1. This week's Tor.com post, Freddy and the Popinjay, just popped up over at Tor.com.

2. This post from a professional musician about music downloads is long and has been fairly widely posted already, but if you missed it, I think it's worth a read.

3. In the nobody saw this coming bit, Tropical Storm Chris strengthened into Hurricane Chris this morning. It's no threat to land, but a couple of interesting notes: It's rare for hurricanes to form that far north (not unheard of, just rare); it's rare for hurricanes to form in the Atlantic basin in June; and this is the third earliest formation for a third tropical system in the Atlantic season in recorded history.

Statistically, this means nothing for the rest of the hurricane season, and after my disastrously wrong prediction about the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season I should probably not attempt a prediction again, but, just so we're on record with this at the end of the season: I confidently predict that we are in for either a slow season, an average season, a busy season, or an unusually busy season this year. And you can count on that.
So our local library has a pretty cool system called Freegal which allows you to download three – exactly three – songs per week, DRM-free. This is awesome, but equally awesome is the completely incomprehensible search function. It works something like this:

Me: Huh. For some inexplicable reason, I don't have The Animals "House of the Rising Sun" and I want to sing along to it and scare the cats. I'll type in "Animals."

Freegal: Based on this, I shall return songs by Yo-Yo Ma and Dora the Explorer.

Me: Hmm. You did notice that I was doing ARTIST search.

Freegal: Dora the Explorer is one real animal.

Me: Ok, let's try song title. "Rising Sun."

Freegal: John Williams! Cadillac of the Skies! Oh, and Ethel Merman, Annie Get Your Gun. Because, well, I love Ethel Merman and she sometimes sings songs with the words "Rising" and "Sun."

Me: For god's sake. I know you might not have anything by the Animals [which turns out, sadly, to be true] but I know you have Dylan and Dolly Parton. How did you not return these?



Freegal: Jose Feliciano! AND ETHEL MERMAN.

Me: Hmm. Ok. "House of the Rising Sun."

Freegal: Susan Boyle!

Me: Susan Boyle recorded a cover of "House of the Rising Sun"?

Freegal: No, not at all. But it's clear that people who love Ethel Merman LOVE Susan Boyle!

Me: No, no it is not. Ok. Hmm. Well, since clearly I am not going to be downloading "House of the Rising Sun," and since you previously announced that more Ben Lee music would be coming soon, let's try Ben Lee.

Freegal: Oooh, I LOVE this one. Lee Roy Parnell! Except, you can't actually download that since it's just COMING SOON. Also, John Williams, The Music of Star Wars, and Julie Andrews, Sound of Music, and Henry Mancini, and the Body Snatchers, and Lee Greenwood, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and Hot Club of Cowtown, and Aretha Franklin, and Blondie, and Johnny Cash, and Kate & Ben, and Billy Joel and Jerry Lee Lewis AND ETHEL MERMAN.

Me: Sigh.


Searching under all Artists under "B" does show that yes, Freegal does offer a number of Ben Lee songs (this same sort of search was how I realized the Animals problem) but you certainly wouldn't know that from the search function.

It's kinda like stepping back several years to those initial wild search functions on the internet that so rarely brought you what you were looking for. Good times, really. Good times. And now, I suppose I should probably listen to some Ethel Merman. Just to follow the mood.
From multiple sources, a couple of recent articles explain again why most musicians make no money from record sales - and why most of that money ends up heading to the record label.

This is why some artists - the one that comes to mind is Jane Siberry - have given up on the concept of record sales altogether, while many others survive on touring and/or creating their own CDs/flash drives as best they can without the assistance of a major record label. I've met a few musicians who, if not exactly living life up in mansions and privately owned jets, are doing decently enough with independently produced CDs and small to large performances here and there. And others that are not doing financially well at all, which could be chalked up to the starving musician syndrome, but in part has to do with a large portion of an audience's limited resources going to record labels and the evil that is Ticketmaster (the last two times I've bought tickets through Ticketmaster - for Stephen Lynch and Jonathon Coulton, the Ticketmaster fees were 1/3 of the cost of the ticket.)

What's not mentioned here is another issue: the fees charged to record copyrighted songs. It's been awhile, so I don't remember the exact numbers involved, but some time ago, the singing group that I was directing was considering putting together a CD. One song we did rather well was "White Christmas," and since we certainly had no problems crediting and paying the Irving Berlin estate, and besides, didn't want to get the independent recording studio considering helping us out into any trouble, we figured we would just get a license for the song, pay whatever fees/royalties and move on.

The problem was, the initial fee - for a song, remember, written in 1940 and made famous not so much by Berlin but by Bing Crosby - was in the thousands of dollars. Thousands. Regardless of whether or not we sold a single CD. So, we rapidly dropped the idea of including "White Christmas" (and ended up not doing the CD at all, at least not with my involvement, but that's another story). The same thing - fees/royalties for copyrighted songs - are also part of the money musicians will owe record companies if they aren't playing their own work.

Off topic, while typing this up I lost a key from my three month old computer - maybe four month. Ok, yes, I realize I bought a cheap computer, but still!

(It's just the top of the left cursor key. I really don't type that hard. Maybe it was a cat.)


Jul. 6th, 2010 09:24 pm
So as I was typing away on an email, the doorbell rang, in a particularly demanding sort of way. I hadn't been expecting this in particular, but I headed over to see the UPS guy – several days early, with a long box, for me.

I'm almost afraid to tell you what was in it: a mountain dulcimer.

This should go well.

The cats look terrified.

Nope, I've never played one, or even handled one, before. But I did make the terrible mistake of putting all of my instruments – recorders, keyboard, pennywhistle – into storage, under the mistaken assumption that since I was no longer playing them that frequently, I could live without them, without the ability to play music. I forgot that just knowing they were there provided a certain reassurance. So, reassured. At least about the presence of the musical instrument. About my ability to actually play it, not so much.

But it has a lovely sound when strummed.
University of Oregon's On the Rocks does Lady Gaga:

Thanks to Devinjay for the link.
Dear Emusic.com -

Cyndi Lauper is NOT a guilty pleasure.

- me

(Destiny's Child and some Michael Jackson and Liza Minnelli songs might well be, though. Not that they're in my music library for me to verify at the moment.)
Heh. Total Eclipse of the Heart: Literal video version.

I vaguely recall some conversation back in college where we agreed that whatever anyone thinks of the song, the original music video might well be the worst music video ever made.
1. How to fail at disabled accessibility: Come up to the two people sitting on wheelchairs and a person with a stroller and say, distractedly, over and over again, "Well, we can't sit HERE we'll block your view we can't sit HERE we'll block your view oh we never want to block a HANDICAPPED PERSON'S view and then sit down right in front of the curb cut/ramp to the street crossing thereby preventing the wheelchair people and the stroller person from leaving. Expression of consideration: 1. Actual consideration: 0.

2. Alas, [profile] tgregoryt inexplicably finds jewelry "boring." On the bright side this got us through the stalls in record time.

3. Putting together a band and having them rehearse just "three times" before performing for the first time is not always the brightest of ideas.

4. Supposed "snacks" of roasted sweet potatoes can suddenly become entire dinners when loaded with sour cream and other things.

5. When you are at a music fest the music and the crowds eat away all of the extra calories of the sour cream and leave you with only the nutritional benefits of the sweet potato. This is really true. It is perhaps a little less true that enormous sweet potatoes should be washed down with ice cream.

6. Engaging in these foods, with the accompaniment of not exactly in tune music, may make you slightly too ill.

7. I know entirely too many cops by name in Winter Garden, FL.*

8. If you have a chance to see Nova Eva, do. Bonus: they provide excellent musical background for chatting with cops.

On a completely unrelated note, we are now a Wii household. One unexpected bonus: this provides intense cat entertainment. He hasn't exactly figured out why [profile] tgregory is punching the air, but he. can't. stop. watching.

* And some of you said that my trike might keep me from meeting people. Ha. Ha. Ha. Just LOOK at the people the trike has led me to - juvenile criminals, tired prosecutors, careless truck drivers, several paramedics, cops...


Sep. 3rd, 2009 05:24 pm
Bleck. Have just not been feeling well for the last few days. So some links for everyone:

1. If you missed the New York Times Magazine article about what a New Orleans hospital endured post Katrina, and the difficult choices its doctors and nurses made, it's here. A must read.

2. And then, on a totally different note, also from the New York Times Magazine, this article about the making of Where the Wild Things Are. Looking forward to that flick with mingled trepidation and excitement. Where the Wild Things Are was a book I found all on my own and one I couldn't. quite. get. Something more seemed to be just there, just behind the book – and I looked for it, in my bedroom and in the back yard and in my dreams but never could quite find whatever it was. And so it still lingers in my dreams.

Anyway, the bits I've seen from various trailers and so on look marvelous.

3. For the musical math geeks among you: a moebius strip music box.

4. From [profile] gargoylerose: Narwhals hunting for affection.

4. Finally, some marvelous free fiction popped up everywhere this week: Cabinet Des Fees and Ideomancer just published new issues (neither publishes frequently enough), and of course you are all regularly checking Fantasy Magazine and Clarkesworld, right? Right?
So there's a small meme going around about the first record/CD/music compilation you ever owned. Which got me to remembering the first – and for a long time, the only – record that I owned: "Sing With Grover." (At least, I think that was the title, or something similar – I can definitely say that the record had Grover on the cover and that Grover said "Sing!" so let's go with that.) I loved the record because on one of the tracks, I'm thinking track four, you could do a somersault right along with Grover. My mother hated this record because on one of the tracks you could do a somersault right along with Grover which she objected to primarily because I was (and am) terrible at somersaults and rather than following along with the song I usually ended up crashing into whatever was nearby, which was not usually beneficial to either me or whatever I crashed into, especially when this just happened, by complete accident, to be a small brother focused on trucks which would be irreversibly displaced by this. ("Over! Under! and Through!")

But the other reason that I loved the record was that it was mine, mine; I was the only person allowed to take it out of its little record place. It was the only record I was allowed to touch at all, as it happened – my father had (still has, now I think about it) an extensive collection of records that I was not allowed to touch on the reasonable basis that nobody wanted, say, the Unfinished Symphony to become still more unfinished, but I'd watch as he carefully drew the record out of the rack, then carefully out of its folder/case and equally carefully on the record player, and then, if I were very lucky, it would be silly songs that we could sing to (he had a surprisingly large collection of Woody Guthrie songs, and when you are six, that counts as silly songs we could sing to) and if I were just a little less lucky, it would be nice booming Beethoven that I could read my books to.

The Grover record was handled about the same way: if I had been good (which was not, alas, a very frequent occurrence) I could go and ask permission to play it. Then, one parent would turn on the record player on while I took out the record, being careful to do so exactly the way my father would, and I would very very carefully hand the record up to whichever grownup was at the record player machine (it was too high for me to use) and then – then – I was allowed to touch the button, and Grover and I would start singing. (This was another advantage of the Grover record – unlike Beethoven, Grover actually ASKED you to sing.) For a small moment – a very small moment – I controlled the music. I was a grownup.

The record made it safely to Italy, safely to the second apartment – and then, to my great distress, was broken by our mildly insane maid, an ex-nun who had escaped from the Communists and was now apparently spending her time breaking children's records. My bitterness towards the Communists – who also kidnapped various people in Italy and occasionally set off bombs but who were, in their defense, responsible for introducing me to a small Ukrainian friend whose parents had also escaped – remains to this day, since if they hadn't gone around bothering nuns and making them insane I would still have my Grover record. In a small aside this was actually the second religious worker turned insane by Communists that my family was connected to – the first was my thoroughly insane Aunt Helen, who chatted with various invisible Communists, who'd gone nuts after witnessing and narrowly escaping the Communist Revolution in China and the later Japanese invasion, but that's a separate story. The combination of Mary and Aunt Helen did, however, leave me with the firm conviction that if I were to ever become a nun, I most definitely needed to avoid Communist countries.

We never replaced the record. We couldn't. Italy did not have any Sesame Street records at all (we looked) and although my grandfather and my great-aunt, back in Florida, kindly offered to search South Florida for Grover, we had not had a great record – er, history – of things getting shipped safely to Italy. (They usually made it safely to Ro me, then mysteriously broke or chipped on their way up to Milano.) A record might not make it, and we weren't going back to the States that year at all. And by the time we moved back to the States – well, I was well past Grover by that age.

So that ended Grover. And that also ended my ownership of the old records and L.P.s; when we returned to the states, I first bought cassette tapes, then CDs and DVDs, then iTunes. And so, Grover wasn't just the first record I ever owned; it was the only one I owned. And so, to this day, I remember it clearly – and sometimes, just sometimes, I'm five again, singing, or shouting, "Over! Under! and Through!"
Three reasons to see this particular video: one, it managed to cheer me up after a seriously annoying day; two, the first minute and a half will do wonders for your vocabulary if you happen to be studying for the GRE test; three, if you have no interest in studying for the GRE test, you can easily skip ahead to 1:30 which is when things get good.

So, for my birthday, [profile] tgregoryt got me something absolutely awesome: a good sized patio garden stand, where, at least in theory, you can grow hanging tomato vines bursting with tomato flavor, and then in the top section grow flowers, if you are the nice picture, herbs, if you're me, and exotic vegetables if you're him. ("Uh. Do we even like those?" I asked, looking at the seeds. "We'll find out.")

Naturally, for awhile, the patio garden stood in solitary splendor in the living room, an object of interest to two furry creatures who swiftly realized that the columns and plastic poles of the patio garden provided marvelous places to spring upon other furry creatures in an unexpected fashion. It worked great, despite an extreme lack of plants.

A few weeks ago [profile] tgregoryt moved the patio garden out to the balcony, where the furry creatures happily found that the black plastic base warmed up beautifully in the sun and was a splendid place to sleep on. It still worked great, despite an extreme lack of plants, but we decided to push our luck, and put four little pots with tomato seeds on the top. (By "we" I mean "him.") I put water on the little seeds and sang tomato songs at them* and little sprouts leapt up into the happy sunshine, which we took as a sign to put the patio garden to full use. Which equally naturally is where things went wrong.

This Sunday, he transferred the tomato plants to their new hanging position and put soil on top and planted little seeds on the top. The tomato plants looked exactly like the picture, except, well, smaller. The tomato plants smiled. The furry creatures looked up and meowed. The sun shone. Night came. Morning came. Coffee came. The cats arranged themselves into careful nap positions.

Metallica's "Whiskey in the Jar"** came.


As [profile] blackgryphon pointed out, clearly, this meant the patio garden, and the tomato plants, were not Metallica fans. Or particularly fond of the pineapple plant, which they crushed on their way down.

As the afternoon progressed, I decided that letting it stay there could not be good for the plants, so I stepped out into the balcony, leaned down, and started to pull it up and nearly blacked out, learning the valuable lesson that leaning down to pick up heavy objects is no longer an activity I can engage in. A few seconds later I felt the firm claws of the Grey One keeping me down. So I decided to let [profile] tgregoryt handle this. Which he did (and despite my resulting major headache, I was somewhat cheered to realize that it was, indeed, heavy for him as well, if not dizzying), so we have hopes of tomatoes again. As long as I'm careful not to play Metallica around them.

* I don't actually know any tomato songs. I did sing English madrigals at them.
** I'm not a Metallica person, but that is one awesome cover of that song.

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