Monday, June 17, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Po Bronson

Title: What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question
Author: Po Bronson
Image result for what should i do with my life
via Amazon
Novelist Po Bronson, partly out of a need to make sense of his own journey, compiled a list of true stories confronting the question of what to do with their lives.  As one might expect, there are plenty of tales of those leaving conventional jobs in the corporate world to lead a non-profit or become a professional gardener or an inventor or what have you.  Some found new meaning in the work they were already doing.  Some were still working on the answers by the time Bronson left their stories.  In all cases, the answers came through effort and risk, not by sitting on the couch waiting for an epiphany.  His basic message is neatly summarized near the end of the book: "Bring what you do in alignment with who you are."

This book, unplanned, has come to me at an interesting time.  I like my job (music teacher) - much of the time.  I believe in the meaning of what I do - much of the time.  I'm not always sure it's what I'm meant to be doing.  I'm very good at parts of the gig and consistently struggle with others.  Sometimes I wonder if the strongest skills I bring to work would be put to better use in another context and with fewer or more tolerable struggles.  Bronson's book reminds me that such wonders are not unusual.  He hasn't given me any answers but I do have new ideas for how to approach the question.

It's always worth remembering the things I value.  I love music and sharing that love with others is always gratifying.  Students, even middle school students, can bring tremendous inspiration if you let them.  I enjoy the trust and respect from my colleagues that my long tenure in the district have brought me.  Perhaps most of all, I am grateful for one of the underappreciated privileges of teaching: the frequent opportunities to hit the reset button.  Each new school year, new term, new concert cycle, new day, new class period, new student brings an opportunity to reinvent if I need it.  Even if I do eventually find a new path, there are rich possibilities for the one I'm on.  It's good to remember that.

Also good to remember that a job can just be a job.  It need not define me.  I work to live and not the other way around.  I wouldn't want anything to change that.

One slight tangent: as I have written in previous posts (like this one), I love trees.  I have made big life choices, like living in Vermont and choosing a house to buy, based in part on my love for trees.  On page 301, Bronson offers this lovely thought: "Trees are like books - they have an intangible psychic significance far beyond their utility."

Friday, June 14, 2019

A Window Above: You'll Be Back

Song: "You'll Be Back"
Composer and Lyricist: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Musical: Hamilton: An American Musical
Premier: January 20, 2015, New York

I don't really need to explain about Hamilton, do I?  The Broadway musical about the founding father, Alexander Hamilton, based on the biography by Ron Chernow?  It feels almost as silly as trying to summarize Hamlet a few months back (see here).  Crazy comparison?  I don't think so.  The broad cultural impact of Hamilton far exceeds that of anything to come out of the theater world in 30 years, maybe longer.  We're talking Beatles/Star Wars/Harry Potter-level. Will people still be talking about this show in 400 years?  Yes.

I first learned about Hamilton from my wife.  That alone is an indicator.  My drama teacher colleague going on about a Broadway show would not be noteworthy.  But my wife?  As a rule, she hates musicals.  Not only had she heard about it but she was listening to the cast album on near-endless repeat.  It was first shared with me on our road trip to Nova Scotia a few years ago (see here), by which time she and our daughter both knew the show by heart.

King George's big number, reprised twice (you get all three songs in the video above - you're welcome), is admittedly out of step with the rest of the show.  While most of the music is based on hip-hop, R&B and soul, "You'll Be Back" is based on Lin-Manuel Miranda's other great love: British Invasion rock.  Appropriate to the story, right?  Is it any wonder that the song I fell hardest for is the one closer to my beloved Beatles?  Besides, it's hilarious.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Aya: Love in the City

Title: Aya: Love in the City
Author: Marguerite Abouet
Artist: Clément Oubrerie
Image result for aya love in yop city
via Amazon
I had my introduction to the Aya series four years ago (reflection here).  Aya: Love in the City collects the last three of six bande dessin√©e, originally published in French.  Aya is a young woman struggling along with her friends to figure out her place in late-'70s Ivory Coast.  Aya's academic career is jeopardized when she spurns the advances of a lecherous professor.  Her own story revolves around plotting her revenge against him.  In another thread, a friend tries to make his way as a gay African man in France.  We see the conflicts between city Africa and village Africa, between the European concept of Africa and reality. 

The book is enjoyable though the switches between one storyline and another are frequent and abrupt.  I was grateful for the diagram at the beginning of the book outlining the relationships between all of the characters.

I have now read books 1, 4, 5 and 6.  I definitely missed a few details in between so I may well seek out the others, collected with #1 in Aya: Life in Yop City.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Squid Mixes: Bronx Cocktail

A Bronx Cocktail combines gin, orange juice, dry vermouth and sweet vermouth.  I got my recipe from Eric Felten's How's Your Drink?  It might be better with fresh OJ but otherwise it's fine, though uninteresting.  It tastes like orange juice with some stuff in it.  The booze brings a little bitterness.  While I enjoy Felten's book immensely, he tends to leave the garnish out of the list of ingredients, in this case an orange slice.  I didn't have an orange so we went without.

I find my personal tastes are starting to take focus.  That's not to say I won't continue to experiment but at this point, I feel I have a pretty good handle on how the major players among both liquors and mixers function.  And I know what I like.  I'm a whiskey person, particularly rye, though scotch is certainly nice when drinking it straight.  I prefer gin as a mixer to vodka.  Tequila is intriguing.  I like lime and I like bitters.  Manhattan is still my favorite. 

More importantly, I can now look at a list of ingredients and have a pretty good idea of how the combination is going to taste.  As such, I feel I've reached a new stage in the hobby, one that might require an altered approach.  Stay tuned.

Friday, June 7, 2019

A Window Above: Babyface

Song: "Babyface"
Writers: U2
Original Release: July 5, 1993
Band: U2
Album: Zooropa

Given the lyrical content, I rather doubt that this song is about drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. though his nickname is, in fact, Babyface.  However, I do think it's appropriate that the unofficial video above is essentially a tribute to Mullen.  As I wrote in my last U2 post, I believe the drums are the secret of the band's success and this track, in particular, makes excellent use of percussion.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Squid Mixes: Bullfrog

A bullfrog combines vodka, triple sec and limeade with a lime garnish.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  Poke around the web and you'll see more bludgeoning cocktails of the same name, such as this one

The drink was nice and a good use of the limeade I made for last week's post.  The liquor doesn't add much flavor and what it does bring is rather... alcoholy.  It might have been fine with just the vodka, or maybe even just the triple sec. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

A Window Above: Come Sail Away

Title: "Come Sail Away"
Writer: Dennis DeYoung
Original Release: July 7, 1977
Band: Styx
Album: The Grand Illusion

Dennis DeYoung wrote "Come Sail Away" while depressed about the fact that Styx's previous two albums had sold below expectations.  This "song of hope" alludes to the book of Ezekiel 1:1-28 (read here).  To me, there's no question that it's the band's best song and one of the masterpieces of prog rock.  I have fond memories of air guitaring this one with middle school students. 

"Come Sail Away" has had several notable television cameos.  My favorites:

South Park - It's the sincerity that sells it:

Freaks and Geeks:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?