Entry for February 20, 2007 — Music and superheroes

Friends, I hope you've had a good week. Backing up a bit, on Sunday, 11 February 2007, Janice and I watched the 49th Grammy Awards. Of the performances during the ceremony, I thought that Gnarls Barkley's performance of "Crazy" and Christina Aguilera's tribute to the late James Brown were the best live acts, closely followed by Mary J. Blige. The cover by young country musicians of Eagles member Don Henley and the rhythm and blues medley including Chris Brown were not as strong, in my opinion.

The reunion of the Police was good, since lead singer Sting has hardly aged in 30 years. It must be all that tantric yoga. Following the Golden Globes' lead, both the Grammys and the Oscars have featured musicians and actors as presenters across their respective domains (plus the host network usually promotes its own shows).

I was annoyed that several musical genres weren't shown in the television broadcast, including classical, jazz, and most rock and roll. Modern rock (including hard rock, heavy metal, punk, and so-called alternative) was represented only by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whom I like, but I would have preferred to see and hear more.

Of the winners, I agreed with the Dixie Chicks' win for "Record" of the Year for "Not Ready to Make Nice." The controversial country band also won Album of the Year for "Taking the Long Way," although I wouldn't have minded if Gnarls Barkley's "St. Elsewhere" or Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Stadium Arcadium" had won.

The Dixie Chicks also won song of the year, which I would have given to catchy "Crazy." I sympathize with their stance against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but that's a topic for another debate. Former "American Idol" winner Carrie Underwood won for Best New Artist, but I would have preferred winsome Corinne Bailey Ray (and what was Imogen Heap dressed as, a shrubbery?).

The Best Female Pop Vocal Performance was one of the stronger categories this past year, with Pink, KT Tunstall, and Christina Aguilera (who won for "Ain't No Other Man") among my favorites. On the other hand, I didn't care for most of the schmaltzy male pop vocalists, including James Blunt, John Legend, John Meyer, Daniel Powter, and even Sir Paul McCartney. Even the R&B revival can't make me like them.

Best Pop Performance went to The Black-Eyed Peas, whom I like (although the Pussycat Dolls have had some nice burlesque-style videos), and while elder statesmen Tony Bennet and Stevie Wonder were recognized with Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals, I preferred acrobatic Shakira and Wyclef Jean's "Hips Don't Lie."

Of other nominated performers, I'm a fan of the neoCeltic work of Enya, the Brian Setzer Orchestra (especially during the swing revival of the 1990s), classic rockers Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, jazz chanteuse Diana Krall, U2 and Green Day's polemic "The Saints Are Coming," the playful Outkast, and hard rockers System of a Down.

To follow up more on my previous postings about music, if I had to pick favorites among the artists of the 1960s, I'm more of a Beatles fan than an Elvis one, and I admire the Beatles' experimentation just as much as the Rolling Stones' longevity. The explosion in subgenres during the 1970s remains interesting to me, as are the retro and New Wave movements of the 1980s.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the progressive rock favored by friends such as Ben P.S. Concept albums from bands such as Rush, Pink Floyd, and Queensryche got me through many study sessions in college and graduate school.

Speaking of college, Dexter V.H. didn't visit the Boston area this past weekend. Between the heavy snows that kept him from bringing some of his children from Brooklyn to their mother in Upstate New York; mixed communications with fellow teleconferencing role-player Byron V.O. in St. Louis, Missouri; and a lack of interest among my local group for a one-shot session, it was not to be. Dex hopes to come up again soon, though.

I more than made up for that with time spent with the growing "City of Heroes" virtual teams. Thomas K.Y., Janice, and I also screened "Ghost Rider" on Saturday, Feb. 17, followed by dinner at "Tennessee's" barbeque in Framingham, Massachusetts.

We mostly enjoyed the latest Marvel Comics movie adaptation, which I would give a "B+" or about a 7 out of 10. When "Crazy Train" came on the soundtrack, I was happy to see the flaming-skulled motorcycle vigilante of my youth.

I also watched "Superman II: the Donner Cut," which new co-worker Ken G. had loaned me on DVD. I liked this version as much as the Lester-recut theatrical version of the film, which I'd now give an 8 or 9 out of 10.

Some things, such as Lois Lane's (spunky Margot Kidder, who I met at a convention not too long ago) deduction of Clark Kent's dual identity and the late Christopher Reeve's seminal performance in the lead role, were better in the Donner cut. Others, such as the Paris scene and the transition from Superman: the Motion Picture, were better in the theatrical release. The musical score is still excellent, but there are plot/continuity problems in both versions, which predate the 1985 recalibration of Superman by D.C. Comics.

It's interesting to note how director Bryan Singer clearly drew from both versions of "Superman II" for the back story for his "Superman Returns." I look forward to seeing how the first and greatest superhero fares in his next cinematic outing, hopefully against a villain such as Darkseid or Brainiac.

Although this workweek is short, it should be busy, plus face-to-face and teleconferencing D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands" fantasy games, more "City of Heroes," and meeting Ben P.S., another college friend, in Boston early on Saturday. This coming Sunday, Feb. 25, Thomas and I plan to rent "The Illusionist" and "The Prestige."

A week from now, I'll have my dental appointment, which I'm not especially looking forward to. Janice and I have made travel arrangements for visiting my immediate family at the end of April, but we're also looking forward to a quiet weekend to ourselves. Next time: comics reviews! Later, -Gene