music friday: happy birthday, steven rubio's online life

This blog turns 15 years old today.

I was 48 years old when I started.

The first music post (second post overall), from that first day on January 6, 2002, had a picture of Robin I called “The Cowgirl and the Cactus”, and a link to the Bruce Springsteen song, “Used Cars”. There was no apparent connection between Robin and the song.

Here is what I wrote on the occasion of the 14th birthday:

There is something old-fashioned about persisting in a format that has long been overtaken by other forms of online presentation.

And there is something odd about continuing to write for the smallest of audiences.

But think of this: my blog has never had advertising. I’ve never made any money from it, unless you count published writing that had its root here (i.e. I was “discovered” via my blog writing ... of course, much of my published writing has been unpaid/academic). This allows me to pretend my writing is “pure”.

Changes have occurred over time. I used to write about a broader area. I hesitate now to write about things where I know people who can do better jobs, so I rarely write about politics, and I write less about sports than I did in the past. The blog has become an arts site, where I write about TV, movies, and music ... and admittedly, when someone has asked me to write for publication, it’s those areas that come up.

I know there is some good writing buried in the past fourteen years, pieces where I happen to read them by accident and don’t always know they are mine until I’m finished, and I think, “I am good enough”. The published stuff, which doesn’t appear here, is of varying quality ... I think my piece on punk cinema for Nick Rombes was good, ditto for my Bugs Bunny Meets Picasso essay for Michael Berube. My Battlestar Galactica and King Kong essays might be the best of my Smart Pop work. Point is, the form is shorter, but I occasionally reach those heights on this blog. Maybe for 2016 I should find a way to foreground Past Classics.

What I hope to avoid as much as possible is the type of naked confessional I am far too capable of indulging in. It’s worth repeating every once in awhile the motto for this blog, Kael’s “I’m frequently asked why I don’t write my memoirs. I think I have.”


xmas with félix 2016

I am a curmudgeon when it comes to Xmas. But this year was different, because I spent it with a four-year-old.

Our grandson, Félix, has reached the age where he really understands what’s up with Xmas. He knows there are presents ... he knows there’s Santa ... he probably knows he is the center of attention. Watching his joy made Xmas more than bearable, it made it enjoyable.

He handed out the presents. He can’t really read yet, but he knows his own name, and “Mom” and “Dad”. So he could look at a wrapped present and tell if it was for him when he saw his name. He got thrown off a bit when he’d see the word “From”, because once he saw “F” he hopefully assumed the rest of the word was “élix” and he’d announce it was for him. So it wasn’t perfect, but he did pretty good. And he was dedicated ... even after he opened something for himself that he really liked, he’d put it down to grab another present for someone else.

I usually say he wants to be a DJ when he grows up, but that’s not really accurate. He thinks he is a DJ now. He loves playing DJ, plugging in various things (or “plugging” them in, since in many cases, they aren’t working so he won’t electrocute himself). One of the presents he got on Xmas Eve was DJ Lights ... disco lights, really ... it sends colored lights across the room and the ceiling, makes for a festive atmosphere. His dad helped him mount it on a wall, so we got to watch his lights most of the night. On Xmas morning, he found that Santa had brought a kid’s DJ board, with a pretend turntable for scratching, and a keyboard, and lots of sliders and preset drum beats. He loved it.

félix dj

Like many middle-class Americans, Sara and Ray got an Amazon Echo for the holiday (Ray’s boss gave them to employees). Later, it turned out I’d gotten TWO, and then we went to my sister’s, and she had one, too (her’s was the big model ... the rest of us had Echo Dots). This meant all of us spent a lot of time asking Alexa questions, smart and stupid. Félix was once again the star. He took to the AI machine instantly. They called theirs “Echo” because he has a brother named Lex, and they worried saying “Lex” all the time might set Alexa off. Félix took a nap with Robin ... she said when he woke up, he quietly whispered, “Echo, play ...” (she didn’t catch what). He already expects the Echo to be ready and responsive to his every beck and call. He was so cute ... if he asked a question that didn’t get answered, he’d walk over to the Echo and talk into it directly, as if that would help.

And at one point, apropos of nothing we could figure, he said something like, “Echo, what can we do for homeless people so they won’t be homeless anymore?”

So, yes, this was a good Xmas.

félix santa

Meanwhile, 2016 sucked, as everyone knows. Our family survived, at least. We haven’t seen Neal and Sonia yet this holiday, but hopefully we will very soon. Oh, and Spot made it through another year:

spot


four days in portland

Considering I arrived on Thursday afternoon and we left on Sunday afternoon, I guess it was really three days spread out over four.

We hadn’t been since 2009. We didn’t do a tour ... you can actually take a Portlandia tour, for instance ... and outside of a trip to Tualatin, about a half-hour’s drive away, we spent the entire time in NE Portland. We weren’t there to take in the sights, we were there to visit an old friend. Still, even with a limited trip, you notice things, mostly about the ways Portland seems different than Berkeley.

First, they aren’t all that different. Much of what gets gently parodied on Portlandia holds just as true for Berkeley. Berkeley might be more pretentious about it, although I can’t really speak to what Portland is like on a daily basis.

Most important, though, is the weather. It was slightly colder than we are used to, but what really mattered was the rain. The Bay Area, at least our part of it, is semi-arid, and of course we’ve been in a drought for a long time now. Portland? Well, in fairness, it rarely poured while we were there. But a drizzle never left us, and in some ways, a constant drizzle is more depressing than a serious downpour.

Another, water connected, difference: there was no clamp on water pressure in our hotel ... the water came blasting out of the shower.

Since we weren’t home for our usual Saturday morning at the Homemade Café, we were glad to find Batter Griddle & Drinkery, which wasn’t nearly as precious as its menu suggested (the pancakes section included “mocha me go”, “don’t passover”, and “pecan do it”). Like many places we checked out, it felt roomy ... there is more land and fewer people in Portland than in San Francisco, although the population of Portland has almost doubled since we first visited.

I didn’t see Corin, Carrie, or Janet anywhere, not that I would have done anything besides mess my pants if I did see them walking around. Oh well, I’ll see them on New Year’s Eve.

Meanwhile, the pilot announced to us before our flight home that we were traveling to "Oaklandia".


election day

I know very few people who are voting for Trump. I know a lot of people who are voting for Clinton.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I did not vote for anyone for president. But the above two sentences explain what I’m feeling as I look towards the conclusion of this election.

If Trump were to win, the form of the celebration would likely be repulsive, representing the worst America has to offer, as does Donald Trump himself.

If Clinton wins, the celebration will focus primarily on one point: that we have finally elected a woman to be our leader. A point that is well worth celebrating, a point that has been too long in coming.

I want my friends to enjoy their celebration. That is the reason I’ve stayed mostly silent throughout this election. If my vote merely entailed making my friends happy, I would do so.

You could say I am a coward. I don’t want to bring down the wrath of Clinton supporters, so for the most part, I hold my tongue. But it’s not just fear ... I truly do want my friends to have that celebration, no matter my own personal opinions about what I think a Clinton presidency will mean on a concrete, rather than a symbolic, level.

Part of me questions the inherent misogyny of men, a category in which I include myself. I have tried for my entire adult life to press for equality between men and women, but I speak as a man who has experienced the unequal benefits of being male. At the very least, we should question our assumptions, and the roots of our assumptions, when they come from a position of privilege. Thus, I believe I deserve all the accusations of misogyny that are thrown at any man who can’t accept that Hillary Clinton will be a good president.

Except, as I wrote earlier, outside of not being Donald Trump, the only reason I could think of to vote for Clinton is that she is a woman. I very much want us to have a woman president at last.

I just wish it wasn’t this woman.

A friend posted the following on Facebook this morning:

I'm not sure yet if I'm going to vote at all. Even if I do, I could never vote for HRC, though I'd never try to persuade others not to. But if you do, don't tell yourself or others sweet stories about her inner goodness. She's a loyal and effective servant of capital and empire. If she wins, which seems likely though far from certain, she immediately becomes the enemy, even though people and forces even worse than she will attack her.

Or, as one hashtag has it, “#nohoneymoon”.

So when she wins, as I have always believed she will, and the inevitable, joyous celebrations erupt, I will be happy for all of my friends, especially women, who have longed for this day. And I’ll be quiet.

But once the celebrations are over, #nohoneymoon.


ash, the evil dead, s. clay wilson, and my wife

My wife doesn’t have a birthday. She has a Birthday Month. So I have to be on my toes all through October, not just on the 4th (which is what the rest of us would call her birthday).

Last night we settled in to watch TV. She wanted to start with Designated Survivor, the new, so-so- Kiefer Sutherland show. I was feeling a bit sad ... silly, really, but I wished we liked more of the same TV shows and movies. Designated Survivor may turn out to be a show we watch together, but it kind of gives “common ground” a bad name.

After that, we watched the season opener of Ash vs Evil Dead. This is more like it, I thought, I like this show a lot, which reveals my real definition of “shows we watch together”: something I like that she tolerates. Except she doesn’t tolerate Ash vs Evil Dead, she likes it, too. And she occasionally laughs, which if you know Robin, you know laughing at TV isn’t a regular occurrence. But it’s one of the reasons I love her so ... she’ll sit quietly as a comedy plays, then laugh at arguably the goriest show in TV history (gore isn’t inherently funny, but ridiculous, over-the-top gore is).

And if Season One was the Goriest Show of All Time, Season Two had an early scene that easily topped anything we’d seen before. And we laughed. I can’t find the scene on YouTube, which is probably just as well. The best I can do is this Season Two trailer, which was apparently too gory for Comic Con:

Later in the evening, we spent a few minutes chuckling over a couple of S. Clay Wilson drawings.

Now I ask you: what kind of moron would think he and his wife had few shared tastes, when she laughed at Evil Dead and S. Clay Wilson?

Yep, I’m a moron.

And my wife is the greatest.

stevenrobin


hope's a burden or it sets you free

A friend of mine turns 51 today. She’s not a big fan of public exposure on the internet, so she’ll remain nameless here, but pretty much everyone reading this knows who I mean.

We met more than 20 years ago ... we can never remember exactly when it was, but at this point, we can at least say “more than 20 years” and know we’re being accurate. We were in grad school together, we taught together, for one year we were about the only ones of our buddies still teaching at Cal. My wife and I took her to see our hometown where we grew up, met, and got married. Later, we stayed with her parents and she showed us some of the things she remembered from her childhood.

I wasn’t looking for a best friend ... I’m one of the lucky people whose wife of 43+ years is also my best friend ... but there has never been anything second-rate about my friendship with the birthday girl, she has always been there for me, as I hope I have been for her.

Due partly to unforeseen circumstances, she’s moving out of the Bay Area temporarily, the first time she has done this since we met. She is, in fact, driving to her new home today, on her birthday, with her beloved partner of many years. They take care of each other ... it’s a great thing to see ... this new experience will likely be very good for them both.

I have to admit, though ... I already miss her. Her birthday especially reminds me of the past ... between she and her partner and me and my wife, we always made sure to spend a night together on our birthdays, four times a year.

If there is a cultural artifact that bonds us, it might be Sleater-Kinney. Together we’ve seen them fourteen times since 1998. I find myself listening to S-K, thinking of her, trying to pick just the right song to include here. But most of their goodbye songs (and they have some great ones) feel final, and are filled with the problems that led to goodbye. My friend and I have never had those kind of problems, so as much as I’d like to post something like “Good Things” (“Why do good things never wanna stay, Some things you lose some things you give away”) or “One More Hour” (“I know it’s so hard for you to say goodbye”), the totality of those songs is much darker than how I feel. Yesterday, I sent her an email with a link to the following video, which I hope was the right choice as they travel to the desert. “There are no cities, no cities to love. It's not the city, it's the weather we love! ... It's not the weather, it's the people we love!”

And one more: the last song we saw Sleater-Kinney perform (so far), May 3, 2015:

My whole life looks like a picture of a sunny day.


ali

More than once, I’ve told stories about the year we lived on Telegraph Avenue. We’re talking 1974-75, and ... well, I wrote about it more than ten years ago, check out “Telegraph Avenue Anecdotes”.

On that post, I wrote:

There was other stuff that happened ... the night Ali beat Foreman, people celebrated in the street, and when Saigon fell/was liberated in '75, two different parades started up, one coming down Telegraph towards campus, the other coming downhill on Haste, and when the two parades, who couldn't see each other as we could from our window, met up at the corner of Telegraph and Haste, there was great fanfare.

In 2005, some 30 years after the fact, I seem to have my memories straight. But another decade has clouded my brain. When I heard that Muhammad Ali was on life support, I thought back on his importance, and remembered a Telegraph Avenue anecdote. But I remembered it wrong, confusing the two events mentioned above. So my most recent memory was that when Ali beat Foreman, two parades started up, and when they met, there was great fanfare.

I think there’s a reason why I combined the two memories into one. In 1975, the marchers were chanting “Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh!” It was a clear marker of a crucial moment in world history. In 1974, the revelers were shouting “Ali! Ali! Ali!” In its own way, that night was a crucial moment, as well. For Muhammad Ali transcended his sport.

I don’t know of a single person from the world of sports who was as important in the world outside of sports as was Muhammad Ali. This is why the phrase “Greatest Of All Time” should probably just be retired, because there is only one Greatest. The closest thing I can think of to Ali is Martina Navratilova, but whatever her impact on tennis, even a great like Martina takes a back seat to Ali.

I used to follow boxing. There is something about a big championship bout that entices and thrills. But then Ali got Parkinson’s. And as far as I know, no connection has ever been proven between Ali’s boxing career and the later development of Parkinson’s. But the damage was done, whether I can pinpoint a correlation or not. The three fights with Joe Frazier were enough on their own to destroy a man. The fights at the end of Ali’s career, when he could no longer float like a butterfly, put finished to what the Frazier fights had started.

I have great respect for the way Muhammad Ali kept on as his disease worsened. But whenever I saw him, and thought about the brilliant light of his early years, I knew I could no longer praise boxing.


43 years ago today

All of these have been posted before, but let’s put them in one place.

When Robin got home after our first kiss, she wrote herself this note:

first night

One of our earliest dates:

promnight

When we (i.e. Robin) planned the wedding, she had the following budget:

wedding money

The invitations:

Robin & Steven115

The script for the service:

ceremony

Standing around, waiting for my dad to get back from the bathroom so we could begin:

wedding

The ceremony, or close enough to count:

weddingcrowd

After the wedding, ready to go on our honeymoon:

post-wedding

The bill for the motel room:

honeymoon

Among the places we ate on our honeymoon was El Toro Bravo in Capitola:

el toro bravo