Friday, April 04, 2008

Stalling, aka Odds & Ends

Work has connotations of tedium and repetitiveness. Grading freshman essays certainly fits those connotations, and I sometimes can think of anything I would rather do instead. Writing this entry serves as a way of delaying having to grade evaluations, which usually turns out to be a difficult assignment for students. Establishing criteria and supporting criteria with evidence are not easy tasks for my students.

Like many Americans, I have been finding ways to reduce my spending. Instead of buying new books, I have been going through my shelves to find those books I have not yet read. My wife was shocked when I started reading another novel so soon after having read Kunstler’s World Made by Hand. I’m currently reading Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. Edward Abbey remained unknown to me until a few years ago when I saw his books listed among what some writers consider as environmental classics. Soon after, I picked up a remaindered copy of Desert Solitaire and enjoyed it immensely. Abbey, unlike Barry Lopez, is idiosyncratic and iconoclastic. Abbey articulated a hatred of corporate America and the environmental damage wrought by development before some of us were awakened to those concerns. The Monkey Wrench Gang contains characters who attempt to stop the spread of this environmental damage. My only criticism of the novel, at this point in my reading, is that the characters aren’t fully developed. While it’s true that Seldom Seen Smith, for example, acquired that name because of his absence from his three wives, it would seem as though the narrator would have Smith return to one or more of his wives during the novel. Smith, too, hasn’t taken tourists on a river raft trip since early in the novel. The narrator focuses almost exclusively on the eco-terrorism perpetuated by this gang of four. But it may be too soon for me to comment on the novel, not having completed it as of yet.

Last Christmas, when I was using a gift card for Barnes & Noble, I picked up Dave Holland’s Prime Directive. Dave Holland has such a strong reputation, beginning with his playing bass on such Miles Davis albums as In a Silent Way, Filles de Kilimanjaro, Bitches Brew, and Big Fun, that his albums are sure to satisfy. Featuring Chris Potter on saxophone, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibraphone, Billy Kilson on drums, and Dave Holland on bass, and containing about seventy-four minutes of music, Prime Directive is a worthy introduction to the Dave Holland Quintet, which has released about four CDs, including Extended Play, a live recording. Some critics have compared Dave Holland’s quintet to Charles Mingus and his band around the time of Mingus Ah Um and Mingus at Antibes. This comparison applies to a quintet being lead by a bassist. Mingus’ music was often topical as in “Fables of Faubus.” Holland on his CDs shares the writing with his band mates and while it would seem as though songs composed by a particular musician would feature extended solos by that musician, the opposite is true because there is a strong group dynamic within the songs, with each member contributing. Prime Directive is currently in my alarm clock, and, periodically, I change the song that I initially wake to. It’s difficult to oust myself out of bed, however, because I want to continue listening to the music.

When I’m grading, I want music that will keep me on task. Lately, I have been typing up my grading comments while listening to Manu Katche’s Neighborhood and Playground and Stephen Micus’ Twilight Fields and Wings Over Water. These two Micus CDs feature him playing flower pots filled with water among other instruments. Some people discount Micus and place his music under the New Age label. These two particular CDs interest me because of the innovation, that is, his ability to create music from something seemingly so ordinary.

My classmates from high school in their postings at various locations on the Internet, like the Dayroom Years , still seem enamored with the music of the late 1960’s. My thirteen-year-old son loves the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band. Some of those songs are good and bring back memories of that time in my life, but when I want to stretch my imagination, soothe my world weariness, or start up and keep myself motivated to get my work done, I turn to music that I’ve discovered since high school.