Soundtrack of My Life: 1977

I thought it might be fun to put together a “soundtrack of my life” — one song that is representative of each year of my life since about 1977, when I was five years old and was approximately the time when I have specific memories of music. I’ll try to post one of these every Monday until I get to the present.

1977: “Yesterday When I Was Young,” by Roy Clark

I think like most kids, the music I first remember listening to was the music of my parents — or in my case, more accurately my dad. My parents both enjoy music, but I can’t think of a time that I’ve actually seen or even known of my mom purchasing music. What we listened to as kids in the late 1970s, and really into the early to mid 1980s, were the things my parents listened to. Roy Clark was always a favorite; “Yesterday When I Was Young” was originally recorded in 1969, but in 1977 when we lived in Germany I have many fond memories of the blue 8-track tape we had of Clark’s album with this song on it. We used to play tricks on my brother, Jason, and try to get him to think that the blue Freddy Fender 8-track was actually this Clark album, and he’d be none too pleased when he figured out we were trying to pull off the swap. This song is indicative of the kinds of things that played in our house for much of my childhood – which could well have just been the soundtrack for “Hee Haw” or the Grand Ol’ Opry — Clark, Fender, Buck Owens, Marty Robbins, Tom T. Hall, Jerry Reed, Dolly Parton. Those dusty old 8-tracks are still in the basement at my parents’ place in Kansas, and every now and then, just for kicks, we’ll go into the basement and listen for a few minutes. I’m never sure what’s more amazing; that the tapes have survived for 30 years, or that my parents still have an 8-track player in their basement that actually works.

Runner up: I have this weird memory of Stayin’ Alive somehow being my favorite song in kindergarten. I must’ve heard it on the radio, because there’s no way my family went anywhere near a theater that would’ve been showing “Saturday Night Fever.” That’s still a great and completely ridiculous song.

New drawing materials

I tried out some new drawing materials this afternoon for about 15 minutes before Mel and I went to the wedding.

I picked up a three-pack of Helix-brand charcoal pencils that were on clearance at Office Max for a buck, just to try ’em out. The package supposedly contained three densities of charcoal, cleverly dubbed “soft,” “medium” and “hard.” I scribbled on a page in my sketchbook with each of them and wasn’t particularly impressed. The “hard” pencil seemed basically the same as the “medium” pencil, and the “soft” charcoal felt by far the hardest of the three. Also, sketching with them wasn’t very smooth; the charcoal felt gummy and was grabbing the paper in ways I wasn’t crazy with. They just felt scratchy, and especially with the “soft” pencil I was expecting it to be a far more smooth experience – like my Derwent 9B, which is like sketching with butter. I’m not sure how much more I’ll do with these pencils; they might come in handy for something, I dunno. I’m glad I only paid a buck for ’em.

I also tried a new non-photo sketching pencil, a Prismacolor ColErase 761 1/2 blue. I have had it for a while, but had been using a Staedtler Mars non-copy pencil that lays down a darker and more purple line that I bought at the same time; the only reason I used the Staedtler pencil first was that it came pre-sharpened. I liked the Prismacolor pencil; it suffers from the same problem as every Prismacolor in that it’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to shear off the point of the lead almost immediately after you sharpen it, but it laid down a pretty smooth line that was easy to draw over with a Derwent 5B. It also was smoother than the Staedtler pencil, which feels like it occasionally grabs the paper (similar to the Helix charcoal pencils, but not nearly as constantly). I think the Prismacolor pencil was 50 cents compared to a buck for the Staetdler pencil, too, so it’s probably a good idea for me to prefer that one for practical as well as mechanical reasons.

Next to try out: some Faber-Castell lining markers that I also picked up on clearance today. I want to compare them to the Prismacolor liners I currently have and have enjoyed using.

Ellen’s wedding

Mel and I had a sitter tonight so we could go to the wedding of Ellen Munson and Erik Bakker. Ellen and her sister, Rach, have been our morning-shift nannies/sitters for Millie for the last six months or so, and before that Rach was our go-to sitter when Mel and I needed a night out on the town. Mel also works with their father, who’s also a teacher at Trek North High school.

Ellen and Erik’s wedding was pretty cool. They held it in the old Chief Theatre in downtown Bemidji — apparently the first-ever wedding held in the old building that is now the home of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. They had a half-dozen or so white leafless trees with tea lights hanging inside gold eggs as decorations on an otherwise dark and black stage. Off to the left was a table with some more tea lights and a clay goblet, like the kind you buy out of some little tent off in the corner of your local Renaissance Festival. They used it toward the end of the ceremony to do something I hadn’t seen before; instead of the typical candle ceremony you usually see, they poured something from each of two vials into the goblet and shared a drink. There were also the traditional readings and singing; Rach, who was the maid of honor, and one of the other bridesmaids sang all the songs and did a great job.

I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to rather enjoy weddings. The receptions and the dances and all of the party that comes afterward, I really could do without; but the actual ceremonies are nice. It’s fun to see the unique things people do to make the day their own, and they make me think quite a bit about the three days that could come at some point in the future when I’d go through all of it with my own daughters. When those days come, I seriously doubt I’ll be able stay as cool and calm as the dads in these other weddings I’ve been to.

My rocking chair

For the last three nights, I’ve sat in the rickety old rocker in our library and attempted to rock Millie to sleep. Twice successfully; tonight less so.

This chair has seen better days. It squeaks badly when it rocks, and this is even after Mel’s dad performed some of his Eastern European carpenter voodoo on the rocker mechanism. The cushions were reupholstered a few years ago, right after Helen was born and its services were required anew. And the ottoman has long since been vanquished by age and overuse.

I love this chair. It was purchased in the fall of 1997, and in its life of just over 13 years I’ve used its powers to rock all three of my babies to sleep. It was first put to use in a tiny green house at 1020 Colorado Street, where I’d rock Megan to sleep to the sounds of locusts in the big tree outside the window while I sang her Ozzy Osbourne songs. It moved to Minnesota with us, then found a place in my home with Melissa and was called back into service for Helen in 2005.

Now, it’s managed to remain usable for Millie. I’m not sure how much life it’ll have left when Millie is done being rocked into oblivion. Probably not much. But it’s been a great chair, and I’ve got lots of great memories of my babies in it.

Crazy, crazy dream from last night

I had a pretty intense and crazy dream last night. I won’t put the details here, but it was one of those “really vivid and real and would make an amazingly disturbing movie scene” sort of things.

I need to find someplace to write it down.

In other news, my “Birds of Prey” cover copy drawing is officially up in the University’s Ramsey Gallery in our fine arts building. I’ve never had anything on display in public before; I’m not going to lie, seeing my drawing up in that display case is kinda awesome. I’ve got a picture on my phone, and I’ll get some more at the opening reception on Wednesday afternoon, and I’ll put them up here.

I’ve also started a post mortem on that piece that I’ll post over at DeviantArt, and probably put it here as well. Overall I would say I’m pleased with how it turned out, but I want to be incredibly critical of the areas that I think I really screwed up, as well. Looking forward to writing that.

Looking deeper into the Pioneer’s budget editorial

Last week, a Minnesota state senator from Bemidji named John Carlson introduced a bill that would force the state’s public colleges and universities to freeze tuition at 2010-11 rates for two years, and after those two years install a hard cap that would allow schools to raise tuition by an amount no higher than the rate of inflation.

Over the weekend, the Bemidji Pioneer ran an opinion by its editorial board on Carlson’s bill. You can read the entire editorial here.

Toward the end, the editorial says this:

The state at one time paid about two-thirds of the cost of a student to attend public college and the student a third in tuition. Today, the state’s share is in the 40-plus percentage. Sen. Carlson would like to see that exceed 50 percent, perhaps even reach 60 percent, but it won’t be with a flush of new money.

Carlson is playing a tricky game with math here. Based on this quote, he seems to be advocating for an increase in state funding to state colleges and universities.

Based on the bill he’s proposing and his stated intention that schools “deal with their administrative costs,” here’s what Carlson really wants to see.

To make the math easier to follow, let’s say Bemidji State University has an annual budget of $50 million (which is close). If the state appropriation to our budget is approximately 40 percent, that’s $20 million. Carlson does not want to see the $20 million grow to $30 million and become 60 percent of $50 million. He wants to see the $50 million budget obliterated to around $33.3 million, and have the same $20 million appropriation become 60 percent of what’s left over. Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College are eliminating 50 positions to deal with a $5 million budget reduction; it’s not a guarantee that the University could even survive the 30-percent budget-reduction apocalypse it would take to make this math trick work.

This percentages trick Carlson is playing would allow the state legislature to say “hey, state appropriation to higher ed used to make up 40 percent of a school’s budget; now it’s up to 60% of the budget!” all while the schools are taking enormous budget cuts — and no ability to compensate by increasing tuition, if his bill were to pass. The state wouldn’t be contributing a larger slice of the pie; they’d be contributing the same amount to a grotesquely smaller pie, while using a math trick to claim they’re doing more to help.

This is a dirty trick being played with percentages, and it’s disappointing that the Pioneer’s editorial board let that slide. They seem to get it by adding the “it won’t be with a flush of new money” tag at the end of that sentence, but the editorial still leaves the true meaning of the percentage increase quite unclear.

Conversations with a six-year-old

Helen, while reading her Dr. Seuss dictionary this morning: “Dad, is Dr. Seuss dead?”

Me: “Yes, kiddo. He’s been dead for many years.”

Helen: “Did he get shot?”

Me, laughing: “No, kiddo – he just got old and died. Why did you think Dr. Seuss got shot?”

Helen: “I don’t know. I’m weird.”

Contemplating an actual pull list

I’m considering adding some things to my “pull list” at the comic book store – the stuff I know for sure I’m going to buy every month, so they automatically “pull” it out for me and set it aside, so I can come in and buy it and make sure I get everything. Thus, a “pull list.”

So I’m trying to decide what I’d tell the store I want every month and still keep the cost under control. With cover prices mostly being $2.99 or $3.99, with most at $3.99, and the fact that there’s so. much. stuff. being published now, it would be impossibly expensive to buy everything I’d actually want to read, let alone the stuff I’d just like to read. So here’s what I’m thinking.

1) I need to start buying Image Comics’ Invincible, written by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Ryan Ottley. Kirkman also writes “The Walking Dead,” which you may have heard of due to that little six-episode TV series on AMC from this past fall. Yo, other basic-cable TV series, I’ma let you finish, but “The Walking Dead” was the highest-rated basic cable series of all time. OF ALL TIME. And Ottley can just flat-out draw. His stuff is amazing. I don’t know a whole lot about Invincible; it hasn’t shown up in the little shop up here, but I managed to check it out in the comic shop in St. Cloud and I really liked what I saw. Superheroes, aliens and totally over-the-top violence. Pretty fun.

2) DC’s “Birds of Prey.” I actually have them pulling this for me every month already; it’s a great series.

3) IDW’s “Transformers.” This is one of the series that got me back into a comic shop last year; I saw some previews for it online and just fell in love with the art. It turned out to be a fun read, which was a nice bonus.

4) IDW’s “G.I. Joe.” IDW is rebooting its G.I. Joe property in April into three new series – a main title, a Snake Eyes book and another reboot of its absolutely excellent Cobra series. For the most part I’ve enjoyed what IDW has done with their version of the G.I. Joe universe, and this will give me a chance to pick up everything from the beginning as IDW starts their G.I. Joe “season two.”

So, that’s six books a month. Nothing from Marvel, which seems bizarre since when I was big-time into collecting comics in high school and college, at least 90% of the books I bought were Marvels – X-Men, Ghost Rider, Punisher, Spider-Man, etc. I just honestly don’t know where to begin with them. They have so much stuff and are so “event” heavy – crossovers that touch many different titles and end up containing dozens of different books. I’ve picked up some X-Men books and a couple of the Avengers titles here and there; if I do add a Marvel book, it’ll likely be the Iron Man title written by Matt Fraction with art by Salvador Larrocca. I bought the hardcover collecting the first 18 or so issues of their series on a complete whim on eBay, and it’s really good. Larrocca’s art is amazing, and I like Fraction’s writing. So, maybe I’ll add that. Seven books would still keep me under $30 a month, which is a decent target I think.

Plus, I probably should buy the upcoming “A Song of Ice and Fire” series; the art’s by Tommy Patterson. He follows me on Twitter for some ridiculous reason and I should do my part to make his book go.

See? It gets out of control in a hurry…