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25 songs, fm underground radio version

So there’s a meme going on over at Facebook … it’s not a new one, it seems to pop up every few months … I did it because someone tagged me, but I had the idea of doing it with a slight change here. First, it’s not a meme in the sense that you have to do it, too, it’s just a blog post. Second, I’m going to shrink the possibilities.

Here’s the thing: you’re supposed to put your MP3 software on shuffle play and post the first 25 songs on the list, no matter what they are or how embarrassing they might be (ABBA turned up on mine). So I’m posting the following … shuffle play, yes, first 25 tracks, yes, but instead of shuffling through all 24,000+ songs, I’m going to limit the possibilities to the playlist I call “FM.” It’s full of music that was played on “underground” FM radio, with 1970 being the last year that counts. This playlist has been my obsession for years. It currently has more than 3000 tracks. The following 25 are taken at random from that playlist. Fire up some weed, close your eyes, imagine you’re hearing Tom Donahue or Dusty Street, and check out this list:

  1. Gene Clark, “If You’re Gone”
  2. John Lee Hooker, “No One Pleases Me But You”
  3. June Christy, “It’s a Most Unusual Day”
  4. Jefferson Airplane, “Let’s Get Together”
  5. Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf, “Ooh Baby / Wrecking My Love Life”
  6. Cream, “World of Pain”
  7. Carole King, “Up on the Roof”
  8. Jesse Fuller, “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”
  9. Donovan, “Get Thy Bearings”
  10. The Great Society, “Somebody to Love”
  11. Skip James, “Look at the People Standing in Judgment”
  12. Charlie Musselwhite, “4 P.M.”
  13. Fairport Convention, “Jack o’ Diamonds”
  14. Jimi Hendrix, “1983 … (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)”
  15. Joni Mitchell, “I Think I Understand”
  16. Buddy Guy, “Too Many Ways”
  17. Taj Mahal, “You Don’t Miss Your Water (‘Til Your Well Runs Dry)”
  18. Ian & Sylvia, “Four Rode By”
  19. Santana, “Persuasion”
  20. Mississippi John Hurt, “Richland Woman Blues”
  21. Mimi & Richard Farina, “A Swallow Song”
  22. The Holy Modal Rounders, “Crowley Waltz”
  23. Albert Collins, “Backstroke”
  24. Odetta, “Santy Anno”
  25. Van Morrison, “Virgo Clowns”

comedy, leslie nielsen, and me

I figured I should watch a Leslie Nielsen movie, and I hadn’t seen Naked Gun 33 1/3 in a long time, so I pulled it off the shelf and settled in. It wasn’t a very good choice … the series was on its last legs … but I laughed a few times.

I struggle so much with contemporary comedy, and yet in the heyday of the Zuckers and Jim Abraham, I laughed … a lot. Eventually there were decreasing returns, but Airplane!, the Police Squad! TV series, my favorite Top Secret, and the first Naked Gun movie were all hilarious. The latter two Naked Guns weren’t as funny, and I didn’t bother with Hot Shots and the rest.

I’m trying to understand why I liked those movies so much more than I like most of the comedies I see today. Don’t really know, but perhaps it has something to do with the rapid-fire approach to jokes (33 1/3 isn’t as quick as its predecessors) and the pop-cult smarts it takes to fully enjoy the movies. In that regard, these movies are like 30 Rock, which tends to congratulate itself (and its audience) for offering/getting all the jokes. You could watch a trailer for Airplane!, see a dozen jokes, and know that there were dozens more in the movie itself. Nowadays, it seems like films are made with just enough funny scenes to make for a good preview, but when you watch the movie, well, you’ve already seen all the good parts.

As usual, though, I can’t come to any useful conclusions. I don’t see any connections between the various comedies I like (Buster Keaton, screwball, Office/Curb Your Enthusiasm discomfort, rapid-fire 30 Rock). It’s going to be a mystery forever, I guess.

success, café style

I have no idea what the “answer” to this is, but it occurred to me as we were eating breakfast. We go to the Homemade Café on most Saturdays, and occasionally on other days of the week. We’ve been going there for close to 30 years, and since it’s only been open for 31, I guess that makes us long-term customers. We go often enough that I am, as of this typing, the Foursquare Mayor of the Homemade Café. They know what our usual orders are, they treat us well … I’m not saying it’s better than whatever café you might frequent, I’m just noting that this is “our” café.

What I was wondering today was simply, how does a small business become a success? By “success,” I mean a place like the Homemade Café … I don’t know the finances of the place, but it’s been open for 31 years, and at some point in those three decades I think we have to accept that it’s a successful operation. But we all know that most small businesses fail, and we all know that restaurants come and go with some frequency. How do the successes pull it off?

Thinking about the specifics of the Homemade Café, I’d say the food is maybe half of the equation, or a little more. Perhaps 50% of their success lies in not sucking … they don’t often give you a reason to stay away, if that makes sense. But the quality of the food above the level of “doesn’t suck” likely adds only an incremental increase to their success. They have no real signature dishes … maybe the home fries, I don’t know … it’s pretty standard fare, eggs, potatoes, coffee, with the touches of Berkeley necessary to make a go of it here. The location is both good and bad … good because it’s a corner location that gets a lot of car traffic, so people are aware of it, bad because it’s not in the best neighborhood, although I’m not sure non-residents know that.

I think the staff is crucial. If you read Yelp etc. you’ll find people complaining about the rude service, but outside of the hurried nature of things when it’s packed, I haven’t seen this. Of course, they know us, so we’re going to get treated as a regular, but really, they don’t strike me as rude.

More important, though, is that there is very low turnover amongst the staff. I forget how much we know, but I’m pretty sure the pay is decent and includes benefits, and there’s a fairly egalitarian feel to the workforce. Whatever it is, I don’t suppose we see more than one new server a year, if that, and there are people who have been there a really long time. There’s something to be said for a place where you know the same people will be there when you show up.

Honestly, though, I still have no idea why this particular café is successful when others are not. I’m tempted to ascribe it all to luck, with the knowledge that we often make our own good luck. There are better cafes that have failed, and who knows why?

random friday, 2006 edition: the dixie chicks, “i'm not ready to make nice”

The Dixie Chicks started winning Grammys in 1999. They were nominated for Best New Artist, even though their then-current album, Wide Open Spaces, was their fourth. It was no coincidence that they started winning Grammys after Natalie Maines joined the band. It wasn’t just Maines’ presence … the band was ready to take steps towards more crossover appeal, and Maines helped in that regard, but I suspect the steps would have been taken with or without Maines.

They spent several years as one of the biggest acts in country music, and eventually in popular music in general. They never shied away from controversy, from “Goodbye Earl” (a humorous song about murdering an abusive husband) to fights with their record label. The hits kept on coming, the awards kept on coming … they were an extremely successful act.

Then, as I’m sure everyone reading this remembers, in 2003, at a concert in London, Natalie Maines made the following statement: “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

What followed can be found in the film Shut Up & Sing. There were death threats … radio stations quit playing their music … many of their fellow country musicians spoke out against them, most notably Toby Keith (but not the Okie from Muskogee, Merle Haggard, who said the women were the subjects of a “verbal witch-hunt”).

Of course, the anti-Bush sentiments did give the band new fans as well … people who, to my mind, were less lovers of the Dixie Chicks than they were haters of the President.

The culmination of this part of their career came in 2006, with the release of the album Taking the Long Way, and specifically the single “Not Ready to Make Nice.” I find the Dixie Chicks appealing enough … I don’t turn the station when they come on the radio, although I don’t have many of their songs on my hard drive. But, as the Shut Up and Sing film makes clear, the attitude of “Not Ready to Make Nice” was risky and the song itself was powerful.

Taking the Long Way, released in 2006, is as of this writing the last album of new material the Dixie Chicks have released.

my wife, i think i'll keep her

Robin got home yesterday morning, which according to her jet-lagged clock was more like bedtime. She took a nap during the day and slept more than 12 hours last night, so gradually she’s getting back to normal. But she ain’t there yet.

Still, she has her priorities set. When she finally woke up this morning, not long after noon, she said “go get that Houston disc!” And she spent the next three hours watching Bruce circa 1978.

Then this evening, we watched four straight episodes of Sons of Anarchy. What a sweetie pie she is!


Patrick Smith on airport security:

TSA tells us we need to stay "one step ahead of the terrorists," but the evidence suggests they've been one step ahead of us. And that shouldn't be shocking. Plainly put, we need to own up to the fact that we cannot protect ourselves from every conceivable threat. Short of turning our airports into fortresses, there will always be a way for a clever, resourceful enough perpetrator to skirt whatever measures we put in place. That's not defeat, it's reality. As is the fact that the true nuts and bolts of thwarting a terror attack is not the job of a TSA concourse screener. It's the job of the FBI, CIA, Interpol, etc. It's the job of law enforcement and counterintelligence. Old-fashioned detective work is a lot more effective and useful than a TSA screener arguing with somebody over the size of a toothpaste tube.

what i watched last week

Vivre sa vie. Godard gives us a film of ideas, but outside of one sequence where the main character, Nana, and a philosopher discuss talking and thinking, the ideas seem to slip in by chance, in the midst of dialogue which is occasionally (if purposely) perfunctory. So a discussion between two prostitutes begins with the two catching up on each other’s lives, but ends with Nana describing her life in clear existential terms: “I am responsible.” The film has a documentary sheen, but you can’t say we are encouraged to see it as a form of fictional cinéma vérité, because Godard interrupts our viewing experience in a Brechtian fashion, so we are always aware that the documentary sheen is constructed, not real. I appreciate that the above might suggest a dry film you wouldn’t watch if not forced to do so, but it is nothing of the sort. Anna Karina is as good as she has ever been, and our attention never flags during the film’s 83 minutes. #125 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time, and #53 on the Arts & Faith Top 100. 10/10.

Ip Man. Very good martial arts film, based on “fact” rather than fact, with Donnie Yen in another fine performance. He carries the title role with quiet confidence, and the fight scenes, staged by the immortal Sammo Hung, are top notch. Simon Yam gets to play a good guy, and a newcomer named Lynn Hung shows that Trisha Helfer isn’t the only 5’10” ex-model who can act, as Mrs. Ip Man. Top it off with Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, who plays a Japanese bad guy with subtleties you don’t often find in such roles, and you’ve got the acting down as well as the action. As for the plot, well, it works well on the screen … it’s kinda like Billy Jack Goes to China in some odd ways … but the life of the real Ip Man gets worked around until he becomes a fine example of Chinese resistance against those big bad Japanese. I’m sure the Chinese government liked this interpretation. 8/10.

Fanboys. I laughed a few times in the early part of this amiable comedy, and thought perhaps it would be the rare contemporary comedy that I liked. It didn’t get any better, though. The in-jokes pile up, and there are some good ones, but to my mind, they were too insular. And the infamous “cancer plot” was just as boringly standard as expected. I’ll bump the rating up a bit since it wasn’t like having my nails pulled out with a pair of pliers, and go with 6/10.