Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Music: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

I've been meaning to feature some older gospel music for quite some time. I just couldn't decide who, exactly. While searching in YouTube, I started with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, which led to the Mighty Clouds of Joy, which linked to the Dixie Hummingbirds, and then on to the Pilgrim Jubilee Singers... The music was so joyful and infectious that I just couldn't stop. At 1 AM, I stumbled upon Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Sister Rosetta was born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, to an evangelist mother, who took her along to perform at tent revivals throughout the south. A genre-defying artist, her lively guitar style influenced countless other gospel and soul performers, as well as early rock-and-roll musicians such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. In the chords and tempo of this gospel shout, "Up Above My Head," are the unmistakable roots of rock.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Wikipedia) [Link]

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Caution: Dad may be hazardous to your health

Here's another risk factor for breast cancer: having a middle-aged father. Chromosomal abnormalities in older maternal eggs can increase the incidence of birth defects; this connection is well-established. Now it seems that sperm also has a "Best Used By" date, despite the fact that men can sire children well into their senior years.

Recent research has linked advanced paternal age to increased incidence of dwarfism, schizophrenia, autism, and both prostate and breast cancers in offspring. These conditions may be caused by chromosome duplication errors which occur after decades of sperm cell creation. Since men don't experience a defined end to their reproductive years like menopause, how old is too old? In the case of the breast cancer data, pre-menopausal women with fathers who were over 40 at time of conception had nearly twice the chance of developing breast cancer as women with fathers less than 30 years of age.

My dad was 47 when I was born. Since there's no history of breast cancer in my family, I've been reduced to trying to identify environmental or behavioral causes. Not enough exercise? Too many glasses of wine? Maybe standing in front of the microwave was not such a good idea. In an odd way, it would be a comfort to know that I got it because some of my genes are all hinky.

"Association of paternal age at birth and the risk of breast cancer in offspring: a case control study." BMC Cancer [Link]

"Older fathers appear to raise risks of genetic disorders." International Herald Tribune [Link]

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Music: Gil Scott-Heron

The first time I heard Gil Scott-Heron was on the No Nukes album from 1980. It included a live performance of "We Almost Lost Detroit," about a nearly disastrous nuclear accident at the Fermi 1 Nuclear Generating Station, just 30 miles south of Detroit. A progressive activist for many causes, Scott-Heron was foremost a poet who gave voice to the Black Power movement of the late 1960's and early 1970's. A recording of his brilliant proto-rap "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" can also be found on YouTube--highly recommended.

The piece included here, "The Bottle," was one of Scott-Heron's biggest hits. Sadly, in recent years, Scott-Heron himself succumbed to other lures of the street, and has been imprisoned twice for felony cocaine possession.

Gil Scott-Heron (Wikipedia) [Link]

"The Weary Blues: Hip-hop godfather Gil Scott-Heron’s out on parole, trying to stay clean, and ready for Carnegie Hall." New York Magazine. June 22, 2008. [Link]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I spent my 50th birthday in San Francisco. My best friend since sixth grade lives in nearby Mountain View, and she's crossing the half-century line a couple weeks after me. It was good to spend the day with someone who has known me for so long. We went to the Marin Headlands, an area just north of the Golden Gate, the strait which is better known by the bridge spanning it. I'm not sure why this beautiful area escaped development, but it probably has to do with the number of military fortifications and weapons sites located there at one time. We parked at Rodeo Beach, and then walked along the edge of the surf. It was perfect weather, at least for San Francisco: mostly clear on low ground, with fog skimming the hills. After our walk on the beach, we drove higher into the hills. Every turn seemed to unfold a new breath-taking view across the bay. Finally, there was San Francisco, framed by the bridge, glowing gold in the last rays of the setting sun.

That evening, we dined at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. The venerable establishment lived up to expectations. I had California white sea bass sauteed with eggplant, and finished with a pear tart and chilled Moscato d'Asti. Two men who worked in the food or restaurant business sat next to us. I caught bits of their conversation: "I'm trying to work with this organic California-grown wheat, and use it for pizza dough. But, the gluten is all wrong..." and "He's a know, the James Dean of gastronomie," and my favorite, "What you want is a big, fat, French guy running your kitchen."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Birthday Music: Duane Eddy

I made my debut 50 years ago today, albeit without go-go dancers. Here's Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser," which was near the top of the charts in August, 1958. Judging from the hair and attire of the dancers, I was about six or seven when this performance was filmed.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gone Fishin' again

I've been in the Bay area since Wednesday, but will try to check in later today or tomorrow. Here I am grimacing, for some reason, while I photograph my reflection in front of Timothy Horn's "Diadem", a 300 lb. sugar-encrusted chandelier. It's part of the exhibit Bitter Suite, at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

No, YOU move beyond cancer

Nota bene: a brief article in the New York Times Science section, "Having Cancer, and Finding a Personality," by Ruth Pennebaker. Her description of post-cancer malaise is right on.

"The last time I visited my oncologist after my treatments were over, I felt lost. The image that kept recurring in my mind was that someone with a gigantic pair of tweezers had picked me up, shaken me and tossed me back down. Now what?"


I had my own rimshot moments during treatment. Satire can be used to divert aggression; in my case, joking was more productive than punching a hole in the wall. During my last radiation appointment, the nurse gave me a going-away present: a videotape titled "Moving Beyond Cancer." I told her I'd really prefer it if she gave Cancer a videotape called "Moving Beyond Elisa."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Amusing Searches: Gaydar edition

"pete shelley gay"

Pete Shelley gay?

is jackie ferry gay?

Lou Reed gay bisexual

Honorable Mention:

Gone fishing crossdressing photos

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Music: Grieg

Last night, I relaxed under the open sky, drinking vinho verde and listening to a spectacular live performance of Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor. It was one of the last Grant Park Music Festival events of the summer, another bittersweet reminder that fall is almost here. The pianist on Saturday was Valentina Lisitsa. I wish I could have embedded a clip of her performing the piece, but she seems to exercise tight control of her brand, especially when it comes to content on YouTube. Instead, I've included the best performance of (part of) Part 3 that I could find there, by Norwegian Steffen Horn, accompanied by an unidentified orchestra. Many pianists play the "dance" part too quickly; I like Horn's more nuanced interpretation.

There are two concerts remaining in the season. They are free, and you can bring a picnic, wine included.

Grant Park Music Festival [Link]

Friday, August 8, 2008

Breast Cancer Comics

The New York Times recently reviewed the graphic novel "The Bottomless Belly Button," by Dash Shaw. An astonishing 720 pages, the story follows an extended family as they react to the news that the grandparents are getting a divorce. There's a lot of buzz around "The Bottomless Belly Button;" New York magazine called it the "graphic novel of the year." And, there's just as much interest in the author and artist, 25 year-old Dash Shaw. For such youth, he's prolific, having already inked critically acclaimed "The Mother's Mouth," and several shorter works.

When I Googled him, I was surprised to see his name attached to a search result for "Breast Cancer Comics," from the web site Readers submit their stories, and Shaw (who looks about fourteen in his profile photo) interprets them in graphic form. Perhaps it was a good gig for a starving artist. I somehow have the feeling he's about to become too famous for this kind of work.

"A Week at the Beach, With a Divorce Imminent" Book of the Times. [Link]

Breast Cancer Comics [Link]

Dash Shaw's website [Link]

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lady Doctors vs. Baby Doctors

I'm guest-blogging for the next two weeks at Cancer Bitch, while she concentrates on moving into a new place. I'll cross-post everything here, but do check out her blog if you haven't before. The University of Iowa press will publish her book Cancer Bitch some time next year.

Last week, I had my first gynecological exam since I started cancer treatment. TMI, you say? None of you complained when I wrote about breasts.

I haven't had the best of luck with gynecologists. There was Dr. Shifty, at my old HMO, who constantly glanced around the room while I asked questions, as if seeking an escape route. Then, Dr. Gorgeous, who lectured me about birth control while he was down there. Uncomfortable. The last one, Dr. Soccermom, hurt me during the examination, and blamed me, saying I was "too tense." Pain does make me tense.

So, my expectations were low when I walked into yet another waiting room of an OB/GYN practice; this time recommended by my internist. After filling out the new patient forms, I started to browse the magazine selection. They had a couple of obligatory copies of Parenting, but also a number of news magazines and, to my delight, the latest issue of ReadyMade. If you're not familiar with ReadyMade, it's the bible of hipster Do-It-Yourself-ers; sort of a combination Popular Mechanics/Good Housekeeping for Generation Y. It's a pretty unusual magazine to find in a doctor's office.

One of the big problems I've had with OB/GYNs in the past is the feeling that they're really OBs, and the GYN part is an afterthought. This was first time I didn't automatically feel like a second-class citizen for not being pregnant. Dr. Soccermom's waiting room was full of baby magazines, brochures about breast-feeding, and mini photo albums of infants she caught on their way out. I have nothing against babies; I actually was one, at one time. But how about a little photo album of women you've successfully guided through menopause--hmmm? We're probably not cute enough.

The new gynecologist, who I will now think of as Dr. ReadyMade, was wonderful! First, we met in his office to discuss any concerns, a pleasant alternative to having to ask questions while half-naked and on an exam table. During the examination, he told me what he was doing and took care to cause minimal discomfort. I don't say this about a lot of docs, but he's a keeper.

ReadyMade [Link]

"Gynecologists say the darndest things" Radar [Link]

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Music: Black Lips

It's been a good week for music. On Monday, I finally got to see Bill Callahan live. Like a big dork, I lurked near the stage door after the concert. I never do that kind of thing. A friendly-looking senior couple waited next to me. His parents? A roadie came out and escorted them backstage. I resigned myself to the fact that he was probably not going to come out, and started to leave. The bass player, who had stepped out for a smoke, was walking toward me. "Excuse me," I said, startling him. "I had a ticket to see you guys in getting chemo and got too sick to go." I was getting more embarrassed by the moment. "I just wanted to say...uh...that this was nice." God, then I started choking up. He smiled and thanked me.

On Friday, I saw Atlanta's Black Lips at the Empty Bottle. The band, which has been around for about eight years, plays driving punk/country/blues anthems guaranteed to get the audience both moshing and singing along. It was a great show. "O Katrina!," a bluesy tune from the 2007 album GOOD BAD NOT EVIL, is one of the best songs about the destruction of New Orleans that I've heard. Who needs lofty poetry to describe the disaster? It was a betrayal, plain and simple.

Black Lips (Wikipedia) [Link]