Archive for December, 2007

Walk Hard

I saw Walk Hard at the Chase Park Plaza Cinemas, motivated by this interview on NPR‘s Fresh Air. After seeing Ray, I blogged about my disappointment. There was plenty to enjoy in Ray, but it was so hokey. The dialog was blunt. Rather than convincingly acting them out their feelings, the actors declared them aloud. They were too often substitute narrators instead of people. There were too many flashbacks and fantasy sequences. Walk Hard is more closely patterned on Walk the Line. I never posted about it, but I saw it and enjoyed a lot of it, too. Its touch was a little lighter than Ray‘s, but that’s not saying much. Many episodes of Behind the Music follow the same basic outline of troubled childhood, rise, decadence, fall and redemption. Walk Hard takes the pattern and hams it up.

Walk Hard also owes a lot to the Rutles movie All You Need Is Cash. The scenes when Dewey Cox retreats with the Maharishi and the Beatles seem particularly close. More generally, Rutles songs ape Beatles songs without directly copying them. The music in Walk Hard follows the pattern. They are original songs, mostly quite catchy in their own right, that copy the spirits of various pop musicians. I have not seen the Rutles comparison made, but it must be because I have not looked hard.

Although not a new idea, Walk Hard is a well executed one. With the rash of biographical music films in recent years, the subject was ripe for mocking. I laughed frequently while watching. Satire is always a hit-and-miss thing. This movie is a miss for plenty of people, and its ticket sales are somewhat slow. In the lull between the major holidays, though, it is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy a little entertainment.

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Michael M. on December 29th 2007 in General, Movies, Music

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! My blogging has fallen sharply in the past several weeks. I have been busy writing, just not here. Instead, my writing has gone into finishing graduate school. I have a while yet to keep pushing, and I have squeezed the time spent on this blog and several other pleasant diversions. 2008 will bring me to the end of graduate school and through most of my clinical clerkships in medical school. It is a busy and exciting time. I hope my friends reading have wonderful holidays and a great 2008.

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Michael M. on December 24th 2007 in General

Suzanne Vega at Blueberry Hill

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I saw Suzanne Vega at Blueberry Hill. Although right after the holiday, I good crowd showed. I did not make a complete list of the song. She played too many, but I do know that she performed the following:

“New York Is a Woman”

“Ludlow Street”

“Pornographer’s Dream”

“Marlene on the Wall”

“Frank & Ava”

“Gypsy”

“Blood Makes Noise”

“In Liverpool”

“Luka”

“Tom’s Diner”

“Small Blue Thing”

“The Queen and the Soldier”

“Caramel”

“Left of Center”

“(I’ll Never Be) Your Maggie May”

The mix between new and old songs was smooth. I think it grows from the relationship with her fans. She plays new material, which the fans appreciate, and she also plays the old songs many want to hear.

The backing band was very tight. It included Mike Visceglia. The other time I saw her was in 2000 at the Bottom Line, and it was just the two of them. Having the additional band members opened more of her repertoire to live performance. I do not listen to her music on the tight rotation I used to have, but I still enjoy it. It was great to see her again in a small club.

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Michael M. on December 24th 2007 in General, Live, Music

Brain tracing

I recently blogged about Neuroscience 2007, the Society for Neuroscience meeting. Sebastian Seung delivered one of the big lectures. This story on /. covers the centerpiece of his talk. It points to this Technology Review article. Using electron microscopy, researchers are reconstructing all the cells and their connections in small pieces of neural tissue. It is not clear how much knowing how something looks will help in understanding how it works. David Van Essen is quoted in the article saying the same thing.

Jeff Lichtman coined “connectomics,” the cataloging of how neurons are connected. Another recent article in the Technology Review profiled a new tool from his lab, the “brainbow.” In the genetically engineered mouse, different neurons express different combinations of fluorescent proteins. NPR‘s Talk of the Nation Science Friday covered it, among many others. Time will tell how practical imaging of these mice is, but the idea is a step forward that will bear fruit sooner or later.

Neuroanatomy is in the middle of a great resurgence. Although anatomy can tell only part of the story. It is a big part. Neuroscientists have spent over a century working without much knowledge of the connectivity among neurons. Technological advances have progressed sufficiently for a new generation of methods, and I look forward to the continued unfolding of these developments.

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Michael M. on December 24th 2007 in General

Scientism

When I read the title “Taking Science on Faith,” a recent op-ed in The New York Times, I wondered whether the paper publishes satire. The piece must have been intended as serious. Paul Davies is a physicist known for his writing.

Although serious, it is wrongheaded. Scientific results are provisional. Their future success rests on the continued accumulation of evidence.

You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour.

Why not? Davies has this habit of stating how things must be throughout the article. They are offered without justification. That he arrives at strange conclusions with such unnecessary and unacknowledged assumptions is predictable.

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Michael M. on December 24th 2007 in General

Licit marriage

Taking Marriage Private” in The New York Times brings forth a question I have pondered for several years. Stephanie Coontz asks why marriage has become such a matter for the state rather than just families and churches. While marriage does give a couple many legal privileges, I do not see how it is the best way to do so or why it should be the exclusive means for granting some of them. I hope that the popular topics of homosexual marriage and births out-of-wedlock lead to public discussions about what marriage ought to be.

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Michael M. on December 24th 2007 in General

Dance away

The New York Times has this article on the dying of Czech polka. I was reminded of old Missouri dance traditions. Several small communities throughout the state still hold annual festivals with dancing, but they were a secret from me until I met local dance musicians. I would like to experience some of them for myself although I do not know when I will have the opportunity. In particular, I would like to visit the Old Time Music Ozarks Heritage Festival where my great-grandmother grew up.

Soulard Coffee Garden held monthly square dances, but they have ended. The organizer is moving, and supposedly, the business did not want to pay for the dance hall license required in the City of Saint Louis. Some friends were regulars. I never made it out, and now I never will. The last one was in November.
Contra dancing is going strong. The Childgrove Country Dancers have an active calendar. I have played there two times with the Folk School Wall of Sound. It is fun. Although certainly traditional, I think it grew out of the folk revival rather than emerging from a more continuous historical line.

The biggest contrast I saw in the article was string bands versus wind bands. Traditional dancing here and many places in America is more oriented toward string bands. Judging from the article, polka bands are mostly wind instruments. I do not think that the distinction is hard or fast, but I do wonder how it happened.

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Michael M. on December 12th 2007 in General

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