Song of the Day — Michael Jackson

July 29, 2010
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Here’s a raw cut — an outtake — from an obscure artist who once worked with Quincy Jones.  He’s not bad!

Wonder what became of him.

Shake A Body (1978 demo)


Oh, lookee here!  He must have gotten signed to a record label!  His papa must have been so proud.

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough


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Song of the Day — Ryan Adams with Gillian Welch

July 28, 2010

Big times in our family’s life.  Big problems.  Big decisions.  Big birds flying across the sky, throwing shadows on our lives.

We are not helpless.  Not helpless helpless.

Still, this song gives comfort


Song of the Day — Rod Stewart

July 19, 2010
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Of the many songs of great social and political import, this has the socialest and politicalest import of all.  “Give me a dime so I can call my mother” helped me understand Gramsci’s theory of the reification of the worker.  “He said ‘I’m sorry but I’m out of milk and coffee.’  ‘Never mind, sugar, we can watch the early movie'” opened my mind to the profound ontological connections between Sufiism and Buddhism.

It’s time for school, everyone.  Gather ’round and listen:

Da Ya Think I’m Sexy_

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Song of the Day — Noel Coward

July 18, 2010
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Be sure to brush up on the details of 1930s British upper class life before listening to this song.

The Stately Homes Of England

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Guest Blogger!

July 14, 2010

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m a fan of Ask The Evil Overlord, my son’s newspaper column in the Oak Tree Times.  Here is the July 13 installment (with all identifying info for humans redacted, as usual.  Kitten/monkey/dragon things don’t mind being identified.):

Welcome to another edition of the Evil Overlord Advice Column.  Gerald, my replacement for Leonard, is proving to be quite the hard worker!  I am very satisfied with his performance so far!

Confused asks, “HOW DO I KNOW IF I AM A GOOD EVIL OVERLORD?”  Okay, first off, stop yelling.  You’re hurting my wonderful ears.  Secondly, the process is simple.  Ask someone you know where, on a scale of one to ten, how Evil you are.  If you rate above a seven, you are doing all right.  If you rate above above a nine, you are awesome.  If the person rates you higher than ten, they are either pulling your leg and need to be disintegrated, or you are being the best Evil Overlord you can be.  But if you are the best Evil Overlord, disintegrate them anyway.  It’s just good business.

Wondering asks, “Is it necessary to have a costume?”  Good question Wondering, the answer is no.  You do not NEED a costume, but they are very fun to play around with and can help you make an impression.  However, make sure you don’t have a cape.  If you’ve ever seen The Incredibles, you know what I am talking about.  But, if you are trying to be inconspicuous, not having a costume can help you.  It does make you stand out in a crowd, which, if you have a mortal enemy, is probably not the way you want to go.  Your choice.

Blank asks, “How do you get minions?”  This is a question that has annoyed Evil Overlords for years, because really, what makes a minion?  Is it a person who has a contractual obligation to help, or is it just someone who helps you?  If your definition is either of these, then the best way to get minions is through one of these simple methods.  If you have lots of funds, pay them.  This only works if you have tons of money though, so it should be saved as a last resort.  Secondly, threaten them with destruction, pain, or public humiliation.  This requires either strength or a good spy network, which, if you have neither, leaves you with one option.  Write a romance novel.  If you have enough bare-chested men in your novel, you can convince people to do pretty much anything.  I call it the Meyer Solution.

Gerald!  Get me my noodles!  Good man — un, kitten/monkey/dragon thing.  Yeah.  Good… that.  Anywho, I hope this article has been both funny and informative, and that it helps you out through your forays into the wonderful world of Evil Overlording.  If you would like to hear a story of a hilarious and frankly heartwarming Evil Overlord, I suggest you watch the movie Despicable Me, with Steve Carell.  Trust me, it’s hilarious.  If you want to have your own questions or comments answered or mocked, just send them to the Evil Overlord Advice Column folder located outside the OTT Room on the Third Floor.  Have a nice day, and as always, MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

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Song of the Day — Elvis Costello

July 11, 2010
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Though a down year for me, 1986 was the year that I learned about rebirth.  Three artists, each of who seemed to be fading, each released a stellar piece of work that year.  This movie and these two albums were so good that I still use them to remind myself that decline is never inevitable.


Woody Allen was my favorite director back then.  (This was a few years before his appalling personal behavior vied with increasingly unwatchable crap to squelch my affection.)  He had turned 50 the year before.  He still had flashes of brilliance — Zelig, in particular — but had begun to recycle old jokes and ideas more and more often.

Too bad, I thought.  This happens.  He’s old.  Genius belongs to youth, and he had a good run.

Then somehow he dropped the bag of tricks, reached into himself, and produced the deepest, most human film of his career: Hannah and Her Sisters.  Sure, he recycled some jokes.  Sure, he used the same upper class Manhattan setting and neurotic personality types that he always does.  But he also weaved infidelity and sisterhood into an elegant fabric, and coaxed peak performances from brilliant actors like Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine.  The last ten seconds of the movie still brings a hitch to my throat.


Paul Simon was not prominent on my radar back then, but I had had a few flings with his Simon and Garfunkel work.  He had found a box of genius and had shown it to the world.

He had turned 40 a few years before.  Though we had heard a few flashes of his old form in the 1970s, by the 1980s he had faded close to the point of invisibility.  Few albums, and those albums way too mediocre.

Too bad, I thought.  This happens.  He faded early, and was now kind of old.  Genius belongs to youth, especially for him.

Then, somehow, he woke up.  Somehow, he completely transformed himself, and produced the most powerful, complex songs of his career.  I still can’t imagine how that faded folky singer-songwriter embraced an entirely different musical tradition, then synthesized it with his own to make PERFECT upbeat pop songs with lyrics both poignant and funny.  I don’t mean to slight his early work — many of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs are graced with beauty and brilliant simplicity — but were it the only music he ever produced, Graceland by itself would earn Paul Simon a place on Mount Olympus.


Elvis Costello dominated my musical pantheon back then.  He had turned 30 the year before.  I knew that wasn’t very old, but he had released a shallow album (Punch the Clock) and then, close on its heels, a complete turkey (Goodbye Cruel World).  I feared the worst.

Too bad, I thought.  This happens.  He was unreasonably prolific, and unimaginably consistent, but rock stars burn out young.  Genius belongs to youth, and Elvis’ genius also belonged to his anger.  Maybe he’s happy, I thought.  Too bad for me, because no more good songs will flow from him, but he deserves to be happy.


Then, like Woody Allen later that year, Elvis stopped relying on his bag of tricks — the clever wordplay, the satisfying “fuck you” songs — and produced the deepest, most human album of his career: King of America.  Sure, he snuck in a few clever phrases.  (My favorite, from “Our Little Angel”:  You think that you’ll be sweet to her, but everybody knows/That you’re the marshmallow valentine that got stuck on her clothes.)  Sure, he had a few insults.  But mostly he sang about real people, in real relationships, with empathy and sophistication.

We focus so much on the beginnings and endings of relationships, especially in song.  The excitement of the seduction, the falling in love, the betrayals, the pain of breaking up.  In this album, Elvis finds the meat of relationships — the enormous, confusing middle that constitutes 98% of our lives.  “Indoor Fireworks” is the best example of this.  He covers a huge range of topics on the album, and begins to find emotions in himself beyond anger and longing.


I was not thrilled with myself back then.  I had turned 20 a couple of years before.  I knew I was young, but felt old.  I had no laurels to rest on, no old body of work to be proud of.  I did well enough in high school to get into a good college, but then showed nothing but mediocrity.

This may sound harsh.  I suppose it is.  It’s also true.  I came in expecting to blow my professors away, to write a brilliant novel, to craft a new historical paradigm, or something — didn’t know what — that would grab people’s attention.

What I didn’t realize then was that even geniuses like Woody and Paul and Elvis have to work.  I didn’t even realize yet that I didn’t know how to work.  That came a few years later, when I finally found something (medicine) that required attention to achieve.

Sure, I wanted to be a writer.  I wanted very much to be a writer, but I didn’t want to sit down and write.  I wanted to be a genius.  I wanted very much to be a genius, but didn’t notice how thick on the ground self-proclaimed geniuses are.  I didn’t yet realize that what I thought of as “genius” was in fact the product of hard work.  Sure, hard work by itself will not produce transcendent works of art or scientific breakthroughs.  Hard work by itself will only produce a world that functions, families that survive, personal satisfaction, and the freedom to reach for something deeper.

I’m still learning how to work hard.  That I sometimes approach this goal is one of the great joys of my life.  One of the better songs on King of America captures this in reverse.  “I was a fine idea at the time,” Elvis sings.  “Now I’m a brilliant mistake.”

I am a former brilliant mistake.  Now I’m a fine idea.  This is unbelievable progress.  It didn’t have to happen — I could have continued to fade for the last 50 or 70 years of my life.  That I put my head down and keep trudging is my equivalent of Hannah and Her Sisters, or Graceland, or King of America.  It is a refusal to submit to decline.  It’s the only thing that makes possible a late flowering.


Brilliant Mistake

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Guest Blogger!

July 9, 2010
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Though he is still 13 years old, my youngest son has had a blog for years now.  It’s a special kind of blog called a “newspaper column”.  This newspaper column runs each summer in The Oak Tree Times, the daily muckraking organ of his summer camp.

It is an advice column, in which he answers questions left in a folder outside the newsroom.   The name of this advice column morphs from issue to issue; I always think of it as “Ask the Evil Overlord”.

Here (edited only slightly to remove identifying information about specific people) are his last two posts, er, columns:

July 8, 2010

Hail to all my servants!  Once again, I have descended from upon high, to wreak havoc on your pathetic little lives!  MWA-HA-HA!  Also I needed to buy some more milk, because all the milk in my secret flying base has gone bad.  You’d think with all the brilliant mad scientists working for me on all my doomsday weapons, I’d have a way of keeping milk from going bad.  Or at least find a way of transporting it through some teleport mechanism.  At least find a servant or someone whom I could send to pick it up.

But in any case, I have come!  And when I arrived at my diabolical folder, I found it stuffed to the brim!  An evil smile crept across my face; one that was instantly extinguished when I found what the three letters were.  One was a blank piece of paper.  I assume this person was requesting advice on how to write.  What do I look like, a kindergarten teacher?  Ask your parents if you don’t know.  Incidentally, writing is a very important part of being an evil overlord, so make sure you know how.  No one takes emailed death threats seriously these days, the first drafts of speeches one gives to the masses should always be written on paper, and when you take control of someone’s body and force them to write things out in paint, ketchup, or tomato sauce, (No one uses blood anymore, it takes hours to wash off) you want it to at least be legible.

The second questions reads as follows: (In exactly the kind of chicken scratch handwriting I told people not to use in the last article) “Dear H.: I need help.  What should I do?  (Insert heart here) I need help.”  Well, random person who didn’t bother putting his or her own name, what you should do when you need help is go ASK SOMEONE AN ACTUAL BLOODY QUESTION.  And unless it involves Evil Overlords in some way, DON’T BOTHER ME ABOUT IT.  And seriously, who puts a heart on a letter to an Evil Overlord?  That’s like giving a priest the devil horns as a sign of encouragement.

So thus ends another section of the Evil Overlord Advice Column.  Please do remember to send your questions and comments to the Evil Overlord Advice Column folder, located outside the OTT room on the third floor.  I hope that my advice to these people has also helped you.  Have a lovely day, and as always, MWA-HA-HA-HA!


July 9, 2010

MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!  Salutations to all my minions, lieutenants, and servants both big and small!  I am currently wearing the most flamboyant black fedora and loving it!  Seriously, black fedoras, bowler hats, and top hats are three accessories that you cannot go wrong with.

Anonymous writes, “What is the most prized possession in your arsenal?”  Well first off, prized is the word you’re looking for, and with all Evil Overlords, my most prized possession is my big blue box that says Police on it.  TARDISes are hard to come by these days.  Boom!  Doctor Who reference!  All the sci-fi nerds go “What? What?”  I fully expect all my followers who are fans of that great British television show to come up to me and actually say, “What? What?” when they read this.

Another unnamed person asks, “Do Evil Overlords feel emotions?”  Oh, yes, we do.  We love ourselves very much.  We take pleasure in doing evil things.  And always remember that Evil is, in fact, an emotion.  The one common misconception is that we never feel merciful.  This is factually incorrect.  We feel merciful constantly.  We just choose to ignore it.

Finally, P. asks “Dear Evil Overlord.  Your advice column is the best in the paper!  Its popular, but are you?  Do you, Evil Overlord, have any friends?”  Well, P., first things first.  While your letter looks nice, you misspelled “it’s” and you forgot to put capital letters in places.  But to answer your question, yes.  I have quite a few friends.  Many of them have become lieutenants and generals in my Legion of Terror, or advisors on my board of directors.  No Evil Overlord ever gained power without the help and support of his/her friends.

Well, that’s all the time we have today, I hope to hear from you soon.  I am departing from this world for a few months to deal with the hordes of mind-controlled Twilight fans that have cropped up due to Eclipse.  I hope this edition of the Evil Overlord Advice Column has been helpful to you in your Evil endeavors, and if you wish to participate, just send your questions, comments, and possibly some chocolates to the Evil Overlord Advice column folder located outside the OTT room on the third floor.  I hope you have a wonderful day, and, as always, MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

Posted in Funny/Odd

Thicker Than Water

July 8, 2010
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Blood has many talents.

We think of it as a watery medium, like the Mississippi River, by which our body transports little necessary things.  This is true.  Ubiquitous red steamboats carry oxygen.  White ferries cluster at ports and fight infections.  Planks float around like debris, barely noticed until a hole in the bank threatens to flood the countryside — then they cluster together in a logjam to plug the hole.

But blood is not water that carries red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Blood is smart.

Blood knows where it is.

Blood is a homebody.

Like most of us, when it’s at home it relaxes.  Inside of blood vessels, blood flows along in liquidy happiness, carrying its red steamboats, its white ferries, and its little planks.  Proteins swirl around like algae, like fish, tiny messengers that bring this river world to life.

Away from home, blood tenses up.  Let it leave the safe haven of the blood vessel, and it coagulates immediately.  Liquid becomes solid, as if the algae and the fish had herded the planks until they stuck together, leaving no room for the river water.

Blood is smart enough to keep us from bleeding to death from small wounds.  Unfortunately, blood can be tricked.  It knows that if it senses the inside wall of a blood vessel then it is home.  What it can’t figure out is the difference between a superficial crack in the wall of the blood vessel — the equivalent of a chip in the paint — and a gaping, full-thickness hole.  Each of those feels like Not Home.  Each of those triggers the coagulation process.

So, if someone — my mother, for example — has a brittle, calcified deposit in the wall of an artery, and if this deposit cracks open, then the blood flowing past freaks out.  It screams “This Is Not Home! We’re bleeding to death!” and clots.  If the clot grows big enough, it can block the whole artery and deprive everything downstream of little necessary things like oxygen.

This is bad.

Even if the clot does not totally block the artery, it can still cause problems.  Clots can make babies — little pieces of themselves that detach and float off to make their way in the world.  These little pieces, or emboli, usually don’t get far.  They drift until they get to an arterial branch too narrow to pass, and then they stick there and block the flow.  This happened in my mother’s brain as she slept, early Monday morning last week.


When I was a child, sometimes when I felt stuck or scared at night I would drift down the hallway to my parents’ room.  I would pull the rocking chair over to the side of my parents’ bed, plug myself into it, rest my head on a pillow on the chair arm, reach out, and tuck my hand inside of my mother’s hand.  Though not physically comfortable, this brought me solace and a sense of safety.  Eventually, sleep would whisper in my ear and tell me to go back to bed.  My hand would slide out from under hers.  Usually, she didn’t move a muscle.  Sometimes, though I had been convinced that she was asleep, she would give my hand a little squeeze then let go.

Later — much later — this past Tuesday evening, in fact — we recreated this scene.  She slept in her bed in the telemetry unit in the hospital, 36 hours after having her stroke.  I was scared, yet also sleep deprived after having flown across the country to be with her.  I pulled the visitor’s chair next to her bed, plugged myself into it, rested my head on the cloth arm, reached out, and tucked my hand inside of hers.

Her music played softly from the CD player.  We had trouble figuring out what she wanted to listen to, because she was unable to say much more than “yes” or “no”, but eventually these words and some comically exaggerated gestures produced the gentle background stream of Celtic harp music.


My mother used to be an elementary school librarian.  Her love of books and her respect for the powerful internal lives of children made her library a safe haven for countless young creative, misunderstood souls.  I knew this even before the well wishes began pouring in from these children, now grown and generally quite successful.

She has been a woman of arts and letters her whole life.  Only recently does she seem to have realized what powerful writing skills she has, and it has been a joy to read what she has produced.  A biography of one of our ancestors who was involved with Mazzini and the Italian risorgiamento, whose letters she found a couple of years ago in an old trunk.  Reminiscences of corporate culture in the 1950s, sparked by watching the TV series Mad Men and pointing out its faults.  Descriptions of the grand old movie theaters in Hollywood, where she grew up in the 1940s.  (With maps!  Always the meticulous maps!)   Reminiscences of the elementary school where she worked all those years.

She seems to have known for a long time that her conversational skills can carry a phone conversation or a dinner party.  When she and my father were about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, I noticed that they would sit at the table for 2 or 3 hours after dinner, talking.  “What the hell do they have to say to each other?” I would ask my girlfriend.

“They’re in love,” she would say.

She was right, but the talking was important in itself.

On the Saturday before her stroke, I spoke on the phone with my mother for two hours.  We spoke about troubles with my own children, and about her brother and his having had similar troubles.  We spoke about an old friend of hers who had recently reestablished contact by sending her a long letter, and my mother’s worry that she couldn’t respond in kind.  We spoke about Nathaniel Hawthorne, whom we both love.  While we spoke, I walked past Gallow’s Hill (where they hanged the witches in 1692), past the Custom House (source of that transcendent introduction to The Scarlet Letter), and even to The House of the Seven Gables (a book which I have never read).  She described the passionate correspondence between his wife and him.  Our conversation rambled along with my feet.


When I got to her hospital room on Tuesday afternoon, after frantic phone calls and a cross-country trip, she had just returned from her MRI.  She hated it.  The technician apparently was gruff and insensitive, and my sister (who had accompanied her) was starting to explain this when my mother said her first word to me.

“Troglodyte,” she said, and made a face.  She laughed along with us.

“Troglodyte” did not reappear that day, but a few other words did.  She wanted her glasses, was lost and terribly frustrated for a while at her inability to explain this to us, then finally found the word “spectacles”.

She understood much of what we said, but had big gaps.  Even “yes” and “no”, when she said them, were not always correct.  “Yes,” she would answer to a question.  “YES,” she would say more emphatically when we took her at her word.  “Yes, yes, yes,” she would say, with an irritated tone, and then, finally, “NO”.


Along with her language, her right hand no longer works.  All of these things may — and probably will — return, at least enough to get by.  She has normal sensation.  She began having faint movements of her right hand a few days after the stroke.  On that Tuesday night, though, the hand was completely dead.  I tucked mine inside of it, got no response, then realized that the ancient ritual no longer applied.

I took her fingers in mine.  I stroked them as we both dozed.  I kneaded them with mine, back and forth, rhythmically, like a rosary.  I cried quietly for a while, when I felt sure she couldn’t see me, then slept.  At one point we both awoke, and my eyes met hers.  I know she wanted to give my hand that little squeeze.

Instead, she smiled.

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