Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books: Magic Kingdom For Sale--Sold!

I've been reading a lot of Star Wars "Expanded Universe" novels of late, and though I haven't read Terry Brooks' contribution to that series (the novelization for Episode 1: The Phantom Menace), his name was on my radar as "one of those Star Wars writers." A couple of months ago, I decided I really wanted to check out a fantasy novel. I knew Brooks was well-known in that genre, so I went to my library, found Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold!, and check it out. But I never finished it.

It's a story about a talented but disillusioned big city lawyer who, in the wake of his wife and child dying in a car accident and the subsequent depressive bouts he endures, follows through on a strange opportunity: a magic kingdom is being sold from a high-end Christmas catalog his had subscribed to. It's not cheap, but he has enough money, and even though he has tons of questions regarding the plausibility of such a venture, he buys it. Then he goes there, and that's when I lost interest. I think it was the bumbling, absentminded wizard who accompanies the main character upon his arrival to the magic kingdom that was the last straw for me.

I really wanted to like this one, but couldn't get into it. Anyone read it? Finished it? Liked it? Am I missing something?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Miles Davis - Amandla (1989)

The following entry is part of Scott Parker's Forgotten Music series.

I have an interesting history with this album. I bought it a few years ago after already exploring most of Miles Davis's output from the 50s through 70s. At first I was sort of reticent about picking up anything Miles made in the 80s. Didn't he, like, start playing synthesizers and stuff, and copping Cyndi Lauper tunes, and making ridiculous-looking album covers? Well, yeah, but at a certain point I shifted my thinking from "I'm going to trust what seems to be the prevailing opinion that no '80s Miles is good" to "Why don't I listen for myself and see what I think?"

I'm glad I shifted my thinking. Amandla is a good album. Not Kind of Blue good or even Live Evil good, but you know what? According to my iTunes, I've listened to Amandla more than any other Miles album over the past year. And though it didn't immediately reveal its quality to me like some of Miles' earlier work, it worked its spell on me well enough over time. It's an interesting album in that I never remember much about it other than the mood I feel when I listen to it—but that's cool. It's the kind of album I put on while I'm washing the dishes, and every once in awhile Miles' trumpet pierces through the din, and it's just kind of nice. Not that it doesn't reward a closer listening; it totally does. Lots of interesting electronic elements happening amidst some solid group interplay, some memorable playing from Miles for how late in the game it was for him at that point, and worthy contributions from sidemen like Kenny Garrett, Joe Sample, and George Duke—seriously, the personnel on this album reads like a who's-who of world-class studio musicians.

I was going to conclude this entry by saying "If you've never listened to Miles Davis before, don't start with this," but now I'm kind of rethinking that. Fact is, I only know one other person who even knows about this album. How about this? If you're interested in moody, intelligent instrumental music and don't care about whether people think you're lame for listening to '80s Miles, check this out. If you don't like it the first time, wait awhile and throw it on again. If you don't like it again, wait some more, then check it out. I'm a big proponent of giving music lots of chances to break through, and Amandla definitely is worth a shot.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

High Mountain Rangers: Good TV theme song, or not?

For some reason, I've had a snippet of the theme song from a long-defunct TV show called High Mountain Rangers stuck in my head all day. In his book Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us that these occurrences are actually little seizures, and can be effectively overcome by listening to the whole song. Thanks to the glory of the Google, I found a link to the opening of this late-'80s relic in a few seconds. Then I watched it, and the song isn't really stuck in my head anymore. So I guess Sacks might be on to something. But the real questions are:

1) Is this a good TV theme song?
2) Do you remember this show at all?

Personally, I like the song. It's predictable as could be, but something about it just works for me. I did grow up not far from where the show was filmed (Sierra Mountains), though, so there could be a warm nostalgia factor that's fogging my view. In other words, would I like it if hearing it didn't "take me back" to my childhood? Not sure. But I am pretty sure that the clip of the two guys on horses moseying down the city street rules. Your thoughts?