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Piney illusions.

Today I:

  1.  Ran a half-marathon in New Hampshire.
  2.  Did a beer run to Maine afterward.

I’m going to write about the beer run, which tells you everything you need to know about the half-marathon.

(Well, OK, at some point I’ll probably write about the half-marathon too, if only to post pictures of my traditional post-race hotdish. But for now the beer run is the item of interest.)

I happened to be running in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which is on the Maine border. In fact, at one point in the race, if you looked across the harbor you were running next to, Maine was on the other side of the water.

(Which led me to think of Mainiacs across the water, which led me to think of “Madman Across the Water,” which was pretty much the high point of the race.)

Anyhow, since I was already a short spit from Maine, I decided to head over there after the race and do some beer speculating — specifically, a search for Geary’s Pale Ale, a beer with a place in my personal pantheon.

Almost 25 years ago, when I was nearing the end of my run at the Boston University student newspaper, I found myself in charge of the arts section’s yearly beer tasting.

The paper would swap advertising to a major local booze store in return for an equal amount of beer. And then the arts section would orchestrate a riotous beer tasting involving staffers and friends, which would be the cover story in the last arts section of the semester.

(My beer tasting drew a small crowd, and I discovered to my delight that I could provide everyone a tasting quantity while using up only two beers from each sixer. After the formal tasting was over, a bunch of us hung around and got legless on the other four beers from each sixpack. This is not mere boasting; it will become relevant in a moment.)

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Old friends have probably seen this pic before. This is me, in my St. Cloud State T-shirt from the Champion Factory Outlet and the obligatory 1995 flannel, emceeing the beer tasting. The beer in my hands is a Post Road Pale Ale, which went out of production two years after the tasting session, though it has apparently since been relaunched by somebody or other.

1995 was relatively early days for the craft beer movement. Small breweries weren’t totally unknown, but there was a certain sense of novelty when you saw them on the shelf. And, for novelty’s sake, one of the sixpacks I chose for the tasting was Geary’s Pale Ale, from Portland, Maine, with a big lobster on the black-and-gold label.

My memory says that the first time I tasted Geary’s, it had an odd piney flavor to which I was not accustomed, and I thought it had gone bad.

The second time (my memory says) I began to warm up to it.

And in the post-tasting beer-scrum, I began (my memory says) to seek out the remaining lobster-bottles in the big trash can full of ice because I came to enjoy the pininess. It was (my memory says) my introduction to aggressive hops.

So today, I meandered up Route 1 in Maine until I found a Hannaford supermarket in the town of York. And there I purchased my first sixer of Geary’s Pale in a long, long time — guessing at least 15 years.

It still comes in bottles with a big lobster…

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I am still using a bunch of pint glasses I got as giveaways at Lehigh Valley IronPigs games years ago. This one honors long-ago prospect Domonic Brown.

… but that seems to be about as far as today’s reality aligns with my memory.

For one thing, today’s Geary’s Pale does not strike me as particularly pale. It’s pretty significantly amber, as you can see. And for another, it’s quite mellow and malty; it has pretty much zero in the way of piney hops.

(I could have been imagining the pine thing in 1995 — beer from Maine, tastes like pine, seems like an obvious line to draw — but I don’t think I was. I didn’t know beer could taste like pine until I tried Geary’s. Or so my memory says.)

I should be clear here that today’s Geary’s Pale Ale is a perfectly drinkable beer, and I will have no trouble emptying the other five lobster-bottles. It’s just totally not what I remembered it to be.

I’ve read the occasional article about Geary’s in the intervening years, and I believe the brewery has changed management. Like their New England peers at Samuel Adams, they’ve apparently lost significant ground to the half-million flashier, smaller breweries that have come along since the ’80s and ’90s.

So it’s possible, maybe, that the recipe for the beer changed at some point.

Or, it’s also possible that my memory — traditionally one of my stronger attributes, by and large — is warped and bent like a faulty Shrinky Dink. Could it be that some other beer was the piney beer?

(I guess, if there are any memories in my bank whose veracity I should question, memories that involve mass quantities of beer are among them.)

Maybe I’ll go try another one. Yeah, that seems like the best solution…

 

Who’s been telling you about perfection?

Back in Pennsylvania, it used to be a favorite thing to put on some vinyl while I cooked dinner. I haven’t been able to do that in the new place because the kitchen is upstairs and the stereo lives downstairs …

… until today, when we test-drove a Bluetooth device that allows me to pollute the kitchen long-distance with my old-man vinyl of choice. (We are still working out some kinks but the technology shows promise.)

Since I got to hear all of one particular album, I decided to put my time to multiple uses and write a Jim Bartlett-style ranking of the songs on the record.

It just so happens that the record in question was Having Its Moment at around this time of year in 1975. It was about to notch its third non-consecutive week at Number One, with a fourth coming up around Thanksgiving that year. At other points in history it might have been acclaimed as a monster. But in the second half of the Seventies — the period that gave us Rumours, Hotel California, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and Frampton Comes Alive — that kind of performance was less remarkable.

Anyhow, from worst to best, here’s my ranking of the 10 songs that make up Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus:

10. “Git Fiddler.” I love the fact that the Starship’s ranks included a 58-year-old black violin player. I love the fact that said violin player, Papa John Creach, apparently had a wonderfully upbeat and down-to-earth attitude, no matter what rock-star first-world problem his younger bandmates were pissing and moaning about.

I still don’t need this instrumental, which goes nowhere and says nothing.

9. “I Want to See Another World.” Just as Charlie Brown never stopped trying to kick the football, Paul Kantner never stopped writing songs in which people (a) fled the planet, (b) started a revolution, or (c) both. Kantner’s revolutions turned out about as well as Charlie Brown’s field goals. A little more musical variety might have helped this one catch more altitude, too.

This shows up on one solitary ARSA chart, from a college station in Fredonia, New York.

8. “Ai Garimasu (There Is Love).” A gentle Grace Slick lullaby-ballad (lullaballad?) … roll out the string synthesizer and the loooooooong heeeeeeeeeellllllld noooooooooootes.

Actually, this isn’t all that bad; it’s relatively lucid by Slick Seventies standards, and not unhummable. I just find it a touch heavy and lugubrious compared to the other stuff on the record. Craig Chaquico on lead guitar has absolutely nothing to say for most of his closing solo, also.

7. “Tumblin’.” The Starplane would give the Grateful Dead some of its closest brushes with mainstream success in the decades before “Touch of Grey.”

First, Jerry Garcia served as “spiritual adviser” (read: friend, side musician, and arrangement-suggester) on Surrealistic PillowThen, “Tumblin'” provided Dead lyricist Robert Hunter with a co-writing credit on a Number One album.

This one is pure goopy Marty Balin romantic musing (yes, he rhymes “stronger” and “longer”), topped with Sensitive lead guitar from Chaquico (who was essentially equipped with an A/B switch in those days, being capable of either Flash or Sensitive) and a cameo descant from Slick.

In its defense, the song is both relatively brief and intermittently tuneful, and Balin is pretty much always worth listening to.

6. “Sandalphon.” Mysterioso instrumental that serves, basically, as a calling card for Pete Sears’ keyboards and songwriting. This one sounds like it came in second, or maybe third, in a contest to write soundtrack music for In Search Of.

It outranks “Git Fiddler” because (a) spacy mystery seems more on-brand for the Starship than Papa John’s foot-stomping hoedown; and (b) it does catch a little bit of spark at the end.

5. “Play On Love.” Probably should rank a little higher, this one. Both sides of Red Octopus begin with tight Slick-penned rockers; this one belongs to Side Two. They put this one out as a single, although the ARSA database suggests it didn’t much catch on outside Anniston, Alabama.

This half of the rankings is where we leave behind the weirdness and not-quite-baked-all-the-way-through love songs, and get to the sound of a rejuvenated veteran band drawing strong thematic inspiration from affairs of the heart (the “red octopus” of the album title).

Chaquico apes Carlos Santana, or maybe Mick Taylor; and hey, is that a really weak, possibly even handmade, clap track at about 2:10?

4. “Sweeter Than Honey.” A vaguely off-center drumbeat and some ragged interplay between guitar, bass, pounding piano and violin light a fire under Balin, who declaims yet another romantic declaration in a somewhat more het-up fashion than usual — to the point of incoherence, even. Sears contributes some trebly, scrabbly bass breaks. Some legit energy here, on an album that’s not always long on it.

3. “There Will Be Love.” The album’s grand finale, and a grand recommitment to the thematic center of Love (or maybe its next-door neighbor, Lust).

This shifts gears nicely from Balin’s lusty slow-motion passion (he could have sung a radio commercial for Chips Ahoy and made it sound like a paean to lovemaking), to an upbeat midsection that could have soundtracked a chase scene on Highway One along the California coastline, and then back again. And dig the ecstatic “whooooo-hoooo!” with which Balin closes the song, and the LP.

It bothers me not in the least that Balin and Kantner — who were harmonizing on protest lyrics like “Up against the wall, motherfucker” six years earlier — are now harmonizing on a heartfelt “Oooooohhhhhhhhh, baby, the way we move in love.” They sound like they mean it, at least as much as they ever meant the twelve-letter words they used to sing. And, given that Balin and Kantner represented different aspects of the Starplane’s personality (the romantic vs. the revolutionary), it’s kinda nice to hear them agree so thoroughly on anything — like this most diverse of congresses has finally found some kind of common ground.

The string synthesizer must have been broken and smokin’ by the time they got done with this album, given the frequency with which it shows up and the weight it carries when it does.

2. “Fast Buck Freddie.” The album opener, propelled by an uncredited banjo player (ex-folkie Kantner?)

Slick is strong and in control; the lyric falls on the right side of allusive; the arrangement is propulsive; the band explodes at the right moments; the tune is neither too long nor too short; and the whole thing just snaps. A fantastic, sharp way to begin a record. I was thinkin’ that I should be singin’ along…

1. “Miracles.” Of course you knew this was going to be Number One. This is just quintessential Seventies smoove from start to finish and nothing else on the record is this titanic. The only thing keeping me from piling words onto this marvel of the musician’s (and arranger’s) art is the fact that I’ve already done so in seven or eight other settings and I don’t want to repeat myself.

The one thing I will add, I guess, is that there are few things sadder to hear on the radio than a single edit of “Miracles.” Every moment of the album version deserves to be played. In fact, it deserves to be played three or four times in succession; everything else can wait.

Nuked.

My man Jim Bartlett recently took my name in not-really-vain while writing about a noteworthy string of big-name albums released 40 years ago in the waning months of 1979.

There’s one album he didn’t mention (though he doubtless knows it better than I do) that intrigues me — not because I badly want to hear the music, but more because I perceive it as an Attempted Big Event that has faded over the decades.

November 1979 apparently marked the release of No Nukes: The Muse Concerts for a Non-Nuclear Future, a triple live album recorded at Madison Square Garden by a collection of idealistic musicians gathered under the banner of Musicians United for Safe Energy.

These were by and large soft-rockers — Jackson Browne, the Doobie Brothers, Carly Simon, Crosby Stills & Nash, John Hall of Orleans — with a few ringers recruited to provide additional street cred. (Apparently no one on the scene thought to suggest a James Taylor/Gil Scott-Heron duet, and that’s history’s loss.)

If I do my Billboard research correctly, I find No Nukes peaked at No. 19 on the album chart, which seems to me to be a pretty underwhelming performance for a triple album full of well-known performers.

The ARSA local radio charts contain 57 listings for No Nukes, most of which are mid-level chart placings — not tremendously impressive for a star-studded gathering like this one. It looks like some people in Boston might have found it under their Christmas tree, but that’s about it.

My crate-digging days are far enough behind me to be an unreliable guide … but in the days when I pawed through used records on the regular, I only remember coming across No Nukes maybe once or twice.

It wasn’t even one of those records that lots of people bought and then discarded. Ten years after its release, it seemed already to be obscure, at least in my perception — like a socially conscious equivalent of Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert, another all-star hoedown whose star faded fast.

There are any number of explanations for this.

It could have been that record stores in late ’79 were so packed with high-profile product that No Nukes had to shine to stand out, and it didn’t. If you liked platinum corporate rock, those last few months of the decade were pretty much an open dogfight for your hard-earned dollars.

It could have been that, by 1979, many Americans no longer wanted political or social polemics mixed in with their music, if they ever did. Or, even after Three Mile Island, maybe the anti-nuke cause was still not so compelling as to make Americans want to buy three whole LPs of people singing about it.

It could have been that a triple album of anything was just too much for most people to take. Maybe filleted down to a double album, it would have done better business.

It could have been (Wiki raises this possibility) that many of the performers chose to include second-rank or lesser-known material, making the album less attractive to casual fans. James Taylor, for instance, is represented by “Mockingbird,” “Captain Jim’s Drunken Dream” and “Honey Don’t Leave L.A.” — no “Fire and Rain,” no “Sweet Baby James,” no “You’ve Got a Friend,” and so on.

(When No Nukes gets mentioned nowadays, it is usually in the context of Bruce Springsteen: The album is best remembered for including Bruce’s first officially released live material. But even that is a covers medley of Mitch Ryder and Little Richard tunes. High-energy fun, sure, but not necessarily the first sample of E Street you’d choose to hear, or even the seventh.)

Of course, in the age of the Internet, any halfway “forgotten” album is always fair game to be rediscovered and reinterpreted.

And nuclear plants, 40 years later, are finally closing — including the surviving Unit 1 reactor at the notorious Three Mile Island, which was finally done in by cheap natural gas this fall, but had a more consistently successful and productive career over the past 40 years than almost any performer on the No Nukes album.

So, who knows? Maybe Jackson, Graham, Carly and their environmentally minded companions will finally be able to claim victory after all.

It will probably be too late to drag their album out from behind the blinding light cast by Night in the Ruts, though.

The briefest possible manifesto.

If Major League Baseball croaks the New York-Penn League … then I become a hockey fan and only a hockey fan, period, full stop.

This is a promise.

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And it stoned me.

A period of intense physical activity followed by a period of laid-back satori, then. Not a bad way to spend a fall Saturday.

I was in Hartford this morning (out of bed at 4:45) to run the Eversource Hartford Half-Marathon for the first time. Didn’t think I’d do that well but I did, setting a new personal record of 1:37.33. I started too far back and then thought I burned too much energy making up ground, but it came out all right in the end.

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Me at the 10K mark, not quite halfway into the race. I didn’t beat every single person in this photo but I beat the guy in the weird poncho-like thing, at least.

I will mark my half-marathon in the now-accustomed way, by making hotdish … but that’s not what this post is about.

On my way home, I couldn’t get on the most direct route (I-84 East) because some of the roads out of the city were closed for the marathon. So I ended up taking a longer way, grabbing I-91 North into my grandpa’s hometown of Springfield, Mass., and catching the Mass Pike a few exits west of where I normally would.

I had some nice mellow jazz on, and I felt pleased with the morning’s endeavours, and the Pike in the central part of the state was absolutely lined with trees in shades of green, gold, crimson and orange.

It all added up to a state of prolonged contentment that not even a lengthy traffic jam and persistent grumbles from my lower back could detract from.

(Not to go over all Dennis “Mr. Autumn Man” Clemons on you, but fall is wonderful, and fall in New England is doubly wonderful, and I was thankful to be here during my long drive home, and I still am now.)

There was no actual Van Morrison on my drive-home playlist. I’ve cited “And It Stoned Me” for my title because it evokes the way a simple pleasure like a glass of cold water on a hot day can make the world seem wonderful. Orange and red trees along a highway can do the same thing. They did today.

So what was on my playlist home? Well, it probably won’t bliss you out the way it did me, but maybe you’ll enjoy a few selections:

Miles Davis, “Fall”: From 1968’s Nefertiti, an album I don’t take out nearly enough because it’s a little too conventionally boppish for me; Miles hadn’t gone electric and weird yet. A long car trip seemed like a good chance to reacquaint myself with it. Just coincidence that I should lock into a tune named after the season.

Wayne Shorter and Milton Nascimento, “From the Lonely Afternoons”: From 1975’s tasty-for-days Native Dancer. I always thought of the album as well-suited to summer but it went down nicely today. A shame palm trees don’t turn colors.

Stashing nuts.

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Not a lot new to report and no genius observations to be made about long-lost pop songs tonight.

I have been noodling around in the Internet Archive again, and finding more video stuff than I have time to watch. So I’ll stash some of it here in hopes of returning to it when I have time, like a squirrel filling a hollow trunk with nuts.

We’ll start with the sublime and proceed to the ridiculous:

– A Boy Named Terry Egan aired this week in 1973 as an hour-long CBS News special report.

Daniel Schorr narrated a look at an eight-year-old Chicago boy who was one of 80,000 Americans diagnosed with a little-understood handicap then called “infantile autism.” The New York Times called it “exceptionally touching,” “heartbreaking and inspiring,” and “valuably informative.”

I am curious to see how society’s understanding of autism, and a network news show’s portrayal of autism, differed from what might be said today.

Of course I also can’t help but wonder what happened to Terry Egan once the cameras left; he would be roughly 55 now, and no doubt the large, loving family that supported him has scattered to the four winds.

– From there we will jump ahead 17 years and venture into the kitchen of Bob Dembinski of Norfolk, Mass., as he teaches us to make wild blueberry pie.

This clip is pretty much all the things that make community TV great. Stick around (or fast-forward to) the end, to enjoy Bob’s low-key goodbye; the Gumby-and-Pokey-style clay-mated Norfolk Cable Corporation logo; and (sssshhhh!) a secret outtake at the very end.

– Fifteen silent minutes of the Foxborough High-Mansfield High Thanksgiving Day football matchup from Nov. 23, 1972.

You notice they’re playing on a somewhat scrubby-looking field with a fair number of seats. Then they show the scoreboard at around 9:40 and you realize it’s Foxboro Stadium, home of the Patriots, with the names “Patriots” and “Bills” partially (but not fully) blocked out from the previous home game four days earlier.

– Finally, some thrashiness from an Eighties high school talent show. If you can reach it, the third video in the series features two guys named Carl and Bob playing “Purple Haze.” The second video is unwatchable so good luck getting there.

Blame it on Yaz.

Yesterday I got the last sunburn of the summer from the Boston Red Sox … and, truth be told, not much else.

My wife and I ditched the kid(s) and went to see the second-to-last game of the year, pitting the Red Sox (83 wins, 77 losses, recently eliminated from the postseason) against the dreadful Baltimore Orioles (53 wins, 107 losses, eliminated from the postseason sometime around Bastille Day).

A couple of Boston’s rotating cast of pitchers performed poorly. The bats were not inspired to make up the lost ground. The Sox lost 9-4.

At a few points late in the game, the sun bore down so heavily and the game slowed down so sharply that my attention kinda drifted.

It was not a day to reward staring at every pitch, anyway. More a day just to enjoy a late blast of gorgeous weather, and Fenway’s green and angular environs, and the simple sounds and parabolas of people chasing down fly balls or snapping off warmup pitches in the nearby bullpens.

At one point, when the O’s put a run or two across, fans in the nearly full stands seemed so engaged in doing the Wave that I wondered how many had noticed.

In the past I might have clucked disapprovingly. It didn’t seem worth it yesterday. The season was spent. The Sox had underperformed. Immersing oneself in the fan experience and the general setting seemed preferable to fretting about the game action.

My relationship with cramped old Fenway remains love-hate. I know it’s possible to build a park that looks and feels antique, but also offers unbroken sight lines and seats that six-footers can occupy comfortably. (Philly and Baltimore have done this very nicely.) The Red Sox fan base — so passionate, so numerous — deserves that kind of ballpark, and I unabashedly hope they get it, sooner than later.

That said, the concourses and bathrooms at Fenway are cleaner and brighter and more spacious than they were 25 years ago — so while the tickets are much more expensive, the experience of attending a game there has measurably improved.

And the playing field will eternally be lopsided and bizarre, a place where any number of random things can happen — like yesterday, when a hard-hit ground ball down the left-field line caught an indentation in the wall where they store groundskeeping gear and took a funny bounce past the Sox left fielder.

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See in the background, where it says “MLB Network”? That’s a recessed sliding door. The ball bounced off the back lip of the recession and skipped away from Boston’s left fielder, the uncelebrated Sam Travis.

Speaking of Sox left fielders, I had Carl Yastrzemski to blame for this trip. Or maybe it was his grandson Mike, who broke through in the majors this year as a regular outfielder for the San Francisco Giants.

The younger Yaz played a series at Fenway with the Giants a week or two ago — his grandpa joined him in pregame ceremonies — and the coverage was so stirring that it made me think, “It might actually be special and worthwhile to go to Fenway and catch a game this year.”

And for all the sludge in the playing, and all the pitching changes, I think that turned out to be true.

As always you gets some pictures whether you wants ’em or not:

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2018 World Series Champions banner flying in left-center field. I assume it comes down in another month.

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Some champion Little League and softball teams from across New England were honored pregame while standing in front of the Green Monster. I can only imagine it was a thrill. They were then seated behind the bullpens, not far from us, where some of them spent a good chunk of the game unsuccessfully trying to get the Sox relief pitchers to give them baseballs, autographs, investment advice, or God knows what else.

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My wife and I have taken an irrational liking to a Red Sox backup catcher, Sandy Leon, who got the start that day. He played with no greater or lesser competence than the rest of the team. Here he is warming up before the game, popping up from a crouch to practice a throw to second.

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Sandy Leon’s visage beams benevolently over the faithful.

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You get all the Sandy Leon content.

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Boston reliever Heath Hembree jogs out of the bullpen to start the – fifth inning, I think?

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Isn’t there an old Monty Python gag involving a character named Mr. Not-Appearing-In-This-Show? Anyway, this is Sox reliever Darwinzon Hernandez, who won’t appear in this ballgame but has a great place from which to watch it.

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Similarly, this is Sox right fielder Gorkys Hernandez passing time during a – you guessed it – pitching change by chatting with his buds in the bullpen.

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My point-and-shoot has a cheap, cheesy built-in fish-eye effect and I revel in its distortions. This postgame pic shows the members of the Red Sox and Baltimore bullpens heading for the locker rooms.

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Aw, thanks, guys.