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.