The point when you realise it is better than you thought

It’s a bit like parts of my college and university years in a box.

I’m still thinking about “The blog post trail”, so I will pick this one up at a later point. Today something else. It is a bit music orientated so some of you may wish to press like and move along. Or perhaps you are interested in what I have to say today…

With many things in life, there comes a point when you realise something has changed without you being aware of it. Perhaps you are too familiar and find it difficult to step back and evaluate with fresh eyes. Maybe the change has been subtle to your eyes, like the way you don’t see your child grow day to day. Whatever the reason, it happens, then one day you get a fresh reference point, and realise things have changed. It is like listening to a music album again that you previously disregarded, and realising that it actually, is very, very, good.

Recently I purchased the box set “21” by the English band Blur. If you are from the UK, you will almost certainly have heard of them. They are held in such high regard these days, that they played a concert as part of the Olympic closing celebrations, in Hyde park, just across the city from where the Olympic closing ceremony was taking place. It was available the next day on itunes (and on special CD editions coming soon). If you live in the US, you may well be familiar with “Song 2” (Whoooo Hoo). If you’re a music fan in the US, you likely know of Gorillaz, that Damon Albarn was the main musical whizz behind the music, and had discovered how good Blur actually were by checking out his back catalogue. You may even be familliar with some of the solo work from guitarist, Graham Coxon.

Myself I was a fan from quite early on, although maybe not right at the very beginning. I knew of a few songs including “Theres no other way” but not taken much notice. Then at some point, as I was getting into Indie music about this time, I got with the single “For Tomorrow”. It really struck a chord and I was with them from that point on. The second album “Modern Life is Rubbish”, contained that track, and listening to it now, the version in the box set is excellent, it might be my favourite Blur album. This album was a reaction to music coming out of the US, e.g. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, et al, and a poor US tour they had experienced. They were in many ways still trying to find their voice as a band, and responded with this, the first in a Trilogy of “British life” albums. The second album of the trilogy, pretty much a perfect pop album “Parklife” propelled them into the British mainstream and was actually a key album in “Indie” music becoming the more mainstream thing it is in the UK today. The feud with the other big Brit band Oasis (more on that later) also provided an interesting focal point. That album is arguably their best.

The next four albums finished up the “British” trilogy with a mish-mash of styles (The Great escape), sounded a bit more american indie rock (Blur), a bit more loose, experimental, a more jamming style (13), ending with an album mostly recorded without founding member and guitarist Graham (Think Tank). All four albums sound completely different to each other.

The box set, doubles up each album (if buying the CD version) to contain a second disk of B-sides, fan singles, one off singles, and pretty much everything else released at the time. It also contains four extra disks of unreleased tracks, demos, and rehearsals. I’m still to get to those four. What it did give me chance to do was to play everything again, including the second disks as I had many of the singles, in order. The progression through seven albums is amazing. There are the odd duff tracks (obviously more amongst the b-sides etc), but generally speaking, no drop in quality, if anything, an increase. What amazed me more was that I had always been a fan, but now I was looking at them again virtually with fresh eyes. Blur had a progression similar to that experienced by the Beatles (and I’m not directly comparing the two), albeit with slightly different types of music and influences, and not the “one of the originals” position in pop / rock history. You can clearly see the music change, and the wealth of ideas. I realised that there catalogue stacks up against many of the best bands. To illustrate, try to choose the best 15 or even best 20 tracks. There is so much choice, it is not an easy job. After I had came to this realisation, I spotted this article on Stereogum, which had the same problem trying to find the best 10. It also was an admission that yes, Blur had not been big in the US, being late to the party in that respect, but their catalogue sure did need revisiting to see what you were missing. And it sure has some highlights.

Back in the mid nineties, as Blur released “Parklife”, new rivals Oasis released their debut “Definitely Maybe”, a critically acclaimed album and at the time the biggest selling British debut of all time. Both albums were very good and something to be proud of at the time with the rise of Britpop. Then with the imminent release of albums “The Great escape” and from Oasis “What’s the story, morning glory”, they went head to head with single releases on the same day. Both relatively poor singles I might add, “Country house” and “Roll with it”. It made the national news. Blur got to number one. However Oasis had “Wonderwall” and “Don’t look back in anger” on this album, and achieved greater sales. As it was put, Oasis lost a battle with the first singles, but won the war. But in retrospect, Oasis followed this up with a cocaine fuelled, poor follow up, then a worse one after that. They did better than those two albums, but never achieved the heights of the first two. Whilst Blur changed their sound album to album, going from strength to strength. Which is not to say Oasis don’t have some brilliant tracks, e,g singles like “Live Forever”, or album tracks e.g. “Cast no shadow”. But in retrospect, who really won that war?

Blur have become, through talent and hard work, one of the UK’s most loved bands, particularly for people of my generation. It is interesting that many music fans in the US are starting to realise what they have missed. Lot’s of great songs, lots of great sounds, and lots of fun. At some point I went from being a fan, to being a fan who realised that Blur long since became a key band in British history, like e.g. The kinks, The Small Faces, The Smiths, Roxy music, or many more.

On an individual album basis, I recently had a similar realisation about David Bowie’s album “Low”, and how good that is. But I wanted to write about Blur.

Lexicon word of the day: Paseo.

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Monday Haiku and what I learned this weekend – 13 Aug 2012

Mo Farah takes the 5,000 meters Gold

This weeks weekend relevant prompts for Monday Haiku are:

  1. My Wife’s “Award winning” Mac & Cheese – Around new years eve, my wife’s sister invited some friends round, and part of it involved a “cook off” for Mac and cheese. You bring your own, everyone tries everyone elses and chooses a favourite. The votes are counted. My wife’s, who I don’t think will mind me telling you, she is not much the cook, won, beating her sister, who is more the cook. The joke is now that we refer to it as the “award winning Mac and Cheese”. It made an appearance this weekend at a family BBQ.
  2. US women winning “Soccer” Gold – I have no qualms what so ever about either the mens or the womens teams being good at “soccer”. It would be good for both to be competitive teams and join in with what the rest of the world is playing. So congratulations to the women.
  3. The Graveyard book – I just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” recommended by blog friend Dying Note. It was a good recommendation, the book is fabulous.

So here we go:

Slide out burnt chicken

award winning mac and cheese

a piquant pasta?

Well as good as Mac and Cheese can be anyway.

Women Soccer Gold

Other teams playing football

That is why they won

Soccer won on this occasion. Truth be told, they deserved it.

Nobody Owens

to grow up in the graveyard

learn a way of life

Book much recommended.

Bonus Haiku is again having a week off. I did write something for this, but “What I learned this weekend” is also having a rest this week for some final olympic thoughts. The bonus haiku just didn’t fit in with this, so I shall use it next week. So as it is the conclusion of the Olympics, and I am a Brit, albeit living in California, I feel I should comment on some of the things I liked, or didn’t:

What I liked / Highlights

  • The opening ceremony – Oh cynical me thought it would be rubbish. It wasn’t, it was brilliant and made me proud.
  • The Brit medal haul – Better than ever, in lots of different sports, although cycling events seem to be a big one. The day the Brits took all three Golds on the track and field events ( and some away from it) was another proud moment.
  • The BMX racing. I thought this would be daft. It was, but it was great entertainment, especially in one race when someone wiped out and took almost all of the rest of the field with him. One guy was left to complete the race on his own! Sadly that wasn’t a medal race, just a qualifier.
  • Some individual sport winners or winning moments I liked:
    • Mo Farah winning the 10,000 meters might have been my favourite moment of the lot. I didn’t know much about him, but he had me leaping up and down by the finish. And then again with the 5,000 meters for a second Gold. The last mile was run in sub four minute mile time, which is incredible.
    • Jessica Ennis winning the Heptahlon in dominant fashion. Jessica is the world’s best female heptathlete, and she proved it.
    • The American womens gymnastic team , the way it came together for them to take Gold (in the way it mostly didn’t when they were competing individually).
    • The American womans 4 X 100 world record. Again an event where it just all clicked into place and was pretty amazing to watch.
    • Much like David Rudisha winning the Gold and destroying the 800 Meter record. The Brits like middle distance running (probably because of the Seb Coe, Steve Ovett dominance and rivalry from the early eighties).
    • Usain Bolt winning the 100 and 200 “dash” and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce winning the 100 in the womens.
    • The men’s 4 X 100 world record by the Jamaican team, with Bolt running the final leg. The American team had an incredible run, but the Jamaicans are just that bit better.
    • Michael Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian. Even if you don’t like him, you have to appreciate what he has achieved.
  • NBC coverage – although there are some negatives to this, (see below). The commentary was mostly of a good standard, explaining little things such as where points are scored in various events, and what causes deductions.
  • The Closing Ceremony. Not as good as the opening ceremony, and there was some music I was not keen on, but generally, I thought it a little cheesy, but enjoyable.

What I didn’t like / Lowlights

  • The NBC coverage. What is with all the water polo (surely one of the most dull sports ever) and volleyball coverage? Why was the “Track and Field” not live on the West coast, and mostly only on the evening highlights show? NBC could argue that you can watch whatever you want via their App and online service. Well yes, but with two negative points. 1) I had to get either my laptop or phone, the latter hardly ideal. 2) The bloody web feed kept getting stuck or via the web browser would not work at all.
  • NBC not showing the tribute to the London bombings during the opening ceremony, and instead showing some boring Ryan Seacrest interview. Did they not understand the significance? London won the right to host these Olympics, then the next day the bombings happened, so the two events were hand in hand – Shame on you NBC. I didn’t even know this part had been missed until I read about it the next day on blogs.
  • The daft American descriptions. The 100 meter “dash”, or “sprint” as it is known most everywhere else. The “stick” in the relay, aka the “baton”. And the most stupid, the way that NBC converted field measurements to feet and inches, when it was clear onscreen that it was being measured in meters and centimetres. What century are we living in here?
  • The Closing Ceremony – Who is Jessie J, and why did she have so much time?

Not a lot of negatives for the Olympics. I enjoyed it for the most part. Have a nice week.

Lexicon word of the day: Prestidigitation.

Poem – Familiarity

(image by Girts Gailans, Copyright Red Edge / Girts Gailans – click to see more)

Sometimes I can sit in our back room, maybe have some music on, and imagine some new stories, or write some new poems. One recent afternoon a bunch of poems came out, some better than this one. I will post some of those soon. That isn’t a good appetiser for reading this one though is it? Well I can tell you this about it. Some parts inspiration came from this months (bi-monthly) “Poetry” magazine. More on that publication on the weekend post. It isn’t a long one, so should not take up more than another 30 seconds of your time. I chose it first because it loosely fits in with the olympics, although it is not about the olympics itself. That might put you off if you are all Olympic-d out and sick of water polo (what is NBC’s obsession with showing that?), but ought not to as it is linked to the Olympics in the loosest sense. So enjoy, laugh at, think it is crap, or whatever, but either way, here it is:

Familiarity

You were like an old shoe
once worn all the time
now stored in the cupboard

stenched, stale, and over familiar
beauty drenched in cynicism
time has been and gone

till one day I noticed
as I walked clouded summer streets
character is just a point of view

you may be crooked or quirky
but still have a secret
till I pull back the curtain and see

oh to grin and bear it
why, when I can wear it?
do travel those streets again

where many stories etched
but build a new verse still
even a small mark makes a difference

it made me laugh
seeing new from my old eyes
discover what makes a fool

take you out
one more cute trip
old Blighty, I love you

Lexicon word of the day: proselytise.

Monday Haiku and what I learned this weekend – 06 Aug 2012

Jessica Ennis celebrating a dominant Gold medal performance in the Heptathlon.

This weeks weekend relevant prompts for Monday Haiku are:

  1. Olympic Medals – Pah, you American and Chinese, fighting for the top of the medal table. That is nothing. Monday Haiku wants a country with a rubbish infrastructure on many sports, to do well. Who might that be? Well team Great Britain of course. Having won no Golds prior to wednesday, team GB went on a surge, winning cycling events, rowing, the mens tennis, and even an athletic event or two (three out of three on saturday). Get in. What’s that got to do with the weekend? Everything Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford and Jessica Ennis, on the track, just some examples. They all made us proud.
  2. TV Vegetable – Cannot say I did a lot outside this weekend. Sat by the google box and watched Olympics, and UFC on Fox. Oh no hang on, I did go out saturday night, but this is my Haiku and I’m going to conveniently forget that point.
  3. Babies R us – Um yes, see above. We also made a quick trip to Babies R us. You know the one, plenty of babies and childrens clobber, toys and what not. Often seems ever so slightly dirty, and picked over. Often doesn’t have the one thing you are looking for. We hadn’t been in there for a few months. I was surprised how much our son could point out and name.

So here we go:

Olympic medals

Athletic dreams do come true

Proud to be a Brit

Yes I know, same last line for two weeks running. The Brits seem to be doing a good job running the olympics and a decent shot competing in it.

Bum cheeks on the couch

to enjoy the summer air?

TV Vegetable

Hey I live in Southern California, I don’t need it to be summer to go outside. Or stay inside.

To Babies R us

grubby gifts of plastic gold

buy a little truck

Well it is not so bad…

Bam! Bonus Haiku returns with a naughty wink, and an old tale.  Definitely not olympic related this part, so be warned. Jump between the lines for bonus fun or over to give it a miss:

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Take a trip of dread

gynaecology visit

stuck in waiting room

part 2:

Respond, don’t worry,

there’ll be an opening soon

nothing more to add 

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Things I learned this weekend:

  • The Brits can not only do a fabulous Olympic opening ceremony but we can compete in some events too. I was almost leaping out of my seat when Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters and it was impressive for his training partner (Team USA) to get the silver just behind him. The first Gold ever for Britain in this event, and only the third medal in the last 100 years for the US in this event.
  • Demonstrating how useless GB can be, saturday with six Gold medals was our best haul in one day since 1908.
  • Free Vodka and Cranberry juice can a drunk Elliot make.
  • Some Olympic sports just seem to be slightly odd to me. Which job in the poll below do you think is the worst / oddest?

Lexicon word of the day: Translucent.

Monday Haiku and what I learned this weekend – 30 July 2012

Boo ya, the Brits get it right for once and make this blogger proud.

This weeks weekend relevant prompts for Monday Haiku are:

  1. Olympic Opening ceremony – Presumably you are aware by now that the Olympics have started, that they are taking place in Britain (mostly London), and that there was a fabulous opening ceremony (more on that below). You are? Well there is the prompt then.
  2. Family Reunion part 2 – This weekend we headed up north, not far from Santa Barbara, to Lake Cachuma for a family reunion on my wife’s father’s side of the family. More on that below.
  3. Infant cold – I had the symptoms of a brief cold, Thursday, Friday, but it didn’t turn into anything much for me and went away. Unfortunately my son got it and now has a cold and cough. Hopefully it won’t turn to Bronchitis again.

So here we go:

Open Ceremony

A great tour of British past

Proud to be a Brit

Which I was, more on that below.

To Lake Cachuma

the family delight awaits

warm, loving, party

Which it was, more on, oh you know…

Stuffy little boy

daddy gave the gift of cold

you give gift of snot

Bonus Haiku is having the week off as I have neither the time nor inspiration. Sorry my time is asleep. No, my brain is asleep, too much travelling, well not too much, but also not much sleep with the toddler cold mentioned above. Snoooooooze – Oh I noticed after typing this, that Carrie Rubin (often a source for the bonus haiku) is having some blog time off. This is not related to that. Jump between the lines or over:

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“I politely suggest you move on to the next section”

 

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Things I learned this weekend:

  • The Brits can do a fabulous opening ceremony to the olympics. I was somewhat cynical going in, but I thought a tremendous job was done. Highlights for me were the forging of the rings, the slightly cheesy boy meets girl, but fun music and image montage, and the rising of the olympic flames. I actually felt proud to be British, was doesn’t happen too often.
  • The Olympics is still fab for a bunch of sports I would not normally watch. Why give a s**t? Well for the majority of the sports it is the biggest prize to compete for, therefore the highest pressure situation, usually with the very best individuals or teams from the sport competing. World records might be broken, dreams will be achieved or shattered. What is not to like about that?
  • The family reunion was nice. I’m never sure what to expect of these things, but it was good to see everyone. Everyone was nice, the weather was not too hot, there was some decent bbq. For our small corner there was five generations including my son. Him, his mother, one of his grandmas, his great grandma, and his great, great, grandma. You don’t get that very often.
  • Having a towel, and a son facing away from me, is useful when he sick up. Sorry Mrs Brainsplats, that ones on you. Literally.
  • Given the major sporting tournament mentioned above, I have a relevant poll. Please vote, then enjoy the rest of your week.

Lexicon word of the day: Indenture.