Encore Performances: … and I feel fine.

I was reading something on the old blog from May 2011 that made me think:

One of the things that won’t happen in Pandemic America this fall are the late-night dormitory lounge bull sessions where college freshmen spread the complete nonsense they’ve learned. (Unlike other years, the risk of them spreading other things is just too great.)

The following observation came about after I attended a Red Sox game at Fenway Park on the night some nutjob group predicted the Rapture would occur. Right at the specified moment, the PA played R.E.M.’s “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine.)”

While I was mentioning R.E.M.’s soundtrack to Rapture Weekend, I neglected to mention a uniquely Bostonian connection — one that contributed to my pleasure at hearing the song at Fenway Park.

Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, it was a popular urban legend at Boston University that the first line of the song’s second verse was “Six o’clock, TV hour / Don’t get caught in Warren Towers” — a reference to the monstrously huge BU dorm of the same name, one of the country’s largest non-military dormitories.

I never bought it, myself.
Why a bunch of guys from Georgia would refer to a dormitory in Boston never got explained well enough for my taste.
(Usually, the legend got repeated with an offhanded “They went to school here” or “They visited BU when they played in Boston.” No, they didn’t; and no, they didn’t.)

Listening to it now, it’s clear that Michael Stipe is singing “Don’t get caught in foreign towers.”
Why people had trouble understanding that 20 years ago, I have no idea.
(Worn cassettes, maybe?)

Still, it’s a fondly remembered tidbit that brings back my freshman year of college pretty sharply.

One of the great things about freshman year — especially if you go to a school that draws people from a wide geographic area — is that everyone unloads all the crap they believe is true on each other.
The kids from Long Island share their misty fourth-hand friend-of-a-friend legends with the kids from Hawaii and the kids from Chicagoland; and pretty soon there’s this vast morass of bullshit percolating in the late-night lounge sessions all over campus.

And if you get enough bullshit piled up on itself, the library starts to sink under all the weight.

But that’s another story …

Encore performances: Light on your head and dead on your feet.

I try not to ride the Encore Performances too heavily. But since my last repost mentioned this post, I figured I’d serve up this one too. Also from January 2011 on the old blog.

Dammit, I told myself I wasn’t gonna post twice tonight.
I was gonna go upstairs and sleep, or maybe reintroduce myself to my wife.

But when the memories come knocking at the window, they demand to be let in.

As you all know, Gerry Rafferty is dead, and writers throughout blogland are remembering how his music touched them — especially the mighty “Baker Street” and the album from which it came, City To City.
I recommend you read the reminiscences of Jim Bartlett at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, if you haven’t already; the music of Rafferty meant a lot to him.

Rafferty’s music didn’t touch me quite so deeply.
But it is part of a childhood memory I hadn’t thought about in a long time, from a time and place long gone.

When I was a kid, I was a night owl, content to park myself in front of the telly and soak in whatever I could find until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.
I loved solitude and the imaginary brotherhood of night owls.
I was also getting over a deeply held childhood fear of fire that I’ve blogged about before (edit: not yet reposted, that one) that affected my sleep habits for several years.

(My parents were not the sorts to let me sleep until noon, so I don’t remember how I reconciled the night before with the morning after. But no matter — that’s not our subject tonight.)

Of course, night owls in the mid-’80s were at the mercy of their local television stations.
If they all went off the air, there would be nothing to stay up for.
In Rochester, N.Y., where I lived, there would always be one or two channels showing movies all night … but it was always a crapshoot as to whether the movies would be worth watching.
(There was one channel that used to show “Mr. Majestyk” and “Shaft’s Big Score” at least three times a month.)

On clear nights, though, I had a different, exotic option:
I could go out into the garage and use a broomstick to turn our big antenna toward Buffalo so I could watch “The Cat’s Pajamas” on WGRZ, the city’s NBC affiliate.

“The Cat’s Pajamas” was an all-night show — guaranteed to last as long as I could — hosted by a guy called Barry Lillis, who used to freely smoke cigarettes on the air.
They had two movies each night.
And during the breaks, Barry would throw it over to the news desk for an update, or perform a brief monologue, or cue some sort of short comedy skit, or run a contest.

It was low-budget, and it was certainly not as groundbreaking or anarchic as “Late Night with David Letterman,” which was in its early years back then and doing great, unpredictable stuff.
But “The Cat’s Pajamas” was still fun to watch, and every show was a little different.
Plus, it usually offered grade-B films like the “Carrie” ripoff “Jennifer, the Snake Goddess” — cheap thrills for a preteen kid curled up in the dark.

A show like that needed a grand introduction.
Something that proclaimed, “Never mind that it’s midnight. The fun’s just starting, and you’re welcome to ride with us all the way to daylight. The rest of the world is missing out — too bad for them. Come aboard.”

And when Raphael Ravenscroft’s sax sounded, I knew it was time to step off the platform and onto the train.

Gerry Rafferty’s music didn’t help me through any hard times or provide the backdrop to any relationships.
But — along with warbly versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” — it remains a permanent soundtrack to a defined period of my life … a period of long upstate nights and crackly companionship coming in through the airwaves.
And that, quirky as it may be, is something to appreciate.

Encore Performances: I can see it was a rough-cut Tuesday.

Friday will mark 10 years since I got into the blogging game. Based on my current level of output, this would probably be a fine time to quit … but nah, not yet. Here’s a J. Geils-related post from the old blog that ran in January 2011. The story that inspired the first half has since been taken down by the TV station that hosted it, so you’ll just have to take my word for things.

I’m always interested in the ways that pop songs trickle into our collective consciousness through means other than the radio, CD player, iPod, MP3 download, eight-track, cassette, etc.

I wrote about one such case right after the death of Gerry Rafferty, reminiscing about how I associated “Baker Street” with an up-all-night movies-and-comedy TV show I used to watch as a kid. (Edit: I don’t think that one’s been reposted on Neck Pickup, but I oughta, one of these days.)

Here’s another example I learned about while trolling the Web today:

This week in 1978, a major thunderstorm walloped the Midwest, with heavy weather stretching as far south and east as Louisville, Kentucky.

The news director at Louisville TV station WHAS was faced with an extraordinarily long list of closings to scroll across the screen.
Rather than run it over five minutes of dead air, he made an on-deadline search for appropriate background music.
He selected Chuck Mangione’s “Bellavia,” for no greater reason than he liked it and it worked well enough.
(This would have been a few months before Mangione reached a broad nationwide pop audience with “Feels So Good.”)

An inspired improvisation turned into a tradition.
It became standard operating procedure — and apparently still is — for the station to run its school and community closings over “Bellavia.”
And countless Kentuckians (and Indianans, just across the river) came to associate Mangione’s gentle fanfare with weather interruptions.

(One commenter on the page linked above – Edit: that is, to the story that’s not live any more — tells the story of how her parents played a tape of “Bellavia,” and she leaped joyfully out of bed, thinking she must have a snow day since that song was playing.)

I love the notion that anyone who spent time in one major American city has an instant emotional connection to that song, totally beyond any anticipation by its composer.

Something vaguely similar happened in my (and Chuck Mangione’s) hometown a couple of years later.

I was never really a hockey fan when I was a kid, but I grew up in a hockey town.
And no daily reader of the Rochester sports page, as I was back then, could be ignorant of the hometown Rochester Americans’ hockey heroes — names like Randy Cunneyworth, Bob Mongrain, Geordie Robertson and Jim Wiemer.

(I knew a fellow Rochester expat in college who used to sing “Jiiiiiiiiiim Wiemer” to the tune of “Dream Weaver.” But that’s not where I’m going with this story.)

During the team’s march to the 1982-83 Calder Cup, the local station that sometimes televised Amerks games got the bright idea of using the organ riff from the J. Geils Band’s recent hit single “Freeze-Frame” in their ads promoting the games.

The connection between team and song — and really, team and riff; it was all about that organ — caught on immediately.
“Freeze-Frame” was as closely connected in the public mind to the 1982-83 Amerks as “We Are Family” to the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates or “Tessie” to the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
My older brother even knew a kid at school who honestly thought the song was “the Amerks theme” — as though it had been written for the team, and had somehow jumped from the Rochester War Memorial to the American Top 40.

To this day, I can’t hear “Freeze-Frame” without picturing the Amerks in general, and one image from the commercials in particular — that of the team’s goalie (probably Phil Myre) skating out to receive his teammates’ congratulations at the end of a win.

Every so often I go trolling for those ads on YouTube. Haven’t found one yet.
But someone out there has tape, I just know it.

Coda: One commenter on the original post mentioned that the Chicago Cubs used to use the opening synth riff from Van Halen’s “Jump” as a lead-in to game broadcasts, and even now, when she hears “Jump” she thinks: “It’s time for the ballgame!”

Encore Performances: Past inspection.

Twitter tells me that it’s been exactly 25 years today since Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations” hit Number One. That seems like reason enough to resuscitate this post from the old blog, originally written in November 2010. Nothing in it has been updated since then; I have no idea what the Booty Inspector is up to now.

Every time a new Mark Wahlberg movie comes out, I wonder to myself whatever happened to Hector the Booty Inspector.

I’ve learned that many of my regular readers are not quite in my demographic group:
Several are older than I am, while a few are significantly younger.
So some of you may need an introduction to the six-month pop-culture phenomenon that was Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.

In the summer of 1991, following several years of success by New Kids on the Block, along came a chart-groomed, commercially minded hip-hop ensemble fronted by Marky Mark Wahlberg — Donnie’s little brother, then a twentyish Dorchester hoodrat with a lousy attitude and great abs.

An unlikely recipe for success? Perhaps, but it worked twice for the Funky Bunch.
They hit Number One in October of that year with “Good Vibrations,” and avoided one-hit-wonderdom with the following year’s Top Ten follow-up “Wildside.”
(If you think Katy Perry re-using the name “California Girls” for her musically and lyrically unrelated single was weak … well, then, you’ve never heard “Good Vibrations.”)

Anyway, one of the four guys who comprised the titular funky bunch was somebody named Hector the Booty Inspector.
I remember reading that name in the fall of ’91 — probably in the Boston Globe, over lunch in Warren Towers — and laughing out loud.

It seemed at the time like Hector the Booty Inspector probably had a wicked charmed life.
He got to tour the world and hang out in nightclubs and stuff.
And since he wasn’t the star of the show, his duties in the group were almost certainly limited to dance steps, handclaps and taking an occasional verse.
Yes, pop stardom seemed like a pretty cush way to bolster the income of a professional booty inspector.
(It’s an unpredictable and largely seasonal business, I’ve been told.)

When I look back at the whole business through 2010 eyes, I’m convinced that Hector the Booty Inspector was actually dealt a cruel hand by fate.
Think about it:
He had a much better nickname than, say, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, and he had to have a less repellent personality.
If Hector the Booty Inspector had hit the scene in, say, 2009, he would already have his own reality show, a book deal and a sex tape involving at least one reality-show starlet.
Unfortunately, Hector was a man before his (pop-cultural) time.

I haven’t thought too deeply about Hector since … oh, I’d estimate December 13, 1992, give or take a few hours.
I just sort of assumed he’d gone on to become Hector the Plumbing Inspector or something like that.
But like I said, every time his old bandmate hits the headlines, Hector flickers across my mind.

I finally decided to Google Hector and find out more about the mysterious Booty Inspector.
Turns out his real name is Hector Barros Jr., and he’s based out of New Bedford, Mass., now.
He seems to prefer the nickname “HB” to his unwieldy, if memorable, former handle.
I don’t know what he does for a 9-to-5; but I know that he and several of his former bandmates still perform under the name Funky Bunches of Oats.

OK, I made that last bit up.
They perform as the Funky Bunch.
They have a MySpace page and a Twitter account, which has 1,900 followers — roughly 1,600 more than my Twitter account has, let it be said.
(The “Official Hector the Booty Inspector Fan Club” page on Facebook has a mere 20 members. However, I am not sure it’s actually endorsed by the man himself.)

Hector may not make as much money as his old frontman (who ditched rapping pretty much as soon as he got the chance), but I was charmed to find the Funky Bunch still giving it a go.
It’s good to see the folks who made “Music for the People” still making music for the people.
It turns out that maybe Hector and his buddies weren’t in it just for the limo rides — or the booty inspections — after all.

Encore Performances: B.A.L.L.S. to You (Part Two).

In which we flip over to Side Two of the Ballads, Atmospheres, Laments and Love Songs tape (a.k.a. B.A.L.L.S.) and review the other 45 minutes of music I used to listen to while roaming the ‘burbs.
(If you missed the first installment of this, click here to read.)

I’ll again include YouTube links to the songs where available, for anyone who wants ’em.
You will be less likely to want them than you might have been on Side 1.

Sentimental Lady,” Fleetwood Mac: Still prefer the original ’72 Mac version to the solo version that was a hit for Bob Welch five years later.
Not sure what there was in sentimental ladies to appeal to a 16-year-old boy, but I’ve always liked a good melody wherever I could find it.
Mellow not-quite-gold.

Let Me Roll It,” Paul McCartney and Wings: In which Macca lovingly if unintentionally tips his cap to his old mate John, and my mix gains the slightest of rockish tinges for a couple of minutes.
I dug this for some reason when I was 16, but listening now, it seems more repetitive to me than anything else.

Running Wild,” Roxy Music: Roxy was about as edgy as a loveseat by 1980, but they could still produce a heart-tugging grown-up ballad, with Bryan Ferry’s quaver front and center as always.
From the Flesh & Blood album, which was so unbearably marshmallowy I traded it in after a while. This was probably one of the better tunes on it, whatever that says about it.

“I Talk To The Wind,” King Crimson: Oh, God. Long, dour, mock-profound hippie jam.
You’d think “Sparkling In The Sand” would have taught me to avoid flute solos like the plague.
But no.
Robert Fripp tosses off an acceptably jazzy guitar solo, and Mike Giles turns in some similarly-acceptably-jazzy drum flourishes, but that’s aboot it.
The wind does not hear … the wind cannot hear … and perhaps the wind is the luckier for it.

(The studio version of this tune appears to have been chased off YouTube, which for purposes of this blog post is probably all the better. Here it is live in 1969. And here’s an 8-bit cover. It might be better.)

Have You Seen The Stars Tonite,” Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship: Now this is what a hippie jam should be.
Kantner’s insistent open-tuned acoustic strumming anchors a simple construction that, while set in outer space, still seems touched by the warm amber glow of a setting sun.
Lovely harmonies from David Crosby and quicksilver steel from Jerome J. Garcia, then firmly in his Buddy-Emmons-of-Marin-County phase.

This is originally from the ur-1970 Blows Against the Empire LP.
But the place I first made its acquaintance was Flight Log, the double-LP 1977 set that summed up the previous decade’s best work from the Jefferson Starplane extended family.
A superb album; one of the soundtracks to my high school existence; and sadly, only issued on CD in Japan.

“The Long and Winding Road,” Beatles: The studio version of this one appears to have been banished from YouTube also; this is the closest I can get.

Yeah, you know this one. There’s a tear in Macca’s beer, in part because he’s forced to hear Lennon try to navigate his lovely toon on the unfamiliar dimensions of a bass guitar.
(In his book Revolution in the Head, Ian McDonald goes on at great length about the many muffs that can be heard if you listen closely enough to Lennon’s bass part.)

A pretty song, sure enough, but it wonders me why I didn’t put “Something” on instead.
I guess it’s easy to prefer self-pity when your dating record is 0-for-16-years.

Speaking of self-pity …

Oh Lonesome Me,” Neil Young: Oh, God, times ten. Is it too late to pretend some other, cooler, more listenable, less dreadfully whiny song was in this spot?

I wish I’d had the good taste to omit this one and instead include “The Losing End (When You’re On)” from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which is somewhat similar in content, but more original and less cloying in its lachrymosity.

Or “Don’t Cry No Tears” or “Pardon My Heart” from Zuma … or a good angry live version of “Like A Hurricane” … or … or … aw, shit.

Any World That I’m Welcome To,” Steely Dan: From my favorite Dan album, 1975’s Katy Lied.

An excellent evocation of buried trauma and square-peg rootlessness (“I’ve got this thing inside me / That’s got to find a place to hide me“) … tailor-made for that inner voice that says there’s gotta be something different and maybe even wrong about you, dude, ’cause otherwise why would you be walking the streets at 1:30 in the morning thinking about girls who only think about you when they wanna copy off your homework?

On the mythical reboot of this remix, I’d probably swap this one out for the original demo version of “Brooklyn” with Fagen singing, or maybe “Deacon Blues,” or even the underrated “Razor Boy” from Countdown to Ecstasy.

Mean Mistreater,” Grand Funk Railroad: Mark Farner played keyboards acceptably, as was famously said about Tom Lehrer and Jerry Garcia.
And on this particular heartbreak souvenir, he puts down his guitar and applies himself to a couple basic patterns on electric piano.

The song is no great shakes, but Don and Mel nudge Mark into a mid-song jam that gathers a refreshing bit of momentum.
And the tone of the electric piano is nice enough to bathe in — rich and ringing and resonant.

Silly Love Songs,” Wings: No longer inclined to either tolerate or pay tribute to Lennon, McCartney bursts out with a perfect distillation of what makes him great.
The crowning moment of Macca’s solo career, and a pleasure to encounter in any setting, as far as I’m concerned.

As a love song, of course, it sticks out like a sore thumb here on Side Two. Not sure what I was thinking, tonewise. Its placement very near the end does kinda suggest that love conquers all, though. Honor thy mixtape as a hidden intention.

“The Sheltering Sky,” King Crimson: We close with an entry from the Atmospheres column, and yet another toon that’s not on YouTube in its original incarnation (here’s a live version.)
In which the 1981 King Crimson — almost an entirely different ensemble than 1969 King Crimson — hunkers down next to a slow fire in some Moroccan desert outpost and boils down a simple Middle Eastern riff until it practically falls apart over rice.
Depending on my mood, this is either exotic and relaxing, or well-nigh interminable.

We don’t make it to the end on B.A.L.L.S. Side Two, though, thanks to the time limitations of 90-minute tape.

And there you have it — the soundtrack to my nocturnal teenage creepy-crawling.
Time for me to start for home and curl up between the sheets.

Encore Performances: B.A.L.L.S. to You (Part One).

This appeared on the old blog almost exactly five years ago. A musing about mixtapes by a social media acquaintance reminded me of it. This has been somewhat reworked for its encore appearance. Part II to come.
As with all other content on this blog, YouTube links are only guaranteed to work at the time of posting.

We celebrate this blog’s four-year anniversary by plunging headlong into our navel — or, more accurately, retracing our steps into our 16-year-old navel.
(Yeah, I know. A trip everyone wants to take. But hey, it’s no less relevant than anything else I’ve written. And the soundtrack’s interesting.)

From time to time, at a certain age, I would spend summer nights by sneaking out in the early morning and going walking in a massive subdivision not too far from my house.
At 1:30 in the morning, on dark summer nights with barely a breeze, I’d be skulking past the split-levels with my Walkman, generally thinking about girls I didn’t have the cojones to ask out, and girls who’d never noticed me, and girls who seemed to exist in other universes.
There were other things to think about besides unattained girls (eventually, I managed to attain one, so I’m sure she got on the agenda too), but that was probably a good part of what was on the mental menu.

I had the perfect soundtrack for my wanderings in a certain hand-assembled mixtape.
I called it “Ballads, Atmospheres, Laments and Love Songs,” which not only summed up the contents perfectly, but made for a charming acronym as well.
Mood music for the angsty teenage soul.
(There was also a companion tape of the heaviest, fuzziest arena-rock I could find, called “Assorted Rockers, Grinders and Guitar Heaviness,” or A.R.G.G.H. We won’t be covering that today, or any other day.)

I still have my tape of nocturnal ballads (editorial update: not any more I don’t.) And, motivated by an email conversation with an old high school friend, I dug it out and listened to it.

And now, through the eyes of a 42-year-old, I’m going to review it, one 45-minute side at a time.

B.A.L.L.S. to you all, then.

Side One:

The Song Is Over,” The Who: I still love the mesmeric musical atmosphere of this, even if Pete Townshend’s lyrical references to mountains, sky and wide-open spaces reveal his rarely acknowledged debt to the Von Trapp family.

Another Who song that effectively uses Townshend and Roger Daltrey on different vocal parts to best advantage.

MIA,” Aerosmith: Some say the title is a reference to Steven Tyler’s daughter Mia, while others say it’s a reference to recently departed guitarist Joe Perry. This is what passes for ambiguity in the music of Aerosmith.
OK, it’s more complex than “Big Ten Inch Record,” anyway.

Features a nice harmonized guitar solo from Perry, or Brad Whitford, or Jimmy Crespo, or Golda Meir, or whoever was in the studio at the time and able to stand upright and play the neck in the middle.
Other than that, not that much to stick in the mind.

You See Me Crying,” Aerosmith: That’s right, a double dose of Steven Tyler power ballads. I must really have been melancholic. (Although, for the record, I never actually cried over anybody. Not wired that way.)

It says something about my 16-year-old taste that “Seasons of Wither,” Tyler’s most effective ballad of the ’70s, and “Dream On,” his most commercially successful, are both nowhere to be found here.

From Aero’s commercial breakthrough, Toys In The Attic, this would be a better song if Tyler had resisted the urge to sing the third verse in his castrated-alley-cat upper register.

Sail On Sailor,” Beach Boys: From 1973’s In Concert album, Blondie Chaplin explores Brian Wilson’s nautical neuroses in front of a full hockey rink.

Despite its weaknesses (where’s Dennis Wilson, besides the cover?), In Concert is a fine album because it kicks a lot of the studio versions in the ass and gives them new energy.
(If you only know the studio version of “Marcella,” for instance, you don’t fully appreciate the song.)
That’s true for “Sail On Sailor,” which gains a kind of saunter in its live incarnation, without compromising the fear and loneliness in the lyrics.
I would have liked to see that edition of the band.

I Think You Know,” Todd Rundgren: I still hear this one in my head, 25+ years later … one of the toons that cemented my fondness for Rundgren, no matter how much he insists on testing it.
What better lyric for a midnight ramble than “I can’t explain / What’s in my brain / It tells me where to go“?

Incidentally, the girl who eventually agreed to go out with me (though I still went night-walking every so often, just on principle) was/is the daughter of two Rundgren fans whose names appear on the big fold-out poster included in the Todd album.
(A little background for non-fans: Rundgren’s A Wizard/A True Star? album included a card that fans could send in to have their names included in some unspecified future project.
The follow-up album, Todd, included a big poster of the album cover photo, rendered in lines of text made up of the names of fans who had submitted the card. I no longer remember where on the poster my ex’s parents’ names are, but I was much impressed at the time.)

Just One Victory,” Todd Rundgren and Utopia: Taken from the Another Live album, 1975.
A classic anthem of honky-soul uplift, and still a pleasure to listen to.
Not really a ballad, atmosphere or lament; I’m not sure how it ended up on this mix except that I liked it.
Maybe I thought I’d go jump off the nearby water tower if I didn’t have something to lift my spirits.

Dear Prudence,” The Beatles: In terms of ballads, atmospheres or laments, “Julia” might have been a better choice from the White Album.
Still, this Lennon tune holds up OK, big heavy ending and all.
I love how the fingerpicked guitar trails off at the end. Still my favorite part of the song.

Sparkling In The Sand,” Tower of Power: From their wonderfully named debut album, East Bay Grease.
A pretty ballad and the very essence of smoove longing; but way, way, way too long at nine minutes.
In my grown-up review, this was the first song I fast-forwarded through, and I think I did that fairly frequently as a kid too.
(There was no Ron Burgundy back then to make bossa-nova flute solos seem like laughable indulgence.)
The version linked above runs 4:30 or so and is cut down from the album version; you can thank me later.

Bell Bottom Blues,” Derek and the Dominos: My relationship to Eric Clapton’s music has largely curdled in recent years. I’ve grown tired of guitar-hero posturing and mass-produced electric blues. Oh, and Enoch Powell.

But this … this is exquisite, heartfelt and fiery, and also refreshing proof that my musical taste at age 16 was not all shite.

Neat touch: Note how Clapton sings along with the first four notes of his solo (“doo doo doo doo,”) then lets his fingers do the walking the rest of the way.

All Blues,” Miles Davis: This was always a jam favorite in the high school bandroom. Some days we played it fast; some days we played it glacially slow; but we never played it as well as Miles and company did in 1959.

And — click! — that’s the end of Side One.
See y’all on the flip side.

Encore Performances: She knows how hard a heart grows, under the nuclear shadows.

A Twitter trending topic brought this post from the old blog to mind. Originally posted December 2009; edited ever so slightly for rebroadcast. The title comes from here.

Help me out with a question, readers.

It’s apparently considered gospel here in the Lehigh Valley that, had the Russkies launched a nuclear assault during the Cold War (and especially in the ’50s and ’60s), this area would have been on their first-hit target list because of the national strategic importance of Bethlehem Steel.

The local paper alluded to this rumor in this section of its big Steel history published a few years ago — though they were slightly less definitive, saying only that published maps showed that Bethlehem was within the target range of missiles planted in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
(That’s kind of a no-brainer — everything on the East Coast south of Portsmouth, N.H., was probably within range of those missiles.)
The story does claim, though, that “Bethlehem Steel had made the Lehigh Valley a target because it was a leading defense contractor.”

This reminds me of a conversation a whole bunch of kids had around a middle-school lunch table when I was in seventh grade, circa 1985.
A couple of the cool kids at the table said (citing no authority that I remember) that in case of a Soviet missile attack, Rochester would be a first-hit target, due to the proximity of the Ginna nuclear plant.

This sounded like bushwah to me at the time, and I said so immediately … which earned me a “Shuddup, Blumenau!” from one of the nerdy cool kids.
(Remember, this was 1985; those were halcyon days for nerdy cool kids. Ferris Bueller, the Eighties patron saint of nerdy cool kids, would be along in less than a year’s time.)
It didn’t really sting, though; I still thought I was right, and time is on my side.

So annnnnnnnnyway, dear readers, I’d like your feedback:
Was this a nationwide trope during the Cold War?
Did every community in the country have some homegrown reason why they would be near the head of the line for a Soviet nuclear attack?
Just like college kids have passed around the story of the sinking library for generations, did generations of younger kids explain earnestly to each other why they were in Leonid Brezhnev’s crosshairs?

Or maybe this goofy canard just followed me around and no one else.

Anyway, do weigh in in the Comments. Is this something you heard as a kid or young adult wherever you happened to be?

I know at least a few of my readers grew up in areas of smaller population than my hometown, so I’m especially interested in their answers.
If the people of Loyalsock Township or Cadiz expected to get a night letter from the Soviets, I’d love to know how they justified it.

On the original post, my man Jim Bartlett commented: “They said the same thing in Quad Cities, USA (Davenport/Bettendorf IA, Rock Island/Moline IL), thanks to the John Deere and Alcoa Aluminum plants, which would presumably have started producing tanks and aircraft aluminum in the event of a war.”

And regular reader West Berkeley Flats added: “I grew up outside the DC area, which according to the Book of Lists was the USSR’s #1 nuclear target. #2 – #10 were places in the middle of nowhere in areas such as North Dakota that had missile silos. I guess the question is how many areas did the Soviet Union have the nuclear capacity to target?”


Encore Performances: Holiday stoner fudge-spheres.

From the old blog, November 2007. Apparently I was thinking about trying to make a fruitcake. Still haven’t.

Y’know, I never did make that brandy-drenched fruitcake I blogged about a week or two ago.
But I am already indulging in another established holiday favourite:
The bourbon ball.

Way back when, during my days in Massachusetts, I worked with an older lady we’ll call Agnes — not her real name, but an acceptable enough simulation for this purpose.
Agnes was sixtyish, perfectly amiable, rather dotty, somewhat professionally past her prime.
And every holiday she brought in batches of homemade bourbon balls that would stun an ox.

I am a robustly built adult male who is no stranger to bourbon … and I could only eat one of her holiday pastries at work, or else my head would start spinning gently and my work would begin to seem incidental and unimportant.
This is still a running joke between my wife and I, years later.
(She made sure to skip Agnes’s bourbon balls the Christmas she was pregnant. We conservatively estimated each ball contained the equivalent of 4.1 shots of the hard stuff.)

I make my own bourbon balls now.
They’re not as strong as Agnes’s, but they sure are forthright … because once you get used to that, it’s hard to go back.

I made my first batch of the year the other night.
They were supposed to “age,” but I’ve already got my fingers into them, and I just know I’m gonna have to make more if I expect to have any for Xmas.
The way I make them, they come out like bourbon fudge, with crispy little bits of nutmeat to break up the smoothness.
Aw, man; I just know I’m gonna have another once the kids go to sleep.

Here’s the recipe, in case anyone else wants to ride the love train:

1 cup crushed vanilla wafers (you want powder)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup chopped nuts (again, I like ’em as small as I can possibly get ’em — not big chunks of nut)
2 tbsp cocoa
1 1/2 tbsp light corn syrup (you could use honey)
1/4 cup bourbon

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.
Combine corn syrup and bourbon separately. Then mix it into the dry ingredients.
Form into balls. Roll in more powdered sugar (I don’t always do that) and chill.

They will seem sticky when you make ’em, and maybe a little less firmly coherent than you want, but if you let them chill a while they hold together nicely enough.
Have five or six and then you’ll seem sticky and incoherent.

Encore Performances: New Orleans Nights, the morning after.

RIP, Allen Toussaint. From the old blog, November 2010.

I see live music so infrequently that I feel compelled, when I do, to review it.
Plus, it appears that the local paper’s music critic was busy reviewing the Never Shot Never and The Maine show at Crocodile Rock.
So, in case anyone on the interwebs wants an opinion of the show I attended, here’s mine:

Last night I went to Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center for “New Orleans Nights,” a multi-performer concert headlined by the legendary songwriter/producer Allen Toussaint.
Most of the 900 people there were sixty-somethings who seemed to be attending because they had season tickets at Zoellner, not because they particularly longed to see the man who produced the original “Lady Marmalade.”
(Toussaint never got around to “Marmalade,” alas; that might have been entertaining. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

The Joe Krown Trio (Krown on Hammond organ, Walter “Wolfman” Washington on guitar and Russell Batiste Jr. on drums) kicked things off with four songs — two fine, Meters-y funk instrumentals, and two blues tunes with Washington on vocals.
Washington, to me, was a discovery; he maintains his own solo career as a blues performer, and I made myself a mental note to go see him if he ever blows through here on his own.
Krown plays a solid, soulful B3, while Batiste is a swinging (and entertaining) drummer — more of an ass-kicker, not one of those laid-back, minimalist Zig Modeliste kind of guys.

They were joined by trumpeter/singer Nicholas Payton, as well as a bassist and percussionist, for six more songs.
Payton is one of those young-turk jazzmen who is not content to express himself merely by rattling off chorus after chorus of bebop.
This is all well and good … but his horn playing is better than his singing or his songwriting.
Most of his vocal tunes were kinda Quiet Storm-y, and (except for one that was specifically about New Orleans) seemed to lack any specific musical or lyrical connection to the Crescent City.
Guy has both chops and ideas on the horn, though.

Break time with the grandees.
And then, Allen Toussaint took the stage for a 45-minute set that included a little of everything — some old Toussaint originals with full band accompaniment; a song or two from Toussaint’s Elvis Costello collaboration; a duet with Payton; a solo cover of “City of New Orleans;” and one of those flaky New Orleans piano solos.

New Orleans piano men have it easy in some ways.
Their style was in large part codified by the screwloose Professor Longhair, whose solos might include anything from “Danny Boy” to mutant Ninth Ward rhumbas.
So a N’awlins piano player has free rein to indulge in just about any melodic segue or tempo change he can conjure up.
Toussaint, who is a capable if not revelatory player, engaged the crowd with a lengthy musical game of three-card monte that folded in scraps of classical, boogie-woogie and no fewer than six Christmas carols — finishing, natch, with “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Toussaint’s instrumental duet with Payton followed the same deconstructive vein, taking “Summertime” down any number of avenues. At worst it was simply curious; at best it was near-mesmerizing.
I’d love to hear a tape of that someday.
(By contrast, his solo piano-and-vocal version of “City of New Orleans” was played straight. It was affecting enough, though y’know, I’ve yet to hear a version of that song with any of New Orleans’ wacky funk. I guess that would be contrary to the lyrical tone of the song, but it would be fun to hear someone try.)

At 72, Toussaint remains a more-than-serviceable singer; it surprised me that he didn’t make more of a splash as a solo performer back in the day.
The old tunes (including “Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further?” and “Get Out Of My Life, Woman”) had plenty of life.
He closed with a punchy version of “Southern Nights” good enough to erase anybody’s associated memories of bell-bottoms and 8-tracks, followed by a slow blues that highlighted some tasty solos from Washington.

There are, alas, only two shows left on the “New Orleans Nights” tour — one outside Washington, D.C., and one in Toronto.
I would still recommend seeing Toussaint on his own; or the Joe Krown Trio for jazzy B3 funk; or Washington playing blues; or Payton in a setting where he just plays jazz (if he does that sort of thing.)
For $25 it was a more-than-worthwhile evening of music … not the swingingest of crowds or settings, I suppose, but so be it.

Encore Performances: When British eyes are smiling.

The smiles seem to be coming harder and harder lately so I am turning to the old blog for help. Originally published September 2010. I actually did get a comment or two on the original post; feel free to jump in.

Time for some audience participation, folks.

Who among the following performers has the Best British Rock Smile of the Seventies?

Tom Evans, Badfinger: Several times in this TV performance clip of “Come And Get It,” Evans breaks into a wonderful, completely unforced, somewhat lopsided smile.
(Watch around 0:35, and especially around 1:12. It really looks like he’s trying to hold back his pleasure, and failing miserably.)
This, of course, was the band’s first hit; and it’s easy to imagine that Evans might have been totally jazzed to be singing (or at least lip-synching) on Auntie Beeb.

Given the turbulent future that would await Badfinger, this clip gets extra points for sentiment … these guys wouldn’t have much to smile about in the years to come.

evansStuart Tosh, Pilot: Tosh’s bandmates in Pilot weren’t much to look at; you’ll notice that keyboardist Billy Lyall doesn’t even get face time in this TV clip.
No matter.
Tosh looks up at about 0:20 and gives a big, winsome, look-Mum-I’m-on-the-telly smile, and you just want to ruffle his hair and send him out to play until dinner.

toshColin Earl, Mungo Jerry: The keyboard player for the immortal Mungo Jerry has a certain rugged handsomeness that reminds me of … somebody, like maybe a character actor I can’t quite put my finger on.
(He looks a little bit like Robinson Crusoe after ten days on the island, is what he looks like.)
Anyway, at about 1:14 and again at 2:08, he looks to be laughing at the absurdity of something — perhaps at the appearance of MJ frontman Ray Dorset, who looks like a berserk Juan Epstein.

earlNorman Watt-Roy, Ian Dury and the Blockheads: Look quick at about 0:15, and you’ll see a big grin spread across the bass player’s face as he locks into the trench-deep groove. It’s another one of those “they pay me to do this!” moments.

wattroy(While we’re at it, Watt-Roy also flashes a totally different but still wonderful grin about one minute into this live performance of “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.” He looks ecstatic and totally drained.)

wattr2George Harrison: The “Crackerbox Palace” video features the Quiet/Somber/Reticent Beatle flashing a crazed smile at about 2:12 (as he murmurs, “It’s twue, it’s twue!,” a completely irrational “Blazing Saddles” reference.)
The smile at the very beginning, when Neil Innes is pushing him in the baby carriage, is kinda charming too.
And then there’s the bizarre moment at about 3:00 in, when George is shimmying and driving the lawn tractor at the same time.


Ray Davies and John Gosling, the Kinks: In the early to mid-’70s, the song “Alcohol” was a highlight of Kinks stage shows, with Ray Davies drawing the drama of the verses out to absurd lengths, balancing bottles of ale on his head, and generally camping about to the ragtag strains of the band’s in-house horn section, the Mike Cotton Sound.
This particular clip, representative of the era, uses split-screen to give us simultaneous smiles from the gap-toothed Davies and his accompanist, keyboardist John “The Baptist” Gosling. They’ve had a couple, and they know what’s coming.

goslingdaviesPete Budd, The Wurzels: It would be easy to dismiss the frontman of this West Country novelty act as either infantile or maniacal.
But I like his style, me.
He buys merrily and completely into the weirdness of his own particular schtick.

buddAny other nominations? You know where the Comments section is.