The Shapiro Files

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

25 Things

There has recently been a flutter of activity among my Facebook friends around a meme entitled “25 Things.” The object of this particular meme is very simple: List 25 things about yourself that people may not necessarily know and tag other Facebook friends to do the same.

I very rarely participate in these types of things, but heck, I’m always looking for fun blog topics. So I figured I can post my list here and then share the link with those who’ve tagged me. And if anyone feels compelled to do the same on their blog with a link back to me, even better!

So without further ado, here we go:
  1. I can’t stand raisins. Just the thought of them gives me the heebie-jeebies. And yet, I like grapes. Grape juice too. But raisins are pure evil.

  2. One of my more recent obsessions (about 2 years now) is Sudoku. I love that it’s a game of pure logic. It’s all about finding the one “inevitable possibility” — something that’s a perfect fit for how I process the world around me.

  3. I’ve watched all but one film in the AFI Top 100. The one outstanding title is The African Queen because it’s not available on DVD.

  4. My favorite author is John Barth. Lost in the Funhouse is a masterpiece. So are Chimera, Giles Goat-Boy, and Letters.

  5. My favorite dessert is anything with chocolate. But when it comes to ice cream (and only ice cream), I actually prefer vanilla.

  6. I’ve lost count of all the weddings at which I’ve played piano or keyboard.

  7. In high school, I used to love drawing cartoon monsters and giving them away to friends.

  8. I once served as Editor in Chief of Pacific Review, a San Diego-based literary magazine. The highlight of my time in the role was when highly esteemed postmodern author Raymond Federman sent me an angry letter (replete with profanity) asking what happened to his stories. It all worked out fine in the end (it was just a funding delay) and he even signed my copy of the issue in which I published his fine contributions.

  9. My favorite paper I wrote in graduate school was a 20+ page New Historical critical analysis of the television program I Love Lucy.

  10. I worked my way through college and remained employed with the same on-campus organization all throughout my undergraduate and graduate years. But sometimes that wasn’t enough to make ends meet. One second job I took was working weekends as a costume character, Sunny the Seal, for Sunny 103.7 FM in San Diego. I also did a stint at Eagle 105.3 KCBQ (now defunct) working promotions. This included driving vintage 1950s Ford Mustangs to the Earthquake Cafe (now closed) where they used to do live broadcasts Saturday nights.

  11. As if going to school full time and holding multiple jobs wasn’t enough during my college years, I also found time to participate in the SDSU Concert Choir, SDSU Chamber Singers, the San Diego Master Chorale, San Diego Theater Sports, and a 1950s classic rock and roll band called The Silvertones. I even played piano (plus occasional guitar) and did rhythm section arrangements for a group called The Great Day. They even let take the virtual podium as conductor a couple times. Very nice people.

  12. Of all the places I’ve done theater, my favorite was Boston. The actors, musicians, directors, producers, and tech crews were so genuinely kind and wonderful to work with. West Coast readers, please don’t dispair: I’ve also worked with some very lovely people in all the other places I’ve done theater too. I’m lucky that way.

  13. My favorite season: Autumn.

  14. My favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. Passover runs a close second.

  15. I collected Dynamite Magazine as a kid, but had a hard time getting my hands on issues 1-10 (#1 was truly impossible). As an adult, I got lucky on Ebay and managed to secure the first 20 issues of the magazine (#1 included). By that point, I was about 25 years beyond being interested in the actual content of the magazines. It was purely the fulfillment of a childhood dream.

  16. I’ve never understood the appeal of the band R.E.M.

  17. As a M.A. in English and life-long avid reader, I used to consider myself fairly well-read. But I recently perused the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list and discovered I’ve only read 18 of the books on their “Board’s List.” Even on their more commercial-leaning “Reader’s List,” I’ve only read 24 of the titles. Ouch. I think I have a whole lot more reading to do.

  18. I’m a Beatles freak and have been accused of being a walking encyclopedia of useless Beatles trivia.

  19. I’m the only person I know who has a bread maker and actually uses it. Regularly. For 15+ years and running.

  20. The first professional synthesizer I ever owned was a Moog Opus 3. Bulky, heavy, and very retro-cool. But pretty limited usage-wise.

  21. My first theatrical performance (at least, that I can remember), was as a Native American for a 1976 Bicentennial celebration play at our local park. I only had one task: follow a bunch of similarly attired children out of one door, run the course of a small semi-circle, and enter another door. I missed my cue and ended up trailing the other children by a very noticeable margin. The result was my first onstage laugh.

  22. I had numerous obsessions as a child. Just some of these included coloring books, board games, puppets, and Star Wars action figures and playsets (Degobah was my favorite).

  23. I studied Samuel Beckett as an undergraduate and genuinely enjoyed it.

  24. I produced a song/sound collage and video, both called 2+2, as a final project for an upper-division college course in Postmodernism. In graduate school, I recorded a sequel for a class in Avant Pop taught by the same professor. The name of the sequel? You guessed it: 2+2+2.

  25. I prefer social interactions where all participants are seated. It’s hard to have a meaningful conversation while standing.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Guilty Displeasures

I was just reading the always-entertaining A.V. Club website and stumbled upon a new entry in their ongoing “AVQ&A” series in which several A.V. Club staff writers each addresses the same reader-submitted question. This week’s question concerned “guilty displeasures” — that is, art that is generally critically lauded, but which staff writers have never quite been able to truly enjoy themselves.

For example, perhaps Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane has never done anything for you — despite the fact it tops just about ever “greatest films of all time” list published over the past decade. Of maybe you’ve never understood all the ballyhoo about Mozart, Shakespeare, or Picasso. Understandably, you might actually feel a little embarrased about your tastes when it comes to such otherwise praised and canonized artists.

So in that spirit, I thought it might be fun to come clean on a couple of musical artists that I’ve never quite been able to embrace despite the fact that so many others do.

The first — and this is a tough one — is Bruce Springsteen.

I know, I know. I should probably quickly clarify that I don’t necessary dislike any of his music. I just can’t bring myself to love it or even like with any degree of enthusiasm. I do admire Springsteen’s integrity and also agree with the general consensus that he’s a very dynamic performer in a live setting. It’s just that I don’t find his melodies/chord progressions particularly engaging. He’s a very talented lyricist without doubt. But unless you’re, say, Bob Dylan, whose lyrical prowess transcends the pop/rock idiom, I need a little more.

I hate to admit this because I really do want to love his music. I’ve purchased The River, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Nebraska (all considered high points in his career), and listened to them numerous times hoping they’d grow on me. But no amount of repeated listening has made the songs any more musically compelling. I should add that I also borrowed Born to Run from a friend years ago and similarly sat through repeated listenings in the effort to generate some enthusiasm that never came.

Go figure.

So there you have it. I don’t love Bruce Springsteen’s music and I’m relieved that I no longer have to hide it.

Who knows, maybe some day I’ll come around. I don’t think I’ll ever close myself off to that possibility. But either way, at least his music doesn’t irritate me or motivate me to change the station when it gets played on the radio.

No, that particular dishonor goes to my next guilty displeasure.

From the 80s to today, I’ve never been able to bring myself to enjoy the music of U2. And believe me, I really wanted to. The first time I tried in ernest was in the mid-80s. I was sitting in the back of a friend’s car while he expatiated upon the brilliance of the then-new band. I had no preconceived notions about U2 and no reason to doubt my friend’s recommendation. However, once he began playing their tape on the car radio, I was greatly dissapointed. My initial reaction was that all the songs sounded the same and that the musicianship of the performers wasn’t particularly good (bordering on amateurish).

25 years later, I still pretty much feel the same way.

While the band’s playing has improved somewhat after so many years of regular touring, I still don’t find much variety in their music. And even for all the praise bestoyed on The Edge for his unique sound, he still can’t play a guitar solo to save his life. Sure, he’s been quite innovative in his use of flanger and chorus effect pedals, but all he plays are chords or simple rhythmic patterns. The result is a rock band without a lead guitarist. That’s like a sandwich without anything between the slices of bread.

All this said, I recognize that U2 has received a considerable amount of critical and commercial acclaim over the years and appreciate their efforts to leverage their popularity in the service of charitable causes. But despite all this, I just don’t find their music interesting. In fact, their stuff mostly bores me to tears.

Whew. I’m glad I got all that off my chest. Now bring on the hate mail.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Easy Access to History

Friday, January 02, 2009


Last year I posted this entry about writing our first holiday newsletter. I talked about agonizing over the first paragraph, as I had to trim a fair amount of out of it to get the whole newsletter to fit on one side of one page. As a result of the edit, I felt that the irony of a deliberately wordy introductory paragraph to what was otherwise an highly-succinct annual summary was lost.

This year I had another expository challenge with no less vexing results. In one of the newsletter bullet points summarizing some of the highlights of our year, I talked about doing several music recordings for Marcie’s business, Life Visions Productions. I closed the bullet with a pop cultural joke stating that my next musical endeavor would be recording a medley of songs by the band who recorded “The Safety Dance” in the 80s (you know: “You can dance if you want to/You can leave your friends behind/And if your friends don’t dance if they don’t dance/Well they’re no friends of mine”). I knew this was a pretty esoteric reference so I decided to do a second version of the reference where I state that my next project is a medley of Liberace hits. I actually agonized over this alternate version because I wasn’t sure if people would even get that reference. I had even toyed with making the reference to Barry Manilow, but thought there was a chance that some people would think I was being serious (not there’s anything wrong with doing a medley of Manilow hits!).

As a result of having two versions of the newsletter, I had to carefully go through our entire mailing list (150+ addressees this year) to determine who would get the “Safety Dance” reference (mostly people who came of age in the 80s like myself) and who should otherwise get the Liberace version of the newsletter. This was an extra burden to an already complicated mailing.

But here’s the ironic part. In my absolute confidence in the hipness of my pop cultural reference, I named the “Safety Dance” band as “Men in Hats.” However, it wasn’t until all the newsletters were printed and mailed that I learned (courtesy of my much hipper sister-in-law Kim) that the band is actually named Men Without Hats. So not only did I create far too much work for myself than necessary by maintaining two separate mailings, but even those who received the “Hats” version of the newsletter and would have otherwise gotten the reference were probably baffled by the odd mention of something called “Men in Hats.”

Oh well. There’s always next year.

By the way, for anyone who hasn’t seen this year’s full newsletter, you can get it in PDF form here. Yes, it’s the Liberace version.

And for anyone who’s interested in getting on the official annual mailing, just drop me a line. You know where to find me.