Friday, December 30, 2011

Dr Zaius in Mark Twain Tonight

John Hodgman issued a challenge. He wanted to see video footage of actor Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius as Mark Twain.

So this morning I, um, "located" this:

Earlier, I had "found" this photo.

To coin a phrase, That Is All.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mele Kalikimaka!

Perhaps my very favorite Christmas song, performed by me on the ukulele with my daughter providing interpretive dance in the background.

Monday, November 28, 2011

5 Great Christmas Albums

So long, Thanksgiving. Welcome, Christmas!

To honor the season, I'd like to share some of my very favorite Christmas records.  Christmas music is inextricably woven into the fabric of the season, and I can get a warm glow just thinking about some of these. So light up your yule log, pour a cup of hot cocoa and crank up your HiFi. 

1. White Christmas. Bing Crosby.

To my mind, this is number one, the greatest Christmas album of ALL TIME. It has nothing to do with the film, White Christmas, but does contain that great, great, great song. It also has a song that, for a long time, was my personal favorite Christmas song, Mele Kalikimaka. In the mid-eighties I became enamored with the idea of moving to Hawaii and just figuring out a way to live and work there with no plan in advance other than wearing tropical print shirts and leading my friends in singalongs to the theme from Hawaii 5-0. It was that year that I also discovered this album. Shockingly, it was not one I grew up with. But I instantly recognized it for the classic it is, and, a couple of years later, ended up cruising gas stations and buying up every $3 copy of the cassette they had so I could give one to every one I knew as a Christmas present. I felt, at the time, that everyone should own a copy of this. I still feel that way.

2. A Jolly Christmas. Frank Sinatra. 

If you can't have Christmas without Bing Crosby, you can't have Bing without Frank. These are the guys who defined the Christmas sound, that big band plus sleigh bells swing that still rules the airwaves. This one is terrific, another combo of secular and sacred, with Frank at the top of his game. This came from the Capitol years, when Frank's voice and production team were absolutely without peer. While listening to this you can alternately dance and worship. What could be better?

3. That Holiday Feeling. Steve and Eydie.

My parents owned a 5 LP set called something like the Columbia Music Treasury of Christmas, and it contained two or three songs from this album, including That Holiday Feeling! which I really loved but seems to be unique to Steve and Eydie. A few years ago I picked up Steve and Eydie's Christmas record on CD and fell in love with all of it. They do fantastic - nearly definitive - versions of what I like to think of as the swinging bachelor Christmas songs. You know, the ones that are about how cold it is outside and wouldn't it be nice if you'd stay here in my apartment a little while longer, babe? Let It SnowBaby It's Cold OutsideThat Holiday Feeling. Oh yeah.

4. A Winter's Solstice III.

Windham Hill records put together this series of "new age" albums (there are at least 6 in the series so far) that give pleasant, atmospheric music that makes for soothing fireside stuff. Most of the selections in this series are more about creating a mood, about the winter season itself rather than specifically Christmas. But this volume has a lost of Christmas songs on it and a couple of them are, for me, masterful interpretations. John Gorka's version of Christmas Bells, for instance, was the first to really present to me the meaning and emotion of the song. I also really like Pierce Pettis' take on In the Bleak Midwinter and the delightful Trepak by Modern Mandolin Quartet. Another favorite here is Pavane by Liz Story, but not because of any Christmas associations. The tune is part of one of my absolute favorite pieces of classical music, the Capriol Suiteby Peter Warlock, and this version is moving and lovely.

5. A Christmas Festival. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.

I still remember seeing Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops on tour, and watching them on television, and, later, seeing them perform at the bandshell on the banks of the Charles River when John Williams had taken over as conductor. I also remember playing A Christmas Festival in high school band and the arrangement and orchestrations, as well as my part, are indelibly etched into my brain. This is probably the greatest orchestral Christmas album ever. If nothing, their version of Sleigh Ride is utterly definitive.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Lara!

One of the things I've discovered through social media is my twinsie, Lara Zielin. We share the same birthday. We are both writers (she has published two wonderful novels with more on the way). We both love donuts. And there is more, but, really, need there be any more?

This year our birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day. And for a gift, I wrote this song. I hope you enjoy it, Lara. Happy birthday!

ADDED 11/28

Here are the lyrics, in case you can't make them out.

I know this is your birthday
Cause it's my birthday, too
And so in celebration
I wrote this song for you

It's more than just our birthdays
We're twins in many ways
If we controlled the calendar
There'd be more Donut Days

If we controlled the airwaves
Sharktopus would always CHOMp
And there'd be a feature film
Of Aggie's implosion at the prom

Today's also Thanksgiving
There'll be turkey and cherry pie
And now I send this wish for you
Out to The Waiting Sky

Happy Birthday!

Friday, October 28, 2011


I was asked to write a cover essay for this week's bulletin at our church. It's Stewardship time with the theme "The Joy of Giving." I really liked what I came up with, so i thought I'd share it here.

I love autumn.

The leaves. The pumpkins. The apples. The sweaters.

The colors are richer, deeper. The weather shifts and buckles, going from hot to cold within the span of one day. It’s as if the earth is sharing the last of its delights, hosting a final banquet before cocooning itself for the winter.

In autumn we begin bundling ourselves against the coming cold. We bring together our bounty, everything we’ve harvested over the year, and we count our many blessings.

For me, my blessings start and end with family. But not just my wife and children and other relatives. My church family.

The ChristCare group that helps keep me centered.  The members of Theology Reading Group who help me to continually stretch and enhance my faith. The Heritage Lecture Committee, where I get to assist in bringing challenging and thoughtful speakers to our congregation. The smiling faces that greet me every Sunday morning.

My blessings extend in a myriad of other ways, too. I’m thankful for the Sunday school teachers and shepherds who share God’s love with my children.  The meals we share in our amazing fellowship hall. The gifts of God that shine forth into our community in the form of missions and outreach. 

This is a church that’s rich in talent, deep in expressing God’s love, extreme in the lengths it will go to help its members, its community, its world.

This is my church. And my heart belongs here. 

Autumn is stewardship season, a time to remind us that this church cannot exist through love alone. This church lives only because talented people share their time, their gifts and their resources to further the kingdom of God.

Every year, we fill out a pledge card. Every year, we join our church family in the communal act of placing our envelope on the table. And this year, our daughter will make her first pledge. She’s only 7, but she already gives a part of her weekly allowance to help thank God for the many gifts this church has given us. And this year she’s going to walk with us to the table.

We will add our envelopes to the harvest. We will join in giving thanks for this church -- in giving thanks to God -- for all that we receive.  And our hearts will be warm and full.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sleepwalking Downstairs for Coffee (Judy's Song)

I wrote a song.

Friday morning, I saw this note on Facebook from Judy Clement Wall: "I just made up a song. It's called Sleepwalking Downstairs For Coffee. It only has the one line. And only one note. Sing with me!"

I really liked that line and the image it conjured. So I thought I ought to go ahead and write a song (with more than one note and more than one line, obviously).

Early Friday afternoon I uploaded this.

I swear I "flipped" the original raw video so it wouldn't be a mirror image. But, obviously, it didn't happen. So, no, I am not playing the ukulele left handed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My review of Shatner Rules

I wrote a review of William Shatner's new book, Shatner Rules.

Read it here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11, 2001

I was at home, watching The Time Tunnel on the SCiFi channel. For some reason, I changed over to the Today Show during a commercial and saw footage of the burning World Trade Center, and that they thought a "commuter plane" had run into it.

Two days later, I was asked to go see a movie and write a review of it so it could run in the next issue of the weekly paper.

Planes were still grounded. The world seemed quiet. Imagine that time. That week. Those first days. Put yourself there.

I sat in a near empty theater to see The Musketeer.

But first, I saw this movie trailer.

It was just so jarring, so sickening. So wrong.  I wanted to run out of the theater. A week before, it would have been just another Schwarzenegger action fest. But in the context of that week in September, it was the most disturbing preview I'd ever seen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

More ukulele fun

Been playing my ukulele.

First, an attempt to play Jerry Goldsmith's marvelous theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Then I tried to perform Darth Vader's theme.

In other news, I am a nerd.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Here's what my children and I were up to today - playing and singing Elvis songs on the ukulele.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Banjo. Star Wars. Together.

In which I attempt to perform the Star Wars theme on my banjo.

Banjo Star Wars from Neil Shurley on Vimeo.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Live Like Spock

Logical advice and fascinating information:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wild Thing

My first attempt to play Wild Thing on the banjo.

By the way, I do not own a left-handed banjo. This video was done in Photo Booth and it didn't get "flipped" so it's a mirror image. Which, I suppose, makes this the evil me. Except without the requisite goatee.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Robopocalypse: A NovelI wrote up a review of the novel Robopocalypse and posted it over at This Week in World Robot Domination.

Check it out!

Monday, May 9, 2011

World Robot Domination - The Song

World Robot DominationSo I wrote a song last year, for use on the 2010 This Week in Science music compilation. That CD is sold out, but the tune is now available to purchase through Amazon and iTunes and CDBaby and other fine internet music purveyors.

Enjoy - if you dare!

I also used the first section of this song for my entry into a video contest. The idea was to make a trailer for the upcoming book, Robopocalypse. This song seemed perfect, so I put together this:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Chuck Swindoll

The news about Osama bin Laden reminded me, again, of something I heard Chuck Swindoll say on the radio many years ago.

I wrote this letter in response.

"On your March 14, 2003, broadcast of Insight for Living, you said, “May the pain of the everlasting punishment of the terrorists know no bounds and find no relief.”

I find this statement to be highly disturbing on many levels, not the least of which is Jesus’ command to love your enemies.  If Christ can forgive those who are crucifying him, how much more must we forgive those who act against us?

I continue to be shocked by your statement, possibly the most un-Christian thing I’ve ever heard said on the radio.  No matter how we feel about the terrible acts that occurred on September 11, 2001, we must resist the temptation to judge and condemn.  Those acts are God’s alone to perform."

I got a long letter back from someone in Swindoll's ministry, telling me that it's okay to be angry and that even Jesus was angry once. But how does that give Swindoll the right to condemn anyone to hell? Isn't that  God's job?

I suspect similar judgments against Osama bin Laden will be made. But is it ever right for us to wish eternal torment on someone? When Jesus says to love your enemies and to forgive them and to turn the other cheek, I don't recall seeing any qualifiers to those statements. Maybe I'm reading the wrong translations.

I know, I know, I'm guilty of judging Swindoll. The issues we perceive as faults in others are usually issues we are having trouble dealing with in ourselves.

All this makes me appreciate again the words of John Shelby Spong, who advises us to "Love wastefully.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Zielin, Lara

I've accepted the Blogging A to Z Challenge. All month, I'm going to blog about Books from A to Z.

One day, on Twitter, I ran into Lara Zielin. She likes donuts. In fact, she wrote a novel called Donut Days. The photo accompanying her Twitter profile captured her inside a Dunkin' Donuts. How could I not like this woman?
Donut Days
Then I discovered we share a birthday.

Well, obviously, we are twinsies.

She writes young adult fiction, aimed primarily at girls, and I found her first novel, Donut Days, to be just delightful. Favorite quote: "I was just thinking it might be easier if we all worshipped donuts or something. I mean, they taste good and they never hurt anybody."

Her next book, The Implosion of Aggie Winchester, comes out later this year. Lara graciously sent me an advance copy and I've been enjoying it quite a bit so far (not done reading it yet). Lara really captures voices and does a terrific job of portraying recognizable characters trying to handle the dramas of high school-era life.

And this latest book has a character named Neil in it.

The Implosion of Aggie WinchesterLara Zielin, quite obviously, is my FAVORITE AUTHOR EVER.

She's also a dynamite editor, and you can even take advantage of her editing services at her Help for Writers site.

She's also the owner of a Sharktopus, so be careful when you approach her.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow

I've accepted the Blogging A to Z Challenge. All month, I'm going to blog about Books from A to Z.

Your Turn to Curtsy My Turn to BowWilliam Goldman is the king of screenwriters.

His Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting is mandatory reading for anyone wanting to write a screenplay.

But he's also an addictive novelist.

I went through a stretch of reading almost nothing but William Goldman novels. Marathon Man. Father's Day. Brothers. The Color of Light.

Later I went through another stretch. Princess Bride.Your Turn to Curtsy My turn to BowSoldier in the Rain.

Not too long ago I finally read Magic. Loved it. Couldn't put it down.

Pick one up. You'll want to read more.