Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Five Albums I'm Listening To Lately

Here are some albums I'm listening to a lot these days.

  1. Devo 2.0. A bunch of 10-14-year-olds hand-picked by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale to play classic Devo songs, produced by Disney. Is this the weirdest thing in music history ever, or the most brilliant? Both. It comes with a DVD loaded with music videos and interviews. Highlight: the kids interviewing Devo founders. The singer, Nicole, reminds me of a young Amanda Bynes in that she's just a natural performer, totally fearless and magnetic. Some lyrics have been changed for gender and age-appropriateness, but the socio-political core of Devo is still there in a stealthy way. Highlights: "Good Thing," "Uncontrollable Urge," "Peek-A-Boo," and "Big Mess." Devo completists should note that this album includes the first new Devo songs in fifteen years, "Cyclops" and "The Winner," the latter of which sounds like it came straight off of Oh No! It's Devo! or Freedom of Choice. Buy this one at Target, where you'll get a bonus track and a bonus video.
  2. Donald Fagen - Morph the Cat. Apparently, this one isn't getting great reviews, and I don't get it. No, it's not Steely Dan; it lacks the sophistication of Everything Must Go and Two Against Nature, but I'm enjoying the heck out of it. It also may be the most crisply-produced album I've ever heard. The opening bass notes of the title track made me cry out, "Whoooaaaa!" No, Morph isn't as hummable as The Nightfly, but for the sake of argument can we agree that even bad Donald Fagen playing on your stereo makes you indescribably cool? You just want to put it in your car, turn the volume up, roll down the windows, bob your head, and cruise, assuring everyone around you of just how cool you are.
  3. Mark Heard - Dry Bones Dance. I've been transferring a lot of my minidisc-only music to CD and MP3 lately, and have rediscovered the wonder of the late great Mark Heard. His last three albums (Dry Bones Dance, Second Hand, and Satellite Sky) are pretty much interchangeable; they're all too long (60+ minutes), they all sound the same, and they're all great, a mix of folk, rock, zydeco, rockabilly, country, and something else. Dry Bones Dance gets my nod right now because of its last two songs, "Mercy of the Flame" and "Fire," which I can't stop listening to. "Mercy of the Flame," in particular, has just captured me with its melody.
  4. Bruce Cockburn - Further Adventures of... My brothers and I make up about 60% of Cockburn's American fan base. Another benefit of the MD-to-CD transfer is that I can listen to about ten Bruce Cockburn albums on my car stereo. Most of the ones I have on MD are older; I have everything from 1983 through the present on CD. Where Further Adventures of has jumped out to me is as a point of transition. Cockburn's early career, from his first album through the live set Circles in the Stream, is a fairly happy-go-lucky series of folk-acoustic records. 1978's Adventures is the point where Cockburn starts sounding like modern Cockburn. I like old Bruce, but I love new Bruce, so I'm really grooving on this, perhaps his first "modern" album. Also every song doesn't necessarily sound like "The Bicycle Trip" "Rainfall," "Feast of Fools," and "Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand" are current faves.
  5. Genesis - Duke. This is the album that seems to make no Genesis fans happy. It's too pop for prog-Genesis fans, and too artsy for pop-Genesis. Even the hit single "Turn it On Again" is in a 13/8 phrase. I've never listened to it much at all, and now I'm really enjoying it. "Behind the Lines" has a great opening, I love the melodies of "Duchess" and "Guide Vocal," "Turn It On Again" remains a favorite for me to play on drums and keyboard, and I find "Heathaze" totally haunting. And Then There Were Three is less pop and closer to prog-rock, but Duke just feels much more unified, like the band is more happy with who they are. Abacab is the album that follows this one, and is far less satisfying. The Duke CD in my car is an LP recorded to MD recorded onto PC burned to CD, which I used to rip MP3s. Ha ha ha ha ha!

Sunday, April 02, 2006


Karen has decided that she is going to call this my "blarg." "Blarg" is an onomatopoetic word we use sometimes to describe the act of vomiting. That seems entirely appropriate to me.

This followed immediately after a typical Hamm household exchange:

  • Karen: "Everything is conspiring against me to make me late for church this morning."
  • Andrew: "At least it's not raining."
  • Karen: "Thank you, Pollyanna. You will now receive a knuckle sandwich."

So welcome to my newly-termed blarg.

Suburban Wildlife Adventures, vol. 1

We love our little lower-middle-class neighborhood in Richmond's West End. Little ranch houses everywhere, neighbors who talk your ear off, big old trees making Spring gorgeous and Fall raking hell, and lots and lots of birds. We even have a mated pair of hawks living in a tree next door. I watched them for about fifteen minutes yesterday, crying their love song to each other while soaring in great, lazy circles far above my house. It's all quite idyllic.

Except for the woodpecker.

Now, I have no problem whatsoever with woodpeckers. This particular species, the hairy woodpecker, is more attractive than most; he sings a nice little song, and he's got a cool little red crest on top of his head (I like to think of it as a little Phillies or Red Sox cap, tilted jauntily upward in hopes of a late-inning rally). I even love the sound of him tap-tap-tapping on the local trees, eating up bugs and providing percussive accompaniment at the same time.

The problem is that he thinks our house is a tree, and that he goes scavenging on the bedroom side in the 6 o'clock hour of every morning.

It started about a month ago. I work hours that are, shall we say, irregular, and am often at home during the day. One fine mid-morning, while typing on this very computer, I heard what sounded like a large machine gun coming from the upper corner of my room. BRAPAPAPAPAP! Needless to say, it was disturbing. While we rent this home and don't own it, I was afraid something was wrong with the pipes and that they were about to explode and shower water down on my delicate studio equipment. Then I remembered that it's a one-storey house, and that there are no pipes up there. In fact, there's nothing up there that could be making that sound.

BRAPAPAPAPAP! There it went again, from a little way to the left. I had no idea. Maybe with the warmer weather the sun's heat was expanding some part of the house's construction. That seemed somewhat plausible, though I didn't relish the idea of having to hear this racket every day.

BRAPAPAPAPAP! Once more, farther down, then silence. I had no idea. Not wishing to alarm my wife (and being generally forgetful), I said nothing of it.

It happened again a few times, just twice or three times a week, before Karen noticed it. She shared my concern that something was wrong with our house, and that we would have to call our landlord. It always seemed to be in the mid-morning, and just occasionally once or twice in the afternoon. We had no idea.

Then, on a particularly sunny day, I heard the sound here in my studio. I chanced to glance at the window and saw the flash of a shadow; that of a small bird flying away from the site of the noise. It wasn't until a few days later that I spotted the culprit sitting in the yard, his red rally cap mocking me.

Mystery solved. Aggravation just begun.

The darned bird has decided that the early dawn hours are peak time for pounding on our house. And let's get this straight: this is not the cute little rat-a-tat-tat that you hear when woodpeckers are on a neighborhood tree. This is the sound as heard inside the tree, a jackhammer-like rapid-fire pounding that cuts through the deepest early morning dream once, twice, seven or eight times. As I lie there I pray that each repetition is the last, thinking, "You great stupid bird, there is nothing for you to eat inside our roof!" I'm pretty sure he's actually rapping on the metal of the rain gutter, which you'd think would blunt his enthusiasm--and his beak--but apparently not.

So we are one with nature. We are enjoying our idyllic suburban life, raking and mowing, buying a ladder to clean out the gutters, raking, comparing ourselves with the Joneses, and of course raking, secure in the knowledge that, should a power outage render our alarm clocks inactive, our red-headed friend will wake us some time between 6 and 6:30, whether we like it or not.

Thank God for Daylight Savings time, at least.