Semi-Vacation

About the time this post goes live, I’ll be boarding a plane, heading for Sedalia and the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

I’ve uploaded Feline Friday posts for the next two weeks–I know better than to leave y’all with no cats–but don’t count on anything else. There may be a few short posts. There may be a few tweets (If you’re not following me on Twitter, why not? I’m @CaseyKarp over there.) Or not. We’ll see.

Regular posting will resume June 13th.

In the Mood

I’m finding it difficult to get into the Christmas spirit this year. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Music helps–but let me be clear: I’m not talking about the usual carols that are infecting every public or semi-public venue these days. Those things will, if you’re lucky, only induce ennui and low-grade tension; if you’re out of luck, expect homicidal rage shading to full-blown psychosis. We all have our triggers. For the record (sorry), mine is “The Little Drummer Boy”.

The next tier is a bit better. That’s the tracks you’ll only hear on the radio (or modern equivalents). The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Mannheim Steamroller. Trans-Siberian Orchestra. They’re not active downers, but the spiritual uplift is modest and temporary.

No, if you want to get the biggest Christmas bang for your musical dollar, you need to dig deep.

Jugology/The Christmas Jug Band or Bob and Doug.

Deeper:
Spike Jones (one more) or Tom Lehrer

Deepest:
Yogi Yorgesson (one more)–and don’t forget Stan Freberg

Don’t stop there, though. Keep digging, and you’ll find yourself in the Christmas spirit soon enough.

Uh… Now that I think about it, what is the Christmas spirit, anyway? I mean, what is it for those of us who aren’t actually, you know, Christian? Is that even a legitimate question?

I think it is. If nothing else, adopting some of that spirit makes for good camouflage. We may need as much of that as we can scrounge up in the next few years. Whoops! I think I’m slipping out of the mood again. Sorry.

Anyway, stripped of the explicitly religious trappings, the answers I’m seeing online to the question of what the Christmas spirit might be include such gems as “selfless action that brings people together,” “a generous heart and forgiveness,” and “a warm and gooey feeling.”

Hmm.

I can get behind some of that.

Selfless actions I can do. Maybe not enough to change the world, but that’s not really the point, now is it?

Generous heart? Within curmudgeonly limits, sure. I might not give you the shirt off my back, but I’ve got a dresser full of ’em that I’m not wearing at the moment. But I’m going to have to skip the “forgiveness” bit. There’s a general implication of universal forgiveness there–probably a relic of that religious “turn the other cheek” thing. Sorry, but I’m one of those annoying people who insists universal forgiveness is hooey. I’m going to insist on seeing a least a hint of repentance and some faint hint of an effort at recompense before I forgive an offense. I’m not going to name names, but I’m quite sure the people I’m not forgiving this year know who they are. Growl.

Ahem. Sorry. Moving on.

Warm and gooey? Got that feeling down. See, for the last couple of weeks, Rufus has been climbing into our laps and curling up to purr. It’s nice, but it could just be the weather. Overnight temperatures are getting into the thirties here. Not as cold as elsewhere, sure, but definitely cold enough to qualify as winter. So we’ve been taking Rufus’ cuddles with a grain of salt.

Until last night. He settled down, started his chirr, and then stretched out his neck and started licking my fingers. And no, he wasn’t after dinner leftovers.

Warm and gooey? Oh, yeah.

So if the music isn’t doing it for you, try a lapful of cat. Don’t have a cat and can’t afford to adopt one? Ask around: the odds are good you’ve got a friend who’ll loan you one. ‘Tis the season, after all.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

Warped

Apparently, today is one of those days.

You know what I’m talking about, right? A day where you feel perfectly normal and as rational as you ever do, yet the entire world around you is just a little bit off-kilter.

For example, you do something you’ve done every day, and it goes awry. Allow me to assure you that boiling water does not improve the flavor of crispy rice cereal, nor does cold milk make good tea.

The cup and bowl were in the same relative positions as always. If nothing else, muscle memory should have ensured that the liquids went into the correct vessels. And yet breakfast was a flop.

Fast forward a few minutes. I sit down in front of the computer and, as usual, hit the “minimize everything” key. Nothing happens. Hit it again. One more time. Stare at screen. Realize that nothing has happened because there are no programs running, thus there’s nothing to minimize.

* If you’re using Windows 10, that’s Windows Logo + D. Handy.

A little investigation reveals that Firefox and File Explorer aren’t running because the computer rebooted to install updates while I was eating breakfast. Doesn’t that usually happen in the middle of the night?

It can’t really be the entire universe that’s gone kitty-wumpus, can it? I mean, Occam’s Razor suggests that it’s more likely me than everything else.

And then I launch Firefox. It opens with the last page I had been looking at before I went to bed last night. And I discover that the BABYMETAL Reddit is swamped with reports that–well, take a look at this and tell me the universe hasn’t gone berserk.

OK, yes, it’s fairly common for high-profile Jpop groups to have TV shows. It’s not even unheard of in the US. Leaving aside made-for-TV groups like The Monkees and made-for-animated-TV groups like Jem and the Holograms (and what child of the seventies could forget Josie and the Pussycats, no matter how hard he tries,) real bands have made the jump to drawings before. Let’s not forget that there was an animated Beatles TV show in the late sixties.

So there’s precedent.

But. “The action-adventure will take viewers inside the magical world of heavy metal music as it comes under attack, and one lonely god, Kitsune, forms the warrior band BABYMETAL to save the day.”

Yes, it’s in line with BABYMETAL’s existing iconography, but at best, this has to be a finalist for the title of most peculiar premise in history. (I hesitate to say “lamest,” if only because I think The Banana Splits have that one sewn up.)

The whole portal fantasy aspect of the pitch makes me suspect that the animated parts of the show won’t be voiced by the band–there’s nothing new about that, either–and I do have to wonder what the ratio of live action to animation is going to be.

Not that anything is set in stone at this point. The project is “currently in development.” As we all know, that means there’s a conference room somewhere, with a bunch of animation studio executives on one side of a table, music industry executives on another side, both groups liberally flavored with lawyers, negotiating everything from story arcs to whether costumes can be reused from stage performances.

Heck, we don’t even know whether the plan is to go for TV or the Web. That room full of executives probably don’t know yet, either.

But, still. I think my universe is warped, like an LP left too near the radiator. Can I get an exchange, please?

A Local Infinity

I’ve found a new online toy, and it’s almost as much of a time-sink as TV Tropes.

Well, OK, this toy is new to me; it actually dates back to 2012–positively ancient in Internet terms. If you already knew about The Infinite Jukebox, I beg your indulgence while I babble for a little while.

Before I get into the details, I should point out that you’ll need to use Safari on a Mac or Chrome on anything else to follow the links. But that shouldn’t be a problem. Everyone has at least five browsers* installed on their computer, right?

* In my case, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Konqueror, Vivaldi. Windows users, feel free to replace Konqueror with whichever browser Microsoft gave you.

TIJ is founded on a seemingly simple premise: in any piece of music, there will be multiple points where the sound is very similar. Not just the specific musical notes, but the instrumentation, vocal tone, lyrics, and so on.

By mapping those points of equivalence and matching them up, it becomes possible to jump from one to another, extending a piece of music indefinitely.

It can work very well. Naturally, the first piece of music I tried was a BABYMETAL track. It turned out to be an excellent candidate for eternity: there are a large number of matching points, relatively evenly distributed through the piece. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I listened for half an hour before I decided it was time to try something else.

Other selections didn’t work as well. Chihiro Onitsuka’s “Gekkou” doesn’t have enough matches to generate enough variety to be infinitely entertaining, and it has a regrettable tendency to get caught in a repeating loop.

Note that there’s no philosophical reason to limit TIJ to popular music, though there are technical reasons. I first tried a favorite Classical piece, Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Haydn”*. It took a long time to process–not surprising, since it is more than twenty minutes long–before erroring out.

* The theme isn’t actually by Haydn, but that’s a different story.

So I tried something a bit less ambitious: the overture to Rossini’s “William Tell”. As it turned out, I wasn’t the first person to try that selection. There were already at least three different versions in the database. It worked very well, once I got past the mental hiccup of “that’s not the way the music goes”*. It was much harder to do that with Rossini than with any popular piece I tried. Given the amount of time I’ve spent listing to BABYMETAL over the past few years, it can’t have anything to do with familiarity. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’ve played the William Tell Overture, not just listened to it. I invite speculation from any psychologists, amateur or professional.

* Those of you familiar with Rossini’s approach to composition are already asking “How can you tell it was being played by TIJ?”. You may be amused to hear that the playback got stuck in a complex series of jumps shortly before the end of the piece, and it was a couple of minutes before I realized it was going around and around the same territory.

Quite a few people have tried the “Mars” movement from Holst’s “The Planets”. I didn’t think it held up well. The connections were plentiful and well-balanced, but so much of the piece’s impact depends on the way it builds to the climax, that jumping ahead or back is hugely jarring. Portions of the playback did sound oddly like the Main Title from the original “Star Wars,” however; a connection I’d never made before.

Huh. There are a hell of a lot of people who tried the “Cantina Band” track. Now there’s a piece that lends itself well to eternal fragmentation and recombination, since it’s already heavy on repetition.

Ragtime works reasonably well. How about an infinite “Maple Leaf Rag“?

I could go on and on in a sort of textual infinite jukebox, but I’ll spare you. To send you off appropriately, here’s one last link illustrating the perils of dropping down this particular rabbit hole.

Shameless Pandering

Hello and welcome to the hundreds of readers who came by to check out the BABYMETAL portion of Tuesday’s post. Thanks to all of you, Tuesday’s total of 303 page views is this blog’s best day ever, and the second-most popular post ever. Mind you, it’s got a long way to go to beat the most popular, but that’s beside the point.

When the daily traffic jumps by an order of magnitude, there’s really only one thing you can do: more of the same! So, for my regular readers who don’t care about BABYMETAL, come back tomorrow for the usual Friday cat post–and for those of you who don’t care for the cat posts, I promise I’ll have something not-at-all-cute on Tuesday.

But before I begin pandering to public demand, a brief public service announcement.

Tomorrow, July 29, is the last day to get the free Windows 10 upgrade. If you’ve been planning to do it, but keep putting it off, it’s time to stop procrastinating. I still suspect the free upgrade will return, but if you’re going to do it at all, don’t take the chance that you might miss out. For those of you who have upgraded, the Windows 10 Anniversary Edition is supposed to be released next week. Don’t be surprised if you see a really large download happening in the background.

Moving on.

More pictures from the July 14 concert in San Francisco. As before, these are my humble fan shots, not professional pictures taken with pro-grade equipment and the cooperation of the subjects. Don’t expect sharp focus or perfect framing and we’ll get along fine.

I mentioned on Tuesday that my camera had problems with the red lighting. And there was a lot of red. I wound up with several shots like this:
28-1

And more than several that are vague, red blurs. But I rather like the way this one came out, in that it looks more like the result of a filter than a visit to the near-infrared.

This next one is one of the few cases of perfect timing I managed.
28-2
Just enough red to accent the iconic pose, and–as you can see at the lower left corner–just before the infamous Left Arm of Doom swept away the view.

For all that I joke about my camera, I have to say that it has an excellent optical zoom.
28-3
That was one of my top criteria in selecting it. Technology may have advanced in the five years since then, but as long as it keeps getting me shots like that one, I don’t see any reason to upgrade.

Shortly after that shot, I got this one:
28-4

You know, I often think the band doesn’t get enough recognition. That’s usually the case, and not just in music: the headliners get all the credit, and the supporting cast just get paid. But sometimes a “thank you” is just as important as a paycheck.28-5
Thanks, guys. You done good.

I’ve got dozens more photos, but I’ll save them for some future occasion where I want to pull traffic this way.

For now, I’ll just say
28-6

“See you!”

Four for the Price of One

I’ve had an unusually busy couple of weeks, even without GT’s contributions* to the excitement.

* GT is, by the way, doing well. He had the drain removed from his cheek Sunday. He continues to remove the Cone o’ Shame, but is making no effort to evade the other medical necessities (mostly warm compresses twice a day).

Maybe it won’t seem all that busy to many of you, but keep in mind that I typically go to maybe two movies–and less than one concert–a year. Add a couple of ballgames, and that’s pretty much it for my outside entertainment. Somehow, however, I found myself going to two concerts and two movies in two weeks.

All that makes for a priceless opportunity–four ready-made blog posts!–that I’m going to shamelessly squander. One post, four mini-reviews. Ready? Let’s go.

Saturday, 7/9: The BFG

Let’s be honest. The BFG is not one of Roald Dahl’s best books. It’s certainly not in the same league as the Charlie books or James and the Giant Peach*. Not even Fantastic Mr. Fox (no, there really isn’t a “The” at the beginning of the title). The end isn’t really an end, it just sort of fades out. The climactic confrontation nearly slips by unnoticed. And later events happen without much reference to earlier happenings.

* My personal favorite.

So the movie didn’t have a high bar to clear. But Spielberg–or rather, he and screenwriter Melissa Mathison–didn’t settle for a simple transposition of book to film. A single example of the improvements they made: In the book, there’s a minor argument between Sophie and the BFG which neither wins, and the subject is immediately dropped. In the movie, the BFG wins the argument by doing an endrun around Sophie’s better judgement. As a result, we get bagpipes and jet-propelled corgis.

Mathison and Spielberg added a few other callbacks to events earlier in the film, and as a result, the ending became more satisfying, dramatically and emotionally.

It was never going to be a major smash, but it deserves better than the reception than it’s currently getting at the box office.

Thursday, 7/14: BABYMETAL

You know I’m not going to diss BABYMETAL.

But I do have a couple of complaints, so let me get those out of my system first. Standing in line outside the venue was cold. Twainian levels of cold. Nobody’s fault, but the group’s management missed an opportunity: if they had moved the merchandise sales outside before the doors opened, they would unquestionably have sold a huge number of hoodies.

Once they opened the doors, it still took a long time to get inside–they were funneling the entire audience through a pair of metal detectors. From what we overheard, it was the first time they had used them, and their inexperience showed. Given the ongoing controversy over whether BABYMETAL is really metal, I wondered if they were going to turn away anyone who didn’t set off the detectors: “Sorry, kid, you’re not metal enough to attend this show.” I didn’t see that happen, but I also didn’t see it not happen.

The Regency Ballroom was kind enough to open the balcony so those who wished to avoid the mosh pit that consumed the entire main floor could do so. The balcony even had seats! Not that the seats mattered, because as soon as the first notes sounded, everyone stood up. Including the six-footer in front of me. I’ve got some lovely photos of the back of his head and arms.
26-1
No, that shot really isn’t as perverted as his arm makes it look, but the rest of the shots he was in are so much more completely blocked that they don’t amount to much more than unintelligible blurs.

My apologies, by the way, to whoever was behind me. I hope you were taller than I am.

Still, I did get some good shots, especially when the lighting wasn’t so red it threw off the camera’s focus.
26-2
OK, “good” by my standards. Stop laughing, Beth.

And no number of bodies could block the music.

I was able to let go of my brain and get into the experience–my first metal concert!–and wound up exhausted and sore-throated in a good way. All in all, I had a fantastic time, and yes, next time I find myself in proximity to a BABYMETAL show, I’ll attend. I’ll just make sure I have a better line of sight to the stage.

Tuesday, 7/19: Ghostbusters

Unlike many of the people my age who have, shall we say, firm opinions about the wisdom of a Ghostbusters remake, I came into the theater with an open mind. I saw the original when it came out, but I doubt that I’ve seen it more than twice since. Certainly not at all in the last decade. So I remember a couple of key scenes clearly, and I remember the movie as a whole as being funny. But I don’t consider it a cherished part of my youth, and I’m definitely not in a position to do a point-by-point comparison between the films.

Taken on its own, then, I found the new movie more than worth the time and ticket price. I don’t expect it to match the original’s multiple Oscar, Hugo, and Grammy award nominations, but it’s far from embarrassing itself, its actors, or its creators.

Seeing it so soon after BABYMETAL, I probably found the scenes at the metal show funnier than I might have otherwise, but they worked well enough even without that help.

Kudos to the crew for moving the big dance scene to the end credits instead of interrupting the flow of the story; the little snippet they used during the film was much funnier for being so abbreviated.

And the dialog flowed well. Writing humor is hard, and making it look easy is even harder*. That there were so few places where the humor missed is a major tribute to the creative team.

* Yes, I know I’m far from the first person to point that out. But it bears repeating.

Count me as one white male of a certain age who doesn’t think Ghostbusters‘ 2016 incarnation destroyed his youth, but does think it enhanced his certain-age-itude.

However, having said that, I will admit that if I had to guess which of the past couple of weeks’ entertainments is the one I’ll be least likely to remember fondly a few decades from now, it would be Ghostbusters.

Friday, 7/22: They Might Be Giants

No, you’ve never heard me blathering about my enduring love of They Might Be Giants. There’s a reason for that: I don’t have a deep passion for them. But Maggie is something of a fan, and I appreciate their sense of humor, so we grabbed the chance to catch their show in Berkeley.

A slight diversion: the show was originally supposed to be in March, but there were technical problems with the venue. The show was at the newly remodeled UC Theatre, and was supposed to be the theater’s grand reopening after a fifteen-year hiatus. Didn’t quite work out. But now that they’re fully operational, I love what they’ve done with the place. The UC used to be a movie theater–Maggie and I used to go there in its repertory days–and the remodeling handles the steeply angled floor brilliantly: it’s been divided into three flat sections, each with a low wall at the front. The first section is actually lower than the stage, which puts the performers’ feet at the audience’s chin level. Odd, but very workable for dancing. The middle section is about ten feet higher, giving it a perfect view of the stage, and the back section is another couple feet up.

But I digress. So what else is new?

The audience for TMBG was somewhat more sedate than BABYMETAL’s crowd, and we were lucky enough to be near the front of the line. That meant we were able to snag a couple of the small complement of chairs at the front of the middle section. It wasn’t until we were seated that I realized I had forgotten my camera. Fortunately, my phone did an acceptable job.
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An optical zoom would have been nice, but this is fine as a memory cue.

And, beyond the music, the show was memorable for one thing I’ve never seen before:
26-4
I thought at first the sign-language interpreters were with the group, but apparently not–John and John had to ask the interpreters’ names before thanking them. Regardless, a nice touch, though I’d love to get an appraisal of how well they did: it can’t be easy keeping up with TMBG’s rapid-fire lyrics.

Good view, good music. And if I wasn’t as tired and hoarse as the week before, I did come out of the theater with hands sore from clapping. An evening well spent.

So that’s been my mid-to-late July. I could probably get used to those levels of excitement but I’m hoping for a slightly quieter August–at the very least, one without medical emergencies.

Getting Back to Normal

Let’s start this assortment of short items with another vacation-followup bit.

Yes, I did come home with some CDs.

An aside here: it’s true that musicians get paid for performances. But it’s not a living wage for anyone but the most popular superstars–and it’s open to question whether they make a profit on their appearances. So if you want to support your favorite musicians, don’t just go to their shows. Buy merchandise. CDs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, whatever appeals to you.

Did I get CDs from everyone I liked at the festival? Nope. Even if I could have afforded to buy that many CDs, I would have had to buy another suitcase just to bring them home. That seemed a trifle excessive. On the other hand, it would have given me enough new music to keep me occupied for months. Hmm.

But I did get a few discs, and it seems like a friendly gesture to point you all at some of the performers who made the biggest impressions on me.

Brian Holland and Danny Coots are an awesome duo* (and Brian is pretty darn good on his own, for that matter.) Their discs cover a wide range–ragtime, swing, blues, and more etceteras than my fingers are willing to type–and not always in separate pieces. One particular highlight of the Two Man Job CD is “Solace in the Blue Bayou,” which successfully mixes Scott Joplin circa 1909 and Roy Orbison from half a century later.

* Brian was also the artistic director of this year’s festival. Remember those comments about it being the best ever? Much of the credit for that should go to Brian.

Then there’s Tom Brier. He’s made a minor splash on the Web for his sight-reading ability and flying fingers, but his original compositions are, IMNSHO, where he shines. Check out “Peril in Pantomime” on his 2008 CD Blue Sahara. Unfortunately, Tom doesn’t have a website to showcase his music and sell CDs, so you’ll have to hunt the discs down. Try the usual venues for starters.

Finally–at least for today–we come to Sébastien Troendlé, a French performer whose first American appearance was this year’s festival. His roots are firmly in boogie-woogie, but none of the ragtimers at the festival seemed to hold that against him. Check out the teaser video for his “Rag’n Boogie” CD and a live performance at the Festival international de Boogie-Woogie de Laroquebrou. Then go pick up copy of the disc.


Moving on to something music-related, but with absolutely no connection to ragtime. It is, however, silly.

According to Gizmodo, Mattel is releasing a set of Hot Wheels vehicles commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.

The submarine…uh…car is unquestionably the best of the seven, although there’s much to be said for the four vehicles emblazoned with the faces of the Fab Four. On the other hand, the less said about the weird yellow tractor-like thing with the pink bumpers the better.

I have to question Mattel’s decision to put Blue Meanies on the VW Microbus. Sure, VW brought its current woes on itself, but I’m inclined to think that associating them with the villains of the movie smacks more than a bit of a gratuitous kick to sensitive tissue. After all, nobody ever expected a Microbus to be either fuel-efficient or non-polluting.

Even so, as a long-time Beatles fan, and an even-longer Hot Wheels fan*, I suspect I’ll be picking up a couple of the cars (or should that be “cars”?) when they’re released later this month.

* I’m sure my parents could tell many a story of the way my room was festooned with orange plastic race track in my tween years…


Moving on again, this time to something that has no relationship to music, but which is silly.

How about a cat brush. A very special cat brush.

It’s designed to let you lick your cat. After all, why should the felines be the only ones doing the licking in your relationship?

Relax, your actual tongue never makes contact with fur, nor does the group behind this Kickstarter expect you to get your cat’s attention by sticking your nose up his or her rear end.

I’m dubious about the psychological benefits both parties will supposedly receive by using this brush. I’ll admit that we’ve got a few, more conventional, brushes made of similar materials and that our cats seem to enjoy being brushed with them.

But all of our cats start shifting around nervously when our faces get close to their bodies. And the cats shown on the Kickstarter project seem to range from martyred acceptance to befuddled discomfort.

The project is fully funded, and there doesn’t seem to be any technical barrier to the construction of the LICKI Brush, so I expect them to show up in buyers’ hands early next year. Really, though, I hope most of the backers are considering them novelty items, rather than something they’ll use regularly.

I’m Back

I’m back. Rather than asking and risking an answer I’d rather not hear, I’ll just assume you missed me.

I managed to disconnect from the net, and didn’t look at any newspaper*, so it’s going to take me a couple of days to catch up on whatever happened while I was gone–and what’s happening now. That means I can’t bring you my usual timely (i.e. no more than 48 hours-delayed) posts quite yet.

* OK, so I looked at “USA TODAY” a couple of times. I stand by my original statement.

So today you have to suffer through my vacation photos. It’s traditional, right?

As usual, I’ll be making wild generalizations based on insufficient data (residents of Missouri–pardon me, “Missoura”–feel free to jump in and correct me).

07-1Sedalia, MO, where I spent most of the past week, is surrounded by fields of blurry corn. I’m willing to entertain the theory that the corn would be less blurry if it weren’t moving at a relative velocity of 70 MPH–no, don’t call the police: I assure you that’s the speed limit along that stretch of freeway*–but I don’t have any experimental data that would bear on the question. For those even less agriculturally-inclined than I am, the corn is the green stuff behind and to the right of the tree. The green and yellow plants in the foreground are something called “weeds”. Yes, with an “s” at the end.

* Disconcerting to those of us used to states where the maximum speed is 65, or even lower.

07-2There’s a downtown historic district, where many of the business occupy buildings that date back to the 1800s. For that matter, many of the homes are equally as old. Here in California, forty-year-old buildings are routinely considered “historic” and protected from change. That made seeing buildings a century older being remodeled and rebuilt, and in daily use with nary a historic marker in sight seem a little peculiar.

Which is not to say that Sedalia is locked in the eighteenth century. Outside of the historic part of town, you can find all the modern conveniences you want: chain stores, wi-fi, and murder.

Whoops, pardon me. That’s for a later post. And besides, the murder in question, and the ensuing events, happen in the older section. So, let me try that again: “…all the modern conveniences you want: chain stores, wi-fi, and BBQ joints.” Yes, much better. And, with apologies to my vegetarian readers, it’s damn good ‘que, too.

* One thing Sedalia doesn’t seem to have is the concept of recycling–indeed, Missoura as a whole seems extremely deficient in its attention to matters environmental. The only recycling bins I saw in the (admittedly small) part of the state I visited were in the Kansas City airport. And the signs advertising unlimited auto washings for twenty bucks a month made this drought-attuned California resident bang his head against the nearest wall.

07-3Anyway, aside from the murder-I’m-not-talking-about-yet, my main reason for going to Sedalia was the annual Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

I’m not going to give a background briefing on ragtime or Scott Joplin. Not today, anyway. There’s some information on the festival site if you’re curious, but frankly, approaching the music by starting with the history is a backward approach. Start with the music!

For starters, several people have already posted videos from this year’s festival. These all seem to have been taken at one of the outdoor venues, and are a decent place to start your investigation. I expect the list to grow as more attendees get home, catch up on their e-mail, and start posting their vacation movies.

* Kudos to the festival organizers for including a full lineup of free concerts in addition to the scholarly presentations and non-free indoor concerts. There were quite a few times when I really wished I had the ability to be in two places at once.

Be aware that silliness does occasionally break out.07-4

I know how boring other peoples’ vacation photos are, so I’ll knock off with one final note.

I enjoyed the festival immensely, and I wasn’t the only one. This was my first time attending, so I don’t have a basis for comparison, but I heard several people say that it was the best one yet. Give some serious consideration to hitting the festival next June.

Updates

A trio of updates to ongoing stories today.

First, the backpedaling has begun at KFOG. They’ve announced that Rosalie Howarth, one of the fired DJs, has been re-hired and will return to the air this weekend.

According to the program director*, this move was planned all along. I’m dubious. Who lays someone off for six weeks? It seems even more improbable when you consider that at the time of the layoffs, Rosalie was only on-air six hours a week. Even allowing for the fact that she had the longest tenure of any of the staff who were let go, if the plan was really to bring her back, it wouldn’t have killed the station’s budget to put her on paid leave for those six weeks.

* A gentleman by the name of Brian Schlock. The petty-minded are welcome to make jokes about appropriate namings…

And let’s not forget that those six hours a week were hosting the popular “Acoustic Sunrise” and “Acoustic Sunset” shows on Sundays. Wouldn’t KFOG have wanted to counter some of the ill-will generated by their programming changes by announcing that the shows* would return?

* Actually, only “Acoustic Sunrise” is coming back–and it’ll be subject to the same anathematization of pre-nineties music as the rest of the station. On the other hand, “Acoustic Sunrise” will be an hour longer than it used to be.

KFOG clearly considers bringing back Rosalie as tossing loyal listeners a bone. Given the dubious spin, I suspect most of those listeners are going to consider it more of a chicken bone than a meaty T-bone.

Moving on, remember the Bay Bridge?

It looks like the Chron has a replacement for our old friend Jaxon on the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch Beat. Say hello to Melody Gutierrez. Since her main focus is politics, we can hope that she’ll spend some time looking into those apparently non-existent approvals we’ve been asking about.

Her first bridge report is a brief update on those improperly-grouted rods. You know: the ones that anchor the bridge to its pilings.

Steven Heminger and his colleagues on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission have approved a plan to re-grout the rods to prevent further corrosion. The cost is only $15 million–a drop in the bucket (sorry) compared to total bridge budget. The commission is satisfied that the rods don’t need to be replaced, which would have cost a hell of a lot more, so this seems like a reasonable expense. So does the additional million they approved for a corrosion survey of the bridge foundation.

But I’d still like to know why the grout wasn’t properly tested when the rods were installed. Melody, keep us posted, OK?

And finally, here’s the latest in our intermittent series of posts documenting the feline campaign to rule the world.

A group of cats in Britain has decided to wipe out the British economy by targeting the advertising industry. They plan to replace the usual subway advertisements urging commuters to buy, buy, buy, with photos of, well, cats. They’re only going to take over one station, but you can be sure that’s only the beginning–have you ever known a cat to be satisfied with only one toy?

The felines aren’t about to pay for their nefarious plan themselves. There’s a funding campaign running on Kickstarter. As I write this, the pledges are a bit short. With three days to go, they’re only 53% of the way to their goal.

Whether you want to help the cats’ plan for global domination is, naturally, a matter for you to settle with your own conscience.

Not So Guilty

I’ve been remiss.

A year ago Thursday, I let you in on one of my guilty pleasures, BABYMETAL.

This time last year, they were a cult phenomenon, little known outside Japan. Not unreasonable for an idol band, however genre-atypical their music might have been. Those of us who had stumbled over the group wondered if they would survive. As I said, “It’s rare for an idol to have a second CD; the labels that control their “career” would rather promote a ne face who can sell the same merchandise again.” I also noted the notorious interchangeability of idols: it’s not uncommon for a group to last years, or even decades, with members aging out and being replaced by younger faces.

Well, part of the question has been answered. On April 1, BABYMETAL released a new CD. On the second, they kicked off an international tour in London. They made their American TV debut on The Lat Show with Stephen Colbert on April 5.

The media blitz is working. The Colbert appearance is currently the fifteenth most popular video on Colbert’s YouTube channel. Many of the concerts are sold out* and the new album, Metal Resistance is selling well: it debuted at Number 39 on Billboard’s “Top 200 Albums” chart and has been Number 1 on their “World Albums” chart for the past three weeks.

* Yes, I’m going to the San Francisco show. Silly question. Maggie and I are stocking up on earplugs, and are looking forward to seeing how they scale down their stadium-level show for a smaller–and less fireproof–venue.

How is the new album? Pretty damn good, actually. The girls’ voices have matured, and they come across as more confident and comfortable in their roles. There’s a good mix of styles, even the track I hated on first listen, “Sis.Anger,” is starting to grow on me, and the closing track, “The One,” is not only a hell of an anthem, but also an impressive earworm.

So signs are good for BABYMETAL to hang around for a while yet. If Amuse Management can resist the temptation to tinker with the membership, I may even feel justified in dropping that word “guilty”.

Will they resist? It’s true that as the girls age, they lose a bit from the “cute” side of their “Cute Metal” branding. Musically, that’s not a bad thing, but from an idol perspective, it’s a potential problem. On the positive side, there must already have been some discussion of tinkering to maintain the group’s image before they went ahead with planning Metal Resistance and the current tour. That would have been the logical time to make the change: bring in a new slate of younger performers and release a “BABYMETAL II” album–more of the same instead of trying something new.

Hopefully that decision will stick. I’d love to see BABYMETAL make the jump from metal idols to metal musicians, making room for a new crop of idols to take up “cute metal” and fill that guilty pleasure niche.