Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Bean in Winter

Bean in Winter
Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
Baby, It’s Time

No, she’s still not here. Well, she’s here, of course, but she’s still veiled by the belly and clearly content to remain there biding her time. There’s been an abundance of “warm-up” contractions and other signs of impending parturition but such manifestations can coast along for days, sometimes weeks without advancing. So we’ve waited. Her due date has come and gone, and like most babies and their respective due dates, she decided to skip it. We talk to her and tell her it’s time. “Come on out, don’t worry, you don’t have to celebrate your birthday on Christmas!” We get anxious and don’t quite know what to do. “It’s time,” we say, and “Soon.”

So, tonight, in a couple of hours, we’re checking in to St. Francis. For the sake of the mom-to-be we’ll spare you the details of our current birth plan, but needless to say, chances are good that our daughter will be with us in a day or two—the very thought of which causes me to feel something justifiably hyperbolic.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


The baby is full term as of today. If labor comes, labor stays.

We gave her a name tonight. It has three syllables.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


I wish I had more time to post, really I do. There is much to share or, in the very least, to process aloud. We're roughly 8 weeks out from the due date, which is causing significant marveling when we can spare the time. This presence, this expanding belly, this persuasive roll of a leg or a hand against my hands, my cheek- how every moment I can spare I am talking to it, to her, to the belly, to what lies just behind it, gaining half pounds by the week, shielding her eyes from bright light, taking note of our voices. We have names for her, gathering about, staking claim...but we haven't settled on any.

School and work are keeping me monstrously busy. So we imagine all that we'd like to write about, but know that this is going to have to wait until late December before we'll again have time...between feedings, burpings, changings, rockings...this is when we'll have much to say.

Monday, October 03, 2005


This is hilarious. The use of Gabriel's Salisbury Hill is perfect, transforming The Shining into a Cameron Crowe vehicle.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"The Librarian," Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
The great painting on your right was done in 1556 by Guiseppe Arcimboldo and accompanies the Widipedia entry for Librarian. Given that I still have a lot of ambiguity concerning this career path I've chosen, great pieces of art, like this one (disarmingly modern, unbelievably archaic) help make things more interesting, if not necessary clearer.

I feel I've spent the last couple of weeks reacaquainting myself to the vagaries of time management. Prior to this, there was a lot of time and space occupied by fretting, so my ability to negotiate priorities was already compromised. I'm still getting a handle on how much time school related work is going to take up (this is where Netflix really comes in handy) and no doubt beginning a new job on Friday will throw yet another wrench into the works as I work on governing my time. But for now I'm feeling tentatively hopeful. This isn't to say I feel I made the wrong choice, anything but. This seems like the right thing to be doing right now and it was definitely time to step forward and lay claim to one of these interests that has been hovering in my peripheral for so long. I'm certainly looking forward to defining even more precisely what I want to do with this- just what kind of librarian I want to be. Working in the audio/visual field of things is, not surprisingly, incredibly appealing- but there are many areas of the profession that this could extend to, so zeroing in on what's best for me will take some consideration.

In any case, I'll no doubt be writing much more about this profession over the next couple of years. For now, it's way past my bed time.

Friday, September 16, 2005

From the 23rd Floor

Wait, Karl Rove is in charge of the reconstruction efforts?

It was nice of George to step forward and address the nation 2 1/2 weeks after one of the worst natural disasters the country has ever suffered. That he waited so long doesn't exactly mean he's feeling contrite so much as it speaks to the political expediency of the moment. What with poll numbers dropping so low (oh, that little ebb amongst the Republican stalwart!) all that awful press, all that FEMA bumbling. Now isn't the time for finger pointing. No, sir! Now is the time to take a couple weeks to see if your plan to blame local and state officials gains any traction, and if not, well, then, head on down to offer a Marshall Plan. And make sure all that unprecedented federal spending lines the pockets of your buddies!

Of course, some of those so-called fiscal conservatives start getting itchy about throwing so much money at black folks. They're worried, like Republican Senator Jim DeMint, that "throwing more and more money without accountability at this is not going to solve the problem." I don't have time to look right now, but I'd hazard a guess that Jim has supported every Iraq spending bill that's come up since he was elected in '04 without caring all that much that we've been unloading upwards of over a billion a week in that fiasco without much in the way of what legitimitly could be be called accountability.

Cathy's here. I'm writing from my in-law's apartment. We're heading out to celebrate my new job.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

You Just Wait

I'm still here, it's just school, work and the baby that have not so unexpectedly gotten in the way. In fact, I'm in the middle of writing my first paper right now. It's been a while since I had to do this under a deadline. Almost 10 years now. A little difficult getting the engine started but I'm progressing along nicely now, thanks to some Honker's Ale and Cannonball Adderley. More on this, I hope, at a later date.

It's going to be difficult for me not to want to write about the baby. I know this must be mundane for most, but it's by far the most momentous and fascinating and exciting thing that I've got going on. How can you not be hopeful? How can I not fawn? But I promise, I'll reign it in- I've been a victim previously of fatherly sentimental goo and it ain't pretty. Cathy's at 25 weeks and counting, a little shy of the third trimester and the little peanut is kicking up a storm. She's waking her mom up repeatedly (from discomfort and early morning work outs) and will soon be gaining upwards of half a pound a week. That's a lot of bubba being added to that little frame. We're taking baby classes on Wednesday nights and our teacher has had three children of her own and talks of vaginas, bloody shows and constipation like she was giving us tomorrow's weather forecast.

Paper's calling me.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


It’s been almost too hard to bear. Cathy and I sat watching the news on Friday morning barely able to speak- first and foremost because of the sheer level of human suffering and destruction we were seeing- but also because we were overwhelmed and outraged by the magnitude of this administration’s failure to meet the consequences of this tragedy with anything even remotely consonant with reality. And I’m not just talking about the utter lack of coordination, the baffling slow motion delivery of the most basic of human necessities or even the steady stream of habitual lies and distortions (“Sure, we were ready for a Hurricane," they say, " but never in our wildest nightmare scenarios did we ever imagine we’d have to deal with a Hurricane and a flood")- I’m also talking about the absence of anything even remotely smacking of leadership. This is a White House that went days before finally having their heads dislodged from their respective asses and bothering to examine a catastrophe that the rest of the nation had been watching unfold for days in horror. Still, 5 days after the greatest natural disaster this nation has ever faced I'm unaware of Bush having given a primetime national address addressing the public as to what this administration is prepared to do to help those in need. Do they have so little to offer, or are the conditions simply not politically advantagous enough to properly deal with yet?

Please check out Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s press release from earlier today regarding Bush’s tour on Friday of those areas devastated by Katrina. Here’s a quote to make your stomach churn:

But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government.

It was a mother-fucking phony photo-op! Un-fucking believable. As of Saturday, unnamed New Orleans city officials were quoted in one Post article I read estimating that roughly 42,000 people were still remaining in the city. We all know what dire straits these folks are facing. Bush, justifiably I thought, had told Dianne Sawyer in his interview with her on Thursday morning (where he now infamously said, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees”) that the security coordination necessary for getting him into the area without disrupting rescue efforts was one of the reasons he had yet to go. Or perhaps, as truly seems the case, his staff needed a bit more time to ensure the necessary props were in place to offer the necessary can-do pomp. When reality isn’t prepared to meet this administration’s expectations, artifice always is. In the face of untold and ongoing calamity they choose political expediency. Look, behold, see George getting things done! And this parade of grotesqueries grows ever longer when you read and discover that, "Three tons of food ready for delivery by air to refugees in St. Bernard Parish and on Algiers Point sat on the Crescent City Connection bridge Friday afternoon as air traffic was halted because of President Bush’s visit to New Orleans.”

And you’ve probably seen or heard the head of FEMA, Michael Brown lately. He, like the head of Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, were both unaware until, what was it, Thursday? that thousands of folks had been all but abandoned in the New Orleans convention center. You have to watch Brown’s interview with Ted Koppel, where he responds to this most glaring of oversights, to believe it. Crooks and Liars has the video feed but you may have to scroll down a ways to find it.

And speaking of Brown. This guy, unsurprisingly, is just another dude on the Bush administration’s cronyism bandwagon. Here are some choice quotes from a NYT’s article about his background:

Mr. Brown, 50, is a Republican lawyer who worked for the International Arabian Horse Association before joining FEMA in 2001 as general counsel. This week he has become the public face of an agency that critics say has lost focus and clout since it was absorbed in 2003 by the new Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. Brown was brought to FEMA in 2001 by the then-director, Joe M. Allbaugh, an old friend who had run Mr. Bush's first presidential campaign. He was promoted to deputy director in 2002 and to director in 2003

Well, first thing that catches you is the International Arabian Horse Association. You can’t make this stuff up. And then there’s this:

Brown was forced out of the position after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures.

"He was asked to resign,'" Bill Pennington, president of the IAHA at the time, confirmed last night.

And you might with good reason be asking yourself, I know I am, how working for 11 years as commissioner of a breeders’ and horse show organization, an organization you were forced out of because of your incompetence, would prepare you for heading up the largest emergency management agency in the world. According to everything I’ve read, Brown has had no experience, ever, in this area. So, you know, it’s maybe not so surprising that he had no idea over 5000 people were dying in a convention center they had originally been told to take refuge in. Had they been Arabian horses on the other hand…

What’s going to be tough to see over the next few days is just how this administration goes about passing the buck. We know, from 5 excruciating years of experience, that this administration is never accountable for anything. But this time, as Andrew Sullivan wrote, “The gap between Bush rhetoric and reality in America is stunning.”

CNN has gone and collected quotes from different administration officials that really brings this disconnect home. Read it here.

And they’re already shifting tactics, lining up convenient culprits and aiming to shift the burden of blame squarely on the shoulders of local and state officials. This, from a Post article that just went up:

Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.

The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.

It’s all that woman’s fault! If only she wasn’t so stubborn. If only she put herself in our ready and willing hands instead of dragging her feet.

Later, there’s this one from Chertoff to really bring the strategy home:

In a Washington briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said one reason federal assets were not used more quickly was "because our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor."

You can see where they want to go with this. We expected the state and locals system to take care of this. Or, in the very least, to take care of the complex legalities necessary to allow for the Feds to adequately take over. We’re so sensitive to the rights of states, we always have been. So, you know, we hung back, wrung out hands, and honored the constitution while we waited for them to reach out for assistance. Dan, take it away:

The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Philip Glass Is the Family Dog

Philip Glass 1973
Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
In the dream I had last night I was driving in a Minivan with my immediate family. At least I’m pretty sure it was my immediate family, dream logic being so screwy and all. A mournful song was playing on the radio and somebody asked if I knew who the artist was. Speaking authoritatively, I said it was a Philip Glass piece from the early 80’s. I was interrupted, however, by a rumpled Philip Glass himself, who was lying in the far back of the car’s interior, the space usually reserved for luggage, groceries and the occasional minimalist composer. “Actually, “ he refuted, much to my embarrassment, “it’s an 18th century composition, one that has had quite an impact on my own work.” He rummaged about the space and held up a CD. “I think the folks at Telarc have the finest version of this piece available.” Calling me on my mistake, one of my older brothers laughingly pointed to Philip Glass and said, “From no less an authority then the man himself.”

I also recently had a dream about our baby talking at 2 weeks.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Poor Richard's Armonica and Septuagenarian Desires

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
I had no idea that, among his numerous other inventions (the lightning rod and bifocals being among the most well known) Benjamin Franklin also invented a popular, at least in its day, musical instrument called the Armonica. Here’s an excerpt from H.W. Brands alternatingly grueling and fascinating biography of Franklin, The First Amarican:

Franklin did not exaggerate when he described the armonica’s tones as “incomparably sweet.” They had a haunting, ethereal quality, much like that which would characterize “New Age” music more than two hundred years later. Franklin quickly became adept at playing, and took to entertaining guests on the instrument. Others followed his lead. Marianne Davies, a singer who played flute and harpsichord- and who was another young woman charmed by Franklin- became proficient enough to offer public performances. For a time the armonica achieved a genuine vogue. Royal wedding vows were exchanged in Vienna to armonica accompaniment; some of the greatest composers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, including Mozart and Beethoven, wrote for Franklin’s instruments.

You can play an approximation of the Armonica here.

Of those core (and near mythological) founding fathers, Franklin is the one I’d most like to share a beer with. Washington was too regal, Adams too puritanical, Hamilton too overwhelmingly scintillating and Jefferson and Madison too connivingly political. Franklin, however, seems the most human, a Renaissance man securely tethered to the joys of the quotidian, a polymath able to hold his own with experts in the fields (to name just a handful) of geology, linguistics or electricity and yet never flaunting his intellectual prowess to such an extent or degree as to miss the opportunity to gain the affection of the common man. He, of all the founding fathers had the best sense of humor, the most flirtatious sense of fun and the most unwavering and appealing temperament. Of all the founding fathers, Franklin is the only one I can imagine barreling down a water slide, spilling out into the waiting pool and emerging with an amused smile and sparkle in the eye ready for another go.

He was also a notorious, highly accomplished flirt. One of the ways history has distilled Franklin’s character, or that of any of the founding fathers, is to trim away anything but the mythos-Washington chopping down the cherry-tree, for example, or Franklin and his electric kite. To become an icon is to lose nuance, shades and degrees of an otherwise complex life lost to the majority in favor of readily digestible fable. So, in addition to his juiced up kite, most folks, I’m assuming, know something (maybe just a hint) of Franklin’s reputation as a lover. Brand thankfully helps to shed more light on Franklin’s amorous charms, focusing most intensely on his time in Paris when Congress had appointed Franklin to a Committee of Secret Correspondence in hopes of gaining foreign support, namely that of France, for the war back home.

Then in his 70’s, Franklin was well known and adored by the French, who considered him one of their own. In between his talks with Comte de Bergennes, King Louis’s foreign minister, Franklin stayed in the rustic village of Passy, just outside Paris where he summoned his many septuagenarian charms in service of wooing numerous objects of affection.

Madame Foucalt, sister of Madame Chaumot who in turn was the wife of Franklin’s landlord, Jacques Donatien Leray of Nantes, was one such pursued interest. Brand quotes liberally from their letters, the sparring contents of which are a blast to read, with Franklin administering a variety of deliciously naughty reasons why she should sleep with him while she nimbly curtsies and denies him. Franklin tries again:

Adopting yet another analogy, he likened their sparring to war, and proposed a preliminary peace treaty.

Art. 1. There shall be eternal peace, friendship and love between Madame B. and Mr. F.

Art. 2. In order to maintain the same inviolably, Made. B. on her part stipulates and agrees that Mr. F. shall come to her
whenever she sends him.

Art. 3. That he shall stay with her as long as he pleases.

A few more concessions on his part, then:

Art. 8. That when he is with her he will do what he pleases.

Art. 9. And that he will love any other woman as far as he finds her amiable.

Let me know what you think of these preliminaries. To me they seem to express the true meaning and intention of each party more plainly than most treaties. I shall insist pretty strongly on the eighth article, though without much hope of your consent to it. And on the ninth, also, though I despair of ever finding another women that I could love with equal tenderness.

Ben Franklin, founding father, septuagenarian stud extraordinaire.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Beyond Narrative

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
Though you may not pick up on it at first, there’s a narrative, albeit sublimely fractured, weaving through this film, one Tarkovsky was miffed others couldn’t easily grasp or felt necessary to overburden with symbolism. “It’s no more then a straightforward, simple story,” he assured one prying interviewer, though I can’t help but think this assertion of the film’s simplicity, and even that the narrative is readily apperent, was anything but feigned.

Because we’re all hopelessly tethered to reason, films that eschew the linear can often try our patience. It can make for a rough viewing when things don’t seem to be making narrative sense. You end up with that prickly feeling, you shift around in your seat and think, “Geez, what am I missing here? Does everybody else get this?” Or, more importantly for the health of your sanity, you can give yourself over to the fact that, especially in this instance, the filmmaker probably didn’t expect you to make sense of the film anymore then they could make sense of it themselves. I almost fell asleep twice watching Mirror, but I loved every second of it. Its animating force, illusive as it is, gains in power until it begins to overwhelm.

Mirror was supposedly the most biographic of Tarkovsky’s 7 films. It freely leaps between pre-war Russia, wartime and postwar Russia in the 60’s where an unseen narrator oftentimes reads poetry. (The poems were written by Tarkovsky’s father.) As such, it’s a stunningly, ravishingly hypnotic collection of images, passages and moods. It’s the ambience that carries you, sustained and haunted- with some of the most powerful passages involving wind blowing through fields, leaves, and billowing curtains. Like our own memory, the film is restless, fragmented and episodic. Themes come into focus only to dissolve. It’s an interior dialogue in all its glorious inexactness and lies just beyond the reach and conceits of narrative.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Free the Bean

Free the Bean
Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
The picture to your right is the view from the 23rd floor of my in-laws new condo located downtown. Very nice. They’ve wanted to have a place in the city for a long time now, so we’re excited to welcome them to the neighborhood. They’ll split their time between here and their other pad in Naperville. It’ll certainly save on their traveling time (and ours!) once the baby arrives.

Speaking of which, she gave her Dad a little kick on Wednesday night. 3, in fact, so as make certain I knew it was her and not her Mom. Just about the most awesome thing ever. Cathy’s 22 weeks today.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Identity Technology

Maybe it’s time somebody collected a books worth of essays on the iPod and its inter/intrapersonal repercussions? And doesn’t the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self sound terribly interesting? I mean, wow, those site graphics of an old slab of vinyl, a cassette abutting an unspooled reel to reel, a super 8 and clunky videocassette are so redolent of this initiative’s promise of investigating that fascinating intersect of technology and identity that I’d love to read some of the stuff they’ve compiled.

I’ve had a lot of inchoate thoughts regarding technology as a reflection of who we are as people so it’s exciting to see folks with more discipline making an earnest effort to understand how this relationship affects us interpersonally as well as, and maybe more importantly, intrapersonally.

This reminds me, I picked up a book recently that was right up this intrapersonal ally. It’s Geoffrey O’Brien’s Sonota For Jukebox: Pop Music, Memory and the Imagined Life. Here’s a blurb from a review:

For O'Brien recorded music -- especially those songs and records that got listened to obsessively, often in one's youth -- becomes a sort of memory-retrieval device, a flawed one, but still a way to tap into recollections of things past, as potent and evocative as a snapshot of a long-lost friend or a deceased parent. "Inside those songs, I know, can be found whatever is left of whole days and weekends and seasons otherwise beyond retrieval. The trick is to locate the seams in the music that will permit an unraveling of what was woven into it," he writes about the Beach Boys.

I hope to get to this one soon.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Coming This Christmas

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
Here’s another picture of our impending domestic anarchy. It looks, like the previous picture I posted, as if she’s sucking a thumb. Well, yeah, the personal pronoun I just used was intentional. It’s a she. We had originally intended to keep the baby’s gender to ourselves but when we realized that each of us thought this had been a request made by the other and that, honestly, neither one of us really cared one way or the other, we decided to tell. “How sure are you?” I asked the doctor. “99% sure.”

Still, easy on the pink frilly stuff. Please.

When we had the ultrasound this past Thursday there was a resident being trained by the attending, so we let him explore for a while provided he took ultrasound pictures at our request. The images on the screen are, like the contents being revealed, in constant flux though he managed just fine and took us on a tour of her heart, feet, hands, spine and even the placenta and umbilical cord. Best of all, she was awake and active so we got to see her legs unfolding and poking out into the uterine walls.

Her due date is roughly December 23rd through the 25th. She will not, despite my repeated entreaties and the world’s great loss, be named Fern.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Baby B

Baby B
Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
Longer post to come.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Ultrasound tomorrow afternoon. Scans will be up on Friday. The quickening came a little over a week ago now. I may or may not have actually felt the baby myself last night (I think it may have been Cathy’s hand fluttering against mine when she herself felt it move) so I imagine it’ll be another week or so before my palm is accommodated with a kick.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

DJ Flatwater

DJ Flatwater
Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
I had the pleasure of DJing Sunday at this year’s Flatwater Classic for about 600 or so Chicago River friendly folks. I played for close to 6 hours, from about 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Lot’s of people dancing as they took their canoes out of the water and numerous folks approaching to find out what I was playing right then, ten minutes ago and, like, about an hour ago, “you know, it was really nice, she sounded Russian.” Which, of course, was Gal Costa, who really sounded Portuguese and was singing Que Pena.

Other tracks played that good people were curious about:

Marjuragenta by Ghorwane
Shotgun Willie by Willie Nelson
2 More Dead by RJD2
Kinky Reggae by Bob Marley
O Filosofo by Jorge Ben
Rock Your Baby by George Macrae
As by Stevie Wonder (Oh, man, did this ever sound great in the haze and shimmy of the afternoon heat!)

There were a few others, but that’s what I remember from the top of my head. The best compliment of the day came from some 50-something dude who told me, “Man, I’ve been meaning to leave for like the past half hour but the music keeps me coming back.” Well, allright! Hear the music and multiply!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Funky D and His Fabulous Cassette Archive

d drums
Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
When Dennis turned 34 he decided what he really wanted was a set of drums. That we were all so lucky to know our birthday needs so well. I’ve become dangerously lame when it comes to my own birthday fortunes, forfeiting anything more adventurous then indulging my appetite for ever more books and music. Note to self: One of these days you should ask for an omnichord.

I spent some time with Dennis and his drums this past Monday. Neither one of us is anywhere within walking distance of the ambidextrous effortlessness necessary to really swing, but we both managed to hold down some meek but manageable grooves on the new set while the other added various percussive elements and barnyard hoots. Dennis recorded a lot of it on the trusty 880.

As Dennis begins to get a feel for the skins, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll be inspired to put together an album of his recordings. He has one of the most impressive cassette libraries of personal recordings, dating back to the early 90’s, of anyone I know. In fact, one of my musical obsessions over the last few years has been to work with these tapes (which include a number of improvisations Dennis and I committed, for better or worse, worse probably, to 4-track back over the years), feeding interesting passages, riffs and percussion culled from this sonic molasses to my sampler and rebuilding the tracks from the inside out. The appeal, I think, comes from thinking of this 4-track tape collection as though it were some exotic cachet of sonic curiosities, a hodgepodge archive of musical meanderings waiting to be composted with the help of my sampler, ample sound processing and some Pro Tools editing.

Please, give the drummer some.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The River

This past Saturday Mayor Daley released the Chicago River Agenda. Cathy has put a ton of work and vision into this and biased as I obviously am I can't recommend highly enough that you give it your attention.

No matter what you might ultimately think of Daley and his political priorities I know I’d be hard pressed to disprove his dedication to improving the natural environment of Chicago while in the process setting an exciting precedent for large urban cities throughout the US. Not to resort to a journalistic cliché, but Daley clearly seems to be eying his legacy, sizing up his contributions to the city and deciding, much to our benefit and his good credit, that ecological sustainability and the greening of Chicago’s infrastructure will continue to play a prominent role in defining it. Yes, glaring ecoproblems continue to exist, but it’s hard to avoid evidence of the progress he’s made.

What makes this even more exciting is the role Cathy gets to play in improving, protecting, balancing and enhancing the Chicago River aspects of this vision. That is to say:

-Improving water quality
-Protecting nature and wildlife in the city
-Balancing river uses
-Enhancing neighborhood and community life

You can read more about these goals in the agenda. Pay particular attention to page 11. It’s the one on Combined Sewer Overflows. It begins, “Chicago, like many older cities, has a combined sewer system that carries sewage and strormwater in the same pipes. During heavy rains, the system can become full and cause a mixture of stormwater and sewage to overflow into the river.” Yuck. The antiquated sewer system overflows ‘cause otherwise all that excess water would be appearing in your basement and ruining your excellent comic book collection.

Cathy and I have had dinner conversations about CSO’s. You bet we used the acronym! Over home cooked meals we imagined untreated or raw effluent, otherwise known as the collective intestinal outpouring of our cities near 3 million occupants odiously mixed with stormwater, dumping (pun intended!) into the river in impressive quantities. No doubt for some such talk would dampen a candlelit mood and the gentle coaxing of Marvin Gaye’s voice beckoning through the speakers. But it’s fascinating stuff, and Cathy knows her shit (pun intended again!) and hearing about how the city is tackling this challenge, among others, is one of the joys of having Cathy as an ally.

So, get out and give the Chicago River some much needed love. There are still a couple days left in the Chicago River Fishing Derby where all you gotta do is show up and be given all the particulars you need to fish in the loop. I hope someday we'll be able to fry up our catches and have them for lunch. And on Friday Cathy and I will be checking out the Chicago International Rowing Regatta where I'll be carefully judging the rallying merits of each boats coxswain. And next Sunday there's the Chicago Flatwater Classic which concludes at Ping Tom Memorial Park where I'll be haphazardly DJ'ing summery grooves on behalf of Friends of The Chicago River for the better part of the afternoon.

Update: I mistakingly linked the Chicago River Agenda to the Chicago Water Agenda from 2003. It's fixed now. Though, I gotta admit, the City's web page could really use some help.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Mirabilis Dictu, Peanut

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
There’s been an elephant in the room that this blog has yet to address. Cathy is in the family way. 17 weeks along at that. Among the many appealing changes currently underway, the past couple weeks has seen an expansive belly transformation, the shape of which now, to Cathy’s great pleasure, clearly denotes pregnancy.

In any case, it goes without saying that we’re both thrilled. In addition to the occasional “Oh, my god!” moment (a moment that has as its catalyst the contemplation of Cathy + Chris= 23 weeks and counting, the ramifications of which will surely astound!) we’ve also been reveling in what is, beyond our own intimate enthusiasms and enchantments, one of lives great quotidian conditions. It’s simultaneously mundane and irresistibly astonishing.

We can’t wait.

Joining the good news is my acceptance into Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. This means I’m one step closer to holding a position where I can both promote and freely provide my own cultural/media obsessions to an unsuspecting public. I have ardent dreams where I’m sending curious patrons home with sturdy copies of Laurie Anderson’s United States I-IV, Tony Gatlif’s Latcho Drome and Gore Vidal’s United States the fineness wherein slakes their demanding expectations and sends them back hankering for more. If this isn’t work disguised as play, I don’t know what is.

This, by the way, is hilarious. But only if you’ve been orbited by Tom Cruise the last couple of months.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

What's Goin' On?

I feel as though I've been rather remiss in my posts of late. Soon.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

I'm Looking For A UB40 Red Red Wine kinda Wine

shadow on water
Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
Is there any better way to start your day then with a trip to Chicagoland’s wine and spirits superstore, Sam’s?

We got there around 11:00 this morning, stepping out of our ailing Rav- 4 and into the thick, wooly blanket of heat that’s hovered over Chicago for the past 5 or 6 days. A guy was throwing bags of ice from a delivery truck just off to the right of the store’s entrance. He’d lunge into the walls of bagged ice densely packed into the truck, lift, pivot and heave, the bags making a delightful arc (at least I thought so) before meeting their fate with an enchantingly watery thud on the steamy blacktop.

What I like most about Sam’s is to just wander the wine aisles admiring all the wine. Because they’ve so rarely done me wrong, I always check in on Chilean wines first. We’ve gambled on and enjoyed dozens of good Chilean wines for under $10 over the last 5-years or so, in fact, they played a vital role in our wedding considerations back in the day. Nothing says, “Why not? Let’s get married!” like a good Chilean merlot and we're proof of that. I bought a couple this morning, but I couldn’t tell you what they were called or what vineyards they might have come from. Cathy and I have long lamented our laxity when it comes to writing down the name of a good wine and have been too quick to recycle the bottle. Because some of those wines were damn good! Once, I decided to combat our neglect by taking some notes, jotting down some quick impressions every now and again about what we we may have liked about a particular wine (“Made talking about combined sewer overflows while simultaneously eating dinner surprisingly appetizing and not gross at all!”) but I never made it past the first few.

We talked to a couple Sam’s employees. There seemed to be hundreds of them there, two to three per aisle and so, so very willing to be of service. We had a guy recommend some Chilean wine for us. The only part of that conversation that I remember went like this:

“…some people like medium-bodied…”

“Yeah, that sounds great!”

Then we wondered into the Australian aisle, hoping to find an interesting Shiraz, which is another way of saying we wanted something cheap but tasty. There we met another employee. They’re almost always male, these clerks, and most of them seem to know their shit. I imagine the staff greeting each other at the beginning of each shift with a hearty, “In vino veratas!” and a high five. I remember more of this conversation. There was this:

“Do your drink Australian wines?”


And later there was this:

“Yeah, pinot noir’s are very big right now, very popular.”

“It’s because of that damn movie, isn’t it?”

“Yeah! Yeah!”

He told me to try this one, whatever it was, and I was easily convinced though was $1.99 over our usual $10 limit. Then he told me how to really enjoy it. Chill it for about 45 minutes prior to serving. He reassured me that while this was an odd request given that it was a red and all, it was a countenanced practice amongst those in the know. You don’t serve it chilled though. Let it sit for about 15 minutes after the 45 in the fridge. Then serve it. Very refreshing on hot days like the ones we’ve been having.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

This Calling Bell

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
I got some good news in the mail earlier this week. Thankfully, not knowing it was Caesar who crossed the Rubicon in such a way, and with such momentous consequences, as to be analogous to George Washington’s own crossing of the Delaware, did me no harm. That I did well doesn’t guarantee university acceptance, though it does mean I’ve successfully jumped through a vital admissions hoop and managed to land upright, a biscuit artfully balanced atop my nose.

So, now there is more waiting. I know the mail arrives on most weekdays between 2:00 and 2:30 in the afternoon.

And there’s Hilton Head. In celebration of Lou Lou’s 60th birthday. Whole family under one roof, a hundred yards from the beach and just a week from today. I’m making a mini-documentary of the whole thing. (Honest! Wait to you see it. It’s gonna be good, and much, much funnier then the first one.) Which reminds me, my incredible nephew, Ethan, is taking, simply because he’s curious little kid, a super cool summer school class focused on making your own movie sets. How very cool is this? “Okay, kids, listen up please! Eyes up here. We’re going to begin today by using the props I’ve brought in to recreate as best we can the set design from the opening scene of Hannah and Her Sisters!” What child doesn’t adore that movie and Woody Allen in general? The kids are crazy about him! I’m truly surprised that there’s never been a “Little Woody” cartoon, something suitable for, say, PBS. Episodes would follow the endearingly neurotic adventures of Little Woody with plenty of opportunities for wry, existential musings about monsters in the closet, the potential consequences of committing Onan’s sin and death. Sounds like Radio Days to me, but still…

We have Wearemonster and wearehappy. And, if that wasn’t cool enough, Cathy just turned the air conditioner on.

If you’re like me and find this administration’s chronic exaggerations on how progress is coming along with the building of an autonomous Iraqi army both maddening and utterly fraudulent (let alone dangerously delusional), take a look at this bullshit repellent from yesterday’s Washington Post. The Administration line is delivered by Maj. Gen. Josehph J. Taluto who reassures us that there will be plenty of qualified Iraqi fighting men come fall- “I can tell you, making assessments, I know we’re on target.” Everything is fine, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along!” The U.S. military currently says there are over 169,000 thousand Iraqi military and police who are “trained and equipped.” But the truth, I think, is conveyed by one of the platoon sergeant’s involved in the training and who readily admits that he and his fellow soldiers “like to refer to the Iraqi army as preschoolers with guns.” Most estimate that the number of realistically “trained and equipped” Iraqi soldiers, that is, soldiers who could act autonomously of U.S. support and fulfill similar missions, is around 10,000 at most.

I’ve read dozens of articles over the months regarding this attempt by the U.S. military to train Iraqi soldiers. And in reading these pieces, it’s made stunningly clear that this undertaking, like so many of our adventures in Iraq, isn’t going well. Frustrated commanders on the ground, Iraqi leaders and anonymous insider sources all thread through these articles and offer assessments bluntly contradicting those made by the administration.

Lastly, we’re having a BBQ on Sunday. Summer has arrived. And Happy Birthday to Big Art, who will be grilling out on the deck in Bay Village tonight.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Green Roof

Green Roof
Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
Got to go up on and check out the Green roof of City Hall this morning at 9:00. It’s much larger then I had imagined and even more impressive. We spent about a half hour wandering around. One fun fact I came away with- on a hot summer day the other half of City Hall, which isn’t green and is your typical black tarred roof, can get as hot as 170 degrees Fahrenheit while the green side rarely rises above 90.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

My Sedona or My Sherona

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
According to the March calendar I found in the living room of our Sedona lodgings, we missed attending the following classes- Angel Do You Have A Message For Me?, and, even more irresistible, Spirit Horse Readings- both then being offered at the Center For The New Age and taught by a woman named Angel Lightfeather. Lightfeather, according to a blurb found on the calendar brochure, receives “messages from the other side” and is available for phone readings.

Surprisingly, during our brief stay in Sedona (Population: 10,192, Elevation: 4,326 Feet) I saw little evidence of its reputation as one the capitals of the New Age movement. There was a small New Age bookstore (which smelled, as do most stores with similar leanings, excessively of lavender) where I stopped to buy a New York Times and where one of the clerks recommended the vacations first and only group hike along the Brins Mesa trail.

Making fun of New Agers is bargain-basement cheap and easier then shooting fish in a barrel but I admit to having made it known while in Sedona, with appropriate regularity, that I had been looking forward for sometime to getting my Chaka Kahn aligned. It’s an easy, highly compulsive, shtick, this- you may groan or roll your eyes in mild contempt if you feel it appropriate and it satiates your own need to consistently disavow the many merits of such banter. Me, I simply can’t resist. And I hasten to add that getting your Chaka Kahn properly aligned is nothing at all like getting your Chaka Wrath of Khan properly in order. Forgive me.

What are some of the more enduring clichés of New Agism? Its healing crystals, its hodgepodge arcana of purloined neo-paganism/shamanism/Native-Americanism, its astrological (and highly synthesized) music and, perhaps most damagingly, its connection to the 1980’s as a nascent and supremely loopy boomer/Yuppie spiritual movement inexorably linked to a decade that spawned parachute pants, Reaganism and Cabbage Patch Kids. But the seriousness of its reach is not to be shrugged off as a trifle when one recalls that Nancy Reagan relied on the astrological readings of Joan Quigley to dictate her husband’s schedule.

A case could be made that beyond actually inadvertently helping a great many people (few of whom, I admit, I’ve ever met) the only aspect of the New Age solar system to break free of its air of fraud and hooey and resonate with the mainstream is its appropriation of Yoga. Our culture’s increasing tolerance for homeopathic medicine could also be said to have found its catalyst in those New Agers who evangelized the curative effects of Echinacea, Ginseng and Kola Nuts. But so-called holistic medicine has yet to take on the normative glow Yoga enjoys in the humdrum of the mainstream, where just about anybody can sign up for a class free of New Age trappings, its philosophy palatably diluted and its focus on the practical, down-to-earth benefits.

In his great book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James wrote, “The words ‘mysticism’ and ‘mystical’ are often used as terms of mere reproach, to throw at any opinion which we regard as vague and vast and sentimental, and without a base in either fact or logic.” Which is another way of saying we have contempt for such things. But to quote the tweed acerbity of H.L. Mencken (whose A Menken Chrestomathy is a must for any bookshelf): “I believe that quack healing cults set up a selection that is almost…benign and laudable. They attract, in the main, two classes: first, persons who are incurably ill, and hence beyond the reach of scientific medicine, and second, persons of congenitally defective reasoning powers. They slaughter these unfortunates by the thousand- even more swiftly and surely than scientific medicine (say, as practiced by the average neighborhood doctor) could slaughter them.” Which is another way of saying Concetta, who in addition to having the power to “speak with loved ones who have crossed over” is also a pet psychic. This is all good and fine provided she’s a licensed canine clairvoyant.

It’s easy to understand the spiritual allure of a place like Sedona. The surrounding red rock cliffs, mesas and buttes (fossilized sandstone over 270 million years old) rising up into a lazuline sky do inspire something preternatural, even venerable. And cartoonish. This is the landscape of countless and fruitless Wild E. Coyote Road Runner chases. I can’t help but wonder, however, if Sedona’s many vortex, defined by Lonely Planet as “points where the earth’s energy is focused,” aren’t actually New Age equivalents to what we commonly refer to as “Scenic Lookouts.” Such panoramic views, and Sedona has many, produce various grades of preprogrammed awe and celestial whimsy in addition to hackneyed photos of setting suns.

The place we stayed in had all the modern accoutrements you might hope for (wireless access, satellite television with over 500 stations) as well as stunning 180 degree views of the surrounding sandstone that impressively formed the backdrop to our living room, taking on greater and lesser shades of salmon, rust and vermillion in accordance to the position of the sun. Enjoying a bowl of Life cereal in the morning out on the deck while contemplating such a spectacle is a sublime way to kick off your day, especially if that bowl of Life is topped with a sliced banana.

This whole vacation, when you get down to it, was all about the excellence and persistence of rocks. You better believe we took the 2-hour drive in our rented Monolith, a Ford Excursion (their largest SUV) up the tortuous, vertigo inducing roads of highway 89-A with its frail looking guardrails and fearsome drops to the astonishing geological wonder of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. And whereas I can understand the devotional attitude affected by Sedona’s more intimate 270 million-year old crimson sandstone, even contemplating the age of the wonderfully titled Vishnu basement rocks found at the bottom layer of the Canyon walls and estimated to be 1.68 to 1.84 billion years old draws you toward the presence of something primal and unfathomable.

We spent the bulk of our time in Sedona. There’s not much of a downtown and what does pass for one is marred and endangered by a highly invasive species of stores that prey on a particular breed of tourist hungry for garish landscape tableaus to adorn their Winnebago’s walls with. This area felt a little like those gone-to-seed beachfront promenades found along the coasts where you can buy yourself an Elephant Ear, a bong and while away a couple hours visiting a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. Cathy and I went exploring one afternoon and lasted roughly ten minutes before the sheer accumulation of knickknack and trinket debris overwhelmed us and sent us fleeing.

There are tonier aspects to Sedona, replete with posh resorts and, in our case, lavish rentals. Expendable income is, after all, the town’s bread and butter. There are numerous high-toned art galleries, too, with a special emphasis on pseudo-classical sculptures of muscle rippling nudes and horses. I’m not at all sure just whose equine esthetic tastes these works excite, but from what I saw I’ll hazard that the final outcome is probably just as tacky as the oil painted fable screwed to the wall of the Winnebago.

Here’s what I’ll remember most about Sedona: One night, after most of us had imbibed a couple very potent Margaritas, my sister-in-law accidentally said Schmuckers instead of Smuckers and scored probably the weeks biggest laugh. As with any reticent family gathering, alcohol invites much needed lowering of inhibitions, slips of the tongue and eventual descent into the ribald.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Water Down The Back

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
There's a lot I wish I had more time to write about. I'm really looking forward to writing, for example, about our recent vacation to Sedona but I'm currently trying to prioritize in addition to practicing the subtle arts of not allowing petty-ass misguided bullshit get to me. I'm lucky as hell to have in my wife and partner an incredible bulwark against such slings. Love, if creepy Tom Cruise can do it, so can I! I can't be cool. I can't be laid back! Thank you!

In the meantime, check out this new Joan Didion essay here. As usual, it's a fantastic piece of journalism, beautifully navigating the many contours of the Terry Schiavo happening from a few months back. I'm a big fan of both Didion's acute, and supremely wry intelligennce and her awesome ability to synthesize these big tent cultural affairs.

Lot's more to come soon.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Harmonic Convergence

We’re off to Sedona until Saturday. We’ve already told you, and so we’ve heard (let alone that it bares repeating) that it’s a “spiritual mecca and global power spot.” We’ll try and definitely get some confirmation on that. Beyond this, we’re looking forward to the desert sun, red rocks, hikes and occasional naps between chapters of a good book.

The Times kicked off a series yesterday on class that’s worth a look and a little time if you’re interested about such things. There’s even a fascinating interactive graphic that allows you to plug in and see how you measure up by using what the authors claim are “among the most influential” characteristics regarding class; occupation, education, income and wealth.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Crossing the Rubicon

I find myself playing with teleological tendencies, at least on a meteorological level, on grim, shivery days like this. “By golly”, I think, “it’s May 11th already- enough with the blustery shenanigans!” Sometimes, my friends, the fact that we can go from 80 and sunny to 39-degrees with a wind chill is so exasperating that I can’t help but wonder if nature doesn’t have a Hobbesian worldview and a dog that bites.

Still, we’re test free! Hooray! I don’t think I shattered any records or anything, but I’m feeling pretty confident that I did well enough at yesterday mornings purging. Were you aware, however, that it was Caesar who crossed the Rubicon, just as Washington crossed the Delaware? Perhaps you were. Me, I was stumped. I always imagined the crossing of the Rubicon happened sometime during the Middle Ages and was part of the mythological canon. Where I got that, I don’t know but I think Tangerine Dream had something to do with it. Of course, now that I’ve learned more it seems so blunt, a perfectly famous historical exclamation mark amongst all the mundane bureaucratic detritus. And certainly this crossing was as consequential as Washington’s own crossing. I feel such searing shame!

Here’s a smattering of what’s in rotation of late:

01) Bucky Done Gone: M.I.A.
02) The Hustle: Van McCoy -Choice feather disco from the golden era- complete with a stunning Herb Alpert like horn breakdown. Lovely.
03) Sonho Dourando: Daniel Lanois -from the Friday Night Lights soundtrack- the dusty elegance of Lanois’s swamp fuzz piling up atop a humble kick drum and some autumnal touchdown strings)
04) Big Day: Phil Manzanera (w/ Brian Eno)- Hadn’t heard it until last month- recorded almost 30 years ago for Manzanera’s debut solo album. Could just as easily have come from the first half of Before and After Science. Eno co-wrote the track with Manzanera and sings lead- some of his most affecting and swooning at that.
05) What Happened (Deep House Mix): Ade Duque ft. Blake Baxter- Ask anybody who loves House music- anybody who’s ever shared the dance floor at 3:00 a.m. with a couple hundred other fellow travelers while a DJ laid down a groove so thick and sublime you understood with perfect, joyous clarity just what it means to set your mind free and have your ass follow- ask this person what, at its root, House music is all about and they’ll tell you, “House is a feeling.” What Happened is the quintessence of that feeling. It kicks right out of the gate with the sickest, funkiest 4/4 and rolling bump bass that I’ve heard in years. Over this naughty groove, Blake Baxter playfully drops a litany of harsh condemnations and questions to the House music community (Chicago … the house sound. You gotta be kidding. What happened?” “New York … what the fuck happened?). About a month ago, in lieu of the treadmill I spent roughly 30 minutes dancing to this song 6 times in a row. That’s a potentially frightening vision to conjure and for that I apologize, but if you think that’s scary you should also know that I’m thinking of setting up the video camera next time to capture it. It’s all part of my larger plan to begin the 21st Century Jazzercise revival.
06) Double Dutch Bus: Frakie Smith- From 1981 and supposedly the source that launched the izzle slang craze of a couple years ago (it’s so 2003) as well as being an inspired sample source prominently featured in Timberland’s fantastic Double Dutch production from Missy Elliot’s Under Construction album. Definitely a gem from New York’s early 80’s post-punk days, it’s got hints of the Tom Tom’s Club’s lightly coiled funk esprit and a hefty dose of roller-rink disco spindrift.
07) Timy Thomas: Why Can’t We Live Together?: I can’t imagine the samba preset Timy’s got going on his organ here hasn’t already been sampled- the real question is why I haven’t sampled it yet!
08) Albums we’re excited about: Brian Eno- Another Day On Earth, the first entirely vocal album by the man in over 25 years! And if that weren’t exciting enough, Daniel Lanois has gone and done what I had hoped for and will be releasing an instrumental album in July focusing on his lovely pedal-steel guitar playing. Others too, including a new one by Colleen, Sufjan Stevens and probably most excited about the new one from Isolee

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Like A Virgin

Harboring a secular belief system that Joseph Ratzinger might deride as being captive to the “dictatorship of relativism” (by which I presume the new and improved Benedict XVI to mean absolutely anything that falls outside the steely doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, like say, advocating the use of condoms in third world countries to help fight the spread of AIDS) I’m not as versed as I’d like to be in Biblical hermeneutics. I say this because I recently began reading Jose Saramago’s trenchant and deliciously skeptical fictional telling of the life of Jesus , The Gospel According To Jesus Christ, and was surprised to learn that Jesus had numerous younger siblings. I wondered if Saramago wasn’t perhaps making this up. But doing a little sleuthing just now I see that the answer depends on whether you’re Catholic or Protestant. For Catholics, Mary is the eternal virgin. This must have been hard on poor Joseph. “Not tonight Joseph, I’m with the Lord our Savior’s child.” Thankfully, Protestants have seen fit to save Joseph from the cruel fate of a lifetime of conjugal blueballs and allowed him to mount Mary several times. There are no stained-glass depictions of this so far as I know.

This guy, a Reformist Christian, has written a paper about this point of contention, the exasperated tone of which is probably a good example of the animosity Catholic and Protestant hermeneuticists must feel toward one another. According to his fiery essay, it’s, like, so entirely obvious that Jesus had siblings. But Catholics, arguing the linguistic malleability card, choose to interpret these relations as either being cousins or children from a previous marriage of Josephs. Previous marriage? Well, I’ll be!

Still, I guess I’m just a little surprised that Protestants, to my knowledge, haven’t made a bigger deal about these siblings. Why don’t we see more Protestant deification surrounding these kids? Were any of them around when Christ really got going on his savior kick? Did they believe him? Or were they keeping as far away as possible from their older brother, mortified by his claims of turning water into wine and the troubling nature of his followers, especially those 12 gaunt fellows claiming to be his disciples? And talk about a great book/play/movie idea- the life of Jesus through the eyes of one of Jesus’ brothers. It would begin, “Well, Jesus stopped by this afternoon, reeking of patchouli and ripe with his increasingly bizarre parables. Simon saw him coming up the path and slipped out the backdoor while Jesus was distracted with ‘healing’ yet another leper. ‘I’ll stop by later on,’ Simon whispered in my ear before taking leave, ‘I just can’t take his miracle worker schtick today, you know?’”
Lincoln World

There’s been a lot of buzz up here in Chicago about the recent opening of the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library/Museum down in Springfield. All the local news outlets have had correspondents (sometimes even sending in their top-tiered evening anchors) covering the grand opening, interviewing folks like Senator Dick Durbin and the museum’s director, the puckish Presidential historian, Richard Norton Smith. The viewers are given cursory tours of the museum that choose to focus not on the impressive gathering of over 12,000 Lincoln documents but rather the dozens of life-size rubber Lincoln’s that dot the museum and depict iconic scenes from his life. Also of interest to the local news is the Imagineering nature of many of the museum’s exhibits, including a theatrical presentation where a real-life actor interacts with a holographic Lincoln. Such displays are not without their critics, with jowl drooping college professors put before the camera’s to berate the museum’s emphasizing of glitz and dehumanizing of history. As one professor noted, “I call it 6 Flags Over Lincoln.”

The schoolmarm in me (who, I like to sometimes imagine, lives in a little house on the prairie, wears fetching bonnets and is friendly with Laura and Almonzo Wilder) shares the concerns of these droopy pedagogues, but at the same time I loathe the musty, oftentimes sterile feel of too many of our nation’s museums where history feels quarantined. One of my favorite museum going experiences over the last few years was the fantastic multi-media exhibit, The Road To Revolution, located in the Minute Man Visitor Cener (all part of Minute Man National Historical Park) in Concord, Massachusetts. Its roughly 20 minutes of Imagineering does a wonderful job telling the story of the momentous and calamitous events of April 19th, 1775 in a way that’s both visually exciting and historically vigorous. As the inculcating Richard Norton Smith has reminded those newscasters quick to ask him about his museum’s critics, “Any great story has to be told on multiple levels.”

I should also point out and urge, if ever you find yourself at the park, that you walk the awesome Battle Road Trail. Not only is it simply a nice woodsy walk, it also practically trembles with our nation’s history and comes equipped with numerous brass historical plaques for you to peruse and gain context. It’s pretty awesome.

So Cathy and I plan on making a trip down to Springfield sometime this summer to check out the new Lincoln museum. Recognizing that I’m woefully ignorant of Lincoln’s biography other then the obvious corn-fed basics and what I recall from reading Gore Vidal’s beautiful novel, I’m looking forward to reading one of the many dormant books on my shelves, David Herbert Donald’s, Lincoln. Having read this (and, ideally, some of Lincoln’s own writings) I’ll get to savor both the deeper historical context and psychological shadings of the man while enjoying frequent rides on the Mary Todd Demon Drop.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Further Explorations Of Our Hero’s Bodily Functions

I read your review yesterday.


Well, its got this tone and then…

…I mention that they take dumps just like the rest of us…

…and it doesn’t really work, it's too jarring.

Yeah, I was trying to take the stuffing out of the fact that they’ve been made into icons. I found it really funny.

Yes, you would. But maybe there was a more subtle way to go about it?


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I’ve Never Met Anyone Quite Like You Before

My critical facilities, tepid though they may be, grow even murkier when it comes to assessing the merits of New Order’s latest, Waiting For The Sirens Call. Any alacrity of judgment, especially when the opinion may veer toward the lackluster, is clouded by my past relationship with the band and their prominence in my teenage listening habits.

Second only to the solo output of Peter Gabriel, New Order was the most important band in my teenage cannon. Beginning in the early 80’s, when I first heard Blue Monday played on the local Cleveland rock station, WMMS, until the release of 1989’s Technique, the band was a constant of my immediate post-pubescent/ pre-adulthood years. The bands music, a peerless and highly salient mix of wistfulness and grandeur, provided those transitory years with a sublime soundtrack that will forever be overwhelmed with powerful and, for the most part, affirming associations. It also helped that the band, up until the late 80’s, maintained a mysterious, imperturbable air, rarely granting interviews or having their photographs taken, allowing designer Peter Saville plenty of leeway to refine an elegant if melancholy public persona though his album covers.

It’s that unyielding teenager who still exerts a considerable pressure- who fears any challenge to the bands honor- asking (or demanding) that my current “adult version” maintain a certain level of propriety when discussing the band. I’m happy to comply, especially if we’re casting back to their remarkable run through the 80’s (to which we could also include their previous incarnation as Joy Division, another favorite of my teenage years), an output that has held up remarkably well. As New Order, the albums Movement, Power, Corruption and Lies, Low-Life, Brotherhood and Technique in addition to the mighty singles and remixes collection, Substance 1987, continue to maintain their original luster, each gracefully maturing into singular classics.

In the late 90’s, I feel compelled to note, New Order became iconic, lauded by countless musicians, critics and aficionados alike, inevitably passing over that mysterious threshold where all the accumulated burnish and ardor becomes mythology. With this ascendancy of prestige they’re now larger then life. And they’re still releasing albums and, just like you and me, taking dumps, gods though they may be.

So into that autobiographical palaver arrives Waiting For The Sirens Call, an early promo copy of which I was the lucky recipient of thanks to Kristen. Listening for the first time, as I did a couple weeks back now, that affecting, dreamy 80’s teenager was full of hope, emboldened before a single note was heard that this would be another classic, another soundtrack for the married/home-owner chapter of my life. (But it's so, so much more then wedding wings and paying the mortgage, this chapter.) There would be Barney’s vapid but endearing lyrics and sweet guitar pluckings, the liquid churn of Hook's melodic bass, Morris’s metronome drumming and all of it bridged together by lovely cushions of keyboard. Be a classic!

It’s not.

I wanted it to blow my ears off and make me feel utterly, overwhelmingly alive. I wanted melancholy and grandeur butting up against each other. I wanted to churn up all those old passions and present them with something emboldened and entirely new. All that prestige practically demanded it. But what we have here, it hurts to admit, is a handful of songs, a handful of really good tracks, surrounded by a preponderance of efficient ho-hum.

The really good tracks:

1. Waiting For The Sirens Call
2. Krafty
3. Jetstream
4. Turn

So, 4 out of 11 ain’t too bad. Couple that with the best tracks from 2001’s Get Ready and you’re close to a full album of great, if not classic, tracks. We role with the punches better these days when our expectations aren’t met, we’re more resilient and more forgiving. And those above 4, especially the back to back punch of the title track and Krafty, are pretty darn good.

Against the grain of their newfound iconic status, we have a little middle-aged hero-slippage. Happens sometimes. I doubt they’ll ever again match those heights from the 80’s, but then, I’ll never be 16 and cruising in my Dad’s diesel Jetta to the sounds of Temptation rattling the dashboard speakers again either.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Hotdog! Summer Just Got A Whole Lot More Summery!

Of course, it'll be packed to the gills, but this looks like it can only get better and better. Still waiting for the Summerdance 2005 schedule to be posted, but hopefully that'll be soon.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Given that we moved back to Chicago in February of last year, we were fortunate enough to miss more then half of winter. So this past one was the first we’ve had to slog through in its entirety since 2000-2001. And shit, no matter how you slice it, living under that nagging settlement of grey isn’t all that agreeable, is it?

Today, at last, it seems, like winter is finally losing its toehold in dramatic fashion. Sure, we’re condemned to get hit with a few more days of blustery drabness, but today seems like spring’s official overzealous introduction. Spring! Catch the fever! Here’s hoping that we get some payback for last year’s inordinately chilly ass (and wet!) spring and summer.

My bike and me went out to greet our newfound spring this morning- to feel that sweet, embraceable warmth and to test our lungs. After finally locating my helmet buried in a closet amongst discarded and mismatched gloves and properly inflating the tires (an act that I've always found to be intensely gratifying, so should you need inflating, I'm available), we headed south, into strong and persistent winds up from the Gulf of Mexico that caused us to shift into lower and still lower gears. We saw middle-aged men playing tennis with their shirts off, skin frighteningly razor-burn red and distressingly gelatinous. Inspired, we peddled even harder and felt a tightness in the chest and our legs, oh, how they trembled so- all those hibernating muscles so long neglected and suddenly put back into service. But still we went on, past empty harbors hungry for boats and polo clad retirees practicing their golf swings. A man passed me by on his bike. He was large and his legs were thick like tree stumps. I couldn’t keep up.

And then we couldn’t go any further. We turned around and my back became a sail for the wind. My bike creaked and squeaked and yet never once slipped out of gear. I noted new rust on the handlebars and the spider web cracks running through the handgrips.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Cars Throwing Sparks

We need more large, inanimate objects suspended and bursting with multi-colored lights, no?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Siren Call

I’ve only heard a few 15 second samples (no downloads for this one- I want to wait and listen to it in its entirety alone and with the headphones set to stun) but New Order’s latest, Waiting For the Sirens Call is getting a lot of love over at I Love Music. Of course, like me, most of the posters are biased, but there’s a healthy consensus running through the thread that I can get behind- namely that after Technique, New Order’s output suffered a dramatic downturn in quality. Other then Revenge (in my book, the last great New Order track) from the otherwise lackluster Republic album and a sprinkling of decent tracks off of Get Ready (which was consistently nice, if not revelatory) there’s been a lot of hopeful anticipation that the band would somehow manage to once again tap into the creative depths and successes of their stunning 80’s run- where there’s nary a dud track in sight. That pregnant expectation, that churning wistfulness, moody and exultant and brimming over with grandeur- us fans are still carrying the torch and giddy for more. From the tenor of those that have heard it, the new one sounds like a pretty strong return to form, perhaps as close as they’re ever going to get again.

It’s nice to wallow in this post, so much good feeling for the band- like hanging out with an otherwise disparate bunch of folks all tethered together through highly emotional connections to a few dozen songs. We have such high hopes.

More to come…

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Green Fuse Drives The Flower

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
These are doing it for me the past few days:

10. Promise: When In Rome (Tip 'o the hat to Napoleon Dynamite.)
09. One Evening: Feist
08. When I Goose-Step: The Shins
07. Every Day Is Like Sunday: Morrissey (Who would have thought this would be Morrissey's last hurrah? Sure, there was Bona Drag, but that didn't really count, you know, just a bunch of singles and cast offs. The stings are gorgeous on this one.)
06. The Beautiful Ones : Prince (Had forgotten just how lovely this song is- Prince at his creamiest- and that ending! "What's it gonna be babe? Do you want him? Do you want me? Cause I want you! Pure hormone histrionics.)
05. The Difference It Makes (Superpitcher Remix): The MFA (The best thing Superpitcher has yet to do, and the man has quite a catalog of great singles already. My favorite song of the year so far- no doubt about it- a cathartic sugar rush, a burst of cherry colored funk, the build up and the release of the force that drives the green fuse through the flower. I'm ringing moonlight and stars out of my eyes every time I hear it.)
04. Oh My Gosh: Basement Jaxx
03. Hugendubel: Robag Wruhme (Oh, this guy is fantastic- and it was only a few weeks ago that I was first introduced to his music- where have you been all my life, man? It's like he picked up the torch after Aphex's Windowlicker and kept running with it.)
02. Children's Dreams: Antonio Carlos Jobim (Sounds just like the title- from the majestic Stone Flower album.)
01. Sodom, South Georgia: Iron and Wine (We've had Mr. Bean's second full-length for almost a year, but it's only been in the past month that this song fortuitously popped up on shuffle play and wove its sweet melancholy through me like a murky river- these past few days I've called it up repeatedly and found solace in it.)

We're heading home to Cleveland tomorrow to say goodbye. It's all very surreal and tragic. I don't know how to write about this and avoid sounding mawkish.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
One of my oldest friends, Will Bisch, committed suicide this past week. I just found out this morning through a mutual friend. We had drifted apart, as will happen sometimes, though I never really doubted that 20 or 30 years from now I'd still know where he was living, what he was up to and, I hoped, still seeing him in person on occasion. We had traded a series of e-mails around this time last year, catching up with each other. I missed him.

It feels unseemly to process here but disingenuous to let it go unacknowledged. It is a very sad day. The more I remember all the good times we shared the more heartbroken I feel. There's anger here, too, but it feels useless.

I say, Live, Live because of the sun,
the dream, the excitable gift.

-Anne Sexton

Monday, March 14, 2005

Some Movies

Last Life In the Universe- Pen-Ek Ratenaruang: More interested in texture then logic, Ratenaruang’s film belongs to the stunning cinematography of Christopher Doyle, the man who has given so much to Wong Kar-Wai’s films over the last decade and is, quite simply, the greatest cameraman working today in film. Impeccably framed and rich in color, each shot swoons with Doyle’s ability to endow the films characters with subtle gradations. Ratenaruang allows for stillness and space- there’s a languorous quality at work and it burrows into you. Imagination repeatedly and unobtrusively intrudes on logic as characters are replaced by figments with such subtlety that you know better then to question the disparity. It’s supremely elegant (the soundtrack, provided by Hualampong Riddim and Small Room and sadly unavailable, is particularly fine, providing just the right undertow of melancholy), and refined: if it’s about anything, it involves two characters suffering from loss and isolation attempting to connect. There are three different endings, a montage that feels surprising unfractured and whole.

Since Otar Left- Julie Bertucelli: Led by an astounding trio of Georgian (the country, no the state) actresses representing three generations, Esther Gorintin, Nino Khomassouridze and Dinara Droukavora are a joy to watch together. Portraying a family living and struggling under the same roof in the city of Tbilisi, each actress gracefully supports the other. You’re aware of just how detailed and skillfully this ensemble of actresses works together- how perceptive they are, for example, of their characters' body language and the rich details subtle movements of intimacy can reveal. Bertucelli has a keen grasp of domestic atmosphere and the film’s interiors, the props and other personal accruements that add all those unconscious shadings to the characters, are a marvel of harmonious specificity. I’ve really been getting into set design of late, in particular how good set design can assist in fleshing out character and story. One of the cool extra features included with this DVD are the accompanying video’s and photographs Bertucelli took while on location scouts in Tbilisi before she began shooting where you get a behind the scenes look at the work that goes into creating a quality mis-en-scene. The last third of the film takes place in Paris. It shares almost an identical ending to Maria Full of Grace. It’s about women crossing boarders, seeking new identities in countries that call to them and promise something more. It’s about the threshold, the moment of decision: to return to their old life or to begin anew. This ending, with the youngest of the three actresses, the daughter Ada (Droukavora), waving through the airport glass to her grandmother, Eka (Gorintin) who returns an empathetic wave and nod of the head that validates her grand-daughters decision, is one of the most tender and pitch perfect endings I’ve seen since Linklater’s Before Sunset. The mother, Marina (Khomassouridze), turns to her daughter and bursts into tears of wrenching realization. A stewardess arrives to briskly usher them onto the plane and Ada turns, begins walking and the screen goes to black. The second great film I’ve seen this year after Nobody Knows.

Maria Full of Grace- Joshua Marston: Marston tries a little too hard in the beginning to make sure we’re aware that the title character, the wonderful Catalina Sandino Moreno, has dreams and ambitions larger and feistier then anything her little Columbian village can provide. That aside, this is a powerful, nicely made film that offers a compelling, almost documentary like look behind the scenes of the drug war and especially those, like Maria, who are exploited by it. Watching Maria swallowing the latex covered cocaine capsules she’ll later smuggle into the US is especially harrowing, her impulsive decision to become a mule suddenly, gravely, taking on an almost unbearable gravity. As already mentioned, the ending is nearly identical to that of Since Otar Left, with Maria in the airport about to return to Columbia but instead stepping back from the threshold, waving goodbye to her friend and turning to walk away. Like Since Otar left, this could easily soften into bathos, but it pulls back on the reigns: we know the consequences of her act- and Marston maintains the film’s overall integrity until the final fade.

Napoleon Dynamite- Jared Hess: With its Idaho embalmed deadpan delivery perhaps a bit too peculiarly mannered and its plotless meanderings perhaps a bit too casual and its 80’s penchant perhaps a bit too willfully quirky, I still found it hard not to be totally charmed by this one. Much has been made of its similarities to Todd Solondz’s Welcome To The Dollhouse (cheap laughs at the expense of nerds followed by violent consequences that add a discomforting veneer of shame to our previous laughter) and Wes Andersons now thoroughly entrenched brand of quirkiness (with, for example, The Life Aquatic, Anderson’s films have become a set of whimsical poses, so much eccentric façade as to find depth in its oddball idiosyncrasies) while adding its own layer of dry monotone daffiness. Special mention goes to Jon Heder, who as the film’s title character gives us a performance both hilarious and comatose at the same time: like a nerd both shell-shocked and dulled by his very outlandishness.

Rustling Landscapes- Janez Lapajne (Slovenia): Part of the current European Union Film Festival at the Siskel Film Center, this debut by the Slovenian filmmaker, Janez Lapajne was shot in 14 days in July of 2001 on digital video before being transferred over to 35mm. A couple on a summer vacation in rural Slovenia (which sure looks nice), 7 years together, slowly self-destruct after miscommunications, lack of support and emotional exhaustion lead to an abortion that both may or may not have wanted. The first third, a brutally in your face assessment of their relationship and an oftentimes powerful examination of the pettiness that creeps into the arguments and assessments of longtime partners, gives way to a film that becomes surprisingly light, pastoral and warmly funny. In need of distance, the couple (played by Barbara Cerar, who is wonderful and Rok Vihar who is miscast) goes their separate ways. Katarina (Cerar) meets a soldier named Primoz (Gregor Zork) who she spends a sun-dappled day with while Luka (Vihar) spends the day and evening talking about relationships with a woman he befriends at a nearby campsite. Each is made to question what they want: to remain in their relationship or stray. Owing a whole lot to Eric Rohmer, this one comes close to replicating his lovely, chatty films about lovers in flux.

The Motorcycle Diaries- Walter Salles: It’s nice, this one, when the two leads are on their road-trip through South America. It’s not so good when it wears its schematics on its sleeve and knocks you over the head with, should you forget, the fact that we’re watching the pre-revolutionary Che coming face to face with injustice and his conscience for the first time. Cool! Oh, what wrestling he’ll do. And how noble! There is a horribly silly scene of Che, played by the always enjoyable Gael Garcia Bernal, swimming the Amazon to spend his birthday with those in a leper colony. This spontaneous act of solidarity is swollen with all sorts of unnecessary grandeur and it wears, like so many films that come out of the Sundance camp, its schematics on its sleeve: attention viewers, this is a metaphor, our hero is going to a place from which he’ll never return, the beginning of his revolutionary fervor- look, behold how much he cares for those less fortunate! At the same time, we’re given little political or philosophical context; this film wants to give us the Che we can all agree on- heroic, noble and ultimately vapid.