July 20

Music Moment – Year of the Cat [Music]

If you’ve read a few of my other Music Moment posts, you know that I love story songs. You know, where the lyrics meld with the music to tell a story. Most songs are about conveying a feeling, an emotion, or setting a mood, which is fine, but I guess it’s the storyteller in me that likes the lyrics to take me on a journey.

“Year of the Cat” is one of those songs. Originally released by Al Stewart in 1976, this song immediately captured my attention. The arrangement begins slow and dreamy, then gently leads into the lyrics.

I think one of the reasons, or perhaps the main reason, the lyrics strike a chord with me is because they remind me of one of my favorite movies, Casablanca. The setting for the song feels like it takes place in someplace like Morocco or Tunisia. I always picture white buildings with brightly painted doors and stalls lining the narrow streets. It also helps that the lyrics actually reference Bogart and Lorre, who both starred in the movie.

The basic story is a man, a tourist, who gets lost in this strange city and meets a beautiful local woman who whisks him away on an adventure. He falls in love with her knowing that he can’t stay forever, but despite that, he plans to make the most of the time they spend together.

Lyrically, Stewart has a poetic flair. His descriptions of the setting, the woman, the way the man feels as this person leads him through the mystical nightlife and back alleys of the city, all weave together to beautifully. Even without the music, the lyrics stand up quite nicely on their own.

Musically, the song is a great mix of soft acoustics and, later, a driving guitar solo. But even though the song slowly builds to a crescendo, it quickly returns to a soft flow on the notes of a saxophone.

I’ve included the lyrics here and a link to the song below. I hope you give it a listen and find it just a magical, and mysterious, as I do. For what it’s worth, this song gives me chills every time I listen to it.

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don’t bother asking for explanations
She’ll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat

She doesn’t give you time for questions
As she locks up your arm in hers
And you follow ’till your sense of which direction
Completely disappears
By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls
There’s a hidden door she leads you to
These days, she says, I feel my life
Just like a river running through
The year of the cat

While she looks at you so cooly
And her eyes shine like the moon in the sea
She comes in incense and patchouli
So you take her, to find what’s waiting inside
The year of the cat

Well morning comes and you’re still with her
And the bus and the tourists are gone
And you’ve thrown away your choice you’ve lost your ticket
So you have to stay on
But the drum-beat strains of the night remain
In the rhythm of the newborn day
You know sometime you’re bound to leave her
But for now you’re going to stay
In the year of the cat

Note: YouTube is being finicky with the embedding permissions, so you may have to watch the video on YouTube.

RB

May 31

Music Moment – After the Gold Rush [Music]

One of my favorite singer/songwriters is Neil Young. He first came to prominence in the late 1960s as a member of Buffalo Springfield. Later, in between releasing solo albums, he also was an on again/off again member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

While his efforts with other musicians has always been fantastic, he really shines in his solo work. Particularly, his 1970 album After the Gold Rush. It’s not a rock album, but more of a country and folk record. Mellow, low-key, and perfect for lazy Sunday mornings.

My favorite cut on the album is the title track. It’s soft, dreamy, and wistful, yet at the same time it’s heartbreaking. Neil sings at the higher-end of his vocal range, which adds an almost childlike quality to the song.

The funny thing is, while the lyrics are incredibly moving, they really don’t make a lot of sense. In fact, when the song way covered by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt for their album, Trio, Dolly called Neil to ask what the song was about.

Neil’s response? According to Emmylou, he said: ‘Hell, I don’t know. I just wrote it. It just depends on what I was taking at the time. I guess every verse has something different I’d taken.’

Regardless, I think the lyrics paint a melancholy and beautiful picture.

Well I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming
Sayin’ something about a queen
There were peasants singing and drummers drumming
And the archer split the tree

There was a fanfare blowing to the sun
There was floating on the breeze

Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the twentieth century
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the twentieth century

I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes
I was hoping for replacement
When the sun burst through the sky

There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high

I was thinking about what a friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie
Thinking about what a friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie

I dreamed I saw the silver spaceships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun
There were children crying and colors flying
All around the chosen ones

All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun

Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed
To a new home in the sun
Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed
To a new home

Lyrics by Neil Young

And to give you a taste of just how lovely the song is, here are two versions. The first is by Neil, the second is the cover version by Dolly, Emmylou, and Linda. Honestly, I can’t say which is better. Both are haunting, beautiful, and stick with me long after the last note fades away.

RB

May 25

Banana Bread Two Ways

If you’ve watched my cooking show, you’ll know that my partner loves her some banana bread. She buys a bunch of bananas every month and refuses to eat them in the hopes that they’ll turn brown and I’ll make a loaf. Or two. It’s become a bit of a game with us, with me reminder her about the bananas she bought and that she should eat them before they go bad, and her acknowledging my comment, but leaving them to hang, dejected, on the little hook in the kitchen.

overripe bananasAnd I’ll get ‘the look’ if I eat them. I can usually sneak a couple off the hook when she isn’t looking, but it’s a risky enterprise.

We played it again recently, and I (lucky me) ended up with enough over-ripe bananas to make two loaves. Unfortunately, I didn’t have quite enough all-purpose flour to make two full loaves, so I had to improvise.

And a quick side note here: I am not a fan of baking. There are a few things I’ll make, like bread, but for the most part I shy away from the baking/pastry/sweets aspect of the kitchen. Partly because I really don’t eat sweet stuff, and partly because it doesn’t allow for as much improvisation and creativity as regular cooking. But I digress…

I didn’t realize this at first and mixed up the first batch, poured it into the pan, popped it in the oven. When there was about fifteen minutes left on the timer, I started on the next loaf. And that’s when I realized I was short about a half of a cup of flour.

I cursed the heavens.

Well, not really, but I had to figure out what to do about the situation. I dug around in the pantry for a few minutes and discovered a small bag of coconut flour I had bought a few months ago for some other failed cooking experiment. Would it work? Could it be a fair substitute? I could have look online to see for sure, but at that point I figured I could risk it. At least I had one good loaf almost ready. That would keep her placated until she decided it was time for another round of Ignore the Bananas Until They Are Gross.

Two loaves of banana bread
Loaf with all-purpose and coconut flour (left), and all-purpose flour only (right)

I’ve added shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes in the past in my banana bread, but never flour. I had no idea what to expect. A flat loaf? A brick that could chip teeth? A biohazard?

Luckily, I hit it out of the park. The coconut flour did change the texture of the crust, made it a little crispier, gave it a bit more personality. The interior – the crumb – seemed a little bit denser. Overall, however, it turned out well.

So well, in fact, that I’ve been ordered…I mean, instructed, to use the coconut flour in the next batch.

Hooray for lucky guesses!

RB

May 24

A New Podcast Episode – Acting

I’ve always been fascinating with acting. It’s not just people playing make-believe, it takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and commitment. Listen in as I talk about this amazing, and oftentimes under-appreciated, art form.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, Amazon, and PodBean. If you prefer, I also have a YouTube channel.

Or you can simply listen to it right here:

April 29

New Podcast Episode – Creativity and Death

The long-delayed Episode 42 of the Prometheus Project Podcast is now available!

In this episode I look at the topic of death and how we use art to explore it, to find answers, and to come to terms with mortality.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, Amazon, and PodBean. If you prefer, I also have a YouTube channel.

Or you can listen to it right here:

April 16

Pitcher Plant Flowers

You may already be aware of my love of carnivorous plants. Now that the weather is warming, most of them are starting to bloom and their flowers are amazing. The pitcher plants tend to bloom the earliest in my little shop of horrors, and this year I thought it would be interesting to take a photo every day to capture the flower’s life cycle.

I initially created a gif, but the finished product ended up too small to appreciate the beauty of the flower. That, and the file size was a bit too large.

So I ended up tossing together a video. It’s only about a minute long, but it gives you a chance to see just how incredible these plants are.

I also wrote the music, too. In case you were wondering.

Hope you enjoy this short educational moment.

RB

April 13

Music Moment – Tangled Up in Blue

I know that Bob Dylan isn’t for everyone, but he’s one of my favorite songwriters. With a career spanning sixty years, he’s made an indelible mark on the music industry. His creativity and originality have also been an inspiration for me. I can’t remember the first time I heard one of his songs, but for what it’s worth, it feels like he’s been part of the soundtrack to my life since the beginning.

And without a doubt, my favorite song of his is “Tangled Up in Blue”. It’s what a consider a ‘story song’, meaning, the words read like a lyrical short story. If you aren’t familiar with it, it tells the story of two lovers who end up finding each other even after years apart. They seem to know they aren’t right for one another, yet fate continues to cross their paths. For what it’s worth, I always assumed the woman’s name is “Blue” and the narrator is so tangled up in her that he can’t ever escape. Here are the lyrics as originally recorded:

Tangled Up In Blue

Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blueShe was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue

She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

Copyright © 1974 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music

The original version of the song appeared on the 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks, and it’s been a mainstay of Dylan’s live shows ever since.

What I find interesting, however, is that Dylan never sings it the same way. Every time he plays it live, he changes the lyrics, sometimes adding additional verses, maybe cutting a few, and sometimes almost completely reworking them. An artist’s prerogative, I suppose, but I also think it does that to keep the song fresh and new. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a chance to see him play live, but at least there are live recordings.

Dylan’s lyrics are always sensational, sometimes cryptic, but they always paint a picture in my mind. If you’re interested, listen to the clip below. If you aren’t familiar with the song, I hope you enjoy it. It’s one that continues to inspire me even after countless listening sessions.

April 7

Godzilla Can’t Compare

It’s not often one gets the opportunity to witness an epic battle in nature, but I was lucky enough to see two lizards lock up on my back patio wall the other day. My dog, Siri, alerted me and we watched with wide eyes as the two opponents circled one another looking for an opening. Then things got a little crazy…

My old girl loves to watch the lizards sunning themselves and often barks at them. However, I think she was a little disappointed in this match. As the heat of battle cooled, she let out a little frustrated sigh. Don’t worry, girl. I’m sure they’ll be at it again soon.

Now back to getting the patio straightened up.

RB

March 23

Richard’s Kitchen – Chili Recipe!

Yep, I’m back in the kitchen after a long and unexpected hiatus. If it’s still kinda cold where you reside, seems like a perfect time to make chili. It’s incredibly easy, quick to make, stores well, and the ingredients won’t break the bank. In fact, you probably have most of them in your kitchen already.

Check out the latest episode and let me know what you think.

RB

February 8

Creative Storytelling on Television

I’m not much of a television-watcher. Sure, there are certain programs I’ve enjoyed and will rewatch, like Firefly, Babylon 5, Deep Space 9, Doctor Who, and the original Twilight Zone. Most of it I find less than compelling. My partner watches a wide variety of programming, sitcoms, rom-coms, dramas, sci-fi…if it catches her attention, she’ll watch it right until the last episode. Me? Not so much.

The thing is, I don’t find much that interests me. I get frustrated by poor writing in shows that are supposed to be dramatic or realistic. One that comes to mind is The Walking Dead. The first season was fantastic, spot-on writing, great acting, wonderful production. The following seasons kept the acting and production, but the writing got sloppier and sloppier, with gaping plot holes, inconsistent character actions, and too much redundancy. I found myself talking back to the screen and wondering what the hell the writers were thinking.

But every once in a while there’s something new, something original, that rekindles my interest in television. The latest show to do that for me is WandaVision on Disney+. And no, this isn’t a plug. I sincerely love this show and the way Marvel Studios is integrating streaming programs with their cinematic universe.

WandaVision Logo

I’m won’t go into any plot details in order to avoid spoiling the show for anyone who hasn’t tuned in yet. Instead, I want to focus on the way the show is being presented and how they are telling the story.

Basically, Wanda (aka the Scarlet Witch) has the power to mold reality, and in this show she has created her own reality where she and her lover, Vision, live as a happily married couple. The show utilizes the sitcom format, filming some scenes in front of a live studio audience and using laugh tracks for other scenes, but it’s definitely not your standard sitcom.

What I think I like most about the show is how it plays on the sitcom tropes and play homage to classic shows. For example, each episode of WandaVision focuses on an era of television and incorporate elements from popular shows of that time period. The first episode was a homage to The Dick Van Dyke Show (which is still one of the funniest shows to ever air on television), even presenting it in black and white. The second episode was a tribute to Bewitched, the third was The Brady Bunch, and the fourth episode was Family Ties. For those outside the US, these were all shows that were popular in their respective times and are icons of television that are still referenced today.

Black and white photo of Wanda and Vision

The writers on the show are also doing an amazing job. They do a fantastic job of capturing the essence and quirkiness of each show from each era. For example, in the first episode the neighbor comments about Wanda not having a wedding ring and that she’s surprised an attractive eligible woman isn’t married yet. So very 1960s. In the fourth episode – the Family Ties one – the writing slips effortlessly between 1980s humor and drama, incorporating the ‘teaching moments’ that were popular in sitcoms at that time.

Scene from WandaVision

The thing is, there is so much to unpack with this show, but in doing so I’d be revealing spoilers. Maybe once the show ends (it’s only a nine-episode run), I can really dissect it for you and write about all the amazing nuances. Just to give you a bit of a teaser, there’s much more going on than just these old sitcoms. There are weird asides, odd occurrences, and things that just don’t seem to fit quite right into Wanda’s reality. Each episode reveals a little bit more of the overall story.

Wanda with toy helicopter

It also goes to show that television programming can be original, creative, and challenge viewers to think outside the box. Too much of the stuff currently available simply isn’t well written and isn’t thought out. Looking back at some of the shows I listed at the top of this post makes me realize that I like tend to have overarching story lines. You know, where episodes can stand alone, but when put together provide a long-form story.

If you haven’t watched WandaVision yet, I have one word of warning: It’s helps to have some knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You don’t have to go back and watch every film from the first three phases, but it would be useful to at least watch the last two, Infinity War and Endgame. Those will provide enough backstory to get you into the wonderful weirdness that is WandaVision. Check out the trailer below for a little taste.

RB