Wednesday, January 31, 2007

On a boat that's bound for hope, but left you in the queue.

Apologies for a no-show yesterday.

Packed day - had to leave Madison at 7 am for a meeting in Milwaukee at 9, be back to Madison to interview Allen Toussaint (Finally! Details tomorrow!) at 2, cover the State of the State address at 7, and of course, be on the floor for the Hoppin' Jacks' fourth game of the season at 9.

I covered the State of the State last year for the first time, and totally bought into the pomp and circumstance of everything. With most of my job's beat being the state Legislature, it's nice to be a part of the one day of the year when everybody pretends to get along and be best friends. I love the way everyone's ushered in... "Mr. Speaker! The State Senate has arrived!!!," "Mr. President! The State Supreme Court has arrived!!!," etc. etc. With a lot of rambunctious applause from all around, it's kind of hard not to get caught up in the moment.

Of course, it all amounts to an hour of posturing - the second after Gov. Doyle ends his speech, that spirit of bi-partisanship is thrown right off the top of the Capitol and GOP members in the Assembly and Senate (where they're in the minority now) issue statements and give interviews saying Doyle's wish list for the next year doesn't make any financial sense while the Dems come out praising the guv for putting an emphasis on the values that matter to Wisconsintes most.



Photo by yours truly.
Everyone's smiling at the State of the State... except Speaker Pro Tem Gottlieb... what's the matter Gottlieb? Too good to buy into an hour's worth of optimism? Eh? EH?!


I always say that it's the one day of the year that everyone can get along, but really it's the one hour of the year. I could be really cynical, I suppose, and go into these things rolling my eyes at all the proposals that will most likely never come to fruition or the one half of the aisle that stands or refuses to stand on a particular issue, but eh... what fun would that be? If the most right wing arch conservative can smile and shake the leftest of the left wing liberal's hands like they've always been best friends, I can get into the spirit of things too. It's hard not to, really. Everyone's so damn happy, and there's cheering after every three sentences!

People were not cheering for the Hoppin' Jacks, however. Unsurprisingly we fell to 0-4, getting blown off the court by arguably the best team in the league (with the dumbest name), the Town Bank Shots. Seriously it was like the 1996 Denver Nuggets going up against the 1996 Chicago Bulls... with the obvious exception that the Nuggets at least won one of those matches. Still, even though it was a humiliating loss (I'm not even going to post the score), it didn't feel anywhere near as humiliating as the first two losses of the season. Our defense was better and we caused loads of turnovers. The problem was we had MULTIPLE breakaway layups that no one could put in, couldn't get a rebound to save our lives, and their shortest guy was as tall as our tallest guy (me). Suffice to say, Emilio Estevez has not shown up to save us yet.

But in losing, we're all starting to feel a lot of camraderie, and aren't walking off the court dejected like we did (particularly after the 2nd week). It kind of sucks, you know... a win would be nice. But, we didn't join this league to roll on undefeated and smoke every team we faced. Well... I didn't.


The Style Council - Have You Ever Had it Blue
In keeping with the Style-Council-sums-up-the-previous-night's-effort tradition that's developed here, I offer this whimsical but still dejected track which found a home on the soundtrack of the 1986 film Absolute Beginners (which, even with all its mod leanings - Jam title, Style Council on the soundtrack, Ray Davies in the film - I haven't seen). I think it's pretty appropriate - sad theme bolstered by a upbeat, bossa nova-esque tune. The track was also issued as a 12" single in '86 and as such, found its subsequent homes on easy-to-find compilations like The Singular Adventures of the Style Council. Also, with a Democratic governor and a Democratic Senate, you know... it kind of works in a double meaning kind of way. Get it? Blue? See, a lesser blogger wouldn't have been able to do that.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

I can't help the way I feel. I lost my bag in Newport Pagnell. Why is the last mile the hardest mile?

...and welcome back to the working week.

Hope you had a very nice weekend - I had a nice one myself, as my old buddy (and constant recommender of good music) Andrew came out to visit from Milwaukee. We drank a lot of beer, like we always do, but we were smart this weekend and didn't decide to switch to Jack and Cokes 2/3 of the way down the line, which we usually do and has always ended disastrously. Maybe we're getting smarter with age. Yeah, that's it.

On Friday night I had a good night out with an old friend from the young professionals group I joined out here, and I hadn't talked to her in months, so it was surpising to get a call from her out of the blue, but very nice all the same. We went to an art gallery thing in an old warehouse in the city's industrial sector - that was all well and good, but some of the fashions and behaviors at those young bohemian gallery things puzzle me a little. What was even more frightening about it to me was this chocolate fountain they had running for people with cookies and crackers and whatnot. I didn't trust the thing. All it would take is one decent bubble, and that thing would burp out a nasty little mess in this nice gallery setting. It never did, and people were walking up to it fully trusting it, but you couldn't get me within 20 feet of that sucker. I was in a nice sweater, khakis and badass Beatle boots. No way was I going to even threat getting covered in chocolate.

After that we went to a bar on Willy Street, which was great, cos I walked in and "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" by the Smiths was on. Later in the evening, when they played the Jam's "Going Underground," I knew I had come upon a new preferred watering hole.

As it turns out, the girl will be moving to Puerto Rico in a month, and it started this recurring theme of the weekend about me looking at Madison really objectively.

*She's been here for six years, and is ready for a change.

*Andrew's starting to think about moving out of Milwaukee and maybe out of Wisconsin (though maybe only dropping down to the Chicago area - nothing incredibly drastic).

*My friend who moved here last summer is already well burned out on the city, citing a grievous distaste for the Midwestern mentality which - as far as I can make it - she perceives to be a continuing need to mask one's true feelings for the benefit of carrying on with daily life to avoid burdening others or "the daily routine" with one's own problems. She calls it dishonest and is apparently very aware of rabid phoney-friendliness.

I had conversations about Madison and my feelings for it with all three over the weekend, and I still very much feel like I did when I first moved here.


I still love it, you know.


June will mark my second anniversary in the city, so I'm still a relative newbie, but I still love it. A lot of it, I'm sure, has to do with the city in the scope of my own life at the time of moving here - graduating college, splitting up with my long-time girlfriend, officially starting to make my own way in life - I can assume that wherever a job brought me in the summer of 2005, I would've developed a strong sense of personal identity there. The fact is, that place happens to be Madison.

And while that alone counts for a lot, I've also bought into a lot of what comes with it. It's a very liberal-leaning city, but it operates in the long shadow of the state government, which is still teeming with conservatives, so there's always the stress of politics (and its polarities) tugging at the city's fabric. It can be annoying, but it also creates a continuing air of uncertainty and tension, which at the very least is kind of exciting. It's still got a small(er) town feel, with pockets of small commerce distributed almost randomly throughout its borders, but it's also got enough going on to challenge any whines of "There's nothing to do here."

And I just don't buy my friend's definition of the Midwestern mentality. I've lived and visited a lot of places in my life and have always found friendly people and not-so-friendly people. That's going to be a toss-up wherever you are. As far as the masking one's feelings or not being blunt or direct or whatever to avoid confrontation... I can also assume that happens in a lot of places as a lot of the greatest pop songs ever written have to do with shyness, not being able to tell someone how you feel and carrying on in the same way (for better or worse) - and I KNOW that not all of those artists came from the Midwest. Morrissey came from Manchester. But so did Shaun Ryder. That is, "I just can't explain, so I won't even try to" vs. "Son, I'm 30. I only went with your mother 'cos she's dirty. And I don't have a decent bone in me."

I think that if you're going to talk about a general ethic or view of the Midwest, it's that a lot of its towns, cities (and heroes) were born out of blue collar backgrounds, and I think that manifested a very work-a-day mentality. Some people (Dylan) managed to escape it, but for the most part, I think people just deal with their realities here. A lot of resentment was probably equally born out of it, but I think a general (very general) ethic here is do your job, provide for your family, have a week at the cabin on the lake in summer and that's life. It's not exactly sexy, but I think there's a feel (and moreso in Wisconsin than anywhere else I've lived) of "okay, well... we're in it together." I have my problems, you have yours - if you wanna go have a beer and vent a little, hey alright, but I'm not going to go off on you or saddle you with things that 1. aren't your fault anyway and 2. have little or nothing to do with you, just because I'm having a bad day. That's actually pretty f*cking rude.

I visited L.A. for a weekend, and you always hear about phoniness out there, but I met some very friendly people. I also noticed a very flashy undertone to a lot of city life in general there, which you would never ever find here, but it'd be stupid of me to come back and say "Oh, none of them go out without a cup of Starbucks, constantly talking on the cell phone, and trying to navigate the city in a Lexus while applying lipstick in the rear view mirror." Maybe some of them do. But I'm sure there are the people there that have to work in the 7-Elevens and out of the janitorial closets in Capitol Records. And I'd be pretty offended if I was one of them hearing visitors leaving going, "They're all such flashy, self-righteous jerks."

There's a lot of stigma attached to living in Madison. I could be written off as a hippie liberal, a Packer fan, a simpleton that considers "Ya der hey" just as good as "Hello" or... I guess... someone that hides his true feelings and runs in circles of people that only pose friendliness to attain some alterior motive. I don't really think I'm any of them, and frankly, the Packer fan assumption is downright offensive. But if it's part and parcel of living here, okay. I'll probably move someday. But maybe I won't. There's no pressing need. I like it here, and I'll even stand up for my hippie liberal, Packer cheering, "Ya Der Hey" saying comrades. They can be a good laugh sometimes, you know.


The Smiths - Is It Really So Strange?
In keeping constant with the moving theme, I thought this would be good. The confusions of love, travel and dead horses alike are all summed up here pretty nicely, which I find not only to be one of the best Smiths songs, but also one of the best love songs ever. It's also the first track I throw out to people who think Morrissey's just some sad pathetic loser and the Smiths' music only served a purpose for the teenage boy who sat at home miserable on a Friday night while the girl he fancied was out having fun in a big group of people. Outside of "Nowhere Fast" and maybe "Rusholme Ruffians," Johnny Marr's music never took the rockabilly mold as strongly as it did here and if the confused optimism of Moz's lyrics doesn't bring a smile to your face, the groove certainly should. Originally released on the B-side of the "Sheila Take a Bow" single, this track also provides a perfect opening to the indispensible compilation Louder Than Bombs.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Who's reaching out to capture a moment?

There's never a shortage of celebrity crushes on my end.

The first one I can recall was Geena Davis, although more for her role as Dottie Henson in A League of Their Own than anything else. I think I was more in love with Dottie than Geena. Not really convenient, considering that she was in her prime in the early 1940s and I was developing my attraction 50 years later. Well... that, and the fact that Dottie was a fictional character to begin with, I suppose, never meant it'd amount to much. Then for years it was Sandra Bullock, but she ultimately broke my heart and went with some flash biker dude. Parker Posey's another perennial favorite, and I'm still working out a plan to get down to Brazil, convince Bebel Gilberto she'll never find another love like mine, and return to Madison triumphantly with her as my bride.

Over the past year I've also developed a strong liking for Amy Sedaris, which started last summer when she was on the press jaunt to promote the Strangers With Candy movie. And I remember the two instances that sealed it up for me:

One her appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on June 21... seriously, how great/cute/funny is this (bonus points for poking a bit of fun at my old classmate Dwyane Wade):




Then an appearance she did on NPR with Paul Dinello to promote the movie that I heard while vacationing in Alaska as Sig and I drove around downtown Anchorage which had me laughing out loud.

...oh and how could I forget the tumbling bit on The Colbert Report?



Ah haha... Anyway... it's not a real substantive post, but it's Friday and admit it, you got a few laughs.

Oh and I almost forgot what led me to think up all this in the first place... Amy did a Celebrity Playlist on iTunes in July, which included the Association's "Windy."

The Association - Windy

Of the track, she wrote:
"This was my favorite song when I was a kid and I listened to it so much my brother cracked the 45 in half."

It is one of those songs that teeters on the brink of annoyance, and I can see how plenty of repition can lead one to want to physically cripple the song's ability to be played, but face it... it's a fun track (especially at the end when that harmony comes in) and seems to suit her personality quite nicely. From 1967's Insight Out.

Have a nice weekend. Listen to this song often.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Don't wanna let me ride.

Happy Thursday! It's another multi-faceted post for you, dear reader...

First, I saw this item by Ed Treleven in Tuesday's Wisconsin State Journal, and had to share it with you...

'Wanna-be tries to stop real cop, police say'

Annoyed by a car he thought was speeding, a security guard at a Middleton billiards club turned on the flashing red lights and siren on his Honda Accord early Friday and tried to stop the speeding car, Madison police said.

Unfortunately, the car was driven by an off-duty police officer who thought it was odd for another officer to be driving a 10-year-old tan Honda on duty, Madison police spokesman Mike Hanson said. It ended with the arrest of the Honda driver, 28-year-old Joshua D. Kay, on a tentative misdemeanor charge of impersonating a police officer.

You can read the entire article here, but that's really the long and short of it. I don't know... it gave me a good chuckle. I think it's the emphasis on 10-year-old tan Honda that put me over the top, as if it was another make/model/year, the guy would've at least had some credibility going for him. The lesson? As best I can make it, don't take the law into your own hands in Madison, or better yet, if you intend to, make sure it's not in a 1997 tan Honda Accord.


"It's got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it's got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks..."

Something about this story put this song right in my head although no Mustangs or Sallys were involved. I've been getting into Wilson quite heavily lately, and it's definitely been a wonderful learning experience. This track, from 1966's The Wicked Pickett, is one I (and I'm sure you) have known for ages, so I doubt it will come as any great revelation to anyone, but it's still got all the great traits of Pickett's work, well-known or otherwise. The incessant groove, the honeydripped vocal, the impassioned grunts and yelps... Wilson's the boss, man.
Here's a great clip of Wilson performing the song live abroad in 1968... definitely makes me wish I'd been around for this era...




In other news...
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers' Flea is all hot and bothered that Jimi Hendrix is being used to hawk a new energy drink, Liquid Experience, that will make its debut in April.

"To see his image and the beautiful feelings it has created in me cheapened by advertising is very disappointing," said the co-star of Back to the Future 2.

This was reported over at the BBC site, but I find it funny that even though the company has already put out items including "baby clothing, an air freshener and a lava lamp" bearing the guitar hero's likeness, name and trademark, it's the energy drink that put Flea over the edge.

Dude, chill out. We're living in a world where you can now buy a Brian Wilson Barbie, have silk ties with John Lennon's doodles on them and learn how to make mashed potatoes from Paul McCartney. This is the way it goes, and the way it's gone for years. Anyone remember "Revolution" being used to hawk Nike? What about "Instant Karma"? Hell, what about "Bitter Sweet Symphony." If you hear those songs and think shoes, then... well I feel sorry for you.

Surely you had Hendrix-associated memories BEFORE the energy drink came along. Just block it out. Or be like the rest of us and just don't drink it, buy the Barbie, wear the tie or use Macca's recipe (and I certainly won't, because my Aunt Carla's mashed potatoes are way better, I guarantee).

And what's more, if some kid thinks drinking a highly caffeinated beverage is going to make him play like Jimi, that's fine by me, cos God knows the only other advertisement going for it was LSD. Just ask Eddie Griffin (Really terrible language, but terribly, terribly funny... the Hendrix bit starts at 2:22). Having spent time with people high on acid, I'm all for less of it going around.

The point is, people's images and legacies are more of a personal thing than something a piece of baby clothing or energy drink is going to decide. I see Ray Davies as probably the single greatest songwriter in rock and roll, and while it's disheartening to hear "You Really Got Me" used to hawk Old Navy and interactive guitar video games, or my blessed "Picture Book" being used by Hewlitt Packard, it doesn't change the fact that he wrote "Village Green," "Autumn Almanac" and "Dead End Street."

Come on, Flea, even Jimi himself said it - "Castles made of sand melt into the sea eventually."
I pointed out last week that I prefer Cream to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and that after 5 or so Hendrix songs, I reach my breaking point. But for those first 5 I'm usually very impressed and respectful, especially songs cut of this mellower thread. I'd always known this song, but I got to love it even more in college because my roommate Tom loved it so much and would always sing it in a very bad Jimi impersonation. From 1967's Axis: Bold as Love.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Let's throw out the past and get something back.


"You want me to do what? Okay. Wait... what?"


Well the Hoppin' Jacks have fallen to 0-3, after a 48-26 decision last night.

But don't let the score fool you. It looks like it was a drubbing, but in actual fact, we played pretty good, and more importantly, I scored my first points of the season.

Like last week we were running even up until halftime, and then decided just to take deep shots in the second half, which would be fine and all if they were falling... but they weren't. The stupidity of it was that the team we were playing was fouling at will on anyone who penetrated, but apparently none of us like to be touched and decided to keep our distance and throw up the deep ball.

The problem was at the other end, they were penetrating and we were fouling, so they pulled away at the line, ultimately.

We switched to a zone defense last night and I feel it worked much better (notice that this is the first time we've held an opponent to under 50). We've laid the foundation for a victory next week, we're playing together more comfortably and if we can just get comfortable with the idea of other guys touching us and working inside a little more... it's all gonna be gravy.

But I think the difference maker is switching to the zone, and to celebrate the momentus change, here's a Style Council track that I was able to utilize for only the most literal play on its title.

The Style Council - Changing of the Guard
Okay, so like the previous two tracks before it and then ones to follow, this has nothing to do with basketball, but is instead a rather beautiful lament to the end of love. A duet between Weller and his ex-wife/other Style Council vocalist Dee C. Lee, this track is culled from my absolute favorite Style Council LP, the much-maligned Confessions of a Pop Group. Critics went after the pompous nature of the record's "sophisticated jazz" leanings (one half is devoted entirely to piano led balladry and musings and features a 10-minute 'suite' called "The Gardener of Eden," and drummer-extraordinaire Steve White actually walked out on this album's sessions), but behind the snobby clout and some bogus production lay some absolutely class tunes, and this is an album I really do love to listen to.

In other news...

I was very excited to hear yesterday that Neil Finn is reuniting Crowded House for a world tour, thinking this was coming off the heels of the recently released Farewell to the World CD and DVD sets - a clever ploy, chronicle the group's last stand, and get back together to tour the world with it. But now it seems that the new Neil Finn solo album that was tipped for a March release will actually be a new Crowded House record, and the appearance at Coachella and following tour will be on its heels.
I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about this. One, drummer Paul Hester's suicide in 2005 closed the book on Crowded House as we knew it - sure drummers are ultimately replaceable (and Hester left the group before it folded, anyway), but the character that Hester brought to the group was something that will be sorely missed. Two, Tim Finn's not going to be a part of it, which is understandable considering he has his own album, Imaginary Kingdom to hawk, but I loved the Woodface era, and anyone who's seen the two Finns perform together live knows that while Neil can do the likes of "Weather With You" and "It's Only Natural" on his own, it's a world of difference when Tim's singing the second vocal.
Three - and this is my own simple banality - I like Neil Finn solo. His last two solo records haven't made an impact anywhere near what the Crowded House name used to, but it's turned him into something of a rogue Indie artist on the outside track and I think it's benefitted some turns/effects he's followed in his music (see: "Rest of the Day Off"). I know it's really not going to matter all that much - it's essentially the Neil record anyway, just under a different label, and if Crowded House can pick up where they left off in 1996, then we're definitely in good shape.
But I still hate the fact that Split Enz reunion tour never made it up here. Now THERE'S one I was excited to hear about.
Anyway, here's where the Crowdies did leave off...
I do live by my (Bruce McColloch's, really) creed that "Greatest Hits albums are for housewives and little girls," but when Crowded House released their career retrospective, Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House in the year of their demise, it was definitely a compilation worth picking up because it mixed their very best stuff (albeit - and infuriatingly, thank you - without the title track), but also included three new tracks, all of which actually stood up beautifully alongside their best instead of being the cheap "Oh, here's a couple of half-assed new ones to tack on the end" deals that most bands usually take with retrospectives. "Instinct" is Neil at his best mixing the edge of darkness with sheer beauty and a soaring chorus. It's 1,000 miles away from the bouncy optimism of "Something So Strong," but it's every bit as catchy.
And here's a cool little bonus, Crowded House performing one of Neil's best entries to the Split Enz catalogue, "One Step Ahead":


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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Seen the passers-by all stare.

Any music magazine connoisseur (or Borders/Barnes and Noble/Insert cool bookstore here frequenter) knows that when it comes to thorough musical coverage, the British have us beat.

Rolling Stone's been on a downward slide for years, and the dismal "recreating" of its website as something of a news/blog hybrid with too many ads and crappy "mix tape" lists everyday (I get really pissed off when I realize people are getting paid to write that tripe) is not helping its cause at all.

I got into Spin for a little while, but its always had this air of being the snobby friend who would rag on you for liking Clap Your Hands Say Yeah because "You don't even understand the Pixies," and then when you'd retort that you like a few Pixies songs actually, it'd get all "Pfff, probably just the big ones. I mean you don't understand them like I understand them," and then you want to throw a few punches. While I realize I can be like that, the point is that I'm not to the point where it's worth getting huffy over Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

But the limeys' weekly and monthly outputs are another story entirely. Q is great (well it was at the start of the decade, it's getting a been getting a little fashionista over the past couple of years), Mojo's top rate, and the first website I check every morning is the NME.

The geniuses over at Maxim must've realized how cool those British mags were and realized the need in the American market for such coverage - if only to save readers the extra $5 or $6 that the importing fee tacks onto to the British cover price. Blender's one of the few mainstream American music mags I like perusing, although the fact that it's under Maxim's umbrella means we're far more likely to get Pussycat Dolls cover stories than Neil Young ones. Although the Mariah Carey cover story was eye opening. Well the photography was. Was there a story? Hmm...

But unlike Rolling Stone, Blender actually puts together some cool lists worth reading every month, and here's their latest: The Most Awesomely Demented Fans in Music.

I like the writeups, and glad they agreed on the monsters in both Michael Jackson's and Clay Aiken's camps, but I kept paging through the list looking for the one group that never came up.

The Beatles.

Now I'm a Beatles fan, and a rather obsessive one. Did you know, for instance, that it took all of 585 minutes to record the entire Please Please Me album? I have Beatles shirts, Beatles posters, import singles and rarities out the wazoo, and back at the parents' house in Lombard, yes, I even have these.

But there are fans far, far, far, FAR more obsessive than me. And I know, because from 1997 through 2000, I was a regular attendee of Beatlefest in Chicago.

Beatlefest was cool, and they offer it in New York and Los Angeles as well... I believe there's one in Canada and one in Florida now too... and if you haven't been to one, I reccommend checking it out. Through it I got to meet the likes of Robbie McIntosh, Hamish Stuart, Neil Innes, Ricky Fataar, John Halsey, Klaus Voorman, Astrid Kirscher, Laurence Juber, Gordon Waller and even Sid Bernstein. And there are fans there ranging from the most casual to... the group I started this whole rant about.

I'm kind of an MOR obsessive. I spend a lot of time in the "marketplace," perusing endless CD bins for those rare Paul McCartney European singles... looking for some good pieces of vinyl (ironically enough, I found a mint condition, sealed original copy of one of my all time favorite albums, The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society at Beatlefest), and so on and so forth.

Then they're are the nuts. Beatlefest is nice because it gives you the option of seeing "A Hard Day's Night," "Help!," "Magical Mystery Tour," "Yellow Submarine" and "Let it Be" on the big screen, but you got your fans there who shreik through the whole movie or when their favorite Beatle delivers a particularly good line. I'll never forget the scream that George Harrison elicited during "A Hard Day's Night" when he called that trendsetter "a drag - a well known drag." I thought someone was being murdered at the other end of the ballroom.

Then there are the endless parades of tribute bands, which is all well and good for a weekend, but you realize that half of them spend the whole year doing it. I kind of understand the gimmick of it, but really, I'd rather sit at home and listen to Revolver than go hear four accountants-by-day in Beatle wigs and with Rickenbackers and bad Lennon impersonations try to get through "When I Get Home." Maybe it's just me.

I think what I'm driving at can be summed up best by one story from the final year I attended the Fest.

Beatlefest in Chicago is (or was, I don't know if it still is) held at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare, which is right in the middle of a whole cluster of hotels and convention centers. It's held in August, which I guess must be a good month for conventions in Chicago, because all sorts of different ones are going on in every open space around those hotels.

Anyway, I parked in this parking garage that year that had a skywalk attached which led Beatlefest attendees to the Hyatt, but in the walk, you could look down on other things going on below, and one of the ballrooms the skywalk passed through was hosting a Star Trek convention. As a teenager, I always walked with my head down, so I looked down and laughed a little to myself at how ridiculous the guy with a pocket protector in Klingon makeup looked, but then I heard someone ahead of me actually verbalize it to the person he was walking with. I didn't see him previously, because of my head being down.

"Look at those losers!" he exclaimed to his compatriot.

I looked up to laugh in agreement, but then my face went white in horror as a fluorescent pink military outfit caught the sun's glare and nearly blinded me. The guy was decked out in Ringo's suit from Sgt. Pepper - and had the wig and fake moustache to boot. His friend was in neon green - Lennon's suit, and nodded and scoffed at the Trekkies below in agreement.

Now I'm not saying that's what stopped me going, but I'd never seen such a tangible display of a pot calling a kettle black.

Now I always attended in a Beatle t-shirt and khakis, so it wasn't ridiculous, but I will tell you one thing. If you're decked out in Sgt. Pepper regalia and willing to show yourself in front of THOUSANDS of people, I think a special spot should be saved for you in The Most Awesomely Demented Fans in Music.


Understandable and well... er...
Here's a fantastic paean to some of the Beatles' original demented fans - the lot that would hold vigil outside the Beatles' Apple offices in London in the late 1960s. I read somewhere once that Harrison actually had extramarital relations with one of the Scruffs, but I can't recall which book that was in. Maybe Bob Spitz's? Sounds more like a Geoffrey Guiliano type story though, so maybe it was him. Note to readers - don't read Guiliano's books, he's only interested in tabloid type stuff anyway, but more importantly, he's just a flat out bad writer. I would hope you know this song and hope even moreso that you own George Harrison's fantastic All Things Must Pass album, particularly the 30th anniversary addition that features some great outtakes and sounds glorious in spite of Phil Spector's overproduction. This was always one of my favorites from the album, and is also the name of a martini at John Hawk's Pub in Milwaukee. I mention that because I always get it, in spite of not really liking it, pretend I'm drunk and start singing "How I love you!" to the drink as if it's the funniest thing in the world. Most people don't get it. But some do.
George Harrison wrote this note to 3 of the Scruffs after he'd completed the track:
"Dear Carol, Cathy and Lucy. Now it's finished - and off to the factory. I thought I'd tell you that I haven't a clue whether it's good or bad as I've heard it too much now! During the making of this epic album (the most expensive album EMI ever had to pay for) I have felt positive and negative - please and displeased, and all the other opposites expected to be found in this material world. However, the one thing that didn't waver, seems to me, to be 'you three' and Mal., always there as my sole supporters, and even during my worst moments I always felt the encouragement from you was sufficient to make me finish the thing. Thanks a lot, I am really overwhelmed by your apparent undying love, and I don't understand it at all! Love from George (P.S. Don't hold this evidence against me.) P.P.S. Phil Spector loves you too!"
Anyway, it seemed like an appropriate song for rabid Beatle fandom, if only because I wasn't going to scour the net for those early 60s novelty tracks like "We Love You Beatles" and "Ringo For President." That's the kind of thing for people who wear Sgt. Pepper outfits...

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Don't you think it's time?


Apologies for a couple things:

*Brief absence at the end of last week - a lot of travelling around meant severely little time to upload tracks/fill you in on musings.

*Lack of a Toussaint update. My interview was postponed due to scheduling conflicts. I don't think I need to tell you who's the busier of us two. It will come soon enough, hopefully.

*My promise 2 weeks ago that this blog wouldn't go all "World Wide of Sports" on you. It just turned out that January's been pretty prevalent for yours truly in the athletic arena.

...and Sunday, frankly, was, as Shaun Ryder once put it, "A Big Day in the North."

Pride? Glory? Recognition? Championships? Bollocks. These men were playing for recognition on "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..."

While the scheduling gods were particularly unkind to your hero in terms of CBS tipping off my 24th ranked alma mater against the #6 ranked Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh at the very time that FOX was broadcasting the kickoff of the NFC Championship game (and I, unlike, pretty much everyone OUTSIDE of the Windy City was actually pulling for my Bears), a get together with some friends that could finagle multiple televisions, cocktail weenies, chilli, guacamole, brownies and lots and lots of beer meant that while I had to spend a Sunday doing a multitude of multitasking - AND MAKE MY WAY TO FESTIVITIES IN A MADISON SNOWSTORM NO LESS - I was a very happy boy.

Particularly when both underdogs pulled out victories.

I'll be honest - I had wavering faith in both clubs. I believed that while both Marquette and Chicago had a shot at victory (and Chicago entirely because of the home field advantage factor), both were facing teams that were heavily favored, and with good reason, since on paper, both Pittsburgh and New Orleans looked to be the clearly superior teams.

But don't let the final score of MU 77, Pitt 74 in OT fool you - in spite of late surge by Pittsburgh (which all top 10 ranked teams should be capable of), Marquette was pretty dominant through the entire game and let neither a 9' sasquatch or a dude with a haircut I'd not seen since Vanilla Ice's glory days get to them. Plus, a team seemingly with not a single player that could make 2 of 2 free throw shots prior to Sunday's game suddenly got red hot at the line, and well... I haven't been that excited about a Marquette game since I was a student. Although the victory over Duke in November was pretty damn cool too.

And the Bears, well, what can I say? Homefield advantage did turn out to be a huge deciding factor, but let's not overlook the fact that Rex Grossman didn't commit a single turnover, the defense shored up like mad (barring that 88-yard Reggie Bush touchdown - although his antics only promised that'd be the last set of points New Orleans was afforded) , and in all games this season when it's mattered most, the Bears have been able to pull it out. Everyone... and I mean EVERYONE is going to be putting their money on the Colts in the Super Bowl. And you know what? I think that'll do the Bears a lot of good.

I could've put together a highlight reel from yesterday's twin billing, set it to "Bitter Sweet Symphony" and brought tears to your eyes, but I decided to go with another Verve song since I know you all have "Bitter Sweet Symphony" anyway. And it's a good little fist-in-the-air song too...

The Verve - This Could Be My Moment

This track was recorded during the Urban Hymns sessions, but vetoed off the final tracklisting, and bewilderingly, even any of the b-sides that accompanied the album's singles. The only tangible reason I can think of for such a gross miscalculation is that the song's tempo outruns any other song's on Urban Hymns and coupling that with this track's near-naff optimism sitting alongside the likes of "Weeping Willow" and "Velvet Morning" might've created too much polarity on the record - although Urban Hymns is actually more of a life-affirming album than a lot of it's plodding musical backdrop would suggest. Whatever the case, it's always good to leave a couple scorchers in the vaults, so that something can spruce up the retrospectives, and sure enough, when This is Music: The Singles 92-98 was released in 2004, "This Could Be My Moment" finally got its long-belated debut. Is it just me, or would this song be a lot better to play when the NCAA Championship is decided rather than "A Moment Like This" or whatever that cheesy song they play is? That one's so schmaltzy that Disney wouldn't even go near it.




Oh yeah! I almost forgot...







Thursday, January 18, 2007

Jingle bells and fairy tales and blind colliding scopes.


Jack, Ginger, Eric. Yellow Buddhist Monk not pictured.


People always look at me funny when they ask me if I'm big Hendrix fan, 'cos I always say the same thing.

"He's alright and all... I like Cream better than the Experience."

Apparently it's a very sacreligious thing to say - it's as if I'm saying Clapton could play circles around Jimi, and I'm not saying that - I'm just saying that as a power trio, I find Cream preferable to the Experience. There are simply more songs in Cream's backpages that I can just sit and listen to and enjoy whereas with Hendrix, after about four or five tracks, it's like someone's gotten into my ear with a sewing needle and is just poking at my brain again and again and again.

Then when whoever I've offhandedly offended with my response decides to concede that Cream actually were pretty damn great when you stop and think about it, they ask me what's my favorite Cream song.

"Anyone for Tennis."

Then they walk away dismissively.

Look "Sunshine of Your Love" is cool, but it's not their best, and "Tales of Brave Ulysses" is even cooler, but mostly because of Ginger Baker's drumming. "Strange Brew" is fun, "N.S.U." moreso, and "I Feel Free" even moreso. But oddly enough, if I'm listening to a Cream CD - album or compilation - that has either "Wrapping Paper" or "Anyone for Tennis" on it, those are the two that I will never, ever skip. Maybe it's weird - neither track is a proper showcase for Clapton's, Baker's or Jack Bruce's powerhouse abilities on each of their respective instruments, but the quality of songwriting on the two is top notch - which I find far more important than an extended guitar solo if the point is just to sit, listen and enjoy.

Cream - Anyone for Tennis

I don't think you'll ever hear Eric Clapton sing more obtuse lyrics than those featured here, on a track he co-wrote with Martin Sharp for the film "The Savage Seven." It's a really strange tune, but really charming at the same time. It's dripping with psychedelia lyrically, but the music is almost ancient folky. The track was released as a single in 1968, and if you're looking for a good CD to get it on, I'd recommend The Very Best of Cream, which, incidentally, opens with "Wrapping Paper."

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Truly believed I was a ceiling of sky.

We could take him... I think...


Well it's Wednesday, so you know what that means...

The Tuesday night recap!

The Hoppin' Jacks met the Mikes at La Follette High School on Madison's east side Tuesday night and upon seeing that the combined age of the 7 Mikes that showed up was probably in the ballpark of 574, had a good laugh and decided tonight was the night we reached .500.

And in the first half it seemed as such, too.

The offense was running hot, the defense was stingy, and going into halftime we held an 18-15 lead.

If it weren't for halftime...

For whatever reason, we came out cold as ice after the 5-minute break, and I believe only managed another 8 or so points for the entire half while the Mikes went on to drop another 34 or so on us.

It was a whoopin' - pure and simple. But the good news is that I increased my assists, rebounds and steals totals although I did put up another goose egg points-wise. Eh.

I kind of see us like the Mighty Ducks. We're the rag tag bunch now, but we're going to get it together at the last possible instant when a winning streak can still hold promise for a shot at the title. Call me old-fashioned, or more appropriately, a homebody that watches far too many sports movies, but that ilk of celluloid stock has instilled far too structured of a belief system in me to think otherwise. We just need an Emilio Estevez, or a washed-up legend at the end of his emotional rope to come in and teach us the little he remembers. He'll teach us his patented pick and roll and we'll teach him, in coming together and helping one another out, about what's truly important in life. Rated PG-13 for language.

But for now, we're still losers. And losers that totally let one slip away.

The Style Council - It Just Came to Pieces in My Hands

Since this is the second straight basketball recap featuring a Style Council track to augment it, I'm thinking a theme is developing here, and a theme I particularly like because who else in the history of time has ever and will ever use the friggin' Style Council as ornamentation to the subject of basketball. It's hard to know how a pseudo-jazz combo of the 1980s with a predominant socialistic political slant will apply for the next eight weeks hereafter, but I'm 2 for 2 as it stands - and that's better than my field goal average in the league right now. Honestly, can YOU think of a more a propos track for a team that didn't just let one get away, but let one run away, buy an airplane ticket, and fly as far away as humanly possible? I think not.

"It Just Came to Pieces in My Hands" was the B-side to TSC's 1983 single, "A Solid Bond in Your Heart" which itself was a holdover from Weller's Jam days. The story goes that Weller played "A Solid Bond in Your Heart" and "Beat Surrender" for close acquaintances and asked them to pick which they preferred. When the unanimous call came back for "Solid Bond," Weller knew he'd keep it for his own project in the pipeline and have the Jam's final bow be "Beat Surrender." "Solid Bond" is a nice enough track, but I actually really prefer this b-side - simplistic to a T, and featuring a chorus of no more than "Doo doo doo / doo doo doo / doo doo doo doo doo." It's an often overlooked track from the Style Council era, but can be found on compilations including the super impressive boxed set The Complete Adventures of the Style Council.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Don't get so you can't move about whenever you get ready.

Genius.


I'm interviewing Allen Toussaint on Thursday.

I've done some very cool interviews in the past couple of years - including Lyle Lovett, Billy Bragg, Ian McLagan and Alejandro Escovedo among them - and before every turn, I get a good hit of butterflies. But they always come right before I'm due to do the interview. With Toussaint, I've been nervous since I got word I'd be doing it.

Maybe it's the fact that he's the first Rock and Roll Hall of Famer that I've talked to. Maybe it's the fact that he's been one of, if not THE face of New Orleans music for the last 40 odd years. Maybe it's his résumé.

Regardless, it's the good kind of nervousness. After all, I'm going to be talking to the guy that WROTE "Working in the Coal Mine" and "Fortune Teller" (pretty much a rite of passage song for virtually any British Invasion band of the 1960s)... The guy who's studio produced some of the best known tracks and albums of the 1970s - including Dr. John's In the Right Place, Paul McCartney & Wings' (best album) Venus and Mars and LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade"... the guy whose own albums (particularly his run of 1970s work - From a Whisper to a Scream, Live, Love and Faith and Southern Nights) contain some of the best soul, funk and N'awlins jazz you'll ever hear.

While last year's notable collaboration with Elvis Costello, The River in Reverse, brought him back into the national spotlight (and contained one of this blog's best tracks of 2006), I'd wager that at LEAST one of Toussaint's previous musical contributions has found its way into your ears.

But the good thing about gaining a national audience again is that it begs a bit of performing, and Toussaint will be playing in Milwaukee on Feb. 17 at the Pabst Theater. He doesn't get around often, so I suggest you don't dally in getting tickets.

Red Kelly put a great write-up of Toussaint and one of his earliest performances (still available for download!) up on his fantastic "B" Side blog in 2005, which can be viewed here. DO check out.


And I, of course, have a couple of Toussaint tracks for your listening pleasure as well.

Allen Toussaint - Goin' Down
Here's a slice of that awesome soul/funk I was talking about from his 1972 album, Life, Love and Faith. This track was also recently featured on the recently released set What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967-1977). A propos, as this track is both supremely funky and a fantastic groove. Try not to get into this one. I dare you.

Allen Toussaint - Tipitina and Me
An absolutely beautiful solo piano interpretation of the legendary Professor Longhair's "Tipitina" (see Longhair do the song here) that was recorded for the 2005 collection, Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast to raise proceeds after Hurricane Katrina hit the Crescent City. As I've said before on this blog, I'm usually not one for instrumentals, but this one had me from the first notes. Toussaint also contributed another track to the collection, the funky (and great) "Yes We Can Can," but this one really kind of sums up the bittersweet nature of the collection and without even saying a single word.

And as an added bonus, here's some cool YouTube footage of Toussaint playing alongside Professor Longhair shortly before his death in 1980. I believe these were rehearsals for a concert that never took place as such because of the Professor's passing. Just cool to see them side by side.




So we have a few days, and I know I have plenty questions of my own, but is there anything you'd like to know? If you want to leave a question for Mr. Toussaint in the comments section, I'll see if I can get some answered, time permitting...

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Counting money makes me @#$%$#! dizzy.

Infinitely funnier if you imagine him saying, "I GO TO AMERICA!!!" in a Borat accent.


I promise that this blog isn't going "Wide World of Sports" on you, however much it may seem otherwise.

David Beckham gets $250 million to play for the MLS team the L.A. Galaxy.

Let me repeat that.

David Beckham gets $250 MILLION to play for the MLS team the L.A. Galaxy.

Let's bypass all the "he's past his prime anyway" talk and talk about the real issue here. WHERE THE HELL DID A MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER TEAM GET $250 MILLION FROM IN THE FIRST PLACE?!

I've been outside this country, so I know what football and futbol means elsewhere, but there's no way that professional soccer is enough of a business in this country to justify a $250 million pay day for one guy. Everyone pretended to care when that 14 year old was signed... how many people have ever seen him play?

Now, I played soccer growing up (side note - doesn't my past life sound glorious lately? Basketball, soccer, crazy chicks to argue about Cal Ripken with... I digress), and I think that's as far as soccer enthusiasm goes in this country, really. It's a great game to play - I sincerely love playing it, still do... but watching it is another thing entirely, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find a group of Americans (say... the size that would justify begetting a quarter billion dollar contract) that would say otherwise.

We already have our boring sport to watch - baseball. Hey, I love watching a game, be it at the ballpark or on the tube, but I'm also the first to concede its an acquired taste and something a lot of Americans can't stand. Anyone that says "futbol americano" isn't exciting, well, I would've agreed with you until this Bears season, and I assume you didn't see Boise State's victory a couple weeks ago. NBA Basketball I can give or take, but college basketball is almost always a good show.

But soccer, that's watching a lot of nothing for a LONG time. And that's why Americans can only really stand it en masse every four years when the World Cup comes around. Even then, it's only the zealots that pack the Irish bars and Italian restaurants as most of us are more than willing to spare waking up for a championship or semifinal game at 5 am and get the highlights on SportsCenter at some saner hour.

Then ask your average American to name 5 soccer greats. I'm guessing you'll get an average of three. If that. I can only think of four. I could count myself, I suppose. I was an All-Star right defender on the Lombard Demons - not a lot got by me. But that European kid Jaro was really the star of our team. He made all the goals. Showoff.

Now, the fact that Beckham would probably be listed -- but moreso because more Americans have seen pictures of him on Posh Spice's arm than any footage of a shot on goal -- maybe a good reason to dump a bit of money on him, but people are fooling themselves if they think his addition to a United States soccer team roster is going to be some sort of amazing booster shot for the sport's profile in this country.

For several years I've heard the Beckham = Michael Jordan for Europeans comparison, but now given the fact that we're getting Beckham in his Washington Wizards phase, is it really that exciting? The last soccer-related image any American had of Beckham was him crying after England's exit from the World Cup. But in a year-in-sports review, I bet you a lot more Americans are going to remember Tony Romo crying at the end of the Cowboys exit from the playoffs. And not just because it happened last Sunday either.

Jesus Christ, the baseball world's a buzz because Alfonso Soriano landed a $136 million deal with the Cubs, and they're calling that overbloated for a team that (even when losing) manages to fill its stadium.

I mean... wtf?

I was going to post some Spice Girls to "celebrate," but then I remembered the main reason I hate Beckham in the first place. We weren't so different, you know. We both watched the "Say You'll Be There" video and fell in love with Victoria Addams. Then HE married her. Bastard. And cheated on her. And retained her undying faith. I, meanwhile, went on to write this blog.

So instead, let's have something else from across the pond that I can get much more excited about...

Black Grape - Shake Your Money

Get it? For the ridiculous spending involved? Meh. I know, I know, this song is probably more about drug dealing then signing past-their-prime names to megamillion contracts, but it's bound to cheer me up at least. Black Grape's 1995 debut, It's Great When You're Straight...Yeah is one of the most ridiculously fun albums ever released, in spite of being doused in expletives, blasphemy and continual praise of drug use, and that's because - for whatever reason - it actually has a lot of humanity to it. Shaun Ryder (who you may now know as the disembodied "it's coming up, it's coming up, it's coming up, it's coming up" head in Gorillaz' "Dare") matched his finest moments with the Happy Mondays on the album while simultaneously making his last great stand as, Tony Wilson said, being "on par with Yeats" (there were a few funny moments on Black Grape's decidedly underwhelming follow up, Stupid, Stupid, Stupid, but it was mostly for naught). If you don't love the lyric "A million years old and still in trouble - put down your fist and hit 'im with a shovel"... well, maybe this is where we separate. It's certainly a Top 20 of all time (if not Top 10 - depends which day you ask me) collection, and while currently out of print, can be tracked down from Amazon, eBay and Half.com users. If you haven't already, I suggest you get yourself a copy.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ain't I half a man for ya?

Sorry - I was so caught up in my own athletic glory that I forgot to extend kudos to Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn for their respective selections for Cooperstown. And I suppose extend a bit of kudos to sportswriters that have made a couple of mind-baffling moves in previous years to make the decided right choice on each of the first-time balloteers.

As a Cubs fan, of course, it'd be easy for me to whine about the exclusion of Ron Santo and Andre Dawson (Dawson in particular was an untouchable hero for toddler-to-2nd grade Paul), but while it's easy to be a homer, the fact of the matter is I really enjoy the game of baseball and despite the fact that I've never really been an Orioles backer and - as a Cubs fan - CERTAINLY not a Padres backer, there's no doubt Ripken and Gwynn deserved the calls.

I used to date this girl who, one night as I was idly flipping through TV channels and landed upon a SportsCentury documentary on Ripken, informed me that she absolutely hated Cal Ripken.

"Why?!" I asked, suprised by the tinge of vitriol in her statement.

"In second grade I wrote a report on Lou Gehrig and I thought he was the greatest guy ever, and Cal Ripken broke his streak, so... I hate him."

I laughed, thinking she was to some extent just being a tad ridiculous, but there was something in her eyes that made me start to exclaim "But...," but that same look told me there'd be no point in even trying to use a bit of practical reasoning to justify Ripken's greatness. He broke a guy who she did a report on in 2nd grade's record, and for that reason alone, was a miserable bastard.

Nevermind the fact, of course, that Ripken actually played the majority - if not, in almost every case, ALL - of the 2,632 consecutive games he started, whereas Gehrig, in the latter half of his streak, would sometimes only play the first inning or two.


NOT a friend to 2nd graders.

But really, I'm sure she's not the only person who thought like that. People hate seeing records broken, but that's what happens. I didn't like seeing Robbie Williams overtake Oasis' Knebworth attendance record, but c'est la vie. When Emmitt Smith overran Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, I got a little pissed too. But it's not like the moment those happened people forgot about Oasis' Knebworth gigs or Walter Payton. Do you think the British music press is going to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Robbie Williams' Knebworth gigs? Er... wait, nevermind. Given the fact that the British music press will probably celebrate the 10th anniversary of Starsailor forming, I shouldn't ask that. But all my people right here, right now... you know what I mean.

People hated seeing Roger Maris' record broken too... well, after some considerable persuasion by Billy Crystal more than a year after the fact. But so it goes. It's not like McGwire's record stood too long anyway.

Oh, right, Mark McGwire. The other notable first-time balloteer this year. He got passed over - good. I say that moreso because I'm a Cubs fan and I hate the Cardinals more than any other team in baseball than any of the potential steroids use qualms. Everyone and their mother (particularly at ESPN) wants to give their two cents on the McGwire/Steroids/Hall of Fame subject, but the only opinion piece that made me think a bit differently about was Bill Simmons' FANTASTIC column a couple weeks ago.

The point is, the majority of the public's mind is made up on McGwire and on Barry Bonds too - so when he most likely passes Hank Aaron's all-time record this year, it's not going to matter all that much. People's minds were already made up on Sammy Sosa after the corked bat incident, and while Cubs fans were willing to defend that as an honest mistake, he shelled any potential remaining love the city might have harbored for him after abandoning the team at the end of the 2004 campaign. Sure, all three of these guys have numbers, but numbers alone aren't going to do jack for you in an age where EVERYONE can publish an opinion on you.

And, really, what of opinions anyway? Here are the facts:

* Oasis are way cooler than Robbie Williams

* Walter Payton was way, way cooler than Emmitt Smith

* Sammy Sosa may have been a selfish bat corking right fielder, but Mark McGwire was a dirty red bird.

* Cal Ripken Jr. deserves to be in the hall of fame every bit as much as Lou Gehrig, missy.

As always, the straight dope from "Ain't Superstitious, But These Things I've Seen..."

The Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra - Burn Like a Mother

I chose this track because of the pleading chorus that I also chose to make today's title, which seems quite a propos in light of the Ripken debate and the fact that McGwire, Sosa and Bonds clearly aren't half a man among them. NTO is a great, great act that came to my attention in the fall of 2005, when I saw Nicholas Tremulis take a solo spot opening for Alejandro Escovedo. I'm usually incredibly wary of opening acts, but Tremulis blew me away, he had a voice and some solid tunes and oozed that proper rock 'n' blues "I don't give a sh*t" persona. I saw Alejandro in Chicago back in November, and Nicholas had his entire orchestra with him to open that show, and again it was fantastic. This is by no means my favorite track from the outfit, but considering how much it rocks, that should say a lot about their other material. Be sure to check out this track's mother album, Napoleon, which is a proper rockin' affair with some disarmingly sweet moments to boot.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

But the day things turn sweet for me won't be too soon.

Nothing to change your "I'm an Earthling and I rock" mindset like a basketball game that proves you're out of shape and definitely lacking on talent you thought you had.

I used to be alright at basketball, but when I say that, I mean backyard pickup games at friends' houses through grade school and high school. So when my co-worker asked me if I was interested in joining a rec league team with him, I thought back to my blacktop dominance years ago and figured I can't have lost that much steam in the years since then. Sure, why not?

Now, granted, he proposed this back in November, so I had a good two months to get myself in shape and ready for this, but the fact that I'm the youngest guy on the team and playing with a bunch of guys that just really kind of want an excuse to hang out and go drink some beers afterward didn't really scream "HIT THE GYM, PAUL!"

The first signs that I was out of shape hit me this summer went I went up to Alaska for my friends' wedding. My last day there, Sig (another groomsman and obviously avid outdoorsman), decided that I'd seen enough of Anchorage and its surrounding area from a car passenger seat and that it was time for me to get some down and dirty outdoors experience. The fact that 2 days prior I had jumped off a mountain counted for naught, I guess, since I didn't actually have to trudge up the mountain, but ascended by ski lift.

Now, all I was dressed in that day was a t-shirt, a pair of khakis and Skechers - hardly de rigeur mountain climbing gear, but he assured me the ascent was one of the easiest in Alaska and that what I was wearing was fine.

We had to stop I think two or three times on the way up, and when we reached the summit, I felt for sure that I was going to keel over and die right there. Scenic way to die, I thought, but I remember cursing Sig out through shortened breath and pants and telling him that it was on his head if I went. 15 minutes later I caught my breath and took in the view. Glad I did it, of course, but... I learned an important lesson - just because I'm thin doesn't mean I'm in shape.

I think my line score from last night should tell you how much I've ratcheted up my workout ethic in the past 6 months:

Minutes: 34 (out of 40... not too bad, but I did go in thinking I could easily run all 40)
Field Goals: 0/4
Fouls: 0 (that sounds good, but I didn't really get into the paint that much despite being the tallest guy on the team)
Assists: 1 (wa-hey!)

We lost 54-39, but the other team was all into it and everything, so...

I think we'll get better. We all just need to find our collective touch and it was obvious the other guys had been playing together for awhile. But each Wednesday now through March you'll get an update on my progress, and hopefully coinciding tracks that don't include "I'm a Loser," "Too Shy," "Goddamn, Do I Suck at Basketball After All," etc. (I don't know if the last one's been written, so I got that going for me).

But going from feeling rather bombastic to feeling rather deflated in the course of 24 hours does beckon a certain a propos track...

The Style Council - My Ever Changing Moods
(SaveFile, click on link to go to downloading page - sorry, but FileDen's being all weird today)

Most of my fellow Weller devotees write off his Style Council period as an overall waste of time and talent (decent songs thrown into the lion's mouth of terrible 80's production, 12" remixes, questionable haircuts and videos that include loincloths, oversized sunglasses and running like hell away from beautiful girls frolicking in a field to continue biking alongside your best buddy). But I love the Style Council - I think that while it's true that a lot of songs were marred by terrible production, Weller wrote some of his most pointed and lyrically impressive songs during the 1980s, and this one, off Cafe Bleu is certainly no exception. Every line is genius, but I've always loved the last verse in particular:

Evil turns to statues - and masses form a line
But I know which way I'd run to if the choice was mine
The past is knowledge - the present our mistake
And the future we always leave too late
I wish we'd come to our senses and see there is no truth
In those who promote the confusion for this ever changing mood

Plus, the music puts you in a pretty sunny place, in spite of the fact that January-type weather has finally (regrettably) shown up in Wisconsin.

Weller himself has even realized the fact that under some dated production lay some great tunes and has thankfully taken to revisiting Style Council songs in his live sets in the last couple of years, including "A Man of Great Promise," "Shout to the Top!," "Long Hot Summer," "Headstart for Happiness" and this track, which sounds even more fantastic these days with Weller's finely weathered voice oozing pure soul all over the proceedings. See for yourself:



Viva la Style Council.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

IN THIS WORLD, IN THE NEXT WORLD AND IN ANY WORLD!!!

I was flipping through the newspaper yesterday, and came upon an AP story with this headline:

"NASA may have killed Mars life"

I know you're as intrigued as I was, so here are the first few paragraphs.

WASHINGTON - Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have stumbled upon alien microbes and inadvertantly killed them, a scientist theorizes in a paper released Sunday.

The problem was the Viking space probes of 1976-77 were looking for the wrong kind of life and didn't recognize it, the researcher said in a paper presented at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

This new report, based on a more expansive view of where life can take root, may have NASA looking for a different type of Martian life form when its next Mars spacecraft is launched this year, one of the space agency's top scientists told the Associated Press.

Now, I'll be honest, I read this and my first thoughts were rather depressed notions of our country's imperialistic tendencies. Nevermind what's going on in the Middle East, now Americans are going on to other planets and killing, etc. etc.

What kind of tirade could I put together on this blog on the matter? What song would be a propos? "Life on Mars?" nah. "The Space Race is Over"? Eh... more about the moon than Mars. "My Star"? Ooh perfect. But I just put up some Ian Brown...

Then I thought a little more about it and decided, you know what? I'm gonna see how the other half speaks, here. I'm an Earthling, dammit, and I'm damn proud of it.

Now, maybe it's the fact that ABC Family ran "Independence Day" two times straight on Sunday night, and while I viewed it the first time through with the typical "Oh, the aliens are Mac compatible?" cynicism, I totally bought into the "EARTH! F*CK YEAH!" sentiment the second time through.

It's been a banner couple months for Earth, really. First we have the gall to discount the idea the Pluto's actually a planet, and now it turns out that 30 years ago we were responsible for the mass annhilation of millions of potential Martian microbes.

Well, if I learned anything from "Independence Day" (the second time through, that is), it's that it's super important that we kick 'em while they're down.

Why?

Because microbes grow. And become hideous super races that, while Mac-compatible, build monster ships that'll come to Earth and blow away the White House, the Empire State Building and any other standing landmark that has any sort of common interest in it. Sure, Randy Quaid is here for us now, but he's not always going to be, people. And there's no way I'm entrusting my life to Bill Pullman.

God only knows what those Martian microbes could've grown into, and what's really disconcerting is their proximity to Earth. They could shoot from the hip and kill us. That's why it was a good move to discount Pluto's relevance. Sure, we probably mightily pissed off any Plutonian dwellers, but would you even be inspired to fight back for something that wasn't even really a planet? No. You'd just listen to a lot of Morrissey. Maybe we should start thinking about using that tactic if we can come to any certainty on Martian life. Just count it as a planet no longer. They won't want to fight.

Meanwhile, we're alive and kicking and looking out for number one here, baby. And by number one, I mean EARTH! THE GREATEST PLANET EVER! I think New Hampshire third grader Sateja Paradkar said it best:



Damn straight, Sateja! Occupied by humans indeed!
And here's a human song that I think fits this post PERFECTLY.
It's funny, I hadn't listened to this song in YEARS. When I was growing up, I used to have to stay with my grandparents in Edgebrook, IL while my parents worked during summers, and as I became a devout Beatles fan in 3rd grade, uncovering my Dad's old vinyl collection during those summers was my equivalent of uncovering Tutankhamun's tomb. I loved the Ringo album, because the cover art was so fabulous to study, especially in glorious 12" x 12" format, and I used to dig this song, but outgrew it rather quickly, finding much more preference in "Sunshine Life For Me" and "Have You Seen My Baby." But when I started meditating on how much Earth kicks ass, I could only think of one song to accompany the thought, and when I listened to it, it put me right back in my grandparents living room all those years ago. The best bit of course, is toward the end when Ringo lets rip: "I'M THE GREATEST!!! AND YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT, BABY!!!"
My sentiments exactly.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Come on, get up, get underway.

"Macca, meet Monkey. Monkey, Macca."


Alright, I'm back.

Net is back in the residence, so my uploading capabilities are resumed, and you can expect plenty more good music at a plenty good rate now.

While lacking net though, I almost let this story slip through the cracks, which was reported by the NME last week and got me terribly excited:

Ian Brown is trying to recruit Paul McCartney for his forthcoming fifth album.

The former Stone Roses singer has been collaborating with a wide range of musicians and producers for the LP, entitled 'The World Is Yours', including former Smiths and Happy Mondays bassists Andy Rourke and Paul Ryder.

Now Brown is looking to rope in the Beatles legend for the follow-up to 2004's 'Solarized', which is due out later this year.

He told NME.COM: "I spoke to his assistant, I was like, 'Me name's Ian Brown and I'm a singer', and she was like, 'Yeah I've heard of you'. (London's) RAK studios where we're recording the album is only round the corner from where he lives. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, I don't mind waiting for him! I'd put it back for him.

"I just think in the last 40 years, no one's touched McCartney on the bass. It's a bit of a pipe dream, but if you don't ask, you don't get, so I'm going for it."

This is fantastic news, and while I usually get cynical about such collaborations (anyone actually HEAR that Brian Wilson/Paul McCartney duet "A Friend Like You"? Cringe inducing...), this one has got incredible promise written all over it.

Why?

Because Brown's going for McCartney's bass playing asset, first and foremost. Coercing some songwriting/vocal help out of the man could be dangerous given Macca's reputation for perfectionism-cum-completely overbearing...ness, but Brown stated right there that he wants the man's bass. While the "no one's touched McCartney on the bass" point is arguable (Come on, man... what about Mani?!), McCartney's bass playing ability is undoubtedly top shelf (I shouldn't have to cite examples, but listen to the lines in "Rain," "Baby You're a Rich Man," "Let Me Roll It" and "Silly Love Songs" for a start), and Brown's music is the perfect arena for some great bass playing.

Admittedly, like everyone else, I was wary of Brown's output post-Roses, especially when John Squire took the lion's share of writing credits on Second Coming (which I love), but while I am one of the few individuals that will defend Squire's solo output tooth-and-nail, I will also concede that a lot of Brown's solo stuff has been absolutely mindblowing.

What's more, it's been a long time since Macca's done anything with a proper, funky bite - the closest I can think of is "Tiny Bubble" off 2001's Driving Rain, but even that wasn't half as good as some of his proper funky moments - the majority of which came as deep cuts during the Wings' era ("She's My Baby," "Reception," "Magneto and Titanium Man," "Time to Hide").

When you listen to certain cuts from each of the two back-to-back, you realize they're not so far apart at all.

Ian Brown - Longsight M13
The catchy-as-sin opener to Brown's last solo outing, Solarized. His solo output can be sketchy, because while half of it is of this pure, simple hook-ilk, the other half is meditating/rambling over meandering guitar or keyboard lines, which Solarized also featured ("Upside Down," for one). But when he's on, he's on, and this one is bound to at least make you nod along to the chorus. I picked this up on vacation in Toronto in 2004, so every time I hear it I think about walking down Yonge Street and flirting with a girl in the music store where I picked it up. I held a copy of Solarized, she held a copy of New Order's Brotherhood. Sigh. What could've been... This, my friends, is why I always talk of someday moving to Canada.

Paul McCartney & Wings - Arrow Through Me
Outside of hardcore fans, not many people have heard this song, which is tragic. Wings' final proper album, Back to the Egg, has always been one of my favorites, but it was panned by critics straightaway and is a rather enigmatic collection, because while many of the songs on it are first rate, it doesn't really work as a cohesive album. You can skip around to any track and like it, but when you try to sit through it all in one go, it just doesn't mesh. Regardless, because of the universal dismissal of the album, "Arrow Through Me" has almost been lost to the ages, but I think it's a fine number - even for being synth-led - and was the first thing that came to mind when I heard of a potential Brown/McCartney collaboration. Granted, King Monkey could NEVER sing this song with his limited range, but it's the exact kind of groove he hones in on in his best moments. I'd love to see Sir Paul work on a track like this again.


So let's hope Macca's assistant passes along the word to her boss. Actually, let's hope she's a fan of Brown, so that she does it with some amount of gusto.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

But now since I've seen you in his arms...



I've wanted to do this blog for awhile now.

Particularly back in November when my buddies in Hollus came up to do a show in Madison with compatriots in tow, and at an aftershow party, I set the stage for an argument over this song, believing full well that at least some of the boys would side with me. Not a one of them did.

Idiots.

At any rate, it's a good one to have in the bank, especially in a week when my own posting is limited and I hope that you too will chime in with your opinion in the comments below (for the umpteenth time, I think I've worked out all comment kinks and you comment should show up straightaway... I'm 99.9% sure this time... so get involved already. Feedback is good).

If you know the song "I Want You Back" (and I'm sure you do), you know it because of the Jackson 5, who scored their first major hit with the track in 1969 - it also appeared on their debut album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5. Obviously it's one of the group's finest moments (although I rate their performance on "ABC" a little higher, and I do dig that later '70s faux-disco stuff like "Blame it on the Boogie" and "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" - even "Can You Feel It?" was kind of cool, just a bit too long), with a 10-year-old Michael sounding (and, yes, looking) a million miles better than he does today. Don't believe me?

But as was often the case at Motown, the song was written by the label's in-house writers (Berry Gordy Jr., Alphonso Mizell, Freddie Perren and Deke Richards in this case) and as such, was also up for grabs by other Motown artists - this happened with a few popular songs on the label, probably most famously with "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" which was a huge hit for both Gladys Knight & the Pips and Marvin Gaye.

In 1971, former Temptations frontman David Ruffin (the best Temps' frontman - yeah, Kendricks had charm, but Ruffin meant business) was ready to go with a solo album full of tracks he'd cut in 1969 and 1970, and included in these cuts was his own stab at "I Want You Back."

For some almost unfathomnable reason, Motown decided to shelve the album, probably fearing some amount oversaturation. Ruffin had put out an album with his brother Jimmy (of "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" fame) called I Am My Brother's Keeper in 1970, and in 1971 Kendricks was readying his own solo album as the Temps released Sky's the Limit. There was also the fact that 1971 was quickly proving to be a banner year for Motown, what with Marvin Gaye's What's Going On blowing everybody's minds, so there was no real pressing need for new material. So the album stayed shelved.

In 2004, Hip-O-Select released a limited run of the album which sold out quickly, though it can still be obtained through iTunes. They did a great write-up of its history here, and while Ruffin's cut of "I Want You Back" did see the light of day on a previous Motown compilation, the long-belated release of the 1971 unreleased album finally brought it to a larger amount of attention.

Frankly, I prefer Ruffin's version, and here's why:

*The music has a lot more bite. The production puts the beat way more upfront than in the Jackson 5's version which is a definite plus, and a guitar track doubles the fantastic bassline. Where it falters, however, is that the percussion (particularly the conga drums) and the fantastic rhythm guitar that pretty much defined the Jackson 5's version is pushed back in Ruffin's, and inexplicably, they decided to push a tambourine ahead of the congas in Ruffin's mix. But when you listen to them back-to-back, Ruffin's has miles more urgency than the Jacksons'. And let's face it, this is a pretty urgent song at its core.

*Ruffin carries the song on his own, whereas Michael needed his brothers. Granted, the Jacksons' backing vocals are far superior to the group that backed Ruffin here (makes you SORELY long for the Temptations), but Ruffin seems to realize it and puts many more flourishes in as far as the "WHOOO!"s and "OWWW!"s go. Even my buddy Umaar, who decided that the Jacksons' version was superior agreed that Ruffin's "WHOOO!"s at the end were pretty spectacular. Michael finally lets rip at the end, but when he does his greatest bit - the screaming "OH!"s at the end, the track's already fading out. That, and the little bit that Jermaine takes toward the end ("just one more chance to show you that I love you baby... let me live again!") almost makes you want to hear how he would've sounded taking lead on the song.

*The lead vocal. Flourishes aside, this is the greatest point of contention in deciding which version is best. Now my buddy Michael (Hollus guitarist - not Jacko) said that nobody "can sing that like Michael... only Michael could hit those f*cking notes, man," but I still think that urgency is the key to this song and Ruffin trumps Michael in spades. Now "ABC"... yes, Michael sang with a lot more passion there, methinks. But frankly, something about Ruffin's take on "I Want You Back" is just more believable/passionate to me. Michael's singing as a 3rd grader. He lost his girl on the playground, and just as well, because she probably had cooties. Ruffin though, is a weathered voice of experience. Sure, he was an idiot, he saw someone prettier chased her, and when someone else went after the lady in question, he got all hot and bothered. His fault, but damned if he doesn't sound like he knows he screwed up. My sister said it best: "You can't sing that song as a kid. It's an adult song. You need a man to sing it."

Obviously, my sister knows where it's at. But now I leave it up to you. What do YOU think?

The Jackson 5 - I Want You Back

David Ruffin - I Want You Back

Comment away.


Here's a fun little bonus for you that was brought to my attention last year. I'm not the biggest fan of mashups, but this one is fantastic. Who knew Michael and Liam sounded so good together? Better yet, who knew that THIS was what Noel was pinching all along?!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The lovin' you're gonna miss in the time it takes to find you is outta sight.

Well, hello and happy new year.

Hope your weekend was nice and that 2007 is off on the right foot and that you're dating all of your checks correctly, etc. etc.

I had a nice surprise Friday night - a moving truck outside my apartment door. I know what you're thinking... evicted... no, no, not at all. The fellow who lived upstairs from me apparently decided to move on to other digs. I never talked to him - we smiled and nodded occassionally in the hall and he had a nice dog, but that was the limit of my interaction with him.

Unfortunately, when I turned on my computer and found myself disconnected from the internet, it slowly dawned on me that the U-Haul outside was taking with it the internet supply that I had been pilfering for the past three months, so the nice guy I never talked to inadvertantly made an honest man out of me and I'll be paying for internet again... le sigh. The Charter man shows up Saturday morning between 8 and 11, so between then and now, there might be a limit on blog posts as my means of uploading and downloading is hard to come by (what is the deal with everyone encrypting their wireless signals... I mean, honestly... how can I be dishonest with all that going on?!), but maybe I'll be nice and take it downtown to Starbucks and mooch off the free city wireless for you good people. But I don't drink coffee. But maybe a hot chocolate would serve me well. Maybe.

Luckily, I uploaded a good track before the selfish dude upstairs decided to leave me in the $24.21/month lurch, and so today we're all set to go.

"Get Ready" is just a great New Year's song, isn't it? Brimming with optimism, resolute... featuring a lyric that includes "twiddle-ee-dee, twiddle-ee-dum" -- it just doesn't get better for a 2007 kick-off, Bono-be-damned.

The Temptations' version of course, is the original and most well known, and rightfully so. I decided to include a video performance of the single from a 1966 performance on Dick Clark's "Where the Action Is" program. Gotta love the choreography - I've almost got that walk move down, and when I do master it, believe me, you'll be seeing it in the Madison clubs.



I recently saw this interview with Otis Williams, who was talking about Eddie Kendricks as a lead vocalist and he said that he used to ask girls what it was about Eddie that they loved so much (he added that he always said "not that we're jealous"... riiiiight...), and the reply came back that Eddie just had that innocent quality that made girls feel like they could mother him. Watching this performance, he does come off like a bit of a softy, and only he seems to be able to pull off that huge grin without looking insincere. The other 4 Temps try, but only Kendricks seems to manage it genuinely.

The second most popular version of the song, however, has to be the Proclaimers' version. Yes, that's right, the "500 Miles" guys. I'm actually a HUGE Proclaimers fan, and I would recommend you all look into their back catalogue - their greatest hits is chock full of winners, and they delivered a wonderfully raucous down and dirty cover of "Get Ready" for the (of all things) Dumb and Dumber soundtrack. For this reason alone it's the second most popular version - I'm sure many of you have heard it without realizing what it is. They play it in that scene when Harry and Lloyd first hit the road to Aspen and Lloyd quips from the passenger seat that if you pump your arms it feels as though you're running at an incredible rate.

At any rate, the song more than deserves to be heard in its entirety as it's booming with energy and like all Proclaimers songs, features those thick Scottish accents. "Luke out baby, 'cos here I come" being the best example, of course.

The Proclaimers - Get Ready

Onwards and upawards in 2007!