Archive for June, 2012

I drive a silver 2002 Toyota Corolla. It is the 4th — and will be the last — Wood family hand-me-down car that I have driven since getting my license in January 2003.

Growing up in the country (have you noticed how much I love starting sentences that way?) I did not have the fear of driving instilled in me like they show in the movies. Maybe no one really does, but I sure didn’t. In the country you grow up driving. You see 12-year-olds drawing the trailer in straight lines while the older men throw bails of hay in the back. You pass kids 4-wheeling to the church for their cub scout meetings. It’s all good.

I remember the first time I drove on the freeway with my dad and my learner’s permit in tow. I thought to myself “The freeway? The freeway is supposed to be scary. I’ve seen Clueless!” When I got on the on-ramp I said, out loud “oh, there’s no intersections or traffic lights? You just cruise? This is awesome!” And it is. To this day, I love driving on the freeway. I’ll hop on for a few blocks if I’m nearby and the exits match up.

More than that, I just love driving. I can’t imagine any form of therapy being as good as plugging in my iPod, throwing on some sunglasses and just hitting the pavement for a while.

My first car was the blue Ford Escort. We had two escorts, a white and blue, and I can’t remember what happened to the white one but by the time the blue was passed to me it was already on its last, wheezing legs. The dash light was out so we had to buy this cheap blue neon adhesive light that plugged into the cigarette lighter. It gave the whole interior of the car this ethereal glow which would be cool if it wasn’t a jury-rigged solution to an old, broken car.

The blue escort died six or seven months later, which was awesome, because with old blue out of commission the only option for me to drive was the car I had always dreamed of driving. The Astro.

Back in the 80s, vans were vans. They weren’t this “mini” nonsense with stow-and-go seating and automatic-opening doors. The Astro sat 8, had a hitch and back wheel drive. It towered over the compacts on the road and from my perch in the bucket seat I felt like a freaking airplane pilot.

It was a blue, 1987 Astro, as old as me. I had grown up dreaming that it would be “my” car but my parents had always said that the kids would never drive the van because it was enormous, top heavy, had huge blind spots and handled poorly in the snow. Huntsville gets a lot of snow.

But, when you’re the youngest of 5 children and your high school is 30 minutes away — and your friends are completely unreliable — your parents eventually figure “fine, go roll the thing and kill yourself. Just stop bugging us.”

It was the manly van. I had fuzzy dice in the mirror and a stuffed hamster on the dash that I called “Finch” who would rap Fat Boy Slims “Funk Soul Brother” when you pressed his foot. I was king of my castle, master of my domain.

In the winter time I would get stuck about once a week and developed an amazing knack for un-stucking myself. It also just became a recurring gag with my friends that as I would leave a party I’d need 3 or 4 guys to come push me out of the snow. Eventually, my siblings grew up and got cars of their own, freeing up the safer, compact-er Cavalier for (most) of my freshman year of college.

After I killed the Cavelier (more on that in a moment) I was back where I belonged for my last month as a freshman. The Astro was 19 by then, just like me, and hadn’t aged as well as I had. It sputtered, stalled and the door handles starting popping off. One Sunday I was driving back from church with my roommates when the Astro started to really struggle. We only had a few blocks to go and the Astro carried us, panting and gasping into my parking stall. As soon as I put her in park, the Astro gave up the ghost. It got me home just in time before it laid down and died. Like a freaking champion.

Before that, though, I killed the Cavalier. Twice.

The first time I was driving in a caravan of friends along a country road and forgot that I needed to make a turn into a driveway until the last second. I slid through a patch of gravel and swan-dove off a 12 foot embankment, luckily landing in a tree that broke the fall. The tree died. I remember the kid in the backseat putting his hands up and “woohoo-ing” while we sailed through the air, like he was on a roller coaster.

A few months later, in the winter, I came around a blind corner in Ogden Canyon and went right over a rock the size of one of those concert beach balls. That did the trick.

It died, then the van died, at which point I began driving the silver toyota corrola.

My relationship with the Corolla is one of comfort and maturity. It gets me where I’m going, reliably and without complaint. In return I see to it to it that its gas and oil needs are met. The Astro and I had a star-crossed romance, like teen lovers who meet under balconies to sneak off and stare into each others eyes. With the Corolla, I feel like I’ve found a sensible mate that I can settle down with and discuss the family budget over the kitchen table.

Don’t get me wrong, we have fun. We go camping, hiking, out to dinner and a movie. I remember after a Carbon Leaf concert we went to Hires Big H and did an irish jig in the parking lot.

Most importantly, when I come home after a long, hard day and want to go for a relaxing drive, she doesn’t fight me. She doesn’t whine about how she’s been on her feet all day and just wants to take a hot bath. She’s always game for a late nigh snack run or an early morning stroll up the canyon.

She turned 200K last month, I meant to get her something but like a jerk, I forgot all about it until the day arrived. Maybe for her 300Kth I’ll get her detailed. Even an old barn looks good with some new paint.

Now, bring me that horizon.

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The isn’t so much a review as it is a reflection. It would be altogether pointless for me to attempt a literary review of Ayn Rand’s work. For one, I am incapable of judging the inherent complexity of Rand’s philosophy. For two, Rand herself, were she alive, would merely dismiss any attempt to critique her.

Like the characters of her creation, Rand does not work for the pleasure of her fellow man. She works for her own pleasure. She does not labor to be recognized by the masses. Recognition by the masses is a cheap, fickle thing lacking substance and reason.

I read The Fountainhead after already tackling Rand’s masterpiece Atlas Shrugged and her Anthem. Like both, it champions the spirit of human achievement and sneers at the ideals of the commons, which champions mediocrity while sucking the blood of the great among us. Like Atlas, its most shocking aspect is how utterly accurate she is in her portrayals of our modern society. We look backwards, demanding not what is earned by us by what we deem as owed by us. Much has been said about today’s Entitlement generation and Rand, again if she were living today, would likely be disgusted by us millennials if she hadn’t predicted our existence so thoroughly.

In many ways, Fountainhead is a more enjoyable read than Atlas. Its plot is more accessible, its characters more relatable, its monologues are shorter and spoiler alert the right people end up together /spoiler alert. It tells the story of a man, Howard Roark, an architect who designs his buildings with disregard to what is expected and traditional, instead worrying only about what is necessary and functional. Where other Architects adorn their facades with colonnades and porticos that serve no purpose beyond aesthetics, Roark makes every girder load-bearing and every brick indispensable. For this he is ridiculed, dismissed and attacked by the establishment with their steel testaments to dead societies.

As you would expect, Roark’s architecture is a metaphor for a life well-lived. A true man, in the eyes of Rand, does not concern himself with what other men do, think, wear, eat but instead makes every action and decision in his life based on what he needs and what he believes to himself. He does not make small talk or socialize as a means to an end of power, glory, money or fame, but instead surrounds himself with people whose company he enjoys and whose brain and merits he admires.

Ironically enough, much of Rands philosophy (commonly known as objectivism) is misunderstood by the masses. Her frequent disdain for government meddling (most notably in Atlas) has made her an unwillingly-adopted champion of the ultra-conservative and tea party crowds and that adoption has made her a caricatured punch line for many liberals.

Misguided loathers will talk your ear off about how Rand hates women (despite the crucial role female protagonists play in her novels) and how to be an objectivist means you feel justified in being rude to everyone around you. Misguided lauders will boast of how they listened to an audiobook of We The Living in their car, the same one adorned with a yellow Don’t Tread On Me flag, one their way to a convention where likeminded individuals network and pat each other on the back while toasting their own greatness.

Both are missing the point.

If you allow her to, Rand will stir something within your soul. It is hard to pin point and harder to describe but you will begin to see more clearly what it is you dislike about certain people and groups. You will see in yourself the un-finished potential to be Howard Roark, Hank Rearden, John Galt or Francisco D’Anconia. You will long for a woman like Dagny Taggart or Dominic Francon. You will see in these characters the ideas that have crossed your mind in rare moments of clarity before vanishing into the loud, putrid haze of societal convention. You will hate yourself for things you have done and do and slowly you will come to look differently at the people who fill the spaces around you.

Unless you’re a looter, a second-hander, or a parasite, in which case most of what she is trying to tell you will likely go over your head and you will only see a heavy-handed conservative political agenda. I have met many looters in my life, I pass by parasites every day. They detest me even more than I dislike them, because Rand helped me see them as insignificant even if the day should come that I am starving in the gutter.

There is an old game of asking what famous person, living or dead, you would like to have lunch with. I used to say Abraham Lincoln, the father of my party, the last successful 3rd party candidate for president, the man who preserved our country in its darkest hour and freed the slaves, giving his life for the cause. I have decided, however, that my meeting with Abe would be best handled after my death. We would meet as two old souls across some celestial table and reminisce about mortality and government.

As a living man, with years to spare, I would prefer to break bread with Ayn Rand. She would ask me my profession. I would answer “journalist.” And then, I would listen as she told me the manner of man I should be, and the manner of life I should lead.

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Sorry for the Russian Nesting Doll of blog posts, but you’ll actually need to click here to see my Top 10 list. My buddy Jordan recently started a blog and asked me to come aboard as an Entertainment contributor. I was happy to oblige and while I can’t include it verbatim here on my blog, you are one click away from reading the list.

Go check it out, its a new blog so Jordan could use the clicks AND if he gets a bump in viewers than I’ll be able to take credit for it and keep contributing. Plus it’s a great list. Win-Win-Win.

And, of course, make sure to check back on Wood’s Stock in the next few days for a new (real) post.

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By this point, you probably already know whether or not you’re a fan of Wes Anderson. He is one of those directors, like Scorcese or Allen, whose distinct personal style is both omnipresent and easily recognizable in his works. I, for one, AM a Wes Anderson fan and despite knowing what kind of tricks to expect, Moonrise Kindgom still delighted and surprised me.

It is, in short, the tale of two young lovers who run away to begin a life together in the woods. Like every Andersonian character, each comes complete with their particular bundle of quirks. The girl, Suzy, who sees the world from a pair of binoculars hung around her neck. The boy, Sam, an orphaned kakhi scout in a coon’s tail hat.

Anderson writes his characters like he builds his sets, exquisitely detailed dioramas that are intended to be scene from an unchanging, 2-dimensional angle. In Moonrise Kindgom, you get ample examples of both (Tilda Swinton’s character is named, simply, Social Services). Anderson pans side to side, sweeping through intentionally-apparent set hallways or tracking Scout Master Edward Nortan as he walked, sideways, checking on his scouts at camp Ivanhoe, set in the summer on the island of New Penzance (doesn’t exist). Occasionally, Seinfeld and Christopher Guest mainstay Bob Balaban steps in as narrator to give us nuggets of wisdom and to make sure we’re not missing anything.

The plot? I already told you. It’s about two young lovers who run away. Everything else presented is merely a tangent or extension of the whimsical world that Anderson creates as a metaphor for the simplicity and sincerity that is young love — if there is such a thing. The actual goings on are all but absurd, elevated more-so by the crushing seriousness given to each scene by the characters. In flashback we see the evolution of the main characters’ romance, jumping back and forth between written correspondence one-half of a sentence at a time. We track the progress of their journey through the woods not as a linear narrative but in small vignettes as they encounter obstacles, pause to inventory their supplies or make camp for the night, dancing in their underwear or reading to each other in the darkness.

It blends the same infectiously carefree adventure mood of The Life Aquatic with the pseudo-surrealism of Fantastic Mr. Fox. It makes you want to find a person to love, or one that you already do, and head off into the hills, map and compass in hand. You forget, except for sporadic, winking reminders, that these are just children and that they could never have expected to last long on their own, could they?

Moonrise will not elevate you to profound questions of the human soul. It will not expose the seedy underbelly of the human condition or challenge the moral decay of society. It does not bother itself with gritty realism.

It is a delight. Pure, simple and innocent like ice cream on a hot day. A blend of exquisite dialogue and heartwarming visuals dipped in pure charm. You will laugh, out loud, and often you won’t be entirely sure why, nor will you care. A

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There is a painting at the foot of the stairs of my childhood home. It shows an older man clutching the hand of a young boy as they walk, backs turned, through an autumn path.

That image, reproduced in watercolor by my mother, is taken from a photograph of me and my grandfather on a picnic stroll during my pre-teen yeers.

It is one of many images that come to mind when I think of my grandpa. There is the one, posted above, of him as a missionary in Hawaii posing in a silver Speedo. Or the hand-drawn caricature that has been on the wall of my grandmother’s basement for as long as I remember. There is also the photograph of my grandpa and grandma (a.k.a TuTu, a Hawaiian word) at my grandpa’s 80th birthday party that I carried with me during my mission in Brazil.

My paternal grandfather passed away when I was 2 or 3, so for all intents and purposes John Jeppson is the only grandfather I’ve ever had. My one, Hawaiian/American/Canadian grandfather who was laid to rest in the Brigham City Cemetery yesterday, June 7 2012.

Call it luck (I call it something else) but I was able to have lunch with grandpa about one week before he died. My parents called me unexpectedly, said that they and my grandparents were in town and headed to Sweet Tomatoes (where we always went) and wondered if I was free.

It was a lovely afternoon. TuTu asked me about the world of journalism and we all chatted about politics, religion and life. Like many lunches of the last few years, Grandpa was quiet, sitting patiently as we all tried to talk clearly and slowly despite our natural Jeppson tendency to accelerate and amplify our voices. When they dropped me off, TuTu came inside to see my apartment, and we chatted for a minute or two.

Grandpa stayed in the car, and before she left TuTu turned to me and said “Your grandfather has been very tired lately. I hate to think that you’ll remember him like this, less involved.”

I assured her that wasn’t the case, but now that I’m at a keyboard I would like to tell you, Grandma TuTu, exactly how I’ll remember grandpa:

I will remember him as a man of incredible physical strength. He will always be the man that would grab us grandchildren and hang us upside down by our ankles while we squirmed and screamed. I’ll remember when we rafted down the Snake river and he snatched Katie out of mid-air and pulled her back inside. I’ll remember him challenging us to swimming contest at the various hotel pools we stayed at (for hours) and winning every time.

I will remember him as a gifted musician, like the Man of Song concerts and his voice that he possessed with absolute mastery as both a booming baritone and tender Tenor. From the Hawaiian music he would play on his Ukelele on the fireplace mantel to the “Danny Boys” and “Moon Rivers” we would sing by the campfire.  I will remember him whistling along every time I played the piano or leading us in songs as we hiked through Zion’s or drove through a “short cut” in the car.

I will remember him as an academic, like your and his practice of rewarding us for memorizing poems or his knowledge of the scientific and latin names of plants and flowers. It was grandpa that taught me to love a crossword puzzle and to appreciate the sights and sounds of nature.

I will remember him as a spiritual giant, from his years of dedicated service in the LDS temple to his insistence that every year at Christmas we read the nativity, no matter how much we just wanted to play with our presents.

I will remember him for always saying “WHAT DO YOU SAY, BEN?” as his salutation when I arrived at your house and for the “OOOH-AH” call that sent us grand kids running back home from the far reaches of the gulley. I will remember the crazy faces he could make.

I will remember him for being a phenomenally handsome man, and the hope I feel that male hair paterns really are passed down from your maternal grandfather.

I’ll remember that I never heard him say an unkind word. Mostly, I’ll remember him as one of the most caring men I’ve ever known, the consummate gentleman and scholar and the best grandfather I could have ever asked for.

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I know, I’ve been a little video crazy lately, but we had the whole family together for Memorial Day and I was practicing the Uke and one thing led to another and here we are with another edition of the Von Trapp Wood Family Singers.

It also presented me with a predicament regarding my Nom de Uke, when I perform with my mother it’s TWO Wood Uke, when I perform alone it’s ONE Wood Uke. What do I do when there TWO Woods but only ONE Uke?

(read more after the jump)

You can hear the real version of this song here.

I suppose I should introduce my brother. Jacob Wood, a.k.a Big Woody Style, former frontman of Dishwoody and the Burritos, whose music you can hear on mine and Tyler Barlow’s two Fringe Film Festival submissions — Great Expectations and Loved and Lost.

It’s kind of fun to actually have a video of me and my brother side to side. I get told on a weekly basis that we’re twins (when in actuality he is much, much, MUCH older than me). In fact, a friend was recently at my house and said “oh Ben, that’s a nice picture of you,” while pointing over at a mantel. It was actually a photograph of my brother, circa 2008, smiling that winning grin of his in a red Christmas sweater. He’s in sales, it fits him.

But, as you can see, there’s plenty of differences between us. His hair is straight, mine is wavy. He prefers warm color tones whereas I tend toward a cool palette. Also, my head is evidently much larger than his.

I love the Temper Trap, and as I said on the video their sophomore album (also called “The Temper Trap”) is set to be released in the U.S. on Tuesday.

Did he say Sophomore? Yes, their freshman album “Conditions” is face-meltingly awesome and if you are not yet familiar with it yet I suggest you find yourself a copy/download/spotify as soon as possible (after your done reading this, of course).

If you’re wondering where you’ve heard them before it’s likely you caught their breakout song “Sweet Disposition” on the (500) Days of Summer Soundtrack. In my opinion that song, that soundtrack and that movie are perfect. That’s not to say that every movie should be (500) Days, that simply means that as a film it did a whole lot of things right and nothing wrong (as evidence I give you this scene, and this one as well, sorry about the Spanish subtitles). If you clicked on the Great Expectations link above, you probably noticed that I’m a big fat (500) Days copy cat. Sidebar, my movie review of (500) Days won 1st place at the Utah Headliner’s awards. That’s right, I’m awesome.

So who are the Trap? They’re a London-based Australian indie rock/pop which lately has turned up the Pop nob while turning down the Rock. Normally, that would turn me off but the smooth vocals of Dougy Mandagi and the experimental instrumentation just warms my soul. I sadly haven’t been able to listen to all of the “The Temper Trap” (the album) yet but come June 5 if anyone is wondering why I’m not answering my phone it’ll be because I’m lying on my back in the grass, looking up at the sky with a pair of over-the-ear headphone pumping some Trap into my head from sun-up to sun-down.

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