The Brick Testament

My boys are finally old enough to play with Lego, which is singularly one of the best things about being a father of boys. It means I get to play Lego with them! As my generation has gotten older, some have gotten quite serious about the little blocks.

One of my favorites is the recreation of famous photographs using Lego. Take a look at Balakov’s Flickr Slideshow. Two great examples below:

Tienamin Square

Iwo Jima

But nothing compares to The Brick Testament, a site I found that recreates a very large part of the two most popular Testaments (the Old and the New, not Mormon and L. Ron). It’s entirely built and photographed by the Reverend Brendon Powell Smith. He’s quite serious about illustrating the Bible pretty much as it is written, while maintaining a good sense of humor about himself (check out the FAQ). The complete absence of opinion makes it easy to think of it as a gospel retelling, or a sarcastic reinterpretation – take your pick. That particular angle is in the eye of the beholder.

Take a look at The Brick Testament. It’s wonderful. As the Daily Beast suggests, start by checking out the section entitled “The Law”. I also really enjoyed Genesis, especially the parshah that tells the story of the Golden Calf.

Quick, only two months left!

We only have eight weeks left in 2008, time to get into the market now! My friend Michael G is planning on calling Robert Zuccaro before time runs out!

No rush though, according to James Glassman and Kevin Hassett good times are just around the corner anyway.

Not to be to outsold, David Elias then published the market leader (in irrational exuberance)

Personally, I don’t trust the stock markets. I perfer more tangible assets, so I bought David Lereah’s book.

My God I miss the Dot-Com days.

Start wearing Purple…

I had a wonderful Sunday with the boys. Rob, his wife T, and their daughter took us to a great pumpkin fair out in Brandenburg, with carousels, pony rides, and a LOT of pumpkins. The Erlebnisshof Klaistow has attempted to reconstruct Noah’s Arc and to fill it with animals made of pumpkins (weird!) and the whole farm is populated with food stands and typical county fair activities.

We bought some really nice cheese, and a good truffle salami, which we carved pieces off with a knife once we got home. I am filled with some kind of glowing parental pride in the fact that my boys enjoy cured meats as much as I do.

After dinner/bath/books/bed I poured a glass of wine and cranked up some music. I have a large collection that I take great pride in – about 455 Gigs, 6,558 albums, 70,985 songs according to iTunes, but that includes content like my wife’s unused German language lessons and a sound effects CD for Halloween. All the music has been painstakingly encoded and categorized (58 categories) over the last seven years. I’ve also created three master playlists – Morning, Work, and Dinner.

Well, turns out K the Listmaker (who actually prefers streaming KCRW Music when I’m not in the house) had kept the Morning list playing all day. It tends to have more attention-grabbing upbeat tracks on it that don’t really work the rest of the day, but it’s perfect for Sunday.

One track that came on is a perennial favorite of mine. Not every song on the Morning list is a total show stopper, it would be unlistenable if it were. But this one always makes me want to rip my shirt off and start dancing on the kitchen counter.

I don’t know much about Gogol Bordello, but their sound is pretty well described by Phill Jupitus as “The Clash and The Pogues having a fight… in Eastern Europe.” They sound like a gypsy punk band with a fiddle and an accordion, two instruments that haven’t gotten this good a work-out since Flogging Molly left the pub.

So here’s my favorite Gogol track, called “Start wearing Purple”, and for good measure I’ll also throw in Flogging Molly’s “What’s left of the Flag.” Both are rippin’ bar stompers, but Molly’s “Flag” is definitely NOT part of my Morning playlist.


Start wearing Purple – Gogol Bordello

What’s left of the Flag – Flogging Molly

Klassik Radio

I’ve got a number of radio stations programmed in my car, and pending my mood I usually try and underscore it with the appropriate music while I drive. I don’t always succeed though. There’s a number of good stations in Berlin, which is a lot less rigidly formatted than the U.S. radio market. But often I can’t get the right groove, or I just don’t find the available music to be intellectually stimulating.

So I end up listening to a lot of talking radio. I purposely don’t use the phrase Talk Radio, a uniquely American media product in which angry people talk about issues without consideration of facts, in an effort to get other people just as angry. No, I listen to Info Radio,  a 24-hour German news station, or to NPR World-Wide, which broadcasts here in Berlin. I try BBC periodically, but I just don’t need that much information about African politics. The question of whether I listen to English or German programming is really only driven by whom I’m having a meeting with next – I speak both languages throughout the day, and sometimes it helps me get my linguistics oriented before entering the room.

Occasionally, I will also listen to one of the two local classic music radio stations. Much like Los Angeles, we have two stations in this market – the rather high-brow Kulturradio, and the more plebian Klassik Radio. Both these stations are well programmed. Kulturradio doesn’t just do classical, they’re actually quite close to the U.S. NPR-style mix of programming. They have some good talking radio, but like a lot of mid-market Public Radio stations it features a solid block of classical music as part of its repetoire.

The other station is the aforementioned Klassik Radio, a guilty pleasure for me. I know it is considered low-brow, and I have to admit their breathy slogan spoken in that quasi-sexy spa commercial voice “Bleiben Sie entspannt” is a real turn-off. Sometimes they make it seem like classical music was the original New Age hot tub music.

There’s a lot that a true classical music fan disdains about the station. Forget for a moment that they pick-and-choose their pieces. They won’t play entire symphonies, but instead only the Greatest Hits movements – those minuets or allegros that are well known and loved. And then there are pieces like Ravel’s Bolero, which gets a work-out more often than is comfortable. Worse, they’ll only play accessible composers, none of that difficult stuff or over-complicated arrangements.

But their worst transgression in the mind of an aficionado – and the ultimate reason I like them – is because they play film soundtacks. I hear my dear readers gasping as they reel at the implication of what was just written. John Williams mixed in with Josef Haydn? Danny Elfman intermingled with Franz Schubert? Michael Kamen on the same playlist as god ol’ Freddy Chopin? What is the world coming to?

It’s actually not that far fetched. Allow me to take a personal detour here: It begins with a curmodgeonly record store guy with hairy ears, back in the late 1970s. As an adolescent boy I had recently begun buying music, and was at the Europa Center in downtown Berlin, trying to buy a certain record at Bote & Bock. Let’s forget for a moment that I was trying to find the rather embarrassing “Hooked on Classics”, a remix of everyone’s favorite orchestral pieces as nightmared by Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, resulting in a treble-intense mash with hints of David Shire’s “Night on Disco Mountain”… So, with a wave toward the wooden racks at the center of the store, the hairy-eared musicologist manning the manual cash register explained to me that calling “all of that” Classical Music was a mistake – you can’t just bunch several centuries of non-Pop and non-Jazz onto one long shelf, and declare it a genre.

He had a point. There are infinite variations, and Renaissance music (for instance) has little to do with the large complex music being created by Russian composers at the beginning of the 20th Century. And his classification stuck with me over the years. What frustrated me about classical music was how seemingly stagnant it appeared. In some way, a certain segment of the listening audience obsesses over playful nuances the way two Grateful Dead tapers might discuss a Garcia solo – these are differences virtually inaudible to a casual participant. Dealing with a grey crowd of grown-ups was somewhat daunting, too. My father helped a lot when he decided to kick-start that particular part of my education by buying me a copy of Who’s Afraid of Classical Music.

On the flip side of the usual crowd, you have music being composed by contemporary musicians that is really hard to listen to. I had dinner with Sean Sheppard a few months ago. He had just conducted a series of pieces here in Berlin that he had written, and in one of the program notes he poked fun at himself – he wrote that he “might commit the ultimate taboo, making the music pretty.” Well, God knows he managed to avoid that particular trespass successfully, but he never told me exactly what would be so terrible about writing pretty music.

So on one side you have stagnant repetition being listened to by the geriatric set, and on the other you have music for the intellectual in-crowd that eludes the rest of us.

Well, a few years ago, when I was still living in Los Angeles, a friend made a rather bold late-night wine-fueled argument that LA is the most important city in the world for classical music. Oh really? His argument was simple – most classical music nowadays is the large orchestral kind, and nowhere in the world are there so many working orchestras as in Hollywood. Why? Well, they’re scoring all the feature films and big TV series. And further, he argued, that Hollywood is the only place where a composer can stretch his creative wings and really write some interesting music.

So I began listening to soundtracks differently, and with newfound respect. I’m not sure whether the need to underscore a story provides the greatest creative opportunity, but the chance to conjure up an original work within certain confines is always a challenge. I have to admit I’ve come to love certain pieces, and would gladly go to see some of them performed live. A family favorite has always been Michael Kamen’s Don Juan De Marco score, and now that the boys are so deeply into the Star Wars lore, I have found new affection for John William’s score. “The March of the Emperor” is now the ring tone reserved for calls from my wife.

Go dig out Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator score, and see what I mean. It’s pretty cool.

The Daily Beast

I’m pretty excited. Tina Brown’s new site finally launched. It’s called The Daily Beast, and seems to be a modern linky mix of Vanity Fair and Perez Hilton, with some heavy A+L Daily for that extra braininess. I guess it’s our lefty version of Drudge, but for people with the required attention span to read, and a desire for design.

Here’s what the FT had to say:

Another scoop for Tina Brown as she swaps print for web

The struggling US magazine industry is losing one of its biggest cheerleaders to the web as Tina Brown trades the glossy pages and lengthy essays of her past career for the hyperlinks and blog entries of a new site called The Daily Beast.

The former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and the short-lived Talk launched a trial version of the site, funded by Barry Diller’s IAC new media empire on Monday.

Named after a fictional Fleet Street newspaper in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, the site is pitched as both a home to original commentary and a “curator” of other sites’ highlights, putting it in competition with an ever-growing list of bloggers and news aggregators.

According to Ms Brown, however, her site has appeal because of the very fact that the market is so crowded.

“What’s been lacking for the overwhelmed but smart reader is an intelligent guide,” she said in an interview. “The time is right to do a site which cuts through the noise and cuts through the clutter.”

Rather than worthy “eat your peas news”, The Daily Beast will offer political, cultural and celebrity coverage with “a unique editorial sensibility”, she said.

Ms Brown’s fabled networking skills have pulled in contributors including Nigella Lawson, the British celebrity chef; Christopher Buckley, the US satirist; and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch politician.

Her foray into internet publishing, which she admits was “terra incognita” before she started work on the site in July, comes as many online outlets are seeing the same pressures on advertising revenues as have weighed on print publications.

Talk, the magazine, book and film venture she launched with support from Hearst and Miramax in 1999, folded in the post-9/11 advertising slump, but Ms Brown said she was “as confident as anybody can be” about The Daily Beast’s prospects.

She would not disclose what investment Mr Diller had supplied but said The Daily Beast would sit alongside a portfolio of “emerging” internet businesses within the “new IAC”, created by this year’s spin-off of companies such as Ticketmaster and Lending Tree.

Caroline Marks, general manager of the site and a former Comcast Interactive Media executive, said it would rely on advertising and sponsorship revenues, but would benefit from promotion from, IAC’s search engine, and traffic deals with other portals.

The site, edited by Edward Felsenthal, a former Wall Street Journal deputy managing editor, would target “higher end advertisers . . . who have a natural affinity with publications where Tina worked before,” Ms Marks said.

Mr Diller’s proposal for the site was put on hold for two years while Ms Brown finished The Diana Chronicles, her biography of the Princess of Wales. She is now working on The Clinton Chronicles, and remains a consultant to HBO, the premium television channel.

But the “open beta” launch, after which users can recommend improvements, has been brought forward as Ms Brown chafed at having to watch an unfolding financial crisis and the US presidential elections from the sidelines.

“You don’t know how it killed me not to be up during the primaries,” she said. “It may be a horrible economic time, but it’s a wonderful journalistic time.”

Been reading it while eating Sauer-Scharf Suppe, which I consider a salute to the tone of the new site. Huzzah, I wish you much success!