Monday, February 23, 2009

New Music Monday - February 23, 2009

February 23rd, 2009
Monday Evening, 6:34 PM

One way to work through writers block is to just push through it and force the process. Another way is to create structure and events which encourage you to write something new every week. I will be starting the latter today.

As I have written about before, one of my passions is music. All shapes and sizes of music. I keep a pretty current ear to the latest and greatest out in the market. I am not the type of music fan that can listen to the same 120 songs classic rock songs over and over again. I need diversity. I guess you can say I have been the type that is constantly looking for the next great sound, song, or band, regardless of what industry or masses dictate. If I hear something or an artist that I connect with, I generally consume everything the artist has put out to date, becoming a loyal activist and pass the sounds along to family and friends.

In that vain, I plan on offering weekly Monday post about songs or artist that I am currently listening to that you might find of interest. One of the frustrating things with the Blogger format that I currently use for posting is that they do not support MP3's to be posted by its users. My goal in the not so distant future is to move IMNALY to WordPress which allows such formatting. I am targeting a March move for this option. In the meantime, I will post six songs each week, with links (click on the song) to other blogs or sites that you can go and download for your listening pleasure. Enjoy.

Each week I will start with the most recent song I downloaded on to my iPod. This week that honor goes to...

U2 - "Breathe" from No Line On The Horizon
I have heard about 5 of the tracks off of the new U2 album which is due out on March 3rd. So far my first impressions have me a bit anxious. "Get On Your Boots" is a serviceable track, in dire need of a chorus to go along with those "Pump It Up" verses. This track "Breathe" has an Unforgettable Fire vibe working for it, but it really never goes anywhere or transcends like most of the best U2 song tend to. Seek out "Magnificent" for the sweeping Bono and Edge magic as it is the best track from NLOTH that I have heard to date. Fingers crossed and order already in for the album.

Gomez - "Airstream Driver" from A New Tide
This one is what I would label as a grower. At first listen, it did not connect with me as instantly as most of the track from their 2006 underrated gem How We Operate (check out the title track & See The World for a little catching up). Since I downloaded it I can't get the title portion of the song out of my head. "Airstream Driver" is a solid start for one of my most anticipated albums of the spring. Gomez will be staring a US leg of their tour in mid-March, with stops in Philly at the TLA on the 28th and NYC at the Bowery on the 31st. It looks like I will be catching the Philly show since the NYC show is already sold out.

The Airborne Toxic Event - "Sometime Around Midnight" from The Airborne Toxic Event
This 2008 release has been the most played song on my iPod since the New Year. In the vein of U2 and those sweeping, transcending songs that I described, I offer this superbly crafted, heart-thumping/breaker from a L.A. based band. Basically the song is a story about a guy that heads to a bar with friends, sees a woman he used to know (very well) from across the room, he gets loaded and she leaves with another man. About the time the protagonist ends that portion of the story, the song goes into the next gear and it sweeps you up as you follow him though his night of dread. "Sometime Around Midnight" is a classic post-modern break-up song.

Rufus Wainwright - "Wonderful / Song For Children" from War Child Heroes
For me this is a Orch-Pop master pairing. One of my favorite singer-songwriters from the past decade (Rufus) covering one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriter, Brian Wilson, from one of my all-time favorite albums, SMiLE. Recorded for a recently release charity album, Rufus does Mr. Wilson proud by adding his own subtle touches to Brian's pocket symphony. Rumor has it that Wilson and his collaborator Van Dyke Parks (who has also collaborated with Rufus) famously wrote "Wonderful" in a sandbox placed in his living room some 40 years ago.

Lonely, Dear - "Summers" from Dear John
Dear John is the second album from the Swedish electronic rock band Lonely, Dear. Emil Svanängen leads the band and creates these lush electronic and organic themes in each of the expressions. "Summers" is my favorite off the album thus far as it incorporates a breezy warm weather vibe over a gentle, breathy lyric. Lonely, Dear recently joined Andrew Bird on tour in the States.

Andrew Bird
- "Oh No" from Nobel Beast
This is by far the catchiest whistle-as-the-hook song since Peter Bjorn & John's "Young Folks". This is also by far the catchiest song to ever include the lyrics "calcium mines buried deep in your chest". Please don't let those type of lyrics scare you off. This is a first-rate indie-rock charmer. "Oh No" is currently my most played release from 2009 (according to my iPod). You won't be able to get that whistle out of you head for days, and that's a good thing.

Hope you enjoy the current selection and I look forward to having another six-pack of tracks prepared for your listening pleasure for next week.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dreams of My Grandfather

February 22nd, 2009
Sunday Morning, 11:36 AM

"The less you have to write about, the more personal and engaging the copy tends to be." Jeffrey Wells, Feb. 19th, 2009

I read this line this past week and truly wished this was the case. I have not posted in the past couple of weeks, my biggest drought to date. I have to admit, I and IMNALY have been suffering from writers block. This has been a discouraging development considering that I felt that I was on a bit of a writers roll in December and January. This is par for the course, I keep telling myself. It has been years since I have dedicated time to writing and it was bound to happen. Mr. Block was bound to rear its ugly head at some time or another.

As I dissect this recent development, I believe there are many reasons for this block. I have been consumed with trying to end up my second full quarter with my employer, Red Hat, on a decent note. My first six months at my new job have been rewarding, but in my perfectionist minds eye, those said months could have been better. There is more opportunity on the horizon, which is encouraging, and which has me hopeful that 2009 will be a solid year. Still, I have had to prioritize and work at this point has been priority number one over writing.

I have also been consumed with the bleak news of both the American and Global economy. In hindsight, I believe this is really number one on the list (I am kidding myself thinking this is not the case). To see 700,000 people losing jobs monthly and to hear the constant chatter of Bailouts and TARP and Sub Primes, it truly makes one not want to think about it and escape somewhere. As we all know, that is next to impossible at this point. The bad news is everywhere. I am hearing daily about friends or ex-colleagues that have lost or are looking for jobs. I am watching heads of states trying something/anything (is it the right thing?) to stop the bleeding. Is this a correction or is this the end of days? Depending on how much news you intake, it seems to be both.

Other recent developments in my family have had me focusing on the economy much more then I like. My sister and I are currently Executors for my Uncle's Will & Testament. This has been an arduous task for a number of different reasons and on a number of different levels. Mostly the difficulty is all due to timing, like mostly everything in life. To see an individuals monetary value diminish so quickly, at such a rapid pace, is discouraging and disheartening. To try to juggle someone's dying wishes, in this type of global climate and catastrophe (as some have called it), is just flat out improbable. Regardless of the timing of things, we have to try; it's our last chore for a person that we love.

See, most of the capital we are watching evaporate daily is tied to a legacy. It ties back to Scotland and a wee man from Paisley, outside of Glasgow. It ties to over 30 years of service to an American Institution; to the American Dream which encouraged him travel weeks across the Atlantic, with only his aspiration to cling to and lint in his pockets. It ties to the first 11 years of my life as this wonderful man lived with my family, helping to raise me, exposing me to not a Philadelphia accent at an early age, but to a Scottish brogue, watching his actions, learning his wisdom, providing me with a fundamental principles to start life.

That is what is making this so difficult for me. This exercise is providing closure on two levels, for two different times of my life. The final wishes of my Uncle will be fulfilled by the path that his father, my Grandfather, Willie Wright created. On Friday, I sold shares that my grandfather passed down to a generation before. On Friday, a part of our family's American dream transformed from potential earnings to a loss. As an American Institution's Market Cap dipped another 5 billion, part of my hardworking Grandfather's legacy left the earth, on Friday.

I am fortunate to be in such a position. It could be a lot worse, like it seems to be for so many of my fellow Americans at this time. My wife and I have a new house, good jobs, great children and a core group of support from family & friends. Still, with all of these negative vibes floating about, there are times I feel nervous about the uncertainty of the news I read. I worry about what might happen if one of us loses our jobs or is asked by our employers to work part time. Each time I do this; I take a step back and reflect to my Grandfather.

I think about how difficult it must have been for him to leave his family and journey out into the unknown at such a young age. He came to the States right before the Great Depression. He came to the States and raised a family during the Great War. In his lifetime he saw the "other" Wright Brothers' first flight and an Armstrong landing on the moon. He saw his children live a "better" life then he had. He took up golf at 60 and enjoyed it for 20 plus years. He smoked packs a day, ate pounds of cheese and butter with each meal, and enjoyed a good drink "to calm the soul". He lived an amazing life, because he was a fighter, and because he never gave up his "old world mentality" in the New World.

I think we could all use a little of that mentality right now. We need to get a little of our fight back. Kind of like that reporter on CNBC did this past Friday talking about the latest bailout. Agree with his "Rant", his politics, or not, it was good to see his emotion; it was good to see someone a little "made as hell and not going to take it anymore..." I heard a little of my Grandfather in that rant Friday. I know he would have enjoyed it. "About bloody time," he would have said. "Give them hell Pop-Pop," I say in his name now.

Ironically my Grandfather passed away 26 years ago, last Friday.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Put Your Records On

February 8th, 2009
Sunday Evening, 11:31 PM

Today is my birthday. Exactly 37 years ago, at 11:31 PM, under the light of a new full moon, I came into this world. My mother and father tried for 5 years to have a baby, and after all of that effort, they had me. Not sure who the lucky one is in that equation, maybe we all are. What I do know is that today, my birthday, will be different then all of the ones before.

Today will be the first time I will celebrate my birthday without some of my best friends around. No early morning calls wishing me the best. No "Brendan!" in that deep, fake, dramatic voice calling to wish me well. No quirky, snarky warm soul offering love & hope from miles away. Not today, and maybe never again. That's why this birthday does feel different in many ways.

Time is relative "they" say. Time is what you make of it. Do I feel 37? Who knows? What does a number feel like? I know one thing, I do not feel 13 or 20. I am older(obviously) and wiser then those incarnations of Brendan James Ferry Noone. I feel older, but not that old. I feel confident and comfortable in my own skin, if that means anything. Most of all, I feel like me. But a part of me does feel like something is missing today and I guess it always will from now on.

See, in my most recent assessment, it's half-time in my life. Hopefully this is my median age. I'll take living to 74, that sounds like a good, round number. Plus, I read this really disturbing article this weekend about Ray Kurzweil an inventor and futurist. Kurzweil believes that there will be a technology rapture by the year 2045, when he says that computers will surpass humans in intelligence. This article about knocked me out of my chair and solidified my 74
hypothesis and aspiration. Hopefully I can spend the next 37 years, before the "Singularity" as Kurzweil calls it, comfortable in my own human skin. I am ready for the challenge, just not ready for the war with the computers.

See, I would rather keep things simple. I would rather let the world spin, with flips and turns and me on board for the ride, taking in the sights and sounds and giving back. I liken this simplicity to one of the birthday gifts I received to from the girls, a record. Allow me to explain.

A little over 3 years ago, during a trip to Italy to see my in-laws, my father-in-law, this great combination of, half cosmopolitan, half old-world Italian, all knowing wisdom, offered me to take anything that I would like from his 50 year old record collection. Wow. This was like winning a shopping spree at Rough Trade Records in Notting Hill, London (my favorite record store in the world). He had everything. Jazz, R&B, Rock, Disco, you name it. His selection was in English and Italian and Portuguese, representing the many places he has lived around this great wide world. And did I say he had everything.

During that shopping spree I picked up the beginning of a great record collection and I also started a rewarding hobby. Thanks to my father-in-law, I have first editions of, The Stones "Exile On Main St.", Stevie Wonder's "Songs In The Key Of Life", Sinatra's "Come Fly With Me", Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay", Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and the Italian version of "Meet the Beatles" called "I Favolosi Beatles". Not a bad start to my new hobby.

Since that glorious day, I have added to my collection and have been buying a couple of LP's every other month. The surprising thing is, so has the American public. Little did I know that during my own private LP reawakening, LP sales were skyrocketing. According to SoundScan, the music-sales tracking company, sales of LP's increased by 89% in 2008 compared with the previous year. This was the only segment of the entire music industry which grew in sales last year. I guess its hard to download vinyl.

See, I love the LP experience, the artwork (I have my desert island covers hanging on the walls of my home office), the grooves, the clicks, and the overall sound that vinyl provides. The music sounds fuller and in my mind the experience is complete. With an LP you tend to let the side play out as intended. This is completely different then the current iPod experience of shuffles and skip counts and playlist. All in all, the experience is not compromised; it is generally what the artist and producer slaved over and planned out in the studio.

So what does my hobby of record collecting have to do with turning 37? Good question.

It all goes back to one of the gifts my girls gave me this morning for my birthday, The Beatles LP, "Abbey Road". Vibrant, my youngest daughter, likes the cover/artwork because it reminds her of the game we play when we cross the road in New York City (even though the Fab Four are waking across a London street on the cover) and Lovable, my oldest, likes the music on side two, especially Ringo's drums in the song "The End". I am partial to the second side of the album as well since it was really the last studio album the band worked on together. I love the song vignettes, or as uber-Beatles fans call it "the medley" that Paul and John play out during the final 16 minutes of the album. Is it the best Beatles Album? No, in my mind that goes to "Revolver" (sorry Pepper's but you are just a Paul album with John trumping you in the end with "A Day in the Life").

To me "Abbey Road" is like life. The first half has some stellar moments (i.e. Come Together, Oh! Darling), but by Beatles standards, Side One on a whole is disjointed, much like the first half of ones life. Everyone has moments in early life like George Harrison's "Something", sweeping, epic journeys of love and lust and bliss. They last for periods of time, offering growth and experience, but most of the time they come crashing down like "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" right after. Hey who said life was fair? For every gratifying "Oh! Darling", there is a tragic "Octopus's Garden" (sorry Ringo). It's all about the ebb and flow of learning how to grown in ones own skin, ones own mind. To me the first half of your life is just like the first 23 minutes of "Abbey Road"; solid, but there are bigger and better things to come....

Time to get up, and flip the record over, on to Side Two.

If Side One is the first 36 years of my life, then Side Two starts today. Hopefully this first year of the rest of my life will start as strong as Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun", with its lush harmonies and plush guitars. So far, for me, 2009 has been as strong. Work is going well, my new home & our roots are becoming more firm, I have been exercising more, even taking up Yoga to help me calm down and round out my work out routine. Hopefully, my 40s will ring in with the balance and calm of "Because". Hopefully the rest of my life will play out like "the medley", that 16 minute climax, with recurring themes, short spurts of songs, finished and unfinished, about love, money and the end, just like life. Hopefully life will have, twist,turns, grooves and endless spins just like the LP.

Hopefully, the girls will buy me "Revolver" next year and I can keep working on my collection, always striving for it to be bigger and better and more complete. Just like life and the next 37.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Kids Are Alright

February 1st, 2009
Sunday Morning, 11:34 AM

I have not written about my children on IMNALY. I have mentioned them, but I have yet to dedicate a post to them. I guess the reason is because I want to protect them. It could be my fatherly parental instincts taking over telling me to leave them out of this nebulous Internet; let them write about themselves years from now. Maybe this blog and its author have been too self-indulgent to find room for them. Maybe, but I doubt that. I think I was merely waiting for the right time. Well, this week my children made me smile. This week my children made me act like a child again for about an hour. This week, as they are every week, to paraphrase Pete Townsend, the kids were alright.

I have two lovable, vibrant, young daughters. I know what you are saying, I hate it too when writers’ gloat about their children or pets, but it is the truth. How do I know this is true? Well, that is what other people tell me. So if we take into account that 60% of people lie in everyday conversation (based on a study done by UMass) then only one of my daughters is vibrant and lovable. You will just have to take me word on the other one, she is cool too. This leads us to this week’s story.

My job requires that I travel. I find myself "on the road" about two days out of the week. Most, if not all of this travel, is done in the continental United States. I don't mind traveling at all. I welcome traveling and all of its potential experiences. I welcome the lessons that new cities or towns have to offer. As Mark Twain so eloquently put it 147 years ago, "...nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people." I go in with that type of attitude each and every time I touch down in a new destination.

See, I have a solid routine down when I travel, which is very important for me, and I enjoy the solitude that travel provides. I enjoy spending three or fours hours up in the air with a good book, great tunes, all the while collecting my thoughts. This week, unbeknownst to me, I had less solitude then I first thought. This week, thanks to Lovable and Vibrant, I had a stowaway with me on my trip to our nation's capital.

Here in the states (shout out to my international readers) there currently is an advertisement running for a major Telecom that features a "traveling father", a stuffed animal and a vibrant, lovable daughter. The gist of the ad is the "traveling father" finds the stuffed animal in his briefcase, planted by the daughter and takes pictures on his phone with the stuffed animal all throughout his travels. It's an effective advertisement. How do I know this? I actually remember which Fortune 500 company the advertisement is for. That only happens about 15% of the time for me. I would be a Market Researchers worst nightmare. I intentionally block that type of stuff out forcing them to work harder. Make me the protagonist in your story/ad and I will remember. Case in point.

My daughters love this advertisement for some reason
. Vibrant, my youngest, really loves this advertisement. How do I know this? Because she laughs at this ad from the second it starts to the last frame. See, Vibrant has this great laugh. It's one of those laughs that goes all the way down to the cockles of her heart, bounces back, and fills the room. Her laugh makes Lovable and me laugh every time. Her laugh is what some would describe as infectious.

I am not 100% certain on this, but my educated guess is that Vibrant told Lovable this was a great idea and Lovable said we have to do this to Dad. Which in turn they did this past week on my trip to Washington DC. I knew something was up by the laughter that accompanied me on my way out the door the night I left. They were just a little extra excited by my departure. "Have fun" they said giggling, as I closed the door of my car. When I sneaked a peak into my bag I saw a stuffed, sky blue Hippo hidden with my luggage. Let the games begin I thought.

The next day I had a meeting in Arlington, VA which is right across the river from Washington DC. I recruited one of my colleagues who has become my work travel buddy for the better part of the past 5 months. My colleague is this wonderful Southern Gentleman who could be the friendliest person I have ever met. At first I thought it was an act, but after spending the better parts with him all of these months I now know that is not the case. He is genuinely this pleasant. In our meetings together we balance each other out nicely. My North East sensibility tends to make me very direct, small talk has its time and place, but not when it’s getting in the way of my agenda. My colleague has taught me, especially when having meetings south of the Mason-Dixon Line, that small talk is a welcomed necessity and a valuable tool. I knew, just by my colleague’s nature, that he would be the perfect wingman for my picture project with the stuffed Hippo in DC.

After a successful meeting at a rival Telecom to the one in the Advertisement that I mentioned, my colleague and I ventured over the Potomac River and headed to the majestic monuments of our nation's capital. Washington DC is a beautiful American city. From its elegant landscape to its well designed layout to its alluring attractions, DC has much to offer. Couple those qualities with the current pomp and circumstance paid to our newly elected leader during his recent inauguration, and DC had a different aura for me that day. DC felt more alive to me then it has in years. Actually, it felt like people were working again in those Halls of Justice and Monuments of Democracy. As the sunset, my colleague and I braved the sub-freezing temperatures, armed with a camera phone, a stuffed animal and a mission to make sure Vibrant and Lovable were amused.

As you can see from the photos in this blog, Hippie, as my colleague dubbed him, had an unparalleled first time in DC. (And we had a pretty good time too.) We saw it all in perfect Technicolor lighting, the White House, the Capitol Building, The Mall, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, with Hippie in hand, snapping away pictures. Was it foolish? Of course it was. Was it fun? Of course it was. Was it worth it? You better believe it was.

My colleague and I wrapped up our DC tour with a stop at the Irish Times, a great little dive bar that is two blocks from the Capitol. I have spent a handful of nights at that bar when my sister went to College in DC and always enjoyed myself. On one memorable night during my sister's graduation week, my Uncle Bill and I closed the bar and did the "one more round on us" thing for all the people in the bar. Man I miss that guy. I miss creating those type of memories with him.

At the Times we emailed our first DC photos of Hippie to my girls. Was it worth it? Well, you should have heard their response when I called them to get their reaction. All it took was one sound of Vibrant's laugh and Lovable telling me that how funny it was and I knew we did them proud. That day I smiled. That day in DC I created one of those memories that I used to create with Bill. That day I smiled and created a memory and it was one of those moments that will stay in my soul for years to come.

Over a Guinness, in the Times, with my Colleague and Hippie and the memories of my past and the thoughts of my future, I realized that I had a great day and that I was lucky to have great daughters. Thanks Girls, you kids are alright. I love you.