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my year in music, 2005

Highlights of the year, as I wrote about them on my blog:

I discovered the 365 Days Project.

Jimmy Smith died.

Dr. Don Rose died.

Bruce had a new album. It didn't make as big a difference in my life as the 30 Year Anniversary Born to Run Box Set.

Hasil Adkins died.

We saw Bruce once on his Devils and Dust tour. It was interesting.

I started doing Friday Random Tens.

Sleater-Kinney had a new album. It was better than Bruce's new album.

They played a concert at the Warfield.

They were on Letterman.

Luther Vandross died.

We saw Mary Gauthier in concert.

Rio, makers of all the MP3 players I have owned, went out of business.

I got a postcard from Amy Rigby.

The Born to Run reissue came out, with the greatest musical artifact of the year: a DVD of the entire Hammersmith Odeon concert from 1975.

Meanwhile, a Top Ten that isn't random. Here are the top ten songs I listened to on my MusicMatch Jukebox in 2005, in order of times played (not all from 2005, obviously):

1. Bruce Springsteen, "Devils and Dust"
2. Mary Gauthier, "Mercy Now"
3. Ani DiFranco, "Studying Stones"
4. Amos Lee, "Arms of a Woman"
5. Bloc Party, "Helicopter"
6. Tom Russell, "Touch of Evil"
7. Keb' Mo', "House in California"
8. Jefferson Airplane, "Embryonic Journey"
9. The Beatles, "A Day in the Life"
10. Bruce Springsteen, "All I'm Thinkin' About"

Since only six of the above came from 2005, here are four more from the past year to round out my 2005 Top Ten:

Sleater-Kinney, "Let's Call It Love"
The Bravery, "Unconditional"
Jack Johnson, "Good People"
The Decembrists, "16 Military Wives"

smith-rubio family xmas update

Yes, it's that time of year again. Hard to believe this is already the fourth annual Xmas Update! Time flies when you're having fun, I guess.

First, the news everyone has been awaiting. Yes, our beloved dog, Spot, made it through another year. Spot was so busy, we barely had time to take the traditional Smith-Rubio Family Pet Xmas Photo:

The big news, house-wise, was that we had our kitchen remodeled. This was a true team effort. Robin did all the prep work, right down to drawing the detailed plans for the layout, choosing and buying cabinetry and flooring and the like, saving us many thousands of dollars in the process. She also paid for the whole shebang. Steven ... he drove down to the hardware store one day and picked up some light bulbs.

Robin didn't get much chance to enjoy her handiwork, though, as she moved to Pasadena in August to get closer to her job with Kaiser. Not that she forgot about her dear husband! Heck, no ... she called him every night. When asked why he didn't move to Pasadena as well to be closer to his wife, Steven replied that his career wouldn't allow for it.

Steven's career hit several high points in 2005. He taught a class at San Francisco State that was so well-received, he got recognized once in the hallway by the assistant dean in charge of visiting flunkies. He also wrote a timely essay on his favorite television show, The Wire. This essay will be published in time for next year's Xmas Update.

The rest of the family did well, also. Neal has moved to Sprint, where he runs a store next to the Cal campus, thus bringing his life's journey full circle, since it was a night in 1974 when his parents had sex over Moe's Books down the street from the Cal campus, leading to Neal's appearance nine months later. Sara somehow turned an interesting but underpaid job in Sacramento into a long summer vacation in Brazil. She now sambas while eating her vegetables. Sonia was Steven's role model this year ... some of his most positive changes in 2005 drew on inspiration from his daughter-in-law. He's hoping that she'll accept his own inspiration in 2006 and finally send him an email.

If this year's Xmas Update seems a bit mellower than in years' past, blame it on the medication. Yes, in 2005, after more than 30 years of hearing from his immediate family that he was a miserable, fucked-up excuse for a human being, but things would be better for everyone if he just looked on the bright side for a change, Steven went on Wellbutrin and Depakene. He takes the Wellbutrin during the day to keep from killing himself ... he takes the Depakene at night so he doesn't stay up until the wee hours buying expensive electronic gear on the Internets. These meds have made a noticeable difference in Steven's life. Oh, he is still almost completely incapable of getting anything accomplished (when he walks down the front stairs to get the newspaper in the morning, he considers that an "outing," and he's still got a few papers to grade from a course he taught back in '01), but the meds have nonetheless led to an enormous change: whereas before when he was paralyzed into inaction, he'd fret and worry and consume his soul with anxiety, now when he refuses to go outside for days at a time, he doesn't give a shit.

Here's to a happy holiday to everyone, from all of us at Chez Smith-Rubio. Until our next update, this is Bud Collyer, hoping that next time will be YOUR time to Beat the Clock. Good night, everyone!

friday random ten

1. Bruce Springsteen, "When You Need Me." Didn't make Tunnel of Love.

2. Joe Louis Walker, "Mile High Club." There's always room for blues guitar.

3. Alicia Keys, "How Come You Don't Call Me." Why did she "fix" the spelling in the title?

4. The Doors, "My Eyes Have Seen You." This song isn't good enough to show up more than once on my lists, but that's random play for ya.

5. The Mamas and the Papas, "Straight Shooter." "Don't get me mad; don't tell no lie. Don't get me sad; just get me high."

6. Bonnie Raitt, "Have a Heart." One of the good songs from Nick of Time.

7. The Dandy Warhols, "All the Money or the Simple Life Honey." Not the Velvet Underground.

8. Pat Boone, "Amway Profitsharing Direct." If you haven't checked out the 365 Days Project, you need to.

9. The Mojo Men, "Sit Down, I Think I Love You." Better than the Buffalo Springfield original.

10. Sleater-Kinney, "Not What You Want." Live version from a show we saw about four years ago. Extremely lo-fi. but this is one of my faves in concert. "It's not what you want, it's everything."

nathan newman on the transit strike

I've walked picket lines with Nathan Newman, and I guarantee you, he knows his labor law. He took time from his honeymoon to post the following:

Getting paid is not enough to make someone free. They have to have the right to refuse to work, which is why the right to strike is promoted as a basic international human right.

Lech Walesa recently led a group of Nobel Prize winners who condemned US labor practices. It's worth remembering that all those Solidarity strikers in the Lenin Shipyard were government workers. Yet the same folks who loved illegal union actions in Poland often denounce public employees in the US going on strike.

the year in teevee

I guess this is the third annual. Once again, I'll just go through my posts, chronologically, for 2005 and see what the hell I thought was interesting.

The L Word
. Season Two, while erratic, was at times marginally better than Season One. On the other hand, Betty. And Gloria Steinem. And a rather shameless use of the late Ossie Davis.

Huff. Another Showtime series, this one won Emmys but nobody watched it. It had a great supporting cast, highlighted by Oliver Platt and Blythe Danner (Robert Forster and Swoosie Kurtz also showed up). They made the show worth watching.

The Shield. Glenn Close seemed like stunt casting. Then it turned out she was the perfect foil for Michael Chiklis' Vic Mackey. And, after one season, she's gone.

24. Season Four saw the complete absence of Kim Bauer (good), and the emergence of Chloe as an important character (v.good, especially when she started blasting her guns). Oddly enough, I wrote in my first 24 post of 2005 that "Outside of killing off ... Jack Bauer, there's nothing left for 24 to do that will be new." So how did the season end? Well, OK, he's not dead, but he's pretending to be dead, which is almost as good.

Late-night talk shows. I didn't actually post much about this topic, but I did have thoughts. Johnny Carson died, of course, and Dave finally got Oprah on his show. But the under-the-radar event here is the gradual emergence of Craig Ferguson, who's on after Dave when no one is awake and those who are awake are watching Conan.

DVRs. We got a second one early in the year. We like them.

Tim Goodman. Still the best television critic we've got.

Polly Walker, David Morrissey, Kelly Macdonald. They were all in the BBC drama State of Play that we watched early in the year, and all showed up later in the year in other productions. Macdonald took her too-charming-for-words Scottish accent to the HBO movie The Girl in the Cafe, which wasn't much except for Macdonald and Bill Nigby, who coincidentally was one of the best things about State of Play. Morrissey was the star of Viva Blackpool, a quirky mini-series that was worth watching. But it was Polly Walker who was the breakout figure, showing off her scenery-chewing chops (and a gorgeous behind) in Rome, which was never as good as you hoped, but (for us anyway) good enough to enjoy.

NYPD Blue. It's finally over. We watched pretty much every episode over the years, but I don't even think about it now that it's gone.

Deadwood. I thought about making this the only comment in history about Deadwood that didn't include the word "cocksucker," but why bother? Perhaps the single most entertaining piece of writing about television in 2005 came when Heather Havrilesky did an entire column in Deadwood-speak.

Six Feet Under. I thought the final scene was perfect.

The Office. The U.S. version, that is. Remarkably, it's good.

Joan of Arcadia. It got canceled. It deserved it.

Steven Johnson. He wrote a book called Everything Bad Is Good for You that made a case for television making us smarter, not dumber. I wrote an essay that dealt with some of the issues Johnson brought up ... someday it might even see the light of day, at which time I'll link to it.

House. Hugh Laurie roolz.

Desperate Housewives. Not all that good.

Queer As Folk. Well, it's gone now, several years too late for many people. Robin and I never got tired of it, though, and Brian Kinney was a fascinating character.

Lost. This IS all that good. And now Adebisi's a regular.

Penn and Teller
. Their Showtime series, Bullshit!, was erratic once again, good when they played the skeptic, bad when they let their libertarianism run wild (wonder if they'll continue to rely on the Cato Institute after recent revelations about that joint). They also had a prime-time magic special that was too long but fun nonetheless, with a tricky final stunt that I suspect fooled almost everyone.

Entourage/The Comeback. Entourage has the great Jeremy Piven, but is otherwise only fair. The Comeback was excruciating to watch, because Lisa Kudrow did such a terrific job playing a person being treated poorly by life. Apparently, viewers thought "excruciating" meant "I'm not gonna watch that show." Can't say I blame them, but it was probably better than Entourage. Guess which one got canceled?

Rescue Me. Getting better all the time.

30 Days. I forgot this show was on. The guy who did Super Size Me made a crappy teevee show.

Battlestar Galactica. Far and away the biggest surprise of the season for yours truly. I'm not a big fan of space operas, never watched the original Galactica, never watched any of the Star Trek series, and so ignored this new BSG when it arrived last year. The buzz was too much for me to ignore, though, so I downloaded the entire first season, got hooked, and now I'm a regular viewer. It's a terrific, complex show.

Over There
. The worst theme music that wasn't performed by Betty. When it was over there, it was fine. When it was over here, it sucked. Doesn't matter anymore, it's been canceled.

Rome. See Polly Walker, above. "You fucked your sister, you little pervert!"

My Name Is Earl. For some reason, I'm still watching. Oh, it's a good show, but I rarely last past the first few episodes of a sitcom, no matter how good it is (this year's casualties? Everybody Hates Chris and The Boondocks, both good shows I've already quit watching). Earl is no better than the shows I give up on ... I think I still watch it because I record it when I record The Office.

Curb Your Enthusiasm. Pretty, pretty good. Biggest laugh I got all season was the punchline to the episode where the woman stole the cell phone.

Extras. Ricky Gervais's new series is also pretty good, if not up to The Office, and he's got as a co-star yet another cute girl with a Scottish accent, so you know I love it. Kate "My Fanny" Winslet should get an Emmy for her guest appearance.

Weeds. Next to Galactica, the biggest surprise of the year, and the best series Showtime has ever produced.

"Once More With Feeling." It was gonna be so much fun: Robin, Sara and I attending a live performance of the Buffy musical, put on by a small theatre outfit in the City. Then the Fox copyright lawyers stepped in. Goodbye, musical, goodbye fun.

Trio. Every year I have to deal with shows I like being canceled. This is the first time an entire network I like is being canceled.

"Homecoming." The Joe Dante episode on Masters of Horror that had zombie soldiers rising from the dead to complain about George Bush. Seemed to have a lot of buzz, but it's only a few weeks since it aired and already people have forgotten about it.

Top Five Six TV Events of 2005:

6. Al Swearengen gets a kidney stone
5. Action Chloe
4. Weeds
3. Battlestar Galactica
2. "You fucked your sister, you little pervert!"
1. The Wire got renewed

what the spook said

Some website called DefenseTech has a piece on the reactions of some intelligence guys to the revelations regarding Bush and eavesdropping:

All of the sigint [signals intelligence] specialists emphasized repeatedly that keeping tabs on Americans is way beyond the bounds of what they ordinarily do -- no matter what the conspiracy crowd may think.

"It's drilled into you from minute one that you should not ever, ever, ever, under any fucking circumstances turn this massive apparatus on an American citizen," one source says. "You do a lot of weird shit. But at least you don't fuck with your own people."

Thanks to Atrios for the link.

Oh, and: Fucking Dickheads.

a quakes coach speaks

Tim Hanley is a long-time goalkeeper's coach for the ex-San Jose Earthquakes. Tim, like so many of the players and coaches, made a special effort to connect with the fans, and he posted a long message on a fan board a few days ago that was much appreciated and gets at some of the joy we had, in a bittersweet way.

I just wanted to tell ya, you did good. All of you, every single Earthquake supporter....

You were a model of fanatic support in times when it would have been easy to pack it in. NOTHING has ever been handed to you-you had to earn it. And earn it you did. You won the MLS Cup in 2001 and 2003, the Supporters Shield in 2005. No one can ever take that away from you....

What a thrill for me to be standing in front of that crowd of Supporters in Columbus 2001 when we were not even supposed to be there. And in 2003 at HDC, do you think there was a dry eyed player as they stood before you acknowledging your tremendous contributions? And to see the Earthquake blue in Colorado and KC and NY or recently Salt Lake, we saw ya, we felt you. It makes a difference.

Did you ever look over at the bench during one of your songs to see me Frank, Dom and later John, laughing at loud, sometimes going, 'what the f*** are they singing?'

I want to personally thank you and I will only speak for me but I know my fellow staff and the team would say much of the same.

You guys have been the best and we could not have done it without you....

Lastly, I want you to know that yes, you did good, really good. Just like the players you adore, you left everything on the field. As a coach I could never ask for anything more.

google sitemaps update

A week or so ago I posted on a new service from Google, Google Sitemaps, that offers some stats about which Google searches are leading people to this blog. Since then, more material has shown up on my stat page, so an update is in order. The list that most interests me is "Top search query clicks ... the top queries to Google that directed traffic to your site." I like this one because it tells me what search terms actually lead to people visiting my blog. Here are the current highlights:

I suppose it's no surprise that 11 of the 20 on the list are television-related. Curb Your Enthusiasm recently ended its season, which I guess is why people are searching it ... on my list, it shows up at #2 ("curb your enthusiasm finale"), #3 ("curb your enthusiasm season finale") and #19 ("enthusiasm"). Other teevee-related searches are "huff season 2" (#4), "weeds season two" (#6), "hbo wire" (#9), "rescue me season two" (#14), and "deadwood season two" (#16). The biggest surprise is that The L Word shows up three times, two with "spoilers" in the search string, and one, "bette and tina" (#17) that fascinates me. I probably have more negative things to say about L Word than I do about any other show I watch regularly, so I'm a bit taken aback that a Google search for those two characters lead people to my blog. But try it yourself ... type bette and tina into Google, and the 7th hit is to my comments on the season one finale.

A less common theme is music. If you type "double shot of my baby's love" into Google, the 5th hit is a blog post of mine ("A potion that I had too much of / It was a double shot of my baby's love"). The #1 hit for a search of "tony peluso" leads to a copy of my blog post about the Carpenters' guitarist that I cross-posted on Blogcritics back when I still participated over there (my original post is the 7th hit). Apparently if you search for "diamond in the back sun roof top diggin the seen" you are led to an old blog post of mine, although I can't make that one happen, and besides, when I posted, I knew how to spell "scene."

That leaves four more entries on the Top Twenty list. One is "larry krueger," the ex-KNBR talkshow host who got fired for calling the Giants' Latino players "brain dead." Two are from what long-time readers know remains the All-Time Search Term Go Read Steven's Blog phrase, "milton berle's penis" (there are variants, which is why it shows up twice).

The #1 search query that people follow to my blog? I'm surprised, since if I type this phrase into Google, my blog doesn't show up until page two, which tells me an awful lot of people must be Googling this term. It's .... drum roll ... "drunken santa." A little more than a month ago, Sara asked me to say something about this silly trick I used to play on the kids when they were young, a trick I learned from a Bill Murray/Gilda Radner sketch on SNL. Apparently Sara gave me a good idea, because more strangers visit my site looking for drunken santa than they do for any other query.

brokeback mountain

I remember the first time I saw two men kissing in a movie ... it was probably the first time I saw two men kissing anywhere, to be honest. The movie was Sunday, Bloody Sunday, which I loved very much at the time. When Peter Finch and Murray Head kissed, there was an audible gasp from the audience (I saw the film in the Midwest).

Thirty-four years later, we sat behind a group of teenaged girls for a showing of Brokeback Mountain, and while you'd think in 2005, most teenagers have seen men kissing, maybe not. For the first time Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal kiss, the girls were all "ohmigod!" At least two of them proceeded to take out their cell phones to take photos of the movie screen. (In fairness, it should be noted that they also seemed surprised when Anne Hathaway took off her top.)

Brokeback Mountain elicits a lot of expectations. Depending on how you prepare yourself for watching it, those expectations will or won't be fulfilled. If you read the original short story, I imagine you'd like this film, which apparently does a good job of turning the story into a movie. If you are looking for a "gay cowboy movie," I suspect you'll be a bit disappointed ... there are gay people and cowboys, but it's not really about gay cowboys. If you're looking for a romance, you should be very happy.

My point is that your expectations will seriously affect your take on the film. What I wanted from the movie was groundbreaking sex ... and I wouldn't mind seeing a Western, either. But as a Western, this ain't exactly Red River with sheep instead of cattle, and as for the groundbreaking sex ... well, the film deserves credit for actually showing men kissing, and even fucking, but for someone who watched all five seasons of Queer As Folk, this stuff is pretty damn tame.

Maybe that's all for the best, because it forces me to examine the film as a film, rather than as a depositor of expectations. Except I think this is a flawed film.

It's hard to write original material when someone out there is already saying what you think, and when it comes to movies, I often find myself in agreement with the Salon tandem of Stephanie Zacharek and Charles Taylor, to such an extent that at times I should skip blogging and just link to their review. Zacharek's take on Brokeback Mountain is pretty much my take, although I think I liked it more than she did. The earliest parts of the film are the best, or at least, they play well because they come early in the picture, before I started thinking "damn, this movie is kinda long." As the young cowboys (and "boy" is accurate, they're pretty young) herd sheep and eat beans amidst beautiful scenery, we have a chance to watch their relationship spark. It's what happens after they come down from the mountain that I found less interesting. I can't point to any particular scene and say it's poorly done ... they're all at least adequate and often something more (I was especially taken with a scene where Heath Ledger's character visits his lover's parents). I just didn't find the accumulative experience to be all that ... I don't think I learned enough about the characters once they left the mountain to warrant a running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes (admittedly, I am a crankpuss about movie length). Whatever my expectations, they didn't include the reality of the movie, which is that it turns into a gay version of Same Time, Next Year, as the characters return to Brokeback every once in awhile, get older, meet at the mountain again, get older still, and meet at the mountain yet again. Eventually I lost interest ... I wanted the movie to be over. And that's too bad, because it wasn't a bad movie, and it seemed like it might even be a very good movie, but if you're looking at your watch every ten minutes, something ain't working.

Brokeback Mountain is an admirable, if tiny, step forward for mainstream presentation of gay material. There is much to like about the movie. And I'm glad I went when I did ... I wanted to help push the early box office, because I want to see more and better gay-themed mainstream movies. But ultimately, I was a bit disappointed.