Black and Blue Simmer: Three Albums for Your Summer Soundtrack

With my first Capri Sun of the year imbibed (thanks Hunter and LA!), we can now officially announce the onset of summer. School business is coming to a close and graduations are commencing. Baby boy will soon celebrate 7 months of joyful existence and bask in his first summer brightened by familial sun.

So pop your cans and clap your hands! It’s time to cue up the summer soundtrack! From morning commute to beach getaway, these albums will liven up your travels. Each artist on this list offers up a record that represents a culmination of their musical powers and all are worthy of your grill and chill time. Without further delay, here are three strong contenders for your endless summer rotation.

oberst-upside-down-mountain-338x300Upside Down Mountain is Conor Oberst at his very best. The album’s reflective and expansive lyrics are sealed in a 1970s California sound.  While the Wah-Wahs wah and the guitars twang, Oberst delivers lyrics that dance around the dark edges of life. With song titles like Enola Gay, the artist is not afraid to point out the futile struggles of modern life. This isn’t to say the album is downcast. In many ways, the acceptance of life’s limitations has a freeing effect and the music moves upward as Oberst laments his musings. Ziggzaggig Toward the Light is a confident testament to living free and making art on your own terms.  Night at Lake Unknown is a whimsical, swirling country tinged play about. All in all, Upside Down Mountain is perfect for bringing your summer morning into focus, especially when the album strips down to the acoustic simplicity of Desert Island Questionnaire and Artifact #1.

turn blueThe Black Key’s Turn Blue trades in the crunch stomp that made the band famous for a more nuanced, pop bubbling sound. With Danger Mouse once again producing and co-writing with the duo, the band finds itself experimenting with song construction and vocal performance.  The songs on the album expand outward and falsetto-croons are trapped inside Danger Mouse’s airtight sound. Songs like Weight of Love and Bullet in the Brain build and move across sonic landscapes that dip and dive with flourishes of guitar brilliance.  Gary Clark Jr.’s influence can be felt throughout the record and is most evident on the album’s subdued title track. Turn Blue plays best out by the grill or on motorcycle drive-bys. If you need to take a trip to headphone land, the album can fill that void, too. Overall, Turn Blue represents the big mid-day snack of your summer.

Jack_White_-_LazarettoLazeretto is probably the best album of Jack White‘s inventive and groundbreaking career. The Black Keys sing the blues. Jack White belts out the blues with a white-hot flame throwing veracity that torches the eardrum.  White has gone on record to point the finger at his imitators (the Black Keys among them) and the self imposed shoulder chip serves him well. We all need something to prove. With that in mind, White delivers a record that deconstructs all of his earlier work, from the White Stripes to his collaboration with Loretta Lynn, and rebuilds it into one giant towering babel of sound. The title track lays down the gauntlet, White rapping with enthused zeal while his guitar plays jam master to the ceremony at hand. The album goes on to the explore every music possibility from the modern Appalachia of Temporary Ground to the stripped down Entitlement. No genre is left untouched or reimagined.  High Ball Stepper brings all White’s musings together and the stomp that entails is an instrumental warning to all other musical challengers that he is a force to be reckoned with.  With that said, the entirety of Lazaretto has enough variety to support a romping party by a summer bonfire held underneath the held high stars.  In deed, the energy present throughout the album should inject your summer rotation with enough vigor to get you to August and beyond.

RIP Rubin “HURRICANE” Carter

Rubin Carter

He was the inspiration for the last great political song of Bob Dylan’s career.  He was a man who never gave up the fight to clear his name. He was an American who showed us how to fight injustice. He was the Hurricane! RIP Rubin Carter.

Hurricane by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy

Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out, “My God, they killed them all!”
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

Three bodies lyin’ there does Patty see
And another man named Bello, movin’ around mysteriously
“I didn’t do it,” he says, and he throws up his hands
“I was only robbin’ the register, I hope you understand
I saw them leavin’,” he says, and he stops
“One of us had better call up the cops”
And so Patty calls the cops
And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashin’
In the hot New Jersey night

Meanwhile, far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around
Number one contender for the middleweight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
Just like the time before and the time before that
In Paterson that’s just the way things go
If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street
’Less you wanna draw the heat

Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops
Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around
He said, “I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights
They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates”
And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head
Cop said, “Wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead”
So they took him to the infirmary
And though this man could hardly see
They told him that he could identify the guilty men

Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in
Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs
The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye
Says, “Wha’d you bring him in here for? He ain’t the guy!”
Yes, here’s the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

Four months later, the ghettos are in flame
Rubin’s in South America, fightin’ for his name
While Arthur Dexter Bradley’s still in the robbery game
And the cops are puttin’ the screws to him, lookin’ for somebody to blame
“Remember that murder that happened in a bar?”
“Remember you said you saw the getaway car?”
“You think you’d like to play ball with the law?”
“Think it might-a been that fighter that you saw runnin’ that night?”
“Don’t forget that you are white”

Arthur Dexter Bradley said, “I’m really not sure”
Cops said, “A poor boy like you could use a break
We got you for the motel job and we’re talkin’ to your friend Bello
Now you don’t wanta have to go back to jail, be a nice fellow
You’ll be doin’ society a favor
That sonofabitch is brave and gettin’ braver
We want to put his ass in stir
We want to pin this triple murder on him
He ain’t no Gentleman Jim”

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay
And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice
And ride a horse along a trail
But then they took him to the jailhouse
Where they try to turn a man into a mouse

All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance
The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed

Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder “one,” guess who testified?
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell
That’s the story of the Hurricane
But it won’t be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he’s done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

Copyright © 1975 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2003 by Ram’s Horn Music

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NCTies and Classroom 2.0

nctiesI have just returned from my second North Carolina Technology in Education Society (NCTies) conference. NCTies serves a great way to network with fellow educators across the state and learn about emerging classroom technologies.  In addition to attending NCTies, I presented with my colleague, Becky Swiger, on ways to blend technology with traditional teaching practices.  Overall, I would grade-out the conference as a big success.

classroom 2.0My session, entitled Classroom 2.0, was a lot of  fun because we got to share all the great work my fellow teachers have done in the Piedmont cluster.  We received many compliments afterward because we infused our presentation with real classroom examples and video testimonials created by the teachers and students that I serve.  We also highlighted our school system’s 1:1 Access Model and how it’s been transformed by the 23,000 Lenovo X131e Chromebooks we issued to students in the fall. Google Apps for Education has transformed teaching in Union County Schools and I feel that our students are finally preparing for the jobs of tomorrow.

In addition, I could not have pulled off this presentation without my two partners, Becky and my trusty new MacBook Pro. Keynote is a powerful presentation tool and iMovie was an absolute lifesaver. Each video was shot with an iPhone and edited on my Mac. To learn more about our presentation and the materials we created for NCTies attendees you can check out the Google site we built to support our session:

Elementary teamOther highlights from NCTies include the exceptional presentations delivered by my fellow Union County Instructional Technology Facilitators. Our elementary team did a fantastic job showing how technology can help teachers differentiate and reach the individual learning needs of their students. From shared Google folders to county-wide research projects, the group showed how technology can help shape the learning of even our youngest students. I also heard really great things from the two presentations my fellow colleague Lisa Thompson assembled for the conference. She is a great asset to our team and I know she impressed all those who showed up for her sessions.

IMG_3125Another Union County highlight was that our Deputy Superintendent for Instructional Technology and Operations, Dr. Michael Webb, received an award for Outstanding Leadership. He has been a visionary when it comes to building our 1:1 Access model and he has assembled a great team of educators and engineers to help carry out our goals. I am really proud to be a part of this team and have enjoyed Dr. Webb’s leadership going back to the days when he served as my principal at Monroe High. I worked with him to transform that school and now we are doing it on a larger scale as we transform technology education across the county and state.

There was a lot of exciting presenters at the conference outside of Union County, too. I especially appreciated the last keynote delivered by Adam Bellow. He is the creator of eduClipper, a free web tool focused on helping students and teachers find, share, and build valid learning experiences in a K-12 safe educational social platform. His speech focused on the need to move away from the assembly line approach to education and move toward more project based learning. As an educator, I have always found that putting students in charge of creating is far more effective than memorizing terms and practicing test questions. While I taught U.S. history with state mandated testing hanging over my head, I never let it undermine my believe in the power of creative learning. I also believe that my test scores were higher because of this approach. Needless, to say Bellow’s words were refreshing.

In my next post, I will cover some of the cool take aways I got from the conference. Cool apps, cool strategies and other cool things. Speaking of takeaways, it was great seeing my two college roommates this week. Lee Eakes and Phil Daye are great friends. I could not have survived the ups and downs of life at Appalachian State without them.

G, Phil and Lee



A Poem for Granddad


We are proud to say that we are your
Future. Your spirit is now in good hands.
We are the living life lessons imparted
From a very special, resilient man.

We value your industrious example,
And your inventive approach.
In every conversation,
You reflected the shared dignity
Of whomever you engrossed.

We are now the speakers of your stories,
Listeners who recorded your treasured past.
We captured every compelling message,
From a life that was both varied and vast.

You told us stories of the circus.
A Depression-era runaway,
Venturing just to be.
You told us how you jumped from planes.
Circling in on the earth,
Young and free.
You told us how you escaped the Ardennes.
And left the battlefield
Questioning the hurt,
That war forces us to see.

Do not worry, do not fear.
The love amongst us all
Will always keep you near.
We built many memories together,
Like you built your family and
Riverview store.
They are vast and lasting,
Touching us all to the core.

We rode in your blue truck,
And played on your warehouse floor.
We watched basketball games,
And cheered for a Blue Devil score.
We walked the sandy beaches
And ventured on an Italian tour.
We did so many things
We had never done before.

We charmed Charm City,
As you searched the Inner Harbor
For the perfect gift.
Wanting to buy something special
For the sweet wife that you missed.

Head of our family tree.
We couldn’t have had a better
Promoter, teacher or friend.
You showed us love,
And all that it means.

We are proud to say that we are your
Future. Do not fret,
Your lovely wife is in good hands.
We are stewards of your teachings,
Passing on all that you helped us understand.

We love you.

Hal Williams: Husband, Father, Granddad

Unfortunately this has been a very difficult week for my family. We lost our leader, mentor and friend. My Granddad was a remarkable man. I miss him dearly. The following obituary was written by his son, my Dad, in his honor. 

1255215_profile_picHal Lawson Williams, 88, died Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Hospice of Rockingham County after a three-year battle with cancer.

Born Aug. 1, 1925, to Gordon and Cassie Williams, he grew up in rural Rockingham and Caswell counties during the Depression-era hard times. He changed schools often but developed a love for books and adventure. He once worked as an usher for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus in Sarasota, Fla., but his mother’s protestations eventually persuaded him to come home.

Hal’s youthful endeavors came to an end when he was drafted into the Army in January 1944 and sent to Camp Croft, S.C., where he endured 17 weeks of basic infantry and anti-tank training. He volunteered for jump school at Fort Benning, Ga., and made the qualifying parachute jumps and then volunteered for Riggers School, thinking that packing parachutes would be safer. But the Army instead sent him to a school where he learned Morse code messaging and radio communications. Eventually he was shipped as a replacement to England and assigned to the 194th Glider Infantry of the 17th Airborne Division.

That got him into the fight in Bastogne, Belgium, and eventually into the Battle of the Bulge with the 517th Signal Company. Hal said he was lucky that he was helping set up message centers, because the Germans inflicted heavy casualties on the front-line troops, and as he wrote in a memoir, he “witnessed the indescribable horrors of warfare.” He was discharged in January 1946, sent back to Fort Bragg and hitchhiked home.
After the war, he went to work for Hastings Furniture Co. in Reidsville and enrolled in Elon College to study business. In 1950, he married Woman’s College student Merle Elizabeth Howe, and they embarked on a loving relationship that kept them together for 64 years. Hal’s successful business career took off after he managed one in a chain of State Furniture stores in downtown Reidsville, and the Winston-Salem based company promoted him to general manager of all the stores, including one on Elm Street in Greensboro.

In 1972, he got a chance to operate his own business, Riverview Furniture and Interiors, in Durham. The retail store survived the trend of big-box furniture marketing that forced many independent stores in the Triangle area to fail. Hal knew what to buy at the High Point Market (he never missed attending one) and how to manage inventory, and he worked hard to cultivate repeat customers. Merle would later join the business as an interior decorating consultant and accessory buyer. They retired to Reidsville in 2006 after Hal sold the store, with the stipulation that the buyer would keep all of his employees.

When Hal wasn’t working in his store, he enjoyed his family, which included three sons. He helped coach their Little League teams and took them on vacation trips to games in Washington and Baltimore. He became an avid Baltimore Orioles fan and followed the team by watching every TV game he could in his retirement years. He also loved ACC basketball, and after all those years in Durham, Duke became his favorite team.

During retirement he also became interested in U.S. foreign policy, paying special attention to the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, a move he did not favor. He did extensive reading on the subject and wrote a paper about the neoconservatives who pushed for the war.

Throughout his life, Hal attended church faithfully and was a member of Woodmont Methodist in Reidsville. He was a compassionate man who reached out to the underprivileged. It is said that he never met a stranger. His sense of humor and desire to communicate with people and show interest in their lives played a large role in his business success.

Hal is survived by his wife, Merle Elizabeth Williams of the home; sons, Bob Williams of Greensboro and Steve Williams and wife Mary Lynn of Reidsville; grandchildren, Brooks Williams and wife Melissa of Whitsett; Kellie DeLapp and husband Jeremy of Reidsville; Garrett Williams and wife Becca of Matthews; Neal Williams and wife Anna of Astoria, N.Y.
Hal had four great-grandchildren, Ella Kate and Kassie Mae DeLapp of Reidsville, Carolina Brooke Williams of Whitsett and Benjamin Reid Williams of Matthews.

He was preceded in death by a son, David Reid Williams, and a brother, Lawrence Williams.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Woodmont Methodist Church. Following that, there will be a private burial ceremony at Reidlawn Cemetery. The Rev. Morris Brown will officiate the services.

The family welcomes friends to join them from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Wilkerson Funeral Home in Reidsville and other times at the home.

Memorials may be made in Hal’s memory to Woodmont Methodist Church and The Salvation Army.

The family would like to thank the staffs of Moses Cone Annie Penn Hospital and Hospice of Rockingham County for their dedicated services and kindness during Hal’s final days and the many health care professionals who attended to his long-term treatment.

Online condolences can be made at