Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

This week’s “Letter of the Week” award goes to Loyal Reader Accused of Lurking, commenting on last week’s very exciting post, “The roads less traveled.”

(You did know there’s a “Letter of the Week” competition, didn’t you? It’s a fierce ideological food fight featuring plenty of that groupie-on-groupie violence you readers love. Past winners thought they were going to receive college scholarships, Ducati touring bikes, a fistful of dollars and a handful of God particles, but come on, it’s the thought that counts.)

Accused of Lurking writes:

Had I known that you can’t help but listen to CDs that enter your home, I would have sent you dozens of oddities over the years: one-hit wonders that peaked no higher than 35 in the Top 40, mournful ballads by heavy metal bands, Earth Wind & Fire plays Pachelbel’s Canon, the Deliverance soundtrack, the Grease soundtrack, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings Fiddler on the Roof, etc.

It will come as no great shock that I disagree with your assessment of Tunnel of Love. I return to that album on a regular basis. It’s dark. Relationships fail much more often than they succeed. There is plenty of infidelity, mourning, doubt, and just plain agony. But the music and the lyrics carry an incredible power. My favorite songs are “Tougher Than The Rest,” “Two Faces,” “Brilliant Disguise,” and “One Step Up.”

Out of curiosity, I googled “Bruce Springsteen’s best albums.” Tunnel of Love’s ranking within the Springsteen oeuvre is mostly in the #7 to #9 range with a couple of #5s and a #1. Based on my own listening patterns, I put it at #6.

I do, however, agree that The Joshua Tree is a better album than Tunnel of Love.

Thank you as always, Lurk, for jump-starting my brain and making me reexamine my assumptions. So first, here’s a handy flow chart explaining what happens to CDs after they enter my home:

CDs that enter my home always get a listen: True.
All CDs enter my home: False.

Second, here’s what I think of you trying to scare me with all the crud you mentioned: documentation from an estate sale I went to last July.

Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher, The Twin Piano Magic of Ferrante & Teicher (1964); Dominic Caruso, World’s Greatest Accordion Hits (1968); 101 Strings, Million Seller Hit Songs of the 50’s (1964). Not shown: Various artists, Percussion for Playboys (1959) and Ann Corio, Sonny Lester & His Orchestra, How to Strip for Your Husband (1963). This was the worst record collection in the Western Hemisphere. (NONE OF IT came home with me.)

Sending me the Grease soundtrack or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Fiddler on the Roof would not make me feel all sunny and wild inside, but at least I know it’s not the worst musical thing that could happen to me.

I would like to hear Earth Wind & Fire play Pachelbel’s Canon.

Bruce Springsteen revisited

I’m not just a simple backwoods music critic, you know. Some people say I’m a handsome Dan; others, a good-lookin’ Joe. Well, it ain’t no secret. I’ve been around a time or two. I admit I walk funny – one step up and two steps back – but that’s because I left my wallet back home in my workin’ pants. I don’t know what I’m wearing now. Jeggings, I guess. Anyway, I went to a gypsy and she swore that a) my future was right, and b) I’m tougher than the rest.

(I actually am tougher than the rest. I survived concerts by The Melvins, The Roches, the undiscovered Nirvana, the underdone David Cassidy, The Rolling Stones being four hours late to a concert in Boston when I was in high school, too many New Year’s Eve bands that forgot the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne,” and Cher.)

Why do I discount Tunnel of Love? Until Tunnel of Love, Springsteen was writing fiction and occasionally journalism. On this album he dives into memoir. He wrote “Brilliant Disguise” when he was 37. It’s the most painful, personal song he’d written until that time. When I look in your eyes, he asks his wife, who do I see? Who do you see in mine? The words are devastating. Mick Jagger or Keith Richards hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time would never have produced “Brilliant Disguise.”

But to my ears, the music doesn’t fit. It’s not devastating; it’s exuberant. It reminds me of Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life.” The lyrics on this disc stick (they’re all over this post), but for me, for intangible reasons, most of the music doesn’t.

Look at this new thing I’ve found

When I read what you’d discovered about fans ranking the Springsteen oeuvre, I immediately made my own list. I figured Tunnel of Love would be way down there. Wrong!

  1. Born to Run
  2. Darkness on the Edge of Town
  3. Nebraska
  4. Born in the USA
  5. The River
  6. TUNNEL OF LOVE

I can’t rank Springsteen’s first two albums ahead of Tunnel of Love because they were, at best, promising. I can’t rank anything from the ’90s ahead of Tunnel of Love because that’s his lost decade. I can’t rank any of his work here in the 21st century, even The Rising, ahead of Tunnel of Love because it’s been years since Springsteen sounded like Springsteen. Despite my best efforts to stop it, Tunnel of Love almost cracks my personal Top 5.

Could it be, Lurk, that you are one face and I am the other, and neither of us can ever make that other man go away? We’re the same sad story, and that’s a fact.

About that pound of caviar you got sitting home on ice: Let’s spread it on some bagels.

If you were hiring for your company and the leading applicant was accused by several women of sexual assault, and had been rumored to engage in demolition drinking, and who, when questioned about these matters, threw a tantrum, and even if all these charges could not be corroborated and were in fact decades old, would you hire him?

Would you give a job that will probably last 30 years to a man who yelled at half your interview team?

Of course not. You’d drop him in a second and interview the next guy. Why hire anyone with baggage like that when you could start again with a clean slate?

Is there even one employer in the USA who would hire Bret Kavanaugh? Just one, it turns out – the Trump Organization.

Leo Durocher did not say “Nice guys finish last” – it was Herman Melville – but whoever said it might’ve been right. We should all have been jerks when we had the chance!

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Is this the Lucky dog?

No, but this is a photo of Lucky, our dog. The rest is fake news — and my latest attempt to go viral. Today, inserting the word “billionaire” in your headline guarantees the attention of hordes of people starved for billionairic news. This is what happened to Fortune magazine recently when they ran a story about Billionaire Kylie Jenner (who, it turns out, isn’t a billionaire).

I don’t know who this woman is. I do know that the Jenners are always at war with the Kardassians. I also know that the Kardassians are a tribe of billionaire females who are always at war with their husbands. And I know all of this because when I pay for my food at the supermarket, the area set aside for the transfer of funds is always plastered with magazines with Jenners and Kardassians on their covers. In the United States, you can’t exchange funds for consumer commodities unless you’re in the presence of Jenners and Kardassians (and sometimes Jen, who is at war with Brad).

Sadly, inserting “billionaire” in your headline is unlikely to set your social media platform on fire because going viral is dependent on having millions, if not billions, of people already following you. Just like with Fortune. Run-DMSteve is short of that mark. Run-DMSteve regrets the error. Run-DMSteve wishes he’d never been born. Run-DMSteve is pleased to post yet another photo of a corgi. Corgis are not at war with anyone, except squirrels and, in the case of one of our dogs, birds.

This is also the time to share a photo of my 91-year-old father and his new cat, Miss Ellie.

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Run-DMIrving and Miss Ellie discuss Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Miss Ellie is eight months old. She has a tail wide enough to wash a car. She likes food, greeting people, and watching Dad. If you’re outside the house and she’s lounging in a windowsill, she looks like a visit from a skunk. The two of them seem well-suited, napping, noshing, and watching Animal Planet.

Next week we’ll get back to some hard-core, way-off-base music writing. Until then, I hope you’re enjoying the summer, except in those areas where tariffs have been placed on your weather or you’ve been placed in a wire cage for the crime of being one of the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. Stay strong and thanks for clicking, forwarding, pinning, retweeting, or accidentally hitting the wrong key.

Random Picks of the Day
The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975 (1975)
Hard Rain (1976)
Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan

You don’t think of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan as a rocker? These live albums tell a different story. They’re a mix of hard rock and acoustic folk from the Rolling Thunder Revue and its weird zoo of musicians. They’re not in the first rank of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan albums, but they showcase the man in a way we’re not accustomed to.

I can’t say Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan is in good voice here, because he never had a voice. Sometimes he sounds like Bruce Springsteen in the wake of a root canal.

The main thing I got from listening is how reverentially the audience treated Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan when he played anything from the 1960s…even though the ’60s had only just ended. Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan was already a god.

I have two Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan memories.

I saw Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan at the Boston Garden in 1979 when he’d already slipped into gospel. It was disappointing and the crowd was restless. But in the middle of the show he abandoned his 149-piece band and his 385 back-up singers and played three classics from the ’60s all by his lonesome. All of us immediately shut the fuck up.

Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan captured the Rolling Thunder tour on film: Renaldo & Clara. I crammed into a two-door clown car with five other idiots and drove from Boston to Manhattan in freezing weather to watch the premiere. Naturally, one of the tires decided to deflate halfway through Connecticut. At the theater, I fell asleep in the first hour and woke up in the third and the movie was still crawling along!

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This cat is not a billionaire. Yet.

 

Every year on my birthday, my grandparents sent me cards with cash in them. My father’s parents, Rose and Sam, sent me $5. After Sam died, and as Rose came to depend more on her children, my Aunt Edith took over this birthday chore. She sent me the card, tucked in the $5 bill, and signed her mother’s name. I once asked her to stop. “I know it’s you behind this, and not Grandma,” I said. Aunt Edith repeated this to my father as further proof that I was a mensch. She thought I was adorable. By the way, I was 22 when we had this conversation, not 12. Edith sent the cards until Rose’s death and I kept raking in the $5.

My mother’s parents, Bella and Sol, were more affluent. They started me at $5 but through various cost-of-living adjustments raised me to $25 by the time I got to college. There I remained for many years after Grandpa Sol’s death, an early victim of contemporary capitalism’s rule that no one should ever get a raise. When I married the woman with whom I share a mortgage and put on parties, Grandma Bella sent her $25 on her first birthday in the family. I was outraged. She should start at the bottom and work her way up! Bella’s curt ruling: “Tough luck!”

It’s been many years since I received a fresh-from-the-bank $5 bill or a check written in the penmanship of someone who was born in 1904. But every year on my birthday, my current employer gives me a $10 gift card roguishly tucked into colored tissue paper inside a festive bag.

Last year my card was good at an upscale supermarket, New Seasons. I bought a fried chicken lunch and some stickers. This year the card was for the Pacific Northwest department store chain Fred Meyer. What the heck was I going to do with $10 at Fred Meyer? Buy socks? The closest store to our office doesn’t sell lunch, unless I wanted to buy something wrapped in plastic and vacuumed into a skinny box printed in primary colors. But I was up for the challenge. “I’m leaving now for Fred Meyer,” I told the boss at noon. “Don’t be surprised if I don’t come back.”

It was a beautiful day here in Portland and I drove with the windows down and my music playing. Though I am a man of a certain age, I felt ageless as I walked in, and I realized I was thinking of my grandparents and their birthday gifts and all the useless stuff I bought and how much fun it all was. I’m not saying my job is my family, but I am saying thanks for the free money.

I bought 18 colored pencils and I still have $1.02 remaining on the card. The sky’s the limit.

To my readers in the United States (what’s left of it): Happy Fourth of July! I hope you’re enjoying our nation’s birthday as much as I am. It’s late in the day. Soon I shall be drinking the Bloody Marys of Liberty. I don’t expect Trump to send me a card with five bucks in it, either.

Random Pick of the Day
Smashing Pumpkins, Pisces Iscariot (1994)
My father-in-law used to say about dogs, “They only have one thing to say and only one way to say it.” Billy Corgan’s voice is about as versatile. He usually sounds as if he has a grievance, if he could just remember it. The rest of the time he sounds like his voice just changed, or maybe he’s feeling faint.

Despite this handicap, when Smashing Pumpkins starts to move, they’re a blend of Cream, Hendrix, and Led Zep in a Nirvana shot glass. They can be unexpectedly quiet, too, as on the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Corgan doesn’t have much of a voice, but I can forgive him for his guitar-playing (“Starla” and everything else).

Random Pan of the Day
The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome (2016)
Their first album since A Bigger Bang in 2005. This time around we have 12 covers of old blues songs. They did this in 1964! Eric Clapton helps out. He could’ve helped out in 1964. Yawn. The only person who triumphs on this record is Mick Jagger. His voice and his harmonica are in excellent shape, plus Mick still weighs less than a wet hobbit in a bathing suit.

 

What a confounding time this is. I’ve been running and lifting weights to prepare for the war with Canada. Fox News claims it will be “a mere matter of marching.” Trump promised me I’d be making love to Celine Dion at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa by Labour Day.

But instead of decimating Canadians with my fabulous hair and sense of irony, the invasion is on hold while the total resources of the United States are focused on locking kids in wire cages. If we don’t want to import kids, waiting until they cross the border before locking them in wire cages is a waste of time. Why can’t we keep them out before they ever get here by slapping tariffs on them? Works with everything else.

While I try desperately to hold onto what’s left of my soul as a U.S. citizen, I want to remark on the passing of the poet Donald Hall, who was 89. Hall wrote one of my favorite books, Life Work, which he published in 1993. The 2003 edition has a new introduction. This is only partly a book about being a writer. It’s mostly about work. Working. Work to do.

The first half of the book is all about Hall’s best imaginable day – spent at his desk, working, of course. (He also walked his dog in the woods and that evening watched two baseball games on TV while dictating letters.) From this I learned that you can’t just have a best day. You have to earn it, grow into it, survive long enough to grab it. “Contentment is work so engrossing that you do not know that you are working,” he writes. “You are only content when you have no notion of contentment.” He quotes the artist Auguste Rodin: “To work is to live without dying.”

Hall’s career might not be possible today. In 1993, he could pay for a typist for a year by selling one extra essay or book review to what he called a “periodical.” He sometimes employed several typists simultaneously, each working about four hours a week. Essays and book reviews must’ve been lucrative in 1993!

Hall provided his own epitaph in the last line of the book: “There is only one long-term project.”

I’m looking forward to the day when I can stop slinging words for The Man and do nothing but my own work. Until then…at the rate we’re going, I might not get to Celine before Boxing Day.

Random Pick of the Day
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless (1991)
MBV was yet another British band that was going to be the next Beatles. On Loveless, they lather on distorted guitars and distorted keyboards and distorted road graders until you get an out-of-focus Smashing Pumpkins or an experience not unlike listening to David Bowie through soup.

They occasionally spawn a mesmerizing melody, and the boy-girl singers are excellent at sighing and singing drawn-out, disconnected syllables, but most of this record sucks. Why is it a Pick? Because if Loveless had been a four-song EP instead of the 11-song equivalent of Shackleton’s struggle to survive the South Pole, this review would be a rave rather than a rant. If you were listening to alt radio in the 1990s, those four songs would be a chunk of your life’s soundtrack: “Come in Alone,” “I Only Said,” “Only Shallow,” and “Soon.”

They’re not good at song titles, either.

Critics noticed that MBV performed while staring down at their shoes and dubbed them “shoegazers.” This was a band that was never going to lose the ball in the lights.

Random Pan of the Day
MC Hammer, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em (1990)
I found this at a yard sale. It’s as monotonous as I remembered. However, this time around I realized that any spot in any song where Hammer is quiet immediately improves. Also, his cover of “Have You Seen Her” (a hit for The Chi-Lites in 1971) completely gets away from him. By the halfway point of “Have You Seen Her,” Hammer is trying to squeeze himself past his backup singers, who don’t notice that he’s there. With no one else to talk to, he asks himself if he’s seen her. Turns out he hasn’t. He gives up in the final 15 seconds, and the song takes off, with a surprising and effective ending.

I was saddened to learn that Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em is the biggest-selling rap album in the history of everything. Hammer hurt us.

 

World of our fathers

Posted: May 26, 2018 in Miscellaneous

My Uncle Eddie died yesterday. He was about six weeks short of turning 94. He was the perfect uncle: sweet, generous, and willing to put up with anything. He also had a bottomless supply of terrible jokes. In English. In Yiddish. Terrible.

Eddie was one of that dwindling population of people who were born in the 1920s and who beat the Depression, beat Germany and Japan, and in the 1950s and ’60s beat the crabgrass in their lawns. He served in World War II as a meteorologist with the U.S. Air Force in North Africa. To hear Eddie tell it, all he did was ride camels and take pictures from planes. All the WWII guys I’ve known, including my dad and my father-in-law, talked like that. It was one big lark.

When I was a teenager and my parents and grandparents were wondering how I’d ever make a living if I grew up to be a writer, Eddie bought me a copy of Writer’s Market (which listed every market for every kind of writing in the USA and weighed about 10 pounds) because he’d met someone who was a writer and she said all writers should have this book. See? Perfect uncle.

Eddie, my Uncle Morrie (who died in 2010, age 89), and Dad were brothers, but as adults they weren’t often in the same room. Adult lives are busy and complicated. But I remember a moment 50 years ago in my grandparents’ old wooden house, in a hillside neighborhood in Fall River, Massachusetts, when they were talking together and I was listening when I noticed my Grandpa Sam, in his overstuffed chair to one side, smiling, the joy of seeing his children plain on his face. When I heard the news about Eddie, I was shocked, but as the memories flooded in, I smiled.

Every family should have an Uncle Eddie.

 

After my last post, I wanted to tell you that my Dad is back in his house and, thanks to my sister, he has a new housemate: a 6-month-old kitten. He’s named her Susie but he calls her Elliot. Whatever works. They fell in love on the first day.

Dad is happy to be sleeping in his own bed under his own roof, even though he knows his stay is temporary. You could say that about all of us. After six weeks of rehab in a nursing home where quiet never reigns, Dad is thrilled to be sitting again at his kitchen table, drinking Lipton tea, eating Oreos, and thinking again, as he has for 40 years, that he doesn’t like the wallpaper. Soon it’ll be time to watch another rerun of Gunsmoke.

When I have a photo of Dad and Susie, or Dad and Neo Elliot, I’ll post it.

In the next few posts we’ll look at some much lighter subjects, such as singing drummers, Las Vegas-style versions of rock songs, why Herbie Hancock is a musical minefield, and marriage. Until then, go in the kitchen right now and make yourself a nosh. You deserve it.