Soundtrack of my Life: 1981

This is my fifth entry in a “soundtrack of my life” project — 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.

1981: “I Love a Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbit

Oh, man, we listened to this tape constantly. It was always going in the car or in the house; if it were possible to wear out an 8-Track (and I’m not sure it is, given how many of them are still in my parents’ basement), this would’ve been the likely candidate from dad’s collection of tapes. Even today, it’s a catchy song that just pleads for you to sing along with it, and as a nice bonus the song is basically 95% repeating the line “I love a rainy night.”

This song is also notable on this list because, as I cheat and look ahead on my master list, it’s the last entry that can be attributed to “we listened to the music my parents listened to.” I turned nine years old in 1981, and by this time was getting to the point that I was discovering music on my own. None of it really has stuck around to today; I tend to not be a person who latches on to music from a certain era and then listens to that music forever. I like finding new things, and as I do the old things just invariably get relegated to the archives.

Songs like “I Love a Rainy Night” or “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” by Barbara Mandrell from 1978 or songs by Janie Fricke or Crystal Gail or Tom T. Hall or Charlie Pride were a significant part of my childhood, but they don’t bare any reflection on the kinds of music I’m listening to now. But they served their purpose of introducing me to music, getting me to enjoy it, and leading me to discover the things that are an important part of my everyday life today.

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Should official university Twitter accounts participate in #FF?

“Should an official school Twitter account participate in Follow Friday?”

This is a question I had while pondering my first ever Follow Friday (#FF) post on the official Twitter account I maintain for Bemidji State University, @BSUNews. I initially didn’t know why I hadn’t participated in the past, but as I worked on the post a great number of questions popped into my head that had me wondering if I should continue.

I follow 82 accounts on @BSUNews; other schools, a couple of accounts related to our state system, higher ed reporters, national associations and public policy groups, BSU faculty, staff and alumni, etc. Some of these accounts are dual-follows on my personal account as well (@abart01), just to make it easier for me to respond via multiple avenues depending on what I feel is appropriate. So there are a variety of different people and viewpoints filling up my Twitter stream on TweetDeck every day, which is really the point of Twitter in the first place.

But as I was randomly going through my list of follows and trying to decide “OK, #FF this account,” and “OK, maybe don’t #FF this account,” I began to wonder why I was making the decisions I was making to include or not include certain accounts. There really wasn’t a pattern. If there wasn’t a pattern, that meant there wasn’t any defensible reason I could come up with as to why I #FF’d a certain account and chose not to mention another.

To me, this was the ultimate problem – not whether I should be participating at all, but whether there was a formula for participating that I could apply objectively and, therefore, defend when and if that became necessary.

Since I didn’t have this formula, I deleted my #FF post on @BSUNews this past Friday almost immediately after I posted it. Not necessarily because I was sure the post wasn’t appropriate, but because I didn’t want to answer any questions from someone else who might have thought it was inappropriate.

This week, I think I might participate; but I think the right avenue would be to only #FF “official” school accounts and avoid individual accounts — in other words, provide a #FF for University of the North, but not to University of the North’s PR person. I can come up with a myriad of reasons why I’d want to provide links to accounts run by individuals, but I’m going to treat those on a case-by-case basis and stick with institutional accounts for #FF for now.

I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this again in the future.

Soundtrack of My Life: 1980

This is my fourth entry in a “soundtrack of my life” project — 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.

1980: “The Imperial March,” by John Williams

“The Empire Strikes Back” is not only by far the best of the seven Star Wars movies to hit the theatres, it’s also the source of one of my absolute favorite childhood memories. For the 3oth anniversary of Empire’s release in May, 2010, I recounted the story of my parents taking my brothers and I to see this movie in the theaters. So, from May, 2010, I give you: “2,000 Words or Less: The Empire Strikes Back.”

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Soundtrack of my Life: 1979

This is my third entry in a “soundtrack of my life” project — 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.

1979: “The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers

Not really much to say about this; we listened to tons of Kenny Rogers when I was a kid, and this falls squarely into the “kids listen to the music of their parents” category. At home, in the car, etc.; this eight-track was in pretty heavy rotation. I still listen to it every now and then; it’s one of those songs that holds up pretty well over time.

“Battle: Los Angeles” tonight

“Summer” movie season kicks off tonight with “Battle: Los Angeles.” I’m going to go catch a late show at 9:30, after everyone in my family who would hate this movie (i.e., everyone) is asleep.

I don’t really have any sort of level of expectations for this movie; it will basically need to succeed on two fronts, and two fronts only, for me to enjoy it:

1) The aliens have to look cool. So far, the trailers have shown a lot of what the aliens’ vehicles look like, but the only time I can remember seeing an actual alien was one of those “run quickly through the background” type shots. Not clear at all. So I’m really curious to see what they look like. I like how the mechanical designs look in the trailers, too – it’ll be fun to see those up on a big screen.

2) The fights need to be often and good. I really hope this movie doesn’t give us 45 minutes of buildup and character development of the humans before the invasion happens. I’m not going to a movie called “Battle: Los Angeles” because I give a damn about the human characters. Don’t try to paint them as sympathetic or having nice families or a relative with cancer so you can set up a shot to try and force me to be all sad when they die, either. Pro tip: I will not be sad, because I want the aliens to kill them. All of them. Even Aaron Eckhart. That’s the point of the movie. I’m going to a movie called “Battle: Los Angeles” because I want to see the aliens absolutely crushing everything in their path, and then completely and improbably losing in the last 10 minutes of the movie while still leaving a final-shot setup for a sequel. Give me 10 minutes of exposition, then spend the next 1:45 blowing the hell out of everything.

Soundtrack of My Life: 1978

This is my second entry in a “soundtrack of my life” project — 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.

1978: “Main Title,” by John Williams: The “Star Wars” theme

Can there be any other candidate? This music opened the movie that became an obsession for the next 30 years. “Star Wars” was released in theaters in 1977, but we lived in Germany at the time — so it took until the following year for the phenomenon to really reach us. By the time I was finishing kindergarten, we’d all heard about this amazing movie. It got to the point that I wanted to see it so badly that I can remember begging my parents to let us go see it as we walked by a theater where it was playing. Dubbed in German. But, Dad — I don’t care if we can’t understand it. I just want to see it. They had to grab me and drag me away from the movie poster.

This was also the year I got my very first Star Wars toys. My parents ordered a TIE Fighter and a four-pack of figures that included Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper and a pair of Sandpeople out of the JC Penny catalog. That TIE Fighter is still sitting in my basement, and even though I have a lot of “stuff” it’s one of the very, very few things I consider a legitimate prized possession. The seat and battery cover are missing. It’s got stickers on it that aren’t supposed to be there. It has gobs of yellowed epoxy glue representing the scars of decades-old attempts to repair the wing I broke when I threw it in the yard thinking it could really fly. But it’s one of those things I’ll never get rid of. Not for what it is, but for what it represents.

That TIE Fighter and four-pack of bad guys were the Patient Zero of a toy-collecting epidemic that at one point in the not-too-distant past numbered almost 900 figures and over 100 vehicles and other playsets — and that was just Star Wars toys and didn’t include the hundreds of toys from G.I. Joe and other brands. It led to things like my dad agreeing to buy me a Luke Skywalker figure for $1.99 at the PX in Nurnberg from the metal mesh bins on the bottom shelf that were always overflowing with figures, and then having to endure the ensuing debate from me that I also needed a Princess Leia because “they go together.”

The toys of my youth, and of my brothers’ youths, were consolidated into one place and added with the avalanche of things I began buying when Star Wars toys went back on the market in 1995 after being absent for about eight years. The ability to buy toys at Walmart was paired with this new thing called the Internet, which made it incredibly easy to find people willing to sell all the great things I wanted, but never had, as a kid. I never had an Imperial Shuttle; so I bought two of them. This is just one of dozens of similar examples, all fueled by that one movie.

The toys sated the natural collector in me, but also allowed a tangible connection to so many great memories of my brothers and parents from when I was growing up. Admiral Ackbar is a favorite character of many people, and his “it’s a trap!” line the source of many an Internet meme. But I have a special place in my heart for that character because my dad bought an Ackbar figure for me and had waiting for me on my pillow in my bedroom in Germany in early 1984, when we joined him over there after having not seen him for three months. My brothers both had remote control cars or something like that waiting for them. But I had an Admiral Ackbar. On some level, you can trace every movie, every comic book, every action figure and vehicle, every puzzle or board game, anything with the Star Wars logo on it, back to some memory or event in the childhood of the Bartletts.

There were other temporary diversions – G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, Transformers, Visionaries. But my brothers and I kept coming back to Star Wars. It’s only been recently that I really even let it go; the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” animated movie that was released in 2008 was probably the death blow for me. That was the clear signal that the majority of things to come were going to be for 10-year-old kids without any regard for how people of my generation thought about them, and that the magic I remembered existed now only as a vehicle to transport money out of my wallet. But that incredible 30-year run, started by one song in one movie, defined quite a significant portion of the person I am today.

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Lego Gaga: Skullface in a Tux

I’ve been out of town for a couple of days at a marketing and communication conference hosted by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system office in St. Paul; third one of these I’ve been to in my four years since moving over from the sports information director job here, and it was by far the best. It was social media-focused, and I gathered lots of great information. The challenge now, as always, is to distill a solid day and a half of new information into something that’s actually usable on the job, where there are no resources and even less money.

To make up for my two-day absence, I give you a new Lego Gaga: “Skullface in a Tux” from the video for Lady Gaga’s new single, “Born This Way.”

Post Mortem: Birds of Prey #8 cover rip

This was the biggest drawing I’ve bitten off in maybe 20 years (and that’s not really an exaggeration). Now that it’s finished and I’ve had about a week and a half to reflect on it, it’s time for a post mortem.

The vast majority of the things I’ve drawn in my life have been done in black and white. I’ve traditionally done very little with color. I’ve never had the materials, and I’ve never felt comfortable working in color. I just struggle to “see” combinations of colors – how things mix to create appropriate highlights and shadows – mostly because of a complete lack of practice. But my parents gave me a beautiful set of Prismacolors for Christmas, and I wanted to try them out. I made a decision early on to ignore the orange light shining on the characters’ right side in the original, but otherwise I tried to do what I could to be faithful to the original.

For the most part, considering my skill level with color and my lack of experience, I think it went pretty well. I struggled with the flesh tones a little bit, I didn’t leave some of the highlights as light as I should have and I learned that a lot of the blacks I laid down with the colored pencil would’ve been a lot easier to do had I inked them. These strike me as typical learning-experience type things, and I’ll try to be mindful of them for my next project. Also, drawing fishnet stockings is freaking hard.

Mostly, this just highlighted my need to practice, practice, practice. I still struggle with proportion and scale — Huntress’s head is too big, Black Canary’s hair is sitting too high and isn’t quite attached correctly, etc. But I think there’s definitely potential here for me to improve significantly if I can carve out the time to practice. Just basic things; structure, form, balance, etc.

I also tried to be mindful of line weight when I was inking, which is a concept that I’ve never given much thought to before. As I’ve tried to get back into this and have examined the work of other people, I’ve tried to pay attention to how line is used to emphasize certain elements of a piece. I used an 0.3mm liner for the majority of the interior work, then used significantly heavier lines for outlines and key form definitions for the figures. The heaviest lines were used on Black Canary; then one step down for Huntress and Lady Blackhawk, then another step down for Hawk, Dove and Oracle. It seemed impactful as I was working, but the differentiation in the outlines between the second- and third-tier characters ended up being more subtle than I would’ve preferred. I think the answer here might be to go significantly bolder on the foreground characters, which would allow for slightly bolder middle-tier characters while leaving those in the background as I inked them in this piece. This is something I’m just going to have to experiment with to figure out a comfort zone.

I posted on Facebook when the drawing was completed that Oracle was “exactly 11,278 kinds of awful,” and I still feel that way. Nothing about her is good; nothing. I got amazingly lazy with the wheelchair, and the rest of the figure just fell apart from there. Her torso is too wide. Her head is too big. The arms are awful. There’s an armrest pad on the left arm of the wheelchair but not the right. It’s just horrendous. I’m glad it’s the least-impactful character on the page, otherwise she’s bad enough that she’d have caused the entire piece to go up in flames. I hate it that much.

Immediately upon finishing this, I thought I was relatively equal parts happy and enraged by this drawing. I think now that the dust has settled on it a little bit, I’m more happy with it than enraged. But I do understand the areas where it flat-out sucks. Hopefully I can use that knowledge as a springboard to clean up some of these issues on my next project.