Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Black, White, and Gray All Over

An online glossary defines the phrase “fuzzy logic” as “a way of reasoning that can cope with uncertain or partial information. …” Starting out as a mathematics theory about conclusions based on imprecise data, fuzzy logic is now variously used to describe a set of artificial intelligence parameters, an alcoholic drink and a 1996 album by the Super Furry Animals.

I might investigate the cocktail and the rock band later, but for now I’ll stick to the reasoning theory. Fuzzy logic has fascinated me ever since I was introduced to the concept. At last – an expression for life’s absurdity!

Fuzzy logic reflects the quirky way we humans have of doing things. Take language, for instance. Adjectives like “bright,” “dark,” “small” or “unusual” work fine for most of us, but computer programmers have trouble basing a digital platform on that kind of terminology.

My own personal application of the term has come to mean any practice or deduction based on faulty, missing, accidental or unexplainable information. And like the guy back in ancient times who decided that his own “foot” was a handy standard unit of measure, oftentimes fuzzy logic catches on and becomes the status quo.

A good example of this was the development of the common length of the average popular song. Before the invention of recorded music, songs could last pretty much as long as one wanted, so storytelling troubadours piled on the verses ad infinitum.

But when a medium was invented to play recorded music, the standardization of materials required a limit on the length of the presentation.

Wax cylinders of the early 20th century played for about two minutes. Next, 10-inch “78 rpm” records lasted about three minutes per side, but their impact on our lives has lasted much longer. The result of that fuzzy logic: ever since then, most popular songs are about three minutes long. In the 1950s, the introduction of the 12-inch vinyl LPs (about 20 minutes per side) didn’t change the half-decade of listening habits that held us to that old three-minute mindset. The average length of a pop song didn’t change, and still hasn’t – all because Thomas Edison’s invention happened to hold just that much information.

Classic fuzzy logic story: at Thanksgiving, a girl sits in the kitchen and asks her mother why she’s slicing off the top of the turkey breast before putting it in the oven. Her mother answers, “because my mother always did, and her mother before her and her mother before that.” So when the little girl grows up, she’ll probably bake her first turkey and cut off the top, never knowing that the only reason her great-great-great-grandmother did that was because their oven had been too small.

So the next time you find yourself wondering why there are nine innings in a baseball game or why your sandwich is called a sub, you might very well have fuzzy logic to thank – or blame!

Speak of which, I’m using my own brand of fuzzy logic to qualify the suspension of these weekly articles, which I’ve been writing for about a year now. People measure the passing years with their birthdays and make resolutions to do this or that starting on January 1st. So to help me frame my experience, I thought the beginning of the new year was just as good a time as any to take a break and begin anew. Exactly what I’m beginning, I’m not sure! But if you’ve enjoyed my stories (or even if you haven’t!), don’t be surprised if more manifestations of fuzzy logic from yours truly pop up soon from the pages of your Shopper-News.

In the meantime, Happy New Year! OR — Happy 17th day of the 11th month of the Chinese Lunar Year!

1. The Logical Song — Supertramp
2. Like Humans Do — David Byrne
3. Just Because — Anita Baker
4. The Song Remains the Same — Led Zeppelin
5. Is That All There Is? — Peggy Lee
6. Stop! In the Name of Love — Diana Ross and the Supremes
7. The End — The Doors
8. I’ll Be Seeing You — Frank Sinatra
9. Happy Trails — Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
10. Tomorrow Never Knows — The Beatles

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Melancholy Baby

I'm one of those people to whom music is very important. If you play music for me, I'll usually have a concrete feeling about it one way or the other: I either love it or I hate it, and some songs get me teary. If it makes me sad, you might ask, then why listen to it?

Why deliberately subject myself to an attack of heartache?

It's kind of like the emotional "bump" people get from riding a roller coaster or seeing a scary movie. And when the ride's over, the fear will be over. You know you're not really in danger, so you can experience it as an entertaining rush and move on.

Sometimes it's an association with real-live events that make music emotional. Songs can evoke the memory of a past relationship or situation, and before you know it, your eyes start to well up. I'm not sure why, but there's a preponderance of country songs on the short list of tunes that make me cry. Don Williams' "Good Ol' Boys Like Me" and "Amarillo By Morning" are just two.

But a piece of music doesn't have to have lyrics to make me "kvell" with sadness. Sometimes it's just a particular chord progression or a melody. After all, the human race has been reacting to sounds long before developing speech, so it makes sense that music (as opposed to language) affects our primal brains first and foremost. As lyricst " Over the Rainbow" Yip Harburg once wrote, "The composer… works in a medium in which the appeal is directly to the emotions. The lyric writer must hurdle the mind to reach the heart."

The second movement of Beethoven's 7th symphony is a direct hit to my ol' ticker. Or watching "To Kill A Mockingbird," when the opening theme starts… all I can say is that there better be some Kleenex handy!

I know I'm not alone in my extreme emotional reaction to music. Anyone you see might be under the influence of the music that's piped out into the air at stores, gas stations, churches, or car stereos. I guess I'm just a rank sentimentalist, but don't be surprised if you see me at Food City with a tear in my eye, and it won't be over the price of the avocados.

1. Misery — The Beatles
2. Sad Songs (Say So Much) — Elton John
3. Blue — Joni Mitchell
4. I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Cryin' — Toby Keith/Sting
5. Heartbreaker — Led Zeppelin
6. Tracks of My Tears — Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
7. Feeling Sad Tonight — Carole King
8. Cry Me a River — Julie London
9. There’s a Tear in My Beer — Hank Williams
10. Glad to be Unhappy — Frank Sinatra

Extra Super Double Secret Probation Playlist of my sad songs (in no particular order):
1. All Roads Lead to You — Steve Wariner
2. Wichita Lineman — Glen Campbell
3. Galveston — Glen Campbell
(thanks for those, Jimmy Webb!)
4. He Stopped Loving Her Today — George Jones
5. Twenty Years Ago — Kenny Rogers
6. Valse Triste — Sibelius
7. Trying to Get the Feeling Again — Barry Manilow
8. The Way Love Used to Be — The Kinks
9. Something in the Way She Moves — James Taylor
10. Diary — Bread

Sunday, December 13, 2009

KSO Holiday Concert This Weekend

This year, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s 23rd annual Clayton Holiday concert will be a specially themed show called “Angels Among Us.” It will be at the Civic Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 18- 19, and at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 19- 20.
Aside from the wonderful family-friendly sounds of the season that are a given for this yearly Knoxville tradition, you’ll be treated to a slide-show of some Knox County school students’ depictions of angels. What a great way to honor all the angels in our own community! Halls Elementary's Seth Gilliam drew this picture:

Right now I’m thinking of the cutest angel I know, which is my big huggable white shepherd-mix dog, Annie. You probably have your own furry angel full of unconditional love that helps make your Christmas season merry. This year, the KSO celebrates the special place that pets have in our hearts by partnering with Young-Williams Animal Center to help out the less fortunate animals here in Knox County. As you head out to the show at the Civic Auditorium, bring along a gift for the center and let’s fill up those designated donation bins. Some of the items currently needed are: 3-quart stainless steel dog bowls, pet toys, Science Diet dry food, pop-top canned food, clay litter and administrative supplies. Gift certificates are welcome if you don’t have time to shop! See their Web site at www.knoxpets.org for more info. There’s nothing like the feeling you get knowing you’ve played a small part in making life better for our four-legged friends.
This year’s show has so much to offer! Sing along to Christmas favorites, and see children young and old thrill to a visit from Santa Claus. You’re sure to catch someone you know in one of the guest ensembles that’ll be helping out the orchestra this year: Knoxville Choral Society, Appalachian Ballet Company and Sound Company Children’s Choir.
So make the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Concert part of your family’s annual Christmas tradition. It’s the place to be this weekend! Tickets begin at just $12 and children’s tickets are half price before fees. To purchase tickets, call 291-3310 or 656-4444, or log on to www.knoxvillesymphony.com.
1. In the Mood — Glenn Miller
2. Too Much Fun — Daryle Singletary
3. Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy — The Kinks
4. Rip It Up — Little Richard
5. Frivolous Tonight — XTC
6. This Could Be the Start of Something Big — Steve & Eydie
7. Touch a Hand, Make a Friend — The Staple Singers
8. Sweetness Follows — R.E.M.
9. Imagine — John Lennon
10. Christmas Memories — Frank Sinatra

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Weekend Happenings

A sampling of weekend goings-on to keep your eyes shining, your toes tapping and your ears happy:

* “National Performance Network: Live and On Stage” is a performance showcase in support of the NPN’s annual arts conference, which Knoxville is hosting this year. NPN is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of their only Tennessee member, The Carpetbag Theatre. The multimedia show will be 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 11 and 12, at the Bijou Theatre. National and regional performers in the areas of storytelling, poetry, music, dance and African drumming will entertain the public and conference attendees. For tickets, call the Tennessee Theatre box office, 684-1200, ext 2.

* Broadway Sound will host the rescheduled appearance of world-renowned “gypsy-jazz” guitarist Frank Vignola 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at their store at 2830 North Broadway in Knoxville. Vignola is the real deal. He’s been awarded Les Paul’s regular NYC Iridium club gig since Paul’s death back in August, and it’s a good bet Vignola will be knocking the socks off of all the folks lucky enough to snag a ticket at Broadway Sound’s intimate event by calling them at 637-1644. Vignola will also be holding a guitar clinic earlier on Saturday at 1 p.m. for those students of swing who’d like to get an up-close-and-personal lesson with the master, so bring your Gibson.

* The Fountain City Art Center is having an open house and sale for their Parkside Open Door Gallery. The open house will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12, and will kick off their Christmas sale which will be running through Dec. 23. The work of many local artists will be available at 10 to 20 percent discounts. Come by for some free popcorn and hot chocolate!

* Rounding out your musical options for Saturday, Dec. 12, is Tennessee Schmaltz, Knoxville’s favorite klezmer band. Rob Heller and the folks in Tennessee Schmaltz will be at the Laurel Theatre at 8 p.m. for a show that’s sure to please. After all, they’ve got tour stories and a Bonnaroo show under their belts since they last appeared at the Laurel in 2007. Get tickets at www.knoxtix.com or call 523-7521. Like their poster says, there’ll be “something oldish, something newish, something borrowed, something Jewish.” You can’t go wrong with that!
1. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite — The Beatles
2. Born in a Trunk — Judy Garland
3. Turn the Beat Around — Vicki Sue Robinson
4. Guitar Man — Bread, Cake, or Elvis Presley
5. Minor Swing — Stephane Grappelli
6. Color Him Father — The Winstons
7. Open House — Bombay Bicycle Club
8. Drink Me Hot — Chris Joss
9. Don’t Let the Schmaltz Get in Your Eyes — Mickey Katz
10. Mazel Tov Cocktail — Meshugga Beach Party

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cuckoo for Culture

If you go cuckoo for culture in K-town, you’ll have an excellent chance to see and hear tons of it this weekend. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 4-5, the Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville will host its fifth annual Emporium Holiday Extravaganza. At the beautiful Emporium Center at 100 S. Gay Street (corner of Jackson Avenue and Gay Street), the Extravaganza will feature loads of great holiday ideas from area artists and museums. Handmade items will include home accessories, ornaments, stationery, jewelry, paintings, drawings and more.

9"x9" giclee prints of "Fish on a Leash" by Knoxville Illustrator Lesley Eaton are available at the Extravaganza. Lesley is an accomplished children's book illustrator who works with painted paper collage and mixed media. To see more of her fanciful artwork, visit her website at www.pepperedpaper.com.
Here’s a great way to kick-start your Christmas spirit this year: check out all the fantastic artwork at the Extravaganza while awaiting the downtown WIVK Christmas parade, which begins at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. Browsing is free, and there just might be some yummy holiday goodies on hand to help you get in a festive mood.

As if this feast for the eyes (and tummy!) weren’t enough, the Extravaganza is also a great way to catch live performances by some of Knoxville’s most popular groups like the Knoxville Children’s Choir, Circle Modern Dance and Smoky Mountain Harmony A Capella Show Chorus. Log onto www.knoxalliance.com for more info, schedule of performances, directions, parking, etc., or call the Alliance at 523-7543. Extravaganza hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
On the off chance that the Extravaganza can’t provide the unique present you’re looking for, you can always get that special someone a Culture Cash gift certificate good at more than 40 of Knoxville’s local arts and culture organizations. Have fun playing Santa and supporting Knoxville artists.

1. Arts and Crafts — Maceo Parker
2. See Me, Feel Me — The Who
3. Downtown — Petula Clark
4. Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied) — B.T. Express
5. Get Up and Go — The Rutles
6. Right Here Right Now — Jesus Jones
7. Suddenly I See — KT Tunstall
8. It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year — Andy Williams
9. Because — The Beatles
10. The City is Here for You to Use — The Futureheads

Sunday, November 22, 2009

James and John: Good as Gravy

It’s the centennial anniversary of the birth of two giants of American creativity: James Agee and Johnny Mercer.
Had they lived this long, Knoxville-born author James Agee and pop lyricist Johnny Mercer of Savannah, Ga., would have turned 100 this month.
I recently discovered something else these two southern gentlemen had in common: they both had occasion to appreciate gravy.
James Agee included some local incarnations of gravy in his 1941 book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Agee mentioned this pork-infused staple of poverty-stricken southerners as one of the “… true tastes of home.” And Johnny Mercer praised gravy in the verse to his song “Lazy Bones,” which begins “Long as there is chicken gravy on your rice, Ev’rything is nice.”
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the South, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like gravy – myself included. And these acknowledgements of the Everyman’s ambrosia just reinforce why I so like their work.
Both Agee’s and Mercer’s words evoke images of the small-town South during the first half of the 20th century. You can almost feel the humidity and smell the magnolia blossoms in their writing.
Mercer’s lyrics don’t always speak directly to a Southern experience, but you can tell he’s from here. Most of his standards indirectly attest to his down-home roots: talk of trains, breezes, moonlight and meadows all help paint a sentimental picture of love lost or unrequited.
The miracle of saints James and John was in their storytelling of the common ground that connects all humanity. They remind us of childhood, nature, the richness of living simply and a time when no matter what else was happening, at least there was gravy on the stove. And it’s as true today as it was then – somehow everything’s the better for that.
1. Gravy Waltz — Oscar Peterson
2. Sharecropper’s Son — Ralph Stanley
3. That’s What I Like About the South – Phil Harris
4. Going Back to Georgia — Nanci Griffith
5. Arkansas Traveler — Michelle Shocked
6. Southland in the Springtime — Indigo Girls
7. I Wanna Go Back to Dixie — Tom Lehrer
8. Poor Old Dirt Farmer — Levon Helm
9. Good Brown Gravy — Joe Diffie
10. Feels Like Home — Bonnie Raitt

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Songs for Sickies

Seems like everyone you talk to is either sick, has been sick, feels like they're getting sick, or knows someone who's been sick. Here's a little musical guide for those of you suffering from "The Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu" (Dr. John).
* "Beds are Burning" (Midnight Oil) because you're feverish. First it's like a "Heat Wave" (Martha and the Vandellas), and then you’ll bundle up against that feeling of a “Cold Cold Heart” (Hank Williams).

* If you're tired of blowing your nose, you might feel "Born to Run" (Bruce Springsteen). “Try a Little Tenderness” (Otis Redding) and get some of those tissues with lotion in them. Just “Hold Your Head Up” (Argent) and hope for an “Even Flow” (Pearl Jam).
* If your sinuses are blocked, remember "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" (Neil Sedaka). Just “Dream On” (Aerosmith) of the day you’ll once again be “Running on Empty” (Jackson Browne).

* Don’t trust just anybody’s opinion. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” (Marvin Gaye). Better to “Hang On Sloopy” (The McCoys) and “Wait” (The Beatles) until you can see your doctor.

* The flu is contagious. It’s "Blowin' in the Wind" (Bob Dylan), so make sure the only thing you catch is the "Lovebug" (Jonas Brothers or George Strait).
* Don't spread germs to others; "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" (The Georgia Satellites).
* Try not to overdo it, and don’t go to work — just stay "Homesick" ( Ferlin Husky or The Vines) and "Take It Easy" (The Eagles).
* If a cold has gripped you “All Day and All of the Night” (The Kinks), just keep “Jammin’” (Bob Marley) pills so you can start “Feelin’ Alright” (Joe Cocker).
* Remember you’re not alone, because "Everybody Hurts" (R.E.M.), and the best medicine is still “Laughing” (The Guess Who)!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Craft Fair a Fall Tradition

The prestigious Foothills Craft Guild will host its 43rd annual Fine Craft Fair this Friday through Sunday at the Jacob building in Chilhowee Park. The amazing original artwork of more than 140 artisans and craftspersons will be featured.
A partial list of media includes woodwork, pottery, stained glass, basketry, printmaking and jewelry.

I caught up with Guild member and woodturner Bob Klassen of Farragut, who will be working booth No. 129 at the show this weekend. He’s a happy part-time retiree who enjoys mastering the fine art of the wood lathe. His woodturnings are also on display at the Art Gallery of Farragut.
Leilla White has worked with beveled glass for almost two decades and enjoys the Fine Craft Fair as an opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones looking for that special holiday gift. She makes candleholders, sun-catchers, window pieces and even tables. Her work is currently showing at the Highland Craft Gallery in Gatlinburg.
The Fine Craft Fair is a great place to learn about a huge variety of arts and the local artists who create them. There will be a fun hands-on booth for kids, and everyone can enjoy demonstrations of basket making, whittling, chair caning and corn shuckery. I didn’t know it was called shuckery. There – I’ve learned something new already!
So if you haven’t yet treated yourself to this autumn tradition, bring the kids and make a day of it. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Cost is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and free for children 6 and under. Visit www.foothillscraftguild.org for more info. See you there!

1. Autumn Almanac — The Kinks
2. Tradition — Fiddler on the Roof
3. Art in Me — Jars of Clay
4. Sugar Craft — Medeski, Martin & Wood
5. Mona Lisa — Nat “King” Cole
6. Scarborough Fair — Simon & Garfunkle
7. Pictures at an Exhibition — Ravel/Mussorgsky
8. Portrait of my Love — Steve Lawrence
9. Turbulent Indigo — Joni Mitchell
10. Harvest Festival — XTC

Saturday, October 31, 2009

KSO Gives Tuneful Treat to Area Kids

Last week, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra treated kids from Knox County and surrounding schools to a wonderful program of music with a “Musical Superheroes” theme as part of the KSO’s popular Young People’s Concerts.
KSO Resident Conductor James Fellenbaum was in control and at ease with the skill of a master storyteller. He provided lively, concise introductions noting each composer’s “super power,” hamming it up for the delighted audience.
The “Star-Spangled Banner” kicked off the concert of selections familiar and not-so-familiar. The Civic Auditorium was full of the sound of thousands of toes tapping during the second movement of Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony.
Seventeen-year-old flutist Laura Kappa joined 14-year-old harpist Naomi Falconnier as soloists on a concerto by Mozart. Both are members of the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra.
There were squeals of recognition as the first strains of Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” came from the stage. Dancers from Go! Contemporary Dance Works provided a beautiful, moving tableau to illustrate Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.”
For the percussive blast of an excerpt from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” Maestro Fellenbaum encouraged the children to use their imagination to picture themselves triumphing against evil in their own scary adventure.
Rounding out the show was the “Theme from Superman” by John Williams, for which the conductor donned a Superman shirt and cape. At the risk of having an English teacher admonish me for ending a sentence with a preposition … the kids ate it up!
KSO Director of Education and Community Partnerships Jennifer Barnett works closely with the Knox County Public School System to make exciting live musical performances part of kids’ learning experience. For more info on the KSO’s educational outreach program, call Jennifer at 521-2305 or visit www.knoxvillesymphony.com
1. Heroes - David Bowie
2. Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy - The Tams
3. American Tune - Paul Simon
4. Little Child - The Beatles
5. Leader of the Band - Dan Fogelberg
6. Mr. Brightside - The Killers
7. Talk about the Passion - R.E.M.
8. I've Got to use my Imagination - Gladys Knight & the Pips
9. Superman - The Kinks
10. That's Really Super, Supergirl - XTC