41 Favorites: #7-9
For my 40th birthday I brainstormed a list of some of my favorite things to launch a series of occasional posts. It's not that I was ever in danger of running out of topics to write on; my aim was more that I'd have some brief entries covering a variety of subjects during a time when I was generally retreating from new content out of frustration with the blog.
That was two years ago. I had to switch the title from 40 Favorites to 41 Favorites in 2011 and I've only added three posts to the series, comprising five favorite things, since then — including this one. As of Sunday the series title will have to change again.
I'm planning to throw another one of my omphaloskepsic posts up here soon, so that's enough of that right now. Let's talk instead about...
Mmm, I loves me the coffee.
To many folks it's merely a delivery system for a much-needed jolt of caffeine, and I'm not above using it that way myself — albeit for a slightly different reason than most. . While caffeine is a vasoconstrictor that's often very helpful in alleviating migraines I'm also among the minority for whom it's a soporific rather than a stimulant; I might technically get a brief jolt from it neurologically, if you were to look at a brain scan or something, but I'll begin to get sleepy from a cup of strong coffee in short order. (Twice I've gone off of caffeine entirely in the name of eliminating potential rebound or caffeine-withdrawal headaches from the picture, and the tradeoff just wasn't worth it. Migraines still abound. It's way better to have caffeine in the arsenal even though going a day without caffeine after regular caffeine intake will probably trigger a headache itself, easily rectified by popping open a soda.)
What's really great about coffee, to me, is the combination of the flavor and the rich warmth — drunk hot, anyway; I love iced coffee just as much, as I've written about before. Likewise as I wrote in that post, coffee is nicely combined with other flavors, especially nutty ones, hazelnut and almond being tops on my list. I'm definitely a cream-&-sugar guy — which strikes some coffee purists as just wrong, I know — both for the taste and because I like my coffee to have some body to it. Lattes are heaven.
I've been told that I brew a good pot of coffee, and I'll take the compliment. But I have to say that those Keurig machines are pretty nice. Also, I'm a disaster with the French press so I just stick to filters.
8. cover songs
Despite my affinity for them, I was surprised to see that the "cover songs" label on this blog had already been applied to over a dozen posts. It surely helped that I was obsessed with The Sing-Off.
Some of the best-loved, most fondly remembered pop tunes from my childhood were/are cover songs purely by happenstance, but while I'm not sure how far back my fondness for such reinterpretation as a creative enterprise unto itself goes I definitely have a particular, some might say peculiar, admiration for turning a song on its ear and making it just as good if not better. There are plenty of ways to do this — by stripping the arrangement down or building it up, changing the tempo, going from electric to acoustic, etc.
Just the other day I heard a fascinating reggae version of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and — this is what's so compelling about covers, I guess — it would probably have sounded cool on its own but it was so much more interesting because of what I brought to it from having heard the original, my expectations getting pleasantly reinforced at some points and just as pleasantly confounded at others.
I love both the Billie Holliday ballad and the Marcels doo-wop versions of "Blue Moon". I'm head over heels for Lick the Tins' pennywhistlicious "Can't Help Falling in Love with You" as popularized on the 1987 Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack, which is simply outright awesome, but also delighted with David Bowie's hilariously overwrought reworking of the 1966 Beach Boys classic "God Only Knows" on his 1984 album Tonight. I know that it doesn't touch Bill Withers' 1972 original, but I still be jammin' to Club Nouveau's 1987 take on "Lean on Me". I find Weird Al Yankovic's Stars on 45 parody medley "Polka on 45" and its sequels absolute genius.
There is a drop-dead gorgeous cover of Roy Orbison's legendary 1961 song "Crying" performed a capella, in Spanish, as "Llorando" by Rebekah Del Rio in the 2001 David Lynch film Mulholland Drive.
Sometimes artists cover their own songs, to varying levels of success. The first time I was aware of this was probably when Neil Sedaka, himself an upcoming entry in this series, rerecorded his 1962 hit "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" as a ballad for his 1975 album The Hungry Years, with a brief snippet of the original leading into it as if playing on the radio then quickly fading out as Sedaka's piano began. Sting's revamped "Shadows in the Rain" on his 1986 album Dream of the Blue Turtles actually outclasses The Police's 1980 original, in my opinion. Eric Clapton's 1992 unplugged rendition of "Layla" doesn't possess the fierce urgency of his 1971 original with Derek and the Dominos — nor its gorgeous piano coda — but I'm happy to have both.
That only scratches the surface, and I'm sorry to forego links. I don't want to get bogged down looking for legally legitimate recordings online. I do want to hear your own favorite cover songs in the comments, for sure.
9. crossword puzzles
You know, I thought that I'd written about crossword puzzles previously, and I've discovered where; it was in my post accepting the Honest Scrap badge, wherein I revealed that, cartoonist that I am, I like to fill in the boxes neatly and often in specific styles as practice.
That doesn't happen as much as it once did, but neither does me exercising my brain over crossword puzzles, period. It's hard to summon the kind of focus required for the length of time required thanks to fibromyalgia clouding my brain the way it does, although for that very reason I still try. Reading and writing being so much more of an effort than they used to be, overall, also means less time for all such pursuits — everything is harder and takes more time; it used to be that I could work through a puzzle in bed and do some reading, after a nice day's work capped by some television, before snuggling up with the missus, but not anymore. Finally having a working computer again, too, and belatedly having reliable high-speed Internet to go with it, similarly cuts into the puzzle time because there's just so much to watch and read.
Maybe the silver lining there is that when I remember to pick up the book of puzzles from my night table and do have the focus to work on one, it feels like a treat. Among my earliest memories are my dad getting me a book of crossword puzzles that we worked on together, one that in retrospect I realize had enormously big white boxes and very few of them. Its cover was mostly yellow with what I think was a pink kangaroo. Getting myself a book of crossword puzzles on occasion carries a bit of the same thrill of nostalgia, combined with disbelief at being s grown-up now, that buying certain things or visiting certain places myself, without my parents or grandparents, carries.
I've never quite been on the New York Times bandwagon, at least partly because the reliance on words that only appear in crossword puzzles bugged me in principle. The hometown Philadelphia Inquirer was more my speed, especially at the end of the week when the degree of difficulty offered the right kind of challenge — like chess and Scrabble, crossword puzzles are a game that you have to play against someone, in this case the puzzles' creator, whose skill level is almost exactly evenly matched with yours for it to be enjoyable. I know people who hate them, but I've found that big Sunday puzzles with themes are right up my alley. Merl Reagle — whose Inquirer puzzles moved to the Arts & Entertaiment section from the Sunday magazine when that was phased out, leaving me bereft since I can no longer work that small on newsprint — occasionally gets a bit too precious with special characters and the like, but I generally find that approach fun, and my mainstay for quite some time now has been the spiral-bound collections edited by John M. Samson for Simon & Schuster.