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Static.

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My old red iPod is on the skids again. So tonight I brought a different companion out on my walk:

Screw the iPod. I'm taking *this* on tonight's walk. #transistor

A video posted by @kurtblumenau on

This old square radio, powered by an old square battery, belonged to my maternal grandfather, once upon a time. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably 35 years old or so — recent enough to accommodate both AM and FM operation.

It doesn’t get much use, but I keep it around for some undefined sense of utility, like if the lights ever go out for a truly extended period of time.

Not sure what I expected of it. In my heart of hearts, maybe I hoped I would turn it on and the New York suburbs of 1980 would come out, with the Scooter calling a Yankees spring training game … or WABC playing “Rock With You” … or at least some good greasy oldies, like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers or summat.

Of course I didn’t do nearly so well. I kept it stuck on the AM band the whole time, and could come up with nothing better than:

– bland going-nowhere ESPN Radio Final Four blather

– inoffensive but uninteresting Spanish-language music

– a random station from Pittsburgh – just about all I could understand were the words “McKees Rocks

– some plummy-voiced pismire defending Indiana’s move toward state-approved homophobia (“…when people say you’re being intolerant, they’re really being intolerant of you, aren’t they?” No, and f–k you.)

– the Sixers Radio Network … and when the Sixers Radio Network is the highlight of your walk, well, that’s pretty sad

As I walked, I realized my house is just about the highest point on my course; it’s literally all downhill from there. That probably didn’t help the reception. Neither did the fact that the antenna is firmly wedged inside its casing.

(Both can be remedied to some degree: I can walk a different course, and I can find something skinny to pry up the antenna.)

I did enjoy a couple of highlights in the relative higher ground of my subdivision.

For a minute or two I caught New York City sports-talk station WFAN, which is something my grandfather might have listened to for the latest Yanks and Giants news, had it been around in his time. (The newsbreak I caught was sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union. Yay out-of-town color!)

On my way out I briefly pulled in a French-language talk station somewhere between 850 and 900; and on my way back I caught CHLM 900-AM out of Hamilton, Ontario. Somebody was gabbing, once again, but it was Canadian gab, so that at least was interesting for two minutes.

I left the radio on CHLM. Early results might be disappointing, but I’m not done with this yet.

CITY BASEBALL.

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Yesterday’s outing for a baseball game at Lafayette College was insufficient to ease my pent-up jones; I had to go to another one today.

Today I took the kids to Moravian College in Bethlehem for an ultra-small-school matchup with Elizabethtown College (it’s somewhere else in Pennsylvania; I forget where.)

Another day, another extra-innings thriller. Moravian’s pitchers only allowed three hits in 10 innings, and the Greyhounds finally put together two walks and a single in the bottom of the 10th to win the game 3-2.

(Today’s game was again to be the first of a doubleheader, but other interests kept me from watching the second, including the dinner whose preparation I am blowing off to write this.)

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The great joy of Moravian’s home field, Gillespie Field, is that it’s tucked into a city block in the middle of downtown Bethlehem — maybe not the precise middle, but work with me.

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Unlike other local college ballparks — which are either on campuses, or part of off-campus athletic field complexes — Gillespie Field is surrounded by residential streets with old brick houses. It’s a cool, rootsy setting, and one I always enjoy.

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Unfortunately, since my last visit, the school has erected a couple of high fences surrounding the field — presumably to protect adjoining homes from the hazards of foul balls. It’s a sound bit of town-gown compromise, but it’s tough to shoot pictures through.

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No matter. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. And, between this and the Lafayette game, I feel like spring is well and truly here, at long last.

Some more pictures, then:

Elizabethtown is another of those schools that uses a contraction of its name on its jerseys, rather than its team nickname ("Blue Jays").

Elizabethtown is another of those schools that uses a contraction of its name on its jerseys, rather than its team nickname (“Blue Jays”).

Another gorgeous ballpark-in-the-city shot. I'm gonna buy that little brick house and walk to the games.

Another gorgeous ballpark-in-the-city shot. I’m gonna buy that little brick house and walk to the games. (And then I’m gonna put a sign on the roof that says “450.”)

It looks like there's not enough dugout to hold the Moravian massive. (Some of these pix might look better if you click to see 'em larger.)

It looks like there’s not enough dugout to hold the Moravian massive. (Some of these pix might look better if you click to see ‘em larger.)

One shift clocks off, the next shift punches in.

One shift clocks off, the next shift punches in.

Warmups.

Warmups.

E'town's first baseman is about to wing the ball across the diamond to catch a Moravian runner trying to take third on the groundout. Something like a 6-3-5 double play.

E’town’s first baseman is about to wing the ball across the diamond to catch a Moravian runner trying to take third on the groundout. Something like a 6-3-5 double play.

Blondie doesn't know it, but this game has only minutes to live.

Blondie doesn’t know it, but this game has only minutes to live.

The Moravian victory pileup begins, as the aforementioned Blondie and his mates leave the field.

The Moravian victory pileup begins, as the aforementioned Blondie and his mates leave the field.

Postgame victory huddle.

Postgame victory huddle.

BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL.

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As sure as the robins return to herald the spring, the venerable traditions of our vernal roots rekindle themselves anew, and OH HELL THERE WAS BASEBALL LIVE BASEBALL IN THE LEHIGH VALLEY COLLEGE BASEBALL LIVE BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL.

Yes, after two washed-out weekends, at least one local college baseball team finally got to take the field today.

At the start of the day, Lafayette College was one of only 33 Division I baseball programs that hadn’t played a home game yet. Now they’ve played two, and I saw some of both.

It was cold as hell and also amazing. The routine tics and motions and noises and set-pieces of the college baseball diamond are charming as ever.

(The ones that happen off the diamond are welcome too. It was a pleasure as always to watch the players eating sandwiches with their parents between games, or to see two players walking to the bathroom and catch a bit of their conversation: “On that three-and-one count…”)

Lafayette’s opponent today was the Crusaders of the College of the Holy Cross, and their first game was a dandy. At the end of the regulation seven innings, Holy Cross had one hit, Lafayette had three or four, and neither team had a run.

(Lafayette’s starting first baseman was Toby Schwartz, whose heroics last season were immortalized in this space. Schwartz came up twice today with runners on, but couldn’t drive them in. Ah, well. Riding high in April, shot down in May.)

Both starting pitchers shone — Lafayette’s David Bednar struck out 10 hitters, while Holy Cross’s Donny Murray (of Walpole, Mass.) took a line drive to the midsection but kept pitching anyway.

In the top of the eighth, with the bases loaded, a Holy Cross hitter chopped a ball off the plate that rolled maybe 25 feet. Lafayette catcher Parker Hills couldn’t quite make the scoop and tag, and Holy Cross’s Alex Voitik snuck past him from third with the only run of the game.

Maybe one of the better sports action pix I've ever taken, not that that's setting the bar that high.

Maybe one of the better sports action pix I’ve ever taken, not that that’s setting the bar that high.

I hung around for the first inning or so of Game 2, which Holy Cross apparently also won 1-0. For all the pleasure of being back in baseball’s presence, I had had enough of the wind for one day.

I didn’t need to glut myself: It was only the start of the season, and there would be plenty more opportunities.

In addition to Mr. Schwartz, I was pleased to see a couple of memorable Lafayette Leopards back for another year.

Relief pitcher Connor McMahon is a sidearmer, and one of the most pronounced sidearmers I can remember seeing. His entrance music is Men At Work’s “Down Under,” he’s pretty good, and he’s always fun to watch.

McMahon works to the plate.

McMahon works to the plate.

Also back is third baseman Tyler Hudson, the only one of this pajama-panted bunch who wins points for style. With his shaggy hair, horseshoe mustache and stirrups rampant, he looks like he stepped straight off the roster of the ’77 California Angels.

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Not that much more to say, really; so I’ll give this post over to a couple more pictures and bring it to a close BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL.

Lafayette's first-base coach. Did I mention it was cold?

Lafayette’s first-base coach. Did I mention it was cold?

The three-and-one-count conversation.

The three-and-one-count conversation.

McMahon again. The left fielder and umpire look like they're saying to each other, "Damn, that's weird-looking."

McMahon again. The left fielder and umpire look like they’re saying to each other, “Damn, how’s he do that?”

Now THOSE are freakin' stirrups.

Now THOSE are freakin’ stirrups.

Mound conference. Toby Schwartz at far right, hand jammed blithely in pocket.

Mound conference. Toby Schwartz at far right, hand jammed blithely in pocket.

It's a beautiful day for a high leg kick.

It’s a beautiful day for a high leg kick.

Donny Murray, who has just been nailed by a line drive, recovers to pick up the ball and throw the batter out at first.

Donny Murray, who has just been nailed by a line drive, recovers to pick up the ball and throw the batter out at first.

Good game. Here's to many more.

Good game. Here’s to many more.

I don’t hear a single.

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It looks like I’ve finally made my Satanic Majesties Request, or maybe my Self Portrait — the album that makes people shake their heads and say, “He’s lost the plot.”

My latest Bandcamp effort, The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, has stalled out with fewer downloads — and, I think, fewer listens — than any of its three predecessors.

Apparently, fire sirens and machine-translated French lyrics just ain’t what the music-loving public wants in the year 2015.

(Give it time, I say. By the year — oh, let’s say 2037 — I will be regarded as a genius, ahead of my time in my ambitious fusion of otherwise unrelated elements.)

Bandcamp’s inscrutable popularity rankings currently list The Midnight Loneliness as the eighth-most-popular recording with the tag “Allentown.”

Which says little, really, except that the music-listening public doesn’t seem to like recordings tagged “Allentown” any more than it does fire sirens.

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The Midnight Loneliness is also currently the 80th-most-popular Bandcamp recording with the tag “french.” I can only assume that sound I hear is Vercingetorix weeping from beyond the grave.

The good news? Well, you won’t get to listen ’til late in the year, but I’m already working on tracks for a second recording of atonal diddley-bow solos.

Yeah, next time around I’m gonna give the people what they want.

Just in time for spring.

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Anybody wanna buy a ballpark?

Assuming this is real, and it seems like it is, online bids are being accepted for a 4,000-seat independent-league ballpark in the Rockford, Illinois, area.

Looks like a cute little place — I dig that saucy little indentation down the right-field line.

There’s no shortage of parking, nor of advertisers.

And the opening bid is just $1.5 million, as compared to a previous valuation of $8 million! What a deal. (Perhaps the basement is wet or the neighbors are loud, or something.)

I probably wouldn’t ordinarily care about this … but because of the cold and snowy winter, two whole weekends of college baseball have been washed out here in the Lehigh Valley, and I’m yet to see a live pitch this spring. It *looks* like that will finally happen this weekend, but that’s not guaranteed either.

So maybe I’m a little eager when it comes to baseball.

Anyway, I’m gonna go look between the cushions. I’ve got until April 2 to come up with that $1.5 million.

The sunflower.

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Today’s post, in two-part summary:

1.) I do not speak French.

2.) I invite you to hear and enjoy my new album, The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, which was recorded entirely in French.

# # # # #

A little more context, perhaps.

Over the past year-plus I have been confronted by a gradual slipping of my communications skills. This is a concern, as these skills are at the heart of both my job and my leisure hobbies.

- I don’t think my writing and other communication at work is as sharp as it used to be. It still gets the job done, but not very imaginatively.

- My inspiration for this blog and my other blog has very much dwindled. I don’t write for fun nearly as often as I used to, and when I do, I don’t do it well. (I have continued to write the other blog on a weekly basis, but only because that’s the pace I promised the readers … and in any event, that blog’s going bye-bye in a few weeks.)

- I feel less and less interested in sharing my opinions on anything with the world. I am not culturally deep enough to have much of interest to say; my perspective is lacking. Plus, no one gives a damn, really.

- I find that my ability to remember words and facts is not what it used to be. I can’t always find stuff on the tip of my tongue. (It’s not sliding enough to make me worry. And in some ways it might be healthy: I’m consciously trying not to be a know-it-all any more. Still, I find it mildly frustrating, and at times it poses a minor block to my ability to communicate.)

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Faced with these assembled setbacks, the idea of recording an album in a language I do not speak seemed oddly appropriate, appealing and potentially therapeutic.

It summoned new kinds of inspiration, while allowing me to throw conventional forms of inspiration out the window. It took hold of my imagination and lifted my spirits, which in and of itself was worth the effort.

The original idea was for a group of lulling, lilting bossa nova tunes with lyrics whispered in French — a language I took a quarter-century ago, vaguely remember, but have never used.

Real bossa nova guitar requires chops I can only dream of. So the project mutated. Some of it is Latin-influenced; some of it is not.

Midway through the project, I also decided to spice up the gentler acoustic tunes with a brassy layer of fire alarm. These alternative presentations appear at the end of The Midnight Loneliness, and I hope my listeners will enjoy them as much as, if not more than, the originals.

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I recognize that The Midnight Loneliness will not be amusing to anyone who actually speaks French. They will find any number of mispronunciations, not to mention lines where Google Translate — yup — handed me phrasings no real speaker of the language would use.

I am not bothered, and I hope they can find a way around their expectations and not be bothered either.

It was not my goal to pass for an authentic French speaker (or lyricist). If I had wanted that, I would have taken the necessary steps to pursue it, like taking a refresher course in the language and finding a more trustworthy translator.

Being an amateur, with all that entails, was more fun — and much more in tune with the curious spark that led to this recording in the first place.

The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, like my earlier recordings, is available as a free Bandcamp download. The lyrics, in French and English, can be read on the home page if you want to know what’s (more or less) going on.

So check it out. Consider downloading it, even. That’ll make me happy, and downloading doesn’t obligate you to actually listen.

(I thought about offering a prize to anyone who emails me a screenshot showing a Midnight Loneliness track playing on their iPod, iPhone, iTunes or other audio player. I don’t really have any prizes beyond gratitude … but if you listen, send me a snapshot anyway.)

Thanks.

MidnightLoneliness4

Behind.

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The Internet remains a wonderful tool for solving all of those little mysteries I’ve been carrying around for years. God only knows what I’d be without it.

Speaking of which, the ‘webs tonight have cleared up something I’ve wondered about for close to 30 years … a rock n’ roll mystery, and thus fair game for discussion on this blog.

photo

Years ago, somebody (possibly a Beach Boys-loving cousin) gave my dad a copy of the band’s 1973 live album The Beach Boys In Concert. He’s never been a BBs fan, but I took a shine to some of their music, and as a kid, I remember hearing the album several times.

In Concert, while surely improved by studio sweetening, is an excellent document of the band’s live show before it completely toppled over into nostalgia. Plain and simple, the record rocks. Compare the studio version of “Marcella” with the onstage version and tell me you disagree:

Not only was the music good, but Ed Caraeff’s cover photography provided evocative images of the live experience for a kid who hadn’t been to a concert yet. In particular, there’s one shot of Carl Wilson at the mic, spotlights bouncing off his hollowbody Epiphone Sheraton, that nails the touring-troubadour vibe as well as any live photo I’ve seen. He looks simultaneously like he’s working magic, and like he’s just another guy doing his daily job.

(Remarkably, it doesn’t seem to be on the ‘Net. Maybe it doesn’t speak to anyone else the way it spoke to me. Go buy the record and you’ll see it. — Edit: Actually, you can see it front and center in the video for the live version of “Marcella.” It appears at about 1:45 in.)

Caraeff’s gatefold photography also offered a curious glimpse at the petty bitchiness of the rock n’ roll life, in a clue the average listener could only guess at.

One of his backstage pictures shows early-’70s Beach Boys drummer Ricky Fataar slumped down in a chair in some interchangeable sports-arena dressing room, accompanied by an unidentifiable man in a football jersey.

I say “unidentifiable” because — in a crude bit of pre-Photoshop photo manipulation — the other guy’s face is blocked by the random and somewhat jarring image of an eight-ball.

Of course I knew the meaning of the term “behind the eight-ball” as a kid. I could only wonder what sort of backstage backstabbing could lead to such treatment. I assumed that the person pictured must have been well and truly on the outs with the BBs organization.

eightballI wasn’t the only person who wondered about it. A Google search turned up all manner of online speculation among Beach Boys fans. Among the leading candidates:

– Jack Rieley, the band’s short-tenured manager around that time. (Nope, the Internet chorused; Rieley is bulkier of build than the guy behind the eight-ball.)

– Brian Wilson, then making only occasional live appearances — and, by some tellings, only occasional contact with reality. (Nope again. ’72 Brian was also larger than the man in the picture, and at any rate, the Beach Boys didn’t have any clear reason to punk him that way.)

– Dennis Wilson, who — bereft of drumming duties — was kind of a man without a country in the ’72-’73 Boys’ live act. (Very likely nope. Dennis appears unaltered on the front and back covers, and in at least one gatefold shot.)

– Ed Carter, Beach Boys road guitarist. (I forget what the nope here was, but it wasn’t him either.)

It turns out that the guy behind the eight-ball wasn’t persona non grata after all. In fact, he would continue to be part of the band’s live show for the better part of the next decade.

According to multiple sources, the censored dude next to Fataar was keyboardist Carli Muñoz, who toured as the band’s keyboardist from 1970 to 1981. (Muñoz is one of several sidemen credited in the liner notes to In Concert, though his name is misspelled “Carly.”)

I’d heard of Muñoz before — most recently in the liner notes for Dennis Wilson’s reissued Pacific Ocean Blue album. Muñoz worked extensively with Wilson on Bambu, the never-released follow-up to Pacific Ocean Blue, until Wilson’s self-destructiveness drove him away. Five songs written or co-written by Muñoz appear on the bonus disc of Bambu recordings issued with the Pacific Ocean Blue re-release.

As is so often the case with sidemen and support players, Muñoz’s story is deeper and more interesting than that.

A native of Puerto Rico, he played in an early band with Jorge Calderon, who went on to become Warren Zevon’s longtime sideman and co-writer.

Muñoz also played with a wide-ranging variety of acts in addition to the Beach Boys — among them Wilson Pickett, Peter Cetera, the Association, and jazz drummer Chico Hamilton.

Today, he plays and records jazz and owns his own restaurant and nightclub in San Juan, where he often performs. (The site hasn’t been updated in a little while, so perhaps this is not the latest information.)

I cannot find a circulating explanation of Muñoz’s treatment on the In Concert cover. But he has confirmed to Beach Boys fans that it was him behind the eight-ball, and has even been known to autograph the picture, which is pretty cool of him.

Now that I’ve cleared this up, maybe I’ll spin the vinyl this weekend. Usually my ears gravitate to the vocals, but this time I’ll listen for the piano and organ parts, now that I know who’s playing them.

Even if I don’t know what he looked like.

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