Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

The posting has been light lately for a number of reasons, but I would be remiss if I didn't wish everyone a Happy Halloween - especially after the special October color scheme.

This is the "before" shot...suffice to say that, as we approach 9 p.m., all of the good stuff is gone. Most of what is left falls into the "hard candy" variety.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Game 6

I'd be remiss if I didn't write at least a few words on the horror movie that played itself out in Busch Stadium last night.

I've said this before, but not all losses are created equal. You're never happy when your team loses a game, but every now and then - it's inevitable, if you're a big sports fan - you're faced with a loss so abrupt and so painful that it sticks with you. Sometimes, for the rest of your life. Sure, the pain fades after a while, but the memories never do.

For me, the games that would fall into that category are "the immaculate reception," Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, and most of all, Game 4 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals between the Kings and the Lakers - the "Robert Horry dagger through the heart" game. I dreamed about that one for months, seeing the shot, over and over again, hoping against hope that this time, it would bounce out.

If the Rangers lose tonight, last night's Game 6 will become that kind of game for Texas Rangers fans. Blowing a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, when you're one strike away from victory, is bad enough. Doing that again in the bottom of the tenth is cruel and unusual punishment.

And yes, Texas could win. There is precedent for that; after all, the Big Red Machine did bounce back after what may have been the most famous Game 6 of all back in 1975. More likely, I think, is what happened in 1986 after Boston ("the Buckner game") allowed the Mets to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Try as they might, those Rangers players are going to have a tough time forgetting about last night, and I think it will effect them out on the field tonight. That's not what I want to happen, but that is what I think will happen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What the...?

This is a picture of the lyric sheet that is included with the new Feist album.

I mean, I honestly supposed to look at this and read these lyrics while I'm listening to this album? I can barely look at it without getting dizzy.

Artistic? Perhaps. Useful? Uh, no.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Top 50 Albums, #40 - "Making Movies," Dire Straits

“Burst on the scene” may be too strong a phrase, but Dire Straits certainly made an indelible first impression with their 1978 single, “Sultans of Swing.” It was that rare song that could satisfy both fans of Top 40 radio (which was by then in its death throes), and FM radio (which had yet to switch over to a tight, constrained format that would make Top 40 radio seem like a bastion of musical diversity by comparison). The self-titled, debut album from whence the song came was a solid debut effort, but on repeated listening, a tad dull. Clearly evident, however, was the band’s promise, and specifically Mark Knopfler’s promise as a songwriter (there was never any doubt about his guitar playing).

None of the songs on the second album, “Communique,” broke out on radio at all, and I didn’t even buy the album. At the time, once could have been forgiven for thinking that the band was a flash in the pan, and that Knopfler’s main claim to future fame would be as a session player on albums by other artists.

In the fall of 1980, the band released “Making Movies,” and truth be told, I wouldn’t have bought that album either, except for the fact that Greil Marcus had listed it in the #1 spot on his “Real Life Top Ten” for the month of October. Back in those days there were a handful of critics whose word was gold for me (Dave Marsh, Robert Christgau and Paul Nelson being among the others), so I figured that I didn’t have a lot to lose.

The album begins with the strains of “The Carousel Waltz,” and almost immediately you hear something that you’d never heard before on a Dire Straits album (and would not hear again) – the piano of Roy Bittan, which is a key factor in the album’s musical success. The next thing you hear is another key factor – a much fuller, deeper sound, courtesy of a sterling production effort by Jimmy Iovine. The band’s debut, for all its strengths, had a very “thin” sound, and Iovine corrected that error by enhancing the sound of both bass and drums. Credit is also due to Iovine for creating a sound perfectly suited for this band – it doesn’t sound like his work with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (a little crisper and clearer), because that approach may not have worked for Dire Straits.

But even with the contributions of Iovine and Bittan, what lifts “Making Movies” to heights the band had never reached (and would never reach again) is the songwriting and singing of Mark Knopfler. Side one is a masterpiece of narrative epics, none of which, stylistically, sounds exactly like the other. “Tunnel of Love,” the opener, probably comes closest to the style of the first two albums, but Knopfler’s muscular vocal and layered-guitar help it reach levels not even matched by “Sultans of Swing.” It’s a long song, clocking in at almost 8 minutes, but it never lags, and the sense of drama never lets up.

“Romeo and Juliet,” the second song, is probably the best song that Knopfler has ever written. Like the tragedy from which it takes its title, the song tells the story of a romance that isn’t going to work, and you can hear the pain in Knopfler’s vocal and lyrics. The end of the song, when the first verse is repeated, features a vocal from Knopfler that is downright soulful. And when the last line comes – “you and me babe, how about it? – Knopfler allows his guitar to tell the end of the story, and it becomes the perfect representation of tears streaming down his face.

“Skateaway,” the first side closer, creates a sound that is nothing like the band had done up to that point. I have no way of knowing this, but I’m sure that Iovine deserves a good amount of credit for that. For a band rooted in the traditional sounds of rock music, “Skateaway” is a major departure. In this particular movie, Knopfler’s guitar plays a distinctly supportive role, allowing Bittan’s keyboards, John Illsey’s bass, and Pick Withers’ drums to play center stage. The song isn’t exactly danceable, but you could certainly imagine it playing somewhere in a club (or a roller rink?). And it’s another strong lyric, including the line that gives the album its title:

She gets rock n roll a rock n roll station
And a rock n roll dream
She’s making movies on location

She don’t know what it means

But the music make her wanna be the story

And the story was whatever was the song what it was

Roller girl don’t worry

d.j. play the movies all night long

In comparison with the magnificent first side, the second side of the album is more standard fare – although “Expresso Love,” “Hand in Hand,” and “Solid Rock” are all standout songs in the classic rock mold – and would have made a huge impression on any other Straits album. The record’s only flaw comes with the closing song, “Les Boys,” which is, truth be told, pretty stupid. Take that song off the album and replace it with one as strong as the three which immediately preceded it, and “Making Movies” may well have ended up in my top twenty.

But let’s not quibble – “Making Movies” is a great album, and deserves to be in this heady company.

Making Movies (1980) • Produced by Jimmy Iovine and Mark Knopfler

Tunnel of Love/Romeo and Juliet/Skateaway/Expresso Love/Hand in Hand/Solid Rock/Les Boys

Friday, October 21, 2011

American Top 40 Flashback - Gladys Knight & the Pips

I wasn’t a huge fan of this song when it was first released, and my excuse for that is that I was in the 8th grade and not old enough to know better.

The recorded performance is stronger than this live performance – there’s just something about the Pips that border on camp. And left to her own devices, Gladys could turn up the histrionics to the point where one could be forgiven for thinking they were watching “Star Search.”

But as far as the record goes, almost 40 years later, there’s not much to say except that it’s about as close to perfection as a pop single can be.

“Midnight Train to Georgia,” Gladys Knight & the Pips, the #1 song this week in 1973.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another Halloween Story!

This one is from a colleague at work. Perhaps not as morbid as mine, but be the judge.

In Retrospect
By Kristi Garrett

“There is a monster in my closet,” Granny admitted as she handed me the pickles.

I wasn’t quite sure if she was telling me she was seeing things again or that Charlie’s pet guinea pig had gotten loose. It was kind of hard to tell, since she hadn’t missed a beat slathering her frankfurter with mustard and ketchup. The condiments smeared across her cheeks as she unceremoniously jammed one end of the dog into her mouth.

“I’ll take a look after lunch,” I offered, hoping Fred would be home by then so he could look after his mother himself.

As it turned out, Fred called saying he wasn’t going to be home until late, and Granny waited until just after her program ended to announce her intentions.

“Where’s that big kitchen knife?” she demanded as she rifled through the sharps drawer next to the stove. I jumped up to stop her from slicing off a digit.

“Here, let me get that,” I quipped, carefully removing the instrument from her trembling hand.

Sighing deeply, I resigned myself to the prospect of a lengthy, fruitless search mission and headed into her room. Granny trailed behind, holding a strainer poised ready to strike.

I pushed open the door, now somehow fearful of what I might find. ‘Oh, for Pete’s sake. What am I freaking out about? There’s nothing in there,’ I reassured myself as I tiptoed toward the closet.

I listened carefully to make sure I could detect no noises coming from inside. Tick, tick, tick. Granny’s mantle clock made the only sounds.

Sliding open the closet door, inch by inch, I watched for signs of movement. Nothing. Finally, I slammed the door all the way open. All was still and dark inside.

“There’s nothing in there, Granny. No monsters. Coast is clear.”

Not convinced, Granny approached the closet, strainer in hand, and inspected it for herself. She poked at her dresses, moving each faded garment with the end of the strainer. One by one, she lifted the shoeboxes stacked on the shelf. She poked the pile of crocheted afghans stacked on the floor. Satisfied, she retreated and sat on the edge of the bed.

“I was sure he was in there this morning. You must have scared him off,” she said accusingly. “Get out before he’s gone for good.”

“You want a monster in your closet? What, are you cra…”

I was close to losing it with her. Closing the door to Granny’s room, I returned to the kitchen to do the lunch dishes.

“Fred promised me he’d take care of it if his mother got worse. I don’t need this,” I muttered under my breath. I promised myself I’d have a talk with him when he got home. And I’d be prepared.

After a little while, I tiptoed down the hallway and listened at Granny’s door. Heavy breathing. She was napping. I knew Charlie would be home from school soon, and there wouldn’t be time then.

I tiptoed back to the living room and got out the phone book. Flipping back and forth, I found the entry I wanted.

Mental Health Services.

“Just do it,” I told myself. “If you wait, you won’t have the nerve.”

The call took less than ten minutes. I was surprised to see how easy it was.

In less than an hour, a car pulled up out front. A sturdy woman with a no-nonsense look about her emerged, followed by a lanky male attendant. I greeted them at the door.

“She’s just inside,” I said, directing them to Granny’s room.

With surprisingly little fuss they gathered up my husband’s mother and escorted her to the car. The no-nonsense nurse handed me her card.

“You have 48 hours to claim her if you decide to,” she said matter-of-factly.

I nodded and closed the door behind them. I’d explain the arrangements to Fred later.

When my husband came in about eight, he found me in the kitchen, happily chopping vegetables for his salad.

“I’ve got great news for you, dear,” I said, sharing the events of the day with the carefree rhythm of an excited teenager.

When I was finished, Fred stood there, mouth agape, the mail falling from his grasp.

In retrospect, I could have handled things differently.

Nice job, Kristi!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Check It Out

A friend and former colleague has a daughter who is in the fifth grade, and her teacher has been working with the kids in the class to write their own poetry. You can find the entertaining and sometimes amusing results at Musings from the Monkey Bars.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Halloween Short Story

With a major tip of the hat to Wil Wheaton, who came up with the original idea on his blog.

Wil started with: writing a short story that begins with "There is a monster in my closet."

I took it one step further, based on an amusing news story that my colleagues and I were chuckling about today - the story has to end with "In retrospect, I could have handled things differently."

So without further ado, I present:

The Monster In My Closet
I. Before
There is a monster in my closet.

During the day, it doesn’t do much. From time to time I can hear it whisper – as I’m driving to and from work, and sometimes when I’m sitting at my desk. It’s better when I can’t hear what it’s saying, because the things it says are not very nice. I turn my music up as loud as it will go, because then I’m not tempted to try and figure out what it’s trying to tell me.

The nights are another story. I can usually tell that something is up because my cat will wander into the closet, stare intently at something for what seems like an hour, and then run down the stairs with a very spooked look on his face. When that happens, I usually don’t see him until the next morning.

And the thing is, I’ll walk over to the closet myself and try to find what it was that spooked the cat, and I can never find it. But it’s there, trust me. I can tell because it’s always managed to knock one of my suits off the hanger. That, I can live with.

What’s hard is what happens after I fall asleep. That’s when the monster in the closet turns into the monster that’s in my head. The dreams are never exactly the same, but they’re all variations on the same theme. I hesitate to go into too much detail, but let’s just say that very sharp knives are involved. There’s also a sticky substance that could be blood, but then again, it could just be chocolate. My dreams are in black and white (Is that normal? I can never remember), so it’s difficult to tell.

I think I’ve finally figured out a way to stop this madness. I mean, listen to me – “stop this madness,” my God, how melodramatic can you get? And I know I’m not mad, I just want to have a good night’s sleep. So here’s what I think: if just this one time, I actually do what the monster is telling me to do, then maybe it will leave me alone. I think I saw that in a movie once, or maybe it was a short story I read in the seventh grade. I can’t remember.

The weird thing is that this feels so much like one of my dreams. I suppose when this is all over, I should try to write down what happens in my dreams in a little notebook that I keep beside the bed. I think I saw that in a movie once too.

I just wish that what the monster asked me to do didn’t scare me so much. I mean, I don’t even like knives…I don’t think I’ve ever used this one, not once, in all the time I’ve had it. To tell the truth, I can’t even remember why I bought it. It’s almost like someone whispered in my ear one time when I was in the store, and for some reason I thought buying it would be a good idea.

OK, so I’m taking some deep breaths now. All I can say is that I hope this works. Because I just can’t see myself doing this on a regular basis.

II. After
The first thing to say is that it didn’t work. I still hear the monster in my closet, although the whisper is even fainter now that I’m not living in the house where I used to be. The funny thing is, I don’t even have a closet now. So I’m not sure why I can still hear him (actually I don’t know for sure if the monster is a “him,” although I find it hard to imagine a “her” asking me to do those sorts of things).

I suppose the moral of the story is that you shouldn’t always listen to the monster in your closet. I’ve lost my house, I’ve lost my friends, and I suppose one could say that I’ve lost my freedom – although the people here are very nice, and they even let me spend part of each day relaxing in the courtyard. But in the end, it’s just not the same.

In retrospect, I could have handled things differently.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Our Coach Is Tougher Than Your Coach

At 5-1, there seems to be little doubt that these 49ers are for real. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not fitting myself for a fake Super Bowl ring yet. But in the NFC West, it doesn't take much to make the playoffs, and the Niners appear to be getting stronger every week. Today they faced their toughest test of the season, facing the undefeated Lions at frenzied Ford Field, and prevailed with a late touchdown (on a beautiful throw by Alex Smith on 4th down) on a day that will be remembered more for its toughness than its beautiful football.

And of course, for the scuffle between the coaches after the game. Silliness on both sides, if you ask me. Jim Harbaugh is one of those guys that you love when he's on your team (like now) and hate when he's not (like last year, when he was at Stanford), but he could tone down the end-of-game enthusiasm a bit, at least until he gets off the field. On the other hand, Jim Schwartz just looked like a weenie for his little pout-fest, taking offense at Harbaugh's exuberance and "hard handshake." My guess is that he's feeling a little foolish right about now. And if he isn't he should be.

As well as he's played so far this year, the Niner's weak link still seems to be Alex Smith. That interception he threw in the third quarter was a horrible, horrible throw, and at a time when the team was really poised to put the game away. But he didn't give up, and that really was an amazing throw for the winning touchdown. And that describes this year's Niners to a T - they don't give up, and they put in more effort than the other guy. And as long as they keep that up, good things should keep happening.

Friday, October 14, 2011

American Top 40 Flashback - The Beatles!

I’m not even sure if I can come up with the words to describe how much I love this song. Part of it is memory; the song takes me back to the fourth grade, when I was singing it with my friends, arguing about what it meant; generally agreeing that The Beatles were the four coolest individuals on the planet.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when my son’s high school marching band (that’s the Pleasant Grove Eagles, home of the #1 football team in the Sacramento region) played it at halftime, marched right up to the stands, and a couple of thousand people started to sing and clap along.

To this day, I’m not even sure if the lyrics make any sense, and in the end whether the lyrics make sense is completely irrelevant – because the song really just boils down to this:

Na na na na na na na
Na na na na
Hey Jude

Just take a look at Ringo’s face at around 4:43 of this video. That’s all it takes, and that’s all we need. “Hey Jude,” The Beatles, the #1 song this week in 1968.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Things I Could Be Writing About If I Wasn't Ironing Shirts

- "Before Sunset," "Never Let Me Go," and "The Kids Are All Right."

- Ron Washington's role as Manager of the Texas Rangers.

- The resurgent San Francisco 49ers.

- Frank Langella in "Frost/Nixon."

- What an awesome song "The Living Bubba" is.

- A recap of #41-50 of my All Time Top 50 Albums Extravaganza.

- What it's like to taste 70-year old tequila.

Friday, October 07, 2011


When you're on the road and away from home, you can use a smile every now and then.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Top 50 Albums, #41 - "Black Cadillac," Rosanne Cash

I. I bought my first Rosanne Cash album when I was 19 years old, and I’m not ashamed to admit the reason I bought it was…well, on that cover she looked pretty hot. God knows that’s not the politically correct thing to say, but in my defense, I bought a lot of albums back in those days that I would call “impulse buys.” And if you’re going to buy an album on an impulse…probably time to stop before I get myself into real trouble. The record inside the cover was fairly standard country fare, but even then you could tell that this was an artist just waiting to make that leap to the next level. And to hear her trading vocals with Bobby Bare on “No Memories Hangin’ Round” was to hear a young woman who deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as her very famous father.

In the summer of 1981, I was captivated by Rosanne’s song “Seven Year Ache.” It was one of those songs that I could listen to for hours, back to back, and never ever get tired of it. To this day, it remains one of my favorite songs.

All of which is to say that Rosanne Cash and I go a long way back. I can say without guilt that she was one of my favorite artists even before her father became a part of my personal pantheon. From “Rhythm and Romance” and “King’s Record Shop” in the 1980s to “Interiors” and “The Wheel” in the 1990s, it was clearly evident that Rosanne was more, much more, than just the continuation of a family tradition. She was someone who was destined to make a mark of her own.


The key to understanding “Black Cadillac” is this photo, and the dedications that appear below it. From left, they read:

In memory of:

June Carter Cash
June 23, 1929-May 15, 2003

John R. Cash
February 26, 1932-September 12, 2003

Vivian Liberto Cash Distin

April 23, 1934-May 24, 2005

It is an album dedicated to the mother, father and stepmother whom she loved dearly, and that love comes across in every track, every note played on the album.

But what makes the album special is that this is not a blind love – it is an unconditional love, but one that is entirely honest and heartfelt. It doesn’t brush aside the difficulties and the heartache that crossed the lives of those involved, it tackles those issues head on and comes out the other side stronger for it.

I knew this was a special album from the first time I heard it; I remember sending friends and colleagues an email in which I compared it to classics like “Beggars Banquet” and practically begged them to go out and buy it. And five years later, nothing has made me change my mind. It’s a musical triumph as much as it is a lyrical and spiritual one; the decision to bring in Bill Bottrell to produce half of the tracks was an inspired one. If Rosanne’s late-era albums have had any weaknesses, it’s been with the production of her husband John Leventhal – which at times threatens to take all of the mystery, all of the danger, out of the music. But coupled with Bottrell, it’s as if Leventhal was inspired, and the album is seamless – if you didn’t read the credits, you might be hard-pressed to guess which producer was responsible for which song.

It’s not every artist who can turn tragedy – in the form of death – into triumph and renewal. Rosanne Cash is that rare artist who can achieve such heights.

Black Cadillac, Rosanne Cash (2006)

Tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 produced by Bill Bottrell
Tracks 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 produced by John Leventhal

Black Cadillac/Radio Operator/I Was Watching You/Burn Down This Town/God Is In The Roses/House on the Lake/The World Unseen/Like Fugitives/Dreams Are Not My Home/Like a Wave/World Without Sound/The Good Intent

"Ball and Biscuit"

OK, like I've said before, you watch a lot of sports, you see a lot of commercials for adult beverages. I guess there must be some kind of connection or something (yes, that's a joke).

This one is short, but it's a good one. I've never tried Captain Morgan Rum and I'm not sure I ever will, but their latest ad campaign is impressive. And working what is certainly the best song The White Stripes ever recorded into a commercial is impressive indeed.

Monday, October 03, 2011

"The Date"

One could be excused for thinking, by the number of posts I've written about beer commercials, that I was obsessed with them. I don't think I am; it's just that I watch a lot of sports and when you watch a lot of sports, you watch a lot of beer commercials.

I'm surprised by the number of "dislikes" this has gotten on YouTube, because this may be the best one I've ever seen. Feels very Tarantino-like to me.

October Design

I had hoped to be able to say this was in honor of the Giants defending their World Series title, but that didn't quite work out. So we'll just have to say it's in honor of autumn and the "Halloween season." Assuming there is such a thing - all I know is that most of our neighbors put up their decorations this weekend.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Top 50 Albums, #42 - "Graceland," Paul Simon

This is a bold statement, but one that I think is valid – Paul Simon’s “Graceland” is one of the most famous albums in the history of rock music. It was a huge worldwide hit, it won the Grammy Award for Best Album of the year, and it won the Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll in the year it was released, by a landslide. There may have been other albums to achieve that troika, but off the top of my head I can’t think of a single one.

When “Graceland” was released in 1986, Paul Simon’s stature in the history of rock and pop music was already secure. Through his work with Art Garfunkel, his solo work, and his appearances on Saturday Night Live, he was destined for inclusion in a Hall of Fame that hadn’t even been invented yet. Some called him a bourgeois Bob Dylan, but few could argue with his musical and lyrical accomplishments.

But “Graceland” represented something new for Simon, and something new for American pop music. What lifted the album beyond the ordinary was Simon’s decision to cut most of the tracks with South African musicians, who were still living under the last vestiges of apartheid. Simon was accused at the time of violating the cultural boycott of South Africa, but 25 years later, one could just as easily argue that the exposure Simon gave to these musicians – great musicians like Ray Phiri, Joseph Shabalala, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo – was just another nail in apartheid's coffin.

And 25 years later, one can set aside the politics of the time and enjoy the album simply for its music. And there’s no doubt that working with the South Africans energized Simon in a way that hadn’t happened for a very long time. From the first propulsive chords of the album’s opener, “The Boy in the Bubble,” the music crackles with vitality, and could genuinely be said to be a sound that many people had never heard before. And Simon himself was up to the task – his vocals on the album remain the strongest of his career, and the musicians inspired him to write some of his most memorable lyrics.

“Graceland” – for Paul Simon, the highlight of a long, memorable career.

Graceland (1986) • Produced by Paul Simon

The Boy in the Bubble/Graceland/I Know What I Know/Gumboots/Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes/You Can Call Me Al/Under African Skies/Homeless/Cray Love Vol. II/That Was Your Mother/All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints