Previous month:
June 2007
Next month:
August 2007

friday random ten, 1985 edition

1. LL Cool J, "I Can't Live Without My Radio." As good a song as any to demonstrate the split between rock and roll fans and the new rap music. The sentiment expressed in the title was certainly a familiar one to rock fans, and the minimalist production on the track should have appealed to lovers of other simple-is-best musicians like the Ramones. But nope … rap wasn't singing, it wasn't music, anyone for some Tom Petty? So the monster riffs and killer beat bypassed the white boomer audience, or rather, that audience bypassed the music. Meanwhile, LL was only 17 when this was made … legend has it he dropped out of high school to cut the album, which (boomer irony alert) was named a couple of decades later on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, just ahead of Richard and Linda Thompson.

2. James Brown, "Living in America." Rocky meets the Godfather of Soul. Apollo Creed dies, Rock-o gets revenge for black people everywhere, and Flavor Flav gets the girl. (Hell with godfather … JB was old enough to be LL's GRANDfather, but both were on the charts in 1985.)

3. Madonna, "Into the Groove." Another movie tune … people forget, but after Desperately Seeking Susan, we thought Madonna would add "movie star" to her list of accomplishments.

4. Public Image, Ltd., "Rise." OK, these seem to be popping up with increasing frequency, songs from the wrong year that I let slide. In this case, I was going by All-Music Guide, which lists this as 1985, when it was apparently recorded, but most sources go with 1986, when it was apparently released. What can I say, anger is an energy. Is this Johnny's last great moment?

5. Valerie Dore, "It's So Easy." Boomers hate rap music, but at least they know it when they hear it. Italo Disco probably just flew over their wavelengths entirely. It's kinda hard to follow the story on Wikipedia, but I'll try: Monica Stucchi was a model who joined a music/stage group that had a project called "Valerie Dore." Stucchi became Dore, but someone named Dora Carofiglio did the singing, while Stucchi lipsynced. Stucchi had the looks and stage presence, Carofiglio had the voice, everyone had hits. On some records, the voices of Stuuchi and Carofiglio were electronically combined … or something, like I say, I don't quite get it. At some future point, most of the original people involved in "Valerie Dore" were gone, while Stucchi had "become" Valerie Dore. Whew!

6. The Beat Farmers, "Happy Boy." A college-rock classic. Once heard, never forgotten. Hubba hubba hubba hubba hubba.

7. 5 Star, "System Addict." What a horrible fucking song. Someone needs to take Shuffle Play out to the woodshed for a whippin'. One day I'll remember why I have this on my hard drive.

8. Toy Dolls, "She Goes to Finos." Another college-rock classic, not the only one for this oddball band.

9. Hüsker Dü, "I Apologize." Not sure it's possible for me to pick a favorite song by the Hüskers, but any list of the best ones would find this very near the top. Arguably the greatest vocal of Bob Mould's career … the words on the page just don't get how it sounds in your speakers, which hasn't stopped me from trying. You could type "I apologize" as if that sums up the central phrase of the chorus, but that doesn't even come close. A little more accurate would be:


And this, my favorite part of the whole song:

We sit around we're staring at the walls
We don't do anything at all
Take out the garbage, maybe, BUT THE DISHES DON'T GET DONE!!!

10. The Pogues, "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda." Doesn't get any sadder than this song. Speaking of "greatest vocal of his career," Shane MacGowan has some great drunken-sounding stuff in his resume, but he never topped this one. Not sure anyone has. Shuffle Play got one thing right: after this song, you can't listen to anything else. (Video link takes you to an audio-only YouTube copy, but MacGowan draws his own pictures.)

lotsa new teevee

Gone are the times when summer was when crappy filler and stale reruns took up all of television. In the past week or so, three new series have debuted that have promise.

Two of these shows star award-winning middle-aged actresses happy to find a role worthy of their talents: Holly Hunter on Saving Grace, and Glenn Close on the better of the two shows, Damages. Hunter plays Grace, a fairly typical grungy, booze-loving, likes-to-fuck police detective … she's like Jimmy McNulty … with the obvious trick being that she's a woman. This aspect of the show works because Hunter is so good in the role. Beyond that, there's nothing particularly special about Saving Grace, other than the item upon which the show hangs its future: Grace has an angel. A real one, with wings and everything. In the first episode, at least, it doesn't seem like a good idea. It's like Joan of Arcadia, with the characters of Joan and Joan's father merged into one character, Grace. Hunter will probably make this worth watching, but I'm not expecting more than that.

Damages has a lot more potential. Close is a pretty scary "heroine" … in fact, I'm not sure she IS the heroine. In that, she fits right in with the FX stable, where The Shield and Rescue Me also reside. What lifts Damages, besides Close's excellence, is the interesting plot (rich corporate CEOs, vicious legal infighting, mysterious canine abuse, it's all there) and the strong cast, including Ted Danson in a role that is apparently designed primarily to make you forget everything else Ted Danson has done (Glenn Close has played scary before, but Danson? I don't recall that happening.) Hunter is a match for Close, but beyond the leads, Saving Grace isn't much while Damages looks to be another excellent FX series.

Finally, there's Mad Men. This show looks better than just about anything on television. It takes place in 1960, and it looks like 1960. Not to fetishize this stuff, but watch it, you'll see what I mean. The cast is mostly unknown (although one of my heartthrobs, Christina Hendricks, plays a secondary role, and my goodness can she fill out a dress) and uniformly excellent. The show has a Rat Pack feel to it that makes it more "male" than the previously-mentioned series, but it's not overly celebratory about guy culture … it just is what it is, and reflects the time in which it takes place. This is the most subtle of the three shows, so far at least, but also has great potential.

So, three shows to check out. If I was giving a grade based only on the first episode, Damages and Mad Men would be in the "A" range, Saving Grace in the "B" range. But all three have a shot at a final grade of A, and that's nice to know. The one thing I'd note is that I can imagine some people reading about these shows and assuming the Hunter and Close vehicles were "women's shows" while Mad Men is for guys. I have no idea why that should matter in the first place, but in any event, the two "women's shows" are in fact very tough and should appeal to the most macho of viewers, while Mad Men is complex enough to satisfy any discerning viewers.

we are family (happy birthday, barry)

ESPN has a feature today called "The Best on Bonds" that brings together some of what they consider to be their finest writing on Barry. They missed one of the very best, though, a piece from Brian Murphy that I linked to at the time. Here's the link so you can enjoy it again, and here's a quote from that essay:

WE can think what we want about Bonds. WE can be disappointed by his guilt. YOU, on the other hand, don't understand the history, the journey, the ride we've been on. YOU don't remember the 90 losses in 1992, the potential St. Petersburg Giants. YOU weren't there that day when Pacific Bell Park opened, and the Giants had the prettiest park in the land, the House that Barry Built. It's family. WE can talk about our family, judge our family. YOU, on the other hand, are an outsider. You are not family. You are not to judge.

i’d make up a clever potter-related title but i’ve never read any of the books

Gary Kamiya has a nice ode to editors over at Salon today. I have had good luck with my editors at BenBella … I'll give a special shout out to Leah Wilson, editor extraordinaire, who I've worked with on several occasions and who has a knack for invariably finding the weak spots in my essays and letting me know in a gentle fashion. Kamiya notes that blogs are largely unedited, and also notes that this often works quite well … if the blogger is a good writer who understands their audience, the casual flow of their posts can be very enticing. But editors do a lot of great work, and go mostly unnoticed for their efforts, which isn't fair (so let me say again: thank you, Leah!).

I only mention this because I'm too lazy to properly construct the following "argument" … mostly I'm just throwing together a few thoughts without collating them, which you can get away with in a blog but which rarely leads to good writing or thinking. So shoot me.

One last thing … I don't mean to be chewing anyone's ass here. These are observations, not condemnations.

I find these items to be related:

When teachers get together, at least teachers of a certain age [cough]boomers[cough], one topic certain to arise is about the kids these days and how they don't read. I'm certainly aware of the situation myself (I hesitate to call it a "problem") … I get students all the time who are thoughtful and intelligent but whose writing shows a lack of reading experience. I usually make an argument about how times change, that kids these days are no dumber than kids from previous eras, that in fact kids these days are far more astute at understanding and appreciating some kinds of visual communication than are their older, more bookish mentors. I rarely find anyone to agree with me … the assumption is that reading is inherently better than movie-watching or videogame-playing or Internet-surfing or text-messaging. At my nephew's birthday party last weekend, I had one of these discussions with a fellow teacher, in fact.

An article I read a few days ago suggests that my own so-called forward-looking appreciation for the youngsters is outdated. The latest buzz (and if you google "teens email" you'll find the buzz has been out there for close to a year) is that kids don't even bother with email any longer. That's right, if you thought it sad that young people don't read but figured "well, at least they have email," then think again … "social networking" is more important to young people, texting and Facebook get used many times a day while email gets checked once a week, blah blah blah. (I'd post a link to the first article I read, but I can't find it, and there are many others out there, so google it yourself … hey, I told you this was a lazy post.)

So now those damn kids not only refuse to read, they refuse to check their email! The whippersnappers are going to grow up to be real dumb. And rude, let's not forget rude … the little suckers have their cell phones with them wherever they go, they will use them anytime, anyplace, they have no sense of decorum or boundaries when it comes to those damn phones, the inconsiderate little shits.

There's something else going on lately in the pop culture world. You've probably noticed it … there's a new Harry Potter movie and a new Harry Potter book. Oh thank heaven for Harry Potter! At least the kids will still read a book! That lady is saving Western Civilization with those novels.

Leah Garchik today relates a reader's anecdote about going to a movie and finding people in the audience before the start of the show reading their copies of the new Harry Potter book. I could relate to that anecdote, because it reflected something I noticed at the birthday party last weekend. On at least two different occasions, people looking for friends or family members were told "they're in X's bedroom, reading the new Harry Potter." At one point, a woman (not sure if she was one of the bedroom readers or yet another Potter fan) wandered out to the deck where people were sunning themselves and catching up on old times, sat down at a table populated with other guests, opened up her copy of the Potter book, and started reading.

OK, here's where I get to make something resembling a point. Why is it that people who interrupt face-to-face conversations to talk on their cell phones, or people who text their friends while interacting in person with other friends, or people who check their email or MySpace or Facebook or boxscores on their Treos while in the company of friends and/or family, why is it that these people are considered rude and inconsiderate, while someone at a public event who goes off and hides from others, or who just sits down in the midst of friends and/or family, and starts reading the latest Harry Potter book, is seen as a sign that perhaps civilization isn't a complete loss quite yet?

What makes a Harry Potter book different … oh, let's call a spade a spade, why do people think a Harry Potter book is qualitative better than a cell phone?

achilles last stand

Thirty years ago today, I attended an event which would become legendary for too many sad reasons. At the time, I had no idea what was happening outside of my frame of reference, but history tells the tale.

It was one of Bill Graham's Day of the Green concerts, the sixth and last one I would ever attend. The opening acts were Judas Priest and Derringer. Judas Priest was a popular metal band that has occasionally made its way into the mainstream, although not always for their music. For one thing, it's not easy to find a metal band named after a Bob Dylan song. Their most recent album at the time included a cover of a Joan Baez song, "Diamonds and Rust," about her relationship with Dylan. They are probably best known, though, for being accused in court of implanting subliminal messages into their music that supposedly led to the suicide of a young fan. Also, lead singer Rob Halford later came out of the closet, still an unusual happening for a metal artist. Derringer was the then-current band of Rick Derringer, who had been around since the days when he and the McCoys recorded "Hang On, Sloopy."

Of course, I wouldn't be writing about this if it was only a Derringer/Judas Priest concert. The headliner that day was Led Zeppelin, and this was to be the only time I saw the great band live. It was the second of two Days on the Green, and between the Derringer set and the appearance of Zep, we had to sit through a delay of a couple of hours. Occasionally, Bill Graham would come out and tell us that "Jimmy's having trouble with his dual guitar" and stuff like that. We had no idea what was really going on. I'll let Wikipedia tell the story:

After a July 23 show at the "Days on the Green" festival at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California, John Bonham and members of the band's support staff (including manager Peter Grant and security co-ordinator John Bindon) were arrested after a member of promoter Bill Graham's staff was badly beaten during the performance. A member of the staff had allegedly slapped Grant's son when he was taking down a dressing room sign; when Grant heard about this, he went into the trailer, along with Bindon and John Bonham, and savagely assaulted the man.

The Wiki article doesn't explain what happened the next day, as I waited endlessly with 50,000 other fans for the band to show up on stage. Rolling Stone offers this more complete version:

The tour may well have been among the most riotous in rock history … Unlike earlier incidents among fans, the violence at Oakland Stadium involved John Bonham, Led Zep's drummer; Peter Grant, the group's manager, and two Zeppelin employees.

The Oakland incidents resulted in charges of battery against Grant, Bonham, and the two employees, John Bindon and Richard Cole. A civil suit asking $2 million in punitive damages was also filed against Led Zeppelin. The suit and charges were brought July 25th by three employees of Bill Graham, promoter of the two "Day on the Green" shows….

Led Zeppelin's lawyer, Jeffry Hoffman, said all four will plead innocent, and that "it is my firm belief that is what the ultimate outcome will be." The Zeppelin entourage refused further comment on the suits or the incidents.

Graham, however, did give his version of what happened, based partly on what his employees told him:

"There were really two incidents, both of which happened after the Saturday concert was over. The first involved Peter Grant and … John Bindon. As they left the stage, Jim Downey [a member of Graham's stage crew] said to Grant who looked very tired, something like, 'Do you need any help?' From what I can tell, there was offense taken to that statement. The stage crew man was struck by Bindon and his head was bashed against the concrete.

"The second incident involved a stage security man named Jim Matzorkis. Matzorkis was taking a wooden plaque with Led Zeppelin's name on it off their dressing-room door to put away for the next show. A young boy asked him for the sing, and Jim said, 'No, we need it for the next day.' Turned out the young boy was Peter Grant's son."

According to Matzorkis' report to the Oakland police, he was putting the sign in a storage trailer when he was approached by Grant, Bonham, Bindon and Zep tour manager Richard Cole. "You don't talk to a kid like that," Grant reportedly told Matzorkis. "Apologize or I'll have your job." Matzorkis siad that Bonham also told him to apologize and then kicked him in the groin. Matzorkis fled and hid in a trailer.

According to Graham, Grant's employees then began to look for Matzorkis. During the search, Cole allegedly hit Bob Barsotti, Graham's production manager, on the back with a four-inch lead pip. Graham said he went to speak to Grant in his trailer to try to clear up what was turning into a dangerous situation. "I went in and said, 'I don't know what went on, but if there are any apologies due, I extend them on behalf of my company.' And Peter said, 'I want to speak to this man.' I said, 'Peter, you're a very big person' -- he weighs about 300 pounds -- 'give me your word, nothing physical.' He said, 'Bill, I give you my word.'

"I went over to the trailer where Jim was hiding. I said, 'Jim, it's okay, it's me.' Then I stepped in. I said, 'Jim, this is Mr. Peter Grant, the boy's father.' Before I could finish the sentence, Peter blasted Jim in the face. I tried to stand between them, but Grant forced me to the door of the trailer, this other man came in and then Grant forced me out and locked the door. I tried to open the door, but their people came over and guarded the door. Matzorkis worked his way to the door while they were hitting him, and he was able to get out. His face was a bloody mess."

Matzorkis was taken to an East Bay hospital. According to a court file, he had cuts and bruises on his face and lips and a broken tooth.

Graham said a Zeppelin representative told him the band would not take the stage Sunday until he signed an agreement indemnifying the group against damages resulting from the Matzorkis incident. He said he signed the paper only after his lawyer assured him that under the circumstances it was not binding. Graham said he also asked his production people to coll it for the day. The Sunday concert was notably low-key; guitarist Jimmy Page, who is known for roaming around the stage, sat through much of the show.

And so it was that while Jimmy Page's guitar was "having problems," the band was backstage refusing to perform. For hours.

The concert, by the way, was excellent. What else can be said about a show that finished with the following songs: "Kashmir," "Trampled Under Foot," "Achilles Last Stand," "Stairway to Heaven, "Whole Lotta Love," and "Rock and Roll"? If you look this up on Google in 2007, you'll read lots of horrific stories about the touring life of Led Zeppelin. It ain't pretty. But in 1977, I was just a 24-year-old doofus who wanted to see a great band in concert. I didn't know from shit.

Shortly thereafter, Robert Plant's young son died tragically. The remainder of the tour was cancelled. Three years later, John Bonham died. That show thirty years ago turned out to be the last concert Led Zeppelin ever played in the United States.

[Postscript: the John Bindon referred to above was in the movie Performance, playing one of Harry Flowers' thugs. Among others, he is in the scene where they shave the guy's head.]

mary beth visits

Guess it's time to document a visit from our old friend Mary Beth. She's actually still here for a few more days, but just in case I don't take any more pix, I've uploaded three to Picasa. Trying to make this work ... I'll see what happens if I link to the big giant pix on Picasa but tell TypePad to make them smaller. Should work out OK if I know what I'm doing. The pictures are of Mary Beth with me, then with Neal, then with Robin:

jacob turns 30

My nephew Jacob turns 30 in a few days, and he had a party at his house today. Jacob was one of the first stars of this blog ... when I was desperate for content at the beginning, he was in Thailand sending these fascinating emails about his trip, and I would post them here.

I've created a photo album here:

For once I don't have to say "if you want larger, higher quality versions, let me know." Those ARE the large, high-quality versions.

If you look at the pictures, especially the group shots, you'll be reminded (if you're as old as me) that people in general look their best around the age of 30. You've grown into yourself, so to speak. You'll also see that Jacob has a great group of friends and family ... and that he gives himself a good party.

Finally, it's not the most important picture of the bunch, but since it's an "immediate family" picture, here's a low-fi version of one of the pix ... but I highly recommend all of the photos!


ok, ya cheap bastids, listen up

You say you can't afford HBO? Don't have cable? Refuse to pay exorbitant prices for DVD box sets? Boycotting Netflix for some reason?

Whatever your lame-o reason for never watching The Wire, put it on the shelf for a bit. British news website Guardian Unlimited is going to stream the very first episode for one week, beginning tomorrow ... for free.

I can't tell if they are going to show more than one episode. I can't tell if they are going to show the real episode or the fucked-up BET edited atrocity. And I realize streaming video isn't the best way to watch anything, and The Wire is not a show that is at its best as a one-shot ... it builds, you need to watch more than one episode. Having said all that, at the very least, if by some odd chance any Emmy voters are reading this, why don't you move your cheap ass to Guardian Unlimited tomorrow and find out what you've been missing the last four years while you demonstrated your complete inability to recognize the greatest television show of them all, you morons.

Never mind, unless you live in the U.K. ... it's not viewable anywhere else.

poll results, 1983 edition

The poll results are in from last week's Random Ten for 1983. 21 people voted ... you got to choose your three fave songs ... 15 of the 21 included "Little Red Corvette," the only song in fact to be on more than half the ballots. So I've added another poll for this week (1984), and there's another Prince song on there for you fans.

For those keeping score at home, "99 Luftballons" came in second, appearing on 9 ballots, while bringing up the rear was "Let the Music Play" with 2 ballots.