All posts by rbowen

Signals: Rush week 6

I’m not going to do the track by track, because Craig already did that.

This record has a lot of good stuff on it, but far and away the best two are Losing It, and Subdivisions.

The fact that Neil was only 30 when he wrote Losing It make it all the more impressive. This song hits me harder and harder as I get older. I remember when I discovered the (yes, I know, very obvious) fact that the second half was about Hemingway, and that led me to read all of Hemingway. I think I was probably 19 or 20 at the time. I don’t suppose I could stand that much Hemingway at 50.

Subdivisions is just a great jam, but is also one of the better written, lyrically, of Rush’s songs. It’s also, I recently realized, the only time (I think – and I could very well be wrong) that Neil’s voice appears in a Rush song. (He’s the voice saying “Subdivisions.”)

Oh, and Analog Kid was, for some reason, left off of the bootleg version of Signals that I had on cassette as a kid. Maybe for space? I don’t know. But I’m less familiar with it, so it was cool to discover such a lovely memory of that edge between childhood and growing up, imagining the future. Good stuff.

And, yeah, I know Countdown is cool and all, but one thing ruins it for me. That one line – “Excitement so thick, you could cut it with a knife.” Really, Neil? With all of the great stuff that Neil wrote, he has this annoying habit of throwing in trite cliches far too often. I think Neil could have been a great poet, if he had anyone to offer him serious criticism of his work, Stuff like Losing It, The Larger Bowl, and so on, were just really well crafted, poetically. And then there’s an opportunity like Countown and he does … that. *sigh*.

His books are another example of this. So much poetical, lyrical narrative, and then there’s just lazy writing interspersed in there, and I wonder if he just never really had an editor that he trusted.

Thanks, again, Craig, for the opportuity for fresh ears on an old album. Looking forward to next week!

Roll the Bones: Rush week 5

Roll the bones is definitely in my top 3 or 4 Rush albums. The songs revolve around the topic of fate, or chance, or luck, or randoness – depending on how you look at it.

Dreamline and Bravado are, or have been at times, my two favorite Rush songs. The line “Learning that we’re only immortal for a limited time” occurs to me all the time as I get older.

You Bet Your Life is another song that occurs to me frequently, when I think about how much we trust the strangers around us – how often we bet our lives on the surety that those strangers will do the right things, even while they are not necessarily what we might consider good people.

Other great lines on this album that resound in my mind incude “Life is a diamond you turn into dust”, and “we will pay the price, but we will not count the cost” and “I’m in a groove now … or is it a rut?”

“Ghost of a Chance” is perhaps the most beautiful love song in the Rush catalog. Rush doesn’t do traditional love songs, but when they do a love song, it’s wonderful.

Where’s My Thing (part IV in the Gangster of Boats Trilogy) is another glimpse into the weird sense of humor of these guys. I often wish I could have listened in on some of their conversations.

Really, I’m not sure I can pick a least-favorite song on this album. It’s pretty much perfection. Ok, so I’m not a big fan of the “let’s list all the words we know that rhyme with -ica” section of Neurotica. But other than that, this is one that I can listen to again and again.

The many hats of a maintainer

This past weekend in Brussels I attended FOSDEM. It was one of the more productive FOSDEMs in recent memory, since I focused on valuable conversations, and attending talks that I thought directly related to what I do every day.

One such talk was Paris Pittman’s session, The Many Hats of a Maintainer: Organizational Design That Helps Reduce Them.

Paris needed more time, that much is clear. But in the time allotted, she focused on some hugely practical tips on how to empower open source community members (broadly, “maintainers”) to be more effective in things that they’re skilled at.

There’s really no way that I can summarize the talk, and I strongly encourage you to go watch it. The link above will link to the video once they are published.

But I took many pages of notes on one particular aspect of the talk, that I think I’m likely to spend a lot of time in the coming year trying to implement directly, specifically at the ASF. We have a tendency to toss people into the deep end at Apache (“Just make a contribution, everyone is welcome!!”) without much guidance, and without much recognition after the fact.

Paris talked about how titles are empowering, not just in personal affirmation, and in getting recognition from your employer for the value of open source participation, but, more basically, in terms of limiting scope. “Maintainer” (or whatever other catch-all word you like) implies doing it all, and far too many people in open source try to do it all.

Again, I don’t wish to try to summarize a brilliant talk, because there’s just too much. But this one simple idea of encouraging people to step into smaller, more narrowly defined roles (Reviewer, Documentor, Community Manager, Communications Lead, Security, and on and on) as well as celebrating folks who step down (Distinguished Contributor, Emeritus) rather than shaming them, can go a long way towards avoiding maintainer burnout, as well as encouraging beginners (I can’t do everything, but I can do *that*) to participate in roles that may grow over time.

Another note that I made, that I will hopefully be pursuing on the ASF community development side of things, is forming working groups, with regular check-in, so that the load is distrubited, and the licked cookies can be redistributed when they’re not making any progress.

I have a tendency to just go do stuff myself, because building consensus is *hard*. That leads, consistently, to three outcomes:

  1. The stuff doesn’t actually get done, because my list is long
  2. Nobody else does it either, because that’s Rich’s project
  3. I get super frustrated that nobody is helping, even though I created that situation myself, and know that I created it.

There must be a way for people to step into, and out of, a working group, to help move things along, with out it sitting solely on one person’s shoulders.

I don’t expect anyone will actually read this blog post, but I think by writing, and will follow up here over the coming months. Thank you, Paris, for an amazing talk. Every year at FOSDEM there’s one talk or conversation that makes the whole event worth it. Yours was one of several this year. (More blog posts to come on a few of the others.)

Permanent Waves: Rush week 4

I’m very late getting to this because I’ve been traveling.

I don’t have a lot to say about Permanent Waves. For one reason or another it’s not one of the albums that I think of as a coherent album. I couldn’t tell you what it’s *about* like I can for, say, Roll the Bones, Vapor Trails, or Counterparts.

It’s got some kicker songs on it, but I don’t know what they have to do with one another.

That said, it was a delight to listen to it again, afresh, over the last 2 weeks.

There’s two songs, in particular, that – I think due to the mix-tape-from-a-friend nature of my early Rush listening, I am very unfamiliar with. Entre Nous and Jacob’s Ladder, for some reason, never really entered my brain as part of the every day Rush playlist. Listening to them anew after all these years was interesting. Entre Nous is beautiful, both lyrically and musically, and I enjoyed listening to it again.

We are secrets to each other
Each one’s life a novel
No one else has read

Full lyrics here.

This sentiment is echoed in the much later song, Spindrift, as I aluded to a few weeks ago.

Jacob’s Ladder just sounds like it was a lot of fun to play, although I must admit that I don’t know what it’s about, and I need to make some time to actually read the lyrics.

Anyways, thanks again to Craig for doing this. It’s been a lot of fun.

The Hobbit (The Battle of Five Armies)

I suppose I owe my 4 readers an update on the third of the Hobbit movies.

We figured it couldn’t get worse, but we were wrong.

To quote directly from the original Hobbit: It was called the Battle of Five Armies, and it was very terrible. And boy howdy was it terrible.

At some point in the second movie we decided to try to view the movies as Hobbit-adjacent fan fiction, but in movie three they stopped even pretending that they had read the book, and just started making stuff up.

We use the term “chase scene” to refer to a scene that was gratitously added to a story to make it more exciting on screen. This comes from the bizarre chase scene that was added in the Jim Carrey animated Christmas Carol movie, which was invented from the air, and included a miniaturized Srooge (but why?) being chased by rats.

BoFA was all chase scene. Just so much chase scene. And the few parts that they got almost right, they still managed to get wrong. The wonderful scene when Thorin apologizes to Bilbo and begs him to part as friends, was beautifully acted, but happened at the wrong place and time, for no discernible reason.

Once again we kept asking ourselves, why would they change *that*?? Changes that made no sense, and added nothing to the story, the drama, or anything else. I just don’t understand.

Anyways, we’re glad it’s over, and we watched the  1977 animated made-for-TV Hobbit as a palate cleanser. It was *way* better.

The Hobbit (The Desolation Of Smaug)

We watched the second Hobbit movie last night and it was truly awful. It starts right after the Eagle rescue and ends with them inside the Lonely Mountain, and gets almost everything wrong. I could make a list but it’s really everything.

This movie felt like a huge wasted opportunity. One of the best short novels in English literature and they decided to just make up an alternate version.

Why is Legolas in this at all? Why is the Master of Laketown a villain with an evil sidekick? Why is Bard a barge pilot? Why is the entire time in Laketown so … weird? Why are Fili and Kili left behind in Laketown? What, in short, is going on here? Who looks at Tolkien and says, cute story but what if we changed everything.

Yes, we’re going to watch the third one. Why? Because one cannot simply look away from a train wreck.

The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey)

After several disappointing books in a row, I decided late last year to read some old favorites this year. I read The Hobbit on the flights to and from Boston earlier this month and started on Lord Of The Rings.

Last night, we watched “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, the 2012 movie. I vaguely remember watching it when it came out, and finding it baffling. I don’t think we actually finished it, because it was so weird. But we watched the whole thing last night. All three hours of it. And, yeah, it was weird.

There were four kinds of content in the movie:

  1. Stuff that was actually in the book, or could be said to be implied or inspired by the book (like, filler conversations that aren’t actually in the book, but are reasonable to assume happened).
  2. Stuff that is not in the book, but is in the other books (Lord Of The Rings, Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, etc, etc)
  3. Stuff that was just completely made up for no discernible reason
  4. Stuff that is in the book, but was skipped for no discernible reason

What was so jarring about the movie was that stuff in category 1 was just wonderful. It was beautiful, well acted, true to the book, and made me grin foolishly.

Stuff in category 2 was … ok, most of the time, but most of the time just seemed to distract from the simple storytelling that is The Hobbit.

And then there was category 3, which was … inexplicable, and stole all of the magic. What the heck was Radagast doing here? And what is up with his bunny sled? Why are the orcs showing up *before* the Misty Mountains? Just … why? It was all so unnecessary, and added *nothing* to the story.

Finally, the scenes that are left out, or changed in ways that made them so much worse.

Bilbo waking up in the morning, and rushing out without any encouragement from Gandalf was just not how it happened, and made that a lot less believable.

The way that Bilbo finds the ring stands out particularly, because it’s *such* an important scene, and was replaced with something that undoes a lot of the wonder of the book.

I’m trying very hard to view these movies as fan art, inspired by the book. I cannot figure out why they thought that this simple children’s story, which takes 2 or 3 hours to read, needed to become three extra-long movies. It feels like a disservice both to fans, and to people who had never read it, and now never will, because they made a simple story into an absurdly complicated epic. But we’re going to watch all three movies, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Caress of Steel (Rush, week 4)

The Rush album for week 4 is Caress of Steel. I have to say, this is not my favorite. I am aware that this is a common sentiment.

Bastille Day is just a weird topic for a band to write about. And Geddy’s voice in this is just so shouty.

I think I’m going bald is … cute. But as a teenager, it just didn’t strike me as a relevant topic. I tried to see the deeper meaning in it, and I suppose that now that I’m 50 I can see the “I’m getting older” theme here. And now that I’m grey, I’m definitely grey my way. Although I remember distinctly that in the album liner (which I no longer have, for some reason!) grey was spelled differently (grey/gray) the two times it was mentioned, which I wanted to be profound somehow, but just wasn’t.

And I was confused as to why there were two fantasy stories, that seemed unrelated, on the same album.

Looking back on it, I still love Fountain. I listened to that thousands of times that summer (not 1975 – it was probably 86 when I got my copy), and still find it beautiful.

Necromancer, less so. It wants to be about LOtR, but isn’t, somehow, and as a huge Tolkien geek, I find that very offputting.

So, I guess I’m saying, I like Lamneth, and I like Lakeside Park, but this just doesn’t hold together as an album, and I’m always disappointed when I try to listen to it as one. Just let me enjoy Lamneth, and leave it at that.

HOWEVER, I want to add, emphatically, that you should like what you like. I have zero time for the people on Rush Reddit that insist that their preference is the only truth. If you love it, that’s freaking awesome. Tell me everything about why.

Snakes and Arrows (Rush, week 3)

Snakes and Arrows is probably in my top 3 (which changes all the time so don’t ask) because it is a coherent album rather than a pile of songs. It tells a progression from despair through hope to determination. It was clearly crafted to tell a story.

  1. Far Cry – the world sucks and is worse than our parents promised.
  2. Armor and Sword – in fact, those parents – even the well meaning ones – are a large part of the problem for a lot of kids.
  3. Workin’ Them Angels – but, I also create a lot of hardship for myself.
  4. The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum) – and there is so much pain and injustice that makes it harder for those for whom it is already hard.
  5. Spindrift – even personal relationships are complicated and I don’t know how to get through to those closest to me
  6. The Main Monkey Business – instrumental jam!
  7. The Way the Wind Blows – we are doomed to repeat the errors of everyone around us
  8. Hope (instrumental) – yet, inexplicably, there is hope
  9. Faithless – I can rely on my own instincts, and try to make it better
  10. Bravest Face – maybe, you too can suck it up and try to make things better
  11. Good News First – quit whining and try to see the good in all this
  12. Malignant Narcissism – instrumental jam! Music is part of the solution!
  13. We Hold On – yes, it’s hard and things suck. But it’s up to you and me to make it better.

Yes this is a gross oversimplification. But there is a clear progression from despair through hope to determination and I absolutely love listening to this in the order it was published for that reason.

Several gems here.

The larger bowl is a pantoum which is a specific rhyme/poetry form that is surprisingly hard to write well. Look for more pantoums and you’ll find that they seldom hold together this well. Try to write your own and you’ll be even more impressed.

Armor and Sword is my wife’s favorite Rush song, far and away.

Hope is my favorite instrumental they’ve ever done. Just so gorgeous.

Individually some of these songs are just so dark and depressing but you have to hold on to the end.

(writing from Gordon Biersch in the Detroit airport. Will add album art when I get home.)

Oh and we saw them at Riverbend on this tour.

Update: it turns out, that although I have the live tour album on CD, I never actually bought the full snakes and arrows album on physical media. So I don’t have any album art to post.

Hemispheres (Rush, week 2)

As mentioned last week, we’re doing a Rush album every week this year.

This week was Hemispheres, and I have to admit … not my favorite.

I remember when I heard it the first time, and I was confused. The entire album has 4 tracks, and one of them is 18 minutes long, and is about … mythological gods. Also, the name – “Cygnus X-1 Book II” … where is book 1, and … what the heck? (No, I hadn’t heard FTK at this point.)

And, although it’s been more than 40 years since I heard it the first time, this was the first time I read through all the lyrics. It’s about the battle between various gods, and I feel like only Rush could get away with putting out a record like this. FWIW, there’s a brief explanation on Wikipedia.

On the other hand (on the other side), I always loved La Villa Strangiato, although I don’t think I have ever really understood what it’s about. It’s instrumental, with some simply amazing guitar bits.

Each section has a whimsical name that is apparently part of some elaborate inside joke between the band members.

I. Buenas Noches, Mein Froinds!
II. To sleep, perchance to dream…
III. Strangiato Theme
IV. A Lerxst in Wonderland
V. Monsters!
VI. Danforth and Pape
VII. The Waltz of the Shreves
VIII. Never turn your back on a Monster!
IX. Monsters! (Reprise)
X. Strangiato Theme (Reprise)
XI. A Farewell to Things

As a kid, of course, we didn’t have the Internet, and so the explanations of these headings were matters of speculation in letters between myself any my friend Kristina who had sent me the bootleg cassette from the US. I expect that Rush Reddit has all the answers here, but there’s a certain amount of nostalgia in my ignorance, than you very much.

So, some good memories, but definitely not the album that I go to first when I need a Rush fix. But Strangiato makes great background music when I’m working.