The Tone Troll

Isn’t he a beauty?

Charcoal sketch of an angry-looking troll on some rocks holding up a tuning fork.

This image comes courtesy of Tessa Murphy. I’ve plugged Tessa before for her business, which used to be called Howling Pig. While I loved the name, the business is now Tessa Essentials and more accurately advertises what she does, which is make lovely scented soaps, lotions, and balms. Tessa is taking a Photoshop class and decided to make this charmer. He’s free for anyone to use. Just credit Tessa and give a link to her shop.

Now would also be a great time for anyone to consider starting their holiday shopping early, if that’s your thing. Tessa’s stuff makes great gifts, and she could use the income.

Via John McKay.

The Tone Troll


Most of what you’ll hear about Women in Secularism 2 will be about the talks, but some of us got an extra treat. At Saturday night’s fundraising banquet, Shelley Segal played a set for us. I already knew Shelley was lovely and that her album was good after Brianne interviewed her for Atheists Talk. (That was that long ago?!) If you haven’t heard An Atheist Album, give it a taste.

What I didn’t know, and what you should give yourself an opportunity to find out in person, is how much more powerful Shelley’s songs and voice are in person. Here’s a little sample: Continue reading “Gratitude”


That's What Jolly Meant

As I post this, Minnesota’s marriage equality bill should have just been signed into law by Governor Mark Dayton. To celebrate (again! more!), I bring you this charming picture.

Paul Bunyon looking very bear-ish in cutoff shorts, arm in arm with the Jolly Green Giant. Text: In Minnesota, "Equal" Equals Love.

I retweeted someone sharing this* yesterday, and Kelly Barnhill (you remember Kelly) responded to let us know that this image was produced by friends of hers. Spunk Design Machine created this for their Poster Offensive. Now I’m sad I didn’t know about the poster offensive when it happened.

Still, I can squee over it now. Because, you know, I needed another reason to be happy about this.

* For those not up on Minnesota icons, see this and this.

That's What Jolly Meant


One of the great things about living in the Twin Cities is the music scene. No, I don’t just mean Prince, The Replacements, and Brother Ali either. There is a vibrant folk and folk fusion musical community here that produces music that makes the classification parts of your brain hurt even as your ears are happy.

One of the projects from this community is currently seeking funding for mixing and mastering an album. I’ll let Natalie Nowytski explain, because I couldn’t do it justice.

It’s a little known fact that Czechs and Slovaks dig bluegrass. So do I. I also happen to really like Czech and Slovak folk songs. But interestingly, most bluegrass and “newgrass” out of those countries are original compositions; there is no tradition of taking old Czech, Slovak, and Rusyn folk songs and infusing them with a bluegrass sensibility. After years of study and performance of Eastern European music—including a tour many years ago in the Czech Republic, where I was first introduced to Czech bluegrass—and a 3-song demo I recorded shortly thereafter with like-minded musicians, I’m finally working on my first solo album, called Amerikana: traditional folk songs from Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the Rusyns of Eastern Slovakia set to American bluegrass, old time, country, and Americana arrangements, centered around the Prague-based Amistar resophonic guitar. Thanks to the Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, I’ve been able to research, collect, transcribe, arrange, and record this new body of work with some of my favorite local folk musicians, like Peter Ostroushko, Steve Kaul (The Brass Kings), Adam Kiesling (Pert’ Near Sandstone), Jim Parker (Pig’s Eye Landing), Scott Keever (Orkestar Bez Ime), and Gabriela Sweet (Bayou Hazard). I’m now at the post-production stage and need to raise enough money to finish the project before the grant year is over in April.

Full disclosure: One of the musicians on the album is an old roommate of mine. I’m pretty sure that has nothing to do with how much I like the idea of the project, though.

If this is your sort of thing, or if you now need to listen to figure out what sort of thing it is, consider helping fund the project.


Don't Tell Mama

It’s another long day of dance photos today. They’re fun, but…well, long.

One of the middle-school groups on Saturday is dancing to “Don’t Tell Mama”. It was the funniest thing listening to the girls refer to the positions for the photos by the lyrics they went with. Needless to say, they didn’t fit with any of the choreography I’ve seen for the song.

At one point, the instructor stepped back out of the way after posing one of the girls.

Using my low voice, I asked, “So, you’ve had a little discussion group with the dancers to make sure they all understand what the song’s about?”

She didn’t miss a beat. “Oh. Yeah.” Complete deadpan.

And on we went.

One more, gender-swapped for good measure, and because it’s Alan Cumming.

Don't Tell Mama

When Even "Better" Is the Enemy

Jay Smooth has a new video up. As usual, it’s excellent. Unusually, it’s also a bit personally painful to watch.

There are some people, I think, who never have this problem, who never see the urge to be better get in the way of producing solid work. I doubt they get much better at what they’re doing. Continue reading “When Even "Better" Is the Enemy”

When Even "Better" Is the Enemy

On Making Merry

A repost/remix for the day. Original here.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away
Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

I prefer this version of the song to the newer, cheerier lyrics. Continue reading “On Making Merry”

On Making Merry

Unplug the Jukebox

Adam Ant is back.

No, it’s not too surprising if your response is, “Who?” He was more of a sensation everywhere but the U.S. and was popular mostly among the alternative (before it was called any such thing) crowd here. Also, it was a long, long time ago in music terms. But if you’re listening to post-punk music now, Adam Ant is one of the people you’ve got to thank for shaping your music.

And now he’s back, talking about the bipolar disorder that took him out of the scene and making more music.

Between 1999 and 2001, he was suffering terrible mood swings – ­symptoms of his undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

He was planning to tour again until, in 2002, he ended up in court after smashing a pub window in a fit of “hypomania”.

He was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment and for the next 10 years fought to understand and control his condition, writing movingly about it in his 2006 autobiography Stand and Deliver.

He says: “You either discuss it or you don’t. It’s been very therapeutic to talk about it.

“I learn more all the time – especially from Stephen Fry who also has it and is extremely knowledgeable.

“The main thing is not to feel ashamed. It will pass. You can manage it.

“I’m bringing out my first album in 17 years and I hope, as I produce more work and get known for that again, people won’t just define me by my mental illness.”

It’s good to see him making mental health problems less taboo. The stories in 2002 were ugly. Celebrity gossip treatment meant that his bipolar disorder was leapt upon as a sort of character weakness, something that explained how “weird” he’d always been (because highly dramatic musical presentations always require an explanation beyond being entertaining).

The new music? No less dramatic, but decidedly another flavor.

Unplug the Jukebox

Embracing the Euphemism

I’m at CSICon this weekend with very limited writing time, so have a fun repost. Originally posted here.

I’ve long had a complicated relationship with euphemisms. On their own, I don’t like them much. I’m annoyed by people’s inability to talk about the things they clearly want or need to talk about. Many of them reflect the negative attitudes that keep us from speaking plainly in the first place. And some of them are just gallingly twee.

However, put a bunch of them together in one place, and they go from an act of denial to a demonstration of our creativity in the face of repression and a testament to the fact that we will talk about these things, no matter how much we’re told we shouldn’t. One lovely example is this song, brought to my attention by Sex, Etc., a sex education site aimed at teenagers. I don’t need to tell you this isn’t work-safe, do I? Continue reading “Embracing the Euphemism”

Embracing the Euphemism