Saturday, December 31, 2011

Diamond Rugs - The Earl, Atlanta, December 29, 2011

At some point during Thursday night's Diamond Rugs show at The Earl, someone threw a beer can onto the stage.  It wasn't as aggressive an incident as it might sound, nor did it appear to be a comment on the band on stage (at least not a negative comment).  It hadn't been thrown directly at any particular musician (or if it had been, it fortunately didn't land near any one person), but appeared to be just rowdy participation by the crowd in the anarchic exuberance of the performance on stage.  

Since it hadn't hit anyone, most bands would likely have just ignored it and gamely played on.  Some bands, punk and metal musicians in particular, might have used it as an opportunity to stage dive into the audience  and exact their revenge.  On the other hand, one of the more twee bands touring these days might have stopped their performance altogether to lecture their audience on proper decorum, while the audience echoed their disapproval of the act.  

John McCauley, front man of the band Deer Tick and one of the principals behind Thursday night's Diamond Rugs collective, chose to let the band play on but picked the beer can up and bit into it, tearing a hole into the side of the can with his teeth and ripping off a big chunk of aluminum with his mouth.  After swilling down the remaining dregs left in the can, McCauley proceeded to toss the can off to the side of the stage, but spat the remaining chunk of aluminum over the heads of the crowd at the front of the stage.   The stage lights caught the arc of beer spray in the air and someone in the middle of the audience received a unique, if bizarre, souvenir for the show.

Mind you, this wasn't even the most outrageous on-stage antic by Mr. McCauley of the evening.  That distinction might have been either pouring an entire bottle of beer over his head while singing the line "Cut me off from alcohol" during Christmas In A Chinese Restaurant, or taking his pants off on stage to change into a pair of tighty cut-off shorts that had somehow appeared in front of him.  Instead, the beer-can incident was just but one of many spontaneous interactions between the band and the audience, and the many band members on the stage (I counted a dozen at one point) with one another.  Most of the audience didn't even react to the incident, but just kept bobbing along to the New Orleans-influenced blues-rock being played by Diamond Rugs.  Business as usual, apparently, for the rowdy band on stage.

That rowdy band on stage, Diamond Rugs, was fronted by Mr. McCauley of Deer Tick, Ian Saint Pe of Black Lips, and Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate, who opened with a nearly 60-minute set of their own before the Diamond Rugs set of equal length.  In addition to the usual drum and bass rhythm section, the three guitarists were backed on some songs by pedal steel guitar and on others by harmonica, sometimes heavily processed, and by a horn section that included Steve Berlin of :the band Los Lobos on baritone sax, when he wasn't otherwise playing keyboards.  The set also featured occasional guest vocalists and instrumentalists, including a guitar solo during the finale, a cover of a John Lee Hooker song, by the producer of their forthcoming album.

This was the first-ever public performance by Diamond Rugs.  Mr. Saint Pe noted the their debut  performance had sold out, and expressed his appreciation for people buying tickets to a show by a band that literally no one had ever heard.  However, at this point in their development, they had only rehearsed the songs on their forthcoming album, so they played through the entire recording in the order of the album.  Mr. Saint Pe, acting as the unofficial MC for the evening, announced the numerical sequence of each song before it was played, e.g., "This is Number Four, now."  Mr. McCauley assumed the role of color commenter to Saint Pe's play-by-play, telling the crowd which songs were his favorites and who wrote what, while Mr. Morris generally kept his mouth shut except to sing.  All three musicians, McCauley, Saint Pe, and Morris, are each fairly commanding frontmen in their respective bands, and it was interesting to watch the ways they interacted on stage, and to see the respect they all had for one another as well as the fun they were all obviously having.

Before the John Lee Hooker finale, the only non-album song of the night, Mr. McCauley sang his beer-drenched rendition of Christmas In A Chinese Restaurant, and told the audience that the band had wanted to book The Earl for Christmas Day for their debut performance, but could only manage to get Thursday, December 29, due to some prior engagements at the venue, time off for holidays, etc.  

Based on Christmas In A Chinese Restaurant, I can understand why they wanted to do a holiday show, but I have no idea why they chose Atlanta.  Deer Tick and John McCauley are from Rhode Island, and Saint Pe is from New Orleans (Saint Pe is probably responsible for the Big Easy influence on their sound). While Dead Confederate and Hardy Morris are based in Athens, Georgia, and the Diamond Rugs album was recorded in Nashville, both Deer Tick and Dead Confederate are scheduled to play a New Years Eve concert tonight at Brooklyn Bowl (a bowling alley, not an amphitheater) in New York.  It would have made a certain amount of sense for the band to debut in New York since they had to travel there anyway, but they had the good taste to chose the redoubtable Earl in East Atlanta Village instead.

The New Year's party at the Brooklyn Bowl will undoubtedly be a lot of fun, but unfortunately for the good people of Brooklyn, they won't get to see a show anything like what we experienced this week in Georgia. Although Los Lobos are playing the City Winery in Manhattan tonight, making Mr. Berlin potentially available for an after-hours gig, Black Lips are in New Orleans for  New Year's before heading out on tour in Thailand and Australia, precluding any possibility of a spontaneous Diamond Rugs show breaking out tonight.  I've heard no mention of a Diamond Rugs tour or any other performance dates.  For all I know, this might have been a one-time show, and I was lucky enough to have been there.  

Kind of makes me wish that I got that chunk of aluminum can as a souvenir.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Shokai's Top 10 Albums of 2011

Not that I imagine for a moment that anyone cares what a 50-something, almost 60-something, Zen Buddhist living in Atlanta, Georgia thinks are the 10 best albums of 2011 (let's be honest: I'm not in anybody's target demographic, but there's actually a lot of freedom in that - I can listen to whatever I want, without any peer pressure to like, or dislike, anything), but I went ahead and created my own "Top 10" list out of sheer self-indulgence anyway.

1.  The Decemberists, The King Is Dead

The pride of Portland comes in at Number One, if for no other reason (and there are a great many others, believe me) than I simply couldn't get their lovely songs, like June Hymn above, out of my head all year.  Plus, I'm so happy to see Sparklepony healthy and back on stage again.

2. The Antlers, Burst Apart

The Antlers, a band so nice, I got to see them twice - on the same day.  Back during MFNW, I saw their KEXP morning set where the above video was shot - you can see the back of my head in silhouette just to the right of Peter Silberman in several shots.  And then I got to see them again later that same day at Pioneer Courthouse Square.  And then I saw them a third time at the godforsaken Masquerade during Rocktober. They're that good, but you can hear for yourself by downloading an epic concert they performed at New York's Webster Hall on December 10 (free at NYC Taper).  Burst Apart is a perfect album, heartbreaking and beautiful.  Very few albums can bring me to tears and make me actually choke up the way Burst Apart does, except of course, their previous album, Hospice.

3.  Wilco, The Whole Love

Wilco are apparently incapable of putting out a bad album, and right now, after all these years, they are at peak form.  When you listen to One Sunday Morning, you know that you're in the hands of masters. And whoever put together this fan-produced video did a masterful job of matching their sound, too.  If you get the chance, check out their Daytrotter session, too - they absolutely knocked it out of the park.

4.  Other Lives, Tamer Animals

A major accomplishment in terms of sheer artistry.  It's hard to think of anything more ambitiously creative than this second album by Stillwater, Oklahoma's Other Lives.  Their performance at Atlanta's Drunken Unicorn was amazing and showed that music this complex can not only be played live, but made to sound even better than in the studio.  Perhaps after touring with Radiohead this spring, they'll start to get the recognition they deserve.

5.  Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues

I don't know how I missed listing the Fleet Foxes show at The Tabernacle in my Best Concerts of the Year list, but I wasn't going to make that mistake again and forget to list them in Albums of the Year.  And this video has to be one of the strangest animations since Disney's Fantasia.

6.  Death Cab For Cutie, Codes And Keys

An album I didn't think I was going to like as much as I did, and one that I didn't think I was going to listen to over and over again as many times as I did.

7.  Cults, Cults

My unofficial soundtrack for the summer of 2001.

8.  The Head And The Heart, The Head And The Heart

Their Variety Playhouse show did make it to my Best Of list, and for good reason.  Success couldn't happen to a nicer band.

9. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

The single Midnight City was huge, both in terms of sound with the epic opening lines and also in terms of success - it played on everything from the season finale of HBO's How To Make It In America to Victoria's Secret commercials.  But the major surprise was how nuanced and varied the album was in its wide range of moods and textures.  Instead of a dozen arena-sized anthems, M83 covered and uncovered the full range of possibilities of electronic music.

10.  Korallreven - An Album By Korallreven

While M83 amazed by showing that he could also play quiet, nearly ambient songs as well as arena-size crowd pleasers like Midnight City, Korallreven (Swedish for Coral Reef), who had released several quiet and reflective mixtapes, surprised everyone by releasing As Young As Yesterday, a huge, slab of block-busting electronica almost approaching dance music on their fine debut album.  Sa sa samoa, y'all.

Is there any denying that 2011 was another incredible year for music?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Diamond Rugs

Last we saw John McCauley (Deer Tick), he was crawling out a barroom window in Wellfleet, Massachusetts while performing an early rendition of Christmas In a Chinese Restaurant.  Here he is doing an acoustic version of the song:

In retrospect, it might have been more season-appropriate to post this version on Christmas Day rather than the barroom version.

Anyway, Mr. McCauley has apparently relocated to Nashville to work on a new spin-off band, Diamond Rugs ("Damn I Am On Drugs"), who are making their very first public appearance tonight at  (where else?) The Earl in East Atlanta Village.

I have tickets.

Diamond Rugs reportedly consist of Mr. McCauley (Deer Tick), Ian Saint Pe (Black Lips), and Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate) on vocals and guitar;  Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) on horns and keyboards;  Robbie Crowell (Deer Tick) on bass, saxophone, and keyboards; and Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite) on drums.  Guest musicians reportedly include Bryan Minto (harmonica), Bucky Baxter and Spencer Collum (pedal steel), Oscar Utterström (trombone), and JP Frappier (trumpet).  They have a record coming out in Spring 2012.

Dead Confederate are opening.

Tonight will also mark my first visit back to The Earl since Rocktober, and I'm looking forward to a delicious Earl-burger (side of fries, a pickle, and a Yuengling lager) almost as much as the show itself.  As it turns out, you can survive on a diet of rice and fruit, but an occasional caloric splurge from time to time doesn't hurt, either.  Given that today is the 29th of December, it's probably safe to say this will be my last visit to The Earl in 2011, but I already have tickets for next year, starting with Twin Sister on January 25.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

If the eye does not sleep, all dreaming will naturally cease.

 ~Seng-T'san, Hsin Hsin Ming~

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Koan

Imagine you're at the top of a 100-foot pole.

Do you thrive?

Or do you dive?

Monday, December 26, 2011

When Zen Master Hoe of Mt. Yogi (the founder of the Yogi branch of the Rinzai School) first became the abbot, the temple was dilapidated and the monks were troubled.  Therefore, an officer said it should be repaired.

The master said, "Even though the building is broken down, it is certainly a better place for practicing zazen than on the ground or under a tree. If one section is broken and leaks, we should move where there are no leaks to practice zazen. If monks could attain enlightenment by building a hall, we would construct one of gold and jewels. Enlightenment does not depend on whether the building is good or bad; it depends only upon our diligence in zazen."

The next day, in a formal speech he said, “I have now become the abbot of Yogi, and the roof and walls have many cracks and holes. The whole floor is covered with pearls of snow, the monks hunch their shoulders from the cold, and sigh in the darkness.”  After a pause he continued, “It reminds me of the ancient sages sitting under the trees.” 

Zen Master Ryuge (a disciple of Tozan Ryokai, the founder of the Soto School in China) said, “To study the Way, first of all, you learn poverty. After having learned poverty and become poor, you will be intimate with the Way.” 

Zen Master Dogen said, "From the time of Shakyamuni, up to the present day, I have never seen or heard of a true student of the Way who possessed great wealth." 

Dogen also said, "If someone aspires to practice the buddha-dharma, he will come and study it even if he has to cross mountains, rivers, and oceans. If he lacks such resolution, there is no certainty that he will accept it, even if I go and urge him (to practice it)."

(from Shobogenzo Zuimonki, 4-14 and 2-7)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Music, Reconsidered

Here's a Christmas song by Rhode Island's Deer Tick, performed out on Cape Cod at the Beachcomber Bar in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, back on August 25.  Nothing puts me in the Christmas spirit more than a shirtless, beer-swilling John McCauley in Margaritaville (and why did his band apparently crawl out the window in the middle of the song?).

But, funny thing.  It turns out that Mr. McCauley was just breaking in a new song for a spin-off band called Diamond Rugs ("Damn, I Am On Drugs," get it?).  Since the above performance, they've fleshed the song out and have released it as a single, now titled Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant, even though Diamond Rugs hasn't even played a single live show yet.  

So, Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant got me wondering - what other new Christmas songs are out there?  We've already heard The Mountain Goats sing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, so what else is left?  What's been released this year for Christmas, especially on the indie scene?

Lots as it turns out.  Here's Zooey Deschanel, the She of She & Him, and some guy (Who cares about Him, when She is Zooey Deschanel?) singing The Christmas Waltz:

Maybe you prefer Jessica Lea Mayfield and her song Little Toy Trains:

Our our old friends and Rocktober favorite Wye Oak declare Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day:

On the other hand, The Active Set assert that Making Out Is the Best Part of Christmas:

My Morning Jacket's Jim James joins our old friends and other Rocktober favorite The Head and the Heart to channel Hank Williams, Sr. in When the Bells Start Ringing:

Moody Seattle singer-songwriter, MFNW closer, and fellow Pickwick fan Damian Jurado channels Charlie Brown and Vince Guaraldi  for Christmas Time Is Here:

But wait!  There's more!  Here's Brite Futures performing Last Christmas:

And here are The Barr Brothers singing Dear Mrs Claus:

Then there are the holiday classics, starting with The Hurricane Bells covering Alvin and the Chipmunks:

Singer Rachel Platten in Dr. Seuss territory:

The Phantom Halo Band cover The Who:

Vanessa Carlton covers John Lennon:

And one of my favorites, the almost impossibly great Girl In a Coma, covering the King himself:

But if it's traditional classics you want, here's Oh Holy Night by Warm Ghost (but don't be surprised if it takes you a while to recognize it):

Which brings us to the electronic-music portion of the proceedings.  The Santa-nature is as present in the synthesizer as it is in the sleigh bell, so here's Body Language performing Holiday:

Do I have the remix?  Hell, yeah, I have the remix:

I'm not done by a far shot (no end in sight!).  Here are some terrific originals by some talented songwriters, starting with Dustin Krensue performing Christmas Baby Please Come Home:

The band Eyes Lips Eyes apparently  Slept In Through Christmas:

while Meiko shot her man, but managed to make a sultry Christmas song about it called Maybe Next Year (listen for the God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen riff):

Summer Fiction celebrate Christmas Eve For Two (and a little doo-wop):

The always entertaining Fitz and the Tantrums contribute Santa Stole My Lady:

And saving what may well be the best for last, Low composed an original that has become one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs ever, Just Like Christmas.  Bonus points for the sleigh bells:

We'll end with a blast from the past.  Back in the far, misty recesses of time, in a decade some call "The 1990s," a band called Morphine released their Christmas song, the characteristically moody (for them) Sexy Christmas Baby Mine:

Deck the hall, y'all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

The Mountain Goats, apparently, would like to wish you a Merry Christmas.

So does Shokai.  But like John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) at the 2:35 mark of his song, I find it so hard to do without a touch of cynicism. The source of that cynicism I find hard to identify - I've not experienced any Christmas tragedies (far from it) and don't have any suppressed Christmas traumas (of which I'm aware), but I find it hard not to at least raise an eyebrow when saying "Merry Christmas."

Maybe I resent having to be so goddamn cheerful and full of good will that day.  Hey, I like cheer as much as the next man, and I'm nothing if not all about good will toward men (and the ladies, too).  But maybe I just don't want to have to be in a jolly mood on that particular day, and I resent having to lie to friends, colleagues, and co-workers (as if. . . ) about what a wonderful time I had on Christmas day.  For the record, New Year's Eve is almost as bad, but at least New Year's doesn't have the sanctimony. 

I spent most of my Christmas Eve continuing to work on the three reports I have to produce by the end of the year.  I'm close to wrapping them up and very likely could by tomorrow, and it will make me happy to complete them, but for some reason the fact that I'll be working on Christmas Day seems to disappoint some people.  Ironically, many of those same people don't seem disappointed that their waitstaff and cashiers are working in the restaurants and businesses they visit during the holiday.  But there goes my cynicism again.

But I can also take the higher road.  Christmas is our culture's celebration of charity, of good intentions, of kind words, and of love.  Whatever your feelings about Christianity, there has still got to be something in the holiday for you, regardless of your beliefs - or lack thereof.

Even athiests should agree that peace of earth isn't exactly a bad thing.

"If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate . . . the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world, at peace," Franklin D. Roosevelt, a great American, once said.

So, even though the eyebrow's reflexively raised, in the spirit of FDR, I wish you all a happy Christmas, and peace on earth and good will towards all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Prince Rama

Oh, look.  Our girlfriends over at Prince Rama have released a new video for their song Summer of Love.  I reached nirvana by the 5:07 mark, anuttara samyak sambodhi by 5:39.

Your results may differ.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Three Meals


Another morning in samsara nirvana.  Thursday starts like most mornings with my obligatory cup of coffee, black, a bagel (plain), a banana, yogurt, and a muffin.

What I hadn't really thought through was that working on my own from a home office meant that I would be spending entire days home alone, with no company but for two cats, television / radio / internets, and some newspapers and magazines.  Not the most sociable, but doesn't interfere with productivity.

Lunch for the day was a comfort-food bowl of some sort of chicken soup and some crackers.

I have three reports to write for a client regarding three separate facilities that I visited last week.  The deadline is fairly short for this kind of thing, but I've already completed the text for two of them, and I've still got a week to complete the third and tie up the loose ends.  I worked way past 5:00 on the reports, and then finally made myself some

which in this case was rice fortified with some lentil beans (or lentil beans fortified with some rice if you prefer), spiced up with a little tabasco.  Stick-to-your-ribs goodness.

And to think, I get to do this for the rest of the year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011 Movies of the Year

Fist of all, I'll admit right off that I didn't go to all that many movies in 2011 (I'm more of a concert guy), so this list will be pretty short.  In fact, even if I listed every movie that I went to in 2011, I still wouldn't have half of a "Top 10" list.

But what I did see, I liked. A lot.  So we'll start with the beginning, the beginning of everything, as depicted by director Terence Malick in The Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life has to be the most artistically ambitious movie of this young century, yet at the same time incredibly meditative, thought-provoking and moving.  The sequence above is but a part of the response (and only a part of the response) to a demand, "Who are we to you? Answer me!" put by a family's mother to God himself (the question can be heard echoed in this clip, between the 1:20 and 1:45 marks, and again between 5:55 and 6:25).  Be careful what you ask, as the answer may alter your perception of the very universe.

From the beginning of the world to the end of everything, as depicted in director Lars Von Trier's Melancholia.  Because of their thematic and emotional differences, I didn't realize how parallel these two movies were, with their classical scores and non-linear plotting and extended wordless scenes of the cosmos, until I started putting this year-end post together.  Here's the opening sequence of Melancholia, considered by many the best part of the film, starting with a absolutely devastating close-up of an emotionally destroyed  Kirsten Dunst.

Between these two first two films, this post is threatening to collapse under its own weight before I can even complete it.  

Also beautifully photographed and very well acted is 2011's Hanna, starring the astonishing 17-year-old Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, of 2009's The Lovely Bones (which I didn't see until this year and could fit right in with the rest of these films).

Unlike the first two films, Hanna actually has a plot you can follow and action sequences and, unlike Melencholia at least, likable characters.  It's also simply beautiful to look at and suspenseful and interesting, and hence has made it onto my "Best of 2011" list.  Here's the official trailer for Hanna, which is a pretty good summary for those who've seen the movie, but barely even hints at how good this film is for those who haven't.

So that's my Top 3 list for 2011, culled from the 4 or 5 movies that I've actually seen this year.  But despite the low numbers, I don't need to see any more movies in 2012 if I can see three films this good again.

Monday, December 19, 2011

60 minutes of zazen this evening, followed by 45 minutes of discussion, followed by a Thai dinner with a small group of the regular attendees. A winter solstice break from the usual routine - today's the shortest Monday of the year, and the longest Monday night of the year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Another Day In Workers' Paradise

Another weekend work day, going through 3,700-odd pages of reports, memoranda and field notes for an upcoming case on which I've been asked to give an opinion.  It's been said that those who are self-employed have a real slave-driver for a boss, and I'm starting to understand.  I'm working as hard as ever, but enjoying it more.  I have no idea how long this avalanche of work that's landed on me will last, but I intend to work every hour of it I can get to while it does.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Wolfgang Zeikat for sending me the picture above.  The picture below has been hanging around in my For Posting cache for months now, obviously waiting for this opportune moment (it's a satire in case that's not clear).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In the Company of Lawyers

No rest for the weary - I worked on a Saturday morning today, meeting with an attorney at his office to go over an upcoming litigation case, and began my review of the nearly 4,000 pages of documents he gave me (electronically) for most of the rest of the day.  I'm just taking a little sanity break right now, but will resume the review later tonight and tomorrow - depositions are scheduled for Monday afternoon.

I have been criticized by some for working with lawyers and for providing testimony in exchange for compensation.  However, Zen Master Dogen once said, "Suppose someone comes to you to talk about his business and asks you to write a letter to solicit something from someone, or to help him in a lawsuit, etc. You may feel you should turn down his request on the grounds that you are not a person of the secular world, that you have retired and have nothing to do with mundane affairs, and that it is not appropriate for a recluse to say something that is not suitable to lay people.  Although this may seem like the way of a recluse, you should examine your deeper motivation. If you rejected the request because you consider yourself a monk who has left the secular world and people might think ill of you if you say something unsuitable for a recluse, this still shows attachment to fame and profit." 

We should carefully consider each situation we are faced with, Dogen advised, and do those things which would bring even a little benefit to the persons who are before us, without concern for what people will think. Even if we are to become estranged from our friends or quarrel with them because they say we did something bad and unbecoming of a monk, it is not important.  Dogen thought it would be better to break off with such narrow-minded people. 

Even though outwardly it may seem to other people that one is doing something improper, the primary concern should be to inwardly break off attachment and throw away any desire for fame. Buddhas and  bodhisattvas have cut off even their own flesh and limbs when someone asked them for help. "How much more," Dogen taught, "should you be willing to help someone who merely asks you to write a letter."  If we reject the request out of concern for our own reputation, we are showing deep attachment to our own ego.

"If you throw away your concern for fame and bring even a little benefit to others, you correspond with the true Way,"  Dogen said.  His primary concern was to cast aside the desire for fame and ego-attachment in all situations.

Dogen's disciple Ejo agreed that while it is alright to tell others what is good and beneficial for them, "how about the case in which someone wants to take another’s property by some evil means, or someone tries to slander another? Should we still transmit such messages?” 

Dogen replied, “It is not for us to decide whether it is reasonable or not. We should explain to the person that we are sending the letter because someone asked us to do so, and tell him to deal with it reasonably. The person who receives the letter and has to deal with the problem should decide whether it is right or wrong."

If I am truthful and honest in my testimony, and express my opinions on the matter before me in a straightforward and truthful way, how am I doing wrong, even if someone profits from that opinion?  Even if I am compensated for expressing that honest opinion?  It would be wrong to be deceitful or to express opinions that are outside of my field.

If you have a friend, Dogen advised, who respects you and whom you feel you could not go against, and he requests your support to do something wrong, listen to his request once, and in your letter write that you have been asked importunately, and that the matter should be dealt with reasonably. If you treat each situation in this way, no one will hold a grudge.

"You must consider things like this very meticulously in every encounter or situation." 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Other Lives

Now that we're past the halfway mark of the last month of the year, I think it's now safe to post a "year's best" selection.  Of all of the many concerts I've seen this year, I don't know if I can unequivocally say that the October 6 show by Other Lives at the Drunken Unicorn was the best (I'm not even sure how one defines "best"), but I can definitively say that it was the most memorable.  I can also add that it is the one I would most like to repeat.  

They're going on tour next year with Radiohead, and as much as I would like to see Other Lives again and as much as I like Radiohead, they're playing in Phillips Arena, the Atlanta Hawk's cavernous home court, and I'll likely pass.  Part of what was so great about the October 6 show was that it was in the tiny basement that's the Drunken Unicorn, and the sense of intimacy that was achieved for the crowd of a hundred or so won't even be approximated at Phillips.

Here's a full concert video of an Other Lives show in France.  Enjoy.

Postscript:  I can't post the "Best Concert of the Year" without mentioning The Head and The Heart at Variety Playhouse, Blind Pilot at Portland's Crystal Ballroom, The Antlers' morning set at The Doug Fir, Austra at The Earl, Beirut in Athens,  Motopony at Bumbershoot, and whoever's playing right this moment somewhere near you.  The list really goes on and on.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Geology of Georgia - Part Four of a Very Occasional Series

The Potato Creek and Rock Hawk Effigy

The metamorphic rocks of the Georgia Piedmont consist of two enormous stacks of folded thrust sheets. The upper stack, referred to as the Little River thrust stack, occurs to the south of the lower thrust stack, the Georgiabama, and underlies much of the Piedmont near the Fall Line.  The Little River thrust stack has been divided into the Macon Complex, the Little River Complex, and the Northern Florida platform sequence. 

The Macon Complex is a tectonic mélange that underlies an area more than 300 miles long and 60 miles wide. As such, the Macon Complex represents the largest mélange known in the Appalachians and one of the largest Paleozoic mélanges known in the world, comparable in size and complexity with the enormous Franciscan mélange of coastal California and Oregon.

Much of the Macon Complex is a chaotic mixture of well rounded to angular clasts to slabs of contrasting rock types “floating” in a highly deformed matrix.  The complex was subsequently intruded by Devonian and Carboniferous granitic plutons, such as the Siloam and Elberton granites. Much of the remainder of the complex consists of metapelitic rocks and metagraywacke.

Mike Higgins identified three separate units within the Macon Complex: the Juliette, the Po Biddy, and the Falls Lake mélanges.  The Juliette mélange includes a body of rock Higgins called the Potato Creek facies.  The Potato Creek is characterized by an abundance of clastic rocks and the local presence of thin tuffaceous metacherts, and contains clasts ranging in size from small fragments seen in thin sections to mile-long slabs, and ranging in shape from well rounded to angular. The matrix of the Potato Creek is essentially an imbricate complex of the following:
1. Massive (but broken), coarse-grained, feldspathic, biotitic metagraywacke
2. Metamorphosed pebbly mudstones
3. Semi-schists with thin, broken metagraywacke beds
4. Thin tuffaceous metacherts interbedded with scaly schist
The Macon Complex apparently developed on the oceanward side of an ancient island arc off the coast of  the proto–North American continent. Higgins suggested that many of the rock bodies in the Macon Complex are clasts of oceanic crust and mantle off-scraped and incorporated into the mélange as proto–North America collided with a continent on the opposite side of the proto–Atlantic Ocean. The tuffaceous metacherts and scaly schists of the Potato Creek (number 4 above) were probably deep-sea sediments initially deposited onto the ocean floor and later off-scraped and incorporated into the mélange along with trench sediments. The metagraywackes (1 and 3 above) and associated metamorphosed pebbly mudstones (2 above) probably represent clastic continental sediments deposited on top of the mélange wedge and imbricated into it.

Geologic evidence indicates that many of the rocks in the Juliette mélange were emplaced during very latest Precambrian to early Late Cambrian time. Early Devonian metamorphism represents the time of collision and of thrusting of the rocks to their present positions on the Southern Piedmont.  The Siloam and Elberton granitic plutons subsequently intruded the rocks later in the Devonian and during the Carboniferous.

The Rock Hawk Effigy is an archaeological site in Putnam County, Georgia, within the area underlain by the Potato Creek.  The Rock Hawk Effigy consists of thousands of pieces of quartzite laid in the shape of a large bird. Although it is most often referred to as a hawk, scholars do not know exactly what type of bird the original builders intended to portray. Only two such effigy mounds have been found east of the Mississippi River. The other, known as Rock Eagle, is also located in Putnam County, approximately thirteen miles to the northwest. The Rock Hawk site is located along Wallace Dam Road, off State Route 16, several miles east of Eatonton, near the shores of Lake Oconee.

Current archaeology suggests that the site was built between 1,000 and 3,000 years ago by Woodland Indians. These Native Americans may have been part of the Adena or Hopewell cultures, although it is more likely that they represented a unique group. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Geology of Georgia - Part Three of a Very Occasional Series

Soapstone Ridge

Let's see, now - I haven't added an installation to the Geology of Georgia series since May 2, 2010, some seventeen months ago, so I guess this still qualifies as a very "occasional" series.  Not that there aren't other things to discuss, but then again there's no reason not to discuss the geology of the Peach State either.

In southwest DeKalb County, just to the south of I-285, Atlanta's Perimeter Highway, is Soapstone Ridge, a 25-square-mile structural complex with summit elevations over 1,000 feet above mean sea level.  Soapstone Ridge is but one of the many high areas in an area referred to as the Winder Slope District of the Southern Piedmont Physiographic Province.  The generally gently-rolling topography of the Winder Slope District is dissected by the headwaters of major streams draining to the Atlantic Ocean, and numerous dome-shaped, granitic mountains, such as Georgia's Stone Mountain, are located on the interfluves of the rivers.

Soapstone Ridge, although not dome-shaped and not granitic, is another of the District's interfluvial summits.  The South River, a southeast-flowing tributary to the Ocmulgee River (which, in turn, flows to the Altamaha River, which, in turn, flows to the Atlantic), passes under I-285 in southwest DeKalb County.  The high elevations of Soapstone Ridge divert the South River, and the river marks the northern boundary of Soapstone Ridge over much of its area.  

Bedrock beneath Soapstone Ridge is a chaotic mixture of mafic and felsic rocks, consisting mainly of light-green-weathering amphibolites intimately interlayered with light-gray to nearly white gneisses and schists. Pods of very dense, resistant ultramafic rocks are also abundant, contributing to the rugged topography of Soapstone Ridge.

Mike Higgins and Bob Atkins gave the rock beneath Soapstone Ridge the appropriate-enough name "Soapstone Ridge Complex," and considered it to be a large ophiolitic sheet of mostly ultramafic rock (ophiolites are sequences of rock thought to represent oceanic crust).  Higgins envisioned the Soapstone Ridge Complex as part of a large sheet of oceanic crust thrust up onto and above the crystalline rock of much of the Southern Piedmont, although only widely scattered remnants were now left due to either erosion or breakup of the sheet during transport and emplacement, or both.  Other remnants of the sheet were thought to occur in Alabama as the Goodwater and Boyd's Creek ultramafic-mafic complexes, as well as the Doss Mountain amphibolite and Slaughters metagabbro.

However, subsequent work by Higgins and others showed that the bedrock beneath Soapstone Ridge was not all that unique, but part of another Georgia lithologic unit named the Paulding Volcanic-Plutonic Complex by (who else?) Mike Higgins.  Like the "Soapstone Ridge Complex," the Paulding Volcanic-Plutonic Complex is essentially an all igneous unit, devoid of clastic metasedimentary rocks; however, an abundance of mafic and ultramafic blocks and slabs in the Soapstone Ridge exposure initially disguised its actual identity.  The name "Soapstone Ridge Complex" was later formally abandoned by Higgins.

Interestingly, rocks of the Paulding Volcanic-Plutonic Complex at Soapstone Ridge are surrounded by Stonewall Gneiss, which forms a sheath of rocks around the Paulding, with the Soapstone Ridge rocks the "knife" in a large sheath of folded Stonewall Gneiss.

So there's that.  For such dense rock that's so resistant to erosion, the Paulding rocks on Soapstone Ridge are covered by a surprisingly deep mantle of reddish-brown residual soil, easily excavated by a backhoe.  Test pits within the material reached the 10-foot arm length of the backhoe without any indication of hard bedrock, yet the ridge still rises high above I-285 and the South River beyond.

In case you've never looked into ten-foot test pits dug into the Paulding Volcanic-Plutonic Complex on top of Soapstone Ridge before, like I did for much of today, here you go:

Curiously, most archeological sites in the Atlanta area are located at and around soapstones not in the Pauling (former "Soapstone Ridge Complex") but in the surrounding Stonewall Gneiss.  Because of the refractive qualities of the soapstones within the Stonewall, and because of its ease in sculpting bowls, cooking utensils, and heat-retaining devices thought to have been used as bed-shelter-food warmers, most soapstone bodies within the Stonewall are archeological sites.  Bowl fragmets can reportedly be found at many sites (I've never found one), and occasional bowl blanks can be found still attached to the rock.