Hello there. Not too many updates on the good ol' SadBear lately, but I would like to offer you a glimpse into Minnesota culture at its finest. It's a film entitled Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan. Observe.
It's already aired on the SyFy (is that how they spell it now?) Network. Supposedly it will be on Netflix soon. I suggest you watch it in all of its horrible glory.
In lieu of a write-up of last night's magnificent Yo La Tengo concert, I decided to create a basic overview of the YLT catalog, which I have been filling out and listening to last couple months. Generally I prefer to listen to and argue about music in the context of albums rather than individual tracks. YLT is not an exception to this rule. Still, having already had a brief back-and-forth over my, uh, controversial pick for best favorite YLT album on Facebook, I thought I would come at their career from a slightly different angle.
I have broken into six discrete categories based on song duration. Within each category, I have chosen a "Best" track and one that I "Would Most Like to See Performed"--henceforth "WMLtSP." Although I recognize the thin ice upon which I tread--my YLT discography remains incomplete--I do not apologize. Argue about my mistakes, ignorance, and perhaps regrettable proclivity for sappy love songs in the comments, please.
Although a fairly small pool, these tracks have a distinctive feel versus the 2-3 minute tracks.
Best: "Return to Hot Chicken"*
WMLtSP: "Attack on Love"
*"Superstar-Watcher" close behind.
YLT are geniuses of the sub-three-minute pop song. Narrowing these down was brutal, so I have taken the liberty of adding an Honorable Mentions list--along with a couple of footnoted caveats.
Best: "One PM Again"*
Honorable Mentions: "The River of Water," "Stockholm Syndrome," "A Worrying Thing"
*I might actually prefer "The Whole of the Law," but chose to disqualify it as a cover. And I haven't listened to "Well You Better" from the new album enough, but it could make some noise.
**The version on the Today is the Day EP. Note that they performed "Nothing to Hide" last night, and it was epic, so even thought I would love to see them perform it again live, I'd now prefer "Outsmartener."
The slightly more filled out radio-play category.
WMLtSP: "Watch Out for Me Ronnie"**
*"By the Time it Gets Dark" incredibly close behind.
**They performed "Sugarcube" last night, epically, as well as "Black Flowers." I liked but was somewhat skeptical of the latter until last night's mesmerizing version (Ira bum-ba-bum-ing in place of horns, James singing "You can dip your brain in joy..."). Additionally, they performed "Little Honda" with a brain-melting, ten-minute wall of sound inserted in the middle--which my father, who attended and loved the show, referred to as "Mars invades" (refer to the >8 WMLtSP footnote below).
This one is even harder to parse than 2-3--my three favorite YLT tracks fall into this category--hence the return of the Honorable Mentions.
Best: "From a Motel 6"*
WMLtSP: "Drug Test"**
Honorable Mentions: "Sudden Organ,"*** "Magnet," "Pablo and Andrea," "All Your Secrets," "You Can Have it All," "I'll Be Around"
*So this is also the song I WMLtSP--it's probably my all-time favorite YLT track--but I decided to make room for others.
**They performed "Our Way to Fall"--my second-favorite YLT track--and although I did not cry as promised in a recent Facebook status, I was definitively in touch with, you know, my emotions and things. Also, their "Mr. Tough" performance was pure, old-fashioned-dance-party fun.
***My third-favorite YLT track.
Once you push a song past five minutes, you are beyond the standard radio-play pop song. These distinctive creatures are often fuzzy, distorted, even sinister tracks. I love them.
Best: "Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)"*
WMLtSP: "I Heard You Looking"**
*This is also the song I WMLtSP, but, again, made some room.
**"I Was the Fool Beside You For Too Long" close behind. They performed "Ohm" twice last night--once as their stripped-down, acoustic opener. In that context it was, frankly, a bit of a letdown. They brought it out again later, and Ira turned it into a shredding guitar showcase--not a letdown. They also transformed "Before We Run" from a contemplative, horn-driven, sentimental piece into an anthemic rager centered on Ira's blistering guitar work. The last, say, 7 minutes of the song may have been the best moment ("moment") last night. I genuinely think they could have gone on for 20 more minutes, and I would have remained in transfixed awe. And if I were a better person, I would have followed through on my other recent promise. A better me would have grabbed the shoulder of that nice, dignified gentlemen beside me and slugged him square in his amiable face.
The consciousness-altering, simmering mess--another YLT specialty.
Best:"The Story of Yo La Tango"*
Would Most Like to See Performed: "Blue Line Swinger"**
*"Pass the Hatchet I Think I'm Goodkind"is a close second--meaning that the bookends to I Am Not Afraid... own this category. I also have to give "More Stars Than There Are in Heaven" a nod as likely the most overlooked. There's also a remix of "Autumn Sweater" by one Kevin Shields floating around out there that is pretty great.
**Songs that they transform into marathons in concert but that are shorter on the albums don't count. I've already noted the three tracks they did that with--spectacularly--last night ("Ohm," "Little Honda," and "Before We Run").
In writing the obituary of a weather expert, he wrote that there was "no well-established meteorological career path to follow." The same might be said about writing obituaries.
But if there is a path to follow, it may be the one taken by Robert McG. Thomas Jr.: equal parts police beat, society news, and sports reporter — and, perhaps most importantly — a veteran rewrite man.
His best obits make up, "52 McGs.," the first book I've finished reading in 2013.
This week, like every other week, I've had obituaries on my mind, which set the backdrop for a climactic Saturday morning plowing through the back half of this collection. I'd been thinking about the Margalit Fox obituary for Dear Abby, and also the scrips and scraps I've turned up in my newspaper, including one man whose obit included his nickname: "Possum."
But the craft of Thomas's writing, and his deadpan delivery, may have no match. Obviously, I recommend the book, and here are a few favorite passages:
Mary Bancroft, spy
If Mary Bancroft had not existed, a hack novelist would surely have invented her, or tried.
Anton Rosenberg, a hipster ideal
... the Greenwich Village hipster ideal of 1950's cool to such a laid-back degree and with such determined detachment that he never amounted to much of anything...
Toots Barger, queen of the game duckpins
... leading to have duckpins named the Maryland state sport. The campaign failed, perhaps because legislators felt duckpins was just too odd to be the state sport, especially when Maryland already had an official sport: jousting.
Marshall Berger, linguist
A specialist in dialect geography, or dialectology, as it is known in linguistics, he was a dialectologist's dialectologist, a man with such a keen ear for the subtle variations of speech patterns that after listening for a few moments he could often tell a speaker's ethnic background, the neighborhood where he had grown up and his level of education.
Minnesota Fats, pool hustler
He certainly looked like a Minnesota Fats, or at least some Fats. At 5 feet and 10 inches, Mr. Wanderone had weighed as much as 300 pounds. ... Curiously, after he became Minnesota Fats, his new persona led to an actual job, something he had studiously avoided.
A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.
For this week's edition, we polled the SadBears on our favorite "nontraditional" holiday songs. (We are, after all, nontraditional students here.) We all figured we'd heard enough "regular" Christmas music (looking at you, Bing Crosby) that we should give readers a taste of some other stuff we like too. Here's what we came up with:
JACK: Julian Casablancas, "I Wish It Was Christmas Today"
The Band, "Christmas Must Be Tonight"
Ravonettes, "Christmas Song"
A mix of new and old. The Casablancas song is mostly a stand-in for the original SNL version of the song, which is one of the most legitimately uplifting ans honest Christmas songs ever written. I also crack up just thinking about Tracy Morgan dancing whenever I hear this.
The second is one of my dad's favorites by one of his favorite bands, so it's always one I kinda liked even though it is kind of cheesy.
The last one is nothing special, but the Ravonettes are really good at making recycled ideas just sound cool. That's what this does.
TONY: Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers, "Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn"
Alabama Sacred Mountain Top Singers, "Sherburne"
If you ask Katie, she'd describe me as the Grinch when it comes to holiday traditions and Christmas music. It's true. Yet when Jack sent this prompt, I knew immediately that I needed to share two non-traditional Christmas albums, and representative songs from each.
First, I think the "Where Will You Be on Christmas Day?" album came out partway through college, and it collects some really odd and catchy Christmas roots music. I think of these ditties often, including my mix selection: "Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn," by the Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers. As a second pick, check out "Sherburne" by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers. This album would also be a good introduction to roots music, if you haven't dabbled much.
Second, of more recent vintage, is "An East Nashville Christmas," which just came out this year as a Nashville musicians' fundraiser for the homeless. It's really diverse and extremely listenable (whatever that means). You can stream some samples here: http://eastnashvillechristmas.com/
CHASE: The Hives and Cindy Lauper, "Christmas Duel"
I've never been huge into holiday music, and my taste really runs the spectrum depending on mood. A solid rendition of "Carol of the Bells" (probably my favorite traditional holiday song) will impress me one day, and then the next I might listen to Mariah Carey (no shame). But if I'm being honest, I've been avoiding holiday music this year.
Sufjan Stevens makes up 90% of my Advent/Christmas
music diet every year. My consistent favorites each year are "Once in
Royal David's City" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel." This year, though, I
was particularly drawn to the above track, "Put the Lights on the Tree,"
and "Holy Holy Holy."
ECON: The Royal Guardsmen, "Snoopy's Christmas"
OATESS: Tom Waits, "New Years' Eve"
EDIT: For some reason this Tom Waits song was on Grooveshark, briefly, but then taken down. Or else I'm crazy and it was never on Grooveshark in the first place. Regardless, listen here because it's a good song.
A weekly sampler of what we're listening to (new and old), and what we think you might like, too.
JACK: Black Sabbath, "Supernaut" I really wanted to share this
"Chopped and Screwed" version of Black Sabbath's "A National Acrobat"
that I heard about on a blog, but I'm not sure this is actually going to
be on Grooveshark. So listen to that here
(WARNING: Deep stoner vibes ahead... even for Sabbath, it reeks of pot.).
In its place: Tony Iommi summons Satan (I think) with the best guitar
riff ever written. TONY: "Fancy Free," by By Lightning! I'm choosing local with By Lightning! from a thick field of recent
listening, which has ranged widely from Metric, to Frank Ocean, to
alt-J, and to an especially large shitton of Dr. Dog. I'm seeing By
Lightning! on Thursday night, finally fulfilling my need to see them
after missing their two most recent shows because of scheduling
conflicts. By Lightning! is a big band of folky indie types with a very
tall bearded guitarist who, by appearance, might fit better in a
hardcore band, and who sort of reminds me of the grim reaper. A few
other members are pretty and pretty folky. And then their drummer wears a
pair of ultra-thick, white-rimmed glasses that glow from the back of
the stage as he beats away. I actually saw this drummer perform with
another local act, Jonny Fritz, and I've become somewhat of a fanboy.
Katie recently told me she saw him jogging near our house, wearing those
glasses. CHASE: Charles Bradley, "Why Is It So Hard?" I'm in love with Charles Bradley. And he makes me think about Louisville. And he's the screaming eagle of soul. ECON: Yo La Tengo, "Before We Run" Because Yo La Tengo has never disappointed me, ever. *NOTE: This song was not listed in Grooveshark. Please refer to the link above for the version on YouTube. GOAT: The Mountain Goats, "Harlem Roulette" I've been listening to
the latest Mountain Goats album Transcendental Youth a lot lately, and
this one sticks with me. Good scene-setting, something cleverish to say
about the loneliest people in the whole wide world. JON: Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, "Pennies From Heaven"
The song reminds me of Penny. MARK: The Mountain Goats, "The Diaz Brothers" I've been listening to this album nonstop for a couple months now. It's
hard to pick a track. I don't think this is actually the best track, but
it's the catchiest, and I do love it. The whole album, though, is
We received three more comments from Dr. Reist's former students, memories about the man and his impact on them.
JACK HITTINGER '08 I tried my hardest to take one of Dr. Reist's classes every semester. I damn near succeeded, too. Here's a list of the courses I took from him over the years:
-Theodore Dreiser and the American Dream -Jewish-American
Literature (the semester after that course he was taking roll and when
he got to me, said, "Hittinger. You were in that Holocaust thing with
-"Everyman" honors seminar -English 370 (modern American Literature) -Vonnegut
I'll be honest: I didn't always know what I was learning when I signed up for Reist classes. Mostly, I just thought it would be an easy grade with a funny guy I liked to talk to.
For example, it was something of an open secret among English majors
that you could extend your normal paper length by substituting the
standard Times New Roman/12-point font paper for Courier New/14-point
font. Dr. Reist didn't care. Or at least, he
never made any intentions that he cared. I got A's on all my papers so
(I assume) he didn't dock me for not following MLA style. (I also always
addressed him as "The Rev. Dr. John Seth Reist,
Jr." on the papers' headers, and he always gave me a check mark for it.
Not sure if it was actually him giving me points, but I like to think
His tests were long but usually contained questions such as "Write
your own question," or "Write a story involving three of the characters
from the works we read and how they relate back to the overall theme of
'The American Dream.'" My stories, as did those of many others,
invariably involved the Rest Twins showing up by the end of the blue
It wasn't until later in my college career that I appreciated just
what Dr. Resit was teaching us. About literature, yes, but also about
life, faith and America. That sounds really corny, but it's true: I
perhaps learned more about these three things from him than I did from
any Hillsdale professor.
They're all connected, and Reist was living
proof: This neat, funny little guy who never said something he didn't
mean and stood up for his convictions in the face of adversity. What's
more American than that?
(PS, This has nothing to do with any of that, but the very best e-mail I ever received was from Dr. Reist.
before class I sent him this long email asking a couple of questions
that probabaly merited a face-to-face with him instead of an e-mail. But
I was lazy and didn't think of that, so instead i sent him an email.
A few hours later, just before class was set to begin, I received a response. Two letters, no punctuation or anything:
That was it. I really wish I could find the email but it's disappeared into the internet somewhere.)
NICK TABOR '09 (NOTE: These comments were written before Dr. Reist passed away, and were intended to be read in his presence. Nick wanted the message to appear in it's original form, though, saying that, "If it was good enough before, I think it's good enough still.)
During the week I graduated, about four of my buddies and I
went to Chicago Water Grill with Dr. Reist. John Krudy was there, and Dennis
Walton, Sam Heisman, and Emrys Van Maren. I had dinner with Dr. Reist many
times during college and this was one of the last. I'm sure he had a martini or
two and later probably a glass of Merlot. When we were all feeling very
comfortable he started in earnest telling jokes.
Dr. Reist had a reputation for telling off-color jokes, but
mostly the ones he told in classes and around campus were like that “Honor,
offer” one. But oh my god, at the restaurant that night, I remember feeling a
bit uneasy when I noticed families sitting nearby. He may have told truly the
dirtiest jokes I have ever heard. And some of them were hardly even jokes—they
were just crude descriptions of sex!
He had us laughing so hard our ribs hurt and we were almost
But I did spend a lot of time in his classes, and had he
only made me laugh, that wouldn't have been enough. I want to try and get at
another reason I kept returning.
One of the classes I did was Kurt Vonnegut. In a way
Vonnegut's easy to parse without a professor's help. But he's deceptively easy,
and in this way he resembles Reist.
My favorite Vonnegut novel is Cat's Cradle. It's very
funny. It has an apocalypse where the world gets covered in this poisonous
blue-white frost, and the narrator realizes the survivors will soon die of
thirst, hunger, rage, or apathy. But after the disaster, in a cave, he has a
“sordid sex episode” with another survivor, a woman he's been eying all through
She resists. Afterward she says, “It would be very sad to
have a little baby now, don't you agree?” He says yes. “Well,” she says,
“that's the way little babies are made, in case you didn't know.”
Maybe it sounds funny, but I think it's terminally serious.
She's just cast his action in a new light of cruelty. Sex could mean subjecting
a new person to a life of suffering, and the philosophical implications are
more than a little significant. Of course the story moves swiftly along. The
sorrow is momentary and it's so it's easy to miss. You can hear Dr. Reist
saying, “Hey, it's how I met my wife.”
I wonder how many times this happened in Dr. Reist's classes
and I didn't notice. I think about his stories of escapades in the Army. He
spent two years in France,
never went into combat, and he often said they were the best years of his life.
But he sometimes made passing remarks about how difficult they were, and it
confused me, and I asked him once when we were talking in the library, passing
an afternoon. His mood was serious. He said, “Nick, they were the worst years
of my life. They were miserable.” I don't think he said any more, and I didn't
prod. It's not hard to imagine him feeling out of place in the military.
I think his graveness was always there, just elusive. He
consistently taught such heavy, sorrowful literature. While I was here he did
Theodore Dreiser, A.E. Housman, Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway. He'd draw our
attention to a Housman poem about soldiers, or to Jake and Bill's travails in Paris in The Sun Also
Rises, or Robert Jordan's fate. Any of which might remind him of his own
time as a soldier. He'd sing this jingle I think he learned in the Army: “Drink
a highball at night fall, / Be good fellows while we may. For tomorrow may
bring sorrow, / So let's drink up today.” He'd grin and bounce in his seat and
have us laughing again. One time he said, “Hey, if we don't laugh about these
things, we'll cry.”
I know of some writers whose work reflects this duality, but
I've never met anyone who embodies it like Dr. Reist. It's a credit to his
wisdom and his empathy, and his resiliency, but also how purely funny he is.
Thank you, Dr. Reist.
MARIA SERVOLD '10
As a senior year at Hillsdale, I took a seminar-style class with Dr. Reist that covered the works of John Updike.
We read the "Rabbit" series, some of Updike's poetry, another novel, and several short stories.
As I'm sure most people reading this know, Updike often
wrote about sex. The Rabbit quartet, especially, is full of it. All
kinds of it. In extreme detail.
matter of the class prompted some interesting discussions, but one
anecdote sticks out above all others in mind - probably because my face
was bright red by the end of the incident.
Dr. Reist started off this particular class with a simple question: "What is 'la petite mort?'" he asked. "Who here speaks French?"
I knew the answer to that question - I was a French minor - but was nervous about raising my hand. Would knowing the answer to this make me look bad? I wondered.
However, no one else volunteered, so I gingerly responded: "the little death..." hoping the conversation would end.
"Yes...but what does it really mean?" Reist probed.
"...an orgasm," I said, face hidden.
Reist told me I was correct and then proceeded to make noises and wave his arms about, demonstrating the power of such a moment.
"Ooo! Ahh! Yes! Yes! *grunt* *grunt* Yes!"
impression went on for far longer than any real "petite death" could
possibly last and we all looked at each other, wondering when the
awkwardness would end, while still howling with laughter.
It was an embarrassing moment, but it was absolutely
hilarious, and I will never forget it. It was also probably the most
awkward I felt during a class at Hillsdale, right up there with
the "thigh-warmed chocolate" class with Dr. Somerville. But we'll save
that for another day.