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The weather’s been pretty nice.

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High time to wiggle out of Diana’s Favorite Torture Chair and leave another journal entry. What’s new?

-I have been approached to make my first appearance on a podcast, to be recorded later this month for distribution in May. It seems at least 90 percent certain but I’ll share more details when it’s 100 percent settled, so you can be sure to avoid it. Suffice it to say for now that, in a world with a million podcasts, this must surely be one of the most obscure and esoteric.

-My main-slash-only creative outlet for the time being continues to be the Society for American Baseball Research. A bunch of new game stories — and maybe even a ballpark bio — have gone up there since the last time I plugged it.

No one wants to read ’em who already hasn’t. But if you’re out there and interested, the best way to see ’em all is to visit my author page. There’s a couple of pages worth of story links so don’t forget to hit Next.

-The Internet Archive’s series of vinyl rips has greatly slowed and fallen into an uninteresting rut, so I haven’t found anything fantabulous there lately. A while ago I found some recordings in a back corner of the Archive that strictly speaking shouldn’t have been there. Being amoral and a pack rat besides, I grabbed the downloads, and now I need to burn some of those onto disc and listen to them. 

Good/interesting read of the day came from Twitter. It’s a commentary by a woman who inspired a long-ago song by R.E.M., and how her story seems to morph, twist, and distort every time somebody writes something new about the band or the song. I’m not a huge fan of the song but you don’t have to be to appreciate the narrative.

The piece was written quite a few years ago; by this time, R.E.M. biographers have probably turned her into an interstellar cannibal zombie or something.

-Got my first dose of the vaccine. Second dose is booked for just about two weeks from now.

-It will be 70 degrees in Massachusetts this weekend and I wish to hell I could see some live baseball but I don’t think I can. Colleges aren’t allowing fans, and the spring high school sports season is only just starting because they jammed a replacement “fall” season into the first part of spring. Sigh.

Droste and other effects.

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Today I got my latest package of baseball (and other) cards, and this new batch might just be the most Kurt Blumenau thing that ever Kurt Blumenau-ed. So, you get pictures and comments on some of them.

(Look on the bright side: At least there’s pictures!)

IMG_6730 Ah, yes, the infamous 1993 Upper Deck Mike Perez. I’ve low-key wanted one of these for a while, and so I finally laid out my 10 cents for one.

If you look closely (you probably can’t see it in this pic), the card Perez is holding has writing across his face — must be a proof. I don’t think that detracts in the slightest from the brilliance of this one.

 

 

 

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Similarly, I picked up a bunch of manager cards — one of several jags I indulged in this time around — and this one of former Seattle Mariners manager John McLaren has to be one of the coolest manager cards that’s ever been.

Managers are stereotypically shown shouting at their players, often through cupped hands. But this shot heralds a new, more equal era in manager-player relations. McLaren and Ichiro are truly partners in the success of the Mariners.

Ain’t understanding mellow?

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I bought, or more likely received, several packs of 1984 Fleer back in 1984. Probably around this time of year, probably in an Easter basket. I always liked the look of the set, and when I found a couple of cheap ’84 Fleers on offer, I snapped them up.

We will further discuss the 1984 products of Fleer later on in this post.

 

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“1st Bowman Card!” How perfectly exciting!

The more obscure a player is, the more I perk up over his cards. This young man is Jabari Blash, a Virgin Islander who, to date, has hit .186 in 123 major-league games over three seasons. In this card, though, he is young and upcoming.

(You know what? Maintaining this format is a pain in the arse.)

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This card scratches a couple of itches. One, I’m just about always interested in minor-league cards. Two, I saw Joe Hudson make his major-league debut at Fenway Park, one of very few players I can say that about. He didn’t hang around in the majors long, and I may be the last person in New England who remembers him, but when I spotted his card I had to pick it up.

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Another Red Sox favorite from my college years. Tony Fossas didn’t reach the bigs until age 30 but then hung around for 12 seasons, chiefly on the strength of a sloppy sidearm curveball he liked to call “the frisbee.” I picked up a couple Fossases in this buying round to go along with the three I already had, including the one I induced him by mail to autograph. Yup, I did that.

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The trainer card is a grand tradition in minor league baseball, often inserted to pad out card sets. I’ve probably got three or four of them now. Tony, in his color-coded pants, looks ready to address any ailment.

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On a small scale, I also dig Topps’ Heritage issues, in which they resurrect card designs from years past. This one reuses the 1958 design to, IMHO, good effect.

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Mike and Mark Bavis, hockey-playing twins from the Boston neighborhood of Roslindale, attended Boston University at the same time I did and were regular contributors to BU’s hockey team. (I did not know them; the hockey players existed in a special bubble dictated by their unique circumstances, and while I had one or two classes with them, I did not know them.)

Both Bavises played minor-league hockey. Mark became a scout for the Los Angeles Kings; he and fellow scout Ace Bailey were killed on September 11, 2001, in the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 175. Mike, apparently, is on the BU coaching staff nowadays.

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I feel less and less affiliated with Rochester with each passing month, but every so often something presses that button, and a card of Jody Gage is one such thing. (If you know the saga of Mr. Amerk, you know the saga of Mr. Amerk.)

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I believe I mentioned collectors’ obsession with rookie cards — the first card issued of a particular player. This spilled over in the ’90s to a point where card makers, even the flagship Topps, were slapping unproven draft picks’ faces onto cardboard, just to be in the race to issue that all-important first card.

Some of these guys — the lucky ones — got shown on their cards in the uniform of their high school or college baseball program. They, at least, got depicted in a baseball setting. Others, like these guys, got photographed in street clothes, and in retrospect, they look all kinds of derpy.

Neither Mike Rossiter nor Rich Ireland made the big leagues; Ireland didn’t get past rookie-level ball. But, he has a Topps card. That’s a legit accomplishment. Me, I love cards of guys who only got a cup of coffee in the bigs or didn’t get there at all. So these dressed-up dudes are just my speed.

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I bought this card sight unseen and I am proud to say it exceeds even my wildest expectations. This is former Boston College football coach Jack Bicknell, coaching in the old World League of American Football (WLAF, pronounced “we-laugh.”) Mein Gott, that sweater!

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I think I mentioned that coach and manager cards were a jag. Entraineur doesn’t mean “trainer,” like Tony from Pawtucket. It means “coach.” (As if any Canadian kid who pulled this card would have mistaken Mr. Gregory for a player…)

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I was made for lovin’ you, baby / You were made for lovin’ me…” What in the hell are they pointing at?

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The back of this card includes the anecdote: “Mrs. Adubato states: ‘He dreams about sports every night. One night I woke up and he was palming my head.'”

I wish I were making that up.

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Another big card gimmick of the past quarter-century is shiny cards. Gold, silver, chrome, refractors, whatever. My limited understanding is that Topps (probably others too) now issues multiple shades of refractor cards in addition to a player’s standard “base” card, to the point where it’s damn near impossible to organically collect a full set of cards because of all the shiny variations.

Anyhow, the shiny thing has always felt a little … forced … to me when it’s applied to a player whose career doesn’t make you think of gold, silver or platinum. Like Joe Klink, here. A perfectly serviceable reliever for a couple of years, but no Tony Fossas by any stretch.

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The Celtics were pretty dismal when I went to school in Boston (I never went to see them play.) For some reason, point guard Chris Corchiani — who played with three teams in three seasons — sticks out in my mind as the kind of player the Celts were picking up around that time, kinda like how Dooley Womack stands out as an exemplar of a certain period of New York Yankees players. So, for cheap, I picked up a college memory.

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Same with this guy. Link Gaetz played two seasons in the NHL and purveyed my absolute least favorite style of hockey — he was a raging goon who compiled 400-plus penalty minutes in 65 NHL games. I mainly remember him from playing computer hockey against my sophomore year roommate, when we would order Domino’s and make an evening out of trying to pound the cyber-tar out of each other. Link Gaetz was good for that.

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Another Heritage jobbie – I think 1963 or ’64 is the design being aped. This guy just looks like the quintessential hayseed who’s pitched his way off the tractor, which I love. (In real life I am sure Mr. Perry was the modern baseball player in every way — protein shakes and spin analysis and pitch counts and agents and whatever else.)

Topps, not having reached my jugular well enough with the Heritage series, has taken it up a notch by doing Heritage-type cards of minor-league players. Mr. Perry, here, topped out at Double-A ball; he is shown as a member of the South Bend (Indiana) Silver Hawks.

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A number of Topps Heritage cards that ape the 1970 design have weird, unreal, off-puttingly artificial background colors. What weather does that sky portend?

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As I was saying…

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Eddie Haas got a single Topps card as a player, as a young outfielder in 1959. After years of playing, managing and coaching, he worked his way up to become Atlanta Braves manager, and was given a second Topps card in the 1985 Traded set (the set issued in mid-year to account for trades, rookies who have proven themselves, and managerial changes.) The Braves let him go as manager on August 25, and he never got another Topps card.

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Vic Davalillo, in contrast, had bunches of cards through the 1960s and 1970s. The Venezuelan outfielder kept popping up with the Dodgers as a pinch-hit specialist in the latter half of the ’70s. He only appeared in seven games in 1980, but Fleer gave him a card in 1981 anyway, probably on the assumption that the guy was just never going to go away completely. (They were incorrect.)

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Topps Heritage cards for Medal of Honor winners are a thing, apparently. I am not one of those people who worships all things military … but a trading card of the Hero of Little Round Top, the future Governor of Maine, and the president of Bowdoin College? Yeah, I’ll spend a dime on that.

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The NFL is dead to me and western New York grows dimmer by the day but I still dig this card. Christie, the man who almost made Bills fans forget Scott Norwood, is pictured precisely at the Moment of Creation … he’s not looking at the ball, but his entire body is wrapped up in the effort of kicking.

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Two more football cards, another college memory. Vincent Brisby was a wide receiver on the miserable Patriots teams of the Nineties. He lives in my memory chiefly as a result of his euphonious nickname: Vincent “Ultimate” Brisby.

OK, it’s about time to wrap up already, so I’ll get to the real piece de resistance. Remember how I mentioned 1984 Fleer cards about a half-hour ago?

Well, I was searching for 1984 Fleer products, and I discovered that in 1984, Fleer produced a 66-card set dedicated to the television miniseries V — apparently expecting that V would be a larger cultural event than it turned out to be.

I didn’t see the miniseries, and I had to go to Wikipedia to refresh myself on the plot — something about reptilian space-Nazis who pretend to come in peace.

But when I saw this card on the available list I said hells yes:

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Diana was the female leader of the evil reptilians. Apparently torture was her thing, or part of her thing. And so Fleer produced a card of Diana’s Favorite Torture Chair.

I bought this one sight unseen too. I kinda wondered what might be on it — maybe Diana putting the nipple-pinching clothespins on some poor Earthling? A bit of watered-down sadism aimed at the 11-year-old market?

But, no. It’s a chair. An unoccupied chair! An unoccupied chair surrounded by ominous black rigmarole-props. This is the most fabulously absurd thing that’s ever been printed on a square of cardboard. It’s gotta be up there, anyway. You wanted Diana’s Favorite Torture Chair? Never let it be said that ’84 Fleer didn’t come through for you, Bunky.

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Oh, and here’s Diana her ownself, as played by actress Jane Badler, bringing heavy Grace Slick energy to the role. (“Diana Looks For New Conquests” is almost as great a card title as “Diana’s Favorite Torture Chair.”)

And if you don’t mind cocking your head to read the card back, you can enjoy another great aspect of these cards: The copy seems to have been written by someone who might not have had the slightest bit of familiarity with the show, but who is guessing what to say based on the picture.

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“You just wasted how much of my time with this stupid blog post?”

Saint’s Day.

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I have not stomped for quite a while on the familiar old grounds of the ARSA local radio survey database. Tonight feels like a fine time to go back. And what better theme than surveys issued on St. Patrick’s Day?

WHEC, Rochester, New York, 1958I’m aware that it was common, decades ago, for multiple versions of the same song to run the charts at once. I’ve never thought a lot until now about what that must have sounded like for the listener, and how frustrating it might have been.

On this chart, we have three versions of “River Kwai March/Colonel Bogey” (they’re the same thing, n’est-ce pas?) as well as two of “Seventy-Six Trombones,” all in the top 10. I assume the jocks rotated the different versions — i.e., they picked one to play each hour; they didn’t play all three in close succession.

But what if you actually happened to like one version better than the other two? You’d get stuck hearing the one you wanted only once every three hours, and in the other two hours, you’d get versions that just angered you with their comparative shortcomings. That can’t have been the best of all possible worlds either.

Meanwhile, on WCOP Boston that same week, there’s a little bit of duplication, but also a solid one-two punch at the top that WHEC doesn’t have — “Sweet Little Sixteen” and Jimmy McCracklin’s “The Walk,” the riff from which later turned up in the epic blues chestnut “Hideaway.” They could play Berry and McCracklin as many times an hour as they wanted, if you ask me.

 

WNDR, Syracuse, New York, 1962: How … even … does this chart work? They shoehorn, like, 90 songs into 60 spots. King Curtis and Lawrence Welk rub elbows at the Number 35 spot, somehow. Tico and the Triumphs’ “Motorcycle,” at Number 30, features a voice you might know from elsewhere. And then there’s George Maharis singing “Teach Me Tonight,” which I did not know existed, and … when do the Beatles show up, again?

 

WEEX, Easton, Pennsylvania, 1968The inescapable “Love Is Blue” reminds us that we haven’t quite gotten past that same-hit-by-multiple-artists thing yet. Tico & Garfunkel show up at Number 28. The Who’s bouncy, almost Beach Boys-ish, but relatively minor “Call Me Lightning” is “hitbound,” bass solo and all. And who are those newcomers at 37? Sly and the Family …. Stokes?

 

WEEX, 1972: We approach the end of the days when multiple versions of a song would do battle on the charts. A shame: It would have been a gas to see Henry Mancini, Andy Williams, or Jerry Vale jump into the fray with competing versions of “Roundabout” or “Bang a Gong.”

(Actually, the song on this chart that probably would have inspired multiple versions if this were 1952 instead of 1972 is Apollo 100’s Bach adaptation, “Joy.” Gimmicky but hella delightful. A Hammond goes with anything.)

Which is the greater train wreck here: the segue from “I Gotcha” into “Roundabout,” or from “Jungle Fever” into “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”? And, hey, 100 points to WEEX for wedging McCartney’s insistently hummable protest song onto a St. Patrick’s Day chart.

 

WEEX, 1973: Some stone cold classics on this chart but I stop by mainly to note the presence of “Frankenstein” on the “Album Action” chart, which I assume was reserved for album cuts. The song, of course, became more than just an album cut; it crossed over into mainstream hit-single status and ended up at Number One in May of that year.

WPTR, Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York, 1974: An interesting one-two on the album charts. Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, the diary of a witty, wayward professional woman in a love-hate relationship with commitment, is Number One. Carly Simon’s Hotcakes, a paean to domestic bliss that features a radiantly pregnant Simon on its cover and a song about having a baby, is Number Two.

I wonder if these might be two of the most diametrically opposed albums of the Seventies … and whether I might loathe Hotcakes as ardently as I love Court and Spark. There’s only one way to find out, and it is not imminent, though I could get there someday.

 

KYNO, Fresno, California, 1976: Notable mainly for the presence of Bob Dylan’s “Mozambique” on the hitbound list (next to “Shout It Out Loud.”) “Mozambique” did not hassle “The Theme from S.W.A.T.” for airplay.

 

WDRC, Hartford, Connecticut, 1978: Some pure Seventies juice on the hitbound list — “Feels So Good,” “Runnin’ on Empty,” England Dan and John Ford Coley. Wonderful things, hitbound lists, like promises that the river of good music will flow forever.

I also note Skynyrd’s Street Survivors on the LP chart, months after the crash. I still wonder whether the surviving members of Skynyrd — no doubt stuck in traction, depression and physical therapy in the spring of ’78 — saw the posthumous chart life of their album as a form of torture or a ray of light.

 

WRKO Boston, 1978: KISS Alive II and My Aim Is True back-to-back on the album chart? I love living here in Eggheadland. I also note multiple versions of “More Than A Woman” on the New Music list. The ghost of 1958 laughs at me (and a lot of other people), long and loud.

CFGO, Ottawa, 1980: That three-fer of the B-52s, Led Zep, and George Burns … that’s seriously berserk. (XTC into Smokey Robinson would be the biggest train wreck on most charts. Here it’s not even a fender-bender.)

Some solid Canadian content on this chart, too, including a Bruce Cockburn song I’ve never heard but am playing now. It’s maybe a little bloodless, but by 1980 standards, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with it. I’ve featured Cockburn’s “How I Spent My Fall Vacation” from the same album on the blog before; I might just have to shell out for it sometime. (It’s ahead of Hotcakes on my list, I can confirm that.)

 

CFMB, Montreal, 1983: A couple of these left-of-the-dial bands will go on to be very, very big in the States. England’s Fun Boy Three is not one of them — although their version of a familiar song goes to the Top Ten across the pond.

 

A questionable tribute.

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Tonight I made Saquon Barkley Pie … and I beseech the Lord (and my stomach, and Saquon Barkley) to forgive me.

My family are the sorts who make pie for both dinner and dessert on Pi Day (March 14), just because an excuse for pie is always welcome. This year we had firm plans for dessert (I claimed a lemon chiffon pie recipe, which is chilling in the fridge as I type) but no great ideas for dinner.

My younger son, en route to another room, mentioned that the Lehigh Valley celebrated Saquon Barkley Day at around this time of year … so why not a Saquon Barkley Pie?

(Some background for those not familiar: Saquon Barkley is a star running back for the New York Football Giants. He grew up in the next little town over from where we used to live in Pennsylvania. He graduated from the same high school my older son graduated from, and the same school my younger son would have graduated from had I not dragged him off to Boston like James at 15. Barkley’s hometown of Coplay, Pa., held a Saquon Barkley Day in his honor not tremendously long before we moved out. We didn’t go but we could hear it from a distance. It was a shindig and a half. Anyway.)

My son, having dropped the idea of Saquon Barkley Pie on me, decamped elsewhere without sharing any notions of what such a pie might contain.

I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of what Mr. Barkley eats. Being a top-class pro athlete, he probably subsists on protein shakes and grilled salmon.

Instead, I began to picture a pie that would combine classic, familiar eastern Pennsylvania ingredients. Not something Saquon Barkley has necessarily ever eaten (in fact, I kinda hope not), but something all those people who went to Saquon Barkley Day might have eaten when they got home.

And I came up with this:

A variation on shepherd’s pie in which the bottom portion is greasy, melty Pennsylvania-style cheesesteak meat — enlivened with a few chopped green peppers — and the top layer is potato-and-cheese pierogi filling.

It’s OK if you stop reading now…

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Potatoes waiting to do their duty.

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I did not skimp on funky plastic disgusting American cheese slices, which were thrown into the skillet to heat up along with the meat. A full box of frozen cheesesteak meat went into this. Yup.

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The meat, cheese and peppers have been cooked, and now I am spreading the potato mixture across the top of the pie pan.

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The white specks in the pierogi filling are feta cheese; I threw a little bit of every cheese I had in the fridge into the potato mix, for all the flavor I could muster.

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Plated, wit’ salad.

I am pleased to report that the pie, in its own weird disgusting way, was very much a success. The cheesesteak half worked as cheesesteak filling — hot, salty, greasy, ethically questionable. The potato topping was passable pierogi filling — tasty, not too heavy, hinting at additional flavor but not overwhelmed by it.

Most importantly, the two halves were well-proportioned. My younger son, who knew of my grand scheme in advance, said he feared the pie would turn out to be a big pile of mashed potatoes with an occasional strip of cheesesteak. This did not happen; neither main ingredient dominated the other.

So, there you go. Saquon Barkley Pie for Pi Day. I can just about see the streets of Whitehall and Coplay in my mind as I sit back and wait for my dinner to digest.

And wait.

And wait….

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Mmmm, dirty dishes!

Five For The Record: The Jam, In The City.

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A recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have not thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: 1977 debut album by British Mod-punk band. A Top 20 album in the U.K.; title track scraped into the U.K. Top 40 at Number 40; album and song did not chart in the States.

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And here’s why I like it:

1. It still has that new-song smell. As an adult, I periodically run into music that would have lit up my life when I was younger. (I’ve stopped just short of retroactively inserting the first couple Cheap Trick albums into my high school memories. They so richly belong there.)

The positive side of discovering music later in life, though, is that you don’t get as sick of it.

For instance, I had my fill long ago of “My Generation,” the Who’s chesty youth anthem and title track; I don’t ever have to hear it again. But “In the City,” the Jam’s chesty youth anthem and title track, didn’t become part of my life until much later. (Well after my chesty youth, in fact.)

So I still like hearing it, sometimes again and again … even if Paul Weller’s invocations of “the young idea” make me think of North Korea’s Juche Idea, and even if the last line sounds to my aging ears to be something like “And every town worker needs a sale, Jack!”

(I could Google it. Couldn’t do that during my chesty youth. But knowing the real words would be no fun.)

2. Heart of gold. Every scrappy young pop/punk band’s first record needs to have a reflective, melodic number on it somewhere, and if it stakes out a deeply personal message, so much the better.

In the City‘s big heartfelt ten-dollar singalong, “Away From the Numbers,” bundles up In the City’s theme of determined youthful independence in a great big chorus, accompanied eventually by some background oooh-oooh-ooohs. (They’re one of the few nods to fancy production on this bare-bones album.)

The ending chant of “Reality’s so hard” is a nice counterpoint to Weller’s braggadocio throughout most of the rest of the album. As best I can understand, it is one of the few points at which his hard-nosed narrator concedes that being a rock and an island is maybe not so easy, no matter how determined he is.

3. Non-stop. Revisiting that point about bare-bones production: I don’t believe there are any other instruments on In the City besides Weller’s barking Rickenbacker guitar, Bruce Foxton’s Rick bass and Rick Buckler’s drums. No tasteful Hammond, no haunted Rhodes, no horns, no strings, no guiro. This does get old from time to time, as you can imagine.

“Non-Stop Dancing” draws a fair amount of its charm from this minimalist approach, staying fresh even as some of the other songs start to blur. What it is, essentially, is a three-man band looking at each other and saying, “We love Motown and soul but we don’t have the tools to copy it. How can we get that vibe with three instruments?”

It’s not a cover of anything. It’s not a we’ll-play-the-horn-lines-on-overdubbed-guitar copy job. It’s just a song that combines punk directness with soul spirit and energy, in a way that feels unforced.

4. It mattered, really. “Sounds From the Street,” another love song to London, has a great, defensive line that speaks volumes about the 18-year-old who wrote and sang it. Weller sings, “I know I come from Woking / And you say I’m a fraud / But my heart is in the city where it belongs.”

I love that he saw the need to write that into a song and record it — that it was that important to him that he both publicly acknowledge and renounce his suburban roots.

Given Weller’s recurring theme of independence, and his outspoken and sometimes profane dismissals of his critics (check, for instance, this verse of “The Modern World,” released later in 1977), this sticks out. It’s like he’s actually — gasp — trying to win someone over.

I wonder who? 

(“Sounds from the Street” has another great pair of lines that I won’t go too deeply into, but will call out briefly: “The USA’s got the sea / yeah, but the British kids have got the streets.” It wouldn’t be a Britpunk album without a slam at the Rebel Colonies, I guess. I wonder what the hell 18-year-old Paul Weller thought he knew about the U.S.A.?)

5. Slow down. Only intermittently does In the City hint at the kind of headfirst powerhouse the Jam were capable of being onstage.

One of those moments is the band’s cover of Larry Williams’ “Slow Down.” This choice of tunes served the dual purpose of nodding to the band’s Sixties pop predecessors (you might have heard another Limey band’s version) while simultaneously declaring the Jam’s intention to blow them off the stage.

(There’s also an unintentionally funny version of the “Batman” theme, but we won’t go into that here.)

For however long it lasts before it’s disappeared, here’s a clip of the young Jam around the time of In the City, working up a sweat onstage.

Five For The Record: The Colorblind James Experience, “Considering a Move to Memphis.”

A recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have not thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: 1987 college-rock semi-novelty semi-hit by Rochester, New York-based band.

And here’s why I like it:

1. Rochester! My attachment to my hometown fades a little more with each passing year, but I’ll still fly the flag sometimes. And one of the things that delights me about this song is that it took a Goof Troop club band from the Home Districts and gave them a genuine touring-abroad rock n’ roll career path for a couple of years. I’m not sure it’s a rags-to-riches story — it might be more like rags-to-nicer-rags. But still, better them than some brain-dead heavy-metal band.

2. Pirozhkis! I have never associated Memphis with a sizable Eastern European population. So the line in which the narrator assumes he will find pirozhkis to eat seems to sum up his starry-eyed optimism more concisely than any other … as if his mental Memphis has poly-ethnic restaurants on every corner with menus as long as his backbone. (The line, for reference: “Some days I’ll order chicken, some days I’ll order fish / Some days I’ll have pirozhkis, that’s a Polish dish.”)

Doing some Googling, I learn that:
1) Pirozhki are Russian and Ukrainian, not Polish. Whoops. Also, pirozhki is the plural of pirozhok;pirozhkis,” strictly speaking, isn’t a thing, although maybe in the cross-linguistic muddle it gets used anyway.
2) Memphis does have an active Polish-American Society, and even has a Memphis in Poland festival that brings local musicians to Eastern Europe to perform. Go know! Maybe you can eat pierogies in Memphis, if not necessarily pirozhkis. I learned something from this silly song … more than I’ve ever learned from, say, “Stairway to Heaven.”

3. The visitor. For most of the song, the narrator appears to be daydreaming about some idealized vision of Memphis. But at one point, he drops a line that suggests he’s actually been there: “Memphis isn’t all that big, at least that’s how I found it / Why, it only took an hour and a half to walk completely around it.”

To me, that makes the whole notion even funnier and more delicious. He’s been there, walked from one end of the other (either because he longs to see it all up close, or he can’t afford a car), and he still thinks of the place as some sort of dream destination.

(Of course, it is probably a fool’s errand to close-read a lyric with lines like “The people in the restaurants will all use forks and knives / They won’t take decongestants, though, for fear of getting hives” — my least favorite part of the song, for what that’s worth. Still, I’ll think deeply about it if I feel like it.)

4. The riff. The song is ferociously loyal to its one and only riff; they only stop it to chant. I admire the purity of that level of songwriting. It makes James Brown and his token four-bar bridges look like Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. To paraphrase the McKenzie Brothers: Chord changes are for sucks. Heck, chords are for sucks!

5. The statement of purpose. Other than the recurring chant — “I’m considering, I’m considering” — the lyrics that come to my mind most frequently are the very last lines. I think of them as a wonderful statement of purpose, gift-wrapped in a layer of silliness: “When I arrive in Memphis, I’ll put a sign out on the door / ‘It’s OK to disturb me. That’s what I came here for.’ “

Isn’t that perfect? He’s going there ’cause he wants to shake things up. (And he seems confident everything will settle down in its right place afterward, like a snow globe.)

I envy that kind of spirit.

 

American killjoy.

I was pleased to introduce a friend today to one of Twitter’s most useful tools — the mute-word function.

It’s pretty much what it sounds like. You type in a word, phrase or hashtag, and Twitter will block that word, phrase, or hashtag from your feed and make sure you don’t get notifications related to any tweet that contains it. You can set the block to last for a certain amount of time, or clang down the iron door forever.

In my experience, it does a very good job making stuff you don’t like disappear. So good, in fact, that I’ve accumulated a long list of muted words and phrases. Some are related to chronic irritants. Others are memory-joggers, reminding me of brief periods of time when people were just abusing the hell out of a word or phrase whose popularity has since receded.

I’m not going to reprint the full list here … but I thought it would say something about me if I lifted the veil partway and showed you some examples of stuff that, goddammit, I just flat-out do not want to hear about any more.

(Recognizing that not all my readers spend their lives online, I will add brief explanations where they seem useful.)

“Baby Yoda” — There was a period when the Star Wars fans on my feed — and they are legion on Twitter — were running at the mouth over the cuteness of this character from the SW spinoff “The Mandalorian” (I think that’s what it’s called.) I got sick of it. Yoda and #babyyoda are also on the block list.

“Star Wars” and #starwars— yeah, the whole franchise. There are lots of blockbuster-movie geeks on Twitter, but George Lucas’s baby really doesn’t mean anything special to me, and I’d prefer to avoid the endless chatter each time a new trailer is released or a new plot twist is hinted at.

“Real Housewives” — must I explain?

Chonky — also chonk. This cutesy variant on “chunky” caught on as a descriptor for fat housepets. It went from cute to trite quickly. (I don’t care much more about housepets than I do about Star Wars.)

“Kanye West” — also Kanye. I forget which of his peccadilloes landed him on the shit list but there he is. Oddly, while I have no great use for his wife either, “Kardashian” has never made it onto the mute list.

Hamilfilm — I respect “Hamilton” as a bold and successful piece of popular entertainment but I completely fail to see it as the life-affirming marvel of joy that some people seem to think it is. I believe I proactively put this on the block list before the film came out, just so I wouldn’t have to hear the knee-jerk liberals on my feed flutter anew about its brilliance. (Did I really just say that, and when did I turn so sour?)

“Tom Brady” — Living in New England isn’t all lobsters and ‘Gansett, and one of the pitfalls is the region’s fascination with its NFL team and its (now-former) star quarterback. Regular readers know the NFL is dead to me, which makes me even less interested in Tom Brady. I believe his name reached the mute list during a period when Brady was deciding whether to stay in New England or go elsewhere, and Twitter was full of uninformed speculation.

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Art for art’s sake!

Bingo — I’ve mentioned before that there’s a particular social media trope that really gets on my nerves: “I didn’t have (dramatic summary of current news event) on my pandemic bingo card.” Let’s just say I filled in five squares in a row, and my reward is I don’t have to hear this any more.

Oscar, Oscars, Emmy, Emmys, Grammy, Grammys, goldenglobes — Hmmm. Somehow the Tonys have stayed on my good side…

Festivus — The joke got old. Somehow my sense is that this is more successful in sneaking onto my feed than a lot of the other terms listed here — I don’t feel like it’s being blocked that effectively. I guess I’ll have to air my grievance.

Feels — Like “chonky,” this cutesy abbreviation of “feelings” slipped into the language as part of the whole annoying adults-intentionally-writing-like-children thing. (“Baby Yoda gives me all the feels.”) I sit alone in my stone tower, sipping brandy, free from the slangy pop-culture outbursts of the crowd, listening to Morris Albert croon: “Feelings …. nothing more than fee-lings….”

“RT if” — Short for “retweet if,” this phrase is the core of a million irksome attempts to build community (“RT if you ever sucked on orange wedges at halftime of a youth soccer game.”) I’ll RT somebody else’s tweet if it meets my standards for humor, creativity, nostalgia, or (occasionally) visceral impact, but I’ll pretty much never retweet anything that specifically asks to be retweeted.

Thread — A thread is when somebody has a long string of thoughts on a topic (a lot of feels, one might say) and builds a string of linked tweets on the subject. I loathe threads because THAT’S WHAT BLOGS ARE FOR. Expressing a lengthy or complex chain of thoughts and emotions 280 characters at a time is just stupid, when you could go somewhere else and enumerate them at full length and just post a link to that. Twitter exists for dumb quick hot takes, not for airing out your soul.

Joker — Fans of the Batman films seem to think the Joker is a particularly iconic character (you know, I should really mute the word “iconic” one of these days) and love to discuss him and his portrayers, which is not a subject that holds any interest for me. As an old friend on Twitter has said in the past: “I’m a giant fan of all things Batman, but let’s stop pretending that playing the Joker is like playing King Lear or something.”

Stan — This term for obsessive pop-culture superfans has somehow become both a noun and a verb. Overheated pop culture obsession doesn’t draw me in — I tend to think such people should diversify their interests — so I am not interested in either scholarly study of stan culture, or tweets where people declare themselves stans of a person, place, or thing. I’m probably missing all kinds of wonderful content related to Stan Getz, Stan Mikita, Stan Musial, and Stan Kenton, but that’s just another weight that has to be carried.

(I have thought about blocking Karen, the interwebs’ new favorite slang term for affluent, racist, entitled white women, but a woman named Karen has a great Lehigh Valley history account whose content I enjoy. So I grit my teeth and deal with the bursts of self-righteous people dunking on people they’ve never met, just so I can see photos of trolleys rolling through Catasauqua.)

Everybody had a hard year.

Things ain’t what they used to be, Chapters 53,559 through 53,561:

Some of you who have been around here a while might remember my writeup of the “Toby Schwartz game” from 2014, in which a Lafayette College baseball player won a tight game against North Carolina Central University with a walk-off home run.

This blog post included a paragraph or two of hand-wringing over the fact that I’d never heard of North Carolina Central — almost certainly because it’s a historically Black university. (It remains legitimately embarrassing that there are schools I know almost nothing about, just because I don’t know anyone who went there, they’ve never hosted a big-name national champion sports team, and they’re predominantly Black.)

Anyhow, North Carolina Central recently announced that it will discontinue baseball as a varsity sport at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

Which sucks. I can’t fault the school, because realities are realities, but I never like to see a baseball program disappear.

(Well, I can fault the school for one thing — the use of the phrase “it was determined that” in its formal announcement. I used to work at a place where the phrases “it was determined that” or “it was decided that” were consciously used by certain people and departments as a way to squirm out of public accountability. In their hands, “it was determined that” was code for “you don’t need to know who made this decision. Move along.” I’ve never trusted the phrase since.)

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Also on the baseball front: I’ve already ranted on Twitter and Instagram about Major League Baseball’s decision to abandon the names of their existing minor leagues for the 2021 season, but I’ll do it here too.

A refresher for those who haven’t heard: MLB has taken over control of the minor leagues in a way it never had before, and is making a variety of changes. One of them, announced last week, is the rearrangement of remaining minor-league teams into new groupings and divisions.

Names like the International League, Pacific Coast League, and Eastern League — names with a century-plus of history — have been chucked out like yesterday’s potato peelings, replaced by bland classifications like “Triple-A East, Northeast Division.” Speculation is that these bland names are only placeholders, to be replaced by sponsored brand names for the 2022 season; so before long we might be rooting for the Bubba’s Hot Wings Triple-A Division or somesuch.

I won’t belabor the frustration I feel at the wanton trashing of names with such rich heritage. You can guess what I think. And anyway, what I think won’t affect MLB in the slightest.

It does drive home some new realities to me, though.

For a while I have disliked MLB but perceived the minors as a more amenable alternative — frustrating in their own way, with their nonstop pandering to people with short attention spans who value free bobbleheads above crisp 6-4-3 double plays, but more amenable all the same.

But now MLB has killed my favorite minor league (the New York-Penn League) and eliminated the familiar branding and layout of my second-favorite (the International League, the league both I and my kids grew up watching.)

The minors have always been a slower, rootsier, friendlier alternative to MLB — but now that they are in MLB’s direct control, that seems to be ending. It is now impossible to support the minors without knowing you are directly supporting the broken, money-hungry, tone-deaf MLB.

I’m not real sure what I’m gonna do about that. I’ve loved college ball for years, but it ends early, and then how do I get my baseball fix all summer? I guess I’ll have to switch my allegiance to the summer leagues for college players — though MLB is consolidating its control of those, too.

Ten years from now I may be watching random kids play tee-ball on the Fourth of July and weeping inside.

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San Francisco’s venerable Anchor Brewing is another sentimental favorite of mine, from its distinctive product to its cluttered, curio-shop labels.

Last month, Anchor unveiled its first significant packaging redesign in decades, moving to a simpler, more streamlined look. This was roundly and profanely denounced by beerheads on social media, even beyond the usual contempt that greets redesigns. (Not me; I’ve learned to hold my tongue on these things.)

After a day or two of abuse, Anchor rather touchingly took to social media to explain the hard truth: Novelty has become more powerful in the beer business than heritage; all those people who love the old design so much aren’t actually buying the beer; and if that continues, the brewery will close.

I am guilty of enjoying the existence of this goofy bohemian brand but not actually supporting it with my dollars on a regular basis. (Among other things, I am trying to keep Samuel Adams a going concern, closer to home; my allegiance to them outstrips my allegiance to Anchor, though I’d keep ’em both around if it were up to me.)

So I guess I should start doing more to support Anchor … even though it’s become less goofy and bohemian and weird and individual and San Franciscan, and now looks like it’s jostling for fratboy dollars? I mean, the beer’s the same (presumably) … but … that packaging. So bland. Do I want that in my hand? It was so much cooler when it looked like people were brewing the stuff for the fun of it.

There is, I suppose, no winning in any direction.

I’d go back there tomorrow, but for the work I’ve taken on.

It’s part of the Kurt Blumenau mythology, a factoid that anyone close enough to me to be reading this has probably heard multiple times. I’m not sure why I keep repeating it … I think I hope I will someday figure out why it mattered at the time and why I still remember it now. Anyhow:

Thirty years ago at this time, I was heading into the backstretch of my senior year of high school, juggling pretty good grades, a garage band, a girlfriend, and a mediocre winter track career.

And every night as I sat down to dispatch my senior-year homework, I put on Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark and listened to it straight through while I worked. Literally every single night over the course of the year, or very, very close to it. I had plenty of other records, and I’m sure I gave those some spins as well. But only Court and Spark was as much a part of the routine as pens and notebooks.

I have often wondered why the wanderings of a wealthy, footloose, romantic professional woman in Seventies L.A. should be so engrossing to a teenage boy in the Great Lakes suburbs of the early Nineties. It might have been the music more than the words. Joni had the balance of complex and catchy pretty well nailed by that point, and I remember thinking of the arrangements at the time as “wide-screen,” in particular the lengthy orchestral interlude that swells up in the middle of “Down to You.”

Anyway, I thought it might make for value-added interwebs content to revisit Court and Spark and rank its 11 songs from worst to best, as we blogger-types sometimes do with albums we like. It would have been interesting to compare this if I’d made the same list 30 years ago; I never did, but I suspect my rankings have not seismically altered over the decades.

11. “People’s Parties.” Of all Joni’s adventures, this seemed the least relatable or compelling: Our heroine fumbles around at parties to the accompaniment of a big baggy open-tuned guitar. The featured guest is a beautiful woman who sees no difference between laughing and crying, and that about says it all.

10. “Trouble Child.” This mysterioso ode to an institutionalized young person would have scored a lot higher with me in 1991, just on musical mood alone. Now I’m more likely to cock an eyebrow at lines like the Jon Anderson-ish “Dragon shining with all values known” and the closing rhyme of “knock you”/”clock you.” And I never come out the other end of this song entirely sure what its narrator wants me to think about the title character.

(Obligatory disclaimer applies: The most successful song I’ve ever written was about the Presidential Physical Fitness Exams, so any criticisms I have regarding song construction should probably be taken with a grain of salt.)

9. “Twisted.” OK, this bit of secondhand vocalese would have been last on my list in 1991. I don’t usually like vocal jazz, and the campier or more self-consciously clever it gets, the worse it is. But, y’know, since I started putting on my grown-up pants I’ve come to sorta like this. It has gained in my estimation as its predecessor “Trouble Child” has declined. Joni has the voice to pull it off, and it’s pleasant to hear her enjoying herself.

8. “Raised on Robbery.” I was gonna put “Just Like This Train” in this slot but swapped it with this one at the last second. This is Joni’s big rock n’ roll move, with fellow Canuck Robbie Robertson lending support on guitar, and a Maple Leafs name-drop for a little extra north-of-the-border colo(u)r. It’s well enough done — some of the lines are funny, and extra points for the way the lyrics shift perspective after the first four lines — but I never really turned to Court and Spark for rock n’ roll. I don’t want the songs to pump past quickly (see #7.)

7. “Just Like This Train.” A slow and lazy reverie, sung from the point of view of a ramblin’ dame on a train journey with a bottle of German wine who lets slip that she’s found love — or has she? Honestly, I think I like this song because the languidness that pervades it makes it seem twice as long, and I would stay for several hours in the Court and Spark soundscape if allowed.

6. “Car on a Hill.”I’ve been sitting up waiting for my sugar to show / I’ve been listening to the sirens and the radio” is a great evocative opening, redolent of hot dark spooky summer nights in idyllic and high-priced Western canyons. The song doesn’t evolve that much further from there, but Joni lets you see enough to make you wonder whether the narrator should be as attached to her man as she seems to be. I also go for the wordless, ominous, screeching bridge, though your mileage may vary. “He makes friends easy / He’s not like me…

5. “Help Me.” You know this one — one of the album’s two hits. Catchy and concise; takes off in the bridge; and packs one of the album’s defining lines (“You love your loving, but not like you love your freedom“) … maybe should have placed higher. Maybe it’s just a bit of fatigue at this point.

4. “Court and Spark.” The album opener and scene-setter, with JM tinkling the joanna. The door swings open, the math book does too, love comes to Joni’s door with a sleepin’ roll, and off we go. This song is just the right length at 2:46; it would have dragged at any greater duration. “You could complete me / I’d complete you” is pretty much the whole burrito, refined down to one flawless mouthful of beans and rice. Calling Los Angeles “city of the FAL-LEN AN-GELS” is a howling cliche — maybe less so in 1974, but only slightly less so. Still Joni sings it like it stings her, with a turbulent and bruised-sounding instrumental passage in its wake, and it sneaks by.

3. “Down to You.” A rueful deep-dive into the way love fades, aimed at a “constant stranger” who is both kind and cold — a reminder of how we hand our hearts to other people and then find out what we’re in for. (I don’t entirely understand the sidetrack into the singles bar; is that the narrator’s amour who’s sneaking around, or is she recalling her own previous — or even current — misadventures?)

I could bathe in the previously mentioned instrumental break; this is where the musical glory of Court and Spark is most let off the leash to frolic. If Wiki is to be trusted, Joni and Tom “Triple Scale” Scott shared a 1975 Grammy Award for this song, in the category of Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). 1991 Kurt says they deserved it, and the repeated plays 2021 Kurt is giving it suggest that not every molecule in him has changed since he wore long hair.

2. “Same Situation.” The last chord of “People’s Parties” (remember that? if you forgot it, that’s OK too) fades into this, Joni’s keenest and most acidic dissection of relationship tangles on C&S. The image of being “tethered to a ringing telephone / in a roomful of mirrors” has stuck with me over the years, well out of proportion to its actual application to any situation in my own life.

Another of the lyrics here – “Like the church, like a cop, like a mother / You want me to be truthful / Sometimes you turn it on me like a weapon, though / And I need your approval” — also turned my head around when I was younger. It was a passkey that opened up a room in which I considered the unthought and implicit demands I made, or would make, in romantic relationships. A sort of heads-up: People play mind games and make unrealistic demands. Check yourself: Which ones are you guilty of? 

(I’m not saying that couplet actually made me a better person; but it took self-satisfied teenage Kurt and made him think, and anything that could do that must have had something going for it. And anyway, a lyric Joni delivers late in the song, over a subtle swell of strings – “Send me somebody / who’s strong, and somewhat sincere” — suggested that one didn’t have to be perfect to make a connection.)

1. “Free Man in Paris.” The other big hit, entering in a gale of puffy flutes, and (AFAIK) introducing the phrase “star-maker machinery” to popular culture.

I’ve been in the full-time working world for 25 years now, and this anthem of one-of-these-days-I’m-gonna-check-out has played in the back of my head for most of that time. This is sort of the thinking white-collar person’s equivalent of “Take This Job and Shove It” or “Nine to Five” … not a complete shucking of one’s duties, but a sigh and a long gaze out the office window, and a look forward to a delicious day when it all disappears (with an empowering undercurrent of I’m-only-here-because-I-choose-to-be.)

I don’t know where 1991 Kurt, who only worked menial jobs in the summers, would have placed this, but Adult Kurt has lifted it, rather unconsciously, to the level of a statement of purpose.

I do my best, and I do good business … and “if I had my way, I’d just walk through those doors and” — and here Joni’s voice leaps brilliantly into the clouds — “wan-DERRRRRRR down the Champs-Elysees.” (How many American Top 40 hits mention the Champs-Elysees? Hell, how many mention Paris?)

 

Fleurette.

Came across this on Twitter and started watching and it took me completely out of 2021 for 43 minutes (granted, I have less reason to want to flee than a lot of people, but still) so I’ll repost it here for as long as the video works.

Not much else to say about it, and nothing to add to it; either you enjoy it or you don’t.