Sunday, February 28, 2010

Video of the Day

I don't know what to make of the video for this song-- "Periodically Double or Triple" by Yo La Tengo-- but the song is cool, so I post it for your listening (if not viewing) pleasure:

Sunday Funnies

For some reason I always got a kick out of seeing characters from one comic strip popping up in another character's world. Here are a few examples. Above is a mish-mash of fifties characters (some of whom, like Popeye, you'll probably recognize) which appeared along with an article on an exhibit of comic work down mounted down in Florida.

Sam's Strip was actually based on the premise that all these characters existed in the same imaginary world, so all kinds of visitors were always dropping by to be the butt of a joke. How many of these guys do you recognize?

Jim Scancarelli, who's been doing Gasoline Alley for the last twenty five years or so, must also like these crossovers, since he often has some classic character drop by the Alley, as with Mutt & Jeff and Howdy Doody above.

A few years back, Blondie was celebrating its 75th anniversary, and there was a whole sequence of strips where other characters showed up to join the party, including the strip seen above. Below is the final commemorative strip with all the well-wishers in attendance. Maybe some of your favorites were in the crowd too.

A Quote for Sunday

Herbert Bayard Swope (1882-1958) was a prominent newspaper journalist and editor, in fact the winner of the first Pulitzer Prize for reporting. Here's a famous comment of his that could serve as the explanation for why things like health care reform never seem to be accomplished:

“I cannot give you the formula for success,
but I can give you the formula for failure-
which is: "Try to please everybody”

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Classic Shoegazing Music

I remember seeing a long interview with the band members of Lush on some CBC program way back in the early nineties, and liked them ever since. This is my favorite song of theirs (apparently, it's everybody's favorite: it's been posted numerous times on YouTube, with this version marginally clearer than the others). They were in the same vein as My Bloody Valentine, Curve, Ride and a bunch of other groups in the "shoegaze" movement, so-called for their tendency to stare down at their instruments rather than looking out at the audience when they played. Obviously, the way this video is shot, you don't quite get that effect, but hopefully you'll enjoy it anyway:

Soup Diary 100227

Beware of raised expectations! A couple weeks ago, I had such a good bowl of soup at a new restaurant in Missoula called the Central Grill, that I couldn't wait to get back to try some more. Today, I had the opportunity, but unfortunately the Tomato Florentine wasn't quite as good as the Lemon Chicken I enjoyed the last time. Oh, it wasn't bad-- homemade and fresh with chunks of tomato and hamburger, topped with fresh basil leaves. But I was counting on spectacular, and felt a little let down; possibly this was because, according to the waitress, I got the first bowl of the day and it hadn't quite cooked long enough for all the flavors to commingle the way they should. At any rate, this mild disappointment doesn't mean I won't go back again, as this was probably the second or third best soup I've had in Montana over the past few months (and I really don't mean that as faint praise); I'll just plan to stop in a bit later in the day.

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Here's another one of those sixties series that I'd kind of forgot about before stumbling upon it on YouTube. One of many James Bond parodies to pop up on Saturday mornings, Secret Squirrel had some of the same hallmarks of the genre as the live action Get Smart. Check it out:

A Quote for Saturday

Eugene Debs (1855-1926) was an American labor leader, starting out organizing railway workers and later running several times for president on the Socialist ticket. He also spent a few years in jail for exercising his free speech in opposing the first World War. So I kind of think he knew what he was talking about with the following statement:

"If it had not been for the discontent of a few fellows
who had not been satisfied with their conditions, you
would still be living in caves. Intelligent discontent is
the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of
agitation. It is agitation or stagnation."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Classic Jack Benny

Here's a clip from the Jack Benny Show from 1960. I don't know if that was the golden age of television generally, but Benny was clearly still at his peak (which had begun about twenty-five years earlier on the radio). As most of you know, Benny was famous for being cheap (and never aging past 39), and that's the background for these two bits. See if they don't make you laugh out loud:

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

This week, it's a shot (cropped from a bigger picture) of Helen once again, with Nik (in the background), Ben and Natalie. And the question is... where was this taken? Put your answers in the comments, as always.

Last week we had a spirited contest, with y'all trying to identify three people by their feet, as well as where the picture was taken. Well, Natalie got the first part of that, correctly identifying Ben, Thomas and Joseph as the three, but no one got the location. The picture was taken aboard the USS The Sullivans at the Buffalo Naval Park, which can be seen plainly below:

Don't forget to get your guesses in for this week's quiz!

Photography Magazines

There was a time, way back in my teen years, that when I approached a newsstand I gravitated towards the sports magazines, and was apt to pick up the latest copy of The Sporting News or Sport (I was never a big fan of Sports Illustrated though) or one of the many baseball oriented publications. Then, for the longest time, my attention was focused on the rack holding the music mags, and I often took home a copy of The Record, Musician (remember those?) or more recently CMJ, No Depression, Paste, Magnet, Goldmine or Uncut (there are others, like Mojo, that I've subscribed to so I could ignore them on the shelf). But as you probably know, the bottom has dropped out of the magazine market in the last couple of years, and many of those titles no longer exist (at least not in paper copies). The music selection now is so thin that it's barely worth a glance (usually to see what the subject of the Uncut CD that month is). Luckily, however, there appears to be a growth area in magazine publishing and it just happens to correspond with my latest hobby (I must not be the only one diving in) and that's photography-- specifically digital photography. I actually started subscribing to Popular Photography (a venerable publication that I read pretty regularly ten or so years ago when I bought my first SLR) and also another mag called Digital Photography, but whenever I stop in at a Barnes & Noble or Borders, there are at least a dozen others to check out, and I usually snag at least one based on some feature that month (I'm especially a sucker for articles about how to shoot in low-light, or on converting color shots to black and white). This must be a booming market, which is evident from the abundant ads for high end equipment that fills all of these magazines. It's actually a little frustrating to read an article about bargain lenses, or some other gadget, and discover the editors consider something priced at $1200 a steal. But aside from that, I've learned a lot, and the photography section gives me a place to actually browse. I can't tell you which of these publications is the best, because frankly, they mostly all cover exactly the same material, just in slightly different configurations. But the British titles like Practical Photography and Digital Photo (not to be confused with Digital Photography) often include a free CD with editing software or short instructional videos, so they tend to attract my attention. I just find it interesting that as many of my favorite music magazines seem to be going bust, the photography mags are proliferating at an amazing rate. I guess that's got to be a least a little reassuring to the publishing industry as a whole.

More Friday Family Blogging

Here's another picture of Helen, this time with her dad. Recently when she sees me getting ready to snap off a picture, she makes a face. At least in this case it more or less natural.

Friday Family Blogging

Here's a nice picture I found in my archives of my niece Helen. I think it's safe to say that her intense concentration is focused on the buttons on my camera. Maybe someone reading this can let Helen know that I should be stopping by for a visit in about four weeks.

Today's Quotation

One of the clips I saw of yesterday's Health Care Summit included an exchange between President Obama and a Senator from Wyoming, in which the latter was going on about how great the system was. Obama asked if he would feel the same way if he only earned $40,000 a year, and the senator looked like it had never occurred to him that someone might have to get by on so low a sum. That reminded me of Michael Harrington's sociological classic on poverty, The Other America, from which the following is taken:

"That the poor are invisible is one of the most
important things about them. They are not
simply neglected and forgotten as in the old
rhetoric of reform; what is much worse,
they are not seen."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Video of the Day

There are a lot of great songwriters who came out of Texas (sometimes I wonder if they aren't the only good thing to come out of that state recently). Here's one who doesn't get all that much attention but who I think is at least as good as Robert Earl Keen, Guy Clark, and Lyle Lovett if not quite in the same league as Butch Hancock or Steve Earle. His name is Michael Fracasso, and he's pretty darn good:

Memories of Italy

Every now and then, I get a little nostalgic for my visits to Italy. It's such a beautiful country-- at least those parts I've seen. Here are a few pictures from my visit to Assisi back in the fall of 2008, starting with the image above: an ancient Roman temple that was converted to a Catholic Church some hundreds of years ago.

Strolling through the narrow streets of the city, one is constantly stumbling upon cool little scenes like the above. I have no idea what all the shoes are doing under the steps.

Here's a view of the huge lawn that spreads out in front of the St. Francis Basilicas. You might recognize the statue on the outer edge as having previously graced the top of this blog.

I spotted these nuns walking up the path just beyond the city wall. Unfortunately, it was a very foggy day, so I didn't get a good shot of the surrounding countryside from this vantage point.

There were a number of these side streets that seemed to lead up to some very nice gardens, but it wasn't clear if they were public or not, so the only look I got was up from the street. I'm really looking forward to my upcoming trip to Germany, hoping I'll see some sights as memorable as these.

Thursday's Quotation

Here's a line from Thomas Hobbes' most famous work, Leviathan from 1651. This book was Hobbes attempt to find order in society, and is one of the earliest explanations of the social contract theory. The following comes from the philosophical foundation for how he arrived at his conclusions:

"When man reasoneth, he does so as arithmeticians
add and subtract numbers. So writers of politics add
together pactions to find men's duties; and lawyers
add laws and facts to find right and wrong. In sum,
in what matter soever there is place for Addition
and Subtraction, there also is a place for Reason;
and where these have no place, there Reason
has nothing to do at all."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Scandanavian Pop

Several days back I posted a video by the Raveonettes, who hail from Sweden. Here's another cool Scandanavian group-- the Cato Salsa Experience from Norway. This song goes back a few years, so its possible the band is no more, but if so, they were fun while they lasted:

Hollywood's Greatest Year 4

Old fashioned department stores sure made interesting, and somewhat ubiquitous, settings for movies back in the thirties and forties. Bachelor Mother from 1939 (Hollywood's Greatest Year?) is only one-- remember the great scene in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, where he skates around a store at night (he was a security guard), or the really fine pro-labor Jean Arthur vehicle The Devil and Miss Jones? Then there's the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street, not to forget the Marx Brothers' The Big Store. Such movies got to play up the consumerist side of American culture, but they seemed much less mercenary than contemporary films, where a store setting is mostly an excuse for endless product placement (which wasn't the case in those earlier classics). It's worth noting that in all of those films, to one degree or another, management was portrayed as corrupt but redeemable, a nice metaphor-- intentional or not-- for reassuring the public that capitalism could bounce back from the Great Depression. But Bachelor Mother, directed by Garson Kanin and starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven isn't really about the store, it's about the kind of confusion at the center of all the great screwball comedies. In this case, it's a baby left with Ginger, and the assumption made by virtually everyone that she's the mother. Needless to say, various hi-jinks ensue and in the end she has a rich daddy for the young'un.

Back when I was in college, I had a professor who was writing a book on Hollywood and interviewed many of the great stars from the golden age (later, in grad school, I got a chance to work with him a bit on editing the transcripts). After being stood up several times by Ginger Rogers, he built up quite a grudge, and would tell his students that if they watched an Astaire and Rogers film, they should keep their eyes only on Fred. That was, obviously, a tough order to follow, but I have to admit that for quite a while I did my best to avoid Ginger Rogers myself. Eventually I was won over, primarily by Bachelor Mother and Stage Door, which I may have seen as a double feature at the old Thalia Theater in New York. She comes across as more worldly than a lot of her contemporaries, by which I mean the characters she played had a kind of brassiness that never tipped over into toughness. She stayed sexy, graceful, and vulnerable even while delivering a withering putdown that would make Eve Arden envious. The class divide so evident in Bachelor Mother was a great platform for that sort of character, and she certainly carries the film-- though the supporting cast is first rate too. See it if you get the chance.

Wednesday Philosophizing

The following, written by sociologist Daniel Bell back in the 1950s (in his classic study The End of Ideology) might serve as a kind of antidote for those who feel that there's something uniquely dark about the present state of the world. I mean, that may very well be the case, but the reality is that it's a commonly held view by practically every other generation throughout history, so maybe we shouldn't assume the worst is about to befall us, or anyway, that we can't perhaps do something about it:

"There have been few periods in history when man
felt his world to be durable, suspended surely, as in
Christian allegory, between chaos and heaven. In
the Egyptian papyrus of more than four thousand
years ago, one finds: "... impudence is rife... the
country is spinning round and round like a potter's
wheel... the masses are like timid sheep without a
shepherd... one who yesterday was indigent is now
wealthy and the sometime rich overwhelm him with
adulation." The Hellenistic period as described by
Gilbert Murray was one of a "failure of nerve";
there was "the rise of pessimism, a loss of self-
confidence, of hope in this life and of faith in normal
human effort." And the old scoundrel Talleyrand
claimed that only those who lived before 1789
could have tasted life in all its sweetness."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Perfect Movie

I got a chance to watch Ruggles of Red Gap on TCM this evening, and once again came away thinking it a perfect movie. Perfectly cast (Charles Laughton, Zasu Pitts, Charlie Ruggles, Leila Hyams, Roland Young, etc.), perfectly directed (by the great Leo McCarey-- what a resume he had in the 1930s, with Duck Soup and the The Awful Truth among others), with a story by turns funny and touching without ever going over the top. I've seen this movie at least half a dozen times and it never fails to entertain me as thoroughly as any thing else I've ever seen. Some time back I posted a couple scenes from the film, but here's a longer version of one of them, giving you a better introduction to several of the characters. If you've never seen the whole movie, you really should check it out:

This Week's Top Five List

Things got a little contentious on my radio show this week, as Art Vandalay thought he might use the occasion of the Top Five list to launch into a dissertation on Ancient Rome. I guess the topic gave him the opening. Here it is:

Quote of the Day

This comes from the well known polar explorer Richard E. Byrd (1888-1957), who spent much of his life in the cold climes surrounding the North and South Poles. So, he comes by this insight from experience:

"Few men during their lifetime comes
anywhere near exhausting the resources
dwelling within them. There are deep
wells of strength that are never used."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Classic New York Dolls

I'm frankly surprised at how much video there is from the New York Dolls early seventies heyday. I remember reading about them in Creem magazine way back when, but even then they seemed ittle more than an underground phenomenon. Remember, that was pre-MTV, so TV exposure was pretty much limited to things like Don Kirshner's Rock Concert or American Bandstand-- and I don't think the Dolls were likely invited on either of those venues. So it's especially gratifying (to me at least) to see them moving through the brackets in my little Battle of the Bands. Here's the song that carried them to Round Three:

Battle of the Bands Update

The Velvet Underground

Round 2 of the Battle of the Bands reached its penultimate week on Dr. John's Record Shelf last night, and when the dust settled, the Velvet Underground (seeded no. 1 in the Northeast Bracket) and New York Dolls (13) were set as third round opponents. The Velvets vanquished the Cowsills (8) in a unanimous decision (thanks to my sister Sally for joining Art Vandalay and myself as a judge), while the Dolls scored a two to one victory over the Remains (12).

The New York Dolls

The songs featured in these matchups included "I Can't Stand It" by the Underground, "Hair" by the Cowsills, "Personality Crisis" by the Dolls and "Don't Look Back" by the Remains. Next week's last set of second round pairings will see the Byrds (seeded no. 1 in the Southwest) against the Doobie Brothers (9), and the Bobby Fuller Four (12) against Love (13). If you're in SW Montana next Sunday between 5 and 7 pm, tune in the program at 90.9 fm.

Monday's Quotation

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) was the ultimate cynic. I think this brief quote well-illustrates that fact:

"All are lunatics, but he who can analyze
his delusions is called a philosopher."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Logo

I generally try to find some pretty scenery to put behind the logo at the top of this page. But something about that image of Emma seemed totally appropriate: as her expression suggests, one should approach anything (everything) I post with a heavy dose of skepticism ;-)

Video of the Day

Tonight on Dr. John's Record Shelf we're doing our annual tribute to African-American History Month. The focus will be on classic soul from the sixties and seventies. The song in the following video sort of straddles the line between soul and jazz, but it would fit right in. The video's nothing more than a slide show, but the song, "Compared to What" recorded in 1969 at the Montreux Jazz Festival by Les McCann (piano) and Eddie Harris (sax) is a true classic:

Photos of the Big Hole

I took my camera along on my trip to Butte yesterday, and ended up driving out along the Big Hole River looking for some good shots. Since I was monkeying with my settings, I actually ended up with very few nice pictures (though I did gain some intelligence about how to use the camera), but here are three that I think turned out ok after a little post-production work.

I'm looking forward to revisiting some of these spots once the weather is nicer (or even when there's just a bit more sun out). But it was nice to get out and snap some pictures. Opportunities have been few and far between recently. That should change in a couple weeks, as I have some more extended trips upcoming, and I tend to find more to shoot in unfamiliar surroundings.

Soup Diary 100221

Yesterday I had lunch at the Great Harvest shop in Butte. Great Harvest is a bakery known mainly for their bread, and in fact I had a really good turkey sandwich on some exceptional spinach feta bread. The surprise though is that the soup I had, beef barley, was also pretty good (I've usually been disappointed with the other varieties I've had there over the years). However, I'm not certain if it was the soup itself that was so great, or the fact that I sprinkled in some croutons, which were incredibly flavorful. Did they make the soup so good, or vice versa? I guess I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak, and just appreciate the fine lunch, with all parts contributing to the overall satisfaction.

Sunday Funnies

Here's a little taste of one of the all-time great strips: Barnaby by Crockett Johnson. This was strictly a daily, created for the legendary New York paper PM (when the paper died, so did the strip). There was no Sunday version, so no color full pages either. Still, this was one of the most imaginative comics of its generation (the 1940s), and can be seen as a clear antecedent to later strips like Calvin & Hobbes.

The plot revolved around Barnaby, a more or less average middle class kid, and his adventures with Mr. O'Malley, his fairy godfather. O'Malley was a bit of a charlatan, but endearingly so, as is evident in these examples.

For some reason, there are very few samples of this strip on-line, though the strip was collected several times into books (I have a six-issue series of paperbacks published in the eighties), so if you like these, check out your local library. It'd be time well-spent.

Thought for the Day

Elbert Hubbard (1859-1915) was a successful businessman turned philosopher. He was the founder of the Roycroft arts and crafts movement in the late nineteenth century, and his views on art and other topics were published widely during his lifetime. Here's one of the aphorisms for which he is remembered:

"Every man is a damn fool for at least
five minutes every day; wisdom consists
in not exceeding the limit."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pop Song Extraordinaire

I think that, aside from Soundtrack Of Our Lives, the Raveonettes are my favorite band to come out of Scandanavia in the past few years, and the Swedish duo have been pretty prolific. The song in the video below is off their latest album, and it's a fun if lightweight tune (that goes for the video as well):

Olympic Comment

I hate to admit this, since it potentially calls both my patriotism and sports fandom into question, but I have not been watching the Winter Olympic Games. The problem is that I really have no interest in the sports that comprise the Winter Games-- not skiing, not skating, not sledding; even hockey is something I find only intermittently entertaining. I know that part of the appeal is supposed to be the personal stories of the athletes, but most of that stuff just bores me. In fact the only sport performed at the Olympics that does interest me is curling, but it never seems to pop up on TV when I'm watching, and sitting through the other stuff waiting for it only triggers my channel surfing finger. Before I know it, even curling is the farthest thing from my mind as I become engrossed in yet another repeat of That 70s Show. Part of the reason why I like to watch curling is that it's pretty easy to see and appreciate the drama and strategy of the play-- or at least it seems so to me. Earlier today, I was listening to sports radio on a drive to Butte and the two hosts were going on and on about how incomprehensible curling was. These supposed professionals, whose job is to follow and report on sports (and who presumably didn't just start that job today) were mystified at what they saw on the sheet: couldn't make heads nor tails of what the sweepers were doing, expressed ignorance at what that big round thing was (a rock? an oversized hockey puck?), and likened the scoring system to some equation only an MIT prof could decipher. Hopefully, if I'm lucky enough to stumble on some curling before that part of the games concludes, the commentators will not share the willful ignorance of those bozos. But I suspect the odds are pretty slim (of the former point, not the latter).

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Here's a real high concept cartoon from circa 1966: The Impossibles, starring a rock and roll band who are also super-heroes! I'm perfectly happy to suspend my disbelief on all the weird super hero stuf, but it really bugs me that I can't figure out where they plugged in their guitars for their mountain top concert:

Quote of the Day

Since I feature a lot of material on this blog about music, I thought I'd go ahead and mix that topic in with the daily quotes as well. Here's something the great John Coltrane (1926-1967) once said about the art he practiced so sublimely:

“Over all, I think the main thing a musician would
like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many
wonderful things that he knows of and senses in the
universe. . . That’s what I would like to do. I think
that’s one of the greatest things you can do in life
and we all try to do it in some way. The
musician’s is through his music.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Classic Pre-Fab Four

The Monkees often get a bad rap as rock and roll pretenders, but this song is as much a signature sound of the sixties as anything else of that era (and in a good way, I think). I remember watching this on TV way back when I was little and being especially fascinated by the plane with the multiple wings collapsing. Check it out:

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

Here's a variation on those quizzes where I asked you to identify someone based on their eyes only: this time, though, it's feet. In addition to guessing whose feet these are, let's also see if you can guess where the photo was taken. Put your guesses in the comments section.

Last week's puzzle once again proved much easier than I expected, as Sally correctly identified Theresa and Natalie on Easter at the Rosiek's house. Lil Sis and Mom beat Sally on the names, but both were off on the occasion. Thanks to all who played; now get your giesses in for this week!

More Friday Family Blogging

Since I like to solicit comments whenever possible, does anyone recall how Ben got the nose scar so evident in this photo (or is that just a scratch on the film?) or why Natalie was dressed up so fancy? I remember her wearing that outfit, but I can't recall why.

Friday Family Blogging

Here's a nbice picture of Marenka and Gerik from a few years back. Any idea where it was taken (appears to be a restaurant)?

Friday's Quotation

Here's a line from the eminent French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984), who wrote extensively about the discourses of power:

"The strategic adversary is fascism...
the fascism in us all, in our heads and
in our everyday behavior, the fascism
that causes us to love power, to desire
the very thing that dominates
and exploits us."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Truly Spiritual Song

Speaking of religion (as I was in the previous post), here's a cool tune that really puts things in perspective (metaphysically speaking):

Historical Comment

There was an interesting article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine this week about how the state school board down in Texas is going about re-writing the history curriculum for their public schools. Not too surprisingly, much of the effort is being hijacked by religious zealots bent on distorting the historical record with regard to the role religion played in the founding of this country. There's little dispute about how central religion was to individuals and communities throughout the states (nee colonies), but to suggest there was some kind of broad consensus that it be incorporated into the federal system is ludicrous.

Given the preponderance of attention devoted to issues like property, contracts and commerce in first motivating, then shaping the Constitution, it seems highly dubious that any of the founders were anxious to mix those inherently worldly, materialistic concepts up with any kind of spiritual dogma. Another way to think about this is to recognize that the broadly defined Christianity that was so elemental in the culture of the early republic made its formal institutionalization in government and law not only unnecessary, but also unwanted, as it would invite interference in ecclesiastical matters by forces (like Congress) that had no predisposition to respect or even recognize the primacy of local customs over national (or powerful factional) concerns. It's pretty clear that men like John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, et. al. were smart enough to recognize that fact.

One can only guess that those who would rewrite this history are doing so not because they have some kind of new information or insight into the faith of the founding fathers, but because they hope to create some phony a priori justification for their own selfish, contemporary will to power. It's truly a sad commentary that, at least as far as Texas and its schoolbooks are concerned, they very well may get their way.

Thursday's Philosophical Thought

Here's one that you might have some fun getting your head around, from The World As Will and Idea by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860):

"'The world is my idea' is a truth valid for every
living creature, though only man can consciously
contemplate it. In doing so he attains philosophical
wisdom. No truth is more absolutely certain than
that all that exists for knowledge, and, therefore,
the whole world, is only object in relation to subject,
perception of a perceiver-- in a word, idea.
The world is idea."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Video of the Day

Boy did I have a crush on Debbie Harry back around the time this song came out (1978? '79?), and I know I wasn't the only guy who did. It was a bonus that Blondie the band was really good too, and unfortunate, if inevitable, that they labored in the shadow of their lead singer. But if you watch to the end of this clip, they kind of get their due:

The Last Book I Read

I'm guessing that it must be awfully difficult for a comedian whose work is recognized as being on the intellectual side to craft a really effective autobiography. There seems to be a tendency to want to create something deeper, more important than a collection of anecdotes about the road, celebrity encounters, and the development of fondly remembered bits and career-defining material. That'd be great if they could pull off such a feat, since I suspect that guys like George Carlin do have a unique perspective on serious subjects, including comedy and the nature of our popular culture. But they tend to fall short. For example, Mort Sahl's Heartland, while offering a fascinating insight into its author's worldview, comes across as strident and often bitter. Robert Klein's The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue is a bit of a bore, as he depicts himself as a late twentieth century, overly theatrical counterpart to Fielding's Tom Jones. What fails to come across, at least for this reader, is some hint of the fact that these men are entertainers. George Carlin's Last Words, unfortunately, is pretty much in this vein, though it's hard to blame Carlin, given the fact he died before work on the book was completed. Still, his collaborator Tony Hendra some years ago wrote a brilliant survey of the kind of comedy Carlin (and for that matter, Sahl and Klein, too) represented called Going Too Far, so it's hard to believe he's entirely responsible for the failure of the project to entirely come together. The first sections of the book, covering Carlin's childhood are actually quite good, evoking a time and place that long-time fans will recognize as central to the material that marked Carlin's emergence as one of the handful of stand-ups who transformed the art in the 1970s (Richard Pryor and Steve Martin being the other two). But his chronicle of those glory years when he commanded big paychecks and performed long-form routines before crowds in the thousands reads like a transcript of some True Hollywood Story tabloid TV show. I don't mean to belittle the travails (drugs, alcohol, health and family issues) that obviously plagued Carlin during that period, but their recounting here lacks the kind of cynically righteous verve that marked the material he performed on stage, and so it kind of feels like a cheat. Luckily, its exactly that tone that enlivens the last couple of chapters, where he lays out his philosophy in no uncertain terms, and while it's often dark and even frightening in its implications, it's pure Carlin as we've come to know him from his stage persona. I guess I'm arguing that books like this should be continuations of the subject's act, and that's probably unfair-- to deny them the opportunity to discuss other aspects of their lives. But since a big part of their popular appeal (and influence) is built on creating an image of integrity and insight, that they have something more meaningful to contribute than run-of-the-mill mother-in-law jokes, it's a bit of a let down when their written work doesn't quite match that standard-- or, in this case sustain it throughout the book. So, consider this a qualified recommendation, in that the good stuff at least balances out the more mundane parts.

Today's Quotation

The following, courtesy of noted gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005), is a bit on the cynical side; but that hardly means it can't be true:

"In a closed society where everybody's guilty,
the only crime is getting caught. In a world of
thieves, the only final sin is stupidity."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Video of the Day

Here's an incredibly cool song from about 1961. The video is little more than a slide show of old-fashioned jukeboxes, but I can practically guarantee this song by Gene Thomas will get under your skin. It's called "Sometime":

Photoshop Fun

Having some time to kill yesterday afternoon, I drove down to the Clark Canyon Reservoir with my camera and got a few nice shots.

I didn't process these through any arty filters, just adjusted the lighting and contrast and cropped them to give them a little more punch.

Check out the weird jack-o-lantern like face peering through the sunburst in the above picture-- I should've waited until next Halloween to post it!

This Week's Top Five

Actually, this week's Top Five on the radio show was a big dud (the title's a dead giveaway: "Top Five Varieties of Corn"), so I'm digging back into our archive to post one that actually was considerably more entertaining, at least to me. This goes back to our ninth season opener on August 31, 2008. I hope you enjoy this blast from the past:

Quote of the Day

When W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) wrote the following, he undoubtedly was referring to the constant refrain to African-Americans that they had to wait for their equality. But it's a statement that actually has broader implications, and in fact applies to any number of issues even today:

“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some
more convenient season. It is today that our best
work can be done and not some future day or future
year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater
usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now
are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the
harvest and the playtime.”

Monday, February 15, 2010

Classic Garage Band Rock

The Standells are usually counted among the great one-hit wonders of the 1960s, for their unforgettable "Dirty Water." But they didn't stop there, as evidenced by this song, which carried them through to the third round in Dr. John's Battle of the Bands. The sound and video quality is a bit rough, but just imagine you're listening to this through a little transistor radio and it should transport you back to about 1967:

The Last Book I Read

I've been a fan of Doug Sahm's music for thirty years, and for much of that time felt like I was about the only person who even knew who he was, since you rarely saw him mentioned in the standard histories of rock and roll. But Sahm, recording and performing under his own name or that of his bands the Sir Douglas Quintet and Texas Tornados (among others) had a long career that was heavy in terms of influencing others if only intermittently successful in commercial terms (I believe his biggest hit was his first way back in 1965: "She's About a Mover" with the Quintet). Eventually, with the rise of the genre, he started to get a bit more recognition as a progenitor of the kind of rootsy country rock style that others like Steve Earle, Uncle Tupelo, and Jason and the Scorchers were updating for a contemporary audience. But Sahm's style transcended that label, as over the years he also evinced strong affinities for the blues, r&b, cajun, Tex-Mex, hard country, jazz, and even, if less convincingly, hard rock. When Sahm passed away in 1999, although he was only 58, he had a musical resume that stretched back to the early fifties (as "Little Doug"), and a discography as eclectic as any recording artist of that period. Jan Reid's biography (written with Sahm's son Shawn) nonetheless was a surprise to see, since so much of his subject's career seemed to unfold on the margins of the popular music scene. Reid does a fine job of excavating and explaining just how Sahm was an important figure, despite his relative lack of attention or credit. The book is especially strong on Sahm's late sixties sojourn in northern California during the booming days of the San Francisco sound and his mid to late seventies role in shaping the music scene in Austin, which today is a major center for developing talent comparable to almost anywhere else in the country. From this account, it's clear that Sahm was an inveterate mover, never staying too long in one place, and while Reid chronicles the impact that had on his personal life, the focus generally remains on how that factored into the music he produced, contributing flavors to his ever-simmering musical stew. There are some shortcomings to the book, such as some occasionally spotty chronology and the short shrift given to a couple periods that I was rather curious about (such as Sahm and the Quintet's late eighties Scandinavian residency). This is a subjective point, but I also wish he had spent more space discussing some of my favorite albums like Together After Five and Border Wave. Also, given the length of his career, and the incredible number of folks that Sahm worked with over that period, it seems like personal reminisces of friends and colleagues are pretty sparse, aside from the contributions of his son. Especially surprising is the relative dearth of comments from Augie Meyers, who played with Sahm pretty consistently over the years. Maybe there's a reason for this, but it isn't made clear by Reid, and the few contributions by such folks makes one suspect that there could've been much more. But, considering that I never expected to see any full-length biography on Sahm, especially one so consistently strong on placing him into his proper historical context, those are ultimately minor quibbles. I'm not sure that someone who wasn't a fan before reading the book would enjoy it as much as I did, but I think Sahm comes across as such an interesting and influential character that you'd likely be compelled to seek out some of his recordings once you got through it-- and, believe me, that alone would make the exercise worthwhile.

Battle of the Bands Update

The Standells

Last night, in second round action in the Battle of the Bands unfolding on Dr. John's Record Shelf, two pairs of Northwest Bracket groups faced off against each other. Both resulted in unanimous decisions (thanks to my brother Nick who served as the third judge), as Jefferson Airplane (seeded no. 3) knocked off Steppenwolf (6) and the Standells (15) took care of the Kingsmen (7).

Jefferson Airplane

The competing songs included "White Rabbit" by the Airplane against "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf (with each of the three judges acknowledging how close that matchup was) and "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White" from the Standells over "Jolly Green Giant" by the Kingsmen. This means that the Airplane and Standells will meet in the third round, which will commence in about three weeks (we've still got second round contests int eh Northeast and Southwest Brackets to finish). The rest of the third round line-up, so-far: In the Northwest Bracket, Creedence Clearwater Revival will battle Country Joe and the Fish; in the Southwest, the Doors take on the Beach Boys; in the Northeast, it'll be Three Dog Night vs. the Lovin' Spoonful; and in the Midwest, Chicago goes against the Crickets and the Rock'n Roll Trio take on the Gants. It's worth noting that the two lowest seeds to advance out of the opening round, the Gants and Standells, both seeded 15 (out of 16) in their respective brackets, are continuing their Cinderella runs.