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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Today’s score: 84-70.

We got three or four inches of snow in the Lehigh Valley today, which brought the kids out to frolic in the yard.

It also reminded me of one of my favorite snowy-Saturday pastimes growing up — one that, as far as I know, is unknown to my kids.

My friends and I would play football for hours in the yard, buoyed by kids’ remarkable ability to stay out in the cold and slush long after adults give up and go inside.

I figured I’d write down the basic rules of yard football as we played it, just in case somebody out there in Netland is writing a master’s thesis on childhood games of 1980s America:

– Yard football can be played with either a Nerf football or a real ball. Both have disadvantages in the winter: Nerf balls get soggy and heavy and don’t fly as far, whereas real footballs may not be covered in an all-weather material.

– Two completions equal a first down. It is generally not considered sporting to throw two tiny dink-passes just to get the first down. However, desperate quarterbacks are allowed to resort to this measure if they do not abuse it.

– The shotgun formation is allowed.

– There is essentially no such thing as a rush, since they don’t count toward first downs.

– If both sides have the same number of players, one defensive player will be assigned to guard the quarterback. He is allowed to cross the line of scrimmage and blitz the quarterback after counting aloud to five-mississippi.

– The quarterback-guarding position is ideal for a player who is younger or smaller than all the others; or one who has turned an ankle and lost a little mobility; or one who took a pass to the house on the previous possession and needs to catch his breath for a couple of plays.

– A quarterback under pressure will sometimes take off running down the field to avoid being sacked. This is the only “ground game” in yard football. (The threat of a long run is why the extra defender is assigned to guard the quarterback, rather than dropping back into pass protection as might be expected in a heavily pass-oriented game.)

– Despite what I wrote in the title of this post, the score in yard-football games is generally measured by the number of touchdowns (e.g. 14-12), not the number of points. This is because yard-football games go on so long — even in an upstate New York winter — that the winning team’s point total can get close to 100.

– A touchdown is seven points. There are no extra points or two-point conversions. There aren’t really safeties, either, since adding two points to the score complicates scorekeeping. A quarterback in trouble in his own end zone can be counted on to avoid the sack by throwing long and hoping for the best, anyway.

– Sideline boundaries are roughly settled on by gentlemen’s agreement. The boundaries of an end zone — at least at the front — are usually more formally defined, and are marked on either side by frisbees, traffic cones or any other object on hand.

– Punts and kickoffs are thrown, not kicked.

– It is legal for offensive players to block defenders by standing in front of them and sort of generically tangling them up. Blatant holds, however, are illegal.

– Yard football can be either tackle or two-hand touch, depending on the whim of the players.

– It is not uncommon for a yard-football game to incorporate both tackle *and* two-hand touch. For instance, a game can be tackle in the open grass but two-hand touch near the street. If a driveway is used as an end zone, action there is likely to be two-hand touch as well.

And finally … not a rule, just a helpful tip:

– A yard-football player’s performance, especially on offense, will be at least 40 percent better if he is fully convinced that he is the second coming of Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.

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Hot wheels.

From the Great Moments in Marketing Dep’t:

1969: Suffolk County, Mass., District Attorney Garrett Byrne files criminal charges against two Boston theater owners for showing the Swedish art film I Am Curious (Yellow), claiming the film’s nudity and sexual content make it obscene under state law.

1971: Chrysler Corp. gives auto buyers across America — presumably including Suffolk County, Mass. — the opportunity to buy Plymouth Furies or Satellites in a custom color called “Curious Yellow.”

 

The Supreme Court case that arose from Byrne’s prosecution was not decided until February 1971. It would have been mad stylish if the theater owners’ lawyers had celebrated their victory by going out and buying a new Fury or Satellite in you-know-what color.

(Though personally, I think the Mood Indigo Metallic was a nicer shade. Wonder if Chrysler gave Duke Ellington any money off that?)

Eat the truck and driver and his gloves.

News item: Ray Collins, original lead singer of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, is dead at 76.

I’ve rambled before, in other forums, about the influence Zappa and the Mothers had on me as a kid; so I’ll try not to rehash it too much here.

Short version: When I was in grade school, I found a cassette containing parts of the “Mothermania” and “Uncle Meat” albums in my dad’s collection, copied for him by an old friend.

The raunchy absurdity and lopsided musical creativity of songs like “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It,” “Uncle Meat (Main Title Theme)” and “Duke of Prunes” were just the thing to warp the mind of your average American fourth- or fifth-grader.

And — because my dad’s friend had laboriously transcribed the liner notes — I was made aware that these Mothers included somebody credited with “pachuco falsetto” (whatever that was) … another musician credited with “electric piano, tarot cards, brown rice” … and a saxophonist-slash-tambourinist-slash-roadie with the unlikely name of Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood.

These guys were musically talented, lyrically subversive, and fifteen kinds of freaky; and discovering them was a mind-opening pleasure.

I suppose it was a quiet disappointment, when I got into mainstream rock music a couple years later, to find out that not every rock band would suddenly lurch into atonality, snorting sound effects, or dadaist spoken interludes at the drop of a hat.

And no one else in rock n’ roll — not Blackie Onassis, not Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, not Arcane Vendetta, not even Randy California — has ever had a cooler name than Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood.

So whenever one of the old Mothers passes — as Zappa has, and Jimmy Carl Black, and Motorhead Sherwood almost exactly a year ago — I remember the days of that old cassette tape. I might still have the actual tape, though it doesn’t matter; there’s a row of Zappa/Mothers CDs on my music shelf to replace it.

Here’s a tune from one of the last Mothers albums to feature Ray Collins on “swell vocals” (according to the liner notes, contrasting with Zappa’s credit for “low grade vocals”):

Does your granny always tell you that the old songs are the best?

I marked a couple of Christmases past at the old blog by posting a video of one of my favorite holiday songs — a tune I can’t recall ever hearing on the radio in the States, even though it was a massive hit across the pond.

Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” was the U.K. Number One hit at Christmas 1973, and remained there well into the following January. That’s a tribute to how infectious it is — and how unlikely it was, coming from a band best known for a thuggish, vaguely threatening glam-stomp sound.

(The glam genre is sorely underrepresented in the holiday canon. We have Christmas raps, and upbeat Christmas rockers, and cuddly teen-idol Christmas ballads. But how many Christmas chestnuts are there that make you want to stomp your boots, wave your scarf and pound lager? All too few, I’d say.)

I believe the band has since re-recorded the song (never a good move) and there are a couple of videos from a couple different vintages on YouTube.

None of them top the original clip of the band lip-synching its hit on “Top of the Pops” in 1973.

The styles of the time make them look like absolute clowns. Lead guitarist Dave Hill, in particular, sports what might be the worst hairstyle any man has ever worn.

And yet, there is a radiant joy in their performance. Lead singer Noddy Holder — a working-class lad from the Black Country like his bandmates — looks like he can’t believe his good fortune to be leading the entire country in a holiday singalong. And his imitation of the rheumatic granny doing the Twist is priceless.

(Holder, I suspect, was Birmingham’s answer to Alice Cooper — a performer whose gravelly voice and threatening demeanor masked the soul of a born entertainer, or even a ham.)

Here, then, another visit to the best Christmas song of the rock era. May the fairies keep you sober for the day.

Christmas Eve.

In case anyone missed me, I went home to the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y., for a couple days with the family. I neglected to cue anything up for my absence, and was having too much fun to take time to write.

I got up this morning to another horrifying news story, this one close to home: A gunman in the next town over killed two volunteer firefighters and wounded two others after intentionally starting a fire that destroyed several houses. The gunman apparently killed himself, as well.

I could probably have gotten to Lake Road in Webster, where the shootings happened, in 20 minutes from my parents’ house. I know this because this past January, gripped by a random desire to go see the lake, I did just that. In my younger days, I used to go to that neighborhood for high-school cross-country meets at Webster Park, too.

I stared at Twitter for a couple of minutes, trying to think of how to share this vitally important personal connection with the world — including my Lehigh Valley Twitter pals who had heard about the story and were already talking about it.

But I kept my mouth shut, for the following reasons:

1. No one cares whether I have any kind of tenuous personal connection to current events.

2. I have no context to add that would help anyone understand why some asshole (sorry, Ma) would take potshots at volunteer firefighters on Christmas Eve morning.

3. First-person stories are overrated. In the past two weeks I’ve read the “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” column (from the mother of a teenager prone to psychotic spells) …
… another column about how autism does not correlate to violence, from a mom using her gentle autistic son as first-person evidence …
… and a blog post from a local journalist I respect, who used to buy records¬† years ago at a store in Newtown, Conn., and asked readers to spare some prayers for a place that “used to be my backyard.”

I know that sometimes personal tales beg to be told; and the ones I list above all came with good intentions and useful messages.

But the presence of Mother No. 2’s gentle autistic son is a single anecdotal story; it is not in itself an argument against linking autism and violence. (I couldn’t agree more with the conclusion. I just think that any specific example deserves one sentence, tops.)

And the local journo’s time spent in Newtown 20 years ago does not add anything to the appalling nature of the shootings there. My feelings about the event are unaffected by anyone’s peripheral personal experiences. (I would suggest that Newtown is everyone’s back yard now, regardless of whether you’ve ever actually driven through it.)

Similarly, I do not expect that anyone who knows me will feel any differently about the Webster shootings, or have any deeper understanding of what went on, because of my limited connection to the town.

It’s just another event that reminds us that senseless violence and stupidity can happen anywhere, anytime … even to volunteer public servants doing their jobs in a nice neighborhood the day before Christmas.

Where next, I wonder?

# # # # #

I was going to try to end this on a more uplifting note … oh, yeah, I remember now.

We got a nice storm the night I arrived in Rochester. Not a life-disrupting lake-effect snow bomb; just maybe three or four inches overnight to cover everything in white. I went running in the first cold flakes, and shoveled the driveway the next day with my dad and older brother, and felt rootsy and connected and at home.

We also took my kids to our family’s longtime sledding hill of choice. The day was windy and the snow cover a little shallow, but fun was still had by all.

I brought my point-and-shoot (Kodak, natch) … and while I was taking a couple runs down the hill, I shot video.

Perhaps the sight of a grown man kicking up his heels and taking to the bunny slope will add a little cheer to somebody’s Christmas.

It started on 12th and Clairmount.

My great-uncle Jimmy died yesterday in Indiana, only two days short of the Mayan apocalypse. He was 99.

He was my maternal grandma’s brother, and the second-to-last surviving member of that generation on either side of the family. (My great-aunt Eleanor, still cranking along at 100, is the last. The genes in my family rival Laxton’s Superb trees for hardiness.)

I didn’t know him nearly as well as my mother did, and I hadn’t seen him in quite a few years. My knowledge of him comes back in bits and threads:

– He had the puckish Irish gleam in his eye. My mother once told me about the time she visited him in Detroit as a young girl, and he introduced her to his colleagues as his “child bride.”

– He also had the Irish taste for a bit of strong drink, though — unlike others in his branch of the family — he kept it under control.

– He shows up in a wonderful family snapshot taken at my maternal grandparents’ home in Connecticut in 1974. No idea what inspired this, but I imagine it made everyone laugh then, and it makes me smile now:

XXXXXX

Nice day for fish-grasping, eh what?

Finally, Great-Uncle Jimmy was a policeman in Detroit, which gave him a front-row seat to a tumultuous moment in American history.

According to family lore, he had to miss my parents’ wedding in July 1967 because he was on riot duty — along with the state police, the National Guard and, eventually, an airborne infantry division of the U.S. Army.

The chronology doesn’t exactly add up: The wedding was July 22, and the riots began in the early hours of July 23. Perhaps there was some inkling that they were coming, and he was held back as a precaution. Or maybe I misunderstood the story, and Great-Uncle Jimmy made it to the wedding but was called back soon afterward.

I never got — or more accurately, never took — the opportunity to ask him about the experience. But I’ve wondered sometimes what it was like for a fundamentally decent, good-humored man to find himself in the midst of an inferno like that.

Everything on this blog comes back to music at some point, so here’s something suitable from John Lee Hooker.

It’s not a eulogy for my great-uncle’s long, full life … just a depiction of a few eventful days of it, from a common man’s point of view:

Encore Performances: Dec. 15, 1979: Someone’s gonna tell you lies, cut you down to size.

From the old blog, December 2009. People seem to like these.

The Seventies lurched to a close, as all decades do — indeed, as the one we are in is doing as I type.
And this was the stuff on the radio.

(With favourites in bold as always.)

No. 40, debut: “A bit of social commentary,” Casey says, from a wanky group of bespectacled limeys:
“Video Killed The Radio Star,” by the Buggles.

I’ve always hated this song. Too camp, too precious — just listen to the way Trevor Horn pronounces words like “sym-pho-nee.”
These guys ended up merging with that most definitive of ’70s dinosaurs, Yes, less than a year later — proof that they were not the forward-looking savants that their hit record would suggest.

No. 39, debut: “I Still Have Dreams” by Richie Furay.
“Shakey,” Jimmy McDonough’s antic biography of Neil Young, posits Furay (who later became a minister) as one of the few genuinely good guys in rock n’ roll, and apparently one of the very few good guys who ever crossed Neil’s path.
Unfortunately, this is good-guy rock’n’roll, with its polite Fender Rhodes backdrop … and while it didn’t finish last, it doesn’t get many points, either.

No. 38: “Deja Vu,” Dionne Warwick. Definitive quiet-storm fodder, and really, not all bad for what it is. I could listen to this twice.

No. 37: Fleetwood Mac, “Tusk” — “one of the most unusual hits to be created by a major act in quite a while,” Casey declares.
That scrambly drum break in the middle annoys me, and I get a minor whiff of self-conscious hey-aren’t-we-weird? from this song. But by and large, the hooks are just fine.

Essay question: How much differently would the song (or the album) have performed had it been called “Beak”?

No. 36: “Dim All The Lights,” Donna Summer.
Hey, you Seventies veterans can tell me: During Summer-mania, did every magazine in America put Donna Summer on its cover?
When she was clicking with two or three hits in any given Top 40, were there long think pieces about Donna Summer’s tastes, preferences, politics and theories on religion?
Or was she pretty much dismissed as the largest and mightiest of the new universe of disco droids?

No. 35: ABBA, “Chiquitita.” In his intro, Casey fondly recalls ABBA’s “SOS” as the only double-palindrome in chart history.
That was a better song than this one.

No. 34: “Love Pains,” Yvonne Elliman. Nice use of Coral Electric Sitar. And what does the hook in the chorus remind me of?
(You guys could probably tell me better if I could find a YouTube link for the song. But I can’t.)

No. 33: Foghat, “Third Time Lucky.” Hey, I thought these guys were a beery boogie band. What are they doing throwing around sub-Pablo Cruise mellowisms?
Hope the folks on One-Zed-Cee in Rotorua, New Zealand, enjoyed this one.
‘Cause I didn’t.

AT40 Extra: Counting down the Number One hits of the ’70s, we land in September 1976, with Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.”
Their follow-up single, “Baby Don’t You Know” (next line: “the honkies got soul”) shows up on precisely two local records charts in the ARSA archive, which says a lot.
I always dug their album cover, though – I can practically taste the cherry.

No. 32: Isaac Hayes, “Don’t Let Go.” Yeah, OK, sure, fine.

No. 31: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Don’t Do Me Like That.” Prefaced by Casey telling a factually incorrect story about how Petty’s band used to be called “Mudcrutches.”
I love the octave bass lines in the bridge of this song — you can’t convince me these guys weren’t making fun of disco.

No. 30: Hall and Oates, bustin’ out for the listeners of Radio Independencia in Montevideo, Uruguay, with “Wait For Me.”
I’d pretty much forgotten about this song, but it ain’t bad — it pretty much sounds like all the other Hall and Oates singles between about 1977 and 1981.
A nice video (linked above) in which H&O and band sing from inside a boom-box couldn’t help this one get any higher than Number 18 … video hadn’t yet killed the radio star in December 1979.

Incidentally, this tune sounds a lot like something Todd Rundgren would have written, and I note the presence of former Rundgren sidemen John Siegler and Ralph Shuckett on the “X-Static” album, which birthed this single.
I don’t meant to imply any kind of correlation — just sayin’, is all.

No. 29: “From Christmas, Arizona, to New Year’s, Nevada,” it’s the Alan Parsons Project with “Damned If I Do.”
OK song, snappy enough.
For some reason, I found it amusing to imagine the song played by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (I think the tune would have held up nicely in their hands.)
Will have to remember the cover-by-other-chart-act device to get me through when other AT40 countdowns start to crawl.

No. 28: John Cougar, “I Need A Lover.” Always liked this song — the unnecessarily complex arrangement, the sound of the instruments, the big guitar flourishes, the wordless vocal chorus, the jackboot outro — though some of that stuff is stripped away in the single edit.
And really, aren’t we all looking for a girl who will thrill us and then go away?

No. 27: Prince, presaging the sound of the ’80s with “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” up all the way from No. 40.
I’m not a massive Prince fan, but I’ll give him this — he’s a better drummer than most one-man bands.

No. 26: “Coward of the County,” Kenny Rogers. Schlock.

No. 25: M, “Pop Muzik.” Less annoying than the Buggles, I’ll give it that; and “Munich” and “music” is an acceptably outside-the-norm rhyme.
The American public must have agreed — this was M’s 17th week on the charts.
I guess they were just paying him back for all those episodes of “Sesame Street” he brought to them.

Wonder how often he got stopped on the street by people wanting to know what James Bond was really like.
“Uh, no. No, that’s Q. I’m M. Now, if you’ll excuse me?”

No. 24: Anne Murray, “Broken Hearted Me.” The title reminds me of the Yardbirds’ “Evil Hearted You,” a wellspring for misogynist garage-punk churners everywhere.
The song reminds me that I’ve still gotta plow through 23 more, and I haven’t bolded any in a while.

No. 23: Kenny Loggins with Michael McDonald … really, do I have to tell you any more, or do you already know we’re knee-deep in krap?

I decided, while listening to Kenny sing, that he really wants to be Daryl Hall, or is in some way a poor man’s version of Daryl Hall, one Oates away from genuine quality.
(For want of an Oates, a career was lost.)

No. 22: Smokey Robinson’s 31st hit, counting the Miracles. “Cruisin’.” Big enough hit but it just didn’t move me.

No. 21: Pablo Cruise their ownselves with “I Want You Tonight.”
The verses on this song brought to mind Huey Lewis and the News, who just a few years later would also march out of the woods of Marin County to produce slick, bloodless pop perfectly suited to their times.
I like Pablo Cruise better.

No. 20: Speaking of Marin, it’s Jefferson Starship with the overblown arena-rock flourishes of “Jane.”
I have always loved Mickey Thomas’ thoroughly cheesy, loungey, unnecessary ad-lib of “hey hey” on the bridge.
(You know, right before the line about “only because you didn’t know better.”)
You can take the man out of the Holiday Inn, but you can’t take the Holiday Inn out of the man.

No. 19: Eagles, “The Long Run.” Up 14, and the title track from the Number One album in the U.S.
This is actually one of the Eagles songs I loathe the least, as enervated as it is.

No. 18: Doctor Hook, “Better Love Next Time.” This is safer than Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home against the Yanks. Man, did these guys sell out.

No. 17: Barry Manilow, “Ships.” Of course I heard it as “Shit” when Casey introduced it. Dr. Freud would have no book with me.

No. 16: “When Yankees meet Redcoats,” Casey says, you get music like “Head Games” by Foreigner.
(He was referring, of course, to the fact that the band included both British and American musicians.)
Dude, farmers bled to death in the fields of Concord and Lexington for this?

No. 15: “Half The Way” by Crystal Gayle.

No. 14: Cliff Richard, “We Don’t Talk Anymore.” Too bad Sir Lord Cliff couldn’t have recorded more songs like this, or the average American might actually know who he was.

No. 13: Casey says, by way of explaining that 11 of this week’s hits are by foreign acts:
“Americans import foreign cars and television sets. We import hit music, too.”
Something about that sentence made me think about hundreds of thousands of Rust Belters being left without work … which didn’t make me very receptive to the next song, “Cool Change” by the Little River Band.

(Every so often I muse about the fact that they used to mass-manufacture television sets in the U.S. It seems so weird to me, like smoking in airports.)

No. 12: “Rock With You,” Michael Jackson. Up 9 for the folks listening to KERN in Bakersfield. Would that everything had stayed as uncomplicated as it seemed in December 1979.

No. 11: Kool and the Gang, “Ladies Night.” This doesn’t offend me as much as some of their later hits would.
(All together now: “Jo-haaaa-naaaaa/ I (pause) love yoooooo….”)
Still not boldworthy, though.

AT40 Extra: Still working our way through the Number Ones of the Seventies, and we get “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees et al.
I’m telling you, everyone who was between the ages of 13 and 30 in America in 1976 deserves a kick up the khyber for making this a Number One.
The line forms on the right.

No. 10, and Lord, does it sting me to use the boldface:
Supertramp, “Take The Long Way Home.”
Normally I loathe all things Supertramp. But this and, OK, “Goodbye Stranger” are pretty good songs; and this is the better of the two because it eliminates the annoying Supertramp Wurlitzer electric piano sound and replaces it with wailing lonesome-train harmonica.
Not to mention they get extra points for the cool album cover of “Breakfast In America.”

No. 9: Eagles, “Heartache Tonight.” Nice fist-into-jaw drum sound on this one.
Lines like “Everybody wants to take a chance, make it come out right” position this song as a shades-wearing, more dangerous!!!!! cousin to Loverboy’s “Working For The Weekend,” which has that same kind of evocatively meaningless drivel about stuff “everybody” is doing.

No. 8: Captain and Tennille, “Do That To Me One More Time.”
No.

No. 7: JD Souther, “You’re Only Lonely.” The thought of a Top Ten tribute to Roy Orbison is kinda sweet, but I can do without the actual song.

No. 6: Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand, “No More Tears.” Casey explains that some pressings of the song are credited to Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer, just to keep equilibrium between two big stars used to getting top billing.

No. 5: For the folks listening to KQED in Albuquerque,¬† it’s Stevie Wonder with “Send One Your Love,” very thoughtfully refusing to allow the Seventies to expire without one last taste of jazzy, soulful, idiosyncratic groove.
Stevie deserves a medal for his work to keep schlock from completely taking over America in the ’70s like kudzu — and we’ve got just the President to give him one.

No. 4: Rupert Holmes, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song.)” A good old-fashioned story-song with a great twist at the end and a memorable arrangement. Doesn’t even matter that they use the same chords the whole way through.
I think this tune has a lot to recommend it, in a completely non-campy way.

No. 3: KC and the Sunshine Band, “Please Don’t Go.”
I’m sorry, Mr. Casey and Mr. Finch … but if you look at Covenant 12 of the agreement between America and Messrs. Casey and Finch, you will see clearly indicated the words, “no ballads.”
I’m afraid we’ll have to show you to the doors.
Please don’t complain; it’s been a fine, fine ride.
No?

No. 2: Commodores, “Still.”
Casey mentions that the group has had the same six members for the past 10 years. That lineup wouldn’t last.

No. 1 (and no mention of the Beatles, either singularly or together, as far as I heard):
For the second straight week, “Babe” by Styx.
Yuck — the river of Hell, indeed.

Oh, yeah, not that anyone cares, but on Dec. 15, 1979, I was a first-grader counting the days until Christmas break. (It was still quite publicly “Christmas break” in public schools in those days.)
Don’t remember what I got for Xmas that year … sorry.