March 2002 Notebook
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Sunday, March 31, 2002

Holbrook AZ to Panguitch UT, via Sunset Crater Natl. Monument, Wupataki Natl. Monument, Marble Canyon Bridge.

First real sightseeing day, now that we have the big mileage from Wichita to Holbook behind us. Still, Laura's already feeling the need for a NY Times, so we detour through Flagstaff to find a bookstore. Then we head north, considering the options, with the goal of getting close to Bryce Canyon. With Humphreys Peak to the west, we detour east to Sunset Crater, a lovely swoop of road through high forests to skirt a 1000-year-old cinder cone -- much smaller than Capulin (in NM) but more a part of its landscape. The road then heads north through Wupataki Natl. Monument, famed for Anasazi ruins sandwiched between the high forests and the painted desert. This road throws us back on the main drag, over the Little Colorado, past Tuba City, toward Page. We detour again, down to Marble Canyon and across the Colorado -- a bridge and canyon similar to (albeit more intimate than) the Rio Grande bridge near Taos NM.

Saturday, March 30, 2002

Liberal KS to Holbrook AZ.

Archetypical breakfast in Liberal: Pancakes at the Pancake House on Pancake Blvd. As a native Kansas I've been waiting to do that all my life. The association is due to the annual Pancake Race, which pits Liberal women against some small town in England, and is a big local news event. We hit the road after breakfast -- Liberal's modest fame is wrapped up in pancakes, semipro baseball, and their aviation museum, but nowadays it's hard to think of anything but cowshit when you're in town. Which, I might add, is a recurrent theme until you're well past Dalhart, TX.

The scenery from Liberal to Dalhart is flat and barren, short grass and agricultural stubble which indicates that it's still farmed hard, even though it's high and dry, frozen in winter and scorched in summer. Once we pass the NM border, things change: desert plants appear, the landscape breaks into mesas and small canyons. We stop for lunch in Tucumcari -- Chinese joint, pretty good -- then hop on I-40. I've done this stretch several times, so mostly just want to chew up as many miles as possible. We wind up in Holbook AZ.

Friday, March 29, 2002

Wichita KS to Liberal KS.

Loaded up the car and took off around 7PM, figuring to get the first familiar stretch of western KS out of the way without seeing it.

Monday, March 25, 2002

Post-Oscar comments:

  • At least two nominated movies, Iris and The Man Who Wasn't There, haven't been to Wichita. There were more that I missed: the one I most regret is Moulin Rouge, although I've never had much stomach for musicals.
  • The 9/11 bits felt forced, obligatory, awkward. But-we're-at-war guilt hardly surfaced. It wasn't quite normalcy, but it was mostly business-as-usual.
  • The high point of the show was the Woody Allen stand-up. Followed by the film clips (not the tributes) in the Sidney Poitier collage, capped by Julia Roberts's goofball "I kissed Sidney Poitier" boast.
  • I never knew that John Goodman sings better than Jackie Gleason; I did know that Goodman dances better.
  • It's noteworthy that both supporting actor winners could have been considered lead roles: they both support, complement, and largely redeem their staring biopics.
  • I hear the film companies spent $60M campaigning, which must have something to do with the narrowness of the candidates. This bodes ill -- even as it stands this is little more than a fashion show and exercise in self-gratification. We just saw Fellowship of the Ring, and the notion that it is a good let alone great movie is even farther fetched than its plot line. And while I did enjoy A Beautiful Mind at the time, further delving and reflection continues to weaken it. One has to suspect that Ali's absence was mere fiscal prudence; at the very least, Ali's musical interludes were extraordinarily editing and fine cinematography, the acting was excellent, the script was judicious and sensible; only the excess boxing weighed it down, but that came to no more than 30% of the numbskull violence in Fellowship of the Ring.

Sunday, March 24, 2002

Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Never having read (or even been tempted by) the books, I have to guess that whatever charm and nuance they must certainly possess has been relegated here to the set direction, which aside from the stereotypical architecture of gothic/protoindustrial doom has more detail than can be apprehended in real time. The philosophical musings are something else -- baggage for characters who hardly ever rise above cartoons. That leaves us with little more than an exceptionally violent action picture tarted up with a lot of garish special effects: I couldn't help but feel beaten, bruised, and bloodied by the time I limped out of the theater. C+

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Still alive; still feel like shit. Time at least to kick off another record list.

  • Aesop Rock: Labor Days (2001, Def Jux). Underground rap, wordy, a bit monotonous, clever, smart, finally picks out a nice groove. A-
  • Issa Bagayogo: Timbuktu (2001, Six Degrees). Distinctively, prototypically Malian, a wondrous melding of Keita-ish vocals with Toure-ite groove. A-
  • Buck 65: Man Overboard (2001, Metaforensics). An MC who comes up short for words, a mixmaster who leans toward minimalism, a dabbler in sci-fi pastiche, his most conventional piece a deadpan lament for his late mother. A rapper who's not only white, he hails from Halifax. He mixes in listener comments, some extolling him to cut the crap, some just marveling at the beauty of it all. I side with the latter, and love even the crap. A
  • Burnt Sugar: The Arkestra Chamber: Blood on the Leaf, Opus No. 1 (2001, Trugoid). Seeing as how critic Greg Tate is credited with conduction, I refiled this mostly instrumental, sometimes far out, often beautiful music as jazz. Took me a while, as it does tend to slip past. A-
  • Nikka Costa: Everybody Got Their Something (2001, Virgin). Named in a couple of year-end lists, I picked this up from the library not expecting much. It's pretty conventional, with a bluesy Janis Joplin feel, but nowhere near the grit. B
  • Ego Trip: The Big Playback (2000, Priority). Another grand noise in the hood. B+
  • Fat Beats & Bra Straps: Classics (1983-93, Rhino). Solid, not indelible. B+
  • Fat Beats & Bra Straps: New MCs (1993-97, Rhino). Deffer, less classic. B+
  • Kenny Garrett: Simply Said (1998, Warners). A lovely record. Garrett has a nice, clean tone, and can reach for a Coltrane riff when he wants to stretch out. B+
  • Woody Herman: Jazz Hoot / Woody's Winners (1965, Collectables). A twofer: the latter improbably sported a crown in early editions of The Penguin Guide, the former close kin. The problem with Herman has always been that nobody (not Kenton, not even those Basie tomes with atom bombs on the cover) could pour it on so thick, but his most ennervating music somehow manages to make a virtue of excess. Live Featuring Bill Harris Vol. 1, for example; most of this bowls over all resistance. A-
  • The Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw Sessions (1985-87, Blue Note 2CD). At this date, slower than you'd expect from Woody, and faster than you'd expect from Freddie. B
  • B.B. King: Making Love Is Good for You (2000, MCA). "Since I Fell for You," "I Know," "I'm in the Wrong Business," a couple you don't recognize because he just tossed them off. By now he's an institution, and he knows more about his business than he volunteers. I'm skeptical about the Louis Jordan move, but this one's pretty solid. B+
  • Chris Knight: A Pretty Good Guy (2001, Dualtone). Sounds more like Steve Earle this time. Pretty good Steve Earle, in fact. A-
  • George Lewis / Red Allen: The Circle Recordings (1951, American Music). Excellent trad jazz outing, with a couple of Allen vocals along with their usual fine instrumental work. B+
  • MC 900 Ft. Jesus: Welcome to My Dream (1991, Nettwerk). B+
  • Millennium Hip-Hop Party (1983-93, Rhino). Hits. A-
  • Orchestra Baobab: Pirates Choice (1982, World Circuit/Nonesuch 2CD). The most beguiling music I've heard in quite some time: Cuba via Senegal, but in both respects stripped to a rare simplicity. I've played one or both discs every day for 2-3 weeks. This led me to go back to the two other Baobab CDs I have, both of which have also been upgraded. But this is the most satisfying. A
  • Quannum Spectrum (1999, Quannum). Underground plays, some def, some surprisingly conventional, slowed down by too much schtick. B+
  • Steppenwolf: All Time Greatest Hits (1967-73, MCA). Considered heavy at the time, or at least progenitors of subsequent heavy, the big problem is that even if you give them extra credit for historical significance, almost nothing that came in their footsteps turned out to be listenable. So scratch that, and you wind up with a pop band with enough amplification to hold an arena, kind of like a leaden, clubfooted Doors. So scratch that, too. B
  • Ray Stevens: Greatest Hits (1983, RCA). Classified as country because country has more stomach for novelties than the Perry Como set, although when he does play it straight he sounds like Como manqué. I'm a sucker for funny; just wish this was funnier. B-
  • The Very Best of Big Joe Turner (1951-59, Rhino). Although limited to the prime Atlantic period, this at least suggests where he came from, and where he went to; regardless of documentary value, that doesn't make this better than Greatest Hits. A-
  • Dave Van Ronk: The Folkways Years (1959-61, Smithsonian/Folkways). From the notes, Van Ronk's right that he isn't much of a jazz singer, but his spare fingerpicking doesn't aim much higher than he can reach, and his models put him well ahead of the usual folk game. B+
  • Yo! MTV Raps: The CD (1987-88, Jive). More hits. A-

Sunday, March 17, 2002

Movie: Monster's Ball. The set-up (racist death row prison guard falls for black widow of executed black murderer) isn't promising, but the story unfolds with such patient and inexorable logic that the overweening irony seems beside the point. Central are three generations of prison guards, refracting profound changes not just in terms of race, with lead Billy Bob Thornton caught in the middle: under the thumb of his vile father, shocked by the suicide of his scorned son, finally moved to rethink and restructure his life. The central scene, I think, is where Thornton stops to accept condolences from two black youths his son had befriended; we're surprised to know that Thornton knows their names (although not which is which). This starts a series of small steps as Thornton opens his mind to free it from the oppressive destruction of the past. The chance encounters with Halle Berry fill out the story; here, she does most of the action, and most of the reaction, with a flamboyantly emotional performance that only Thornton's steadiness keeps from tearing the movie apart. The resolution is unspoken: the audience knows more than the characters themselves, and this understanding is the movie's payoff. It's a bit pat, but this is not a simple liberal movie on racism or the death penalty; it's deeper than that. A-


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