Lyric of the Day: It Overtakes Me

It’s just one of those Monday mornings, waking up a bit overwhelmed by the wild, unpredictable roller coaster that is life, a roller coaster that provides many more questions than answers.

And I thought about this Flaming Lips song, It Overtakes Me, from their 2006 album At War With The Mystics.

It’s an amazing piece of music that perfectly reflects my state of mind at the moment. The song starts off with this funky, over-the-top bass line and hand clapping, even something that sounds like a siren, a cacophony of weirdness, a veritable soundtrack for the roller coaster, with the lyrics:

It overtakes me, It overtakes me
It overtakes me… Oh oh oh I
It overtakes me, It Master-Slaves me
It overtakes me… Oh oh oh I

It overtakes me, It overtakes me
It overtakes me… Oh oh oh I
It overtakes me, It Wakes and Bakes me
It overtakes me… Oh oh oh I

And the chorus comes in, suggesting something that, within that cacophonous context, seems almost absurd:

You know that it isn’t real

But then the song seems to stop abruptly, the cacophony is replaced by a soothing chorus of synth, gentle slide guitar, and an angelic choir, and Wayne eases in, with that shaky falsetto of his and the sweetest expression of what it’s like to live with so many questions:

And I’m there
Looking up at the sky
And I’m scared
Thinkin’ ’bout the way that I
Don’t understand
Anything at all
And how it overtakes me
And I am just so small
Do I stand a chance?

No actual video on YouTube, but someone did post the song with just a shot of the album cover:

Eyecatchers: Cole Rise

This photographer, Cole Rise, has a cool, moody, grainy style, and I’m particularly intrigued by the shots of what looks like people levitating.

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Video Fridays: The Council of Elrond

Ok, I admit it, I love The Lord of the Rings.

No, I’m not an obsessive devotee, but I have read the trilogy and The Hobbit twice, and I’ve watched the movies a few times.

No, I don’t participate at the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza under the name FrodoLives.

No, I haven’t taught myself how to speak Elvish.

Anyway, I’ve been scheming with my son to do a Lord of the Rings movie marathon one weekend, it will be his first time watching the films, a father-son bonding experience, Men with swords, Elves with bows and arrows, a Dwarf with an axe, Hobbits with, well, big hairy feet, that kind of thing.

And with the movies on my mind, I was thinking about my favorite parts, and there’s this one incredibly potent moment in the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, that has always stuck with me, and upon watching it again online for the purposes of writing this post, I really do find it incredibly beautiful and moving.

The Council of Elrond

Elrond the Elf Lord has summoned a council of Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, and the wizard Gandalf in order to decide what’s to be done with the “one ring to rule them all”.

The council is breaking down into heated squabbling, and there’s a close-up shot of Gandalf while he’s arguing with Boromir, and as Frodo calls out amidst the din, “I will take it! I will take the ring to Mordor!”, Gandalf hears Frodo behind him and closes his eyes for a moment.

And in that moment, thanks to the deeply sensitive acting of Sir Ian McKellen, you can tell how moved Gandalf is by Frodo’s act of courage and selflessness, and you can also sense how sad he is knowing that the journey will cause Frodo great suffering and possibly even death.

But then, Gandalf opens his eyes and almost smiles, and in that expression you sense all the affirmation of his belief that Hobbits are very, very special creatures, whose enormous hearts are so tremendously disproportionate to their diminutive size.

To me, however hyperbolic it might sound, that is one of the most powerful moments in the history of cinema, beautifully directed and acted, and easily, for me, the most moving and powerful moment in the whole trilogy. It so thoroughly captures the central theme of the story, that hope can reside in even the smallest, seemingly most inconsequential of people.

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Much Ado About Logo

Yesterday, my employer, Western Washington University, unveiled a new logo, the product of many, many hours of research, deliberation, design, redesign, and student feedback, and from the reaction you’d think that the logo was an unmitigated disaster.

Judge for yourself:

Pretty nice, huh? I particularly like the abstract swoopy-line representation of Mt. Baker and the swoopy water elements, how they capture the sense of place, a campus nestled, as it is, between the Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound, important when you consider that for years surveys have clearly indicated that the main reason students choose to come to Western is: location, location, location.

For contrast, the old logo:



Here, the “location” consists of the front doors of the main administrative building on campus, Old Main, a place students go to when they have to pay tuition, check on their financial aid, complain about not being able to get into the classes they need, go for help at the Tutorial Center when they are struggling academically, or go for help at the Counseling Center when they are struggling emotionally.

Personally, I like the more positive associations of the new logo, and yet, posts on WWU’s online discussion forum, Viking Village, are full of the kind of vitriol usually reserved for tuition increases, the cost of textbooks, or dining hall food.

I’ve had some personal experience in logo design, not as the designer, but as a member of the design review and approval committee, and I can say unequivocally that it is an exhausting, brutal process. Subjectivity is a very powerful fact of life, and graphic designers are usually sensitive, creative people who have to have the patience of Job, making dozens and dozens of revisions, great and small, under a delusion that it’s actually possible to please everyone on the committee.

In an act that was nothing short of heroic, the student designer who worked on the Western logo, noticing how strong the reaction was, posted a new thread on the forum, identifying himself as the designer, and offering to answer any questions his fellow students might have.

Sadly, he’s been spared no mercy.

It would be funny if it weren’t so disturbing, that people could get so angry about something so insignificant.

Veni.Vidi.Ascendi. The WWU Rock Climbing Competition

Per my post from Monday, here’s a great video that captures the rock climbing competition at WWU this past weekend, including major props for the Whatcom Family YMCA Youth Rock Climbing Team and my son, Julian, starting at the 4:00 mark:

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By the way, Veni.Vidi.Ascendi is Latin for: I came. I saw. I ascended.

More Progress:   Walmart

Apropos my post of last week, the trend of much-maligned, often deservedly so, corporations stepping up and changing how they do business in order to address critical social needs continues with news that the largest retailer in the world, Walmart, will reduce sugar and salt and eliminate trans fats in the packaged goods they sell.

Additionally, the company that has come under intense criticism for their labor policies and for putting many small locally-owned companies out of business will lower the price of fruits and vegetables and give more money to programs that educate people about good nutrition.

All of this happens via a four-year plan announced in Washington with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Again, as I stated last week, these efforts must be celebrated. Walmart is not going away anytime soon, so better they make efforts to address our nation’s dire health crisis, no?

And, while the most important and effective long-term sustainability strategy is the growth of local, organic agriculture, there’s no reason to not continue efforts along those lines AND applaud Walmart at the same time.

So, sure, keep your eye on the prize — the day we put Walmarts out of business as more and more consumers decide to buy local. Just don’t sabotage the efforts Walmart does make to meet social needs while they are still around.

Tempering Fatherly Pride

All you have to do is enter “Julian” in the Search field in the sidebar to see how often, out of fatherly pride, I mention my 13-year old son here at Fish & Bicycles.

Well, an interesting thing happened this weekend. My employer, Western Washington University, hosted the Veni. Vidi. Ascendi. rock climbing competition, part of the Northwest Collegiate Climbing Competition (NC3) series, they were gracious enough to allow kids from the Whatcom Family YMCA Youth Rock Climbing Team, of which Julian is a member, to participate, and…

…Julian came in FIRST out of 43 climbers in the Men’s Intermediate Division, wherein 41 of the 43 climbers were college students!

Here he is on the wall:

So, I’m enormously proud, and rightly so, but the thing about rock climbing, as a competitive sport, is that it is the least competitive sport I know, bragging is highly frowned upon, and so I found I had to temper my pride as I prepared to share the news of his tremendous accomplishment on Facebook.

My initial status entry went right to the point, shouting Julian’s victory from the rooftops, celebrating the 1st-of-43 finish, but before I could post it my wife reminded me that it’s really important to think about the whole team, to not post something that might make the other team members feel disappointed in how they did at the competition.

And, she was right.

Truth is, one of his teammates, close to his age, came in 4th in the Women’s Intermediate Division, and another came in, I think, 6th, in the Men’s Advanced Division. Others placed well in the Beginners and Intermediate Division, especially, again, when you consider that the vast majority of climbers were much older, bigger, and naturally stronger than they are. It was a real testament to how great the youth climbing team program is at the YMCA, and a reminder of how much gratitude we owe the coaches.

You go, Bellingham!

Quite a day to be a Bellinghamster!

Both of these stories appeared in the Bellingham Herald today:

Bellingham listed among top 10 ‘happiest cities’ in the West

Sunset Magazine has listed Bellingham among its 2011 “Best Towns” in an article headlined “Places to make you happy” in the February issue.

“So depending on what makes you smile, here are the ten best places to live (and find happiness) in the wondrous amusement park of the American West,” the article says in an introductory passage…

Each town makes the list for a different reason. Bellingham is characterized as “a seaside haven 90 miles north of Seattle” with 65 miles of multi-use trails within city limits, plus nearby access to mountains and sea.

Whatcom County ranks No. 2 in US for vitality of independent businesses

Whatcom County residents have a reputation for supporting local, independent businesses. Now it is being noticed nationally.

A new report about the vitality of independent retailers ranks the Bellingham metro area – which includes all of Whatcom County – second highest out of 363 metro areas studied. The top spot went to Ocean City, N.J.; followed by Bellingham, Medford, Ore.; Carson City, Nev.; and San Jose, Calif.

More on Vinyl. This time, bringing the sexy.

Several recent posts and periodic older entries simultaneously show my age and reveal my fondness for vinyl records, and today I’ve come across an absolutely stunning turntable design concept.

Via Yanko Design, the Turnstyle:

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Now, the commenters do make some good points concerning possible flaws in the design from an audio technology standpoint, but it’s just a concept at this point.

All I know is that I LOVE the aesthetics of the thing.

Video Fridays: Zaireeka Lives!

The story behind The Flaming Lips’ 1997 album Zaireeka has all the traits of Rock & Roll legend: tensions amongst the band members, a member quits, the band struggles to reinvent themselves, drugs, car crashes, and pressure from the record label. It’s all there, and it all led to the kind of creative breakthrough that can often emerge from the most unlikely and seemingly dysfunctional of situations.

For anyone not interested in reading all the sordid and not-so-sordid details, in a nutshell, Zaireeka was a bizarre experiment, an album consisting of tracks recorded on 4 separate CDs, meant to be played simultaneously on 4 separate sound systems.

Now, you might say that’s asking a lot of fans, to bring all of their CD players, amps, and speakers together in one room, set them all up, and coordinate 4 people to press Play on all 4 CD players at exactly the same time. You’d be right, of course, and the band has always admitted that this was asking a lot, and they always had clear expectations that only their hardcore fans and geek audiophiles would actually indulge them.

As the latest of many continuous signs that the band has lost none of their experimental tendencies in the succeeding years, Pitchfork reports today that the Lips are working on a reissue of Zaireeka, designed to be played on 4 cell phones.

Ok, so, if you want to hear the album on something other than the crappy speakers on your cell phone, you still have to bring together 4 sound systems to truly enjoy it. But it is a new, fun way to participate in the experiment, and it’s clear that fun is what it is all about when you watch this video of Wayne and Steven demonstrating the process, for some reason, in a bathtub.