2004 Steven Was A Big Dummy

In April of 2004, I complained in a LiveJournal post that the $76.50 ticket price for a Prince concert was just too expensive. I was an idiot and a first-class buffoon. If I could time-travel, I would absolutely go on a tour of my stupid decisions, and I would repeatedly slap these younger stupid Stevens.

I did see Prince once, with Jade Walker and another friend. The year was 1997, and Prince was going by “The Artist” at the time. The show took place at the Miami Arena, a venue which has since been demolished and turned into a parking lot. The price for that ticket was a smidge over fifty bucks, and I would happily pay a much, much higher fee to see His Royal Purple Badness one more time.

I never had the chance to see David Bowie live. I didn’t really know how much I loved Queen until Freddie Mercury was already gone. I never saw Michael Jackson or George Michael. I missed Oingo Boingo’s touring days, although I did finally manage to see Danny Elfman in London.

Music is life. I say that so, so often on this blog, but it’s more than just a pithy slogan for me. Concerts are so much a part of my identity that I push through travel anxiety and a dislike of crowds to go to them over and over.

I went to 28 ticketed shows in 2019. In 2020, I went to seven.

Thanks to the pandemic, almost all the shows I wanted to see for the other nine months of last year were either canceled or postponed. It will be months before we can really do concerts again- there’s a sprinkling of new shows available at a few venues, but at greatly reduced capacity, and in a very different form than what I’m used to.

Now that vaccines are starting to be distributed, I’m more impatient than ever to get back to regular concert-going, and I have a not-really-very-short-list of artists that I would go far, far out of my way to see.

From the “I had a chance to see them, but circumstances kept me away from the show and I’m still mad about it” file:

  • Betty Who – She played downtown Orlando and I was otherwise engaged.
  • Ciel Gloss – She did a show in New York when I was there in December of 2019 and I couldn’t make it work.
  • Imagine Dragons – I actually had tickets to this show, and was unable to go at the last minute.
  • Mindy Gledhill – She played a Northern Virginia venue really close to here. I wasn’t here yet. Timing is everything.
  • Kesha – This is another tour that was canceled by the pandemic.
  • Janelle Monae – Another Orlando show that I am KICKING myself for not catching.

From the “I deeply respect their artistry and I really really really wanna see them live despite all the hype!” file:

  • Taylor Swift – Does Taylor Swift really need commentary from me?
  • Mavis Staples – This woman is a badass and she’s toured vaguely near me a few times and I really should have just made the drive.
  • P!nk – Pink is one of those shows that I really just should have ponied up the money to see when she played Orlando.
  • Lorde – I wonder if she’ll ever tour outside of New Zealand again. Damn, I hope so.
  • Carly Rae Jepsen – I actually saw her once, and the show was so good that I would absolutely see her again. If your opinion of her is based solely on “Call Me Maybe,” you should check out some of the other stuff on her five albums.

From the “I learned about this artist after their last tour concluded and then a pandemic happened and now I want to see them live so badly it probably looks like I have to pee” file:

  • Meg Myers – I was introduced to this artist by another friend, right after her tour in support of “Take Me To The Disco” ended. If I had a time machine…
  • Grendel – This band has been around for 20+ years already, but I was unaware of them until just recently, and I love what I’m hearing.
  • Marit Larsen – I’m not sure if Marit Larsen ever tours in North America- she’s from Norway and has mostly stuck around Europe and the Nordic countries. Maybe once it’s safe to fly long distances again.
  • Kelsea Ballerini – She’s a much newer artist with one song that got plastered all over the radio, but I’ve listened to more of her stuff and she’d be a blast to see live.
  • Ladyhawke – She’s another New Zealander, and I have no idea if she tours the US.
  • Jackie Venson – I first saw Jackie Venson on Austin City Limits, and she kicks ass.

I’m aware that most of the names above are in one particular genre of music, but I promise there’s other stuff on my radar. Don’t get me wrong- this is by no means a complete and unabridged list of who I want to see live- I’ve already got tickets to see eleven different shows later this year, and I’m watching carefully for announcements about others.

Music is life. And I miss living.

What concert do you most wish you’d seen when you had the chance?

2/52

Five Stars.

I am stingy with my five-star ratings.

I’ve been tracking the books I read on Goodreads.com for about ten years now. 257 of them are in my “read” category, and of those 257, I gave ten books five stars.

When you’re rating a book and you mouse over the stars, here’s what the mouseover text says:

★ - did not like it
★★ - it was ok
★★★ - liked it
★★★★ - really liked it
★★★★★ - it was amazing

Well obviously these are very, very high standards and are not to be taken lightly. Most really great books don’t top a four-star rating for me. The vast majority don’t even break three stars, to be honest. And for me to call a book amazing, it has to blow my socks off in a particularly memorable way.

When DiAnne talked about books all the way back on day 9 of NanoPoblano, I considered a top ten list… but top ten lists shift and shimmy based on mood and the passage of time. My five-star books, on the other hand, remain five stars.

With that in mind, I’d like to share six of the books that I rated five stars on Goodreads.com. These are all fiction, although not all of my top-rated books are.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill

This book is the newest one on the list by a wide margin, and was also the 2017 Newbery Medal winner. The story is full of magic and moonlight and witches and one Perfectly Tiny Dragon, and I don’t want to say more because it would just spoil the story- you only get a first time reading book this magical once. This is technically written for young readers, but I enjoyed it perfectly well as an adult. The story definitely did not go where I expected it to go, and I’m in love with half the characters, especially the aforementioned Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Really now, who doesn’t want their own Perfectly Tiny Dragon companion?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (series) – Douglas Adams

The link above is to the “Ultimate” edition, which really just means “five of the novels and a short story.” I love this entire series, end to end, and I have for most of my life. I started reading this series when I was about nine years old, and I remember being absolutely delighted when new books in the series kept coming out over the following years- my first exposure with the habit of great genre titles to make you wait for the next installment.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide series has been books, radio shows, an LP, a television miniseries, still more radio shows, comic books, trading cards, and so much more. When I went to Edinburgh in 2012, the entire trip was built around the fact that the cast of the radio show was doing a live performance, with Neil Gaiman as the voice of The Guide. Going to that show was the culmination of three decades of love for the HHG franchise. The entire series is fluffy good fun and I enjoy re-reading it once every few years.

Pyramids – Terry Pratchett

While all of the Discworld novels are entertaining, the seventh book in the series is somewhat separate from the rest of them- it has no shared characters from the rest of the series, and has little to do with the story arcs from the other novels.

The book is a hilarious satire of religion and faith, set in the desert kingdom of Djelibeybi, which is basically Discworld’s answer to Egypt. The story is about a twelve-year-old Pharaoh named Pteppic (the P is silent), newly graduated from the Assassin’s Guild, as he tries to meet his responsibilities, build a pyramid for his recently deceased father, and deal with a headstrong handmaiden named Ptracy. (Again, the P is silent.) There are mad priests, sacred crocodiles, and a mathematical genius named You Bastard who happens to be a camel.

I’ve always been a little bit fascinated by Egyptian culture, pyramids, and the like, so this was just a delight to read from cover to cover.

Stranger In A Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land is another one that I like to re-read every so often. First released in 1961, it tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human being who was raised on Mars, away from any other humans. The story begins with his return to Earth, and shows him learning to deal with other people and their complicated lives for the first time. So-called “Human Nature” is alien to him, and he introduces the world to his own beliefs and values.

This book is the origin of the term grokking, or “to grok,” a word that has its own Wikipedia page and is now in the dictionary. The Library of Congress named it one of 88 “Books that Shaped America.”

It’s really, really good.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite book is, I usually answer this one. I love it dearly and it’s another one that I re-read once every few years. Here’s what it’s about:

What if the end of the world was going to happen next Saturday, just after tea, and the major players in the end times have misplaced the antichrist? This book is the story of that eventuality. Among the very large cast of characters is Aziraphale, the answer to “what if C-3PO was a fussy angel instead of a fussy droid,” a fast-talking, fast-living demon named Crowley, witches, Witchfinders, hellhounds, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and of course the antichrist.

Good Omens was notably adapted for television last year, and that was one program I had been waiting for since the first time I read the book in the early 1990s. I was utterly convinced that it was completely unfilmable, but if modern technology can give us a convincing Balrog and an updated Howard the Duck, it can certainly show us the end of the world. It turned out to be completely delightful and I’m incredibly happy with it, but it still only captured about two-thirds of the wonderfulness that is this hilarious, amazing book.

Still Life With Woodpecker – Tom Robbins

While most of this books listed in this post are in no particular order, I chose this one for last because it is the only title that is neither science fiction nor fantasy. Still Life was written by Tom Robbins in 1980, and it concerns the love affair between a red-headed environmentalist princess and an outlaw.

The novel repeatedly addresses the question of “how to make love stay.” Although it is set in more or less the real world, it most definitely has elements of fantasy. It is at times quite funny as well.

As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve also been looking at other people’s reviews of these books on Goodreads, and this one is divisive- a great many people leaving reviews did not like Still Life With Woodpecker. Ah, well, to each their own.

What are some of your top-rated favorite books?

50/52 (and 29 of 30!)

Drug Name or Sci-Fi Alien?

I watch a lot of television. Because of that, I see a lot of commercials. Over and over again, I see the same commercials. Little by little, they drill their way past my disinterest to lodge brand names in my forebrain.

The worst of them are the drug commercials, with their happy people living happy lives. It’s rare that you can actually tell what condition a drug treats from the commercial alone- there’s a lot of couples walking on the beach, a lot of people playing with their children, a lot of people biking and hiking and dancing.

The mystery of what the drugs are for isn’t what got my attention though, it’s the names of the drugs. The names in these commercials are so multisyllabic and ridiculous that I started to play a little game with myself: Is this a drug from a pharmaceutical commercial, or an alien race from science fiction?

I think this is really funny, so I started to keep a list on my phone. I got this far along before I stopped:

The really ridiculous part is that I made this list a few months ago, and I’ve actually forgotten some of the alien species I added to the list.

What do you think, drug name or alien species?

44/52 (and 23 of 30!)

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

One of my favorite parts of the Smithsonian is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The Udvar-Hazy is a part of the National Air & Space Museum, but it’s not on the National Mall. The National Mall has limited space, so in 1999 they had the brilliant idea of putting a giant hangar near Dulles Airport in Virginia and filling it with all kinds of cool stuff that wouldn’t fit in the main Air & Space Museum.

If you have a long layover at Dulles Airport, this is a GREAT way to kill some time. Fairfax Connector operates a bus from Dulles to the Udvar-Hazy Center every hour. The trip takes less than fifteen minutes, and it only costs a few dollars.

They’ve got hundreds of fascinating historical aircraft, as well as a restoration hangar where they can work on several airplanes at once. This is a BIG place. They have Felix Baumgartner’s capsule, ultralights, stunt planes, dirigible cabins, and so much more. They have cool space stuff like the Gemini 7 space capsule. They’ve also got an SR-71 Blackbird. And an Air France Concorde. And the freaking Enola Gay.

And they have a Space Shuttle. Guys, this place is SO COOL!

There are four space shuttle orbiters left, after the tragic destruction of Challenger and Columbia. The remaining four are all retired into museums. Endeavour is at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California. Enterprise is at the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum in New York. Atlantis is at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. And Discovery is here, at the Udvar-Hazy.

I’m not likely to ever see Endeavour because I have no interest in going back to Los Angeles. I’ll see Enterprise next time I’m in New York for work, post-pandemic. Nikhil and I went to the Kennedy Space Center this summer and saw Atlantis. (Editor’s note: I thought I had blogged the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, but I don’t see it here. I’ll have to come back to write that post later because the spacecraft on display are amazing.)

I mentioned Lorrie’s weekend visit back in my post about the Air Force Memorial. That same weekend, we drove out to Chantilly to see the Udvar-Hazy, and to get some quality time with Discovery.

An STS Orbiter is a very, very large thing. Larger than you might expect. The rockets at the back are just insanely large. Until you see them up close, it’s difficult to describe the immensity.

I call this photo “Lorrie looks at Shuttlebutt.”

The space part of the Udvar-Hazy has some displays pertaining to pop culture and how it intertwines with our space exploration. There are items from Babylon 5, Star Wars, and Buck Rogers, among others. There’s also a hero model used in the filming of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You don’t ever see it in the movie, but there’s a bunch of little things glued onto the model in various places to give it more detail. Like trucks, and mailboxes, and R2-D2, seen in the photo below. (Here’s a fun pop culture trivia- there’s also a small R2-D2 on the deck of One-Eyed Willie’s pirate ship in The Goonies. That little droid just gets everywhere.)

For some reason, there’s even a tiny model of the Space Shuttle in the Space Shuttle’s wing, complete with tiny people. I love miniatures, so this was extra fun for me.

I took hundreds of photos in the Udvar-Hazy. If I showed the rest of them inline like this, the post would be insanely long. Instead, I’ll just throw 78 of them into a gallery!

Have you ever been to the Udvar-Hazy Center?

35/52 (and 14 of 30!)

The London Film Museum

My previous post about London led to a conversation with a friend about London, and I wanted to look at the pictures I posted in my blog post about the London Film Museum. When I went to look for the post, I discovered to my vast surprise that I never wrote a post about the London Film Museum, I only wrote a paragraph in one of my previous London posts. In August of 2012, I said the following in a longer post about London:

I quite enjoyed the London Film Museum, which had a lot of neat stuff, including Daleks, a TARDIS, the superman suit from Superman Returns, the Batman Begins batsuit, and a large variety of props from other movies.  There was an entire room of Harry Potter stuff, and a large exhibit dedicated to Ray Harryhausen, including a full sized original Bubo.  This was a highlight for me.

That’s it- just that one paragraph. All the pictures I took at the museum, which I thought I had posted years ago, were still unshared. I will now correct that oversight.

When I visited the London Film Museum, it was in a section of County Hall, right near Westminster Bridge, close to the London Eye along the Thames River. I have since learned that it moved to a location in Covent Garden in April of 2012- my visit was in July of 2012, so I suspect the museum was still moving, and I saw only a fraction of the entire exhibit. What I did see was pretty dang cool though.

Harry Potter props and costumes- A variety of items were present here, including some costumes, the Tri-Wizard cup, and Harry’s Nimbus 2000.

Star Wars stuff – London is the home of Pinewood Studios, which has been a production facility for most of the Star Wars films. There were a few Star Wars artifacts on hand during my visit. I saw much more at the Star Wars exhibit in Tokyo a few years later.

Alien – They had a sculpture of a Xenomorph and some facehuggers from the Alien franchise.

Doctor Who – A film museum in England would naturally have some Doctor Who items. Not as much as the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, but still- a Tardis and a handful of Daleks were still neat to see.

Superman and Batman – Pinewood has a long history with DC Comics, and there weer a number of Superman and Batman artifacts on hand. First up, some costumes!

Next, we have part of the ship that brought Kal to earth in Superman (1978) and a newspaper from Superman II.

Braveheart, Hellraiser, and various animation – The Dangermouse cardboard stand was my favorite in this part.

The Ray Harryhausen Exhibit – This was my favorite part, to be honest- they had a special exhibit in plae called “Ray Harryhausen: Myths and Legends.” It contained various items from Harryhausen’s stop-motion work, but I was most interested in the Clash of the Titans items, particularly the full-sized Bubo the Owl!

Have you ever been to a film museum? What’s your favorite prop that you’ve seen in person?

17/52