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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Filling a little space.

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Scraps of Fresh Content for the few folks what care …

— It took me almost 40 years, but I finally greeted Easter this year with the question: “Why do we celebrate this? We’re not religious.”

The kids got baskets anyway, but egg-dyeing is up in the air, and neither breakfast nor dinner will feature anything out of the ordinary.

— Am actually planning to watch some big-league Opening Day action tonight.

The forced narrative of “Look at the Astros and Rangers’ new rivalry! Isn’t it worth your emotional investment?” will choke me by the top of the second inning.

But, this may be the only time all year I can watch the Astros on the telly. And I do dig their retro-styled uniforms, with a return to orange as a primary color.

(Yes, I will watch a few innings pretty much just for that.)

— Went to a college baseball game yesterday (Lehigh-Lafayette.) No great plot or narrative to report. Just a nice afternoon in  the sun.

Lehigh won 7-4, which was OK by me. Plus I got to see a sidearm pitcher work for Lafayette, which is always a highlight — I love guys with funky or offbeat deliveries.

(I hate the pajama-style uniform pants, though. Hate, hate, hate. There were still a couple guys on the field with old-style socks, which gladdened my heart to see.)

Sidearmer.

— Splurged and bought three CDs from Amazon this morning. Two of them were recorded in the Seventies, while the third wishes it were. I guess that’s just how I roll.

I was only looking to buy one of them, and I would have downloaded it through iTunes, but it wasn’t available there.

It was available on Amazon, for the jaw-dropping sum of $4.99 … but I am chronically incapable of buying just one thing off Amazon, so I threw in two others. Perhaps I have saved some recording industry middle manager’s job for another couple of days.

One of the albums is kind of a cult item, and will fit nicely into the ongoing Year of Power Pop.

Another was a Top 10 album, but nowadays seems to be just about as obscure and uncelebrated as a former Top 10 album could possibly be.

(Or at least I haven’t run across anyone who champions it. I have learned, from both newspaper work and blogging, not to be too strict in my labeling: Calling something “obscure” will inevitably lead to an angry message from the one guy in your readership who has worn out three copies.)

And the third comes with the long-ago recommendation of one of my favorite bloggers. I’m sure I’ll like it — possibly more than the other two — but I’m interested to see.

Reviews will come soon, I’m sure. Gotta keep feeding the beast.

Mundane Moments: But what does it mean?

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My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then.

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Today’s photo looks like a simple summertime moment.

But it truly lends itself to a multitude of interpretations if we journey beyond the literal and into the symbolic:

 My dad represents Le Duc Tho; my brother represents Richard Nixon; and the ball represents peace with honor.

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My dad represents Rene Descartes; my brother represents Blaise Pascal; and the ball represents God.

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My dad represents Berry Gordy; my brother represents Stevie Wonder; and the ball represents artistic independence.

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My dad represents Capt. William Delaplace; my brother represents Ethan Allen; and the ball represents Fort Ticonderoga.

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My dad represents Sir Edmund Hillary; my brother represents Tenzing Norgay; and the ball represents the summit of Mount Everest.

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My dad represents William McKinley; my brother represents William Jennings Bryan; and the ball represents the gold standard.

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My dad represents Crocker; my brother represents Lt. Kojak; and the ball represents a jealousy-maddened orchestral violinist who is killing old ladies in the genteel precincts of New York.

Stamford, Connecticut, August 1972.

Speaking secret alphabets.

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In the language of the interwebs, this is The. Best. Picture. Taken. Of. Me. Evar.

Welp.

Welp.

My lopsided head is pulling in alien transmissions that are explaining everything in the developing world to my five-year-old brain.

I have the expression of one to whom a lot of things are suddenly becoming verrrrrrrrrry clear.

I am the membrane through which all knowledge must pass.

This. This is a thing.

But the best thing about these transmissions from the cosmos? They don’t require me to put down my sammich.

All visionaries should be so lucky.

long35

 

Somewhere between Rochester, N.Y., and Alderson, W. Va., summer 1978.

Weren’t you guys listening?

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From time to time, when my spirits want buoying, I revisit the speeches made by Winston Churchill to Parliament in May and June of 1940.

(You know the speeches: “Blood, toil, tears and sweat;” “We shall fight on the beaches;” and “This was their finest hour.“)

Literate and evocative, yet tough and grounded, Churchill’s speeches achieved a remarkable task. They stoked the resolve of the British people while, at the same time, bluntly and candidly preparing them for the enormity of the battle to come.

These speeches rank among the most resonant and inspirational uses of the English language I have ever encountered.

In 2013 slang, they’re mic-droppers. One imagines Churchill triumphantly slamming down his microphone at the end of each speech and walking offstage, either to wild applause or — even better — the kind of stilled silence that follows a tornado.

I was surprised to find that reality was considerably less dramatic. As it turns out, each of Churchill’s speeches was followed by parliamentary debate — which, based on the transcripts, showed precious little uplift from what came before it.

Check out the transcript of what follows the “We shall fight on the beaches” speech of June 4.

Churchill wraps up the all-time balls-to-the-wall, fight-to-the-death peroration — and then the Right Honourable Members from Keighley, Glasgow Bridgeton, Daventry and Bassetlaw promptly begin debating a point of order.

And then, the representatives of West Ham Plaistow and Bassetlaw get all up in each other’s grills:

“You should go out.”
“I would if I were younger.”
“You have no right to make remarks of that kind.”

Uh, guys? I thought we were fighting the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, not each other.

Some of the same nonsense shows up in the transcript of the “This was their finest hour” speech of June 18, which again ends on a rousing note.

The gentleman from Keighley says “one sentence can summarize what we feel,” and delivers himself of four. The member from Bethnal Green South-West says he “has only a word to say,” then spits out 91.

Then, Col. Josiah Wedgwood of Newcastle-under-Lyme outdoes them both. Acknowledging that Churchill probably doesn’t want him to speak, he ignores two choruses of noes from his fellow members and proceeds to discuss how discouraged the average Briton is.

It comes across in print as a performance of remarkable daftness, even by the woolly, distanced standards of British aristocracy.

I guess I should have expected that Churchill’s speeches would be followed by floor debate. They did take place in Parliament, after all.

And I shouldn’t be surprised that no other speaker rose anywhere near Churchill’s level of eloquence. Very few ever have.

It’s still dispiriting to see that even the most stirring of clarion calls and most compelling of visions couldn’t stir political leaders to lift their heads above their knitting, put aside the parliamentary niceties for a change, and charge forward as one.

Thankfully, the Royal Air Force rose to the occasion better than the politicians did.

Thank God there’s a San Francisco …

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… because only in San Francisco would you find the sort of collaboration I’m thinking about tonight.

I’ve linked to Lost Live Dead before. It’s a blog that tracks down detailed information on all kinds of musical side roads involving the Grateful Dead and its extended family.

Lost Live Dead has written in the past about the well-established but spottily documented friendship between the Dead and Vince Guaraldi, the jazz pianist best known for scoring the classic “Peanuts” specials.

But chew on this for a second:

For at least a couple of weeks in the summer of 1972, Vince Guaraldi, Jerry Garcia, Mike Clark and several other musicians had a recurring gig improvising outre “Bitches Brew”-styled fusion-jazz in a singles bar in San Francisco’s Marina District.

(Mike Clark, for the uninitiated, is a seriously heavy funk and jazz drummer probably best known for playing with the mid-’70s incarnation of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.)

I won’t regurgitate the details of Lost Live Dead’s post on the subject.

I’ll just say that the full (and lengthy) post is well worth reading if you like the Dead; “Linus and Lucy;” fusion jazz; intelligent, thoughtful, deeply researched blogging; unique musical combinations; or the distinctive cultural ferment that is San Francisco.

Do check it out here.

(It’s a shame that no one was making tape during these shows. But, as Lost Live Dead points out, most people don’t go to singles bars with plans to record the music.)

Encore Performances: March 24, 1973: Love is a long way from here.

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On my old blog, I used to listen to Casey Kasem’s old AT40 countdowns and then blog them. This is a representative example of those posts. I make no promises that the links still work.

Here we are in the week ending March 24, 1973.
What’s going on?

* Marvin Gaye, a few years removed from “What’s Goin’ On,” cuts the title track of his upcoming album “Let’s Get It On” in Los Angeles.

* Denny McLain is still a major-league baseball player, but only for a few more days.
He will be released by Atlanta on March 26, ending his big-league career.
Just five years earlier, he won 31 games for Detroit; just four years earlier, he led the American League in wins.
In his future are prison spells for drug trafficking, embezzlement and racketeering, though no one knows that in March 1973.

* Rock fans across the U.S. are going out to buy copies of Pink Floyd’s latest album, “Dark Side of the Moon,” released on March 17.
There is not yet any record of anyone listening to the album while watching “The Wizard of Oz.”

* Barbara Hair of Delray Beach, Fla., urges other women in her area to boycott meat during the first week of April due to its rising cost.
Hair tells the Delray Beach News-Journal she was inspired by news reports of meat boycotts in California.
The Hair family had been eating at least four days’ worth of beef a week, but Barbara Hair plans to introduce more nuts and wheat germ into the family diet, the paper reports.
The same issue of the News-Journal reports that T-bone steak is selling for $1.59 a pound and beef brisket for $1.29 a pound at the local Pantry Pride supermarket.

* Bobby Darin’s guests on the eighth episode of his NBC-TV show include Dusty Springfield and Sid Caesar.
Darin, who has roughly nine months to live, sings “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly.”

* The cover of Time magazine features sleepy-eyed immunologist Robert Good, along with the optimistic headline “Toward Control of Cancer.”
Inside the magazine is a review of the concert movie “Wattstax” (“The music is mostly mediocre.”)

* Five guards are held prisoner during a riot at a state prison in Moundsville, W. Va.

* The Grateful Dead wrap up a series of shows at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
The Long Island run is the Dead’s first gigs since the passing of original member Ron “Pig Pen” McKernan on March 8.

* A five-month-old male fetus in Rochester, New York, is roughly the size of a large banana.
Thirty-seven years later, he will follow an entertaining conversation on Twitter in which someone asks, “Why is the size of a child in the womb always compared to some item of food?”

On that lip-smacking note, here’s your tasty Top 40, with tartar sauce on the side and favourites in bold:

No. 40, debut: A “hillbilly from New England,” Casey says: Jud Strunk with “Daisy A Day.”
I have only the faintest memory of what this sounds like … I vaguely remember banjos.
(I am trying to cleanse my brainpan free of any remaining knowledge of this song with repeated applications of Aerosmith’s “Sight For Sore Eyes.” Disco-coke-metal. Like Colt .45, it does the trick.)

No. 39, debut: Chi-Lites, “A Letter To Myself.”
Yet another of those long introductory voice-overs … and when they finally drop the thing into first gear and start rolling it forward, it never quite catches, I don’t think.

No. 38: The “troubador from Philly,” Casey says: Jim Croce up one with “One Less Set Of Footsteps.”
“One less pair of jeans on your door”?
I never thought I was too particular … but I always looked for a chair, at least.
(Is the narrator of this song dating the chick from “Norwegian Wood”?)

For some reason, I like the line, “If that’s the way you want it, then that’s the way I want it more.”
He picked up a little attitude in Philly, I guess.

No. 37: Fourth week on, Diana Ross with the cod-jazz of “Good Morning Heartache.”
I liked it OK.
Don’t much like that florid piano part, though — it sounds like somebody pretending to play what they think is jazz.

No. 36: Judy Collins, “Cook With Honey.”

Hells to the yeah, I bolded this.

This song to me is redolent of hippie communes, and baking dark loaves of bread with big chunks of grain in it, and center-parted hair, and peasant dresses, and sunshine through oaks and maples.

I think most of the hippie movement had kinda boiled away by March of ’73 … but in places like Colorado and Vermont, there were still the hardcore, socked away in the woods … and this was what they listened to, when there was power to run the record player.

Loopy and Sesame Street-ish and … aw, man, are those ocarinas?
I give it ninety-five. It’s got a good beat and you can bake wholesomely to it.
(Read “bake” any way you want.)

No. 35: Alice Cooper, finding a marvelous ready-made cover in “Hello Hooray.”
I am amused to learn from Wiki that Judy Collins — yeah, her again — recorded this song.
Seems much more suited to, say, Lady Gaga.

No. 34: Up three, Aretha with “Master of Puppets” … er, “Eyes.”
Sinuous.
A minor pleasure is a pleasure nonetheless.

No. 33: Barbara Mason, “Give Me Your Love.”
Curtis Mayfield’s original is better. For one thing, the overlapping Masons give me a headache.

No. 32: Sweet, “Little Willy.”
Not for me, thanks.
A minor pleasure is … well, sometimes a minor pleasure is too minor to be worth indulging in.

No. 31: Up one for the good burghers listening to KMEL in Wenatchee, Washington, it’s Bill Withers with “Kissing My Love.”
Nice thick wah-wah … now we’re cookin’ with honey!
This reminds me pleasantly of Stevie, more so than some of Withers’ other songs.

No. 30: Helen Reddy, “Peaceful.” Yes, I guess it is.

I once had a homemade cassette tape on which “Sight For Sore Eyes” cut out at the 1:40 mark, when the tape ended. Even today, whenever I hear the song, I expect it to cut out at that point.

No. 29, debut!: Donny Osmond, “The Twelfth of Never.”
I had the really unpleasant image of this being played as the first dance at a shotgun wedding of two 16-year-olds.
I need to invest in better bourbon.

No. 28: “Rocky Mountain High,” John Denver.
This one often makes me think of Boston (the city, not the band), which you’d think would be enough to earn it a bold face.
However, I am a cruel bitch.

No. 27: An ex-Number One, Elton John with “Crocodile Rock.”
Casey says it “moves down to No. 13.”
No, Case.
(How did he manage to make errors like that?)

We go from one wordless vocal chorus to another …

No. 26, debut!!!: War, “Cisco Kid.”
I love the lumpy Latin groove, not to mention the all-for-one-and-one-for-all choruses of “Aye-ya-yaaaaaaa.”

It should be pointed out that, in the first 15 songs this week, we have tasted samples of Latino funk (War); hippie-folk capering (J. Collins); dramatic hard rock (A. Cooper); glam (E. John and L. Willy); teen pap (D. Osmond); “jazz” (D. Ross) and soul (A. Franklin.)
That’s a pretty nice mix.

No. 25: “Do You Want To Dance?,” Bette Midler.
I like this, me.
I might even have to switch away from “Sight For Sore Eyes” for a minute to listen to it.

Whoop! The studio version ain’t on YouTube.
Anyway:

No. 24: “Stir It Up,” Johnny Nash.
Where was Bob Marley in March ’73? He hadn’t yet performed with the Wailers in America; he wouldn’t do that for the first time until July.
(In Boston.)

Hard to evaluate this version objectively after I’ve been brain-saturated with the Wailers’ take.
I know I don’t care for the flutes, though.

No. 23: “Big City Miss Ruth Ann,” Gallery.

No. 22: “Masterpiece,” Temptations. The beginning of this sounds like a movie soundtrack — I’m guessing to a scene in which someone is burgling an apartment.

Norman Whitfield drowned these guys in long-vamp songs for a while, it seems … where the hell’s the bridge?

No. 21: “Hummingbird,” Seals and Crofts. This is an OK song until the drums come in.

No. 20: Swear to God, they didn’t play this on the rebroadcast. Or, just maybe, it got stuck together with “Hummingbird,” and when we skipped the rest of “Hummingbird,” we missed this one too. But I’m still not sure they played it. The wife and I went back and forth several times looking for it.
Anyhow, it was David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which I would bold, except for the fact that Bowie had gone on to make considerably better music since this one was recorded.

No. 19: “Tie A Yellow Ribbon…,” Dawn. Made a hit, no doubt, by all those Uhmurican housewives whose ol’ men were doing hard time for knocking over liquor stores.

No. 18: “Daddy’s Home,” Jermaine Jax.

No. 17: “Dead Skunk,” Loudon Wainwright III. No novelty songs, thanks.

No. 16: Vicki Lawrence, “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.”
Somewhere in Georgia, a ghost in a long black veil cries over Andy Wolloe’s bones.

No. 15: Bread, “Aubrey.” This is growing on me, this.
It still doesn’t reach the level of the next song, though:

No. 14: Spinners, “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love.”
Like Santa Claus, Thom Bell reaches once again into his sack of exquisite and brings out a winner.

Is the mention of “I’ll Be Around” the deftest lyrical reference any Top 40 act has ever made to another of its own hits?
I welcome other examples — as surely some exist — in the comments.

No. 13: Up three, Al Green with “Call Me (Come Back Home.)”
Title track to a marvelous album I haven’t heard in too long.
Great production here — everything (esp. the organ and guitar) are sort of set at a slow boil.
And that line near the end where Green jumps in and doubles himself on one word — “And somebody’s doin’ you wrong” — is delectably understated.
Up three.

No. 12: For the folks digging WKEE in Huntington, W. Va., it’s the Moody Blues with “I’m Just A Singer… .”
I still think this has a sodden, Mike Curb-ish sound, like six earnest Limeys singing together in one of those big showers like they have (had?) in high-school locker rooms.

(Did you know anybody, back in the day, who would actually shower in the company of other boys? I think the swim team were the only ones at my HS who would do it. I’d rather go home scuzzy.)

No. 11: Carpenters, “Sing.”
I still associate this with “Sesame Street.”
Or, to beat the life out of that Bono/”Rattle and Hum” riff I use in, like, every third post:
“This is a song that Karen and Richard Carpenter stole from Cookie Monster, and we’re gonna steal it back.”

No. 10: The Four Tops, “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got.)”
This one’s so good, I was hoping they’d cut it in Philly; but no such luck.

Wiki, meanwhile, tells me this one was first cut by MST3K’s favourite quintet, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds.
(This was on an album that also featured a song called “Like Monday Follows Sunday,” which makes me think, uncomfortably, of Rebecca Black.)

No. 9: Stylistics, “Break Up to Make Up.”
Not as great as some of their others, but it tells a story … and haven’t we all known couples like this?

No. 8: Anne Murray, “Danny’s Song.”
Would I rather hear “Danny’s Song” or “Daniel”?
Actually, I’d rather have Danny Torrance come after me screeching, “REDRUM!”

No. 7: Down five, “Dueling Banjos.”
From the number-one album in the country.
For three weeks.
People loved this so much, they were willing to shell out in large numbers for the nine or ten other tracks tacked onto it?
(Banjoist Eric Weissberg would follow this up with an album called “Rural Free Delivery,” which peaked at No. 196.)

No. 6: Dr. Hook, “Cover of the Rolling Stone.”
Anyone who can take the piss out of country-rock, he-man guitar solos and Jann Wenner, all at the same time, has my backing.
Plus, they sound like Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.
(Or vice versa, I suppose.)

No. 5: Edward Bear, “Last Song.” Seems to me this should have peaked around No. 31 or so.

No. 4: Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First to Say Goodbye).”
Yeah, the soul records are really propping this countdown up.
(Wiki tells me that country singer Bob Luman had a big hit with this around the same time; I’m gonna have to YouTube that.)

No. 3: “Also Sprach Zarathusra,” Deodato.
An inspired bit of tomfoolery from some mystic place where Munich and Memphis meet.

Casey helpfully mentions that the Berlin Philharmonic hit No. 90 with this in 1970.
Somehow, I don’t think they had the popping congas, or the mellow electric piano, or the rolling groove.

No. 2: A former Number One for four weeks, Roberta Flack with “Killing Me Softly.”

Oh, the suspense … will Number One be another killer soul song, or another lightweight piece of honky pop?

No. 1: … and good triumphs over evil:
The O’Jays, “Love Train.”
Suffused with joy, spirit and forward momentum.

Parks.

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There are no ghosts in baseball; only dopes and Yankees fans (the groups are not mutually exclusive) think there are.

Back maybe 15 years ago, I remember the Yanks stealing a couple of postseason games in the late innings, leading their fans and cheerleaders to crow about the “ghosts of Yankee Stadium” coming out to help push them to victory.

It was self-congratulatory crap like that, accumulated over the years, that pushed the mystique of baseball out of my favor. I still love to watch the game; I just don’t like to listen to the sentimental idiocy that so often accompanies it.

(If my team had a payroll like the Yankees’, I would want the guys on the field to take care of business all by themselves.)

Yankee Stadium and its ghosts are gone. The team plays in just another expensive new ballpark now.

I went looking on Google Earth, using historical images to find some of the old ballparks I used to patronize that have also been torn down.

Some of the images are ghostly — they look like someone’s last known photograph. But there are no ghosts there and no self-important folk tales.

Just some memories of warm sun, and cheap beer, and eager young guys playing doubleheaders in between long bus rides, and time well spent.

Silver Stadium

Silver Stadium in Rochester, N.Y., 1994, where I saw a bunch of Red Wings games and the Grateful Dead, and where my grandparents saw Billy Graham. I should probably retake this w/o the Google Earth artifacts, but no.

MacArthur

MacArthur Stadium in Syracuse, with its famously deep center field, also 1994. This would have been around the time I road-tripped there with a college buddy to drink Saranac and watch the Red Wings throw one away to the Chiefs in 10 innings. This spot is now a parking lot for the new stadium they built next door.

Veterans

The Google Earth label does not lie; this is indeed Veterans Stadium, former home of the Philadelphia Phillies, in 1992, a decade before I got there for the first time. I actually sort of liked it, dumpy though it was.

PNC Park

Lackawanna County Stadium, later PNC Field, Moosic, Pa., 2005. Built as a smaller semi-clone of Veterans Stadium, to accustom the Phillies’ top minor-leaguers to their future workplace. Then, doomed by the same retro design trend that banished symmetrical, Astroturfed stadia everywhere else. Rebuilt this past offseason to flush out all the ’70s/’80s influence.