Sunday, September 30, 2012


Well, I guess the moral of the story is that you don't want to head into the Sunday singles matches with a 10-6 lead.  That almost guarantees that you will lose.

Random and immediate thoughts:

- How important was Europe winning those last two matches yesterday?  Even if the U.S. can scratch out 1/2 point in those two, they probably get to keep the Cup on this side of the pond.

- How bad was our play at 17 and 18 today?  Well, watching it live it didn't feel that our guys played that badly, but the bottom line is that they didn't play well enough to win, and they'll have that hanging over their heads for a long time.

- Justin Rose's comeback against Mickelson was probably the epic moment of the day.  Mickelson didn't lose that match; Rose went out and snatched it away from him.  Magnificent play on the final two holes.

- Davis Love will be answering a lot of questions tonight and in the days to come about his captain's picks - both of whom he backloaded today and both of him faded in the stretch to, let's face it, give the Cup to Europe.

- Tiger Woods wins 1/2 point - adding to what will surely be the most negative [golf-related] component on his vita when they get to considering his career.

Certainly a deflating day in the history of U.S. Ryder Cup golf - folding in front of what was certainly the most rabid pro-U.S. crowd in the history of the event.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"The ghosts are a comfort to me"

You have to wonder if, when Patterson Hood scheduled the release of his new album "Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance" for September 11, he had any idea that two powerhouses were set to be released on the same day - Bob Dylan's "Tempest," which has had more written about it than any album in years, and "The Carpenter," the latest Rick Rubin-produced effort from rising stars The Avett Brothers.

What I know for certain is that when I visited Dimple Records to buy all three albums, two of them were very easy to find.  And I was lucky to find the last available copy of Patterson's new album, tucked into the middle of his very small section back in a remote corner of the store.

So it's not likely that "Heat Lightning" is going to make Patterson Hood a big star, or a household name, or anything remotely like that.  But after a couple of weeks of listening, it's possible that his album just might be the best of the three.  I say "just might" because Dylan's latest is clearly an epic effort, and it's more a matter of deciding how good it is - is it great, or is it the latest masterpiece in a career chock full of them? 

"Heat Lightning" is a modest album - musically, Hood is not trying anything that he hasn't tried before.  But perhaps because the album is, as he writes in the liner notes, the soundtrack for memories of his family, in particular his beloved Great Uncle George A. Johnson (whom Hood immortalized in one of his best songs, "Sands of Iwo Jima"), he has an emotional connection with these songs that lends even the most simple ones a level of depth and a level of commitment that surpasses even his best work with Drive-By Truckers.

The title track is the emotional centerpiece of the album, recounting a visit to the house where Mr. Johnson lived for so many years (he was 91 when he died) and the flood of memories that hit Hood as a result:

Holding on alone to the place you always held
As heat lightning rumbles in the distance
The night creeps slowly by as  hold myself together
Somewhere between anguish and acceptance

But that is hardly the only great song on the album - on "Disappear," on "Better than the Truth," on "Leaving Time" and others, Hood achieves a level of clarity in singing and details that he has rarely matched before.  Nothing loud, and mostly very simple, but enormously powerful and affecting.

Hood's work for what may be the best working band in America has left no doubt that he is one of the great songwriters of this era.  But what he achieves on "Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance" may be more impressive than that.  If you can find a copy of the new album, and of course there is always the Internet to help with that, you should snap it up.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Not the worst I've ever had.  In case you can't tell, it's a tiny bottle of Crown Royal.

So tonight, we can toast the end of our long national nightmare, and savor the relief we will all feel at being able to boo the regular referees once again.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Andy Williams

To honor Andy Williams, I'm going to repost a piece I wrote in December 2006 about what I am convinced will remain his most enduring work: The Andy Williams Christmas Album.  Mind you, we're talking about what was the first of many "Andy Williams Christmas Albums."  Some were good, and as noted in the piece, some were complete garbage.  But the one to seek out is the one with the red cover, where Andy sings (among other songs) what are pretty darn close to being the definitive versions of "White Christmas," "The Christmas Song," and "O Holy Night."

The Andy Williams Christmas Album. For many baby-boomers, the name Andy Williams is probably synonymous with a series of saccharine Christmas specials that would appear, like clockwork, on an annual basis in the 1960s through the mid-1970s. The whole family would be there - wife Claudine Longet, the kids, the Osmonds, and a host of others whose names have been lost to history (at least, I can't remember them).
But even though Williams was no Sinatra, his Christmas album - his first, the one with the red cover - is better than Frank's. A lot better. Originally released in 1963, it was re-released two years ago by Sony Music in a newly remastered version that sounds as if it was recorded just yesterday. Of the thousands of Christmas albums that have been released over the years, this is the definitive easy-listening crooner holiday album.

Like many Christmas albums originally released on vinyl, the record is neatly divided between secular songs on Side One, and religious songs on Side Two. On the first side Williams tackles the two major classics of the mid-twentieth century - White Christmas and The Christmas Song - and fares just fine. It might be sacrilege to suggest that either is definitive, but he comes close enough to make it a moot argument. In the meantime, Williams comes up with two classics that, to this day, are probably more closely associated with him than with any other singer: the Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season medley, and It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The side is rounded out by an alternative version of The Twelve Days of Christmas called A Song And A Christmas Tree, which I guarantee will prompt any child under the age of 10 to comment, "he's not singing it right." The side closes with Kay Thompson's Jingle Bells (in what I assume is a reference to the arranger; there are no liner notes on the original or remastered versions), a raucous, swinging version that can give Brian Setzer a run for his money any day of the week.

The highlight of side two is O Holy Night, but Williams also turns in terrific (and understated) performances on The First Noel, Away in a Manger, and Silent Night. The only stinker on the album is a song called Sweet Little Jesus Boy, which has a nice melody, but you don't want to listen too hard to the lyrics. My guess is that it's the only song in existence that refers to Jesus Christ as "sir."

Overall, a classic then and a classic now. A note of caution - there are many cut-rate discount CDs marketed under this title. Aside from the original, they are all terrible. Avoid them like the plague!

Monday, September 24, 2012


"It is making it...hard to watch...every game."

- Mike Tirico

Come on, Roger Goodell.  You've lost.  You may be right, but you've lost.

It's time to take your head out of your arse and make a deal.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

We've Been Having Fun All Summer Long

Since we were heading out of town for a couple of relaxing days on the coast, I didn't have a chance to properly wrap up the little summer project that turned out to be bigger than I expected.  95 songs is a lot to write about, and it was probably obvious on some days that my inspiration was a bit lacking.  But I made it through, and there are enough songs left over that you may be seeing "Son of 95 Songs of Summer" next June.

I also want to give special thanks to Michael Alatorre, my fellow blogger from down south, who supported the series through posts on Facebook and Twitter, and probably doubled the number of people who viewed it as a result. 

And for the sake of completion, an overview of the "songs of summer," by decade:

60s: All Summer Long, Like a Rolling Stone,  Harper Valley PTA, Honky Tonk Women, Sugar, Sugar, In the Year 2525, My Cherie Amour, Hey Jude, Ode to Billie Joe, Hot Fun in the Summertime, Israelites, Heat Wave, White Bird.

70s: We're An American Band, Keep It Comin' Love, Sweet Home Alabama, Third Rate Romance, Can't Get Enough, Play That Funky Music, More Than A Feeling, Rockaway Beach, China Grove, Don't Stop, I'm Still in Love With You, I Shot the Sheriff, Ride Captain Ride, Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Margaritaville, Cruisin', Magic Man, Get Down Tonight, The Bitch is Back, Coconut, Why Can't We Be Friends?, Best of My Love, Lookin' Out My Back Door, Three Times a Lady, Brother Louie, You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine, I'm Not Lisa, Spill the Wine, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, The Night Chicago Died, Mainstreet, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, Racing in the Street, My Sharona, Rock Your Baby, Radar Love, You're the One That I Want, Brandy, Alone Again (Naturally), How Long, Kiss and Say Goodbye, Surrender, One of These Nights, I'm Doin' Fine Now, Baker Street, In the Summertime, Ball of Confusion, Kodachrome, Whatcha Gonna Do?, So Very Hard to Go, Live and Let Die, Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, Jet Airliner, I'm Not in Love.

80s: True to Life, Ramblin' On My Mind, Burning Down the House, She Drives Me Crazy, Games Without Frontiers, Mirror in the Bathroom, Let My Love Open the Door, Let's Go Crazy, Only the Lonely, Seven Year Ache, Cruel Summer, Jessie's Girl, Kiko and the Lavender Moon, What's Love Got to Do With It, Emotional Rescue, Urgent, Every Breath You Take.

90s: Too Darn Hot.

00s: I Gotta Feeling, The Rising, Summer Days, Harvey Haddix, Summerlong, Crazy.

10s: I Love It, Split Decision, Ready to Start.

If you wanted to make yourself a playlist, you could do a lot worse than this one.

And that, folks, is all she wrote.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Terrifying Tee Shot

One of the great things about the 17-mile drive along the coast in Pacific Grove and Carmel is the view you get of some of the great holes on the great courses in that area.  You don't get to see Pebble Beach or much of Cypress Point, but you get some intriguing glimpses of the Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill, and the Dunes Course of the Monterey Country Club, which you see at left.  The long tee is to the right of this picture, and I can't even imagine hitting from there, especially on a windy day like the one when this pic was taken.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Shuttle Mania!

Mr. and Mrs. Blog just happened to be wrapping up a quick vacation on the coast this morning, and were lucky enough to join a hundred or so folks on Lover's Point in Pacific Grove to see something in person that I'm fairly confident we'll never see again.

It was fun to see it with a large group, even if it was about an hour late.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #95 - "All Summer Long"

And that's all she wrote, folks.  Done a day early, and hard to believe that this started almost 3 months ago.

And yes, we have indeed been having fun all summer long.

The Beach Boys, "All Summer Long."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #94 - "True to Life" (1982)

I finished my last final at Berkeley in mid-June of 1982, on a Thursday afternoon.  I went back to my dorm room, and put Roxy Music's "Avalon" on the stereo.  I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life or what my life would become, but finishing that last final resulted in a state of carefree bliss that has been matched few times since.  And even though it's been more than 30 years now, that feeling comes back when I listen to this song.

Roxy Music, "True to Life," from the summer of 1982.

95 Songs of Summer, #93 - "We're An American Band" (1973)

What Grand Funk Railroad accomplished around the time this album (same title as the single) came out was similar to what they refer to in the movie world as a "reboot."  To be honest, I'm not sure what the band was like before then - I never listened to their records when I was a kid, and by the time I might have been interested, there were plenty of other bands to take up my time.  But paired with Todd Rundgren as producer, GFR became closer to something that you might call a "hard rock power pop band." 

Whatever you want to call it, this was a great, great single - just the right amount of noise, and the right amount of attitude, to appeal to a bunch of 7th grade boys who thought they were a lot cooler than they actually were.  Turn it up loud, annoy your parents...this incarnation of Grand Funk was perfect for that sort of thing.

Grank Funk Railroad, "We're An American Band," from the summer of 1973.

95 Songs of Summer, #92 - "Keep It Comin' Love" (1977)

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for KC and the Sunshine Band.  They were the epitome of a formula band, and that formula (disco, in case you hadn't noticed) was pretty narrow.  But they made the most of it, and had a great time in the process - running up a string of hit singles that lasted through much of the late 70s era when there was very little middle ground between loving and hating disco.

As for me, I've always subscribed to the theory that has been attributed at different times to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, among others: there are two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. 

And besides - I own this song on a vinyl 45 (but that's not mine in the video below).  How many people can say that in this day and age?

KC and the Sunshine Band, "Keep It Comin' Love," from the summer of 1977.

Monday, September 17, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #91 - "I Gotta Feeling" (2009)

If the Super Bowl halftime show counts, I've actually seen The Black Eyed Peas perform live.  Seeing it there, I thought it was fantastic - and was a bit surprised that the show got raked over the coals the way that it did.  I'm thinking that it's one of those "you had to be there" sort of things.

My familiarity with the songs that hit the top of the charts in this day and age...well, for the most part I have no familiarity with them, except to the extent that sons #1 and #2 would play them on their iPod.  But the appeal of The Black Eyed Peas is pretty damn universal, and I do know a great single when I hear one.  And this definitely passes the acid test of great singles, in that all you want to do when you hear it come on the radio is turn it up.

The Black Eyed Peas, "I Gotta Feeling," from the summer of 2009.


95 Songs of Summer, #90 - "Sweet Home Alabama" (1974)

Ladies and gentlemen, the song that introduced a southern band to the world - a band that in three short years would achieve iconic status, a status cemented by the tragic plane crash that took the life of leader Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines.

And make no bones about it, Lynyrd Skynyrd was a great band - I wish I could say that I'd seen them live, but never had the opportunity...and then it was too late.  And yes, I know the remnants of the band still tour together under that name, but it isn't the same.  The real Lynyrd Skynyrd went down in that plane in the fall of 1977.

And while the verse about Neil Young - "a southern man don't need him around anyhow..." is justifiably famous, my favorite part of the song comes at the very beginning, with Ronnie's spoken "turn it up."

OK, I think I will.  Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Sweet Home Alabama," from the summer of 1974.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #89 - "Like A Rolling Stone" (1965)

I was only five years old when this song was released, so I can't lay claim to it having produced a lot of memorable summer memories.  But on the other hand, it is the single greatest song in the history of rock music, and it was released during the summer, so it only seems fair to recognize it here.  After all, Greil Marcus wrote an entire book about the making of the song.

I don't think I will ever get tired of "Like a Rolling Stone."  There is always something new to discover - in the interplay between guitars, in Al Kooper's organ, in Dylan's vocal - and so it will always sound as fresh and vibrant as it did on the day it was released.

Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone," from the summer of 1965.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #88 - "Third Rate Romance" (1975)

The most fun thing about AM radio may have been the way that songs could bubble up from nowhere, from artists you'd never heard of, and take over the airwaves for a few weeks.  And then they'd bubble back under, and you'd never hear from that artist again.

"Third Rate Romance" was a song like that.  And while the band's Wikipedia page says that they hate being identified as a "one hit wonder," you can't really argue with the fact that this was their biggest (and only) foray onto the Top 40 pop charts.  And that's more than a lot of other bands can lay claim to.

Amazing Rhythm Aces, "Third Rate Romance," from the summer of 1975.

Friday, September 14, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #87 - "Rambling On My Mind" (1980)

"Just One Night" is my favorite Eric Clapton album, and there are parts of it that I played so often back in the day that the vinyl is almost worn out.  I think Clapton is one of those artists who almost always comes across more effectively in front of an audience than he does in the studio, and even the songs he plays on this record from his late 70s "mellow period" are given a shot in the arm.

"Rambling On My Mind" gives the guitar God an opportunity to show that he's still got a few tricks up his sleeve.  I love the way the song starts out slow, and just builds up momentum until, on the last verse, even Clapton himself gets into the spirit of it with one of the best gravelly vocal moments he'd had for a long, long time.

Eric Clapton, "Rambling On My Mind," from the summer of 1980.


95 Songs of Summer, #86 - "Can't Get Enough" (1974)

I don't think of Bad Company that often, but when I do, I realize that they really weren't a bad band at all.  When their first album was released in the late summer of '74, I thought I was really cool for buying it, and even though it's not much more than classic meat-and-potatoes rock and roll, it still sounds good today.  And there's nothing wrong with meat and potatoes, when you get right down to it.

Along the course of its primary 8-year stint, the band added some flourishes to its sound - synthesizers, etc. - but that first album was stripped down rock 'n roll at its best - about as simple as it could get.  You had known quantities like Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke from Free, and Mick Ralphs from Mott the Hoople, leading the way.  Kirke's drumming was so basic that he made someone like Max Weinberg sound like Ginger Baker, but he pounded the skins so hard you couldn't be blamed for thinking that he was trapped in a burning building, struggling to beat the door down and escape to freedom.

"Can't Get Enough" is a great radio song, and from the very first lyrics, the band's tone and approach was established:

Well I take whatever I want
And baby, I want you

OK, whatever works.  My guess is that took whatever they wanted quite often.

Bad Company, "Can't Get Enough," from the summer of 1974.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #85 - "Play That Funky Music" (1976)

Good luck finding someone who will admit to liking this song.

Good luck finding someone, whether they admit that they like it or not, who won't run out onto the dance floor the moment it comes on at the next wedding reception.  Especially if they've got a couple of drinks in them.

I'm not sure that more needs to be said.  It's probably a good candidate for my "transcendent badness" category - there are points in the song that are so awful that it's embarrassing, and yet it's so damn catchy that it's hard to resist.

Wild Cherry, "Play That Funky Music," from the summer of 1976.

95 Songs of Summer, #84 - "Harper Valley PTA" (1968)

It's probably unwise of me to admit that until I looked Jeannie C. Riley up on Wikipedia, I never realized that "Harper Valley P.T.A." was written by Tom T. Hall.  But it makes perfect sense, because I'm not sure I've ever heard a Hall song that wasn't clever and/or well-written.  I can't say that I'm entirely familiar with his catalog; aside from this one the song I'm most familiar with is "Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)," as memorably covered by the Drive-By Truckers.

Though this was Jeannie C. Riley's biggest day in the sun, if you're going to have one huge hit it might as well be as good as "Harper Valley P.T.A."  It's one of those songs that, if you let it worm its way into your brain, you're going to have a hard time getting it out.  And in this case, that's not a bad thing.

Jeannie C. Riley, "Harper Valley P.T.A.," from the summer of 1968.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #83 - "Honky Tonk Women" (1969)

So just for the heck of it, let's do a little time-bend back to where we started this morning, the late summer of 1969.  And no, we're not talking about that Bryan Adams song - we're talking Rolling Stones, baby, and about as good as they ever got.  No less an authority than Greil Marcus wrote that the song "would make a great 20-minute track" on their new album, and he was absolutely right.  And even a 9-year old kid, having little to no idea what the singer was wailing about, knew that this song was the goods.  It really didn't, and really doesn't, get much better than this.

Stephen King is a genius at, among many other things, finding a spot for great songs like this one in his novels.  And "Honky Tonk Women" plays a very small but very important role in "11/22/63," his most recent novel, about a man who goes back in time to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy.  Well, that man happens to be a Stones fan, and when you're a Stones fan, sometimes you just start singing the songs out loud, and you just might forget that you've gone back to a time when...well, they didn't know them Rollin' Stones, nosiree they did not.  And when you do something like that, well who knows what might happen.

The Rolling Stones, "Honky Tonk Women," from the summer of 1969.

95 Songs of Summer, #82 - "Burning Down the House" (1983)

Since I used a Lester Bangs quote in the last post where he mentioned the connection between Talking Heads and the Archies, let's fast forward 24 years to the summer of 1983, when - at least at my house -"Speaking in Tongues" was in heavy rotation.  It was the band's first record in almost three years, and their first since the debut without Brian Eno playing a major production role.  And while asking the band to match the utter brilliance of the first four albums (one of the most amazing stretches of consistent excellence in the history of rock music) was asking a lot, they managed to pull it off.  Apparently they weren't getting along all that well, but you would never know it from listening to this album.  And by this point, they were an amazing live band.  I caught them in concert in 1980 when they introduced the "amazing expanding band" concept, but during their 83-84 tour, they turned what was "merely great" into something that was truly historic - and which, thankfully for everyone, was committed to film by Jonathan Demme.  If you haven't seen "Stop Making Sense," you need to rectify that...immediately.

"Speaking in Tongues" is such a consistent album, that it's difficult to yank one song out of context - but since the album opener was the song that one could hear on FM radio that summer, it will do just fine.

Talking Heads, "Burning Down the House," from the summer of 1983.


95 Songs of Summer, #81 - "Sugar, Sugar" (1969)

"All right, go ahead, be snobs, just like you were in the Sixties.  But if you're gonna listen to Talking Heads, you might as well know that they cite bubblegum as one of their biggest influences and used to do the 1910 Fruitgum Co.'s "1,2,3 Red Light" onstage, just like Wilson Pickett had the good taste to cover "Sugar, Sugar," a rock and roll classic to which something like the Grateful Dead's "Dark Star" can't hold a handle."

- Lester Bangs, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll

I freely admit it - I am one of those who loves "Sugar, Sugar." There is rarely a time when I don't put it on one of my running playlists, because it always seems to come on just when I need that little "pick me up" the most.

I was in the 4th grade when this song came out, around the time that "The Archies" was a staple of Saturday morning cartoons.  My friends and I thought the song was great, and to provide an example of the idiotic things that 4th graders can talk about sometimes, we used to debate/argue over which background vocals were being sung by Betty and which were being sung by Veronica.

I prefer to think that Veronica was the soulful sounding one.

The Archies, "Sugar, Sugar," from the summer of 1969.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #80 - "The Rising" (2002)

After what at the time seemed like a "breakup" but now seems more like a "hiatus" - albeit one that lasted over a decade - Bruce Springsteen reunited with the E Street Band in 1999-2000 for a triumphant 18-month tour.  Purists would probably argue the opposite, but it was as close to a "greatest hits" tour that Bruce and the band have ever had - there were a handful of new songs, especially at the tail end of the tour, and each night ended with "Land of Hope and Dreams," but that was about it.  For the most part you heard a set that, while changing from night to night, was based in large part on Bruce's best songs from his most prominent albums.

I was lucky enough to catch two shows on that tour - one in Oakland in October 1999, and the other in New York City in June 2000.  That was the occasion of my one and only trip to New York City, and it was quite a whirlwind - flying out on a red-eye from San Francisco on Thursday night, landing at Kennedy at 6 a.m. Friday morning, Metropolitan Museum of Art that morning, Carnegie Deli for dinner, and Bruce at Madison Square Garden that night.  Saturday was taken up by a walking tour of Greenwich Village, and a visit to the American Museum of Natural History in the afternoon.  And then, back to SF on the first flight out of Kennedy on Sunday morning.

There was no new album released prior to or during what was billed as the "Reunion Tour," and truth be told, I began to wonder whether there was ever going to be one - at least, one with the E Street Band.

As we all know now, there was - "The Rising," the first true Bruce + E Street Album since "Born in the USA" 18 years prior.  And it was an outstanding album, one focused in large part on the events of 9/11 and its aftermath.  Some songs, such as "Empty Sky," "Into the Fire" and "You're Missing," dealt directly with the issue, which others were more of a thematic link.

For me, the best song on the album will always be the title track.  It's one of Bruce's greatest anthems, and for me, always a sign that there is hope amidst the rubble.

Bruce Springsteen, "The Rising," from the summer of 2002.


95 Songs of Summer, #79 - "Summer Days" (2001)

One of the things that I never get tired of writing about is the remarkable Bob Dylan comeback that began in the early 1990s and reached fruition with "Time Out of Mind," an album so great that "masterpiece" doesn't really do it justice.  The comeback really began with a couple of acoustic albums consisting entirely of old folk songs, as if Dylan realized after years of scattered inspiration that turning back the clock was the best way to recapture whatever it was that he had lost. 

But whatever he did, it worked.  "Time Out of Mind" was released in 1997, and it was another four years before word came out about another new Dylan release.  There was part of me that wanted to snap it up immediately, but there was another part that was a bit scared, because I wondered whether he could even come close to achieving what he'd done with the previous album.

The album was released on September 11, 2001.  Needless to say, few people were talking about the new Dylan album in the days and weeks that followed.  I can't remember exactly when I bought it, but I know that it was at least a month.  It was almost as if 9/11 became an excuse not to buy the record - which makes no sense whatsoever, but what exactly did make sense at that time?

When I finally took the plunge, I quickly realized that I needn't have worried.  In fact, "Love and Theft" was the second in a glorious stretch of three consecutive Dylan masterpieces that would leave fans never doubting again.

Bob Dylan, "Summer Days," from the (late) summer of 2001.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Quick Sports Hits - 49ers, Rory, Strasburg

- I hate to risk jinxing them, but boy oh boy did the 49ers look impressive yesterday.  Take away the punt return for a TD that should have been called back on a penalty, and what you're left with is a dominant performance on the road against a team that hadn't lost in its home stadium since the season before last, a team that for good measure lines up the reigining NFL MVP under center.  The Niners' offense looked crisp and efficient, the defense looked ferocious, and for now the future looks almost impossibly bright.

- Even if Tiger manages to win the FedEx Championship next week, I think we can dispense with the debate over who is the best golfer in the world right now.  He went through a rough patch in the middle of the season, but Rory McIlroy's dominance in the last four weeks has been awesome.  And at age 23, the sky is the limit.  I'd hesitate to predict 14 majors, but it will be a major upset if he doesn't end up with at least 8 or 9 (barring injury, of course).

- The decision by the Washington Nationals to sit Stephen Strasburg for the remainder of the season - regardless of how far the Nationals make it into the postseason - is one of the most interesting sports stories in a long time.  Clearly, what Washington decided to do is unprecedented, and one has to wonder whether they would have managed him differently had they known that 2012 would turn out to be such a great season for them.  The bottom line here is that we will probably never know if this is the right decision.  It's certainly a courageous decision, as well as one made after a great deal of thought on the part of the Nationals' management.  But is it right?  Well, if Strasburg goes on to have a Hall of Fame career, then sure, it is probably right.  I suppose the same could be said if the Nationals win the World Series this year, which could easily happen.  Teams have won World Series without their best players before; the 1972 Oakland Athletics immediately come to mind.  But even if Strasburg blows out his arm next year and the Nationals get as close to the World Series as the last two incarnations of the Washington Senators did, I'm not sure you could argue that the decision was wrong.  Of course, that is how it will be interpreted.

Either way, I find the debate endlessly fascinating.

95 Songs of Summer, #78 - "More Than A Feeling" (1976)

To this day, I think that Boston's debut album is one of the great debut albums in rock history - a fully realized masterpiece that the band would never match again in the course of its on again, off again, fairly short career.  But even though the creativity of Tom Scholz may have burst like a supernova, what a burst it was - layers upon layers of guitars (and no synthesizers, as the album cover proudly exclaimed) that sounded as if there were an entire orchestra hidden somewhere in the grooves of those songs.

The album was a hit for so long that I easily could have mined songs from one of two summers - 1976, when the album was released, or the following summer, when its songs were still in heavy rotation on the radio.  And I even had a little "Boston ritual" going on in the winter and spring of '77 - I was in a bowling league on Friday afternoons, and every Friday when we wrapped up I would plunk a quarter into the juke box and play "Smokin."  Man, I loved that song.

But I also loved this one, a song that I would argue is as majestic in its own way as something like Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long."  It's hard to imagine how much inner ear damage this song has caused in the 35 years of its existence.  I'm sure that most people would say it was well worth it.

Boston, "More Than a Feeling," from the summer of 1976.

95 Songs of Summer, #77 - "Rockaway Beach" (1977)

I'd hate to have to choose just one, but if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to pick my favorite Ramones song, it would probably be this one.  Then again, it could also be "Sheena is a Punk Rocker," or "I Wanna Be Sedated."

But "Rockaway Beach" seems to fit best with the summer theme.  I remember reading somewhere, but I can't swear that it's true, that Rockaway Beach is the only beach in America where you have to ride the subway to get there.  In any event, it's a classic song, good enough that I used it as the opener of my "7-song perfect playlist" which made me a radio star for all of 26 minutes earlier this summer.

The Ramones, "Rockaway Beach," from the summer of 1977.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #76 - "China Grove" (1973)

When I was 13 years old, summers were very simple - tennis in the morning (usually at 10 a.m.), lunch, then a couple of hours of swimming, and then we (the kids) were on our own in the (usually too hot to do anything anyway) afternoon to read, listen to music, or do something else to kill time until dinner.  We didn't belong to a club, but my aunt lived in a condominium complex that didn't frown on visitors, and was blessed with tennis courts and swimming pools.

I remember there was a period of about 2-3 weeks late that summer when every single time we drove over there, "China Grove" by the Doobie Brothers would come on the radio.  It got to the point where if we reached our destination and it hadn't played, we would sit in the car and listen to the next song just to make sure it wasn't "China Grove."  And on one occasion, sure enough, it was.

As for the Doobie Brothers, you can divide their career into two distinct phases - the Tom Johnston era, and the Michael McDonald era.  Both were commercially successful, but even though I like McDonald and he wrote some great songs for the Doobies, given a choice I'd have to opt for the Johnston era - it is his voice that you hear on this song.

The Doobie Brothers, "China Grove," from the summer of 1973.

95 Songs of Summer, #75 - "In the Year 2525"

Oh man, what can you really say about this song?  If you've never heard it (and I suppose that's possible if you're a few years younger than I am), you owe it to yourself to find the lyrics so you can read along when you listen to it for the first time.  Trust me, you won't be disappointed.  Appalled, perhaps.

Say what you will, but this is probably the greatest one-hit wonder song in the history of pop music.  Zager and Evans never came close to matching the success of this song, and they quickly faded away into obscurity.

And when I was 9 years old, I loved it.  Thought it was very deep.

Zager and Evans, "In the Year 2525," from the summer of 1969.

95 Songs of Summer, #74 - "My Cherie Amour" (1969)

Stevie Wonder is a living legend - an artist whose accomplishments are so staggering that it's hard to comprehend them in one sitting.  Along with Marvin Gaye, he is the man who truly broke the mold at Motown.  He insisted on having artistic control over his work, and if that meant he was going to play every instrument on the album instead of sticking to the Motown house band and formula, that's what he was going to do.

Much of Wonder's best work is aggressively political - you can't listen to songs like "Living for the City," "Higher Ground," "You Haven't Done Nothin'" without developing a healthy desire to go out and question some authority.  But Wonder is also a master of the sappy love song, with the ability to string words together with music that might make other songwriters blush, but which in his hands become instant, enduring classics.

"My Cherie Amour" is such a song - and it may be my all-time favorite Stevie Wonder song.  There really isn't much in life that can't be made just a little better by listening to "My Cherie Amour."  In fact, I think I will.

Stevie Wonder, "My Cherie Amour," from the summer of 1969.


As usual, I'm about two months behind in writing about the movies we've watched on Netflix.  I'm going to start with the one that we saw just last night, because it was so good.

"Amelie" was released in 2001, and heaven only knows why I've never seen it until now.  It reminded me a great deal of two movies that I liked a lot - "Moulin Rouge!," and "Hugo."  All three are examples of how the best movies can transport you with their magic into an entirely different world - a world where whimsy rules, and logic is put on the back burner.  The things that you see on the screen aren't necessarily realistic, but you don't really care because from the first scenes, a tone is struck that tells you to set your cynicism aside, and enjoy the ride.  And if you're lucky, you might learn a lesson or two that you can take back into the real world.

Amelie Poulain is a young woman who, sheltered from a good portion of the outside world because of her father's mistaken belief that she has a heart defect, has created a magical world of her own.  It is a world where she seeks to right the small injustices that we all encounter every day, and to help those who are missing something from their lives - love, adventure, family - make those connections. 

"Amelie" is a small miracle, in that it sustains that sense of movie magic from first frame to last.  Along the way, we meet an impressive cast of  characters - those who live in her apartment building, those who work with her at the corner bistro where she is a waitress, and mysterious figures who cross her path - such as the man who creates a scrapbook of photos he has scrounged from the waste bins of photo booths across the city.  Mysteries abound - who is that man who has left behind so many photos across the city?   Why does the man who never leaves her apartment building paint the same painting over and over again?

The cast is uniformly excellent, especially Audrey Tatou in the title role.  And the movie is a visual treat, as director Jean-Pierre Jeunet paints a canvas that is as magical as the story which fills it.

When done poorly, movies like this are an embarrassment.  But when done well, like "Amelie," they tend to remind us why we go to the movies in the first place.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #73 - "I Love It" (2012)

Sometimes, all you really need to brighten your day is a dumb, catchy pop song.  "I Love It" fits that bill perfectly - it's loud, it's catchy, and as far as I can tell, has just one verse, repeated over and over.

But it sure sounds good turned up loud in the car...especially on the drive home from work.

Icona Pop, "I Love It," from the summer of 2012.

Friday, September 07, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #72 - "Don't Stop" (1977)

If memory serves, this was the third big hit of off the behemoth that was Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours."  And of course, it has lasting fame because of its use by a certain candidate at a certain convention about 20 years ago. 

What I always loved about the song was the vocal interplay between Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie - there are points in the song where it is almost impossible to tell which one is singing, unless you're listening really closely.

"Don't Stop," Fleetwood Mac, from the summer of 1977.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #71 - "Hey Jude" (1968)

I trust everyone has heard of this one?

I mean, really - can you get more iconic than "Hey Jude?"  Is there a person living today in...well, I know there are some parts of the world where one might not find readily available recorded music, but let's just say in those places were such music is easily accessible...that doesn't immediately know the meaning of "na na na/na na na na/na na na na/Hey Jude?"

I really don't know what else to say.  I have no idea how many times I have listened to this song, but I know that I've never ever gotten tired of it.

The Beatles, "Hey Jude," from the summer of 1968.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #70 - "Split Decision" (2012)

First things first - either I've gotten further behind than I thought, or I simply miscalculated the number of days in the summer, but here we are at September 4 and I've got 25 songs to go.  So on a few days, we may see a "two-fer."

This song is one that is brand spanking new, the most raucous - and maybe the best - off of Bonnie Raitt's new album.  It's a classic rocker, far harder than anything I've heard her do in years, and it became a staple of my running mix this summer.

Bonnie Raitt, "Split Decision," from the summer of 2012.


Monday, September 03, 2012

Hal David

When you're part of a songwriting team, you write lyrics, and your partner happens to be a genius like Burt Bacharach, there's a good chance that you're going to have to fight to get your due.  So I'd like to give Hal David, who passed away on September 1, his due.  In fact, I'd go so far as to argue that David's lyrics to the great pop songs that the two wrote together in the 1960s (there were others after that, but let's not kid ourselves - nothing that approached the brilliance of those 60s hits, primarily for Dionne Warwick).

I've always thought that Bacharach/David songs were cinematic, and that David's lyrics - the screenplay, if you will - were just as important to the success of those songs as the direction contributed by Bacharach.  And for Dionne Warwick, the two created a body of work that will be remembered for as long as people are listening to great songs.  And the stories told by those songs were not always the happiest ones.  To wit:

Don't make me over
Now that I'd do anything for you
Don't make me over
Now that you know how I adore you

Don't pick on the things I say, the things I do
Just love me with all my faults, that way that I love you
I'm begging you

Don't make me over
Now that I can't make it without you
Don't make me over
I wouldn't change one thing about you

Just take me inside your arms and hold me tight
And always be by my side, if I am wrong or right
I'm begging you

"Don't Make Me Over"

If you see me walkin' down the street  
And I start to cry each time we meet 
Walk on by, walk on by
Make believe that you don't see the tears 

 Just let me grieve in private 'cause each time I see  
I break down and cry, I cry
Walk on by, don't stop  

Walk on by, don't stop  
Walk on by

"Walk On By"

Anyone who ever loved could look at me
And know that I love you
Anyone who ever dreamed could look at me
and know I dream of you
Knowing I love you so

Anyone who had a heart
Would take me in his arms and love me, too
You couldn't really have a heart and hurt me,
Like you hurt me and be so untrue
What am I to do

Every time you go away, I always say
This time it's goodbye , dear
Loving you the way I do
I take you back, without you I'd die dear
Knowing I love you so

Anyone who had a heart
Would take me in his arms and love me, too
You couldn't really have a heart and hurt me,
Like you hurt me and be so untrue

What am I to do

"Anyone Who Had a Heart"
Burt Bacharach took those lyrics, and constructed music and arrangements around them that perfectly fit the tone of the words that David was writing.  But without the words, you don't have a song.


95 Songs of Summer, #69 - "I'm Still in Love With You" (1972)

We can't go an entire summer without some Al Green, can we?

Of course not.  Lucky for us, the great master of 70s soul had a summer hit, and as an added bonus it's my all-time favorite Al Green song (with the possible exception of "Take Me to the River").

Al Green made what he did (and still does) sound very easy, which usually means that it was very difficult.  He was not a "shouter" like Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett, but that power was there, barely hidden under the surface.  And that made the songs all the more powerful, because you never knew at any given moment whether the Reverend Green would just let it fly.

Al Green, "I'm Still in Love With You," from the summer of 1972.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

95 Songs of Summer, #68 - "I Shot the Sheriff" (1974)

And now we reach Labor Day weekend, rounding the far turn of the summer and heading into the home stretch.  Already the angles of the day are starting to feel different - it is still hot outside, but the shadows are beginning to deepen, the nights are beginning to cool, and if you look closely you can even see the very beginning of the turning of the leaves.

Eric Clapton deserves his place in the Hall of Fame, but  I think it is also fair to say that his career has included long stretches of unrealized potential.  For every "Layla," there have been other songs, probably dozens, where it felt as if Clapton was just scratching the surface of his enormous talent.  And that talent is enormous - I will never forget the night I watched (on TV, not in person) Clapton blow fellow guitarist Robert Cray, hardly a slouch himself, right off the stage with searing, blistering notes from his Stratocaster that Cray probably couldn't even imagine, much less approach.

This is one of Clapton's best songs, a version of the Bob Marley classic that to these ears is just as strong as the original.

Eric Clapton, "I Shot the Sheriff," from the summer of 1974.


My cousin Karen posted this picture on her Facebook page this morning.  From left to right (front row) are my Aunt Rowena, my father David, and my Aunt Judy.  In the back row are my grandparents, Ruth Kuster Vaca and John Soloman Vaca.

I never got to meet my grandfather - he died at age 43, just a little over  decade after this picture was taken, probably sometime in 1939.

There's something about these roughly posed photos of the past that make them so much more valuable than your typical studio portrait.  You see a picture like this, and you think about all the stories behind it.  What was going through all of their minds?  What were this young family's hopes and dreams?  And exactly why does my dad have that sly look on his face?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Empty Chair

When you're a lobbyist and it is the last week of the legislative session, the outside world - the real world - just sort of disappears.  Every waking moment is focused on what those 120 people are doing under the dome, for hours on end every day.  And then it ends, and it's such a feeling of relief that you become almost giddy with excitement.  And then you realize that you've just worked 80 hours in the span of 5 days, and the entire body just shuts down.

Because of that, I didn't watch a single minute of the Republican Convention, at least not live, so I missed the Clint Eastwood "empty chair" speech.  But I haven't missed the reaction, which has been pretty amazing.  There's no middle ground to be found in the reactions I've read - people either think it was brilliant, or they think it was the craziest, weirdest thing they've ever seen.  And then many of those people go on to say what a doddering old fool Clint Eastwood is, or some such nonsense.

I watched it, and I think it worked - and it was a hell of a lot more effective than anything Eastwood could have said in a 10 minute speech.  And when a disingenuous blowhard like Michael Moore makes the claim that Eastwood will be remembered more for this 11 minute speech than he will for any of the films he's made, he just makes himself look foolish and in all likelihood doesn't do President Obama any favors.

But the real measure of how successful the bit was is that two days later, and that seems to be the only thing that people want to talk about.  And for some reason, the Obama campaign is coming up with ways to respond to the "empty chair" concept.  And that just lends it more legitimacy.