e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



The story of break is the story of food. Cooking to relax. Cooking to entertain. Some highlights...

Christmas Eve is all about the fish and seafood. My dad is the main architect of the dinner, but my sister and I helped. A lot of frying--croppies, shrimp, smelt--and I have the burn to prove it. Then there's the squid, which can't be undercooked or overcooked or it becomes inedible. I take no credit for the squid. That was all dad. Ditto the bacala salad. When I was a kid, my grandma served the bacala straight, but my dad's taken to combining the fish with eggplant, artichokes, celery, et al which is a brilliant move.

After the late-night drive, Christmas day. I made turkey with all the trimmings for the wife's side of the family. Even the gravy (I'm notoriously inconsistent with gravy) turned out well. Drippings from the turkey in a pan, I shake up milk and flour in a tupperware and then whisk the mixture into the drippings. Add a dash of salt and pepper, and that's it. Good stuff. Simple mashed potatoes. Simple stuffing (lots of celery and sage). Lots of homemade cookies. All-American meal after the seafood extravaganza of the previous night.

Yesterday, we celebrated Nicole's birthday. I made chili, a big fruit salad with lots of wedges of clementines, and a ricotta cake with cherries on top. That pretty much capped off the cooking frenzy. I'm starting a healthy eating plan a day early, missing the new year's rush.


the 2008 mixtape

I love year-end lists. Love 'em, love 'em, love 'em. Best films. Most interesting people. Most incomprehensible things overheard in the UM-Dearborn Arts Sciences and Letters Building. Strangest Gatorade flavors.

In his work on journaling, scholar Tom Romano talks about imagining an audience for his journal writing: himself as an old man, an old man who may or may not remember what it felt like to be 20 years old, or 35, or whatever age. Lists freeze a moment like few other genres can.

As a fairly obsessive music fan, the music lists are by far my favorite. As an old man, maybe forgetful of what my 34th year was like, what will I remember as my favorite music of 2008? Here's the recorded music I most enjoyed...

10. Tie: Hard Lessons, "See and Be Scene" and Estelle/Kanye West, "American Boy"
Two great duets. The Hard Lessons let the boy-girl vocal sharing mirror the fact that the guitar and organ share lead duties too. The vocals, which critique hipsterism, are a bit predictable, but that doesn't stop the song from being a great 60s pop throwback anthem. Meanwhile, Estelle (yes, her voice is gorgeous) and Kanye raise the bar for r&b ballads.

9. REM, Accelerate album
Is this the greatest thing REM's recorded? Of course not. But listen without prejudice and find lean, fast rock songs like "Living Well is the Best Revenge" and "Man-Sized Wreath." Who cares if they're old? So am I.

8. Belle and Sebastian, "I'm Waiting for the Man"
From the two-disc BBC Sessions record, this live Velvet Underground cover is, out of nowhere, one of B&S's essential recordings. How can a band that does twee get so gritty?

7. Beyonce, "Single Ladies"
I'm not a big fan of much top 40 music, but Beyonce turns out such hooky, well-written, well-executed singles, you can't help but listen.

6. The Kills, Midnight Boom album
They do dirty blues-rock better than The Black Keys in my opinion. Antagonistic lyrics and an overall aggressive ethos, but without sacrificing melody. Standout track: "Tape Song."

5. SSM, Break Your Arm for Evolution album
Psychedelic synth-rock from Detroit. The weirdest record I heard all year. Best when consumed loudly.

4. Dengue Fever, Venus on Earth album
Dengue Fever gets tagged with the dreaded "dad rock" and "NPR rock" labels all the time and, well, I first heard them on NPR, so I guess the tags have merit. Who cares? DF is a psychedelic-rock band fronted by a Cambodian diva who on some tracks sings gorgeous love songs in her native tongue. Other tunes, sung in English by various band members, take a more traditional rock approach. The opener, "Seeing Hands" is hypnotic. "Sober Driver," a kind of re-telling of Wilco's "Passenger Side," is funny and sad all at once.

3. TV on the Radio, "Golden Age"
What a messy and beautiful collision of funk, Afrobeat, pop, and rock: "It comes like a natural disaster/all blowin' up like a ghetto blaster."

2. Santogold, s/t album
Like TVOTR, genre and race boundaries are a non-issue for Santogold. Take a little ska, a little punk, a little dance, a little electronic...you get the point. A lot of the year's best music seems influenced by the mash-up movement that was so popular a few years back, except now artists are mashing the disparate genres on their own, making later mashes unnecessary.

1. The Dirtbombs, We Have You Surrounded album
Thematically, the tightest record yet from the best band in Detroit. Lyrics about urban unrest and anxiety set to a fast and fun amalgamation of soul and punk rock. The perfect soundtrack for a year when things fell apart in motown.


Bill O'Reilly Flips Out

Via stereogum.com part 2. Most people have probably seen this already, but it's like a fine wine...

Bert and Ernie

via stereogum.com


thanks jerk

Thanks Blagojevich. The country's not in enough of a mess. Obama doesn't already have a hard enough time cleaning up a dozen different spills. He really needed a distraction like this. Of course by all credible accounts, Obama's circle seems to have had absolutely nothing to do with this knucklehead's schemes. But that won't stop the right from doing a guilt-by-association number ("they're all part of the Chicago machine"). At any rate, thank goodness Blagojevich has given the media something to divert people's attention from dumb stuff like the auto industry crisis, the recession, and the legacy of Bush foreign policy.

How stupid was Blagojevich? He apparently didn't think anybody would be paying attention to the appointment of a replacement for that obscure Illinois politician WHO JUST GOT ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Nah, nobody's gonna be watching that process.

what haven't you read?

This week's AV Club has a nice piece called "Art We've Resisted," in which staffers talk about the music, tv, or film they've never made time to consume. "Resisted" is a telling and appopriate choice of words. When you consume pop culture in Big Gulps (the 48-oz. variety), you're essentially making a choice not to see the buzzworthy film or listen to the record that pitchfork gave a 10.0.

Me? I've never seen Titanic, Top Gun, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I've never listened to a Radiohead studio album from beginning to end. I've never read Thomas Pynchon, except for the Crying of Lot 49, which I read for a class (this would have been circa 1995, Postmodernism taught by Prof. Culik).

At my former institution, we once played the "what book haven't you read?" at an English Department party. The highbrow version of the AV Club article, I suppose.

How about you? What haven't you read? What haven't you consumed?


mini-review: Belle and Sebastian

Like The Smiths, Belle and Sebastian invoke Andy Warhol on most of their record sleeves. Their new release, "BBC Sessions," is no exception. And the young hippychick, shown in black and white lost in a smile, is suggestive of the experience of hearing B&S, who for the most part showcase their optimistic pop inclinations on "Sessions."
The new record consists of two discs, one a collection of several appearances on BBC radio and one a concert taped in Glasgow in 2001. The BBC disc offers mellow versions of some of the best songs from "Tigermilk," "If You're Feeling Sinister," and their late-90s EPs. The standout track is a reading of "Lazy Line Painter Jane" (here called "Lazy Jane" for some reason), a song rightly considered one of the band's finest hours. The "Lazy Jane" version is, well, lazy sounding, but in a good way, as the melody lilts along without a whole lot of effort. Beautiful. Several unreleased songs, all heavy on Isobel Campbell vocals, end the disc, including the bouncy "Magic of a Kind Word," another standout moment. Over and over again, listeners are reminded of what a big sound B&S creates, combining rock guitars with string arrangements, percussions that echo 60s pop-rock, and even the occasional horn or two.
Even more enjoyable, the high-energy live disc. While the BBC tracks are slightly more mellow than the studio versions, the live tracks sound aggressive and fast. Even with the additional strings, the band never sounds orchestral in a wimpy way. In short, the live set rocks. "Me and the Major" benefits from the speed-it-up ethos of the set. So do covers of "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "The Boys Are Back in Town." Do we need another indie band doing an homage to the Velvet Underground? Yes. The band's reading of "I'm Waiting for the Man" is dirty, fuzzy, free of frills, and essential. With the exception of Yo La Tengo, I don't know another act with the breadth of Belle and Sebastian. Both discs of this new release see the band moving from lush and twee to raucous and fun. Recommended for diehards and newbies alike.


this is great

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

winter blues

Smokey and Hyatt six short weeks ago, enjoying autumn in the backyard. These two really miss those fall temperatures. Hunker down, guys, you won't be lounging in the fresh air for at least three months.


is Christmas frightening?

So last night Nicole and I put up our Christmas tree whilst enjoying some seasonal music. I should admit up front that aside from Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and the Ronettes' version of "Frosty the Snowman," I'm not a big fan of Christmas music. I love Christmas. I love music. Christmas music? Not so much.

Having said that, what's the story with "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"? Specifically, the line about the Christmas party where people share "scary ghost stories." Who tells ghost stories at a Christmas party?

Also, how about Louis Prima's "Shake Hands with Santa Claus." Not bad for a Christmas song, but what's with the whole verse about bananas? "If you want bananas, I'll give you bananas." I think this line is supposed to be from Santa's perspective, and I guess the implicit point Santa is making is that he can give you anything you want. I'm not sure bananas are the best way to illustrate the breadth of Santa's gift-giving ability. Alternate interpretation: Prima is lapsing into his King Louie persona from The Jungle Book.



Oh how the semester starts to disappear after Thanksgiving. So does free time. Not a good day to be sluggish. I got in a morning workout at the rec center and tried tried tried to catch up on work in my office. Emails. IRB paperwork. Prepping for class. Marking student papers. Generally getting organized. I've just organized the rest of the day's work and I'm heading home before the snow starts to accumulate.

Despite feeling sluggish, nice to be back after a great week in Arizona. The house is still standing. Hyatt and Smokey are still the most neurotic dogs in the motor city. And sadly Michigan is still cold.

As always, our Arizona hosts were awesome and showed us a good time. We did a quick trip to Tucson but mostly stayed in the Tempe-Phoenix area, where we took in the Botanical Gardens (which has a spectacular Chihuly Glass installation right now) and The Heard. Nicole and I ended up spending the better part of a day at the Heard Museum and got a lot out of their exhibit on the awful Indian boarding schools the government set up for kids who they essentially kidnapped in order to "civilize."

No matter how cool Detroit is, there's always a part of me that wonders why we ever left Arizona. Especially this time of year.