Thursday, September 30, 2010

I've Got A Giant Attitude

There is a long way to go.

The playoffs have yet to begun.

But if this were to be the year that the Giants won it all...

...that would mean a lot.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hot Fall

Every time the temperature approaches 100 in late September, I think back to my first quarter at UC Berkeley, 30 years ago. At that time Cal was on the quarter schedule, so classes had started on September 22. The following week started out hot, and then turned miserable. Temperatures in Berkeley went to about 103, with very little cooling in the evening. That would have been bad even if you lived in an air-conditioned home, but if you lived in an 8-story dorm without air conditioning, you were in big trouble.

And so we were. No one got much sleep that week, and the people on my floor (3rd floor, Deutsch Hall) were just happy that we were on one of the floors with a common room that came complete with balcony. I remember sitting out there well into the wee hours of the morning, talking about nothing and everything, and generally having a great time.

But damn, it was hot.

Blog Hit #27,000

Was from Lincoln, Nebraska.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

College Football Quips

- I guess asking for Texas AND Alabama to lose on the same day was asking for a bit too much.

- It's really too bad that Andrew Luck didn't decide to attend Notre Dame, because then we could have spent for years making reference to "Luck of the Irish."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blast from the Past - PJ Harvey

This post first appeared on August 23, 2006. But now that I've discovered the video is available on YouTube, it seemed worth a revisit. The original title was "Great Random Moments in Rock History:"

Number One:
PJ Harvey on the Tonight Show

I can't pinpoint the exact date, but it was sometime in the early 1990s, probably 92-93.

Polly Jean performed solo that night, and apparently the NBC standards bureau (censors) hadn't taken too close a look at the lyrics of the song she sang, "Rid of Me." She looked great on stage, and began the song, slowly and quietly.

Tie yourself to me
No one else, no
You're not rid of me
You're not rid of me

One can just imagine Jay sitting at this desk, probably thinking, "oh, a breakup song." The danger in her voice now begins to become apparent, and the guitar gets a little louder.

Night and day I breathe
Hah hah ay hey
You're not rid of me
Yeah you're not rid of me
I beg you my darling
Don't leave me
I'm hurting

And then the bridge, and you're thinking that she can't possibly sing those lines on television, but sure enough, and in the harshest falsetto voice you're ever going to hear.

Lick my legs and I'm on fire
Lick my legs and I'm desire

If Jay is paying attention, it's probably becoming clear to him that the protagonist of this song is not a happy woman. The next verse makes clear just how unhappy.

I'll tie your legs
Keep you against my chest
Oh you're not rid of me
Yeah you're not rid of me
I'll make you lick my injuries
I'm gonna twist your head off, see
Till you say don't you wish you never never met her

Which is probably what Jay was thinking about this time. But, ever the gentleman, there is a brief interview, and the shell-shocked look on Jay's face makes it obvious that by now he's thinking, "what can I possibly ask this woman?"

Amazingly enough, PJ is invited back. But nothing will ever top this, her first appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Happy Birthday Bruce

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Pick for Song of the Summer

Idol Iovine

For me, by far the most interesting news about the new "American Idol" lineup was the announcement that record producer/executive Jimmy Iovine will be the show's permanent mentor, replacing the week-to-week, almost unbearably frustrating procession of guest mentors. Some were great, some were awful. You just never knew.

I would suspect that few people in the Idol marketplace know much about Iovine, but consider this:

- In the mid-1970s, Iovine was engineering Harry Nilsson's "Pussy Cats" album, and commented to John Lennon, who was helping Nilsson record Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "wow, John, that's one of the best songs you've ever written."

- In 1978, Iovine engineered Bruce Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town."

- Also in 1978, Iovine produced Patti Smith's "Easter."

- In 1979, Iovine produced Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "Damn the Torpedoes."

- In 1980, Iovine produced Dire Straits' "Making Movies."

- He produced the first "A Very Special Christmas" album, and has been the mastermind behind all of the rest.

- He is credited with giving Eminem's demo tape to Dr. Dre.

- He produced U2's "Rattle and Hum" album.

Only time will tell whether Iovine's involvement results in interesting and/or entertaining television, but no one can argue that his involvement doesn't raise the level of the show's authenticity.

Of course, it's not like "American Idol" was ever about authenticity.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jim Croce

It was 37 years ago today that Jim Croce died in a plane crash, along with his friend and lead guitarist Maury Muehleisen.

Up until his death, Croce had been a successful, likeable pro - perhaps not quite Hall of Fame material, but solid, sincere and totally without pretension. He had his tender side, and he had his "trucker" side. His best known hit, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," was definitely in the latter category. But "Operator," in the former, may have been his best song.

Shortly after he died, Croce hit it big. In early 1974, he dominated the airwaves and the charts, and at one time all three of his albums were in the top five. Hit followed hit followed hit, until eventually all the hits were used up. Had he lived, it's hard to know what level of success Croce might have attained. It's safe to say that, at the very least, he'd still be successful, performing his hits.

He didn't write "I Got A Name," but it was a great performance, and a great song.


American Top 40 Flashback - Special Edition

"Upside Down," 1980

Normally I would do this on a Friday, but I was otherwise engaged last week, so today is a special edition of Top 40 Flashback for my wife's birthday. Above and below are some songs that were #1 on her birthday.

"Fame," 1975

"Money for Nothing," 1985

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Birthday Dinner: Farfalle with Sausage and Chicken

I thought it might be fun to do a post in the style of my colleague and fellow blogger Marguerite, the proprietor of the blog called Starting in December. The construction of this post won't be nearly as artistic as what she accomplishes with hers, but I can attest that my heart is in the right place.

This will also serve as a tribute, however small, to my wife Debra on the occasion of her birthday, which is tomorrow. In any person's life, there is a short list of people that you can say made you what you are today. In my case, she is at the top of that list. The least I could do was to cook a special dinner for her birthday, although it most be noted that she ably served as sous chef.

Back in the days before the kids got to an age where our daily meals had to be planned around what they would consent to eat, we actually got pretty creative and adventurous with our cooking. We subscribed to Bon Appetit for a long time, and would pick out recipes and give them a shot - particularly pasta recipes.

This is a good one.

In my book, great pasta is one the absolute staples of life. If I were forced (heaven forbid) to choose one type of food to live off of for the rest of my life, there's no doubt in my mind that it would be Italian. You can do just about anything with pasta - light, heavy, and anywhere in between. This recipe is perfect - hearty, but with a lightness at the same time. The sausage and the chicken complement each other perfectly, and the farfalle is light enough to encourage multiple helpings (and we were happy to comply).

The recipe:

(from Bon Appetit, October 1998)

"A hearty and satisfying dish served at Capriccio Ristorante in Albany, Oregon"
(I have no idea whether it still exists today)

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 skinless boneless chicken halves, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 pound hot Italian sausages, casings removed
2 cups chopped onions
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchstick-size strips
1 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 1/4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
12 ounces farfalle pasta
1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and saute until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken to bowl. Add wine to skillet; boil until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 3 minutes. Pour wine over chicken. Add sausage, onions and bell pepper to same skillet and cook until sausage browns, breaking up with back of spoon, about 10 minutes. Mix in tomatoes with juices, stock, tomato paste, garlic and rosemary; simmer until reduced to sauce consistency, about 10 minutes. Add chicken and juices; stir to heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally.

Drain pasta; return to pot. Mix in sauce, and 1 cup cheese. Transfer to large bowl. Serve, passing remaining cheese separately.


Recession Cards

When shopping for a birthday card this afternoon, I noticed something that I hadn't before - there now are "recession cards," for those special times when you've lost a job due to the economic meltdown.

Something about this just doesn't seem right. Does someone that has just lost their job really want to get a card to commemorate the occasion? Sympathy cards, I understand - but something about this one just strikes me as strange.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Top Chef Finale

My blog assignment for the evening, courtesy of son #2, is to write something about the finale of Top Chef.

I didn't start watching the show on a regular basis until last year, so I don't have a lot to compare this season with, but overall, the chefs seemed to be slightly weaker than those who competed last year. But the final three of Ed, Kevin and Angelo was probably just as strong as last year's final three, a different Kevin and the brothers Voltaggio.

Last year's winner Michael Voltaggio returned last night as sous chef, along with two other past winners, Ilan Hall and Hung Huynh. Once the drama of whether Angelo would get well enough to cook was resolved, the testosterone flowed pretty freely in the kitchen, with all of the guys being expert trash-talkers (more bleeps in last night's show than any in recent memory).

The great thing about "Top Chef" is that anything can happen from week to week, and even though it may strike some as unfair that past performance is out the window, it makes things completely unpredictable because the outcome may hinge on nothing more than a small mistake or the fact that in any given week, every chef may create something flawless, which leaves the judges very little to pick from between the contestants. One shake of salt too much? Sorry, bud - pack your knives.

That seemed to be particularly true this year. Four weeks ago, I would have been willing to bet good money that either Tiffany or (SPOILER ALERT) Ed was a lock to win the whole thing. But nope, that's not what happened. And as Anthony Bourdain wrote in his recent book, as long as Tom Colicchio is the head judge, the show will be more about cooking, and less about the "reality." And that's just fine with me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oh, Man

It's never a good thing when the top running back on your fantasy team injures his ankle during the 2nd quarter of the first game, and is declared out for the season.

But, that's kind of the way things have been going lately, so I shouldn't be too surprised.

Monday, September 13, 2010

50 for 50, The Movies: #46, "Airplane!" and "Caddyshack"

So…what happened to the “50 for 50 Summer Film Festival,” you might ask? Well, life happened. But even though we’re now in the last few days of summer, I’m determined to move forward with this project until #1 is reached. And thus, shortly this will become the “50 for 50 Fall Film Festival.” And for those who may have forgotten, this is where I’m writing about my 50 favorite movies, during the year that I turned 50. Clever, no?

But enough self-serving drivel. Let’s get back to the list. And since I’m making up the rules of this game, #46 is a tie, between two classic comedies that were released during the summer of 1980: “Airplane!,” and “Caddyshack.”

It would be hard to imagine two films more lowbrow than these two, and that is part of their appeal. Hell, that is their appeal. In one film, one of the funniest jokes involves the “inflation” of an “autopilot” that looks suspiciously like a sexual act made infamous near the end of a recent presidential term. In the other, one of the funniest jokes involves what appears to be the aftermath of someone taking a dump in the country club swimming pool. And there are plenty more where those came from, believe me.

When done badly, movies like this are horrible. But “Airplane!” and “Caddyshack” were not done badly; they were the stuff of genius. And yes, many of the jokes are incredibly stupid. But at the end of the day, these are movies where you start laughing from the opening credits, and don’t stop until the lights come back on in the theater. You can’t really ask for more than that.

The genius of “Airplane!” was its use of three veteran character actors who probably had not broken a smile in their entire careers – Peter Graves, Robert Stack, and Leslie Nielsen. They were all well known, primarily through their work on television. In “Airplane!,” they maintained their usual dour demeanor, to absolutely hilarious results. The movie made Nielsen one of the most recognizable actors in the country, one associated with silly comedy – sometimes to great effect (particularly in “The Naked Gun,” another Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker masterpiece), sometimes in garbage, and always laughing all the way to the bank.

The genius of “Caddyshack” was hiring a couple of really funny old guys – Rodney Dangerfield, and Ted Knight – and a couple of really funny young guys – Chevy Chase and Bill Murray – and basically letting them do their thing. At the time the movie came out, I would have said that Dangerfield was by far the funniest part of it. And don’t get me wrong – Dangerfield is hysterically funny. But 30 years later, it is obvious that the real genius in the movie was Bill Murray. His portrayal of Carl Spackler is not the kind of role that wins Academy Awards, but the performance will be remembered long after a lot of Oscar winners are forgotten. And the number of classic phrases in the performance is legendary. I think my favorite may be “hey Lama, how about a little something for the effort,” but you probably have your own favorite.

Virtual laugh factories, these two. Classic cinema? Perhaps not. Great movies? You’re darn tootin’.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Movie-Going Etiquette - Or Lack Thereof

At the screening of "Machete" we were at today, there were 10 people in the theater. Two were a couple, and the man held two phone conversations, at full volume, during the movie.

Four others were a couple, their friend, and their baby. Yep, that's right, baby - somewhere between six and nine months. Naturally, the baby woke up, and then proceeded to cry. Next thing you know, baby was crawling down the aisle of the theater.

Really, people? I know it's "Machete" and not "Citizen Kane," but still.


The camera pans through the kitchen, and lingers for a moment on a corkscrew that rests on the countertop. And when that happens, you know you’re going to be seeing the corkscrew again. Sure enough, within minutes it’s sticking out of a bad guy’s eye.

And that is just one of the many glories of “Machete,” which gives new meaning to the term “over the top.” It’s gory, it’s disgusting, it’s sacrilegious, and it just might be the most entertaining movie of the year. It’s also very funny, but not in the traditional sense. You find yourself laughing at the absurdity of it all, and right at the moment when you think things can’t get any more absurd, directors Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis just ratchet things a little tighter.

If there’s a trashy B-Movie cliché that Rodriguez and Maniquis have left out of “Machete,” I’m not sure what it is. You’ve got your evil druglord (Steven Seagal, of all people, looking quite porky these days), you’ve got your evil politician (Robert DeNiro, obviously having a great time), you’ve got your evil henchman (Jeff Fahey, evil oozing from every pore), you’ve got your tough-talking female federal agent (Jessica Alba, wearing stiletto heels that come in handy even when they’re not on her feet)…you’ve even got Don Johnson (whatever the hell happened to Don Johnson?) as a lunatic border defender. Oh yeah, and you’ve got Michele Rodriguez as the tough chick with a heart of gold, and you’ve got nurses in mini-skirts and high heels, and you’ve got Cheech Marin as a gun-toting priest, and...

…you’ve got Danny Trejo as “Machete,” a former federale who has an affinity for sharp weapons. Trejo is not the kind of guy that you picture as a leading man, unless, that is, your leading man is the kind of guy who likes to wield a 4-foot long machete and doesn’t hesitate to use it when the occasion demands. Trejo is a man of few words (“Machete don’t text” may be his best line in the entire movie), but there’s character etched in all those lines on his face, and his Machete is, above all, a man of honor.

The whole thing is crazy, but in this case that’s not a bad thing. After all, it’s not every movie that began life as a fake trailer.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Top 40 Flashback - "I Gotta Feeling"

We don't have to go too far back for this one.

Every now and then, a song comes around that just grabs you by the throat, and won't let go. It works its way into your brain, and whether you want to or not, you find yourself singing it to yourself, in the shower, walking down the street, or just sitting at your desk.

"I Gotta Feeling," by the Black Eyed Peas, is just that sort of song. The #1 song on this date, 2009.

P.S. I almost feel like I should post a PG-13 rating on this video...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Transformative Power of Music

I've never understood how people could survive without music. I get the fact that I'm at the extreme end of the spectrum with the thousands of LPs and CDs I own, but when I walk into a house and don't see evidence of any music, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

The power of a great song is transformative. You can be in a bad or melancholy mood, and a good song can come on the radio, or be the next one on the mix tape, and the next thing you know, you can just pack up all those worries in your kit bag, and just turn it up loud, and let the music wash over you.

Today's example, strange though it may be to many, is "Unguided," by the New Pornographers. This came on during my drive home today, and all of a sudden, everything was all right with the world.

Rock on.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Yet Another Netflix Catchup

Getting closer to being completely caught up...

(500) Days of Summer. A very clever, well written, and well acted romantic comedy. It’s sort of like the romantic comedy you might imagine Quentin Tarantino writing and directing. I really liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the male lead, a bit more than I liked Zooey Deschanel as his female counterpart. Both are charming, though there were times when the dialogue seemed a little too good to be true – the kind of things that look great on paper, but you rarely (if ever) hear anyone say in public. Overall, very good, with plenty of laugh out loud moments.

Diva. I’m pretty sure that I saw this when it first came out in the early 1980s, but upon this viewing it would seem that I’d forgotten about most of it. The movie was quite the rage right about the time that VCR players became quite the rage, and if I recall became one of the most popular foreign films ever. But who knows, I may be misremembering that as well. It’s definitely an off-beat story, about a young man in France with an obsession for an opera singer with whom he establishes an intriguing but also somewhat unusual relationship. Along the way, a variety of bad guys become involved –some of them just want the bootleg recording he’s made at one of the singer’s recitals, and other more nefarious types want a copy of a tape that has been surreptitiously placed into his satchel. This tape would reveal the surprising leader of a prostitution ring, and there are many folks who want it – some even willing to kill for it. And then there’s also the strange man and young woman who live together in a loft and behave in that off-beat way that you really only see in the movies. They also happen to be one of the best parts of the movie, and become heroes of a sort near the end. I really enjoyed it and would say that it was better than I remembered, but considering I didn’t remember most of it, I’ll just stick with saying that it’s worth a look.

Gone Baby Gone. I’ve been wanting to see this one for quite a while, and it did not disappoint. Ben Affleck’s talent seems to be behind the camera, and his little brother Casey does a terrific job as Patrick Kenzie in this interpretation of the Dennis Lehane novel. The movie is gripping from first scene to last, and exposes the underbelly of Boston in a way that even “Mystic River” didn’t. I was a bit disappointed in Michelle Monaghan as Angie Gennaro, mostly because she’s not quite what I pictured when I read the Kenzie/Gennaro books. Ed Harris is spectacular as a flawed cop, and it was great to see John Ashton – my God, had he been in anything notable since “Beverly Hills Cop?” Amy Madigan is also very good as the kidnapped baby’s aunt, and those who only know Amy Ryan from her role on “The Office” are in for a shock. She is entirely unrecognizable in this role as a mother who couldn’t care less about her child, and scary in her depiction of a woman who basically turns out to be a total loser. After seeing this, I can hardly wait for Affleck’s upcoming “The Town.”

Tiger and Phil

I wish we could stop this ridiculous talk of when & if Phil Mickelson is going to pass Tiger as the #1 ranked player in the world. Anyone who's watched a minute of golf this summer knows that Phil and Tiger aren't even without shouting distance of being the best player in the world right now. So let's accept the rankings for what they are, an artificial construct, and move on.

Can't Get It Out Of My Head

There are two commercials in heavy rotation right now (at least during sporting events), and I'm not even sure what products they are endorsing, but I can't get the music they're using out of my head.

One is the commercial that's using Buddy Holly's "Everyday." It's a very good commercial, and I just wish they were using a better Holly song. Actually, the song isn't so bad, but the arrangement is quite likely the worst of any Holly song.

The second is the one that uses a new version of "Space Oddity."

In any event, I think it might be time to put on some music.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

"The American"

Son #2 and I saw “The American” in a theater that was ¾ full, and I’d be willing to bet that ¾ of those people walked out unhappy, or at least wondering what the hell they’d just seen. A couple on a date (or so it seemed) had even walked out, about 20 minutes before the film was over.

The biggest clue to what director Anton Corbijn was trying to achieve with “The American” comes in a scene that takes place in a small Italian bar. Clooney is sitting at a small table, waiting to be served, and the memorable strains of Ennio Morricone can be heard on the soundtrack. The camera pulls back to reveal, playing on the flat screen TV, Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western masterpiece, “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Anyone who’s seen that movie knows that for long stretches, the dialogue often plays second fiddle to the visual story that’s being told on the screen. And that’s what “The American” feels like. There are no quick cuts in this movie, no “Bourne” style action set-pieces.

After an opening scene in Sweden that establishes Clooney’s assassin as someone whose morals play a back seat to his instinct for survival, the movie unfolds slowly but surely – Jack/Edward takes refuge in a small, somewhat claustrophobic Italian village, a village where the pathways are narrow and you never know who might be hiding behind the corner. It’s clear that Jack/Edward wants out of the life, and a comment by his handler leads one to believe that, as a good as he is at his craft, he’s past his prime. “You’ve lost your edge,” Pavel even says at one point.

It probably sounds strange to refer to what Jack/Edward does as a “craft,” but as portrayed in the film, he is a master craftsman. The assignment he’s been given is to construct a weapon to very exacting specifications, and to watch him build the rifle is to watch a master craftsman, even an artist, at work. To make the rifle takes time, and during that time Jack/Edward has time to absorb his surroundings, and learn a little bit about the people who live in the village. He is befriended by a priest with secrets of his own, secrets that Jack/Edward is able to discern simply because of his trained assassin’s eye. He meets and begins to fall in love with a prostitute (played by Violante Placido, the daughter of the actress who played Apollonia in “The Godfather”), who is wise beyond her years and who just might be his salvation. He meets the woman for whom he is building the weapon, and their dialogue is filled with wit and tension. It’s clear that she is just as deadly as Jack/Edward himself, and part of what makes the movie successful is that you never quite know if she’s going to lean over and kiss him, or pull out a gun and shoot him in the temple.

I’ve always had a weakness for stories about assassins. I think that may mean that I have a fatalistic streak, because when you think of the great assassin stories – “The Day of the Jackal” comes to mind – you sort of have a feeling how they’re going to end (especially in those instances where the target is a well-known figure of the past who didn’t become the victim of an assassin’s bullet). I always end up rooting for the assassin, and I’m usually disappointed (the only example I can think of where that didn’t turn out to be the case was Thomas Perry’s great book “The Butcher’s Boy”). When I was in high school, I even wrote a short story about one – he was hired to assassinate the President of the United States, and at the end, he went through a crisis of conscience, and took his own life instead. So not even I could allow my "hero" to get away with it.

The tension in “The American” comes from its slow, steady pace. Because as the story unfolds, you find out that Jack/Edward is human, and capable of human emotions. And that isn’t necessarily a good thing for an assassin. So in the end, I thought it was outstanding – a lot of things that you don’t normally see in a summer movie (things like the old, leathery faces of the supporting actors).

For an audience expecting explosions and jump-cuts every two minutes, “The American” will indeed be a disappointment. But for those with the patience to let the film wash over you, “The American” is well worth the effort.

BONUS: Read the great Sheila O'Malley's thoughts about the film here. As usual, she nails it.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

For Radiohead Fans

I wouldn't call myself a Radiohead fan, but I'm a big admirer of their approach to sharing music. And now the band has done something that I've never heard any other major artist contemplate - hearing about a group of fans in Prague who were planning to film their concert from as many angles as possible, the band provided them with the audio masters so that the quality of the sound would match the quality of the video.

You can see the results here. A lot of artists should learn a lesson from this, but somehow I doubt they will.

(Hat tip: John Althouse Cohen)

Friday, September 03, 2010

American Top 40 Flashback - "Honky Tonk Woman"

When it came out in 1969, this was one of my favorite songs - I would sit by the radio waiting for it to come on. More than 40 years later, it still sounds pretty damn good.

"Honky Tonk Woman," The Rolling Stones. The #1 song in America this week in 1969.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Old Singer, Old Sound, New Songs

My favorite kind of album is the one that is totally unexpected. The classic example would be Bob Dylan's "Time Out of Mind," which represented a return to glory after more than 20 years of...well, less than glory. It's great when the new album by M.I.A. or Arcade Fire turns out to be great, but you sort of expect that. But when something comes out of the blue and just grabs you by the throat (or the ears, I guess), it just seems to add to the experience.

This year's example of that would be John Mellencamp's "No Better Than This." Mellencamp's last several albums have been fairly dull - his bonafides established, he seemed to be determined to establish himself as the truth-telling roots man of our time. The only problem was that most of his material, though admirable, was fairly dull. And the omnipresent "This Is Our Country," which under normal circumstances might have qualified as a classic Springsteen-style rocker, became downright annoying after it became the unofficial theme song of NBC's Sunday Night Football.

On the new one, Mellencamp again goes for the roots feel, but discovers a sense of humor in the process, and it adds a whole new dimension to the proceedings. You can almost see the sly smile on his face when he begins to sing, probably imagining himself as Elvis or Johnny Cash, circa 1958, working in the studio (Sun Studios, to be exact) with Sam Phillips.

Many of the songs were recorded at Sun Studios, and playing the role of Sam Phillips is T-Bone Burnett, whose only rival as the producer of our time is Rick Rubin. The recording techniques harken back to an earlier era, to the point where you can really imagine Elvis or Johnny stepping out on the stage, and singing these songs just the way the Mellencamp sings them on the album.

It's a triumph of sound, and a triumph of concept. Songs like the title track and "Love at First Sight" are timeless; they would have been hits back in the late fifties, and we can only hope that they'll be hits today. This is probably the album that John Mellencamp was born to make, and given the chance to make it, he came through - in spades.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Obligatory "I Hate Tennis Players Who Grunt" Post

Please, for God's sake, STOP IT!

On the River Road

I live in Elk Grove, 15 miles or so south of Sacramento, and work in West Sacramento. There are a number of ways to get to work, and most of the choices are bad ones. You have heavy traffic on Hwy 99, you have heavy traffic on I-5, and you have heavy traffic on US 50.

But if you're willing to go a little out of your way, and add about 10 miles to the trip, you can ride up the river road, and have a blissful, car-free driving experience. I've been doing that a lot lately.

Lyric of the Day #4

"All night long
We would sing that stupid song
And every word we sang
I knew was true"

Dr. Wu, Steely Dan