Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Goodbye Aughts, and may the next decade be more peaceful and kind.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happyhappy Joyjoy

I will be too crazy busy this weekend to post music, and you will be too crazy busy to listen. Have a wonderful last day of Hanukkah or Winter Solstice or Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Music: Dan Deacon

Dan Deacon's equipment setup
Photo by Milo Winningham

Apparently, I am the last person in America to see "Drinking out of Cups," Dan Deacon and Liam Lynch's hilarious CGI animation. In it, a sarcastic lizard with a Long Island accent spends most of the cartoon crudely dismissing random bizarre imagery.

I find Dan Deacon incredibly annoying, seeing how he was born a couple months after I graduated from college, yet has already accomplished enough for several lifetimes. After completing a Master's degree in "Electro-acoustic composition," he moved to Baltimore and founded Wham City, an art and music collective. Wham City helped to revitalize the arts scene in Baltimore, and created a much-needed creative gravitational pull away from Brooklyn.

Deacon's multimedia performances are big fun, with lots of audience participation and dancing, all driven by delirious/demented electro-pop played using vintage electronics and instruments. As a matter of fact, his music is so demented that I'm unsure as to whether it will stand the test of time. I doubt Deacon cares all that much; he's said one of his major influences were the Looney Tunes cartoons, and that he hoped his music would be like that produced by some "really cool six-year-olds." Here he is on local Georgia television, channeling a combination of Alvin & the Chipmunks, The Talking Heads and Mork from Ork.

Dan Deacon: Interview. From The Tape is not Sticky [Link]

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Overheard: Generation Y

College students:
Boy: ...While we were there, we went to the Reagan Presidential Library.
Girl: Really?
Boy: Yeah! They have a big piece of the Berlin Wall with graffiti and stuff.
Girl: Cool!
Boy: We watched this clip of him saying "Tear down this wall," and there was a thing for little kids where they could build a wall out of blocks and knock it down. It was really cute.
Girl: Reagan was cool.
[Talk shifts to games]
Girl: I like playing dude games!
Boy: Ha ha...then you've played Frank's Adventure?
Girl: No...I don't think so.
Boy: Oh you'd love it! This guy has to get naked pics of girls but they're all cokeheads, so he has to score some coke first. It's really funny!

Editor's note: I found this game online, but could never figure out how to make money to buy the coke.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Music: Laura Nyro

I picked up a stack of music last week, including a compilation of Dusty Springfield's A and B sides, and Laura Nyro's 1971 album with Labelle, Gonna Take a Miracle. While listening to the first, I found an article by Springfield's former lover, Canadian rocker Carol Pope. Although she never formerly came out as a lesbian, Dusty Springfield's attraction to women was the stuff of industry gossip. Gifted, yet wildly insecure, she drank and caroused her way out of her relationship with Pope. At the end of the piece, Pope described attending her funeral with her manager and friend, Vicki Wickham, who had introduced the two lovers.

Wickham is an intriguing person: a closeted (for most of her career) lesbian who made it in the mostly-male business of pop music. At the age of 20, she produced and booked one of the first television pop music shows in England, Ready, Steady, Go!". Wickham became a sought-after manager and producer. When she took on Labelle, a 60's girl group, she persuaded them to wear outlandish silver spacesuits and record "Lady Marmalade." It was an extremely successful re-branding, and the song hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 1975.

So what's this have to do with Laura Nyro? Singer/songwriter Nyro was only 17 when she sold her first hit, "And When I Die," to Peter, Paul and Mary. Although she was marketed as a folk singer, her soul and jazz-inflected style didn't always sit well with folk audiences. Nyro also disliked the grind of touring and record promotion. Her best songs become hits for other artists, like The 5th Dimension. Albums such as Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968) and New York Tendaberry (1969) had a limited audience when released, but influenced many later songwriters and performers. In 1970, Vicki Wickham introduced Patti LaBelle to Laura Nyro, and the two became close friends. Nyro and members of Labelle recorded Gonna Take a Miracle, an album of Motown covers. Nyro left and then returned to the music business twice between 1972 and 1984. Even devoted fans felt that her best work was behind her. She died of ovarian cancer in 1997, survived by a son and a female partner.

"Ready, Vicki, Go." The Guardian [Link]

"Laura Nyro, Intense Balladeer of the 60's and 70's, Dies at 49" The New York Times [Link]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Music: We Five

This is a live performance on Hollywood Palace (c.1965), a variety show that was guest-hosted each week. It seems a waste of Fred Astaire to have him introducing pop groups. We Five's hit song, "You Were On My Mind," was penned by Canadian folksinger Sylvia Tyson, of Ian & Sylvia.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Music: Arthur Russell

The very thought of trying to write a "short" bio of the late Arthur Russell makes me feel so tired, I want to lie down. The following pretty much sums up his career: when Russell died, he left behind over a thousand tapes of his own work. At least 40 of those were just different mixes of the same song. Prolific and protean, he wrote and recorded avant-garde string music, proto-house-techno, modernist disco fusion and his own brand of eccentric, sweet pop. I included clips of two of the latter, his most accessible music. The playlist beneath has some examples of the other genres.

Russell was part of the New York downtown scene during the heyday of punk and new wave, and was a friend and collaborator with Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass and David Byrne, among others. His life was tragically cut short by AIDS, in 1992. In recent years, Audika Records has released several albums of his work.

Audika Records: Come to Life. Arthur Russell [Link]

Arthur Russell Playlist: Get Around To It (4:59)/Sketch for the Face of Helen (2:38)/Let's Go Swimming (7:58)/Terrace of Inintelligibility Part 2 (9:31)


Friday, November 6, 2009

Brainworm: Visqueen

This week, I've had a new brainworm--that is, a song I just can't get out of my head. Unlike the Starship selection, this a good brainworm. The song is "Ward" from Seattle band Visqueen's new album, Message to Garcia. Any resemblance of frontwoman Rachel Flotard's vocals to Neko Case are not entirely accidental. They are buddies, and Neko makes a guest appearance on a few of the tracks.


Please take time to visit the website of their hometown radio station KEXP, which provided this clip. KEXP's live stream and podcasts keep me rockin' through those long afternoons.

Buy Message to Garcia at Amazon [Link]

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Music: Sixto Rodriguez

Forgotten geniuses. In the last half-century, the U.S. music industry has created quite a few of these. Is it my imagination, or do many of these rediscovered artists happen to not be white? One thing is clear: minority performers weren't cut much slack when it came to eccentric or difficult behavior. At an industry showcase in 1970, singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez invited a member of the Brown Berets, a Hispanic activist organization similar to the Black Panthers, to join him on stage. His revolutionary fervor did him no favors with the recording industry executives in the audience. Mediocre sales, in addition to his being "unmarketable," led to his being dropped by his label.

Rodriguez was born the sixth child of a Mexican-American family in Detroit. A gifted lyricist, he wrote songs that were political without being polemic. The album Cold Fact (1970), which sold poorly in the U.S., was exactly right for the political climate of South Africa. Rodriguez became somewhat of a legend in S.A. and Australia, even touring with the Aussy group Midnight Oil in the early 80s. It took about 30 years for his reputation to catch up in the country of his birth. Here's "Sugar Man," with a lovely psychedelic video that somewhat belies the desolation of the lyrics.

Cold Fact-A Retrospective (from [Link]

"Sixto Rodriguez: the rock'n'roll Lord Lucan" [Link]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chicago Snapshots

The sunflower that ate Chicago

Elston Avenue, at sunset

The first four photographs were filtered using the iPhone application CameraBag. Photos 1-3 are from the Forgotten Chicago tour of west Pilsen and Little Village. These neighborhoods are largely un-gentrified, and remind me of how the north side of Chicago looked when I first moved here, in 1984. Photo number 2 is an old Schlitz "tied" house. Tied houses were possibly the first franchise concept ever: a tavern where everything from the product and interior furnishings, to the building itself, were supplied by one brewer. The prohibition killed these off, and laws afterwards prevented brewers from owning taverns.

A cluster of Schlitz and Stege brewery houses still stand within blocks of each other in the Pilsen/Little Village area. As we took pictures of a former Stege house, a trio of middle-school-aged girls hung out of the windows of an apartment building across the street. "Is this a famous bar?!!" one of them asked, since a crowd of white people with cameras is not exactly a common sight in Little Village. I tried to explain that it was sorta famous, in the context of things. The girls gazed on at the tavern with a new reverence.

"Tied Houses" Forgotten Chicago. [Link]

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Music: Starship

This gentleman is Vincent Falk, aka Suit Man, Fashion Man or "Riverace." He has only partial eyesight. His day job is as a computer programmer, but after work he stands on the State Street bridge and peacocks wildly colorful attire at passing tour boats. If you ever happen upon him, take a moment to chat and be subjected to some of the corniest jokes outside of a Bazooka Joe gum wrapper. I was kind of down the day I took this photo, but he had me laughing out loud. I asked him where he gets his suits. Roberto's, of course! Roberto's Men and Boys Clothing is the mens' apparel outlet for street-corner preachers and aficionados of "Purple Rain" co-star Morris Day. If you need a fuchsia satin frock coat or an electric-blue fedora, Roberto's can hook you up. The Roberto's store building also has the distinction of being voted one of the "10 Ugliest Buildings in the Loop" by the Chicago Tribune.

I took Suit Man's picture with my iPhone. I just love the iPhone app CameraBag, which allows you to apply filters that can change your photo's appearance to that of an older camera or print process. The top snap is "Lolo," (Lomo) followed by "1974," which captures the washed-out quality of of Dad's Instamatics from that era. Others that I like are "Helga" (Holga) and the b&w "1962" filter. I'll put some of the other filtered pics in my next post.

As I struggled to come up with a topic for today's post, I kept humming a song chorus that had become a persistent brainworm.

We built this city
We built this city on Rock an' Roll!
Built this city
We built this city on Rooock an' Roooll!

Oh dear God...I have had to listen to this song twice a week for the last two months. That's every time I take my fitness bootcamp class. Appropriately enough, I am starting to associate it with physical pain.

"We Built This City," was released in 1985 by Starship, a band that was formed by a couple of Jefferson Airplane...meh, who cares? The song, which is very catchy despite having ridiculously bombastic lyrics that sound like they were penned by someone with a brain injury (i.e, Bernie Taupin), made #1 on the Billboard charts. I didn't have cable in 1985, so perhaps that explains why I have no memory of this hilarious music video. A couple of observations: Grace Slick has never looked worse. Also, if I was the director, I damn well would have gotten more for my money out of the Abe Lincoln statue impersonator. How about having Abe break dance or something? He also should have had a second appearance in the video, perhaps running in front of the giant die.

In closing, as the wise t-shirt said, "A city built on rock and roll would be structurally unsound."

Vincent: A Life in Color [Link]

Roberto's Building (Chicago Architecture Info) [Link]

Run for your life! It's the 50 worst songs ever! [Link]

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fall Back in Fall #2

Did you notice the sky and the light after sunset on Tuesday? The side of a delivery van, a pile of construction rubble, an empty storefront; they all glowed like coals.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Music: Fall Back in Fall

It's Indian summer--that bittersweet junction between seasons, when the Sun rides low in the sky, and 7 o'clock shadows arrive at 4. After a cold and rainy June, July and (most of) August, our garden bears fruit with an air of desperation. Tomatoes appear and abruptly fall off the vine, barely pink. Sunflowers grow several inches each day, collapsing under the weight of their seed heads. Our giant, weak plants are now securely anchored with green garden twine.

September also brings the Hideout Block Party, although this year it was actually the 15th anniversary party for Bloodshot Records, Chicago's venerated alt-country label. I have a personal connection to Bloodshot, since co-founder Nan Warshaw DJ'd at our wedding.

As outdoor festivals go, this one was light on the tchotchke booths. In truth, who needs to see another array of cheap sunglasses and light sticks? Mexican wrestling masks though--perfect!

Moonshine Willy (above) was the first band to sign a single with Bloodshot, back in the alt-country heyday of the mid 1990s. Looking at the audience, most of whom seemed to be in their late 30's and early 40's, one had to wonder whether American music has another country fusion in it. Recently, the influential music blog Aquarium Drunkard declared that the alt-country resurgence from the 1990's was coasting. Certainly alt-country's best talents, like Jeff Tweedy (formerly of Uncle Tupelo), broke away from the genre and went rock at first opportunity.

I have one degree of separation from the hillbilly roots that inspired alt-country. My father grew up in rural Ohio, a place that in the 1930's might as well been Arkansas. He had memories of the first radio in the county, and the momentous year President Roosevelt brought electricity to their little farm. With that improvement, his family could join the thousands of others who listened, each week, to The Grand Ole Opry radio show. Country music had become the soul music of poor, white America.

One wonders whether it is possible to revive roots country with an eye toward progression of the genre. Perhaps the biggest problem facing alt-country is it's audience. They just don't make white people like they used to--people who farmed a few hard-scrabble acres, made white lightening and died of TB (my great-grandparents) or black lung before they reached old age.

There's a dark and a troubled side of life
There's a bright, there's a sunny side, too
Tho' we meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

[From "Keep on the Sunny Side of Life" by the Carter Family]

The true inheritors of my grandparent's lives, poor rural whites, are a shrinking minority in America, and they are more likely to listen to death metal or hip-hop than to alt-country. So, perhaps it is a genre that will both never grow and never die, subject to periodic rediscovery by a people longing for roots.

I'll close with my favorite from the entire day's lineup, The Waco Brothers. Leave it to a Brit, the irrepressible Jon Langford (who I just saw with the Mekons), to recapture the true grit of rockabilly.

Grieving Angel (or, What Happened to alt.Country) at Aquarium Drunkard

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CTA Stories: So Close

I got on a mid-day Red Line train, and took the nearest available seat, one of the side-ways ones next to the door. My companion in the next seat was a 40-ish east Asian man. I could feel his eyes boring into me. "Haiiii," he said loudly. "Hi," I replied and started digging around in my bag for a power bar. He intently watched as I unwrapped the bar and took a bite. "A snneck...snack?" he asked. I nodded and kept on chewing. "What is...the writing?" and he reached for the wrapper in my left hand. He read it out loud "Soooy Joy. Soy Joy." I offered him my second bar, which he declined. "Thought it was CHOEcolate."

We pulled into the Monroe station, and a young couple and a girl in a short, baby-doll dress got on. The latter, who had most of her long tanned legs exposed, stood directly across from us. My friend looked her up and down. His gaze was without any heat. It seemed more like that of scientist who had just encountered a new species. Glued to her iPhone, the girl never appeared to notice him. She got off a couple of stops later.

Just across from us, the young couple were canoodling. The boy was tall and whippet-thin, and wore a chain as thick as my little finger. On it dangled a sparkly egg-sized pendant, meant to represent a money bag. While he giggled and exchanged meaningful looks with his sweetie, he toyed with her hoop earring. They drew ever nearer, until body contact was absolute.

"So CLOSE!" my friend exclaimed, pointing at them. "You never see in a Adjun (Asian) country!" "Well, they're in love," I explained. A man seated near us began to laugh. The boy and girl, looking a little embarrassed, scampered back into the hobo corner at the end of the car. As I found out later, my fellow passenger was visiting from Korea. We chatted briefly about Korean television--last year, I developed an addiction to Dae Jang Geum--and then it was time for me to leave. He said goodbye with an air of distraction, already looking around for another example of bizarre Chicago behavior.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Music: Was (Not Was) and Man Man

I've been taking a couple weeks off from listening to music. I've been reading a book--an actual book made out of paper--and sitting in my garden, weather permitting.

Last week, I saw the animated feature Ponyo. It was refreshing to watch gorgeous hand-drawn animation again, instead of the slick, computer-generated stuff currently dominating the screen. I remember seeing Luxo, Jr.,the early CGI short by Pixar, at an animation festival in the late 80's. It killed, as they say. The audience actually applauded. At the same showing was Christoph Simon's animation for the Was (Not Was) track "Hello Dad, I'm in Jail." I still really like it, as well as the Was brothers'* foray into hardcore (jazzcore?). I can't believe they're the same guys who did "Walk The Dinosaur." Embedding has been blocked, so watch it here.

*they weren't really brothers

And a more recent selection by Philly's Man Man. Borderline NSFW.

Man Man (Official Site) Link

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Music: A Fifth of Beethoven

My troubled relationship with the month of August began in 1965. That was the year I completed summer vacation between 1st and 2nd grade. Even though my birthday was in August, the dread of the coming school year overshadowed the promise of gifts and chocolate cake. My freedom was nearing an end. No more swinging on grapevines with the neighbor boys, catching toads and crayfish in the nearby stream, or day-dreaming in the endlessly green, afternoon shade. I also wasn't allowed to draw pictures at length. They didn't seem to like my pictures anyway, since the color always went outside the lines. At recess, I was supposed to play with girls, but their behavior was puzzling. One game involved two of them twirling a rope while another jumped over it, chanting. It seemed both difficult and tedious. But, the worst thing about school were the potty breaks. At regular intervals of time--which were probably much shorter than the eons I remember--we lined up and visited the restrooms. This caused me untold anxiety. I had never had to "hold" it before, and was unsure about how long was too long. Another girl wet her pants while seated at her desk. I still remember her tear-streaked face.

This August has definitely lived down to expectations. In no particular order: mom in hospital for four days (she's ok now), lost (and dead) cat, stepped on glass then broke baby toe, migraine (?), detached dental veneer/crown and several oncology appointments. I have had a couple good days--ones where I haven't been crying or mutilating my feet. One of those was Saturday, when we went to Millennium Park for the final classical program of the summer. The performance was of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which ends with the chorus "Ode to Joy." It was beautiful, "august" even. But, you still can't dance to it, and my feet are long overdue. The single "A Fifth of Beethoven" hit number one in 1976, and was later featured on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

A Fifth of Beethoven [At]

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yellow is the saddest color

It finally feels like summer here in Chicago. After a cold and wet June and July, ninety-degree days remind us of why people used to abandon the city. There are few things more dispiriting than summer heat radiating off of scorched pavement.

And, in this heat, a door was left open too long. Our cat Yellowboy is gone. I've plastered the neighborhood with fliers, walked the alleys in the wee hours and called all the shelters. I even visited the city shelter, a very melancholy place--a dump for unwanted animals. Last night, a teenager came to the door. He said that a yellow cat was hit by a car nearby. His family called "the vet," which I presume was really Animal Control, who came and got the cat. There's no way to confirm the story, or to even if it was Yellowboy. The city is not forthcoming with information, and seeing the enormous volume of animals housed at the shelter, I can understand why.

I am somewhat resigned to never seeing him again. So, here is Yellowboy's eulogy. He was a good cat. (Well, most of the time. Two weeks ago, he snuck an entire bbq chicken breast off of the counter.) When I came home from work, he greeted me. Cynics might say it was a plea for food, but he did so even when he had already been fed. He jumped on a chair near the door, and stood on his hind legs, his paws on my chest. His purring was ecstatic. It was flattering to have someone be that excited about my arrival.

Yellowboy loved dried apricots, and could hear a bag of them being opened from across the house. He enjoyed sitting in laundry baskets and boxes. He was also a direct communicator. One technique for rousing my husband for breakfast: gently gnawing on his toes. When he wanted to go on the back porch, he would start out meowing loudly, gradually rounding his catlips until the cry resembled the howl of a coyote. It was very annoying. I wish I could hear it again.


We found him. He had become entangled in a neighbor's central air-conditioning wiring and electrocuted. From the look of the body, he had only been dead a few hours, which makes it especially hard. Cats will sometimes hunker down when frightened. We both were in the alley behind that house half a dozen times, day and night, calling him. He must have been too terrified to even answer us.

He was a good little soul, and I will miss him terribly.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday Music: The Mekons

It's been a great week for music. On Thursday evening, I caught the Mekons at Schuba's. The core band members been performing together nearly continuously since they were art students in Leeds, England, back in the 70s. And wow, rock and roll will keep you young; Jon Langford danced like he was on fire, and Sally Timms still sent middle-aged hearts a-flutter with her blond eyelashes and impish way. A bit of their music, starting with the wonderful "Ghosts of American Astronauts" is here:
The Mekons (Myspace)

On Saturday night, I caught a promising young band, Blah Blah Blah, at the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. At times they sounded a little like a cross between the Smiths and Tortoise. I'd go see them again, especially if the Crown Liquor Dancers (actually, a bunch of tipsy neighborhood characters) are in attendance. Seriously, these guys are good, and closing out with a mix & scratch of Michael Jackson and James Brown tunes was a lovely way to end the evening.

Blah Blah Blah [at Sonicbids]

While enjoying a Bramble at The Whistler, I met Eddie Torrez and his partner Andrea. Eddie plays conjunto (Tejano style) accordion with The Delafields, a Chicago alt-country band. For the uninitiated: when conjunto accordion is played, es imposible no bailar. The Delafields next show is at Simon's Tavern on September 12.

The Delafields

Summer days are waning, so don't forget to get your daily dose of soul-fortifying music.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Music: The Fiery Furnaces

I missed Pitchfork this year, mostly due to getting the mother of all sinusitus headaches that weekend. I'm glad I was at least able to catch a performance by The Fiery Furnaces in Millennium Park. The band, fronted by siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, just released their eighth album, "I'm Going Away," with Chicago's Thrill Jockey label. I wanted to include something from the new album, but quite frankly don't like the most recent single/video. So instead, here's "Duplexes of the Dead," from 2007.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Music: Spirit

A recent New Yorker carried a few paragraphs on the closing of Manny's Music,located on 48th street. For over 60 years, the store was a mandatory stop for visiting guitarists, who congregated there to try out the latest axe.

It was at Manny's, in 1966, that (not-yet-famous) Jimi Hendrix met a teenager named Randy Wolfe, a recent transplant from Los Angeles. After hearing the boy play, Hendrix recruited him for his band, Jimmy James & The Blue Flames. Since there was already a Randy in the band, Hendrix dubbed him "Randy California." He played with Hendrix until a touring opportunity in England appeared, and Randy's parents wouldn't allow him to cut school to follow the band.

For the most part, Wolfe/California's family encouraged his musical career. His mother Beatrice had been the co-owner of The Ash Grove, one of the earliest folk, jazz and blues venues in Los Angeles. His stepfather was Ed Cassidy, a drummer who had played with artists as diverse as Cannonball Adderly and Ry Cooder. The Cassidys moved to New York for Ed to pursue some regular work. One neighbor in their Long Island apartment building was future Steely Dan founder Walter Becker, who later credited Randy with teaching him how to play guitar. California briefly played with Becker's band The Tangerine Puppets, along with John Cummings and Tommy Erdelyi, who found later notoriety as Johnny and Tommy Ramone.

The family returned to Los Angeles in 1968, and stepfather and son formed the band Spirit. Their debut album was a mild underground success, but the first single "I Got A Line On You," shot up the pop charts. Cassidy was in his mid-40s when the band was formed. Concerned that his age might negatively impact the "hipness" of the band's image, he shaved his head, wore dark shades and black motorcycle jackets, and was intentionally coy when asked about his past. Publicity photos of the band showed four hairy hippy-fabulous young dudes and a ghostly-looking character straight out of a Warhol short film. It was strangely compelling. Cassidy's nickname "Mr. Skin" became the title of another hit for Spirit on the album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, in 1970.

The band broke up and reformed repeatedly. California went off the grid in Molokai, Hawaii for a couple of years. Spirit had a final long, successful tour in the early 1990s. In 1997, Randy California was surfing with his young son when they were caught in a dangerous undertow. Randy saved the boy, but was unable to swim to safety himself. His body was never recovered.

I wanted to save the video of "I Got A Line On You" for last. Hearing it will, for me, forever evoke sitting on my downstairs neighbor's threadbare couch, facing two monumental speakers thudding with California's nimble Hendrix-like licks. Some herbs might have been involved.

The sound quality is terrible, but seeing the the band riding in a hooptie down Sunset Boulevard is the opposite of terrible.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

N.E. Road Trip

Like I said, it's summer and all, and computing is not on the top of my list. I was out of town for a week, driving in a huge triangle with points in Boston, northern VT and the Hudson valley in NY, while visiting friends and family. The pic above is with my lovely niece, who is getting her M.A. in writing from Emerson. It was taken at her place of employment, a bookstore within walking distance of Harvard University.

The Boston/Cambridge area is crazy with bookstores, a number of them specializing in a particular genre, like the Grolier Poetry Bookshop. Poetry-only bookstore = We're not in Kansas, anymore. In fact, there are eighty indie book stores in the state of Massachusetts, according to the American Booksellers Association directory. I couldn't help but wonder if a recent report by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, which ranked Massachusetts as having the lowest rate of obesity in the United States, could be correlated with the number of independent bookstores. The "fattest" state, Mississippi, has only eleven members in the ABA directory. See?--books make you thin.

Abbott Memorial Library, jahfool (Creative Commons)

On the way to northern Vermont, I stayed in Woodstock overnight. Even though it was after 5:00, the long summer light afforded me an opportunity to drive high up into the mountains near town. Before heading back, I stopped in the crossroads of Teago, which technically is part of South Pomfret. It was late, but the lights were on in the pretty little library located on one of the two roads, named appropriately enough, "Library Street." I tried the front door--it was open! An elderly Pekinese waddled up to me and wuffed once or twice. "Hellooo..?" called out a woman's voice from a back room. I had walked into the library board meeting. They were struggling to write a mission statement. I stayed and chatted a while, mostly about libraries and mission statements, and then headed back to Woodstock for dinner.

Some of the vacation was spent hanging out with my former CCAD classmates Grant and Roger. Grant, who lives near Burlington, started illustrating catalogs for an outdoor shoe company. He now diagrams and designs prototypes of the same. As we made our way up Mt. Philo, Grant was able to identify some of his shoes on fellow hikers. This is a pic of him in his home studio with his (shoe-crazy) lab Mavis. This is only about a third of the shoes and boots in his studio. Behind him is a portrait of young Grant by our classmate Jean, and his delightful Halloween troll costume, made with a gray sweatshirt and a ton of ingenuity.

Grant's wife Hope is a talented quilter, and recently won the Governor's Award at the VT Quilt Festival for "Honey, I'm Home" (scroll down).

Roger is a sculpture technician in the Fine Arts program at SUNY. That means he maintains equipment and materials needed for sculpture, and trains and advises students on techniques, like pouring in the foundry, for example. A big part of his job is maintaining safety. Nearly every sculpture technique looks like it could potentially kill or maim--at least to me. I remember my freshman year 3-D Design class, and my terror of the power tools. Upperclassmen enjoyed telling us tales like the one about the girl who let her long hair drop into the belt sander. That one may have been apocryphal.

Anyway, I digress. Above is Roger and and his partner Robin. She is a painter, and her work focuses on images of pets, toys and our emotional projections thereon. They have a home in a beautiful wooded glen near New Paltz. There's a few celebrity summer people in New Paltz; Roger once saw Robert De Niro at the grocery store, looking so unassuming as to be nearly unrecognizable. It was the tall, fiercely Teutonic-looking woman standing next to De Niro who initially caught his attention. Uma Thurman? I'm jealous; all we have here is Oprah. I once was in the checkout line behind Lester Holt when he was still a local anchor. He was buying canned green beans, for god's sake.

Good people, good trip, many lessons learned (e.g. do not eat clams in Vermont).

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Music: Pop Gear Dancers

Sorry for the irregular's summer and all. To make up for it, here's some pretty ladies in tight gold pants. The presenter is Jimmy Savile, who claims to be the first DJ to use two turntables, for continuous play.

Jimmy Savile [Wikipedia] [Link]

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Music: Rotary Connection

It's funny how youthful memories often come with a soundtrack. One of my earliest is of bouncing on the back seat of the Falcon, in time to "This Diamond Ring" by Gary Lewis and The Playboys. In 1975, I spent much of the summer floating in a pool and chasing an elusive tan. After I saw a video of Minnie Riperton singing "Lovin' You," I could almost smell the chlorine. Yes, boy in my Spanish class who is unaware of my existence, "Looovin' you is easy 'cause you're beau-ti-ful..." Riperton, who had a nearly six octave (!) range, came out of semi-retirement to record the album Perfect Angel, which included the single "Lovin' You." She had stopped performing to raise a family with songwriter/producer Richard Rudolph.

Minnie Riperton was a Chicago native who, because of her vocal gifts, was encouraged to train for the opera. Instead, she recorded with girl group The Gems, and did backup singing for other artists. In 1966, she joined the psychedelic soul band Rotary Connection. Marshall Chess, the son of the founder of Chess Records, recruited Charles Stepney as producer and arranger, and added the members of the rock band The Proper Strangers, with whom Riperton sometimes performed.

Although admired by critics, Rotary Connection failed to gain any traction outside of the Chicago area. It could have been aesthetics, but more likely it was poor marketing. Although the musical arrangements are sometimes over the top, as is the hippy-dippy philosophizing, such was the zeitgeist. After all, "Reach Out Of The Darkness," a hilariously earnest song by Friend and Lover, reached number ten on the U.S. charts.

Riperton met her husband while a member of Rotary Connection. Their daughter is actress and comedienne Maya Rudolph, best known for her work in SNL. Minnie Riperton died in 1979, after a long battle with breast cancer. She was only 31.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Music: The Books

Right now I'm missing one of the coolest artists to hit Chicago this year, The Books. I didn't jump on tickets quickly enough, and they sold out. Normally, I'd hang out at the venue and see if I could scare up a ticket, but I have out of town guests, anyway.

Almost too sweet for the label "avant garde," the New York-based duo's music rests at the intersection of electronica and folk, using layers of samples to create strange little sound paintings.

"The Books" from New Music Box [Link]

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dear live music audience


I just found this clip of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy reading the riot act to some audience members who chose to talk during an acoustic song. I'm pleased Tweedy wouldn't stand for such rudeness. It reminds me of the time I saw Patti Smith tell a fan who kept keening "Paaaatiiii! I looove you!" to be quiet. "Nobody wants to hear that shit!" she snarled.

Did people talk as much or as loudly during live musical performances twenty years ago as they do now? Maybe my memory fails me, or maybe the concerts I attended back then were too loud to allow conversation. Saturday night, I saw Robyn Hitchcock at the Logan Square Auditorium. The audience skewed toward my age, and most were reverently attentive. Not however, the two Trixies behind me, who were talking non-stop. Instead of acting on homicidal fantasies, I moved to another spot.

When I saw Will Oldham at the Walker Art Center, there was a talker, a young woman, seated on a cushion at the foot of the stage. She must have had a brain injury, or just snorted a line of coke. I mean, there has to be some plausible explanation for the torrent of chatter pouring out of her cake hole. The worst of it was during the opening act. It's a thankless job to open for Bonnie "Prince" Billy, made even more so when forced to listen to this during one's set:


And so on, for at least 30 minutes, like somebody had put a quarter in her. She finally settled down after Oldham came out and her friends ignored her. I am bewildered by this behavior. Issues of etiquette aside, why would you pay $30 for a concert ticket and then use the time to catch up with your buddies?

I see I'm not the only one puzzled by this.

Dave Herrera. "So what's with all the talk during shows?" Westworld [Link]

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Music: The Equals

The Equals on German television, c. 1968.

In his profile of the band in Roctober, James Porter summed it up nicely. "Imagine Sly Stone fronting the 1910 Fruitgum Co. and you've just described the Equals." Lead Eddy Grant, best known in the U.S. for his 1983 solo hit "Electric Avenue," was born in Guyana. His infectious tunes sound very Caribbean to me, perhaps a touch influenced by Shanto, the Guyanese version of calypso.

"The Equals: Puttin' Some Rock & Roll In Your Soul." James Porter. Roctober [Link]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Amusing Searches

real undead cases

attack of the fifty foot hillbilly

rabbit benign pendulous tumors photos

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Music: Happy Easter

"Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits," by The Magnetic Fields. This is one of the best music videos ever made.

69 Love Songs Companion [Link]

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Music: Evie Sands

Singer/songwriter Evie Sands should have been a shoo-in as the American Petula Clark. But, in the hit-crazed environment of the early 60s, Evie had a few bad breaks. Her first recording for Blue Cat Records, "Take Me For A Little While," was stolen by a producer from Chess, re-recorded and released a full week before Sands' version. The controversy over the theft buried her next single, "I Can't Let Go." In 1966, the song was a huge hit for The Hollies. A little trivia: "I Can't Let Go" was written by Chip Taylor, who also authored the classic garage-pop "Wild Thing." Taylor's real name is James Voight, and his brother is actor Jon Voight.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Obama Fan Art

Has any other sitting president generated this much bad thrift store art? I looked around to see if I could find anything similar for George W. Bush, and: nada...bupkis. I felt a little sorry for him, actually. You'd think Bill Kristol could of done a quick pencil sketch or something. Anyway, there are still some "Laughing Bush" posters left at Dan Lacey's website.

Bad Paintings of Obama [Link

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Music: The Baldwin Brothers

In the last month, I've had the misfortune to hear some really bad sampling. Bad sampling happens when the artist has little depth or breadth of musical knowledge and/or lacks the talent to actually compose. Using an eight-second loop from Queen's "We Will Rock You," is pathetic. After being subjected to the last (courtesy of one of Girl Talk's mashups), I had to go home and listen to The Baldwin Brothers' Cooking With Lasers, just to cleanse the palate.

I'm not sure why I purchased Cooking With Lasers back in 2002--just dumb luck, I guess. All I know is that I've listened that CD to death. If it were on vinyl, it would be scratched and dinged beyond recognition. Childhood friends (not brothers) TJ Widner and Jason Hinkle created a sizzling combo of funky samples and instrumentals that they facetiously called "junktronic." The samples on CWL are mostly obscure or unrecognizable and deftly mixed, which makes it...whaddaya call it...MUSIC.

The Baldwin Brothers appear to be on permanent hiatus, and a Google search indicates that Widner and Hinkle are sticking to their day jobs. It's too bad, but at least they left this gem for repeated listening, and perhaps to provide some schooling for callow young mixologists.

"Funky Junkyard," "Urban Tumbleweed" and "Dream Girl"

"Viva Kneivel"

Cooking With Lasers (at [Link]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Adventures of Cancer Bitch

S.L. Wisenberg will read from her book The Adventures of Cancer Bitch at Women & Children First bookstore, located at 5233 N. Clark Street. The event starts at 7:30 pm. this evening (March 25). Cancer Bitch and I have the dubious distinction of firing the same oncologist, who was listed in one of Chicago Magazine's "Top Doctors" lists.

Women & Children First [Link]

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Music: Will Oldham

"Spoonbridge," Claes Oldenburg. Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

A day after getting back from Seattle, I was once again on a plane. Will Oldham, otherwise known as Bonnie "Prince" Billy, was touring the midwest. Unfortunately, his Chicago date was during my trip to Seattle. I bought a ticket for his performance at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. It was a great concert, and could hardly have been more intimate. The McGuire Theater at the Walker has only 384 seats, and I was in the front row, if one didn't count the dozen or so cushions at my feet, which were occupied by adoring young fans. Oldham's performance style is eccentric; half the time he was perched on one foot, stork-like, and used elaborate hand gestures to accompany his vocals. I don't think it was intended to be ironic. As one reviewer has said, he seems to be devoid of any inhibitions, and lets his body do whatever the music tells it to do.

On the flight back to Chicago, I pondered my recent urban adventures. What do I love so much about visiting other cities? Here's a short guide for how to maximize your enjoyment of a city:

1. Stay an inexpensive hotel or a hostel located away from urban shopping malls and other tourist entertainments.
2. Find a grocery store--preferably within walking distance--and buy some fresh fruit and healthy snacks. Having good food available will prevent "vacation bloat," from eating out too much, too often.
3. Use public transportation and/or walk. You will stumble upon many wonders not found in guide books.
4. For the most unique dining experiences, stay with small, unpretentious restaurants. Pricey restaurants are often marvelous, but the menus are interchangeable. Search for the best street food, or some local or ethnic treat that is specific to the city.
5. Find a copy of the local free paper, stat. It's the best place for live music and theater listings.

"Agnes, Queen of Sorrows" by Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Monday, March 16, 2009


I've been in Seattle for the last five days, and haven't had time to listen (carefully) to any music. Instead of throwing a clip of Hendrix or Cobain at you, here's another favorite son of the city, Bruce Lee. My first introduction to Lee was from watching the 1970s TV show Longstreet, starring James Franciscus. There was a spate of gimmick cop shows during that era: Ironside (detective in wheelchair), Cannon (fat detective who looked like Grover Cleveland) and Kojak (bald detective who liked lollipops). The gimmick in Longstreet was that he had been blinded (and widowed) while opening a booby-trapped bottle of champagne. I had a huge crushie on the lead, James Franciscus, and kept a TV Guide feature about him lovingly wrapped in tissue paper under my folded sweaters. You see, puberty wasn't going well for me, at least according to what I could see in the mirror. The idea of having a blind boyfriend was appealing.

My ongoing love affair with James Franciscus prevented me from fully appreciating the talents of his costar, Bruce Lee. In the clip above, Lee gets all grandmastery and philosophical with his blind student while crazy jazz plays in the background. Watching it, I wonder why the saggy crotch of Franciscus' sweat pants didn't bother me in 1971.

Just because, here's the graphics and opening title them (by Quincy Jones) for the show Ironside, starring Raymond Burr.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunday Music: Arthur Alexander

In an interview shortly after the release of his 1993 comeback album Lonely Just Like Me, Arthur Alexander explained why he left the music business. "When you make a hit record, you kinda want to get paid." Like many black artists of that era, the singer/songwriter signed over his publishing rights, believing he would receive royalties. For the most part, he earned little from songs like "Anna," and "You Better Move On," which were covered by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Alexander performed for a few more years, finally leaving the business for a steady job driving a social services bus in Cleveland. His return to music was brief; he died of a heart attack on June 9, 1993, shortly after beginning the album tour.

"Soldier of Love (Lay Down Your Arms)" wasn't authored by Alexander, but by the Nashville songwriting team of Cason and Moon. Alexander put the plaintive minor-key song on a single B-side, where it remained largely unnoticed until the Beatles performed it live on the BBC in 1963.

Arthur Alexander Biography [Link]

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Amusing Searches

old movie with a giant 50 ft breast moving through towns

balloon feet for dogs

easycare handlebar mustache

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Real Evil Undead

My new Macbook has a built-in camera, which gives me endless opportunities to be horrified by my own aging process. The craned-neck pose is good for disguising a softening jawline. Another observation: my hair doesn't seem to be growing. I mean, it IS growing, but at a glacial pace. At this rate, my bangs should reach my eyebrows by early 2010.

Recently a few people have asked me how I'm doing, always with penetrating eye contact and an emphasis on the first syllable of "DOing." I had my six month post-treatment mammogram in November, and saw my oncologist in December. There was no detectable sign of cancer. Each milestone is cause for hope, but I'd prefer to hold off on the high-fives for now. It's not that unusual to be "cancer-free" right after chemotherapy and radiation.

Cancer is kind of like--you know how in horror movies the undead appear in the context of their pre-zombie jobs? It adds some macabre humor, especially if the contrast is extreme. For example, there might be a zombie ice-cream truck driver staggering around his vehicle (which is still playing a continuous loop of "Turkey in the Straw") wearing a blood-spattered white uniform. Cancer cells, like zombies, once had perfectly normal jobs. My mammary gland cells were given the assignment to wait around for hormonal signals to start producing milk. Since I never gave them the go-ahead on that, they used their spare time creating painful little lumps and bumps of calcium in my girls. And then, some of them turned into cancer.

Normal cells are supposed to eventually die, a process called apoptosis. A cell with damaged DNA may not go into apoptosis, and the immune system has to detect and then assassinate it. Recent research hints that we all have had cancer, but in most cases the body's own death squad hunts down and kills it before it is detectable.

As I mentioned, my breast cancer used to be normal mammary cells. Unfortunately, once they become "zombies," cancer cells not only refuse to die, but multiply rapidly. They may also wander into the lymphatic and blood streams, which carry them to other body systems, where they continue to multiply. This is called metastatis, and it is how cancer of a non-vital organ system, like mammary glands, kills. Breast cancer, because of its previous legitimate "job," is especially attracted to calcium. Because of this, metastasis sometimes occurs in the bones.

Cancer is still maddenly difficult to detect until it's almost too late; after treatment, there's no way to know if it is really gone for good. It is ironic that a management regime is in place for a relatively new disease, HIV/AIDS. Although the disease and the drugs used to treat it are debilitating, HIV patients can live for nearly normal life spans. Perhaps instead of wearing pink t-shirts plastered with corporate logos and "walking for a cure," we cancer survivors should look to the examples of AIDS activists. We can chain ourselves to gates and scream at health officials and otherwise become so disagreeable that someone will figure out how to give us our lives back for good.

Sunday Music: Leonard Cohen

At age 74, Leonard Cohen is on tour. Tickets for his Chicago show go on sale tomorrow and holy crap...the best seats are going for $258! It's understandable; his return to live performance is sensational. Cohen hasn't toured in 15 years, spending five of those at a Zen monastery. In the meantime, his business manager absconded with most of his savings (estimated at $5 million), and the publishing rights to his music. Will I try to get tickets? Perhaps, although I always seem to have lousy luck with these online rushes.*

The performance above is "The Future," from the same-named album, released in 1992.

"On The Road, For Reasons Practical and Spiritual." The New York Times [Link]

*Sold Out, from Chicago to Boston. Ticket brokers are offering deals from $300 to $950 per seat.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Music: Judee Sill

During their most recent tour, the group Fleet Foxes performed a lovely Judee Sill song called "Crayon Angels." Sill died in 1979 from a drug overdose, nearly forgotten by the music industry. She should have been a star. David Geffen and Graham Nash were both fans and producers, and her song Lady-O was covered by the Turtles. But, her album sales were dismal, and long-time struggles with heroin, and then prescription painkillers, limited her ability to perform. The following is a performance on the BBC of "Jesus Was a Crossmaker," and "Lady-O," from her debut album Judee Sill, released in 1971 on Geffen's Asylum label.

"The Life and Times of Judy Sill," in Dusted Magazine [Link]

Thursday, February 19, 2009

CTA Stories: Dear Olympic Selection Committee

Yet another video of a completely out-of-control Chicago police officer giving somebody a beatdown. This one took place on my favorite CTA story bus, the #70 Division. There are a lot of good cops out there, but this city needs to do something about the bad apples before we even consider hosting an event like the Olympics.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Music: Moussa Doumbia

I haven't had much time to listen to "new" music in the last few weeks. This album is just one of several on my wishlist.

Love's a Real Thing: The Funky, Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa. Luaka Bop [Link]

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rainy day pick-up music: Mohammed Rafi

I was too busy this weekend for a music post. Fortunately, a friend sent me this clip, from a 1966 Bollywood film, of Mohammed Rafi performing "Jan Pehechan-Ho." It really cheered me up! Plus, one of the dancers looks like Rod Blagojevich (2:04).

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sunday Music: PJ Harvey

When I was a teen living in rural Ohio, there were at best two FM rock stations that I could regularly pick up. The strongest signal belonged to WMMS, out of Cleveland. Their playlist was mostly white, blue-collar and loud: Bob Seeger, The J. Geils Band, Eddie Money and, of course, The Boss. Very few female artists appeared in rotation. I mostly remember them playing Heart and the atrocious bodystocking-wearing Pat Benatar. I was a loyal reader of The Rolling Stone, it and Creem being the only music press available in the grocery store magazine rack. Rock was a boy's club in the RS, too. I'll never forget a male reviewer sneering about the quality of Chrissie Hynde's voice. Women were supposed to sound pretty, even when they were rocking.

In the 1970's I couldn't have imagined a Polly Jean Harvey. The first time I listened to her 1992 debut album Dry, I fantasized about running away to New York and playing in a band. It still makes me feel that way, which is what rock is supposed to do.

PJ Harvey (Wikipedia) [Link]

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cowboy Finery

"I see you found the coolest place in Denver!" A doorman at my hotel was commenting on my shopping bag from Rockmount Ranch Wear. It's one of the oldest western apparel stores in the United States. Rockmount founder Jack Weil passed away last year, at the age of 107. He came in to work for four hours a day as recently as a couple of weeks before his death. Bills of sale are still handwritten and then skewered on an office spike, although Jack apparently learned to use a computer for managing inventory. There was one new-fangled thing he couldn't abide: barcodes. The staff said he lost a military contract because of it; nobody ever knew what he had against them.

Oldest working CEO Jack Weil dies at 107. [Link]

Rockmount Ranch Wear [Link]

Photo by bittermelon. Copyright Commons, some rights reserved.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Music: Dead Kennedys

I'm in Denver this weekend, and had little time for musical exploration. I did go to El Chapultapec, a jazz club that was a hang-out of Neal Cassady. It appears to have changed little since the 1950s, which is admirable.

Here's the Dead Kennedys--maybe Jello Biafra's tribute to his home state of Colorado?

Saturday, January 24, 2009


The following was overheard in one trip on the 15 East Colfax Avenue bus in Denver.

Elderly woman (picking up her backpack): "Would you like to sit?"
Young guy: "Oh, yeah...thanks."
EW: "I live in a shelter."
YG: "Umm..hmmm"
EW: "Actually, I live in TWO shelters. They both wake me up at 7:00 in the morning, and then I go to the 'Y' and swim. You know why?"
YG: (shakes his head)
EW: "They are trying to put their sper-mat-a-ZO-a in me--while I'm SLEEPING! You have to exercise to EXPELLLL them!"
YG: (stares blankly into space)

She continued on like this for blocks.

Teenage boy, while stepping out the back door: "I hate faggots!" Someone replying, from the back of the bus: "@#!%*!"

A couple was sitting across the aisle and slightly behind me.

Man: "What's the Mexican national anthem?"
Woman: "I don't know, what is the Mexican national anthem?"
Man (singing): "Jose can you see..."
Man: "What do you call a Mexican guy who looks white?"
Woman: "Shhh! You're too loud."
Man: "El Paso." (laughs uproariously)

The get up to leave the bus and I get a good look at them. They both appear to be Hispanic.

I'm staying down the street from the beautiful old Union Station building. Photo by Phil Romans. Copyright Commons, some rights reserved.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Music

Change. I was telling a younger friend about my memories of 1968. I was only 10 years old, but I knew what was going on. Every night, I prayed to Jesus that my brother wouldn't be drafted and sent to Vietnam. In April, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Cities exploded--blocks and blocks of Detroit, Chicago, Washington, Baltimore and more burned during the riots that followed. In June, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. The United States of America was coming apart at the seams. Culture wars raged, even within my own family. I remember my mother, watching a news report about feminists and saying, her voice clotted with anger, "What do these women want?"

I called my mom the night Barack Obama became the President-elect. She's seen a lot--the Great Depression ("I thought it would never end") and World War II. She also remembers well the northern version of Jim Crow. Some time in the 1950s, while collecting donations for a club, she stopped in a sandwich shop in our little Ohio town. An African American man walked in. He wasn't from around there, but route 41, which connected Cleveland to Columbus ran right through Main Street. The man wanted to buy some food for his wife and young daughter, who waited in the car. The shop owner refused to serve him. Could his little girl at least use the rest room? He was denied that courtesy, as well. My mom said she always regretted not offering to let his family stop at our home. She was a newcomer in town, and was afraid of how she would be viewed. I can't honestly say I would have done any different in that time, or that place.

"I never believed I would see this in my lifetime," she said, through tears of joy.