Saturday, July 31, 2010

Classic Dion

After my review in the previous post, you should've expected this: a clip of Dion singing one of his latter-day songs (that is, something he recorded a number of years after he left the top forty charts). To me, this is every bit as good as "Teenager in Love" or "The Wanderer" (but maybe a bit below, just a bit, "Ruby Baby"):

The Last Concert I Saw

Last night I drove down to the Chautauqua Institution to see what was billed as "An Evening with Dion." As regular readers may recall, I consider Dion DiMucci to be the most underrated superstar of rock and roll, an artist whose been around and active since the late fifties, who continues to release new music that's just as good as what he was doing as a teenager way back in the Golden Age.

Dion and his band put on a great show, mixing hits with some of his less well known material of the past twenty or so years, as well as some covers of songs made famous by friends and colleagues over the years (like Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and Eddie Cochran).

A highlight is when he sent off the band to play a few solo acoustic numbers, each of which was preceded by often self-deprecating stories about his long career, growing up in the Bronx nad meeting his wife of almost fifty years. The guy has a real flare for engaging the audience whether he was playing, singing, or just spinning a yarn.

I was gratified to hear him play some blues, which seemed to take some in the audience by surprise. They must not have known about his two recent albums that paid tribute to his musical heroes, guys like Robert Johnson and Howlin' Wolf.

My only complaint was that they only played for ninety minutes; but then Dion is about 70, so I'm just glad he's still out there performing as energetically as he does. On the walk out of the amphitheater, I overheard a couple guys raving that he still plays the old hits in the same key in which he recorded them half a century ago-- no doubt about it, Dion still has some of the mightiest pipes in popular music. I'm sure glad I got to see him exercise them a bit!

Saturday Morning Cartoon

The Archie cartoon show seemed to be on forever, in various permutations back when I was a kid, though it was probably just a few years. This kind of reminds me of the old Henry Aldrich radio show, with a rocking (sort of) theme song. Not sure what to make of this as an introduction to the American political system, which it may have been for youngsters:

Saturday's Quote

This is a somewhat cynical point (that, by the way, might be expanded to refer to any and all popular culture), but that doesn't exactly make it invalid. It's from the artist Andy Warhol (1927-1987), who knew a bit about the topic:

"It's the movies that have really been running
things in America ever since they were invented.
They show you what to do, how to do it, when to
do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how
you feel about it."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cool Song

I liked a lot of the groups associated with the so-called "Paisley Underground" back in the eighties. The Rain Parade were definitely on that list. Here's one of their classic numbers:

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

I'm not sure why Dad is wearing a commemorative Hannibal, Mo. t-shirt while visiting Niagara Falls, but that's a philosophical (sartorial?) question best left to private contemplation. The question I'd like you to answer, in the comments section, is whose forehead is that halo-ed by the "Hannibal" on Dad's shirt?

Last week, I asked you to identify the limb of a figure laying on a chair next to Scotty the pup. The correct answer, submitted by Theresa, was Catie (who herself guessed Theresa). Congratulations to Theresa, and good luck to all this week!

The Last Movie I Saw

Finally, a summer movie that lives up to the hype! I really enjoyed Christopher Nolan's Inception, finding it intelligent and exciting in ways that have been sorely lacking in all the other films I've seen this season. I'm kind of a sucker for movies that place dreams at the center of the narrative, with some of my all-time favorites build on some aspect of that theme (Sherlock Jr., Until the End of the World, Waking Life, to name a few). Of course, this is consistent with the notion that movies are, in a sense, a kind of waking dream that generate the same kind of imaginative leaps one associates with the sort of stories that play while you sleep. Nolan has shown in the past that he can command attention to complicated plot elements without sacrificing plot momentum or emotional engagement (Memento being the chief piece of evidence for me), and he deftly steers this story towards a satisfying payoff that works on both a visceral and intellectual level. I'm not arguing that everything in this makes total sense-- the point is that the hokum doesn't sabotage the thrust of the story which plays out as much visually as verbally. That doesn't always happen in these big budget affairs, where special effects can often dominate at the expense of establishing a valid human link between the actors and the audience. But here, Leonardo DeCaprio, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Ken Watanabe and others make that connection with Nolan's help. Surprisingly, Ellen Page comes off a little lightweight (I've always liked her in other films), but not so much as to disrupt the action going on around her. If we have to have big budget summer blockbusters, why can't more of them be as well-crafted as this?

More Friday Family Blogging

That's my sister Lizzie in her first apartment off Niagara Falls Boulevard? her place in Burien (was it Burien?)? someplace else? I really can't say for certain, but I thought it was a nice picture.

Friday Family Blogging

I thought this was kind of a sweet picture of Maria and Sara (and friend). I'm thinking this is from five or six years ago, but it seems impossible it could really be that long. Anyone want to narrow that down at all?

Friday Philosophy

Today, a thought by Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), the Portuguese philosopher who was one of many to inspire the Enlightenment:

"Be not astonished at new ideas; for it is
well known to you that a thing does not
therefore cease to be true because it is
not accepted by many."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Good Song

I admit, John Mellancamp is kind of a guilty pleasure for me, but I'd be hardpressed to explain why (the guilty part, not the pleasure). The visuals in this video are pretty hokey, but I really like the song. Any one else remember this one?

Soup Diary 100729

One of my favorite comfort foods is ham and scalloped potatoes, and so much the better if there's a bit of cheese (cheddar, swiss, parmesan, I don't care) in the mix. Fables, my favorite place for soup, also offeres on its menu a ham and scalloped potato po' boy sandwich, which I've tasted a couple of times with great results. So, when they listed cheesy ham and potato soup a couple days ago, I figured I was in for a treat. As it turns out, not so much of a treat. The soup was okay, but there wasn't that extra something special I've come to expect in the chef's work. Sure, there were potatoes, and chunks of ham, and a light cheesy flavor to the broth, but it all added up to something kind of mundane. I suppose it may be a case of too-high expectations, but I think in this instance it really was a duller soup than the typical fare I've been sampling over the past few weeks. Nothing wrong with that in the long run-- it's the ordinary stuff that makes the truly extraordinary stand out, and I fully expect my next bowl to bowl me over.

A Thursday Quote

Here's a line from the great adventure writer Jack London (1876-1916), which is very consistent with the themes on which he wrote:

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit
of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And
such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes
when one is most alive, and it comes as a
complete forgetfulness that one is alive.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cool Song

I'm not really sure why Pere Ubu isn't a better-known band, as they were truly great. Maybe they still are, but I don't know if they're still together making music. Anyway, here's one of their better songs from the early nineties:

A Visit to Letchworth

Seems like I've taken a lot of photos of waterfalls this summer, and here are a few more. I spent much of the day at Letchworth State Park over on the eastern edge of the Finger Lakes Region of New York State. The park consists of a large gorge carved out by the Genesee River, and the highlights are the three cascades at the north end of the park. Above you'll see a portion of the lower falls, which looks pretty placid from this angle.

The middle falls, see above, are the prettiest of the three (I think), and not too surprisingly it was alongside this section that the Glen Iris Inn was built back in the 1850s (seen below-- still in operation today).

Here's another view of the middle falls (in the foreground) and the upper falls in the distance behind, looking up the gorge from the north (notice the railroad trestle that traversed the gorge just upriver from the falls):

And finally, a closer look at the upper falls with a portion of the wall of the canyon. This was a great place to hike around, though I have to admit, the climbing got to me in the end, and I was pretty beat. I'll probably share some more pictures from our visit as I get a chance to review them more completely.

Today's Quote

This is short and sweet, courtesy of famed CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid (1912-1992):

“Better to trust the man who is frequently in
error than the one who is never in doubt.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Great Bob and Ray

I don't have much time to post tonight, so I'm going with something really good to make up for the minimum number of entries. Here are Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding with some classic bits from their long and illustrious career. Enjoy:

Quote of the Day

The great artist Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) said this, and I don't know but that I agree with him:

"The greater danger for most of us lies
not in setting our aim too high and falling
short; but in setting our aim too low, and
achieving our mark."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Prime Sir Douglas Quintet

This is kind of a weird video (I mean, what's with that deerstalker cap? hte big "Disco" sign?), but the song is pretty good in a lighthearted pop way. This was originally done on the Border Wave album, which for some reason seems to be the only Sir Doug lp that has not been released on cd, which bugs me because it is one of my favorites. Anyway, I hope you like this:

The Last Book I Read

Joe Sacco may just be the most accomplished graphic novelist working today, almost certainly the best working the non-fiction vein since Harvey Pekar died. But unlike Pekar, Sacco's work is not introspective. Instead he uses his talents to uncover basic, human-level truths in some of the most heavily covered, newsworthy areas of the world. Past works focused on Palestine and Bosnia, and he returns to the former with Footnotes in Gaza. Ostensibly the story of how he tried to track down information related to a couple of massacres back in the 1950s, Sacco inevitably reveals much about the present situation in that troubled area, and demonstrates how history (formal or otherwise) continues to shape not just the big geo-political issues of the region, but also the day-to-day lives of those unfortunate enough to have been caught in the middle of it all. Of course, history on that level means something different than what's likely to be found in text books, and Sacco does a great job of laying out that distinction as part of his story. The reference to footnotes in the title kind of makes his point: these stories have been consigned to the margins, but their value, whether just retrieving something important that was forgotten or demonstrating key factors in how Gaza evolved to its present state, is undeniable. One could argue that Sacco's objectivity is compromised by the close relationship he develops with those who help him uncover these stories, but in the end I think that fact emerges as part of his message, namely that we are all inevitably biased by our unique experiences and recognizing as much may be the critical starting point for working out any sort of resolution of what are ultimately mutual problems. This is truly a great work, and I hope somehow its lessons sink in for those who read it.

Quote of the Day

I like this sentiment from the author Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), best known for his works on mythology:

"One way or another, we all have to find what
best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this
contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Classic Hip Hop

Back when rap and hip hop was still pretty new (the eighties), I enjoyed a lot of the big hits as much as anything else on the radio, including this one by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock. Somewhere along the line, the rappers stopped speaking to me (mostly an age thing I believe-- I stopped listening to any pop radio around the same time). But I still get a kick out of hearing some of the classics, and "It Takes Two" is on that list:

Soup Diary 100725

For some reason over the past couple of weeks, Fables has been recycling soups that already appeared on their menu in recent weeks. Normally, once something appears, it can be months before it shows up again (I, regrettably, haven't encountered Sweet Potato Pablano since last summer). Luckily, they almost always have a choice of three, and even though Pumpkin Bisque and Sweet Potato Chorizo were back again on my last visit, they did also offer Lasagna. That's Lasagna soup, not the pasta dish. It was pretty good, quite rich, but didn't really taste much like Lasagna to me, though it had most of the same ingredients (in a thin, tomato-y broth). It's the kind of hearty soup that would really hit the spot on a cold winter's day, but on a hot and unbelievably muggy afternoon, it somehow seemed out of its element. See how spoiled I've become? I want something new, great, and seasonal on every visit. Do I deserve any less?

Sunday Funnies

Today, a short, three panel tribute to the great Charles Addams. Most folks know this classic New Yorker cartoonist from the sitcom family that evolved from his panels and share his surname.

But his dark sense of humor was on display long before Gomez, Morticia and the others became famous on television (though their appearances in his cartoons were always deliciously nasty too).

Anyway, here are three of his best panels, reflecting his black take on life and the truly weird things that can make us laugh.

A Sunday Quotation

Given the revelations that came out today about how things function in Afghanistan, this quote from noted war correspondent Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) seems particularly apt:

“Unless they are immediate victims, the majority
of mankind behaves as if war was an act of God
which could not be prevented; or they behave
as if war elsewhere was none of their business.
It would be a bitter cosmic joke if we destroy
ourselves due to atrophy of the imagination.”

Saturday, July 24, 2010

New Band

I've been reading a bit about this band from Wales called Joy Formidable. It doesn't appear that their first album is avaialble yet in the US, but I found this clip on YouTube, and it sounds and looks to me like the hype may be justified. Check it out:

Four Pictures

Ben and I spent the evening retracing the footsteps of visitors to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo back in 1901. That was the fair where President McKinley ended up being assassinated, and the grounds today are mostly covered with upper-middle-class homes, just north of Delaware Park (designed, by the way, by Frederick Law Olmsted, who I quoted a bit earlier today). Near the Buffalo Historical Society building, which is the only remaining structure from the Exposition, there's an old home that now houses some of the Society's offices, and these pictures were taken there.

The house once belonged to Julia Reinstein, whose family also owned the land on which the nature preserve I visited earlier this week is located. It's funny that the property seems in some ways to be in disrepair, as it's clearly still being used as office space.

Maybe the idea is to create the illusion of something old and abandoned, or maybe the Historical Society has concentrated its resources on making the inside look good. But the exterior, especially in the back of the building, has the look of a place that is kind of falling apart.

Whatever... it was a fun place to poke around for awhile, and I don't know if it goes back quite as long as the Exposition, but it certainly had the air of something historical about it.

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Huckleberry Hound was right up there with Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw as a major star from the Hanna-Barbera studios that seemed to crank out cartoons by the dozens. Here's a classic episode starring ol' Huck that originally aired in 1959, but was repeated endlessly during the years I was a kid:

Saturday's Quote

I think that Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) made this comment in relation to owning slaves back in the 1850s, but it certainly applies to other situations as well:

"The possession of arbitrary power has always,
the world over, tended irresistibly to destroy
humane sensibility, magnanimity, and truth."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Classic Big Band Song

This is my nominee for the greatest swing song ever, though there's a longer version where the group interpolates a few choruses of "Christopher Columbus" in the middle of "Sing Sing Sing." I couldn't find a video of that one, though YouTube does have it posted as a record playing if you want to give it a listen. This is the Benny Goodman Orchestra featuring Gene Krupa on drums and Harry James on trumpet. Great stuff...

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

Here's a picture of the late, great Scotty, stretched out comfortably on the living room rug. Here's the question: whose leg is that splayed across the chair on the far right? Put your guesses in the comments section.

Last week, I asked whose arm was draped across Mom's shoulder, and every single one of you guessed the same thing, brother Nick. Well, that's the right answer, and Theresa got it in first, though Liz and Mom also recognized the mystery limb. Congrats to all, and I hope this wekk's quiz is a bit more of a head scratcher.

A Visit to Canal Fest

Every year, the twin cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda put on a big week long festival celebrating their heritage as major ports on the Erie Canal. Last night, I wandered around the festival for a little while and took these pictures.

Of course, a big part of the appeal of these street fairs is the unhealthy food so abundantly available-- how could anyone resist the lights and colors and the prospect of nibbling on an elephant ear?

This was a new one to me: kids would climb inside these inflated plastic balls and run around like hamsters in a shallow pool of water. Considering how hot and muggy it was last night, I can't imagine voluntarily encasing myself in plastic, but then I'm not a kid anymore.

There were, as usual, lots of games of chance on the midway. I guess the stuffed bananas so prominently displayed above were not sufficient to attract the gaming crowd.

Now these overstuffed prizes, however, drew a steady stream of players (though I only saw one walking away with a giant red teddy bear).
Here's a picture of my Dad taken in San Francisco back in 1991 (I think that was the date), during a roundabout cross-country drive we undertook in returning from a visit to Seattle. I'm pretty sure this was taken as we were disembarking from the ferry that took us over to Alcatraz island where we wandered around the old prison. Dad really got into the spirit of the visit, even donning a "California" cap.

Friday Family Blogging

Here's another "old" picture, this of my sister Theresa when she was about five years old. I thought it was interesting because of how much she looks like her daughter Helen in this shot, though with a bit of Emma (her other daughter) in there too. I mention this because I'm usually blind to those kinds of generational resemblances.

Friday Philosophy

Here's a nice little tidbit from the famous Greek statesman and orator Demosthenes (382-322 BC):

"You cannot have a proud and chivalrous
spirit if your conduct is mean and paltry;
for whatever a man's actions are, such
must be his spirit."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cool Song

Everybody knows "Stacy's Mom" by these guys: Fountains of Wayne. But here's a tune from a bit earlier in their career, which is even better. By the way, I once drove by the place that I assume gave these guys their name, an outdoor fixtures store in New Jersey (can't rememebr what town it was though):

The Last Book I Read

If you saw the George Clooney movie Good Night and Good Luck about Edward R. Murrow and his reporting about McCarthyism, you may recall a side plot about one of Murrow's CBS co-workers named Don Hollenbeck. In the film, Hollenbeck is accused of being "red" and the pressure that created contributed to the causes of his eventual suicide. Those events happened to be true, but Hollenbeck's career was hardly defined by its unfortunate ending. After spending a number of years on newspapers in his hme state of Nebraska, and later in New York, he joined CBS radio and was largely responsible for a program called CBS Views the Press, in which he analyzed the efforts of the numerous daily New York papers in relation to journalistic standards that all claimed to subscribe to (and, not too surprisingly, recognized how often they came up short of meeting those standards). Radio's Revolution, edited by Leslie Ghiglione, collects selected scripts written by Hollenbeck for that program, and it is an eye-opening read. What is immediately striking in the collection is how familiar many of the topics under Hollenbeck's review are to a contemporary reader. That is, even though he was comparing how the papers covered stories in the late 1940s, many of those stories seem to be repeating themselves today, in topics like media bias, welfare reform, witch-hunting (figuratively speaking), racial profiling, and more. They may have gone under different names sixty years ago, but the sorts of commercial or partisan factors that color our news today apparently have a long and strong strong history as well. In fact, the biggest difference between then and now is that there are fewer newspapers, with the bulk of contemporary news reporting the domain of broadcasters and internet sites. Unfortunately, I'm not sure we have any one of Hollenbeck's insight and integrity, so evident in these scripts, to provide the kind of comprehensive analysis on today's media scene. It's hard to imagine that anyone would have the patience or the platform to review in detail how the different outlets cover a story, especially when it's so easy to merely label CNN and Fox as opposite extremes and assume they comprise some sort of representative sample (or, maybe they do, but that's a problem in itself-- Hollenbeck was examining something like nine newspapers just in New York City, each of which functioned as a more-or-less independent voice). One unavoidable conclusion drawn from reading this book is that the press tended to be fairly conservative in that period (though that term didn't mean exactly the same thing then as it does today), which leads to an interesting question: when did the charge of the "liberalism" of the media become prevalent, and more to the point, when did it start to stick? Of course Hollenbeck was clearly liberal in his thinking (though not in the partisan sense, at least where his job was concerned, based on these scripts), if only by virtue of his efforts to expose the racism inherent in news coverage of his day, so maybe those attacks grew with the rise of broadcast, as opposed to print, journalism. It's something I'd be interested in following up on. Because its planted that question, among others, in my mind, I'm calling this the book of the summer, so far.

Soup Diary 100722

I've been informed that it is "dishonest" of me to post pictures I find on the web to illustrate these little soup reviews, since they often do not match exactly with the stuff I describe. Well, I'm going to keep on doing it, because I don't always have a camera with me when I indulge my soup tooth, and I think the pictures add a nice touch to the posts. However, today, I am happy to report that the above photo is in fact an actual depiction of the bowl of Gazpacho I enjoyed yesterday at a place called Aladdin's in Rochester. It does not in any way exaggerate the heaping-- normally it's be almost impossible to employ that adjective to soup-- helping that appeared before me moments after placing my order. This was not just a magnificent, and unexpected, portion, but also a magnificent flavorful treat for my palate. As you can see, it was a mass of diced tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions and cilantro in a tangy vegetable broth. I would go well out of my way to have this stuff again, and am already looking forward to my next visit, though realistically it may be months away. Yes, I'm still smacking my lips just looking at that picture. Yum yum.

The Daily Quotation

It would appear, based on the following, that the political thinker Henry George (1839-1897) saw in his time the same kind of partisan gridlock that we often see in our own:

“Compare society to a boat. Her progress through
the water will not depend upon the exertion of her
crew, but upon the exertion devoted to propelling
her. This will be lessened by any expenditure of
force in fighting among themselves, or in pulling
in different directions.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Great Song

Here's one of those songs that's likely to sink in and take up permanent residence in your brain from the first time you here it (or at least it did for me). Neko Case deserves to be a huge star, but regardless of whether she reaches such heights, she's already established herself as a great artist.

Four Photos

My friend Rick and I drove over to Rochester this afternoon to visit the Eastman House Museum of Photography and catch a screening of Howard Hawks' classic screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby at the museum's Dryden Theater. We had some time to kill between the closing of the museum and the show, so we drove up to Lake Ontario to check out the waterfront.

For years and years, there's been a lot of grumbling about how Buffalo has failed to develop its own lakefront, but it seems like Rochester got it right. The beach was gorgeous-- sandy and clean, with (as you can see above) nice spots to find some shade and well maintained activity areas like the volleyball courts.

Alongside the beach is a lovely wooded park, with a big gazebo where an Irish folk group was performing for an appreciative crowd. Events like this occur in Buffalo pretty regularly, but I have to say the setting in Rochester seemed much nicer-- less cramped, and more inviting in terms of the physical setting.

I'd like to think the potential is there to see something this special developed in my hometown, but it may be a long time coming. But it's doubly frustrating to realize that just sixty miles up the road, out neighbor city figured out how to get it done as Buffalo continues to spin its wheels.

Words of Wisdom

Here's a classic line from the American newspaperman Horace Greeley (1811-1872):

"Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident,
and riches take wings. Only one thing
endures and that is character."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Classic Rock and Roll

Eddie Cochran was one of the original rockers from the 1950s, probably best known for his song "Summertime Blues." Sadly, he died in a car crash long before his talent was spent, and like Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, there's a big "What if...?" attached to his entry in the history of rock. Here's another one of my favorites by Cochran, called "C'mon Everybody."

What I Did Today

I spent this morning hiking around the Reinstein Woods and Nature Preserve in beautiful Cheektowaga, New York. Actually, I tagged along with Theresa, Nik, Helen and Emma (seen above admiring some of the wildlife: a caterpillar they spotted on the sidewalk leading from the parking lot).

There were a couple of really nice lily ponds, with pink flowers blooming out of the water. Otherwise, it was a mostly wooded area (as the name suggests), which made for a great way to get out and enjoy a little nature (though we could've done without the bugs).

Emma was playing guide, but I have to say I kind of doubted her ability to read the map-- though now that I think about it, we didn't get lost!