Friday, December 31, 2010

White Christmas in a winter wonderland

Christmas Day 
Albert Lea, Minn.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white.
~ From "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin

Like the Irving Berlin classic song "White Christmas," there's something special about being able to spend Christmas Day in a winter climate, enjoying the snow on the ground and the nip in the air.  It was a moment in time captured during a nice walk to a nearby park following a hearty holiday breakfast.

A walk in Lakeview Park / Christmas Day scene in Albert Lea, Minn.

Last week, my wife and I spent our first Christmas Day in Minnesota ~ our home state ~ since 2000.  This year, our schedules permitted holiday travel, and we took full advantage of the opportunity.

Winter on Fountain Lake / One of Minnesota's 10,000 frozen lakes.

It was a very enjoyable wintry experience for us in Albert Lea, Minn., about 90 miles south of the Twin Cities.  We came prepared for winter and properly attired for our cold weather escapade, complete with our Lands End winter-weight parkas and boots, cable-knit scarves and colorful knitted mittens we bought years ago at a market bazaar during a visit to Estonia.

A winter wonderland / Fresh snow glistens on the trees.

And, of course, there was the warmth of Christmas Day spent indoors with family, opening presents, sharing good conversation around the fireplace, and enjoying delicious food. There was plenty of delicious food.

A white Christmas in a winter wonderland ... priceless.

Safe travels.  Happy 2011.  Cheers!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

With Christ as my Hope

Rain or sunshine, my day is always brightened when I have a chance to attend Sunday Eucharist at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.  I always enjoy attending church this time of the year.  'Tis the season.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent / Grace Cathedral

Last Sunday, my wife and I took the opportunity to attend the Fourth Sunday in Advent service.  The hymns were inspiring ~ it felt good to sing along even though I was starting to feel the effects of a winter cold ~ and the homily delivered by the Very Rev. Rowan Smith, Dean Emeritus of St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town, South Africa was meaningful.

A chance for self reflection / Inside Grace Cathedral

Advent provides us with an opportunity for self reflection, a chance for reconnecting with distant family and friends, a time for hope and prayer.  It's a challenge to balance secular with sacred.  

While I try not to be all consumed by the commercialization of the holiday season, sometimes, there are rewards.  OK, I'll admit that our gifts to each other this year were iPhones, something we had been thinking about purchasing for a long time.  The iPhone is a modern wonder of technology that will forever change the way we communicate with family and friends and connect with the world.  So, I look at this in a positive manner, a self-reward, and maybe ~ just maybe ~ a necessity.

With family and friends / Enjoying the season

Soon, we will be getting together with family to celebrate Christmas and to enjoy the holiday season with friends, too. There will be singing and worshiping, and food ~ lots of food to nourish our body and soul.  Hopefully, the Christmas holiday will provide everyone with a chance to unwind, relax and be free of stress.

In the days ahead, we look forward to visiting a couple of Bay Area museums, treating ourselves to a few of our favorite things.  Before we know it, 2011 will arrive.

Merry Christmas / Happy New Year

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to send best wishes to you and your family for a safe and happy holiday, and may the New Year bring you much peace, joy and happiness.

Photos of Grace Cathedral and Palace Hotel Christmas tree by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

An evening with MTT and the Symphony

The city is built,
To music, therefore never built at all,
And therefore built forever.
~ Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King

San Francisco's symphony space / Davies Symphony Hall.

In both sight and sound, music moves us toward beauty ~ and, in a city full of beautiful imagery, we are blessed with a lovely symphony space to enjoy classical music. And, in Michael Tilson Thomas, we have a dynamic and visionary music director to conduct our San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

The maestro / Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFSO.

My wife and I spent part of our holiday season last Friday at Davies Symphony Hall in the San Francisco civic center, enjoying an evening of fine classical music performed by the SFSO.  It's something culturally we like to treat ourselves to every so often, just like we enjoy the culture and atmosphere of seeing a Giants baseball game in person.

Holiday color / Christmas trees added to the decor.

On this December evening, Davies was decked out in splendid holiday colors ~ a pastiche of greens and reds ~ and the Christmas trees in the lobby, donated and decorated by businesses and organizations from across the city, added to the festive atmosphere.

Lots of greens and reds, and Cal Bears, too! /
Each Christmas tree had a different theme.

Our seats in Section L of the First Tier afforded us a good sight line of the Symphony, and especially of Maestro Thomas and the concert's featured soloist, violinist Gil Shaham.  We've seen the young and artistic Shaham (age 39) perform a couple of times over the years with the Symphony ~ the last time in 2009 when he masterfully performed the Berg Violin Concerto ~ and he and Thomas (age 65) always strike a nice rapport.  They are like a couple of happy, old friends when they're on stage together.  A wink and a nod go a long way between these two.

The featured soloist and the Stradivarius / Gil Shaham and MTT.

After the Symphony performed Henry Cowell's Synchrony from 1930 to open the concert, Shaham arrived on stage with his 1699 Countess Polignac Stradivarius violin in tow to perform Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major K. 219.  Composed in 1775, its performance provided an occasion for a bit of wit and ingenuity as well as for an open tempo.  Shaham's virtuosity showed throughout the piece and his playing evoked many emotions: feelings of hope, joy, love and happiness.

The composer and the conductor / John Adams and MTT.

Following intermission, the Symphony concluded the concert with the dynamic and percussive Harmonielehre, a three-movement, contemporary classical piece for large orchestra written in 1985 by the American composer John Adams, whom MTT invited out on stage for a bow following its conclusion. The two, along with the Symphony, received multiple standing ovations. 

The City comes alive at night / Holiday-hued San Francisco City Hall. 

Like an enjoyable buffet, there was a little something for every one's aural pallette on this holiday night at the symphony and we left feeling nourished and satisfied.  The sights and sounds of the City always come alive at night.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Guilty pleasures for a rainy, December evening

A steady rain has pounded the Bay Area all day long. We get rain this time of year while our friends and family in Minnesota get to deal with shoveling snow and enduring bitter-cold, freezing temperatures. Our favorite TV meteorologist predicted today's miserable, late autumn Bay Area forecast during last night's broadcast. So, it's not a big surprise. At least the weekend will be nice.

Misery loves company and until the rain lets up and the weather improves, I'm thinking: "What better way to pass a dreary evening than by staying home and enjoying the company of a few guilty pleasures ..."


a good glass of wine ...

2005 Vintage Layer Cake Shiraz

great comfort food ...

Homeroom Mac + Cheese

and a delicious chocolate bar for dessert.

B.T. McElrath Chocolatier milk chocolate bar

Throw in an interesting book ~ I'm currently reading A.J. Liebling's Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris ~ or, perhaps, play your iPod on shuffle mode, and you've got the perfect solution to turning a negative evening into a positive one.  It's all about attitude and atmosphere, right?

I'm sure everyone has their own way of coping with dreary weather.  What's yours?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CNN International: Connecting the world

Have you ever wanted to see what's possible when you seek a world beyond your own?  Take the world of international news, for instance.  Sometimes, you just need to know where to look.

Becky Anderson, host of CNN International's Connect the World. 

"News isn't just about what you see on TV," says Becky Anderson, host of Connect the World, a nightly prime-time program originating from CNN's London bureau.  In an advertisement for the world-wide TV network, CNN International, she adds: "It's about connecting the world with different views and new discoveries."

Whether reporting from bureaux in London, Abu Dhabi or Hong Kong, CNN International's on-going mission ~ its raison d'etre ~ is all about going beyond borders to report the day's biggest stories. "Go beyond the impossible," is one of CNN International's current slogans.

I'm happy to report that CNN International delivers its news and information brand in an intelligent ~ albeit sometimes irreverent ~ manner and, unlike their American cousin, CNN (based in Atlanta), the international version keeps their opinions in check.

I recently discovered a reliable Internet link to watch CNN International.  I invite you to check it out and see for yourself.  You just might come away with a fresh and different perspective about the news.

Last week, while the U.S. awaited Bristol Palin's fate in Dancing With the Stars, some of the biggest stories CNN International covered in depth included:
* the NATO Summit in Lisbon;
* the saga and tragedy of the New Zealand coal mining disaster;
* the unfolding of Ireland's economic crisis.

CNN International recently featured an exclusive interview
with Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. 

The international network also trumpeted an exclusive, 23-minute interview with recently released Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.  Highlights of the interview (which first aired on Nov. 19) were packaged and shown throughout the day on several of CNN International's news programs, including: International Desk, Prism and News One.

This week, there's been plenty of ongoing coverage on CNN International about:
* the WikiLeaks disclosure of secret U.S. diplomatic documents;
* the winter weather blast hitting the United Kingdom and western Europe;
* World AIDS Day activities.

Hala Gorani hosts International Desk on CNN International.

Whether focusing on politics, technology, infrastructure, architecture, or the arts, CNN International covers many different but important bases very well.  Call it an exercise in expanding one's horizons.  Among its many monthly, featured programs which "go beyond borders" are:  Talk Asia, Urban Planet, I-List, Icons, Inside the Middle East, Business Traveller, Going Green and Earth's Frontiers.  On the current, 30-minute episode of Earth's Frontiers, one of the program's segments focused on how to balance commerce and conservation in Australian wilderness tourism areas.

While CNN International enjoys a great amount of autonomy from CNN Center headquarters in Atlanta, it's programming also includes American favorites such as Larry King Live and Anderson Cooper 360, as well as Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room, some of them airing live others pre-recorded. Also, its news programs air some of the same news stories and utilize some of the same field reporters that appear on the U.S. version of CNN.

Richard Quest hosts the lively business program Quest Means Business.

One of CNN International's signature programs is Quest Means Business, a nightly one-hour business news program that originates in London and is hosted by Richard Quest.  On Quest Means Business, the lively and talkative host gets to the right people, asks the right questions, and ~ not surprisingly ~ all at the right time.  Quest Means Business airs at 19:00 in London (2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT).  Over the course of an hour, it's not uncommon for the bespoke-attired Quest to weave together interviews and stories that combine elements of business, politics, lifestyle and sport.  Unfortunately, it's a program you won't see on CNN in the U.S., which is too bad.  I think Quest would play well for an American audience.  Who doesn't like an English accent?  Still, you've got to admire a host whose regular sign-off each weekday evening is catchy, if not memorable: "Whatever you're up to in the coming hours, I hope it's profitable."

At CNN International, even the weather has a world perspective.

After watching several hours of CNN International programming over the past couple of weeks, it's easy to get hooked on it, not only for its quality and its voice, but also its cultural perspective.  And, there's something pretty amazing about seeing an international weather forecast that includes Iceland, Turkey and Vietnam, too.  Plus, the commercials it airs are much more interesting and informative, from advertisers such as the Qatar Foundation, Turkish Airlines, Unido and South Korea's 2022 World Cup bid.

The differences between CNN International and CNN U.S. are clear and evident.  For one, CNN International isn't driven by ratings and, for the most part, its programs are the stars not its presenters ~ except, maybe, for Richard Quest.  Also, CNN International is not a politically slanted brand, like Fox News or MSNBC, because it's not in the business of covering all things U.S.A. or acting as a political mouthpiece or operative. Instead, it's a world-wide network watched by English-speaking citizens and travelers of the world, who happen to be in or reside in places such as Sydney, Doha, Helsinki and Paris.

CNN International wants us to Go Beyond Borders.

CNN International is a risk-taker, willing and able to air longer, in-depth, relevant pieces that deliver a different angle on the news.  It's news for the thinking-person, English-speaking world that's beamed around the planet 24/7/365.  Always there.

Yes, understanding the world is within our grasp.  Sometimes, you just have to go beyond borders.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

2010 Beaujolais Nouveau: A return to classic

2010 Beaujolais Noveau
A return to classic, bygone Beaujolais

"Beaujolais Nouveau Day" is celebrated annually on the third Thursday of November with the release of a new year's product, often only a few weeks after harvest.  Beaujolais Nouveau is a lightweight red wine made from Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc grapes and is produced in the Beaujolais region of France.  It is intended for immediate drinking and not for investment.

I am happy to report that we bought two bottles of 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau last week to enjoy during the Thanksgiving holiday, purchased from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley, Calif. ( ~ arguably, one of the outstanding wine merchants in the country, let alone just in the Bay Area.

The bottle (pictured) that we are currently drinking is from Cédric Vincent, which according to the Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant newsletter is "a return to the roots" ... "a return to classic, bygone Beaujolais, thanks to conditions that used to be typical but have since become rare: a long, cool growing season followed by a late harvest."

Enjoying a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau is simply a good excuse for a good time ~ and, a nice complement with any home-cooked meal, or to serve with Thanksgiving leftovers.


Photograph by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why not the Moon?

Fly me to the Moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
on Jupiter and Mars
In other words, hold my hand
In other words, baby, kiss me.

From: "Fly Me to the Moon," lyrics by Bart Howard (1954), recorded by Frank Sinatra (1964) for the album It Might as Well Be Swing with the Count Basie Orchestra, arranged by Quincy Jones.

How high the Moon?

Friday marked the 41st anniversary of Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean becoming the third and fourth humans to walk on the Moon as their Oceanus Procellarum (the "Ocean of Storms") landed on the lunar surface.  No longer unchartered space in the New Frontier, I guess man on the moon is a 20th century exploration ~ been there, done that. After all, we stopped sending our astronauts to the Moon in 1972.

Yet, those iconic images of man's first landing on the Moon, way back in 1969 ~ "The Eagle has landed" ~ will forever be with us.  Today, this isn't our grandfather's Moon.  Think of the technological clarity that exists now in the 21st century that didn't way back then. When Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the lunar surface, the video images were grainy at best and the audio transmission was extremely choppy.  Today, thanks to more modern satellite technology, the visuals that a Moon landing and walk on the lunar surface could produce would be stunning if not absolutely fabulous.

Tonight, there's a Full Moon in the sky ~ always a pretty sight on a crisp, clear night.  Last Thursday night, I couldn't help but spend a few minutes standing outside on our patio deck admiring a brightly lit, almost-Full Moon ~ and thinking to myself, for reasons neither philosophical or theological, but rather purely astronomical: "Why can't we revisit and explore the surface of the Moon?"

My watch read a quarter past six o'clock.  Although the conditions for viewing the Moon and gazing at the stars weren't picture perfect on that recent night ~ thanks to cloudy conditions that surrounded the Bay Area ~ still, I couldn't resist grabbing my digital camera to shoot some photographs of the Moon ... and dream.

In my dream on this imperfect night, the perfect voice of Frank Sinatra could be heard singing.

Why not the Moon?

Photographs of the Nov. 18, 2010 Moon by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Covers: Interpreting another artist's work

Online music blogs fascinate me.  Because I'm an avid reader and passionate about music, I could easily lose myself perusing online music blogs if only I had enough hours in a day.  There's always something waiting to be read and an artist looking to be discovered.

Online music blogs/ Keeping up with our favorite cutting-edge artists

Just as the iPod has changed the way we routinely listen to music, online music blogs have changed the way we're able to maintain a pulse with our favorite cutting-edge musicians and the music industry, too.  No longer must we rely on daily newspapers or music magazines as the only sources for music news. With online music blogs, there's a sense of immediacy ~ urgency, maybe? ~ and many of the good ones worth reading are always adding new content to keep us coming back for more.  Also, many online music blogs offer links to listen to or legally download mp3s of the artists they are writing about.

While some of my favorite online music blogs include: Britain's New Music Express Daily Download (, Direct Current (, and Naive Harmonies ( ~ and there's even a music blog aggregator, Elbows ( that's great help in searching for everything written about a particular artist like Elvis Costello ~ there are a couple of great music blogs which are endless sources for finding new, recent and interesting covers of original songs. They are: Cover Me ( and Cover Lay Down (

I find great interest in listening to artists interpreting other artist's work and, often, online music blogs provide us with keen insight and, occasionally, back stories about the covers.  I credit both "covers" blogs for inspiring me to search for ~ and discover ~ new, recent and classic covers. 

Among the covers I've recently discovered and have been listening to include:

* "No Cars Go" by Maxence Cyrin (original by Arcade Fire).

* "The Needle and the Damage Done" by Laura Marling from Ghosts (original by Neil Young).

* "Alone and Forsaken" by Emmylou Harris from Timeless: Hank Williams Tribute (original by Hank Williams).

* "Let's Dance" by M. Ward from Transfiguration of Vincent (original by David Bowie).

* "Your Song" by Ellie Goulding from Lights (original by Elton John). 

* "Can't Find My Way Home" by Alison Krauss from Crossing Jordan Soundtrack (original by Blind Faith).

Sometimes, the artists are new to me like Maxence Cyrin, a classically trained, French pianist with a penchant for wonderfully interpreting cutting-edge indie artists like Arcade Fire, Radiohead and Massive Attack, that make me curious to explore more of their work.

Laura Marling/ Showing maturity covering a legend like Neil Young

Other artists, such as 20-year-old British folk revivalist Laura Marling, are quickly becoming recognized by everyone, period. Not only is she building a nice foundation with her own material full of lyricism and melody, but she's also showing great maturity early in her career to cover a legend such as Neil Young.

Until the other day, I had no idea that longtime favorite M. Ward had covered David Bowie's "Let's Dance" ~ and, although the lyrics are the same, you won't immediate recognize the tune.  

The same goes for Ellie Goulding, who does a sweet version of the 1970 Elton John hit, "Your Song," that strips the song bare ~ it's just the singer baring her soul, backed by a piano and some simple strings. 

And, who knew that Alison Krauss could add so much poignancy and the right touch of bluegrass to "Can't Find My Way Home," the 1969 chestnut by British blues-rock super group Blind Faith that was originally sung by Stevie Winwood?  

Finally, with Emmylou Harris covering Hank Williams, it's simply one country legend paying tribute to another ~ and Emmylou have covered some of the best over the years.  I remember early in her career, Harris paid her due to another music legend, the Beatles, by beautifully covering "Here, There and Everywhere" on her 1975 album Elite Hotel that brought out the simplicity and lush melody of the Lennon-McCartney ballad.

Here are links to enjoy listening to some of the covers I've recently discovered that are worth a listen or two:

M. Ward:

Emmylou Harris:

Ellie Goulding:  

Alison Krauss:

There are many more out there for the discovery.

Happy listening!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The pleasure of our gardens, part 13

Less than a week after wearing shorts and enjoying a string of unusually nice, mid-autumn Bay Area days  ~ full of sunshine and temperatures in the middle seventies ~ the start of another rainy season arrived.  Cue up the irritation and annoyance.

On Sunday, we received about 1.2 inches of precipitation, beneficial to the well-being of our flowers and plants as well as to our area reservoirs.  Unfortunately, the weekend's rain wasn't so good for getting out to do any constructive gardening. It did allow us to catch up on some comedies and dramas idly waiting for us in our television's DVR.  So, I guess the day wasn't a total wash.  Still ...

First Prize roses / enjoying mid-autumn sunshine

Although our Bay Area rain isn't nearly as enduring (although maybe it's endearing) as it is for our friends in Seattle, the weather has started turning cold and dreary as winter approaches.  Lately, the mercury has dipped into the low forties overnight ~ prompting us to fire up our space heater in the evening and overnight ~ and our daytime highs have settled down into the low-to-middle sixties since last week's warmer fortunes.  A month from now, as the days continue getting shorter, I'm sure our lowest lows will drop into the thirties and our highest highs will only reach the fifties.

Fuchsia / purplish-red and thriving, rain or shine

Thanks to the recent rain and occasional afternoon sunshine, our camellias and rhododendrons are still nicely blooming as well as the purplish-red fuchsia plant in our front yard.  Rain or shine, our fuchsia reacts equally well.  Plus, our little azalea bush, which blooms periodically throughout the year, is once again active.  Meanwhile, some of the rose bushes in our backyard ~ our First Prize and Mr. Lincoln roses come to mind ~ continue thriving.

Mr. Lincoln rose / bright and open-minded

Our weather be damned.

All photos by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Elvis Costello: An appreciation

"Just play for the people who are listening."
~ Elvis Costello, as told to Nick Paumgarten
"Brilliant Mistakes: Elvis Costello's boundless career.
The New Yorker, Nov. 8, 2010 issue

I am an unabashed fan of Elvis Costello and have been for a very, very long time.

The first time I saw Costello perform live, he was still with his old band, The Attractions, and Jimmy Carter was in the waning days of his presidency.  The night was Jan. 16, 1981 and the Costello show was in the Northrop Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.  Tickets cost less than $10, even then big money for a college sophomore attending nearby Macalester.  I was merely enjoying a nice, platonic evening out with a classmate.  Who knew that I would fall for Costello's music?  As it happened, Costello and his long-time keyboardist, Steve Nieve, began the evening playing "Just a Memory."  The 19-song set list included favorites like "Accidents Will Happen," "Radio Radio," and "Alison." The show's encore was "Pump It Up."

Since that snowy winter's evening 29 years ago, I have seen Costello perform live eight other times.  For the record, I've seen Elvis twice in Minneapolis, twice in Seattle, and five times in the Bay Area.  In Art Deco auditoriums (Oakland's Paramount Theatre), in outdoor stadiums (the old Parade Stadium in Minneapolis and at Seattle's Bumbershoot), in the Lindley Meadow of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.  Solo, with The Attractions, with The Imposters, with The Sugarcubes, with Steve Nieve, with the San Francisco Symphony.  It's always a spectacle, always a great show.  Best of the best was probably the night I saw Costello perform during the "River in Reverse Tour" with Allen Toussaint, the Imposters and the Crescent City Horns on June 20, 2006 at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Calif.  The set list that night included two long encores and a grand total of 33 songs!

Some musical artists I never grow tired of seeing perform live or listening to their albums.  Elvis Costello is one such musical artist.

Thus, I'm very excited about National Ransom, the ambitious new release by the acclaimed singer/songwriter that Costello is, which hit both iTunes and ~ and let's not forget record stores, too ~ in the United States on Nov. 2. While the album's title isn't necessarily a reflection on last week's nationwide Election Day outcome, it can be said that these new tunes are songs for these bankrupt times.

Elvis Costello / National Ransom
Album illustration ~ 
Tony Millionaire

Last Tuesday, I was very pleasantly surprised to find National Ransom available for mp3 download on at the very affordable ~ and excellent ~ price of $3.99.  Desperate economic times or not, I wasted little time in purchasing the 16-song download of National Ransom, which also included a digital booklet, and by dinner time, I had listened to the entire album twice.  (Since then, I've listened to National Ransom in its entirety two more times.)  Now, is selling the download for $7.99.  Meanwhile, iTunes is offering National Ransom for $9.99 and has sweetened the deal by adding an additional track ("I Hope") that's not on the download.

On National Ransom, Costello continues his association with the bluegrass and American roots-influenced Sugarcanes, whom he worked with on his 2009 release, Secret, Profane and Sugarcane.  Costello and the Sugarcanes recorded National Ransom in only 11 days, shuttling between Los Angeles and Nashville, and the album crosses many music genres and borders, including:  rock ("National Ransom"), jazz (Jimmie Standing in the Rain"), country ("That's Not a Part of Him You're Leaving"), bluegrass ("I Lost You"), blues ("My Lovely Jezebel") and American roots ("Bullets for the New-Born King").  There's even room for a ballad ("You Hung the Moon"), too.  T Bone Burnett, who previously worked with Costello on his under-appreciated 1986 album, King of America, produced National Ransom, and guest artists pop up throughout the album, including:  country singer Vince Gill, legendary rock pianist Leon Russell and the esteemed session guitarist Buddy Miller.

Far and above, Costello remains a truly brilliant lyricist and arranger, and his liner notes on the digital booklet accompanying National Ransom detail the period and setting that bore influence on him in each of the album's tunes, such as: 1929 to the Present Day to describe the album's title cut, "National Ransom."  On another tune, "One Bell Ringing," it's The London Underground, 22nd of July 2005.

Costello gave up on the idea of playing arduous tours in big halls long ago in favor of smaller tours in more intimate surroundings.  It's given him the flexibility to perform with his rock-n-roll ensemble, The Imposters, one night; engage in country and bluegrass with the Sugarcubes the next night, even perform an occasional gig with a symphony orchestra.  At this stage of his career, the ability to reinvent and reinterpret his vast catalog of material is what has enabled Costello to remain fresh and vibrant.  One of my favorite Costello experiences was seeing him perform a very lively and brassy Henry Mancini-esque arrangement of "Watching the Detectives" with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 2006.  It was hot and did it swing!

While devoting much of October to a musical residency in the Bay Area, Costello played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park ~ his set list included several tunes from National Ransom ~ as well as some San Francisco club benefits with his long-time friend Nick Lowe at the Great American Music Hall.  Then, he performed a few weeks later for Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit in Mountain View, Calif.

Last week, Costello shifted coasts and made the rounds of late-night, New York City talk shows, including: Late Show with David Letterman on CBS, The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on NBC.  Also, Costello and the Sugarcanes played a show at The Greene Space in New York City, sponsored by public radio station WNYC, and he guested last weekend on NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me in the "Not My Job" segment.  There, he correctly guessed two of three questions about another Elvis ~ no not that Elvis ~ the Canadian Olympic figure skater Elvis Stojko.  It's worth a listen because Costello came off as quite the witty conversationalist.

Finally, the always articulate and often outspoken Costello (he's also host of the Sundance Channel's Spectacle: Elvis Costello with ... ) was the subject of an extensive profile written by Nick Paumgarten in the Nov. 8 issue of The New Yorker, "Brilliant Mistakes: Elvis Costello's boundless career," that is as revealing an article about Costello that I've ever read.

So, in making the rounds of the media to promote National Ransom, Costello assumed the role that Joni Mitchell lyrically described in her 1973 song, "Free Man in Paris" as: "stoking the star maker machinery behind the popular song."  That's okay with me because it's always entertaining when Costello pops up all dapper and properly-attired on TV, whether performing solo or with the Sugarcubes, or even surprising us with a lovely duet of the Everly Brothers ballad, "All I Have to Do is Dream" with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.

Elvis Costello just plays for the people who are listening.  I'm listening.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Love a Parade

I love a parade
The tramping of feet,
I love every beat
I hear of a drum.
I love a parade
When I hear a band,
I just want to stand
And cheer as they come.
~ First stanza, 1930s hit composed by Harold Arlen

Victory is sweet.

On November 3, just two days removed from winning their first World Series title since moving to San Francisco in 1958, the San Francisco Giants threw one great victory party to salute its fans and The City, as San Francisco is known to its locals. Winning a world championship has a keen way of bringing an entire city together.

The weather for the World Series victory parade on Wednesday was summer perfect on this autumn day ~ sunny skies and temperatures in the middle 70s ~ and the crowd was simply high on life and walking on sunshine, showing their admiration for everything Giants.  From the ownership to the manager to the players ~ even the broadcasters ~ everyone was feeling in the right celebratory mood, a little bit awestruck and giddy.

Although I wasn't able to score a reasonably priced ticket to see a World Series game in person at AT&T Park, I wouldn't have missed the Giants' victory parade for the world.  Getting to see the players up close ~ and, sometimes, plain silly ~ made up for having to watch all of the World Series games on TV.  Then, enjoying the City Hall ceremony on a large flat-screen TV while eating lunch seated at the bar in Gordon Biersch Brewery was an added bonus to an already enjoyable day.

While shooting photographs didn't turn into contact sport, it remained competitive ~ and the parade didn't slow down for everyone to capture that picture-perfect moment. Being five or six deep in the crowd, and standing in front of the Palace Hotel on Market Street, I missed being able to photograph every Giants player.  Still, I believe my photographs (displayed below) capture a nice bit of the flavor of the Giants' victory parade.  Plus, after lunch my wife and I decided to cap the afternoon with a few moments down at the Ballpark by the Bay, where we enjoyed a serendipitous encounter with a few of the Giants players as their buses returned from the City Hall ceremony.

The Chronicle Extra headline says it all.

Fans of all ages:
There were plenty of orange and black-clad fans holding signs.

Waiting for the start:
The scene on Montgomery Street an hour before the victory parade.

GI AN TS #1:
A Market Street building spells out a message.

Jessica never stopped believing:
A Giants fan near where I stood held up a sign for all to see.

Rally thong message:
A fan behind me held up a poster.

Kruk and Kuip:
Giants TV broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper

Flem and Jon:
Giants radio broadcasters Dave Flemming and Jon Miller

Enjoying the moment:
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom waves at Giants fans.

Framing the moment:
Giants general managing partner Bill Neukom

Thumbs up:
Giants president Larry Baer

Carrying the trophy:
Giants manager Bruce Bochy

World Series pennant:
A Giants fan near me waved a pennant during the parade.

Giants relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt

Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain won Game 2 of the World Series.

Giants catcher Buster Posey waves at Giants fans.

Pat the Bat:
Giants outfielder Pat Burrell enjoys a cold beverage.

Relaxing for a moment:
Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff on team bus.

Reflecting on the moment:
Giants outfielder Pat Burrell aboard team bus.

Off the bus and ready for the off season:
Giants pitcher Barry Zito greets fans at AT&T Park after the festivities.

A message from The City for the Giants:
A banner near the start of the parade route on Montgomery Street
that also speaks for the Giants' fans.

The torture brought on by 52 years of "wait 'til next year" and plenty of one-run games this year has ended.  It was worth the wait and the agony.  That's baseball.

Cheers to the winners.  Go Giants!

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010.