Sunday, October 31, 2004

It used to be the case that MSN music had this nice little feature on most albums where you could say "Play sample tracks", and then it would open up the small MSN radio window, and it would play 30 seconds of all tracks on that album in sequence. However, once they revamped the new site, this feature was nowhere to be found, which was something of a nuisance for me.

I suppose one could ask whether there is any merit to the sample tracks idea in the first place, as in whether listening to the sample tracks can give one an idea about whether an album is good or not. I think it can at least give you a rough idea of the style of the album, and let you hear whether it's the sort of thing that sounds ok, or whether it sounds like a tough listen. Ultimately, I consider it to be a supplement to a review, because the words in a review can't really convey everything about the sound of the music. Off the top of my head, if I think about The Ramones, the self-titled debut of The Ramones, I read a few glowing reviews of it but then on listening to sample tracks I decided to defer any prospective purchase of it for a while. This is because I got a much better idea of what the reviewers meant by saying they took rock back to its basics by listening to 30 seconds of tracks like "Hey-Ho, Let's Go"!

So, having convinced myself that these sample tracks are of some use, I thought about what I could about it. And, of course, the first thing that came to mind was to load up C# after something like a year, and use it to make a sample track player for me. So, after playing around with the Windows Media Player OCX, I have a simple app that lets you feed in the URL of the CDUniverse page for your album, and then it plays all the tracks in sequence! Neato, eh? So no more having to manually click on tracks one by one, now I can sit back and let my program do the work for me! These are the sorts of days where I like programming, and how it helps me save lots of time (whether I should be listening to sample tracks instead of, say, studying, is a different matter of course).

Naturally, the reliance on the page being CDUniverse can easily be generalized to include other sites, although I am only worried about having to write a "parser" (if it can be called that; loads of regular expressions would be more accurate) for each site I add support for. AllMusic in particular looks like a fairly complicated beast, unfortunately, but it also has all the album and artist descriptions.
I feel somewhat validated, for I just saw a show on ABC where there is a small group of people who talk about the latest releases in art (books, film, theatre, paintings, and so on). I was curiously watching but then to my surprise, who should turn up on screen but Nick Cave, with his newest album under scrutiny. I started cringing, because I thought that these well-read, high-culture critics would tear apart this seemingly out of place album, and with it any hope of rock music being taken seriously.

But, to my pleasant surprise, they were quite receptive of it - one of them gave it five stars, would you believe!? One of the reviewers, an old lady, said that she didn't care too much for the music itself (understandably), but she did love the lyrics, and drew comparisons to the works of poets of yesteryear. And another reviewer chipped in to say that he thought that the lyricists of rock are the poets of today (he thought the greatest modern American poet was none other than Lou Reed)! I felt a sense of relief, and it's hard to figure out why exactly. I suppose I've always been "scared" of finding out that people with "real" taste dismiss the same stuff I fawn over when compared to real poetry. It's heartening to know that my poor rock-lyricists aren't spit upon after all. I mean, I've never really thought that they were necessarily as good as real poets, but I've held the view that some of the rock-lyricists' writings are more than just rather good, so it's good that this view isn't hopelessly inaccurate.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

I remember that yesterday I said that I refrained from posting a random piece of lyrics, but today I can't resist.

Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
And as I climb into an empty bed
Oh well. Enough said.
I know it's over - still I cling
I don't know where else I can go
Oh ... Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head
See, the sea wants to take me
The knife wants to slit me
Do you think you can help me?

Sad veiled bride, please be happy
Handsome groom, give her room
Loud, loutish lover, treat her kindly
(Though she needs you
More than she loves you)
And I know it's over - still I cling
I don't know where else I can go
Over and over and over and over
Over and over, la ...

I know it's over
And it never really began
But in my heart it was so real
And you even spoke to me, and said:
"If you're so funny
Then why are you on your own tonight?
And if you're so clever
Then why are you on your own tonight?
If you're so very entertaining
Then why are you on your own tonight?
If you're so very good-looking
Why do you sleep alone tonight?
I know...
Because tonight is just like any other night
That's why you're on your own tonight
With your triumphs and your charms
While they're in each other's arms..."

It's so easy to laugh
It's so easy to hate
It takes strength to be gentle and kind
Over, over, over, over
It's so easy to laugh
It's so easy to hate
It takes guts to be gentle and kind
Over, over.

Love is Natural and Real
But not for you, my love
Not tonight, my love
Love is Natural and Real
But not for such as you and I, my love
Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head.

-- The Smiths, "I Know It's Over"

Ouch. This has its moments (I originally wanted to say it was good, but I don't know anymore), even if I feel sort of embarassed after reading it. In that, it makes me feel all angsty and depressed and morbid, like an average teen, and I don't want to be an average teen no more.

Friday, October 29, 2004

I hate the word 'wimp', or rather the feelings associated with that word. I don't know why I felt like posting this, but I feel like I must. I might elaborate on this later, but it is quite touchy for me, so probably not. Let's just leave it at this meaningless, random post, shall we?

Actually, this isn't quite meaningless garbage - I mean, it is, at least in any normal sense I suppose, but I try to convey how I feel with some of these posts. And right now, my mind is quite scattered and messed up and what have you, so I think that stream-of-consciousness rambles like this are good for the soul. Yes, this writing style is quite deliberate; I'm not shunning conventions or what have you, I'm just in no mood to spend anytime creating my usual lush sentence structure (good to see I haven't lost the ability to drip with sarcasm though, eh?).

I have the rare ability to pick the worst time to listen to music. Such as when I'm getting sick. Whenever I'm sick, I tend to lose all control over my mind, and as a result the infernal jukebox in my head plays 24/7, repeating the same songs over and over and over...of course, it isn't quite as bad as it could be, after all if the music were as visceral as, say, one of my poems, then I would be in for one heck of a trip, but thankfully most of what I listen to is fairly decent (by my standards, of course, which makes it a truism). I can still remember listening to Graceland a few days before my trials, where I had the unfortunate luck of catching the flu. So as I jumped from bed to books, I would constantly have some of the songs playing in my head. Time, thankfully, has healed these wounds, and so the album doesn't suffer from over-listening (which would be a complete and utter shame).

I truly feel insane right now. To give you some idea, after watching TV for a mere 10 minutes, I lost all grip with reality and was amazed at how "life-like" real-life is. If that makes no sense, then my work here is done. I suppose this is the right mood for writing some beat-inspired poetry. Something like

Muse muse, every man must choose
Gamblers and bakers, all with no shoes

But that's just plain unsatisfying, not to mention nonsensical.
I think I'm growing delirious.

I can remember
That moments never die
When I notice a small smile
Blossoming on your lips
Because then, for a moment
I can forget.
I guess now this blog has truly sunk to a new low, for I was about to start quoting some random lyrics that I like, without offering any analysis whatsoever. Talking about wallowing in the mire, eh? But the better half of me decided to delete the offending text, and so now it's back to posting random poems of my own, most of which are a mystery to even me.

Just so that I can offer something of interest, these screenshots for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Morrowind was of course Elder Scrolls III) are just amazing. If, as people have claimed, they are not cutscene shots but rather are realtime screenshots, then I guess I'll have an interesting few months taming this monster (once I manage to get a computer that can run it, of course).

It strikes me as odd that I like computer games and literature. I don't know why, but I think they're an unusual combination.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Today was another 4-unit maths exam, this time it was my sister who had to do it. It brings back some memories, but mostly bittersweet nostalgia, and leaves me wondering how two years have gone by without me having a say in it at all. As though life were a bus, and I don't want to go so fast, or some such ill-conceived metaphor.

Speaking of 4-unit maths, I don't think very many people care about it once they finish it, but I seem unable to let go. I think it's probably a combination of things that I cherish, not just the subject, but I suppose to other people it looks like me being stuck in the past (which, come to think of it, is always accurate when it comes to me).

Someone mentioned that I was very rigid in my thinking today, and it makes me laugh to think how much of an understatement that is. I wonder if anyone can truly comprehend what a part inertia plays in my lifestyle (if one can call it that at all). Anyway, I feel like combining two famous lines of John Lennon and Tom Waits here, but I'll leave the quotes themselves for the interested reader to find out.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

I'm quite sure that if I visited a blog with a poem on the front page like the one I posted a couple of days ago, I'd think that the blogger was a pretentious twat.

I thought that I had said "The Cavism Blossoms" after one of the three poems I wrote one night. It turns out that I just thought that in my head when I wrote them. But anyway, for the one I just posted, I feel like saying "The Curtis-ism Blossoms", but I wonder if anyone would understand what I meant. I don't know what makes me think in such a strange way, after all it has nothing whatsoever to do with Mr. Curtis, nor am I in the least bit familiar with his work. I pick up a lot on seemingly off-hand remarks that people make, and because of my bizarre memory I tend to form some kind of fractured image of people based on these scraps of information. Which, I fear, is what has happened with Mr. Curtis here.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

I don't know if this one is flowing or not, I think it's just something I have to get out of my head. It is a strange piece of writing, with some truly odd parts that I suppose represent the darker side in us all. Here goes nothing:

C'est La Vie

As I woke up in the morning to
A dimly lit prison cell, I
Jumped out of bed and stood
Contemplating this hell that I
Built with my own two hands.

The heights of fortune, the depths of loss,
I've danced with both demons, and in a toss
Would take them both by the neck and
Throw to the ground these fools,
Forever causing happiness and remorse.
And then I would stride through giving no thought
To these phantoms paralyzed on the ground
That are, but are not.

My head is buried in my palms, and as
It rises from the dead again, I look upon
These stars over my door -
The sight of these fleeting lights,
Through tepid days and sleepless nights
Are enough to make me want
To break down on my knees in tears;
But only if
The world cries with me.

I glide out to the streets and I
Watch other people, but I
Cannot look into their eyes, for now
All I see is the dark fire forged in their heart
Yes, every ending must have a start
And as man's final bell tolls, I see
There's no gentle beauty to discover, just
The grotesque shapes of their faces
Moulded into their souls.

They pretend to laugh with you when
You're there, but as you
Leave they laugh at you,
And with a word carefully chosen
They blown down the houses of matchsticks
You spend your whole life creating,
While every moment venerating
Lifeless green faces in whose eyes
I have seen my death.

People bow in fear to me, their angel in the sky
And in simmering seconds I let loose
Their darkest fears.
I see people ask why, but in
Deepest passion, reason has no place.
I gaze into the fires burning, and see
My new face forming from the ashes, and see
The future that lies before me, and see
That the world is mine, and mine alone.
And so, with a single swift move, my earth
Crumbles in my hands.

I return now, having proven my worth, to
Forgotten places that saw my birth, breathe
The air of immortality, drink
The wine of lost souls with a laugh, spit
On those who
Ever offered me help.

On the peak of a mountain, I can stand alone
With my shadow having fled in fear of
That which I am.
And, in a final act, I summon
Every thought, every feeling, every action
Taking each of these brothers in my arms, I
Close my eyes, and before my senses fail me, I
Hear the sounds of the end.
As I awake in the morning, I hear the sounds of
Assured now that there are no stars to mock me,
I pace across the paths man
Never chose to travel,
There may be many a mystery to unravel, but
Now, I will sleep till my own end comes,
And in that time when the crimson hand of death comes knocking,
I shall stand my ground firm and hear it mocking, only to
Take a sip
From my fountain of youth
And watch the monster retreat
Never to visit again.

I am terribly embarassed about the poor quality of the structure of some of the lines, as well as some of the rhymes; one of the reasons I started pursuing blank verse was because I found that I had lost the ability to make a meaningful rhyme that didn't sound embarassing a few days later. But I've bitten the bullet here, I don't think I can carry on without rhyming, perhaps my mind just has a natural tendency to rhyme (albeit a tad predictably).

This is a bit more fiery than most of my other writing, I don't know if it's good or bad. It's like a scream versus a thoughtful essay, I think, I suppose both can be used to equally good effect by someone with talent. Anyway, I hope this isn't one of those things I look back on with unbearable embarassment (like Ode to lost hope).

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

I am bitterly disappointed with the direction this blog has taken. I haven't gotten to the stage where I post about what I ate for lunch (not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you), but I realize that part of the reason why I don't post here as often as I used to (such as during June-August, certainly the best period for this nearly one year old blog) is because the blog is losing focus. There was a time when it was run steadily by the seemingly never-ending pit of philosophy that I had discovered, with dilemmas posted every night (and very few of them solved, unfortunately).

The only good thing is that I have tried to pick out times when things "flow", and I try to write a story/poem them. The inferior quality isn't too much of a deterrent, because well, at least it's something. I'm glad that I have at least managed to keep alive the arcane art of writing, something which I would have surely stopped were it not for this blog. I remember what thrills I used to get from writing stories and poems all those years ago. The fire still burns I think, and while I may not have the talent, I think the passion is still there. Yes, I know I have said that I wish I could write a true epic, but the mere fact that I am writing semi-consistently is enough to make me happy - better to be happy with what you have to be happy with, as it were.

I talk a fair bit about things having to "flow", so much so that it sounds like some mystical, magical thing. But I don't think it is really, or at least, not to me. Sure, in some ways it is transcendental, and it is hard to give a proper description of it, but I think it fundamentally makes sense. In layman's terms, it might boil down to saying "you have to be in the mood". Now, naturally if I'm really nervous about having an exam I haven't studied for, I won't be in a suitable frame of mind to write a soothing romantic ballad.

But I don't think it's sufficient to be in the mood. It is certainly important to be in the right mood, but that's not the whole thing. There also has to be that extra element, that spark that somehow converts a wild jumble of ideas, images, phrases, and senses to words in a way that is meaningful and resonant. Of course, if you were to ask me to define these terms, you would have me on the back foot, so let's defer this matter for the moment. I mentioned this in the last comment on this story I posted earlier (incidentally, one of the few works that I'm proud of - I think everything really worked well there). The inspiration for that story was a seemingly tangential quote from Othello. But, at the time I wrote that story, there was some part of me that managed to take that quote and use it to draw together several ideas connected to it, but all the while maintaining the general feel of the quote.

I'd imagine by now you are well and truly flustered, and haven't the faintest clue what I am talking about. It's hard to explain, but essentially, it is that there was something about the quote that struck me when I read it. Here I am up against a brick wall, for I simply do not know how to explain what struck me, and what the general idea of the quote was. As I said in the comment, it was as if I was in a different world when I was writing that story. Anyway, the magic ingredient required for things to "flow" is that which manages to somehow grasp that "something" in its entirety, and use it to its full potential. That, I think, is the essence of the flow. Were the element of the flow not there, I doubt I would have managed to do anything at all, even if I were in the mood for writing.

Admittedly, I probably got a bit too spacey here, but this isn't something I find particularly easy to explain. I have a feeling that it is something that most people are innately familiar with, but it just doesn't seem to get enough recognition.

While I'm on the subject of writing, I remember an interview where Woody Allen talked about all his films over the course of a couple of hours. Then, at the end, as it was wrapping up, he interjected and said that he thought he ought to mention that he thought most of his films were failures, lest people get the wrong idea. For starters, it's nice to see someone with as low an opinion of themself..! He also said that he started off every one of his projects thinking it was going to be his best work - he would be sketching out the rough ideas in a notebook and think to himself "Oh man, this is going to be the best thing ever!". But, he said, as it turned out, with a lot of his films, the end result was quite far-off from the original ideas he had in his head, and these were the ones that he did not hold in high regard. The ones that he did like, however, were those were he managed to stay true to those original ideas. I am similar in that I usually start off a piece of writing thinking it is going to be my best one to date. What is also interesting is that in my experience it is true that my most successful pieces of writing (as in, the ones that don't embarass me two weeks on) are those which I can somehow relate to their inspirations and original ideas, which I can look at and get an immediate feel for the mood in which they were written in.

Perhaps this comes down to the metaphysics of quality. Is there an entity called quality detached from objectivity and subjectivity which we use for interpreting things? I think it's time to pore over Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance again.

It truly has been a while since I posed a philosophical question. So much so that a part of me just asked "Why bother asking that question, when one can't even understand just what is going on with life in general?". Like, for instance, what any of this means. Hmm I sense that I am travelling down familiar roads, with the details of my adventures stored on the archives of this blog. It's funny, I wanted to make this blog a "digital-me", with my thoughts, feelings, opinions and ramblings, but I seem to have stumbled a fair bit. I realize it is hard to be heard when there are a sea of other blogs out there, so many of them vastly superior to mine. Yet it would be disappointing if I didn't at least try to improve this one now, to push it back to the way it was heading (when I used to have an average of 50 posts a week..!).

Sunday, October 17, 2004

As I looked outside the window today, it was with a sense of disappointment that I realized that I cannot achieve immortality with words. "The children are all insane / Waiting for the summer rain", "And if my thought-dreams could be seen /
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine / But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only"
, "Help me find my proper place / Because I'm falling out of grace", I can't hope to write anything like that. I look up to them, seek inspiration from them, but alas, it is depressing when everytime you find yourself falling short! I suppose that when you look at greater minds than yours, you realize how small you really are. In many ways, I guess I am but a shallow reflection of these greater writers, consciously or not using their techniques to try to give words to my ideas. I suppose it is a long struggle ahead, but at least one day I would like to write something really resonant which I can look at sometime in the future and just sigh with satisfaction.

Yes, I don't know what I would have given to write any of those lines. My right arm, perhaps!? Perhaps it's just the weather - the rain has always brought out the brooding artistic part of me - but right now I feel like I ought to leave my mark on this world using the power of the word. It may well be the only real way that we can become immortal, and maybe it's the answer to all the questions I've had about my worries about the pointlessness of it all? Then again, there is no universal panacea, but I'm one of the hazy half-asleep states right now, where my idealism seems to know no bounds.

I think part of the problem is that Jim Morrison. As I predicted a month or so ago, it seems like I'm having that period where I am getting taken with this image I have somehow created of him as a dark, brooding poet, the kind that I guess fascinates me. Plus, that deep voice, ooh now that can send chills down your spine. I can see the similarity to Nick Cave, actually. Anyway, it looks like I'll be spending this summer swooning over Crystal Ship.

Speaking of Morrison, of all people Amma said she played The Doors at full volume in her room when she was 16. For some reason, it strikes me as a to explain it? No, impossible, I can't explain, suffice to say it's a remark I think I shall remember for a while now. Maybe someday I can tell youngsters of the time I played Black Dog on a cold winter morning?
Last night, before I drifted off to sleep I had the following "poem" in my head, and I thought it worthy of mention here. After all, it is better than some of the other stuff I've posted (although that's not saying much).

When I look up to the sky
Do I see
The way the world sees me?

Great mirror in the sky,
I want to ask why
But I fear no soul can hear me.
More visceral rot follows.

Leaves blowing in the wind are like people,
Every moment sighing,
Every moment dying.

Oh, to wake up tomorrow
To a white sky!
Where the claws of the past,
And the clouds of the future
Are both dreams we wake up from.

An empty cupboard shelves his trophies,
But his mind is always strong
Tonight, he could lose everything,
But in the morning, he will live life as though
There were a life to be lived.

The thinker sits alone and frowns,
His reflection in the water is
Always beyond reach.
And as he gazes at the eyes that made him
He turns his back on the last great doorway
And with a new face returns
Back to the world he lives in
A world where a man is
Every moment sighing,
Every moment dying.

Friday, October 15, 2004

This video of Jon Stewart on CNN's Crossfire is worth a watch. He really gets into the hosts while maintaining his composure, accusing them of being part of the problem with the political situation in the US, and remarking how it's sad that they attack him for not asking hard questions when he does a comedy show. And he's as funny as ever, of course! I used to love his The Daily Show till SBS made it mysteriously disappear from its lineup, although it is one of the most popular comedy shows in the US.

While you're at it, you may as well read Stewart's commencement address. In particular, I love this para:

When I left William and Mary I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re in college it’s very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I imagine here everybody knows exactly the number of credits they needed to graduate, where they had to buckle down, which introductory psychology class would pad out the schedule. You knew what you had to do to get to this college and to graduate from it. But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this. Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The second US presidential debate was on today, and I am again amazed by the completely different way people see things. I suppose some things never change - Bush supporters think their man won, and Kerry supporters the same. I think one should probably look at the undecideds to get a true idea of whose performance was generally better (what does this term mean, you ask? I can't quite say, perhaps I suppose 'tis ultimately based on a subjective set of criteria anyway).

Nervous ticks await tonight, for I am sure that I will be naively believing that there will be some magic, and Latham will claim victory against all odds later tonight. But until then, I remain cynical and pessmistic.

Edit from the future: It's probably a good thing he didn't win, actually. I think idealism should only be taken so far. Either way, I'm an idiot, and feel positively embarassed with my brief foray into political commentary. I shall refrain from talking about matters that I have no idea about in future. That is all.

Never fear, gentle reader, this blog won't turn into my thoughts on politics just yet. You know how it goes with me, come November 9th when Bush and Howard serve another 4 years (which is what seems inevitable), I shall consign myself to more philosophy and navel-gazing (I've wanted to use this expression for a while now).

Incidentally, apparently Kerry uses a lot of parenthetical asides when writing/talking, and I notice that I love doing this too. Bush's team used this to call him a waffler, which irks me a little (because naturally such a criticism would apply to me). I like tangential musings, they are one of my many foibles that I shall proudly claim to the very end. An english teacher once remarked that I beat around the bush too much, and I wryly told myself that it was not true, for I caned around the bush. Reading it now, it makes no sense, but the flavour is that I knew that my writings were 90% tangential, and that I always preferred to include seemingly irrelevant stuff rather than attack a matter head-on. I don't think I've changed very much these last, ooh, how long has it been, 6-7 years?

Case in point this post, where I have digressed completely from the original topic. Long live the lost art of the ramble!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

In some ways, I think John Fogerty's newly written song Deja Vu (All Over Again) is a far better validation of my ideas about why the war was wrong than debates and facts can ever produce. Yes, a strange admission with rather strong implications, such as rejecting logic and reason in favour of emotion, but it's late, and I don't want to think about politics anymore.

To explain why I feel this way is far too hard - it all comes down to a vibe, the way I think abuout Fogerty, who saw the Vietnam war, and who obviously believes the situations are far too similar ("Did that voice inside you say I've heard it all before"). I hope it sounds wishy-washy, because that's the way I intend it to be (obscurity as a defense mechanism, it's infallible).

I don't know, maybe it was all justified, and pacifists like me are scum, but darn it, if only the world were simpler, and every issue could be looked at without spin. It's disgusting, neither side seems to want to be really fair about anything. "All lies and jest / Still a man hears what he wants to hear / And disregards the rest". Everyone seems to be positively hostile about their point of view, and ad-hominens fly by every sentence for no reason whatsoever. This, to me, is an indication that people are very passionate about the issues that face us, which is good in some sense, but at the same time, out goes any chance of a real debate to get to the heart of the matter.

Incidentally, I believe Peter Singer, whom I mentioned last post, has a book about Bush's politics, and tries to debunk them rationally and logically. It might be worth a read sometime, because who better than a philosopher to really look at a situation rationally, right? Then again, I oughtn't idolize this man, lord knows he has his own flaws.

Forgive my ramblings, I really ought to stop posting at night.

Monday, October 04, 2004

There's an essay by the controversial philosopher Peter Singer here about how we can end world poverty, and it is worth a read. No, really, it's simple! I have thought a little about charities and morality since seeing About Schmidt a few days ago, and this just reinforces the idea. Singer's essay asks a question that I believe was part of a philosophy game that I posted earlier, which goes something like this: if you go out to dinner tonight with friends or family, and spend $100 on it, are you morally responsible for the death of a starving child in Somalia who might have been saved had you donated $100?

Some of this is powerful stuff, I fear I don't have the energy to dwell on it any further right now, but maybe I will do so tomorrow.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Epiphany - reaching for the door in the dark when it's wide open.