Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dark Side at 40

Last night I checked out a live stream from the official Pink Floyd website of Dark Side of the Moon.  I have blogged about this album and about the band several times before.  The stream commemorated the 40th anniversary of the worldwide music concept sensation that rocketed them to super stardom and perhaps sold more than 50 million copies.

A special Twitter feed went on live during the streaming.  I did not check it out and only listened to a few of the tracks.  My mind was really elsewhere but I wanted to tune-in as part of the celebrationRolling Stone did a cover story on the band and the album as recently as 2011.  Dark Side is definitely still relevant at least to the postmodern zeitgeist.

Hard to believe it has been 40 years.  But, I have to remember I did not listen to this album until I went to college.  That was about five years after it was released.  I discovered Dark Side and Wish You Were Here more or less simultaneously which had a powerful impact on me.  Experiencing these albums was part of my liberation, the expansion of my artistic appreciation and cultural awareness. 

Long-time graphic design collaborator Storm Thorgerson created a wonderful new print for the anniversaryDark Side of the Moon was recently archived by the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Eagles: My First Favorite Band

Don Henley, Don Felder, Linda Ronstadt, Glenn Frey, Governor Jerry Brown, Randy Meisner, Dan Fogelberg, Joe Walsh, and Jackson Browne circa 1977.  All these people seemed very cool to me at that time in my late teens.
My musical freedom began when my mom and dad decided to move their old console stereo out of the living room and into my bedroom. I was 12 or 13 at the time. We didn't have a lot of money so my record collection was rather sparse. The first two albums I ever bought were Don McLean's American Pie (because I enjoyed the hit song American Pie) and Yes' Fragile (because I enjoyed the hit song Roundabout and liked the cool album artwork). I was too young to recognize the strange dichotomy. Seems I was eclectic in my tastes from the beginning.

Growing up in a rural Georgia small town, my exposure to music was limited to Top 40, gospel, and traditional country music.  My musical awareness would not broaden until I went away to college. With a limited budget, my music collection remained small until I got my first job at age 16. That was in 1975. In 1976 I purchased Their Greatest Hits LP from Eagles. That album would eventually outsell every other record in the United States during the Twentieth Century.

Side note: The band was never officially known as the Eagles. They were, and still are today, simply Eagles, which makes it awkward to talk about them in English. We use the Eagles as a matter of convenience.

When I bought a new album it was not just another hoarded consumer purchase as is commonplace in today's pathetic squalor of materialism. Back then, I had to give serious consideration to my purchases. $6-$7 for an album in the 1970's was a good chunk of change out of my $25 or so weekly salary earnings. When I bought something new during my high school days it was always special. I played whatever I purchased over and over and over.

Their Greatest Hits album was incredible. I loved every song on it. That album introduced me to Desperado, which seemed to speak directly to my adolescence and became a favorite tune of mine. I did not know about most early Eagles material so this was a great discovery. Don Henley's soulful vocal rendition really got to me and I learned to sing a bit of harmony to his lead vocals.

Lyin' Eyes was another early favorite; a wonderful country rock ballad I could sing along with Glenn Frey and the five-part vocal harmonies that were a hallmark of the rapidly becoming mega-band. I fell in love for the first time on a school trip to Jekyll Island, slow dancing with a girl while Randy Meisner sang Take It To the Limit. It seemed incredible that this one group had put together essentially 9 solid hit songs (among other noteworthy studio material) including a few number one singles in the space of a mere four albums. Eagles were on fire, enjoying success beyond any other band I knew about at the time.

Then, within a few months, still riding the highs and playing the crap out of Their Greatest Hits LP, they came out with Hotel California. This was Christmas time, mid-way through my senior year of high school. I was still dating my first love and everything in life seemed fun and magical. Hotel California became something more than just background music to gatherings with friends. It was insisted that we cruise around listening to this specific album, usually on 8-track of course. We all sang the songs. It was an artistic and existential watershed of my youth. I have rarely been better prepared to receive and experience an album the way the cards all lined up for Hotel California.

Eventually I bought all the early Eagles albums. I became familiar with the band members, the song writers, the side musicians. I learned that Bernie Leadon was an original Eagle who left the band before I became a fan. That was no biggie with me because, with the exception of Witchy Woman, none of my favorite Eagle songs were heavily influenced by Leadon, though I did like his banjo playing. Leadon's buddy Don Felder had joined the band in 1974 and was part of the regular line-up when I first got into them. Felder was an awesome guitarist. He wrote the opening and closing riffs for the song Hotel California. After the fantastic One Of These Nights record, the band added the already famous Joe Walsh to replace Leadon, just in time for the Hotel California album. The Felder-Walsh guitar collaboration transformed the band musically into a legitimate rock and roll group instead of just a country rock band, though both styles co-existed comfortably in their performances.

So, as I entered college, there was no question who my favorite band was. I ultimately saw them three times in concert. The first time was in 1976 when Fleetwood Mac was their opening act. I remember that concert vividly. It was one of the best I ever attended. And because of Eagles I expanded my Southern California musical horizons. I was into Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Dan Fogelberg, and John David Souther. This was the music of my life before college experiences began to make me aware of other aspects of myself.

By the time that The Long Run came out in 1979, Meisner had left the band. I didn't enjoy his replacement, Timothy B. Schmidt, as much. Not that Schmidt wasn't talented. He could vocally hit the high notes like Meisner but his voice was just too soft and sweet compared with the distinctive edge and power Meisner featured. Listen to Meisner sing Try and Love Again to sample the quality of his voice. Nevertheless, the core of the band remained. The Henley-Frey songwriting skills were still solid, the overall harmonies were intact, and the Felder-Walsh guitar combination was among the best in all of music.

Still, The Long Run struck me as anti-climatic to Hotel California. The music was decent but it wasn't something I went around singing anymore. By this time, I was more likely to sing along with Neil Young on his Comes A Time or Rust Never Sleeps records, and I was playing a lot of Pink Floyd material. The Wall came out the same year as The Long Run, making the differences even more pronounced in my mind. The former was a brilliant album, the latter was enjoyable but nothing really new. I was also exposing myself to the very early Athens music scene, which was more punk and alternative oriented. In short, I was changing though the "Eagle sound" remained essentially as good as it had ever been. It just wasn't my taste anymore.

Which was just as well. The band broke up shortly thereafter and, though all their great songs continued to receive frequent airplay on classic rock radio stations, they faded from my musical experience. They popped back into my life again (along with many millions of other lives) in 1994 with Hell Freezes Over. I didn't actually purchase that CD when it came out. My brother gave it to me as a Christmas gift, which was very thoughtful. I was more into Pearl Jam's Vs. album and the Floyd's The Division Bell at the time.

I listened to Hell Freezes Over, completely aware that it was a big deal for these musicians of get back together after 14 years. But, it did not make any tangible impression on me. I filed it away in my CD collection and pretty much let it sit untouched for years. When my local Walmart featured large displays of a new Eagles album, Long Road Out Of Eden, in 2007, I was unaffected and ignored the double CD set completely.

Truth is, I was a bit pissed at this “newer, improved” version of the band. After long-running (pun intended) disputes, Felder was fired in 2001. He subsequently sued Henley and Frey. The duo sought to own the brand name of "Eagles" all by themselves. The litigation was settled out of court. The new Henley-Frey co-dictatorship milked the consumerist world with various versions of "greatest hits" albums in 2000, 2001, and 2003. What could be more kitsch than that? I was totally put off by it. Their harmonies became passé to me, their sound but a relic of my past.

All that somewhat changed recently when I got the chance to see a Showtime documentary on the band's history thanks to some help from my friends and the wonders of DVR. (As long-time readers know, I don't have cable or satellite. I will not pay for TV. Programming is generally too stupid.) But this 3-hour documentary is very well-made and I learned several things I didn't know (or had forgotten) about the band.

Watching it inspired me to hunt down my old Hell Freezes Over CD - it took awhile to find it - and give it another listen some 19 years now after it was given to me. I also familiarized myself with their 2003 single, Hole In The World, as well as a used copy of Long Road Out Of Eden. Listening to this newer material did not generate any renewed enthusiasm for the group, they remain something from my past, a special part of my youth, but I have to admit that some of the material is worthy of note.

From the Hell Freezes Over CD I found the new (at the time) song Learn To Be Still to be that classic Eagles sound I fell in love with. It is great to appreciate the band's longevity (despite the obvious internal turmoil) with this piece of music. Most of that album features live tracks (the beginning of greatest hits ad nauseum) from their famous MTV reunion concert. But two tunes in particular caught my ear. The unplugged retooling of Hotel California was not as good as the original (nothing could be) but it was different enough to justify recording it. I found it very inventive and recall appreciating it when I originally listened to the CD during the Christmas season in 1994. But, the tune that really stood out to me this go-around was Pretty Maids All In A Row (this link is not of the greatest quality, but it is the only one I could find of this specific, excellent performance). Joe Walsh does a fabulous job on vocals and the whole band made this version of the song better than the original.

Hole In The World is the band's response to (commercialization of?) the September 11, 2001 attacks. This is standard Eagles stuff. The harmonies and passion are all still there. But, my listening to Long Road Out Of Eden yielded mixed results. Most of the songs on the two CDs are mediocre material. That's ok, but it is definitely background music, nothing particularly remarkable with a few exceptions.

How Long is a cover of an old Souther tune that sounds fresh and vibrant. No More Walks In The Woods is a poignant harmony piece that is certainly something I can intimately relate with. Busy Being Fabulous is a bona-fide Henley-Frey classic, directly connecting this album with where the band basically left off at The Long Run. Walsh helps the band deliver a really distinctive track with Last Good Time In Town. But, the most noteworthy piece on the record is the 10-plus minute title track. Its composition, instrumentation, lyrics, and harmonies remind me of The Last Resort, one of my favorite Eagles efforts. This track alone justifies their continuing creative endeavors even if the whole thing does not really work very well as a two-CD set.

The group might not be able to crank out the hits like they did in the 1970's but very few bands have enjoyed this kind of demand for their songs for this length of time. Even though they do not speak to me as they once did, I can appreciate these guys getting out there and still being energetic and creative after all these years. Longevity is something I definitely value at this stage of my life and it is nice to have these old friends around, even though I only catch up with them sporadically and even though Henley and Frey have trashed some good band mates and whored their core material to the musical world.

I noticed they're repackaging all the original studio albums for 2013. This new Eagles outfit has yet to get a dime out of me (the last dollar I paid them was for my 1979 concert ticket)...and they still won't. I know that will just give Mr. Henley and Mr. Frey a heartache tonight. Thanks for the memories guys but screw both of you.

Late note:  Upon further listening, I think Waiting In The Weeds and Business As Usual are also worthy songs on Long Road Out Of Eden.  The first tune features some really nice vocals and the song's arrangement is top-notch, back toward their country rock origins.  The second song is a nice steady rocker with typically tough, dark lyrics by Don Henley.  Frail Grasp On The Big Picture is not great but it is acceptable.  I think I could put together a nice 10-11 song mix of this 20-tune 2-CD set.  By trimming its 90-plus minutes of music down to about 52, Long Road would have been a strong single album.  There's too much "filler" material on it.  But I can't be too critical, I guess, Henley, Schmidt, and Walsh turned 60 the year the album came out.  Frey was 59.  So, today they are six years older than that and still touring to large venues.  That's impressive.  Plus, the album won a couple of Grammies.  Not bad for old farts. 

Also, to clarify, my beef with Henley-Frey has to do with their greedy business tactics and the recycling of their old material.  (They have become the very thing they criticize in many of their songs.)  Eagles live performances are apparently a bloated, excessive, imitation of themselves, far removed from their simple country rock origins.  That strikes me as more simulacra perhaps than the featuring of "golden oldies."  Nevertheless, my criticism of Henley-Frey is not artistic in origin.  Some of the newer material mentioned in this post, as I stated, is worthy of their continued artistic expression.  Maybe they have another great song or two up their sleeve even at this late date.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Metzinger: Being No One

“Is it true that the self is an illusion?  I think it is not true because it contains a logical mistake.  On the level on which we are talking there is no such thing as truth or falsity.  There is nobody who could have an illusion in this system.  So, if you really wanted to stay with the idea that the self is an illusion you would have to say that it is an illusion which is no one’s illusion.  If it is true that the self is not a thing but a process, as I have described it, then it is also true that the tragedy of the ego dissolves because strictly speaking nobody is ever born and nobody ever dies.”

This radical and seemingly absurd statement is the conclusion to a lecture given by contemporary philosopher Thomas Metzinger at UC Berkeley in 2005.  This lengthy lecture is an excellent overview and summary to Metzinger’s reductionist philosophy of mind and consciousness.  I became aware of Metzinger back in 2004 when I purchased his book Being No One from MIT Press.  MIT is famous for its publication of reductionist and materialist philosophy, such as the work of Paul Churchland, who I admire quite a bit though I don’t fully buy in to this perspective.

There are books in my library that I have started but took years to actually finish as I have mentioned before with Joyce and Proust, for example.  Metzinger’s work fits this category.  Being No One was completely forgotten by me until a couple of weeks ago when I was sifting through a section of my shelves where the books are double stacked.  I immediately recognized the soft colors of the simple cover design and wondered how this recent, complex philosophical treatise could have slipped from my memory.  It is rather fitting that I forgot it, in a way, given the subject matter.

I picked up the book and leafed through the first 150 pages or so which I had highlighted in my previous reading.  Wow.  Some heavy stuff here.  The fact I had not only abandoned it but discarded from memory was a little surprising…and disconcerting.  But it is what it is.  The passages I had highlighted probably 8-9 years ago seemed interesting and not too intellectually taxing.  I have not seriously considered the reductionist perspective in years.  So, I decided to give it another try.

There were still a lot of scientific and theoretical examples to wade through in order for Metzinger to support his conclusions.  I reread the Preface and noticed that the author recommended that if the book seems too difficult just skip to the final chapter and refer back to the earlier sections referenced there, if you want.  So, I skimmed ahead, reading short sections, to the concluding chapter.  It was fascinating in and of itself.  My initial thought was that this was a similar endpoint with a lot of Buddhist practice and perspective.  For example, and I realize this is a simplification, one of Buddhism’s fundamental disagreements with the Hindu religion out of which it emerged is that there is no permanent atman.  The atman is critical to Hinduism’s reincarnation project.  Buddhism, so I thought, would be more aligned to Metzinger’s philosophy than Hinduism though, of course, the philosopher himself is in no way Buddhist.  He poses no morality or ethics or universal truths based upon his philosophy of mind, for example.

Still, it is of interest to note that Metzinger mentions Buddhism in the section reviewing the possibility of a selfless consciousness.  The philosopher considers it a possiblity "but there will always be a phenomenal self experienced as doing the imagining.  The view from nowhere always is your view - or it could not be an element of your autobiographical memory about which you could later report." (page 567)  So it turns out Metzinger is perhaps more Hindu than Buddhist.  He would say there is an atman.  Only he would say this is a naive understanding, much ado about nothing.

The fact that Metzinger’s work offers really no practical or ethical implications (How do I deal with the stresses of life?  What brings enrichment to my day?  How can I cooperate with these people that I don’t truly respect?), but is only useful as the basis for further philosophical development on the nature of consciousness is one reason I stopped reading the book to begin with, along with its vast technical prose.  I have little use, other than intellectual amusement, for theoretical perspectives without specific application to what happens between awaking and returning to sleep each day.  My intimate spiritual needs are different from just knowing abstract “truths” about consciousness. Nevertheless, I don’t want to discount Metzinger’s work too much.  It is entertaining to me as, if nothing else, a thought experiment.

As always with me, one thing leads to another.  In rediscovering the book I googled Metzinger to see what was out there on this guy.  Several useful youtube videos are among the philosopher’s presence in cyberspace.  There is a shorter, more recent, lecture of note from 2009.  Metzinger's work is definitely in the Now.  Rather than mention the highlights from his academically styled text I will examine his perspective as presented in the nearly one-hour lecture delivered as part of the Berkeley series on “The Immortality of the Soul” in 2005.

“There is a very important term, the notion of a first-person perspective and the notion of a self from which this first-person perspective originates.  In philosophy today it is very fashionable to say things like third-person facts are not reducible to first-person facts.  But nobody ever asks what a first-person perspective is and what a self actually is.”

Metzinger calls this the “phenomenal first-person perspective.”  This contains three elements.  1) Mineness“We refer to this private, subjective property from public space using linguistic representations.”  This is my leg.  These are my emotions.  He references the rubber hand illusion as an example of how the brain can trick itself into qualities of ownership that are, in fact, untrue.  2) Selfhood“The way to be intimately close to yourself before you start any cognitive activity.”  I am a coherent whole.  I am identical through time. 3) Perspectivalness“The structural property of your experiential space as a whole.” My experience possesses an immovable center or vortex.

“Now, here is the mystery.  For each one of you, it is true that you are this center yourself.  To be phenomenally aware means to possess an inward perspective and to take on this perspective in the subjective experience of the world and of your own mental states.  But, if you say ‘I am this center myself’ you don’t really understand what you are saying.  This is where the puzzle occurs when you flip from a third-person description of a property of conscious space into a first-person description by using a concept like ‘myself’.”

Metzinger proceeds to attribute these qualities to the Phenomenal Self Model (PSM). “It is only episodically active, it is a representational entity, and the content of that representation is that very system in which it appears.  You can distinguish three classes of information processing systems.”  Simulation, emulation, and self-modeling.  “So what I am saying is that you all as you are sitting here are systems that simulate and emulate themselves for themselves….This is not a little man in the head.  It is a sub-personal functional state….What happens when you wake up in the morning, when you come to yourself, the organism which you are has to achieve complex sensory-motor integration.  You have to go to the refrigerator or to the toilet and then it meets this…self-model and it just switches it on.  This is the moment when you wake up, when you come into existence as a conscious being.”

As with his book, the lecture gets fairly technical and rationally analytical and there is a tendency to lose Metzinger through his maze of logic mixed with neuroscientific research.  But, he offers two concrete examples to help us out.  First, there is a well-known problem of astronauts not being able to orient themselves in terms of up and down in space.  This makes it difficult to do basic things like swallow their food because they have no sense of down.  They can get choked.  The trick is to hit very hard on your heel and immediately the body experiences its orientation again.  “So what that shows is that the human self-model is just (a simulation) a virtual self-model.   It depicts a possibility as a reality.”

Secondly, there is the phantom limb syndromeVilayanur Ramachandran, who Metzinger knows very well, discovered of how activating mirror neurons assists patents with phantom limb pain.  According to Metzinger our innate PSM is precisely revealed in this treatment technique.  It is another way of tricking the person into thinking they have a limb that is not actually there and the pain goes away.

Other neuropsychological conditions Metzinger mentions as proof that human beings work in a PSM include: hemispatial neglect, alien hand syndrome, depersonalization disorder, and monomania.  Personally, this is another area I would question in reductionism as it seems that much of its proofs are based on the received wisdom of mental illness.  I’m not sure such illnesses reveal anything useful abou
t human consciousness as a whole.  I remain skeptical but open to the possibility of that which Metzinger accepts as an unquestioned background assumption of his theory.  Admittedly, these mental states suggest the possibility of the self-model being advocated.  Metzinger claims these conditions confirm that “mineness” is part of the self-model.

Likewise, various forms of agnosia are offered as examples of the part “selfhood” plays in the self-model.  Blind people that aren’t really blind.  Dissociative identity disorder is another example given of where selfhood plays a fundamental role in the self-model.  With perspectivalism, the third quality of the self-model, we are offered bipolar disorder and mystical experiences as revelations of the function this aspect plays in the overall self-model.

Metzinger then asks which of these aspects of the self-model are clearly not explained by or components of the PSM as he proposes it?  “There is something in your conscious experience now that is so invariant that it is almost unconscious.  And it has something to do with the background sensation of your own body.”  Metzinger reviews some of the rather complex work of his neurological colleagues, as well as his own empirical hypotheses, and drives home the point of “…how self-modeling, the process of becoming self-aware, is actually anchored in molecular dynamics.”  For Metzinger everything discussed is best explained by the PSM.

So he poses a second inquiry.  Is there a necessary connection between all the mental properties discussed?  If so, what is this connection?  Metzinger’s answer is "phenomenal transparency."  “Just look at these flowers here.  We would say as philosophers that this is a phenomenally transparent representation because…you cannot recognize the fact that this is all a state in your visual system.  You cannot see the representational state itself.  That is why you are a naïve realist.  You have the faith that you are in direct and immediate contact with reality.  We are systems that, so to speak, look through their own representational structures as if they were in direct and immediate contact with their content.”

So we are naïve realists.  This is because the workings of consciousness happen so fast and are generally so reliable (confirmed by the ordinary decisions we make moment by moment) that they have become taken for granted by us.  Also, on a larger time-scale, there has never been any evolutionary pressure to call attention to these processes, they work for the good of our survival and are never questioned.  “We have only reacted to the fact that there is a wolf there or there is a bear there.  We did not need to represent the fact there is an active wolf representation in my brain now….For the functional properties we needed to survive we didn’t need to distance ourselves from ourselves.”

“I am claiming we are systems which are not able to recognize their own sub-symbolic self-model as a self-model.  Therefore, we operate under the condition of what I would call a ‘naïve-realistic self misunderstanding’: We necessarily experience ourselves as being in direct and immediate epistemic contact with ourselves.  So to speak, as you are listening to me right now what I am saying is that, metaphorically speaking, you are a system that constantly confuses itself with the content of its own self-model.”

That’s all well and good, I guess, but what exactly is subject experience?  Metzinger purposes human consciousness is best classified as the Phenomenal Model of the Intentionality Relation (PMIR).  “We are systems that co-represent the representational relations while they represent.  The PMIR is a dynamical and transparent model of self in the act of knowing.”

“Of course you don’t see with your eyes.  I hope nobody believes that.  You see with your visual system.  But on the user surface, so to speak, on the top level there is this abbreviated short story the system tells to itself that it sees with its eyes.  It creates this little avatar, which you are, a phenomenal self-model.  This avatar doesn’t know it has a visual cortex, it just sees with its eyes.  It doesn’t know it has a motor cortex.  It just acts with its hands.  So, my final claim will be that to have a phenomenal first-person perspective is to possess a transparent PMIR.”

To represent the world as a representation is nothing new.  This dates all the way back to Plato's "The Cave" allegory and is a fundamental tenet of Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy.  I agree with this; there is an inherent distance between the objects of experience and the experiencing agent – whether you want to refer to that agent as a self or atman or soul or process.  Though I am in some ways skeptical of his perspective, I find Metzinger worthy of serious consideration.  I do not find his point-of-view inherently anti-spiritual.  At least it does not trouble my intimate spiritual quest.  Rather, it can potentially inform my spirituality.

I do not believe you and I possess such a thing as a “mind” though I often use that term as a linguistic convenience.  I hesitate to use the word “system” to describe anything human (it seems too mechanistic and overly influenced by our interaction with technology) but I do think that the singularity we experience as our self is in fact a multiplicity.  So to say "the self" is actually a collection of brain processes does not bother me.  I am glad that I stumbled across Being No One again and got reacquainted with it.  Metzinger is someone I will make more of an effort to keep an eye on; assuming, of course, that I don’t forget all about him again in the stream of processes otherwise known (to me) as Keith.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Fine Art of Cheesecake But Not The Way Eileen Wants It

Jennifer's cheesecake ready for serving.  Brian's two sorbet accompaniments await in the background.  More wine!
Even after 25 years I am discovering new things about Jennifer.  Driving home from our annual Cumberland Island Armadillo First Feast last night I turned to Jeffrey, who had driven down to Atlanta with us this year, and told him that one of the joys of being with someone for so long is when you learn something new about them it is a bit like having a new woman in your life all over again.  Naturally, such things become increasingly rare and precious after the span of two and half decades of togetherness, but they become increasingly special when they happen as well.

Jennifer’s cheesecake is what I will most remember from the 2013 First Feast.  Lord knows there was plenty else to enjoy.  The wonderful olive appetizers or the tomatoes and cheese with their tasty leaves of fresh basil, the surprising champagne that accompanied all that, the Cesar salad with anchovies and exquisite croutons, the incredible spaghetti with handmade meatballs of beef and sausage and veal.  Those wonderful wines that Ron contributed to the cause.

Late in the evening, my wife was a bit giddy on all the wine and the food and the fellowship both serious and comical (mostly the latter) slicing her cheesecake and stealing kisses from me at the table.  Not quick, glancing kisses but hovering, staring, smiling, looking, slow and tender tongue kisses like appetizers for the dessert course itself.  “Get a room! Get a room!” the table chimed in.  Yeah, yeah, whatever. 

Then the stuffed lot of us pigged out further, as we always seem to do, on the wonderful cheesecake Jennifer made.  Mind you, she has never made cheesecake in my 25 years of knowing her.  For that reason I was probably more amazed and appreciative than everyone else.  The Dillos topped it with cherries and scoops of Brian’s really flavorful lemon and raspberry sorbet on the side.  I preferred mine in the raw, al naturale, nothing else but cheesecake.  (Well, I had some sorbet as an after-dessert.)
It technically wasn’t an Italian cheesecake to top off our Italian themed meal which was accented with a zesty Cuban music stream for some strange reason.  I guess it was in the neighborhood of suitable for an Italian theme.  Dillos delight in mixing and matching flavors, genres, customs; our fabulous eclectic style is a common thread to our themed gatherings. But Eileen, a bit of a purist for cooking traditions, was expecting an "Italian" Cheesecake (with ricotta cheese).  All the preceding week Jennifer had told me that she was making a cheesecake “but not the way Eileen wants it.”

I shared this repetition with the gathering as everyone was ooing and ahhing over the dessert experience.  My wife tends to repeat herself.  It is a kind of mantra thing with her - this saying the same thing the same way all the time.  So all last week I heard “I’m making cheesecake but not the way Eileen wants it.”  The joke became that that was the name of the dessert…Cheesecake-But-Not-The-Way-Eileen-Wants-It.  Naturally, that became a silly on-going punchline for the next half-hour or so.  Re-entering the conversation by various Dillos as we yakked about other things.

Soon afterwards all that pasta and wine and sugar caused Jennifer to crash.  She was asleep on the sofa, Clint retired to a chair, as the rest of us continued our banter over strong French-pressed coffee.  Diane told us about the time she visited Brian in Paris and her luggage got lost for a couple of days, so she ended up wearing his underwear and clothes as they toured the city of love.  Mark gave an overview of their trip on the Danube this past December from Budapest and Vienna up (via canal) into Germany to Nuremberg. 

We called it an evening early by Dillo standards.  We just don’t party like we did ten years ago.  Of course, our stamina might improve if we didn’t assault ourselves with such a rich dining experience.  But, that is wonderful too.  I guess we have traded one for the other.  It was no big deal really.  I didn’t mind returning home from Atlanta by midnight.
Today we had a couple of pieces of cheesecake left.  It was nice to enjoy it again.  I savored mine in its pristine texture and flavor; a great reminder of the First Feast that officially kicked off the 2013 Dillo social calendar.  The New Year is officially here now.