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Monthly Archives: May 2017

If they should bar wars …

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Yes. Yes, as a matter of fact, I did know. I know everything I want to know, and much more than I need to know, about this absurdly prolonged geek fantasia that won’t go away.

(I used to like the “Star Wars” franchise just fine. It was the first half of the Eighties. I was six to 10 years old at the time. The franchise ended just as it was going weak. Then it came back. It may not end again in my lifetime.)

I am reminded of a wisecrack featured long ago: “Little-known facts about Pet Sounds: There are no longer any little-known facts about Pet Sounds.” Along those same lines, there are no available facts about “Star Wars” that fans don’t know, and no facts about it that non-fans want to know.

Somehow, at this precise moment, the notion of a TV station in the Pennsylvania coal country trying to entice me with a list of little-known “Star Wars” trivia seems like the biggest, wrongest dead end in the world.

It could not have been more poorly aimed if an imperial trooper had hit the Post button.


The fourth.

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I do not overmuch care what Chris Robinson thinks about his brother Rich, John Mayer, Jerry Garcia, Hans Christian Andersen or anybody else.

What I do know beyond doubt is that I have now seen his band four times, and on three of those occasions, it’s made me smile contentedly and bob gently from side to side for hours at a stretch.

(They might have done it the fourth time, too, except I was on a hillside full of beer-swilling Donald Trump supporters in Scranton and I wasn’t in a big hurry to step on anybody’s blanket.)


Last night I caught the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (or, as the pre-event emcee called them, “the Chris Robinson Neighborhood”) at the Musikfest Cafe, a small room in Bethlehem that backs up to the old Bethlehem Steel blast furnace.

It’s the same place where Graham Parker and the Rumour floored me four years ago; this show was maybe not quite so life-affirming, but still a pleasure from start to finish.

How so?

-CR and his associates have introduced a new batch of tunes into their set lists in the past few months. I got to hear a bunch of them for the first time and they fit in nicely. (Some of CR’s originals wear Grateful Dead antecedents like “Bird Song” and “Cassidy” on their tie-dyed sleeves, but I’m fine with that.)

-CR was in fine fettle and strong voice.

-Lead guitarist Neal Casal remains one of rock n’ roll’s great left-hand men, and a pleasure to watch. He doesn’t miss a cue on guitar or backing vocals, and his hottest solo breaks almost always end with him pulling a bemused expression that says, “Well, shit, that came out better than I expected.” (He also seems a lot more comfortable using a Parsons-White B-bender than he was last fall.)

-Keyboardist Adam MacDougall spent less time than usual playing with his favorite ’70s ray-gun analog synth, and more time playing electric piano and Hohner Clavinet. Not sure if this is a permanent switch or just deference to the evening’s set list, but I liked it OK.

(I’ve thought more than once that I will someday get tired of that vintage synth sound MacDougall uses a lot, and his playing will one day magically cross the thin line between idiosyncratic and incessant. It hasn’t yet, and last night’s evidence suggests that maybe it won’t.)

-The CRB usually encores with a cover version. The first time I saw them it was a gorgeous version of the Grateful Dead’s “Candyman.” The second time, it was Dylan’s “To Ramona.” (They didn’t do an encore at the Scranton show, as it was a festival.)

Last night they pulled out a song I had no idea they even knew — “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” — and on top of that they played it perfectly, not mid-tempo like Freddy Fender but slow like Doug Sahm. (OK, maybe not quite as slow as Doug Sahm, but definitely on that end of the scale.)


If I have any beef with these guys, it’s maybe that the rhythm section, while perfectly competent, could maybe kick the band along a little harder from time to time. They’re pretty laid-back.

It also doesn’t appear that CR and company plan to offer the show as a download, which kinda disappoints me: Of the four shows I’ve seen, only one has subsequently been available for purchase.

Guess I’ll have to keep going back, then.

Hope you brought your own tunes.

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Is there really a place in America where you can’t use a microwave oven?

Wikipedia would have me believe so.

It would also have me believe that terrestrial radio options are pretty limited there as well. (Which leads me to think: If you can’t get “Barracuda” on the car radio, and you can’t make popcorn without firing up the stove, then what’s the damn point?)

I happened to be well down a Wiki wormhole involving the state of Maryland when I learned about the National Radio Quiet Zone.

Assuming what I read is correct (the usual Wiki disclaimer applies), it’s a region of West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland where radio transmissions are heavily limited to avoid interference with government and military operations.

This doesn’t mean there’s no radio at all. In fact, Wiki would also have me believe there’s a network of stations serving the region that maybe do some interesting, free-form things.

Still, it sounds like an area where people who like lots of choices on their car radio might maybe be out of luck.

Being a pop geek, I managed to spot a potentially interesting confluence of events in my Wiki surfing:

One of the communities in the National Radio Quiet Zone is Buckhannon, West Virginia. That’s the town James Pankow of Chicago had in mind when he wrote Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon, the suite of songs that takes up most of Side 2 of Chicago II.

(You’ve heard at least part of the “ballet,” whether you’re a Chicago fan or not. The hits “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World” both began life as part of this song cycle.)

The placement of Buckhannon in the National Radio Quiet Zone made me wonder:

Assuming she stayed where she was, how often has the titular girl in Buc(k)hannon actually heard the songs about her on the radio? Does she have the poor fortune to live in a  rare corner of America where terrestrial radio limitations keep her more or less blacked out?

(The ARSA database of local radio airplay charts does not contain any from any station based in Buckhannon, for what little that’s worth.)

The good news is this: Since the girl in Buckhannon doesn’t live near the epicenter of the National Radio Quiet Zone, she can theoretically at least use her microwave to soften her butter before she makes chocolate chip cookies for her grandkids.

On that note, here’s a short portion of the “ballet” you might enjoy. It always struck me as reheated Uncle Meat, but in that it is not charmless.

(For those who don’t know Chicago II, the next note after the end of “West Virginia Fantasies” is the piano arpeggio that opens “Colour My World.”)

The song remains (more or less) the same.

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Tonight I am a rock star … or maybe I’m even more of a nobody than I was before. It all depends on how you interpret the message iTunes is sending me.

A little while ago, my old desktop computer bit the dust after close to 10 years of service. So I broke down and bought a new one. I could have paid somebody to revive the old one (again), but sometimes you gotta take the leap forward.

I downloaded iTunes as one of my first steps. I assume this is a brighter, shinier, smarter version of iTunes than I’d been using; it certainly looks that way.

Then I uploaded a home-burned CD of music originally recorded to cassette by my high-school basement band, Fried Pig. I was worried the CD might have gone bad (it’s been quite a few years since I made it) and I wanted to get the tracks saved in another place, just in case.

The upshot of the story is: iTunes ran my high-school musical output through its inscrutable spectral analysis … compared it to its bottomless library of existing tunes … and assigned several of the songs to other bands. Labeled ’em and sorted ’em into folders and everything.


Fried Pig in the “studio,” 1991. Or maybe we were somebody else and didn’t know it.

If my music were going to be confused and mislabeled as somebody else’s, I was hoping for Astral Weeks, or at least KISS Alive II. However, iTunes’ conclusions were just a little bit … different.

A moody, suspenseful semi-instrumental called “Reimbursement II,” for instance, apparently belongs on the Flaming LipsThe Soft Bulletin album. I guess that’s all right; they’re pretty freaky.

A Kafkaesque, vaguely Latin jam called “Nostril” (about a man who wakes up one morning minus the titular body part) got assigned to something called Sabu’s Jazz Espagnole, by Sabu Martinez. I’d never associated Fried Pig with the conguero who replaced Chano Pozo in Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra, but I think that’s a connection I could probably live with.

Somebody called The Wytches got credit for a 30-second bass-drums-and-vocals hoedown called “Polka Time.” Maybe they deserve it, maybe they don’t … but that’s not a chune I’d go to the mat for.

No, the oddest cut is the last. Three songs from Parti Klub, Fried Pig’s farewell tour de force, got assigned to She Wants Revenge.

I’d never heard of them — though, me being a suburban dad, that doesn’t mean much. Apparently they’re a gothic/post-punk/alternative band from the El Lay sprawl who put out three records and toured with Depeche Mode.

(iTunes sorted Fried Pig’s songs “Squash,” “Baby’s Got A Gobstopper” and a cover of “Horse With No Name” onto the group’s self-titled debut album.)



These particular songs had been part of our most artistically successful and fondly remembered “album,” so it felt galling at first to see them assigned to another band. It seemed as if iTunes was accusing us of copying a band we’d predated by close to 20 years.

On a broader scale, it seemed like a glimpse of some chaotic future where computers rule everything and know nothing … a world where artificial intelligence surveys all of humankind’s creations and gives not a damn.

After more thought, though, I’d rather be in our shoes than theirs.

Think about it: No band gets a record contract without years of grinding. It starts at high school talent shows, and continues all the way up to that cherished headline slot at the Roxy or the Whiskey or wherever.

The guys in She Wants Revenge probably worked their kapushtas off getting that record deal — hours in a van, dozens of demo tapes in the mail, mugs of ketchup soup for dinner, the whole nine yards.

When they went into the studio to cut that first album, they probably plowed their collective blood, sweat and dreams into it, hoping it would make them stars while also serving as a worthy statement of purpose.

And after all that, a computer still couldn’t tell them apart from a quintet of teenage nimrods jacking around in a basement in Rochester, New York.

Were I them, I might seek out their old producer and ask for their money back.

But I am not them. Instead, I am sitting in a different basement, years and miles away, reflecting on a basic truth:

Music is a cruel mistress, to all who court her.

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A little multimedia content for your entertainment. I assembled this many years ago while teaching myself Windows MovieMaker. Scoff *this*, Flaming Lips.

The summer scene.

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I saw the above message on Twitter earlier today.

Based on the message, the photo, and the general appearance of the place, my mind immediately began conjuring up a list of featured acts at the Strasburg Community Park amphitheater this summer.

Here’s who I decided will be playing this summer at the amphitheater. (This may be more or less exciting than the actual list, which I didn’t bother to read.)

July 2: Jackanapes: Central Pennsylvania’s Leading Jethro Tull Tribute Act

July 9: The Bill Stirling Blues Bash

July 16: Teen Spotlight featuring Unchain the Spectrum, 10-X7 Solution, and Urgent Rage

July 23: James P. Taylor

July 30: Happy Mieczko and the Polkatonics

Aug. 6: Spanielflog

Aug. 13: The Strasburg Paraders Dixieland Band

Aug. 20: Tunes for Kids with Gary, Skip n’ Eileen

Aug. 27: Foghat

Field notes.

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I could write a whole series of posts about the wonders to be found in the State of Maine’s collection of digital records.

(And indeed I might, since it seems that list-style posts that trawl the back corners of the Internet are just about all I have to write lately. Even that may be more than the world needs, or I need. Anyway.)

I don’t know why I started reading back issues of “Field Notes,” a weekly, then monthly publication of the state Department of Inline Fisheries and Game.

I’m glad I did, though, because they’re oddly charming.

Each issue consists of a series of verbatim reports from state game wardens from all over Maine. Each warden reports on notable hunting, fishing and wildlife events from his area.

Of course there are quick-hit anecdotes that stand out in each one — like the story of Charles Dugay, who trapped a bobcat in his woodshed one night in the spring of 1963. Not having a gun to hand, Dugay opened the shed door and finished off the catamount with a shovel, earning himself a $15 bounty in the process. A man could buy himself a lot for $15, I guess.

There are also little things that pique the curiosity. Like the mention, in the above-linked issue, that “smelts have started to run in Dead Cambridge with a good run on.” What in the hell do you s’pose Dead Cambridge is?

Similarly, Game Biologist Steve Powell’s note of Aug. 20, 1963, is quietly fascinating: “It is time for teal to begin a build-up in Merrymeeting Bay although the rice is not as far advanced as it should be.

I can imagine Merrymeeting Bay in my mind, despite never having been there; and I am envious of men whose life and work call on them to know when the teal usually start massing in Merrymeeting Bay.

Or Warden Supervisor Walter Bisset’s comment of Aug. 25, 1965: “I have never seen the woods as dry as they are at present.” Makes the literate suburbanite think of Ben Mears and Mark Petrie setting fire to ‘Salem’s Lot.

Not all the passing tidbits raise an eyebrow, though. Sometimes they warm the heart.

Like in the issue of Nov. 17, 1965, when Warden Supervisor David Priest notes: “Still quite a few ducks along the Penobscot River.” Somehow those nine simple words conjure the image of a content outdoorsman enjoying a roast duck dinner in a little hunting cabin by the river, with a fire to keep him warm, as the pre-Thanksgiving dank settles on the woods that surround him.

Or Warden Alden Kennett of Bethel, reporting in the issue of Sept. 14, 1964: “The maple trees in many areas are taking on their autumn brilliance – makes one realize that fall is upon us.” How thoroughly wonderful that these folks who get paid to work in the wilderness haven’t lost their basic sense of wonder at the colors of fall.

Those folks who get paid to live in the wilderness often have a fine command of the English language, too — spare but colorful. Like the report of Warden Supervisor C.F. Cooper of Stockholm on Dec. 5, 1969: “I still believe we have a good herd of deer, even though it appears otherwise. A few years ago we had a similar fall, and after the end of November, one almost had to kick them out of the way.”

Or Warden Supervisor George Nash of Jackman Station in the same issue: “There were fewer hunters in this area but fewer hunters killed more deer. Figure that one out.”

Or Warden Michael O’Connell of Pittston, speaking volumes with a phrase: “Spending a lot of time on lost hunters.” Just those words are enough to bring on a shiver, and make you imagine the growing sense of being lost in the vast Maine woods.

On that note, I’m logging off and going to fantasize about bagging my limit of teal, or whatever it is sportsmen dream about in this wild other world I’ve just spent an hour visiting.


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Nothing to say, maybe ever.

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Until tonight I hadn’t heard this song since the spring of 1994, when I saw this lot of slouchy berks play it live at a big festival in Sydney, Australia.

I could never remember anything but the title phrase. I’m heartened to find out after all these years that that’s 95 percent of the song.