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alison krauss and union station

Tonight we finally saw Alison Krauss in concert. I say "finally" because I've been talking about seeing her for years without actually getting to a show, so it's good to get it out of the way at last.

Krauss has had an impressive career ... a fiddle-playing prodigy, she appeared on records when she was 14, and cut her first solo album when she was 16. She has won more Grammy awards than any other female artist in history, passing Aretha awhile back. And she's only in her mid-30s.

Oh, and she has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard.

The concert was pretty much as I expected, so I wouldn't say I was disappointed. She has appeared on various television series enough times, even releasing her own live DVD, that I had a good sense of what her show would be like. Truth be told, since the band doesn't bother much with stage goofiness beyond Krauss having the occasional amusing conversation with a band member, you're just as well off listening to the records, or watching on TV in HD and surround sound. I'm not making a case for staying home, nor am I saying the concert was bad. But there were no transcendent moments, not even when she sang my favorite, "When You Say Nothing At All." So I'm glad I finally saw her, and I recommend her work to anyone who likes a pretty voice and a good fiddle, but that's about as far as I'd go.

friday random ten, 1981 edition

Since I did the last several Random Tens before I left for vacation, this is the first time I've sat down and created a new one in about a month. Here goes:

1. Gary U.S. Bonds, "Jole Blon." In 1981-1982, Bruce Springsteen made two very good albums that are mostly forgotten. One reason is that the name on the cover of those albums was Gary U.S. Bonds. But make no mistake ... 10 of the 21 songs on the two albums were written by Bruce, the E Street Band served as the support group, and on "Jole Blon," Bruce took the second verse for himself and sang backup throughout. None of which is meant to disparage Bonds, an early idol of Bruce's, but what lifted these albums wasn't just Bonds. We saw Bonds in a small club in June of 1981, and one couldn't help but notice as the set progressed that among the songs he hadn't yet sung were the three Bruce songs from that first album, and "Quarter to Three," which was a longtime set-closer for Bruce. Sure enough, near the end of the set, Bonds said that he had a friend he'd like to bring onstage ... the subsequent "whaaaaaaaah!" was collective and as intense as anything I've ever experienced in concert. "Hey," Bonds said, "I've got more than one friend, you know." But this friend was the one we wanted. Our seats/table were right in front, but that didn't matter ... as Springsteen hit the stage, the entire audience (probably around 750) pushed forward, so that the whole group seemed to be within five feet of the stage. One guy was standing on our little table. Bruce and Bonds then sang all of those songs we'd been missing ... I've never forgotten it.

2. Toni Basil, "Mickey." Do I really need to say anything about this one? The video link proves that Basil's a better dancer/choreographer than singer.

3. Taana Gardner, "Heartbeat." Disco refused to go away, although I notice that the All-Music Guide refers to this as "post-disco," which they say comes between disco and house. Whatever ... this one was much-sampled in subsequent years (just ask Ini Kamoze).

4. Rosanne Cash, "Seven Year Ache." Rosanne Cash has made a lot of fine records, but this one was the favorite at our house ... it got played over and over, back when albums still got played (and you had to turn it over to hear Side Two).

5. Prince, "Controversy." Sometimes, shuffle play makes for weird segues (as in "awful segues"). But I like to think in this case, what we're seeing is the diversity of music in 1981. 1981 was also the year I saw Prince in concert for the first time ... I don't suppose I have to tell you it was great. It's silly to claim that we still had Prince to ourselves in those pre-Purple Rain days ... Controversy was his second platinum album ... but he hadn't yet reached the pinnacle that he deserved (and deserves).

6. The Descendents, "Weinerschnitzel." I'm surprised it took shuffle play this long to come up with what we called "KALX music" and what the rest of the world knows as "College Rock." Is there a better song in the universe than this one? It's the Booty Call of music: ten seconds long, it makes the typical Ramones song seem like an endless symphony.

7. The Pointer Sisters, "Slow Hand." A favorite of my wife's, who once told me if I wanted to know what appeals to a woman, I might listen to this song.

8. The Go-Go's, "Our Lips Are Sealed." Greil Marcus, champion of such avant-garde women rockers as LiLiPut, Essential Logic, and Sleater-Kinney, loved the Go-Go's.

9. Lester Bangs and the Delinquents, "I'm in Love With My Walls." Everyone knows what they think of Lester by now ... greatest rock writer ever, overrated bum, guy in that Almost Famous movie. No one says much about his musical career. I'm a huge Lester fan, but the best things about his songs are their titles, many of which, like this one, tell the story of my life.

10. Stiff Little Fingers, "Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae." One of the great ones. It's not the lyrics ... oh, they're OK in a rather charmingly revolutionary-but-naive way ... but the guitar riff is a monster, and the vocals are as perfectly matched to the guitars as Robert Plant's are to Jimmy Page. When this one turns up on shuffle play, I find myself hitting the repeat button several times in a row.

You got to pass the bowl and make the food go round
Cos that's the only way to trample crime to the ground
Equal rights and justice for one and all
Cos only through liberty freedom shall form
Don't fight against no colour class nor creed
Cos on discrimination does violence breed
We are all in a one and one in all
So throw away the guns and the war's all gone
Throw away the hunger and the war's all gone
Throw away the fighting and the war's all gone
Throw away the guns and the war's all gone
Throw away the hunger and the war's all gone
Throw away the fighting and the war's all gone
Throw away the grudges and the war's all gone


I'll post more than one this time. First ... our host in Ronda loves gardening, and this was one of this finest creations: a bonsai orange tree that produced a good-sized orange:


Here's a picture of Robin as we waited in a restaurant (a regular occurrence):


Here's an example of the narrow streets:


And finally, here's the very long pedestrian-only shopping street:


no, i’m not getting an iphone on friday

I'm not sure it's an issue any longer, even amongst longtime Windows users like myself: the Mac OS is better than Windows.

Yet somehow, the vast majority of users are running Windows.

The situation is this: Windows isn't as good but it is more popular. Macs are better, but no one uses them.

When it comes to most everything else Apple sells, though, they are the Microsoft in the mix. The iPod isn't the best portable MP3 player on the market, but it is the most popular. I have a feeling the iPhone is going to be very popular, as well … whether or not it is actually better than, say, my Treo remains to be seen.

This bothers me because I object to what I think Apple stands for. I have no problem with Microsoft-bashing, so don't take my complaints as necessarily pro-Gates. But once upon a time, Apple made computers that were better both functionally and aesthetically. They got stomped in the marketplace, and the lesson they seem to have learned is that aesthetics is all.

So now, Apple sells aesthetics, and the cool factor that goes with those aesthetics.

The iPod is an adorable little item, and it does what it is supposed to do. There are better portable MP3 players out there, but they lack the iPod's aesthetic appeal (the Rio Karma was arguably the most ugly piece of technology I ever owned … it was far better than the iPod, and now the company that made them is out of business, because people didn't want an ugly but excellent player, they wanted a cute and reasonably good player).

Me, I'd like to know whether or not the iPhone will be the best phone, not whether or not it will be the coolest phone. My Treo is kinda ugly, to be honest, but when I was in Europe and I couldn't do all the useful Treo stuff, I missed it. A lot. Now I'm home, and I can access Wikipedia in a flash, check my email, get news updates, look at maps that tell me where the nearest tire repair shop is, and get dozens of text messages a day telling me how my fantasy baseball players are doing. I couldn't care less that the Treo isn't much to look at.

If Apple was selling excellence, I don't suppose I'd be writing this cranky post. Like I say, once upon a time, excellence was what Apple did best. Now? Hype is what Apple does best, hype and Cool.

Farhad Manjoo writes about the iPhone today on Salon, and you can practically see the cum stains on his keyboard:

"Apple says the iPhone will give us the Internet on the go -- and because Apple has a vaunted history of making good on big claims about consumer technology, it's wise to take it seriously." I already have the Internet on the go … guess the iPhone ain't such a groundbreaker in that regard after all.

"But that's only the brainy reason people like the iPhone. There's a more visceral appeal to the device, a sensation it triggers somewhere below the neckline … Steve Jobs … has been endeavoring all his life to create electronics that are transparent and visually stunning, things that part us from our money not for what they do -- or not mainly for what they do -- but for the surpassing style with which they do it." I couldn't have said it better myself, but as should be obvious by now, I don't have the slightest idea why I should give a shit whether or not my phone has style. Yes, I'm one of those old fashioned people who wants a phone that takes my money mainly because of what it does … just like I want an MP3 player that takes my money mainly because of what it does.

"Aesthetics are the essence of iPhone's buzz. The phone is, like all other Apple products, beautiful -- palm-size, just a couple of buttons and an all-glass face that, if it works as it should, will respond to the slightest touch. Only folks who haven't seen its interface wonder what's so great about the iPhone. It's just amazing. A two-finger pinch zooms in -- boom! -- and a pull zooms out, a flick of a digit slides through a list of song names or contacts, and when you flip the iPhone on its side, its picture also adjusts to the new orientation. As it is for every celebrity, our love for the iPhone is mainly about its face." Jesus fucking Christ, Farhad, get a fucking room!

Farhad asks from the perspective of a hypothetical consumer, "Are you saying the iPhone may not work as well as Apple says it will?" His reply? "The question is really unnecessary." For some people, apparently.

My son has a stake in all of this … he works for Sprint, and the iPhone is paired up with AT&T. So take this with a grain of salt, but one thing my son knows is cell phone technology. It's his job to know. And when I asked him how the iPhone would affect his business, he countered by noting that the AT&T network and iPhone technology won't allow for the kinds of speed Sprint users (and others, for all I know) enjoy right now. Yes, that's right, the iPhone won't do as good a job of giving us "Internet on the go" as does my Treo. But who cares … aesthetics is the essence, right? (It's not just my Sprint-working son talking about this … even Farhad notes "Will AT&T's network -- and the iPhone's support for only the slower EDGE rather than the faster 3G networking spec -- prove hardy enough to deliver a truly functional "mobile Internet"? These are questions for which we have no answers yet."

Farhad finally explains that the iPhone will impact our lives, even the lives of those of us who don't buy one, because once the iPhone is successful, other companies will be forced to emulate Apple, so the next phone you buy will have been influenced by the iPhone whatever brand it might be. He writes, "You may not buy an Apple, but it's possible your next cellphone will claim to be a fantastic 'Internet communicator' and will offer a great way to surf the Web. If that happens, thank Apple." Ya know, Farhad, I already have a cellphone that is a fantastic Internet communicator with a great way to surf the Web. I didn't have to wait for Apple to come along, either. But I'm sure the Jobs Fanboys will write the histories, and someday, everyone will think Steve Jobs invented this shit. Farhad has already drowned in his own ejaculate … as he explains, "Today everyone uses a Mac." Yep, he really says that. His argument is that all computers are based on the ideas Jobs offered the world back in 1984. Of course, Jobs wasn't first with those ideas, any more than he's first with the ideas now associated with the iPhone, but why let facts get in the way of aesthetics?

hamburger in heaven

Today's entry in the make-the-vacation-last-forever sweepstakes is a picture of the only hamburger I ate on the trip. I wrote about it here:

Here's the thing about Spanish restaurants, at least the ones I've been to over the years. You order a plain hamburger, and it comes with bacon on top. There would seem to be no avoiding pork in these parts.

I thought maybe a picture of the half-eaten burger was in order:


I suppose I should show what the view from our table looked like (the table being in the sand of the beach):



While we were in Europe, a man murdered his wife, his kids, and himself in Tilden Park. My son tells me that the wife was the doctor who helped cure his headaches. He finds it hard to believe that such a woman is dead.

A friend down the street who does gardening work for us stops by yesterday to tell me that one of his family members, who grew up with my kids, was found dead in his sleep. The fellow wasn't even 30 years old yet.

A man I never met but saw dozens of times, a baseball pitcher for my favorite team, is found dead before he has reached 40. His death hurts, not just because he was a baseball player, but because he seemed more "real" than most of his peers ... he'd drink beer with the fans, he was like one of us.

And now this ... pro wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife, and his son have been found dead in the family home. Initial speculation, and it is only that, although the police are speaking with what seems to be some authority, is that Benoit killed his wife on Saturday, his son on Sunday, and himself on Monday.

Chris Benoit might have been my favorite wrestler. I haven't watched much in recent years, but the best match I ever saw live featured Benoit, and his match at Wrestlemania XX a few years ago, where he finally won the championship that had eluded him for so long, was a great moment in "sports entertainment." Virtually every wrestler was more charismatic than Benoit, and he couldn't come close to the all-around brilliance of someone like the great Ric Flair. But Chris Benoit was one of the great technical wrestlers of his time ... he knew a lot of moves and knew how to use those moves to help create an interesting narrative within a match that made everyone involved look better. He worked his butt off to entertain the fans, and it was a nice thing that over time, he won those fans over, they were able to look past his relatively bland persona and see what a tremendous talent he really was.

The thing is, I really didn't know this man. I didn't know my son's doctor, but my son knew her ... she was a real person. Nor did I know my friend's family member, but I could see on my friend's face how important the person was to him. I didn't know Rod Beck personally, but it felt like he was offering a part of himself to his fans.

But Chris Benoit wasn't ever Chris Benoit ... his profession being pro wrestler, his job was to play "Chris Benoit." So the person I pretended to almost know wasn't even the person himself, but only the person he pretended to be for my benefit.

So I can't be surprised if it turns out that Benoit murdered his wife and kid and self ... I didn't know the man, I knew "the man." But I admit to being shocked that this hard-working athlete, whose insistence on ring excellence made him an icon of perseverance, someone to look up to, may have had serious demons. Everything about this is extremely disturbing in lots of unprocessed ways.

happy birthday to mr. f-word

Yes, the creator of the late, lamented Sopranos F-Word Update, Steve Hammond, is having a birthday today. Here's a story about what happened to me yesterday that the Eggman might appreciate as he gets one year older.

Neal and I got on the MUNI to the ballgame yesterday. Now mind you, I only turned 54 less than a week ago. We enter the crowded car and take up a standing spot. A young whippersnapper sitting in front of me looked up and politely said, "would you like my seat, sir?"

There's a first time for everything ...