My Favorites

Copyright 2008-2020 by Richard J. Ballard -- All Rights Reserved.

A list of my favorite music, books and cinema. My taste is 20th Century eclectic.

Sections:

Music Listing

Premonition [LIVE] by John Fogerty

John Fogerty taught me everything I need to know.

A Little Ain't Enough by David Lee Roth

Thursday night on the wrong side of town.

Last Train To Memphis by Johnny Rivers

The best MALE vocalist that I know -- afterhours at a river city blues club.

Last Boogie In Paris [LIVE] by Johnny Rivers & His LA Boogie Band

Established musicians want to avoid a We've heard it all before! audience reaction during live performances. Here Johnny Rivers presents his distinctly American music to European audiences.

Lisa Stansfield by Lisa Stansfield

The best FEMALE vocalist that I know -- Lisa plays 21st Century Dionne Warwick. Try The #1 Remixes (EP) as a chaser.

Rickie Lee Jones / Pirates / It's Like This by Rickie Lee Jones

People enjoy vocalists for a number of reasons, usually a combination of vocal quality and the chosen lyrical/musical program. Sometimes it gets personal: the vocalist's style reminds you of somebody you know (very disconcerting if your later parting is unpleasant). And sometimes the studio session performance and/or the engineering is remarkably good, suggesting somebody really enjoyed making this recording.

I first heard Rickie Lee Jones late in the game, watching her 1979 nationwide debut on a Saturday Night Live DVD rerun. Rickie's voice and style are remarkable, the session musicians / contributors are incredible, and her selections (original or otherwise) paint a culturally striking picture. The three listed albums (from 1979, 1990 and 2000) provide a good introduction to Rickie Lee Jones' artistry.

On The Night [LIVE] by Dire Straits

Lyrical mastery strengthened by LIVE play. PLAY IT LOUD!

Rockin' Down The Highway: The Wildlife Concert [LIVE] by The Doobie Brothers

This LIVE album was somewhat underappreciated, but the music is great and the lyrics merit careful listening: the gentlemen of Southern Rock in concert.

Alive In America [LIVE] by Steely Dan

LIVE Dan -- out of the studio and swingin'.

Scarecrow by John (Cougar) Mellencamp

Some of my best thinking (Huff! Puff!) happened in the hills surrounding Nashville Indiana.

Workingman's Dead by the Grateful Dead

This 1970 album always was my favorite Grateful Dead album, but its lyrics are fresh and delicious during the rampant unemployment following The Great Recession. IMO author Harry M. Caudill's c1962 documentary report Night Comes to the Cumberlands (A Biography of a Depressed Area) provides a piquant sauce for this particular socioeconomic goose.

Never Die Young by James Taylor

Women often view motherhood as a post-workplace second career; men's societal secondary options are less clearly defined. James Taylor's nice album depicts one man's second time around, surviving small town mundane existence without the pack.

Learning To Flinch [LIVE] by Warren Zevon

The real thing -- Warren plays for the people LIVE.

Mirrorball [LIVE] by Sarah McLachlan

'Hate the story. 'Love the LIVE performance.

Ringo by Ringo Starr

A happy man looks at divorce.

a hot Night in Paris [LIVE] by Phil Collins Big Band

I truly like Ringo Starr, but this live recording IMO merits a lifetime achievement award for composer / vocalist / percussionist Phil Collins. Featured composer and keyboard artist George Duke (no longer with us) also performed with Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention on their 1970 tour. Lyric enthusiasts can hear similar arrangements on Phil Collin's CD Serious Hits - Live.

Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 by Blood, Sweat & Tears

This 1970 album was lost amidst the Watergate chaos but it carries an important lesson: We are not unique. This has happened before.

Live From Central Park [LIVE] by Sheryl Crow and Friends

This album was somewhat underappreciated, but IMO Sheryl helped redefine popular culture and this is a top notch LIVE performance: Sheryl and her friends strut their stuff.

Street Angel by Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks has a unique voice and this album's selections fit beautifully. The Feminine Mystique nicely exPLAYned: I gotta strut!

City To City
Clowns To The Left, Jokers To The Right by Gerry Rafferty

Somehow I completely ignored the band Stealer's Wheel while growing up, but I enjoy Gerry Rafferty's skilled arrangements and his clever lyrics.

You Should Have Been There [LIVE] by Savoy Brown

I discovered Savoy Brown late in the game. This 2005 live album IMO is one of their best.

Shaman by Carlos Santana

The original and still the best -- Carlos plays in the background and nobody notices.

September Of My Years by Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra is a wonderful vocalist, and this music CD tells a story that IMO all young men should hear before they graduate.

Volare! The Very Best Of The Gipsy Kings by The Gipsy Kings

I do not speak Spanish, but in Madrid Spain I watched the flamenco and former Latin students can read between the lines. Volare! is an excellent introduction to the Gipsy Kings' music. The first CD features humorous lyrics, while the more traditional second CD includes my favorite version of Hotel California. When I want energetic music I play this two CD 2000 set.

Arabic Groove by Putumayo

I have watched bellydancers both in Morocco and in the United States. This collection is the best international recording I know.

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Books Listing

Caravans by James A. Michener

Reality: no machines. Michener lived in Afghanistan during the 1950s. Michener understood Afghanistan and Michener understood people. Nothing ... has changed.

Don't Know Much About The Bible by Kenneth C. Davis

Kenneth C. Davis has written a good liberal synopsis for busy humans. IMO one reason the Bible survives is that the Bible is classic human literature, a source of historic allegory. Example: How long will it take to solve your problem? In Exodus 32:15-34:17, Moses walks down Mt. Sinai after talking with Jehovah. Moses finds the tribe worshipping a golden idol. As a result of that idol worship the tribe wanders forty years through the wilderness. Example: IMO the descriptive adjective ruthless is based upon the humble story told in the Christian Old Testament's Book of Ruth. Example: IMO I will not join your tribe summarizes the Christian Old Testament's Twenty-third Psalm.

Dune and Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

IMO Frank Herbert's 1965 Dune and 1969 Dune Messiah are great science fiction because they present ideas that haunt me years and decades later. The ideas are: 1) Control a superior intelligence by warping his / her social environment with deliberate misinformation [a corollary is A shilling costs little to implement]; 2) The Bene Gesserit [Latin translation: S/He will bear it well] sisterhood's human multigenerational controlled-breeding program designed to produce superior (e.g., physically attractive, but that gets old fast) offspring; 3) The desert planet Arrakis has a name pronounced somewhat like Iraqis. Arrakis is a prize planet because it produces the empowering but addictive spice melange. Whoever controls Arrakis' melange has a stranglehold on interplanetary travel and commerce.

My reading experience is that authors often have plot strong ideas for one or two volumes, but lose momentum when producing a trilogy or longer book series. Regrettably, this is my impression of 1976's Children Of Dune, the third novel in the eight novel (six written by Frank Herbert) Dune Chronicles series. Nine years have passed since the end of Dune Messiah; and Arrakis has been transformed with environmental greenery while the Fremen religion has become an inflexible government bureaucracy under Paul Atreides' sister Alia. Circumstances have totally changed the characterizations developed within the first two novels: the reader deals with an essentially different cast of characters. Simultaneously, Children Of Dune's slow-moving plot wallows in Bene Gesserit musings and intra-family palace intrigue instead of depicting meaningful events.

My disappointment extends to 1981's God Emperor Of Dune, the Dune Chronicles fourth novel. God Emperor Of Dune brings another paradigm shift to the Dune saga, occuring 3,500 years into the reign of Paul Atreides' son Leto II. The greening of Arrakis is complete; only desert small regions are allowed to exist and most of the sandworms are gone: the melange resulting shortage absolutely empowers Leto II's government. Leto II rules with an iron hand; his reign is predictably peaceful but human society has lost its aggressive edge. And God Emperor Of Dune fills its pages with Leto II's governance philosophy musings, resembling Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince as enacted by Lewis Carroll's egotistic Red Queen; the novel does not resemble fantasy or science fiction.

The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner

A 1969 tale of increasing societal agoraphobia. IMO The Jagged Orbit is equal with John Brunner's award-winning 1968 Stand On Zanzibar. Author Clifford D. Simak's 1952 City and author Isaac Asimov's 1957 The Caves Of Steel also depict increasing societal agoraphobia.

The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame: Volumes One, Two A, Two B and Four:

In the mid-1970s I first read these classic short stories and novellas from The Golden Age Of Science Fiction. In the 21st Century they helped me understand the inexplicable: Who dealt this mess, anyway?

Volume One edited by Robert Silverberg

In Volume One, 1963 A Rose For Ecclesiastes goes down smooth, 1938 Helen O'Loy stresses the social triangle's stability and the Dutch uncle's credulity (BTW, ... love the one you're with ... can express exasperated disbelief), c1948 Mars Is Heaven! sticks in your throat, 1948 Scanners Live In Vain will not nourish you and 1940 The Roads Must Roll will ditch you.

Volume Two A edited by Ben Bova

In Volume Two A, author John W. Campbell, Jr. (writing as Don A. Stuart) depicts fear of the evolving unknown in his 1938 novella Who Goes There? (later adapted by director John Carpenter in his 1982 film The Thing starring Kurt Russell). Author C. M. Kornbluth's 1951 novella The Marching Morons depicts the ethics of persuasion. Author C. L. Moore (writing as Lawrence O'Donnell) and author Henry Kuttner depict exquisite detachment skirting impending disaster in their 1946 novella Vintage Season. Author H. G. Wells' c1934 novella The Time Machine (and director George Pal's classic 1960 film adaptation starring Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Alan Young and Sebastian Cabot) illustrates how societal poverty might channel individuals' lives and destinies. Author Jack Williamson's 1954 novella With Folded Hands submits his notion of a safe, secure claustrophobic residential future: end of (credit) card play; societal bankruptcy; nothing left to do; accept socialism.

Volume Two B edited by Ben Bova

In Volume Two B, author Algis Budrys' 1960 novella Rogue Moon depicts the yin and yang of reinventing yourself. Author James H. Schmitz's 1949 novella The Witches of Karres depicts the mixed blessings accrued from rescued witches. Author Frederik Pohl's 1954 novella The Midas Plague and author Jack Vance's 1961 novella The Moon Moth both depict individual struggle in extremely structured affluent societies, while author E. M. Forster's 1928 novella depicts increasing human dysfunction when The Machine Stops as a mechanized internetworked society's infrastructure first predominates and then crumbles.

The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame: Volume III edited by Arthur C. Clarke and George W. Proctor is not one of my favorites. Containing the 1965-1969 Nebula award winning stories, author Anne McCaffrey's 1967 novella Dragonrider dominates the volume. I acknowledge Dragonrider as significant literature; and I understand why Dragonrider was written with the theme even when burdened with comparative poverty, destroy the threads that fall from the sky lest they overcome our world (an adversarial relationship instead of a complementary relationship). But Dragonrider shares literary DNA and shares plot themes with author John Norman's (currently) 36-book fantasy odyssey Gorean Saga that began with the 1966 publication of Tarnsman Of Gor; and the Gorean Saga has languished in cultish obscurity. Harlon Ellison's Strangelovian 1969 short story A Boy and His Dog IMO is the best story of the lot within The Science Fiction Hall Of Fame: Volume III.

Volume Four edited by Terry Carr

Volume Four contains the 1970-1974 Nebula award winning stories and apparently is this series' last volume. Volume Four IMO strongly depicts modern feminism's impact upon science fiction. Johnna Russ's 1972 short story When It Changed illustrates that expectations evolve when society evolves. James Tiptree, Jr.'s 1973 short story Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death provides an alien depiction of intergenerational and cultural conflict. Then a man seeks closure after his wife crosses the street in Robert Silverberg's 1974 short story Born with the Dead.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

This 1962 novel is for men of all ages. Author Ray Bradbury also wrote the screenplay for director Jack Clayton's (IMO excellent) 1983 film adaptation starring Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Pam Grier and Diane Ladd. Many authors have addressed the theme innocents lost but IMO Ray Bradbury is particularly insightful: Don't get whirled on the marry-go-round; you might not recover!

A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

Wonderfully written 1959 novel about a monastic order coping with post-atomic Armaggedon society where daily life is a mortal struggle against lucifer's chaos. The old tomato woman (generic to all disasters) is the sleeper: initially you deal charitably with Mrs. Grales (gray ills); afterwards you are forced to deal with Rachel.

Atlas Shrugged and We The Living by Ayn Rand

Throughout my life I knew people who referenced Ayn Rand's books but nobody had read them; finally I read several. The writing is old-fashioned and sometimes ponderous, but the characterizations are strong and the message is memorable: struggle in eras of declining expections. Atlas Shrugged depicts personal struggle to maintain infrastucture while the United States' impoverished society crumbles. [I discuss the Atlas Shrugged film version later in this webpage.] We The Living depicts the politicization of employment (That's not gonna work!) and the forced takeover of private real estate during the impoverishment following Russia's Bolshevik (Communist) Revolution.

The novels of author William Gibson

In 1999 The Guardian (UK) described William Gibson as probably the most important novelist of the past two decades. Gibson's novels and his biography have been analyzed exhaustively; I cannot top that coverage. My goal is to direct engineers and technologists towards Gibson's novels because IMO Gibson's perspective is professionally valuable, conveying a lesson never taught in engineering school.

The best science fiction IMO follows a recipe: The author posits a technology (perhaps without any inkling how the technology might be implemented) and then predicts the societal future consequences of that technology. William Gibson pioneered cyberpunk, the combination of low-life and high-tech, recognizing that people (especially impoverished people) culturally evolve slowly, while technology evolves rapidly and sometimes evolves chaotically as driven by marketplace desirability and affordability. [Have you ever asked yourself Working that job, how can he afford that freshly-detailed monster pickup truck? or asked yourself How can that kid afford a $500.00 smartphone?]

Gibson's initial notice as an author followed his defining cyberspace (i.e., widespread, interconnected digital technology) in his 1982 short story Burning Chrome (later elaborated in his 1984 novel Neuromancer). Gibson is the first to acknowledge that he did not predict the Internet: Gibson's cyberspace was corporately controlled; and totally lacked the individual conversations, the texting and the ubiquitous photography generated by individuals' personal computers and smartphones. These works gained William Gibson a reputation as a futuristic genius and formed the foundation for his dystopian (not utopian) Sprawl trilogy. Gibson then wrote his Bridge trilogy about an even later dystopia where the have-nots cope while living within a digitally-enhanced and nanotechnology-enabled post-industrial society lacking good-paying manufacturing employment. September 11th occurred while Gibson was writing the first novel of his Blue Ant trilogy, forcing a major rewrite so the trilogy depicts wealthy multinational players steering contemporary culture and technological society for their own benefit.

Above all else, Gibson's novels are a good read packed with detail that allows the reader to visualize actually living in that culture. And Gibson's thinking IMO is remarkable: Where does one individual acquire that wealth of diverse ideas? Reading Gibson's novels is an enjoyable adventure that IMO probably will alter engineers and technologists' professional perspectives.

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Cinema Listing

Breaking Away starring Dennis Christopher and Dennis Quaid

This 1979 film POORtrays Indiana high school graduates learning about life; I particularly enjoy this film because the avid cyclist (Dennis Christopher) escapes from hometown mundane life after high school. IMO the 1963 classic film The Great Escape starring Steve McQueen, James Gardner and Richard Attenborough also is remarkable because the successful, least dramatic escape is achieved on a bicycle by Australian Sedgwick (James Coburn).

Rollerball starring James Caan, John Houseman and Maud Adams

Director Norman Jewison's 1975 film depicts a sports celebrity seeking personal worth in a future United States that is devoid of personal initiative and is governed by controlling multinational corporations whose motivation techniques include providing employees' housing and spouses. A good action film wrapped around social commentary: Rollerball is roller derby elevated to warfare.

Bedazzled starring Elizabeth Hurley and Brendan Frasier

Never make a deal with the devil -- you'll get more than you requested.

Hardbodies

The local girls seek a bigger and better deal, and Scotty Palmer seeks quarters while three middle-aged men party on the beach and pay the cost in this 1984 film. (Guys, avoid the Candy Rappers!)

Waterhole #3 starring Carroll O'Connor and James Coburn

The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful go for the gold in this 1967 film.

Deal Of The Century starring Chevy Chase, Sigourney Weaver and Gregory Hines

This 1983 film depicts arms dealers out to make a killing ... but first ya gotta wait!

Catch-22 starring Alan Arkin, Martin Balsam, Jon Voight et al

The 21st Century is awash in (sometimes foolish) adversity. When I feel flooded, director Mike Nichols' all star 1970 film helps keep me afloat. (IMO screenwriter/actor Buck Henry generally is underappreciated.)

The Right Stuff starring Sam Shepard et al

This 1983 film (4 Academy Awards) chronicles pioneering human achievement. Yet even after the dramatic salvage of the Apollo 13 mission, some of the public began losing interest in the space program.

A Clockwork Orange starring Malcolm McDowell

Classic quality cinema. Brainwashing and dumb obsession motivate ultra-violence. The film ending depicts why You can't go back.

The Man In The Iron Mask starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jeremy Irons

This 1997 attractive action film teaches a lesson about organized reaction to dissent. Oddly I associate this film with the 1986 book The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed by former President Reagan's first term Office of Management and Budget director David Alan Stockman.

Hudson Hawk starring Bruce Willis, Danny Aiello, Andie MacDowell and James Coburn

A different role for Mr. Die Hard: Bruce Willis POORtrays a musically-inclined cat burglar who reluctantly saves the world. Director Michael Lehmann's 1991 film features wonderful settings and strong character development.

Tombstone starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer

Director George P. Cosmatos' 1993 film depicts Western life as a messy yet IMO attractive masculine society.

Commando starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong and Alyssa Milano

In this 1985 film superbly muscled Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an ex-Army officer whose daughter is kidnapped. Uncharacteristically brutal fight scene with Vernon Wells (The Toecutter from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior). I have enjoyed Arnold Schwarzenegger's roles throughout his career.

The 6th Day starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Duvall

A good (unpublicized) 2000 action film that addresses the social implications of genetic engineering and losing yourself. Think: We were supposed to have lots of pretty girlfriends after the move. Dr. Strangelove did not discuss this! The Pentagon's 2016 decision to start freezing soldiers' eggs and sperm IMO revitalizes this film's plot.

Five Easy Pieces starring Jack Nicholson, Karen Black and Susan Anspach

Director Bob Rafelson's classic 1970 film (Best Picture Oscar nominee) about filial guilt and cultural disenchantment; I have enjoyed Jack Nicholson's roles throughout his career. IMO superior in all respects to director/actor Danny DeVito's comedic 1987 film Throw Momma from the Train also starring Billy Crystal and Anne Ramsey (1988 Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee). Producer / director Robert Redford's 1992 film A River Runs Through It starring Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt tells a related but different story: a man returns home looking for himself and learns that he no longer is there.

The Firm starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman

Idealistic law school graduate and his wife seek employment; instead they find all-consuming obsession. I have enjoyed Tom Cruise's roles throughout his career. (The Firm workout video numerous titles make director Sydney Pollack's 1993 film difficult to locate within online catalogs.)

Medicine Man starring Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco

A wonderful film for men who dream of Getting away from it all -- it finds you. I have enjoyed Sean Connery's roles throughout his career.

An American Werewolf in Paris starring Tom Everett Scott and Julie Delpy

I visited the Eiffel Tower and I saw the gargoyle tableaux at Notre Dame de Paris, but this 1997 film makes me wonder if I sleepwalked through Paris. Tied with Underworld (a vampire / werewolf film) for the best werewolf film that I know.

Underworld starring Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman

Wealthy organized vampires (Death Dealers, similar to Anne Rice's Talamasca) battle impoverished organized werewolves for supernatural supremacy. Director Len Wiseman's 2003 film centers around vampire Selene's (Kate Beckinsale) quest to understand why the werewolves doggedly pursue human Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). A good cinematic vehicle for Kate Beckinsale, impressive special effects, repeated stylized depiction of falling angels who usually land on their feet. Tied with An American Werewolf in Paris for the best werewolf film film that I know.

Tank Girl starring Lori Petty and Malcolm McDowell

I do not give feminist issues a high ranking; but in the end, power and water are the only issues. I have long sought an affordable copy of Lori Petty playing Tank Girl. Visual dynamite!

Atlas Shrugged (Part 1)
Atlas Shrugged (Part 2)
Atlas Shrugged (Part 3)

I admire Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged (discussed earlier); its writing style and technology descriptions are dated but the self-motivational message rings true. When I learned that the novel had inspired a three-film series (films released in 2011, 2012 and 2015 respectively), I had to watch the films.

The films somewhat update the novel: Terrorism has disrupted global energy supplies, weakening infrastructure until rail transport is the only reliable transport. But government interference and decayed infrastructure hinder railroad operations even as reliance upon the railroads increases. Simultaneously, society's industrial giants (e.g., major corporation CEOs) are vanishing, often leaving behind a cryptic message: Who is John Galt? The first film takes the viewer through the disappearance of a Colorado energy magnate, a man whose business was supposed to finance railroad continued operations. The second film takes the viewer to John Galt's threshold.

Ayn Rand's original novel is written darkly, signifying industrial society's collapse. The updated film series depicts societal unrest and poverty instead of darkness, and the films highlight western beautiful vistas, signifying the independent spirit of the western United States. Ayn Rand's original novel is a testament to freeing capitalists from government interference [socialism (redistribution of wealth following excessive taxation) and communism (government seizure of real and intellectual private property)]; the film series continues this theme. I somewhat discount the pro-capitalism theme: both capitalists and government are guilty of excesses. I view the novel and this film series as celebrating engineers and problem-solvers' societal contributions while depicting the envy and the interference that successful engineers and problem-solvers routinely encounter. And in the end we each create our own Atlantis.

Apparently there were some financial challenges making the film series: character actors sometimes change between films. But the screenplay updates Ayn Rand's original premise, the films' events and characters are well-presented, and the cinematography is impressive. The film series' updated depiction IMO is thoroughly enjoyable; my only regret is that the film series omits an Ayn Rand memorable quotation: There are sins of commission, and there are sins of omission. I highly recommend the Atlas Shrugged film series to engineers and to other problem-solvers.

Married With Children: The Complete Series starring Ed O'Neill, Katey Sagal, Christina Applegate and David Faustino

I have a lifelong fascination with the Bundys. While a college student, on initial viewing the Bundys merely were obnoxiously funny. While watching reruns (after leaving college) I noticed that the Bundys got smarter with repetition. Now I'm retired, yet the Bundys still are uproariously funny.

Dean Adams' encyclopedic Married With Children Program Guide (linked through www.faqs.org) allows me to wallow in Bundy trivia. And video recording technology has improved: the packaging is somewhat fragile, but I purchased the eleven season Married With Children complete set on thirty-two DVDs for less than fifty dollars, IMO a wonderful entertainment bargain. In February 2014 it appears this DVD set is out of print: available sets fetch a higher price. But like pretty boy Jefferson D'Arcy I smile as I shrug my shoulders, thinking I got mine.

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