing, I planned on a post a day – that lasted about 8 days.  Anyway, I have been in the studio and performing – and I am happy to say we have finished our latest CD – The Barnyard Tapes –

Front Cover web page

The Barnyard Tapes - Cover Art by Dave, our Drummer

If you read this blog before I dropped off the edge of the earth for a year, you know about my fascination with public domain music – that’s what we focused on.  So check it out at our website right here – listen to tracks at CD Baby – and enjoy.  I’ll try to write again soon.

Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker and the Trans Siberian Orchestra

December 2, 2008 at 10:52 pm | Posted in Being a Dad, Reviews | Leave a comment

Rumor has it that Pyotr Tchaikovsky wasn’t that interested in writing the music for the Nutcracker Ballet. The story was originally titled “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” by E.T.A. Hoffmann. It had been adapted by Alexandre Dumas père when Tchaikovsky was hired to write the music in 1890.

Maybe it was because he had just finished writing a ballet about Cinderella, a beautiful, exploited young woman who finds her way to fame and glory by marrying a handsome prince. Somehow, writing music for a dancing kitchen utensil just didn’t seem that exciting. But, thankfully, Pyotr persevered. The result was the most pupular Christmas ballet in history and the sale of millions of nutcrackers every Christmas that couldn’t crack a nut if their life depended on it (but they can dance around and kill a mouse king…). If you don’t believe me about the most popular ballet thing, check here: Nutcracker Performances, it lists performances in all 50 states and nine countries outside the U.S.

This thing vs. a walnut?  Please...

This thing vs. a walnut? Please...

We took the kids to see The Nutcracker this weekend – and I have to admit, it was great. I probably should mention that we left the three year old at home, and toward the end, my five year old son wanted to crawl out of his own skin (The only way I kept him from running up the aisle was by telling him that a pirate ship was going to come crashing through the wall any minute…when he asked me at the end why it never did, I said, “That must be in Swan Lake, I always get those confused…”)

BUT in spite of that, for well over half the show, both kids were enthralled. And why not? This show has it all. Big scary mice, a creepy old man, a castle made of candy, a seemingly random mix of dances from different cultures (The Spanish dance, the Arabian dance, the Chinese dance, the Russian Dance, the Dance of the Reed-Flutes (from Reedflutia), the Dance of the Shepherdesses and so on…)

AND, if all that’s not enough, the Trans Siberian Orchestra has given us a rocking version of the Nutcracker Suite music to run around the house and pretend like we’re ballerinas after the show. I have to hand it to the TSO, it features amped up guitar solos that children of 80’s metal/glam bands love: Nutcracker Guitar Solo as well as being true enough to the original to keep the classical music lover in me happy: Nutcracker Intro

So, take your kids to see the nutcracker, pick up a copy of the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Nutcracker Suite and start the holiday season right!

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – The 3rd Variation (and yet another free MP3)

November 11, 2008 at 9:15 pm | Posted in Music for You | 5 Comments

Twinke Reggae Instrumental.mp3

I will admit, I have nothing on Mozart – but he was working with a clavichord and a massive genius…all I have is my bright yellow epiphone ej200ce, my 10 year old casio keyboard and my Korg CR-4 (which may be a collectors item – even KORG is calling it “OBSOLETE”).

Yes, Mozart's is (by far) the brighter of the two...

But, I’ll set my dim little star twinkling next to his massive one with the 3rd variation on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (or should I say Ah vous dirai-je mama?). This, for your listening enjoyment, is a reggae instrumental!

Stay tuned for a Tiny Tim Tribute/Ukulele version!

To read about the history of this song go here.

Dianey Does It Again…Chicken Little, Where’s Your Mom??? Oh, and a review of Disney’s Chicken Little…

November 9, 2008 at 7:09 am | Posted in Reviews | 2 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, a well meaning aunt sent my kids the DVD of “Chicken Little” – Walt Disney’s misguided 2005 attempt to compete with Pixar. I’ve learned over the years to preview any Disney flicks before showing them to the kids – plus I’m still a geek and a sucker for good animation. So one evening I sat down to watch and (surprise, surprise) in Disney’s version of the this fable, Chicken Little’s mom is dead. She was killed by Disney’s long-standing neurosis. (I have no doubt that Disney’s fear of Mom’s is listed in the latest DSM – a personality disorder of some sort).

My mom is gone!  Disney took her!

"My mom is gone! Disney took her!"

I first wrote about Disney’s seeming hatred of Mom’s here (Granted, Chicken Little was already on screen but he wasn’t in my world…), and Chicken Little is another feather in Disney’s ‘gratuitous offing of mom’ cap.

Here’s the thing: When my kids watch Bambi, I routinely skip the scene where mom is killed. Guess what? The kids don’t notice. Even more importantly, I (as an adult who has watched a lot of films), don’t think it really affects the plot. Seriously, Bambi could have just grown up and left home.

Back to Chicken Little. Mom is dead because…? There are a couple of lines about “Your mom knew how to deal with this sort of thing much better…,” But as Bambi showed us, Mom could have lived and the same drama would have existed.

Is anyone out there who works for Disney (or Dreamworks)? If you read this, tell me (please), is there some sort of clause in the contract that states that you have to knock off mom at the first possible opportunity? (It’s a real question…comment!)

Anyway (let’s pretend I don’t have a serious issue with Walt’s neurosis), the film stinks – bad. Everything in the film stinks, the cloying characters, the sorry attempt at humor (it’s as if they watched Shrek and couldn’t pull it off…), the gratuitous violence, the convoluted and confused plot, and the too-good animation (I get it, guys, you can make really cool computer-generated animation…neat).

Let me put it this way, if you’re someone who slows down on the interstate to see all the horrific details of a car wreck, watch this film…it’s that bad. Thanks, Disney, for another classic!

The Upside Down World of Parenting – Daylight Savings and the Elusive “Extra Hour”

November 2, 2008 at 7:10 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings | Leave a comment

I won’t hazard a guess on percentages, but I think it’s safe to say that most people celebrate the fall back in Fall thing. Here we are, about to turn our clocks back, which means an extra hour of sleep on the morning…ENTER THREE YEAR OLD…

Here’s the thing, when you’re three, like my son, you don’t really pay attention to clocks. What’s more, you’re not really interested in an extra hour of sleep. You are, in fact, interested in an hour LESS of sleep…”I NOT go to bed,” he says every night as we walk up the steps. Which brings me to tonight. This is the night that MOST people look forward to because they get an extra hour. For my wife or me (depending on who loses the coin toss), we look forward to (psychologically, at least) an hour less of sleep…he’ll wake up at HIS 6:00am, which will be 5:00am for us (having turned the clock back and all…).

I will say that this upside down/backward thing goes both ways. On the downside, you lose an occasional hour of sleep (ok, you lose ALOT of sleep), but you also do a whole lot of other things you’d never have imagined. You hang REALLY bad art on your office wall, for example. (Or should I say, MOST people do… I ACTUALLY believe that my 5 and 7 year olds are budding artists – my 7 year old is drawing in perspective!) You start to feel affection for astoundingly irritating characters like Elmo and Barney simply because they are reliably harmless. And everything you consider unthinkable before having kids – changing a poop filled diaper, caring for a sick child all night, changing a peed on sheet at 2am, cleaning up vomit, wiping a kid’s nose for the 10th time in an hour- all of it becomes do-able – your hesitation swallowed up by your concern for the kid.

In short, you plumb the depths of your emotions – all of them. You have never felt more in love, proud, amused, confused, bemused, defensive, frustrated or happy. You are, in effect, more alive (for more hours) than you ever were before.

Enjoy your extra hour tonight, if you’re one of the majority who gets it…but think of me. I’ll be up at 5:00am making the kids’ breakfast and looking at their amazing drawings…

In honor of the time change, here’s a link worth checking out: THE CORRECT TIME. I guess cell phones have have made trying to find out the correct time obsolete, but, if you need it, it’s there.

p.s. I do know that I haven’t written for awhile. I have a lot of updates to write about – my niece’s song, Disney and moms, twinkle-twinkle, reggae, my epiphone guitar and so much more….stay tuned updates in a day or two.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame – A great free MP3 for summer!

June 27, 2008 at 5:08 am | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You | Leave a comment

Sorry I haven’t written for so long – I was busy coaching t-ball for the past month and a half. For those of you who coach the sport, you know that there’s not supposed to be any competition involved – our goal is to instill the young ones with a love of the game. I think we managed to do that here in Francestown, but not many games went by when at least one member of the team came up and asked, “Coach Steve, who won?”

Here I am, looking very non-competitve…

I hope I wasn’t yelling something like, “COME ON!!!! A SIX YEAR OLD COULD HAVE CAUGHT THAT!!!”

Anyway, to make up for the absence, I thought I’d give you a CLASSIC mp3 to put onto your Ipod. This was recorded in 1915 by Bill Murray (long before his Caddyshack days, I’m guessing…). Enjoy!

Take Me Out to the Ballgame – An MP3 for You – Bill Murray 1915

An Online Tuner worth Tuning Into or “In Perfect Harmony…”

May 27, 2008 at 5:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

There are those times when you are on the internet and you think, “This is the perfect use of this medium…” One of those times was when I discovered “just strings.com,” an online string retailer based out of NH. They sell only strings (surprise, surprise), so their overhead is cheap (a relatively small warehouse), they buy in bulk, and shipping is negligible, so *PRESTO* anyone in the world (with access to the internet) can have cheap strings! You can find them here: www.juststrings.com/ (and I promise, I don’t own stock in the company).

There is the pesky little issue of keeping those strings in tune once you’ve got them – which brings me to my latest discovery – ‘Get Tuned.com’ (http://www.get-tuned.com).

I’ve been working on my ukulele skills – love the instrument, but, man, does it go out of tune a lot.

I know the uke is tuned to “My Dog Has Fleas,” but it’s hard to figure that one out when your sitting at the fretboard (at least for me). So THANKS Get Tuned.com – not sure how you win in all of this, other than the satisfaction of knowing that more people in the world will be in tune, but sometimes, I guess that’s enough:

(I don’t own stock in Coke, either – just like the song!)

Introducing The Nameless…

May 21, 2008 at 5:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In March, I had the opportunity, along with my bass player and fellow teacher, Gavin, to spend a week with five high school kids as they wrote and recorded original music. We coached them, offered feedback and criticism, set up the time in the recording studio and picked up the pizzas. The result is a six song EP that is available on CDBaby.com (HERE), and here it is on iTunes.   The name of the band is “The Nameless,” and the EP, “Winter Sessions.”

Here are a couple of clips from the songs these very talented young musicians recorded:

The kids elected to have all proceeds from the sale of their music go to a charity that focused on music. We chose Tipitina’s Foundation, which provides musical instruments to public schools in New Orleans.

Go, listen and download a few tunes from The Nameless – it’s great music for a great cause.

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