Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. –Elvis Costello

Recently, I have acquired a goldmine of Bluegrass albums through the wonderful Salt Lake City Library System, and this good fortune has sparked a blazing emotional fire.

I am moved, as they say, to speak.

I realize by attempting to discuss or describe a subject that many consider arbitrary (Music is a constant; but from a certain standpoint, it doesn’t hold a specific value beyond personal opinion.), I might turn a few people off (Especially when I’ve come forth with every intention of paying homage to a “twangy” genre of Southern mountain music.). Nevertheless, if for no other reason than to articulate or solidify my own personal regard for the significance of Bluegrass, I wish to explicate and inform.

Bluegrass is a variety of American Folk music that first became popular during the 1930s and 1940s. Its greatest influences are Irish, West African, Scottish, Welsh, and English traditional music. Immigrants from these nations and cultures settled the Midwestern plain lands and round top ranges of Southern Appalachia: It is here their posterity brought Bluegrass to life.

The content of the genre, as can be said for all genres of music, is varied and eclectic. However, the best of its storylines center on the plights of poverty and lost or won affections. Additionally, indicative of most European immigrants that came to this fertile nation with absolutely nothing—their connection to the land is palpable in their songs about mountains, farm fields, and plains.

Most Bluegrass pieces are arranged to include the following six acoustic instruments: fiddle (violin), mandolin, upright bass, banjo, acoustic guitar, and the dobro (resonator guitar). Sometimes artists choose to venture beyond this grouping (Listen to Crooked Still. They add a cello, and it’s gorgeous.), but in general, these are the staple instruments of Bluegrass.

In addition to the specific set of instruments, it is also important to consider the arrangement of the music itself. Harmony is the key to all happiness with Bluegrass. Even relatively unsophisticated songs will include a “tenor/descant” line that inlays the melody with a golden value. This quality is a drug for me. I am addicted.

Bluegrass is the staple of my musical nourishment, and I often feel alone in my feast. If you have a strong love for this country, a thriving connection to nature, an appreciation for intricate and flawless harmony, and affection for the occasional banjo, fiddle, or mandolin solo, I suggest you sample from a few of my favorites below. They’re yummy.

(Please forgive YouTube's Crap Quality)

  1. Alison Krauss & Union Station (“Oh, Atlanta”, "Take Me for Longing")
  2. Dan Tyminski (“Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Carry Me Across The Moutain”)
  3. Nickel Creek (“The Lighthouse,” “This Side,” “Doubting Thomas”)
  4. Rhonda Vincent ("Heartbreaker's Alibi," “Fishers of Men”)
  5. Wailin’ Jennys (Bring Me Little Water Silvy)
  6. Crooked Still (Ain’t No Grave)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Change Is Good. Especially When You’re a Lard.

Name: Becky

Age: 27

Height: 5’ 6”

Weight: 195lbs

Weaknesses: Dr. Pepper, Cherry Coke, Chocolate of any Kind, Chicken Burgers, Sugar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I have recently rediscovered an indisputable truth—breaking a bad habit and replacing it with a good one is freakin’ HARD.

What brings this up? Well, I just turned 27, and I also hit 195lbs on the scale.

When was the last time I was this heavy? Seven years ago, during my sophomore year at college. That wasn’t a good year for me. I was depressed; I had no friends, and I was convinced school existed for the sole and expressed purpose of torturing me (I had not yet discovered my true literary calling). I had also discovered the joys of eating whole loaves of French bread, followed by Mountain Dew: Code Red chasers.

Naturally, my body dealt with my eating choices the only way it could—I got very, very heavy.

What stopped my rapid descent into the abyss of fatty? Well, three things, really. First, I met Jemima, who utterly abhorred all things soda and chocolate (She hadn’t eaten any in years, when I met her.), and she “encouraged” me to give up the crap food (More like, I quit eating crap food to impress her.). Two, I began running and playing sports. Three, I declared myself an English major. These life choices changed my life—I got friends, I was playing sports again, and I had a purpose. I dropped my weight to around 170-180lbs (The lowest it got was 167; but I had pneumonia, so I don’t think it counts.).

So what’s the matter with me now?

Ironically, school and work have taken over. I sit at my cubicle-ish “battle station,” located at my place of employment, like a veal bull-calf waiting for execution. I just eat and sit. Well, sometimes I sit and eat. But you get the idea. Then I drive four blocks home, where I do more of the sitting and the eating. Mind you, my sitting is not idle. I am doing homework or reading. But the only muscle I’m exercising is my brain. The rest of me has slowly metamorphosed into a lard slug thingy.

You see my problem?

Actually, I’d rather you not.

So here comes the regimen:

1. I need to complete a cardiovascular activity at least once every other day.
2. Absolutely NO soda of any kind.
3. Go to the temple at least twice a month (Yeah, I know this one doesn’t have anything to do with losing weight, but as long as I’m writing a list, right?).
4. No Buffy past midnight (This one is particularly hard to do, since Buffy is like milk or chocolate: I always want more. Also, I don’t usually start watching until around 11:00 pm because of homework or school.).
5. Go to bed before 12pm; get up before 8am (I know it sounds easy to do, but I am a true night owl. Unfortunately, my preferred sleeping schedule—bed at 2:00 am, up at 9:30—is not conducive to a healthy, productive lifestyle.).

Change has to start somewhere. Here's where I start.