Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Random musings

I met Tennessee's lieutenant governor, Ron Ramsey, over the phone today. Nice guy. Also, wrote about local governments' billions in unfunded retirement benefits for thousands of employees. I'm glad I ended up in journalism. Still obsessed with the Washed Out album.

The Packers are going to the playoffs. That's a good thing. But through a scheduling quirk, they cold end up playing at Arizona on back-to-back weeks (and possibly even have a better record than the Cardinals). The NFL needs to fix this. Teams shouldn't be rewarded with playoff home games merely for winning a mediocre division.

I've been re-watching season 5 of Lost. The time travel thing does not confuse me, but I find it difficult to explain to others.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The story of a dress

On one of our first dates, my wife sketched a dress. It might seem like a strange thing to do on a date, but Ali loves fashion more than anybody I know. The dress is pictured above. The image above was taken on a camera phone and, although it doesn't come through in the rough photo, it is actually a very pretty sketch.

A shockingly short time after that, Ali and I were engaged and I was left searching for a wedding present. In an utterly random act of inspiration, the thought occurred to me that I should find a clothing designer and get them to turn Ali's design into an actual dress. As fate would have it, I worked with an amazing local designer named Helen Stevens. I told Helen about the idea, showed her the image and explained what little Ali had described about the dress.

A few weeks later, Helen and I developed a ruse to convince Ali to submit to a dress fitting. Our lies didn't mesh and to this day I really don't remember exactly what Helen told Ali to get her to go along with the fitting. When I was arranging the fitting, I was driving in my car with my Dad. It was weeks before I would propose to Ali and I was saying things like, 'We'll come up with some sort of lie," and, 'Don't worry I'll never tell her the truth.' My Dad thought I was some sort of sleazy stranger cheating on his soon-to-be-fiance.

Not long after Helen had the design and measurements, we realized it would take too long to make the dress to have it by our October wedding. So, eventually the dress became a Christmas gift. Helen let me choose the fabric colors and give what little input I could. Updates over the next several months taught me fashion lessons that Project Runway never could. I now know how impossible it is to drape chiffon and the advantages of Indian versus Chinese fabric.

Helen finished the dress a week before Christmas and I gave it to Ali as her present just a few days before we left for Indiana. I copied a photo of the dress above. The photo shows the dress and Ali shortly after it was given to her. I've repeated the story to some friends and been told this was a clever gift. Right now I am mostly just excited to see her in it at one of her shows or on one of our frequent hot dates.

I've noticed she shows me sketches of dresses more often, possibly because she now believes Helen will turn everyone of them into a real live dress. Christmas meant a great deal more to me this year because I had my wife to give gifts to. It was a Christmas gift I hope to always remember.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Survivor: A week later I'm still annoyed

It's been more than a week since we found out Natalie won season 19 of Survivor and I'm no less annoyed now than I was eight days ago. I'm a Survivor purist. I've only missed one episode of the show. I can recite my favorite contestants ever the way sports fans list their favorite athletes.

All of my favorite survivors have one thing in common -- they are excellent strategists. They knew how to read people, how to play the game in a way that they could make a compelling final argument to the jury and how to play the game as something other than a jock-style challenge. My favorites include Cirie, Rob Cesternino and Yao-man.

But in season 19, one survivor put them all to shame -- Russell. If the average person watched the show, they probably hated Russell, what with his blatant sexist comments and his constantly referring to his fellow players as idiots. But the reality is that Russell was the greatest strategist in the history of the show and typically his brilliant would have been rewarded with $1 million.

Instead, the money and even worse the title of ' Sole Survivor' went to Natalie, a half-wit whose ultimate argument to the final jury was that her strategy all along was to do nothing and let Russell make all the smart moves.

In reality, Russell won the game but lost the final popularity contest. The losing survivors who advanced to the jury took issue with, presumably, Russell's arrogance. I can see how that would be annoying. But having a chip on your shoulder and giving the cash to an undeserving player out of spite was annoying to fans of the show.

The perception of those who watch the show is that the people lucky enough to actually make it on the cast have seen Survivor before and know what they're doing. It was lame to find out that wasn't the case.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Top-5 Albums I don't Own

On three different occasions since I moved to Nashville I've had a sizable amount of CDs stolen from my car. It's my fault. I take a small amount solace from the notion that there's a street-savvy ruffian roaming the projects of Nashville who all of a sudden has gained a profound appreciation for indie music. Maybe he's bumping Animal Collective or the Decemberists as he robs some other poor idiot's unlocked car.

Between the thievery, coincidence and my own ignorance, there are some must-own albums which I still don't have in my collection.

5. The Shins 'Oh Inverted World'
This is one of my stolen albums and the only Shins album not in my collection.

4. Sigur Ros 'Aegits Byrjun'
I would probably include Takk with this as well since, unlike many Sigur Ros fans, I loved that album. AB is a classic album. The first time I heard it, I couldn't sit still. I played Sigur Ros as background music at a cookout one time. The party attendees revolted, put on Maroon 5, and I fell irreversibly in love with the band.

3. Radiohead 'Kid A'
I've always appreciated Radiohead, I just don't worship them. It's sort of an act of defiance at this point since I recognize many of my favorite bands have been heavily influenced by Radiohead. Anyhow, Kid A is making its way onto so many best-albums-ever lists lately.

2. TV on the Radio 'Return to Cookie Mountain'
Obviously Wolf Like Me is one of the best songs of the decade and TVOTR is one of the best bands. Despite the fact I've listened to this album many times, I do not own it. Blame the Napster effect. I look for it whenever I go to Grimey's, but never find it in the used section.

1. Red Hot Chili Peppers 'Californication'
Probably the party album that addicted me to music during my formative senior year in high school. I saw the Chili Peppers play a music festival in Chicago that year. Their headlining set was delayed for 45 minutes because Offspring told the crowd of 15,000 people to throw trash on stage. It was crazy looking up and seeing trash literally raining down from the sky. The girl in front of us got hit with a huge piece of pizza in the face. She got embarrassed and ran away. Other items thrown in our vicinity that night were a bolt and an inhaler. It was weird, dangerous, and unforgettable.
Offspring had been brought on stage by Macho Man Randy Savage, weirdly. And when the stage was finally cleared of trash, an infuriated Anthony Kiedis told the crowd, 'We woulda been out sooner but there was a line to get on stage because Offspring were sucking Macho Man's cock.'
The Chili Peppers then blazed through an amazing set. They're probably one of the most under-rated rock bands, despite their immense popularity and longevity. I heard John Frusciante quit the group last week. That's too bad, and maybe this spells the end for the Chili Peppers. They'll always have a special place in my heart though.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009 Natey Awards

December is more than just the month of cold weather, ugly Christmas sweater parties and forced social interactions. It's also the time when prognosticators rear their hideously ugly heads, making year-end best-of lists on topics ranging from music, to films, to sports. This year is even worse because, since the Zeroes decade is ending, we have best-of lists for the last 10 years.

I stopped taking those lists seriously about the moment the AP had Nickelback on its top 10. Even still, I can't help but join in and so, this year I'm bringing back the Natey Awards for my favorite music of 2009. Let me be clear, I know nothing about music. As my one pitiful guitar lesson from my brother-in-law would indicate, I don't have a musical thought in my entire head. But, I am a fan. And I have this blog site, which I go back and read periodically, sort of like a public journal. So the line of thinking here is, it serves as a reminder for where I was in terms of musical taste in 2009.

Here goes not'n:

Best Live Performance: Dirty Projectors with Atlas Sound at The Earl in Atlanta

You know how the phrase, 'that's the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me in my entire life' is just about the most over-used compliment there is? Some people throw it out there if someone so much as lets them merge into a lane on the highway.

I don't take the honor so lightly and I used it this year in July. That's when my fiance told me she was kidnapping me for the weekend, but wouldn't explain what we were doing. Turns out, she purchased tickets to see Dirty Projectors with special opening guest Atlas Sound at the Earl. Atlas Sound was very good. I even stood next to them while they ordered MGDs at the bar before their set.

Dirty Projectors were unforgettable. Without any incessant banter between songs, the band knocked out a 90 minute set, complete with dead-on harmonies and minus any unnecessary banter between songs. Someone once said these guys could sing the birds down from the trees. It's true. The fact it's true even during live performances is quite amazing.

Best Album
: Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca
I'll stay on my Dirty Projectors theme here. There wasn't an album I listened to more this year. There's never been an album I listened to more carefully. There's more going on musically -- vocal harmonies, exotic guitar chords, uneven rhythm, amazing lyrics -- in one line of a DP song than there is in the entire Taylor Swift album. It's one of those albums that makes non-musicians wish they could write songs, sing and play guitar and it will be in my collection forever.
Honorable Mention: Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion; Phoenix's Lisztomania and The Antlers' Hospice

There will be a tendency for critics to put Animal Collective atop this list and I'll touch on the band in a minute. My second favorite album of this year was The Antlers' Hospice. Haunting. Dark. Climactic. Best background album ever. It's all of these things. And for it to be their debut? I can't imagine how they follow it up.

Best Nashville album
: The Non-Commissioned Officers' Makeout With Violence soundtrack
Here's an album that was woefully undervalued locally and probably won't even register on the national radar screen. It's a shame. The soundtrack and the film are high artistic achievements I won't ever forget. My hope is the film gets distributed. If it does, I'll buy a copy the day it comes out. The soundtrack runs longer than the movie itself I'm told. That tells you how immersed the band was in making this record, which has several of my favorite tracks of the year.

Best burgeoning music festival
: BonnaRau. Frankly BonnaRau collapsed under its own weight. Here was the set-up: I invited a handful of my musical friends to my house, cooked them dinner, gave them an audience of four non-musicians and asked them to play some songs. They obliged and the performances were acceptable enough that I am planning a Second Annual BonnaRau in some iteration for 2010. But, by the end my friends were stage-shy and the concert devolved into Ashley leading everybody in an acoustic rendition of Single Ladies. It was weird, but like I said, there's always next year.

Best song: Lisztomania by Phoenix
It's the catchiest song of the year and I'm told by my friends who watch commercials, that Phoenix is quite the advertising darling. I don't know how I feel about that. Mainly, I'm just upset at myself that I didn't make more of an effort to see Phoenix live this year.
Honorable mention: 'What Would I Want? Sky' by Animal Collective; 'Summertime Clothes' by Animal Collective; 'Frozen Tongue' by the Noncommissioned Officers; 'Daniel' by Bat For Lashes; 'Two Weeks' by Grizzly Bear; 'Two' by the Antlers; 'Norther Lights' by Bowerbirds; 'Jesus Was a Crossmaker' by Frida Hyvonen; 'Animal' by Miike Snow; 'Indiana' by Cymbals Eat Guitars.

Best old band that's new to Nate: the Velvet Underground
2009 was the year I finally invested in the Velvet Underground, acquired all their records, and really listened to the band. Wonderful for almost every musical occasion: driving in the car, at a party, background music, on a mixed-tape. I hear their influences in so many current bands. I love their album covers. I believe 'Sweet Jane' belongs in a museum somewhere.

Band of the Year
: Animal Collective
Best album? Merriweather Post Pavilion just misses that honor for me, although most critics worth a damn will disagree. I'm petrified of the weak rip-off bands that will follow. And I yearn to regain my Feels and Sung Tongs albums, which were lost in the Great Nate CD Theft of 2005. Animal Collective followed up their seminal album released in January with a December EP -- Fall Be Kind -- that had one of the most amazing songs of the year, 'What Would I Want? Sky' on it. Consider for a moment some of the excellent current bands compared to Animal Collective: Fleet Foxes, El Guincho, Washed Out, the Dodos. Animal Collective is the best band on the planet by any worthwhile metric and I will argue this with anyone who is silly enough to disagree, but only if they are aware of the fact Animal Collective existed before 2009. Just not like this. No band has ever sounded like this before.

Most Unforgettable Music moment of 2009
: Seeing my wife play at the historic Bluebird Cafe. I'd never been to the Bluebird before, which is a shame since I've lived in Nashville for seven years. Although I'd heard her sing before, I'd never seen Ali give a performance like that. One that left tears dripping down the faces of complete strangers and the frigid wait staff excited to hear her sing again. One of the songs, I'm told, was about the early stages of our relationship when we fell in love. Music means so much to me. It pulls me through my day, it marks stages in my life. No piece of music has ever meant more to me than 'Walk Away' by Ali. Just another reason to love her.

Rau, out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Props to my City Paper blood brother

My buddy Matthew Williams knocked it out of the park with unforgettable photos and video in an unbelievable story in today's New York Times. Matthew's single, by the way ladies. That's irrelevant to the story, but I'm just sayin.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Legislators who get it

Some members of Congress are trying to pass a law which would make the BCS system illegal and institute a playoff series. On one hand, there are legislators who believe there are more important issues at hand than college football's postseason. On the other hand, there are legislators who say Congress can "walk and chew gum at the same time."

Obviously, I'm a fan of a playoff system and believe it would be enormous for college football. Smaller schools already use a playoff system, so from a programming perspective, there's already a formula to follow.

I agree there are more important issues at hand. From my perspective it's just lame that university presidents, BCS leaders and the main networks can't figure out a way to give fans what they obviously want.

The House legislation will never pass and is probably nothing more than a token ploy to get votes. At least somebody out there gets it though.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Vampire Weekend

I never really understood the backlash against Vampire Weekend, except maybe the fact they exist in a climate prone to it. They're too accessible for indie music fans who slant toward the eccentric (full disclosure, I'm often one of those). Remember The Strokes? Their body of work is far greater and more important than judgey reaction of music lovers who abandoned them mid-career.

Something tells me "Cousins" won't do anything to stop the VW haters. I'm still on board though.

2009 College Football Playoff Scenarios

If College Football's leadership had any interest in satisfying the desires of the sport's fans, then they would create a playoff system to determine the national champion.

Here are the three possible scenarios as I see them.

8-team playoff; six BCS conference champions and two at-large teams
Alabama vs. Georgia Tech
TCU vs. Cincinnati

Texas vs. Ohio State
Florida vs. Oregon

16-team playoff; 11 conference champions, five at-large teams
Georgia Tech (ACC); Alabama (SEC); Cincinnati (Big East); Ohio State (Big Ten); Texas (Big 12); Oregon (Pac 10); Central Michigan (MAC); Troy (Sun Belt); East Carolina (Conference USA); TCU (Mountain West); Boise State (WAC); Florida, Iowa, LSU, Virginia Tech, BYU (at-large)

1. Alabama vs. 16. Troy
8. Ohio State vs. 9. Georgia Tech

4. Florida vs. 13. BYU
5. Cincinnati vs. 12. Virginia Tech

2. Texas vs. 15. Central Michigan
7. Oregon vs. 10. Iowa

3. TCU vs. 14. East Carolina
6. Boise State vs. 11. LSU

16-team playoff; six BCS conference champions and 10 at-large teams
Georgia Tech, Alabama, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Texas, Oregon (BCS teams); TCU, Florida, Boise State, Iowa, LSU, Virginia Tech, BYU, Penn State, Oregon State, West Virginia (10 at-large)

Alabama vs. West Virginia
Ohio State vs. Georgia Tech

Florida vs. Virginia Tech
Cincinnati vs. Penn State

Texas vs. BYU
Oregon vs. Iowa

TCU vs. Oregon State
Boise State vs. LSU

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Note to Gar and John: Sign Bosh

I hope Chris Bosh appreciates what a stunning city Chicago is when he leads the Raptors into the Windy City tonight to face the Bulls. A year from now, it may be his home. For two years media obsession has focused on where LeBron James will sign next year when he's a free agent. I presume James will gravitate toward the media spotlight (Knicks or Nets) or stay loyal to his home and stay with the Cavs.

It will be tempting for the Bulls, who have as much cap space as just about anybody to spend on free agency, to pursue Chicago native Dewayne Wade. But I believe the best free agent option for the Bulls as they are currently assembled is Bosh. He's gotten a bad rap for being injury prone. While he has missed about 10 games per season, he's been fairly durable, and only missed four contests last year.

With Rose's drive and dish/pick-and-roll game, Bosh is uniquely skilled to see his career flourish in Chicago. Joakim Noah will keep the glass clean and absorb the physical beating opposing teams will want to throw at Bosh.

The sexy choices are Wade or James, but the best pick for the Bulls is Bosh.

[Look for another Bulls post from me soon. Next week my lovely wife and I will be attending the Bulls-Celts game at the United Center -- my amazing 30th birthday present]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Musings on Baseball Winter Meetings

Baseball's winter meetings start next week and that brings back some fond memories for me. Two years I covered the winter meetings for the City Paper. The highlight of the experience was a feature on ESPN writer Buster Olney, who got his start in Nashville. During the interview -- which I can't track down online because the City Paper's archives won't allow it -- Mr. Olney got emotional recalling a story in which a friendly Nashville Banner editor paid his entire tuition for his senior year at Vanderbilt. It was pretty much an unforgettable experience.

This year's winter meetings come on the heels of a wildly disappointing season for the Cubs, my favorite team. I thought the Cubs were the World Series favorites last year, but their starting pitching and the entire team didn't live up to its potential.

It gets more difficult to be an out-of-town Cubs fan by the year. Because have a reputation as a good-time lovable-losers team, they attract fans from across the country. I have met literally dozens of Cubs fans here in Nashville, most of whom know nothing about the team. Recent trips to Wrigley haven't been much better, because most of the fans are merely there to treat the sacred stadium like it's a shabby frat house.

But there's hope. The Ricketts family seem to be true fans and plenty of talent returns. I hope the Cubs can add Curtis Granderson, usher Starlin Castro to the majors and make efforts to bolster the starting rotation, which took a step back in 2009. I have faith next year could be the year.