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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year

This is my last post of the year in what has been a slow year on the Brainsplotch blog. This is the fewest number of posts I've written since I started the blog in 2008. I have to admit that most of my blogging energy has been spent on my other blog, Treasures from the Spartan Attic. With the MSU football team in the Rose Bowl, that blog has been more enjoyable to write to be quite honest.

On a personal front, we just "survived" the worst ice storm I've ever seen in these parts. Our house was without power for almost four days, but we had it easy compared to some people I know. A few of my local friends had their power restored as late as yesterday. As the expression goes, "first world problems."

Needless to say, it made for an interesting Christmas, as we celebrated the holiday in a stranger's house. We were lucky in that my in-laws (who also lost power) were able to move us all into a house in their neighborhood that still had power, and it just happened that the owners were on vacation in Mexico. With the owners' approval, we set up housekeeping until our power was restored. When, on a whim, I called our house on Christmas evening and the electrically powered answering machine kicked in, it felt like a true Christmas Miracle.

***

I won't make any promises or resolutions concerning Brainsplotch in the year 2014. I've done that far too many times in the past and never seem to follow through on my promises to write. If I feel like writing, I'll do so, but honestly I don't think I'll exceed the measly 24 posts of this year (one fewer than 2012).

As far as my "Mark's year in review" goes: overall I'm happy with 2013. Like any year, it has had its ups and downs. The good has been seizing control over my health and getting on a running regimen. I've lost at least 20 pounds and feel better than I have in many years. We also took a memorable trip to Disney World, the first time I'd ever been there. And, of course, there's that MSU football team that has had an astounding season on the gridiron.

So I'm on here one last time in 2013 to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and I'll see you on the flipside.

Friday, December 20, 2013

I'm back...with a brief recap of my Disney vacation

I can't believe I haven't posted in here since October 28. Has it really been almost two months since Lou Reed died and I wrote my little salute?

I was on vacation from November 22 through December 3. We went to the the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and it was the first time I'd ever been there. I'd always had a hard time imagining what Disney World looked like, and was quite astounded by its immense size when I finally got there. For those who don't know this, Walt Disney World occupies 25,000 acres outside Orlando, Florida. It's land owned by Disney, and is essentially its own "Vatican City." It may as well be its own independent nation state.

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the experience. For one thing, I've never been to a place that operates with such seemingly effortless precision and efficiency. It's quite astounding. (I had a friend describe it quite succinctly as "benevolent fascism"). Yes, there's no doubt that the endless cheerfulness of Disney World can get tiresome and is a tad unsettling at times. I found myself careening across a wide array of emotions while there: from the giddiness of a child in an adult's body after seeing something like Cinderella's castle for the first time, to cynicism over how sanitized and manufactured the place often seems. The brilliance of the Disney 'imagineers" is undeniable, though. The fantasy world they create is seamless, shiny, and endlessly fascinating to child and adult alike.

Overall, I had a great time at Disney World and am still thinking about the trip--and I have to say that Cinderella's Castle was even more awesome in person than in photos.

I embarked on the trip with some trepidation, but returned enthused. I'd like to return to Disney World in the future (and next time actually ride on Space Mountain, which didn't happen this time).


 Above is a photo I took of Cinderella's castle. It was the evening of November 30 and out last day at the Magic Kingdom park.

Well, I'm gonna go ahead and cut this blog entry a little short (since the real world is beckoning me) and if I have time, add to it later. In the event that I DON'T (and let's face it, I probably WON'T), I want to wish all of my two or three readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Monday, October 28, 2013

My thoughts on Lou Reed (1942-2013). Rest in peace, you beautiful old grouch.

The king of cool, Lou Reed (far left) with the Velvet Underground (and Nico)

I don't know how much time I'll have to write tonight, but I wanted to get some thoughts in about Lou Reed, who is probably up in that great gig in the sky jamming with his fellow departed Velvet Underground bandmate Sterling Morrison.

I'll just write extemporaneously, so bear with me. I'm sure this won't be nearly as eloquent as the many salutes and tributes I have already read in the two days, but I'll do my best.

I know that I'd heard Lou Reed had a liver transplant and was probably not in the greatest health, but I was still shocked to learn, early yesterday afternoon, of his death. How fitting, and eerie, that he would die on the day of the week that he immortalized in song.

I remember the exact date that I first time I heard the Velvet Underground. (I know that I had already heard Lou Reed via "Walk on the Wild Side").  It was Friday, November 7, 1986 and I had crashed a party at Hubbard Hall, Michigan State University. The party-throwers were a small group of young hipsters and they asked me if I'd ever heard the Velvet Underground. I think my answer of "no" branded me as not-quite-completely with it. But the way these hipsters asked me, it was as if they were filling in me in on some great secret. Along with a few other events of my freshman year, it was my entree into new and previously unexplored terrain, far more exotic than anything I'd ever known.

I don't know that the Velvets left a huge impression on me that particular night, as I was too busy pursuing other "interests" that night. But the musical experience must have been enough for me to remember the exact date--and that the album played was the recently released VU, which featured previously unreleased gems such as "Stephanie Says," "Foggy Notion," and "I Can't Stand It." (Or, to be less dramatic about the whole thing, the reason I remember the date is mainly because I distinctly recall the Michigan State football team taking on Indiana the next day, and it's easy to search "Michigan State football 1986" to find the date the Spartans took on the Hoosiers. By admitting this, I'm showing where my priorities really lie).

Admittedly, it was the ubiquitous 1980s college rock band R.E.M. (and one of my personal favorites) that really turned me on to the Velvet Underground. Their consistent championing of the Velvet Underground's influence on their own careers finally convinced me to buy every VU album I could find. I'm sure I was one of many '80s kids to be directed by R.E.M. towards Lou Reed and the Velvets. By my senior year in college, I had most of the band's recorded output.

From the outset, I found the Velvet Underground's music challenging on many levels. It was at turns brittle, loud, shrill, but also at times capable of profound delicacy and calm. I loved Lou Reed's and the Velvet's ability to take the most gentle melodies and pair them with lyrics that were often everything but. "Sunday Morning" from The Velvet Underground and Nico is a prime example. A languorous, lovely melody with the decidedly dark and paranoid lyrics, "Sunday morning, praise the dawning/It's just a restless feeling by my side/Early dawning, Sunday morning/It's just the wasted years so close behind."  Then there was the first song from the band's third (self-titled) album, "Candy Says." Another slow, gorgeous melody with lyrics told from the point of view of the transgendered Candy Darling: "Candy says/I've come to hate my body/And all that it requires/In this world." It's a remarkably sensitive portrait, particularly considering that this was 1969, a full year before Stonewall, and well before there was much empathy expressed by anyone towards the LGBT community.

Lou Reed was also capable of music of blistering intensity, and that's the stuff that really grabbed me in the beginning. "I'm Waiting for the Man," "I Can't Stand It," "Vicious" (from Transformer), and all of the staggeringly anti-commercial and completely abrasive White Light/White Heat album. Reed was an uncompromising artist, and when he wanted to make a noise ("Black Angel's Death Song," the White Light/White Heat album, and the notorious Metal Machine Music) or just get downright bleak (pretty much all of the Berlin album) nobody was gonna get in Lou's way.

If you haven't already guessed, I've always been more into Lou Reed's work with the Velvet Underground rather than his solo albums. I don't know why that is exactly. Maybe it has something to do with the cool glamour of the Velvets. Maybe that just had a romantic appeal that Lou's solo stuff lacked (at least in my mind). I may have just not give Lou's solo career a fair shake, and maybe now it's time I gave it some attention. At various times, I've owned Lou's albums Tranformer, New York, Magic and Loss, and Rock and Roll Diary 1967-1980. I was also a huge fan of his live album, Rock and Roll Animal, which had been slagged by many critics as too "arena rock"-sounding. I still have my vinyl copies of Transformer and Rock and Roll Diary, but New York and Magic and Loss have been purged. I especially regret unloading New York, and it may be time for me to reacquire that album, along with others in the Lou Reed canon. It's funny, and a little sad--but perhaps not unusual, how an artist's death will cause you to finally go back and rediscover what you've either neglected or missed.

Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground were on heavy rotation during my college years, and in many respects I found their music to be as educational as any class I took in my university career. Lou Reed introduced me to Andy Warhol and the Factory, bohemian New York art and literature, and an entire world I previously knew little about. Like a lot of music I discovered in college, I sure as hell with I'd discovered Lou in high school because I could have really used him then--but it's possible it would have been a bit too much for my teenage brain to wrap itself around.

In any case, thank you Lou Reed. Thank you for the great music. Thank you for showing me "the wild side" and a different way of viewing the world.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tigers bounce back

The Tigers evened the ALCS at two games apiece last night.

After another heartbreaking loss on Monday afternoon, Detroit came back to win last night in a game that wasn't quite as stressful as the previous three games in the series.

Now, a word about the FOX broadcast crew of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. I can't listen to those guys. Joe Buck is a droning windbag, and McCarver isn't much better. On Monday, I muted my television and turned on the radio so I could listen to the Tigers' broadcast team of Dan Dickerson and Jim Price. Even though the radio broadcast didn't sync with the TV--the television broadcast was about five seconds or so behind the radio--it made for a much more pleasant experience.

Listening to Dan and Jim was like listening in to a conversation between two old friends you've known for many years, and what makes it even better is that you know they're rooting for your team.  Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, on the other hand, are like blustery strangers who barge into your house unannounced and unwelcome. And I'm convinced they are rooting for the Red Sox to win the series.

Last night, I watched the game in my living room, where a radio is not in close proximity. I just watched with the sound muted on the television. I know some people who can't stand to watch sports on TV with no sound, but I found it to be relaxing.

It seems that these days, I can't watch sports without having my phone right next to me, "Facebooking" during the game. Many of my Facebook friends are watching the exact same Tiger game, so Facebook allows us to instantly celebrate or comiserate--all the while probably driving the sports-hating or sports-indifferent Facebook people completely crazy.

I'm sure if you've been reading this blog for any time at all, or know me outside of this blog, I'm a Detroit Tigers fan. The Tigers and Detroit Lions are the only professional sports teams for which I have real passion, and most of my mania is reserved for the Tigers.

When I first started following the Tigers as a kid, they weren't very good. From the first year I was a serious fan and had any understanding of what was going on (1976) until 1980, it was essentially a guarantee before any season that the Tigers would finish in either fourth or fifth place in the American League East. The preordained finish in the AL East was: the Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles take turns finishing in first place. By 1981, however, the Tigers became relevant again, and won the World Series in 1984 and a division title in 1987. Except for one major hiccup--a terrible 1989 season--the Tigers were good until 1993.

Then the dark ages began...

The Tigers suffered through twelve consecutive losing seasons between 1994 and 2005. Just when I was about the give up hope that the Tigers would ever compete for anything ever again, the Mike Ilitch renaissance began, and the Tigers have won two American League titles and three division titles since 2006. The last eight seasons have been great, though slightly frustrating because the ultimate goal of a World Series title has remained elusive.

And that leads up to right now. There will be at least two more games in this 2013 American League Championship Series: one tonight and another one on Saturday. I hope I'm not driving anyone nuts with this baseball stuff, but that's where I'm at right now.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I'm still not over it

I'm still not over it.

Usually, my angst and upset over sports losses is reserved for Michigan State football or basketball, but this Detroit Tigers loss to Boston hurts almost as much as any setback the Spartans have had.

I'm still trying to absorb the fact that the Tigers blew a 5-1 lead with two outs in the eight inning and lost 6-5 to the Red Sox, in the process completely wasting a brilliant Max Scherzer pitching performance.

As great as Max was on the mound, the bottom of the eighth was a terrible nightmare from the deepest recesses of baseball Hell. I was so despondent and angry that I couldn't sleep until well after 1 o'clock AM, and whatever sleep I got was of the fitful variety. I know to some of you, this may sound completely ludicrous, but what can I say? I take this sports stuff pretty seriously sometimes. (Okay, maybe not quite as seriously as the mess our country is currently in--but damned close).

I can barely listen to the replay of the David Ortiz game-tying home run, whether it's the Red Sox or Tigers broadcast, without feeling almost sick to my stomach. I've avoided the sports pages and websites, only feeling some degree of comfort in commiseration with fellow distraught, sorrowful Tiger fans.

By now, the last two innings of the game have been analyzed and rehashed nine ways to Sunday, so I'll refrain from doing that (though I must say I don't fully buy Max Scherzer's contention that he couldn't pitch anymore after the seventh inning. Maybe he is indeed being 100 percent truthful, but part of me thinks he said that to protect his skipper, Jim Leyland).

I just wonder if the Tigers can recover from this. It feels like they lost twice last night, not just once. I suppose since they're professional athletes and do this stuff for a living, they should be able to bounce back better than us fans.

Welcome to the world of post-season baseball. It can be heartbreaking and ulcer-inducing. Fans spend upwards of four hours on pins and needles praying and pleading for their team's success. I suppose the only alternative is to have ones favorite team not good enough to qualify for the playoffs, thereby saving oneself from the pain of playoff defeat. But who really wants that?


Here's the first meme I have ever created, inspired by Torii Hunter's post game quote regarding how much he wanted to win a championship, "I'd die on the field for this." I think maybe I should have chosen a different photo, because this looks unintentionally humorous. This is supposed to celebrate Torii Hunter's grit and guts in trying to catch Ortiz's home run and flipping upside down over the fence in the process.

I hope the Tiger players can use this as inspiration in the next games of the American League Championship Series.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 Dino Dash is in the bag...and how 'bout them Tigers?

I ran my second ever 5K this past Sunday: the MSU Federal Credit Union Dinosaur Dash on the Michigan State University campus. The bad news is I didn't run it in under 30 minutes like I wanted, but the good news is I was nine seconds faster than I was at Ele's Race back in July, and the Dino Dash course was more challenging than Ele's Race.

I might have also run a little faster if I HADN'T run in the "over 30 minute" race and found myself having to pass walkers for the first half mile. Provided I can continue to at least run at my current pace, if not improve somewhat by next year, I think I'll run in the "under 30" minute race next year, so that I can at least give myself a little more room to move. All the jackrabbits will be far ahead of me, and I won't have to negotiate my way through a huge crowd.

Still, I have to be realistic: I'm never going to be a speed demon, but I do think a sub-30 minute 5k is doable. That'll give me a goal to shoot for next year.

***

The Tigers are playing game five of their American League Divisional Series against Oakland. The game is about to start, and of course I'm nervous. Why should I be nervous about a game involving millionaire professional athletes? Well, I feel like the Tigers are MY millionaire ballplayers.

Anyway, I love my Tigers and will be rooting for them tonight. Justin Verlander is on the mound and, though he has struggled this year, these are the types of situations on which he thrives.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Our country is a clusterf***, music stores these days s***, and more Breaking Bad crap

Let me begin by mentioning how utterly embarrassed I am to be an American right now. Our Congress is a three-ring circus, and I'm disgusted with how our elected officials are holding American citizens hostage while they engage in their pissing match.

I just read this great quote from Bill Maher: "What could be more reasonable than losing an election by 5 million votes and then demanding the President to govern as they would, or else shut the government down and not pay our bills?"

Well said, Mr. Maher.

What credibility does the United States have in trying to get other nations like Iran and Afghanistan to embrace our form of democracy if we can't even take care of our own backyard?

***

I was just thinking of how much I miss real record stores: places like Tower Records, WhereHouse Records, even Harmony House. Yes, I'm mentioning the old chain record stores, but they have become such a thing of the past that I feel intensely nostalgic about them.

As I know I've mentioned before in this blog, I don't like downloading music. I know the lure of it, the convenience of it, but it does nothing for me at an emotional, visceral level. For me, the entire experience of music is ritualistic, emotional, tactile. I like browsing through bins, looking at album and cd covers. I even get a huge high tearing the cellophane off a new cd and the often times frustrating chore of tearing off the thin security sticker, and the high-pitched sound the sticky tape makes as it is torn from the plastic jewel case.

Downloading music offers none of this ritual, and therefore offers very little appeal to me.

But these days, it's so hard to find any decent place that sells physical music. All we have around here is Best Buy, Schuler Books & Music, Meijer, and a few small stores in East Lansing: Flat, Black, & Circular and The Record Lounge. I rarely have a chance to make it to the small indie stores in East Lansing, and the other larger retailers that still stock music tend to have woefully inadequate inventories.

In short, it sucks.

***

Still thinking about Breaking Bad and its ending. (I apologize to any of my audience who are bored with my yammering about this show). I read a commentator, really just a fan of the show and not a professional critic, say that the point of the show was really more about personal transformation than anything else. This makes sense, and makes me a little embarrassed about my previous Breaking Bad posts in which I missed that completely and only focused on Walter White making fat stacks from meth to give to his family.

***

Well, I'm gonna go ahead and publish what I have right now: warts and all. I may go back and revise later.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Breaking Bad finale and some other stuff

The last episode of Breaking Bad was tonight, and it was a thoroughly satisfying end to a great television show. That's all I will say, because I don't want to give away any spoilers, though I'm sure my blog is the last place anyone would go to for Breaking Bad information. Now I'm watching the post-show wrap-up, Talking Bad, and it's touching to hear Jonathan Banks saying that in his 46 years of acting, this is the best experience he's ever had, or "as good as it gets" in his words.

Gearing up for my second 5K next Sunday (October 6) on the Michigan State campus. I'm happy to say that the shin splints are a thing of the past and I'm feeling pretty good, or as well as my 45 year-old body ever feels when running. My goal for this 5K (the Dino Dash) is to at the very least best my time from Ele's Race. More than that, though, I really want to crack the 30 minute mark. For an experienced or good runner, that wouldn't be a problem. I'm still a novice, and trying to at least be a respectable runner for my age.

I do have to keep in mind the very reason I got into running in the first place: to get into shape. That seems to be working well. I've gotten the weight down to about 190 pounds, which is the lowest my weight has been since at least 2000. I'd estimate I've lost at least 20 pounds in the last five months. (I haven't really been paying that much attention to my weight, but I know that I feel a hell of a lot better and I think I look better).

Getting late, gotta go to bed.


Monday, August 26, 2013

More random thoughts (Breaking Bad and RUSH edition)

Brief snippets of my life recently, in lieu of an actual detailed, long post. (Ed: This post actually ended up considerably longer than I expected).

Finished reading, and thoroughly enjoyed, Detroit Rock City. I've been working on a blog post about it, but obviously it hasn't yet seen the light of day.

***

I'm still running, and am happy to report that I'm slowly but steadily recovering from my nagging shin splints in my left leg. Sunday morning, I ran 32 minutes (with no walking breaks), which I hadn't done since the Ele's Race 5K. That's a step in the right direction.

***

College football starts in less than a week! And that means my favorite season (Fall) will also soon be here. Leaves turning color, cooler weather, Halloween. It just doesn't get much better than that. The only aspect of Fall that I dislike is raking leaves. We have several large trees in and around our yard, so leaf raking tends to be an ongoing battle from early October until late November and even early December.

***

Yesterday, helped my niece move into her residence hall at Michigan State. She's a freshman and I can't believe she's in college already. I was surprised that I got a little emotional, almost as if she was my own kid. I remember her mom (my sister-in-law) bringing her to Schuler Books (where I worked with my later-to-be wife) when she was a newborn. She was almost four years old when my wife and I started dating--now suddenly she's an adult.

It's trite, but where does the time go? Seriously, where the heck does it go and how does it disappear with such swiftness?

***

I'm currently obsessed with the TV show Breaking Bad and the band RUSH, in that order. Catching up with Breaking Bad on Netflix, and...wow, what an amazing television program that is. All great drama needs to be built on strong characters, and Breaking Bad has that. Walter White is one of the most intriguing protagonists/anti-heroes I've ever seen on television, and the peripheral characters are equally compelling. The writing is top notch, there is plenty of sly dark humor to balance out the more intense subject matter, and each episode is filmed in an artful manner that makes them look like mini-movies.

Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston)

Breaking Bad may be the best television show I have ever seen. I am thoroughly invested in the story and characters in a way I have not been since HBO's Six Feet Under. I actually dream about the show. (I also dreamt about Six Feet Under). I think about the show while I'm taking walks during break time at work. What will be the endgame for Walter White? Who wins the final confrontation between Walt and his DEA officer brother-in-law (and nemesis) Hank Schrader? Will Walt's long-suffering and emotionally damaged partner Jesse Pinkman emerge unscathed?

Breaking Bad works on so many levels. On the surface, it is a suspenseful crime drama in the mold of Martin Scorsese's best work. But the show also has complex psychological elements. And it's also about family and the lengths we will go to in order to protect and provide for them--(even if the means to achieve this are misguided at best and morally repugnant at worst). Whether it's Walt becoming a crystal meth kingpin so as to ensure his wife and family financial security after his (presumed) inevitable death from cancer, or the sometimes smothering protection that Marie Schrader has for her tough-as-nails but emotionally vulnerable husband Hank. Then there is Jesse Pinkman, who transforms from a spaced-out druggie (and below-average high school chemistry student of Walter White) to a competent meth cook and somewhat bad-ass and savvy assistant to both Walt and drug lord Gustavo Fring. As the show has progressed, Jesse has gained more confidence in himself and is quite cunning. However, he does have his own inner demons with which to contend--like almost every character on the show.

Then there is the Walter White/Jesse Pinkman dynamic. Father and surrogate son? Or is Walter just "playing" Jesse? (as Jesse believes is the case).

Almost every character on the show is morally ambiguous, another element that adds to the show's appeal. Unlike many other movies or TV shows, where there are clearly defined "good" characters and "bad" characters--this dichotomy doesn't exist on Breaking Bad. (I suppose that in recent years, it's not that unusual for television shows to have morally ambiguous characters at their core. Look at such shows as The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and Justified as additional examples).

Breaking Bad also has its humorous elements. For the first several seasons, Walter drove around in a bland Pontiac Aztek with one missing hub cap and a constantly cracked windshield. A running gag in the show is that Walt's windshield is constantly cracking or shattering from one mishap or another, whether its debris from an airplane crash or a rock thrown by an angry Jesse.

Then there is Walt's huckster attorney Saul Goodman. Saul changed his last name from McGill to the "Jewish-sounding" Goodman in order to gain more "credibility" with his largely underworld clientele. He's the comic relief of the show, though he is a quite competent (if unscrupulous) lawyer. His cheap and tacky law office is also one of the show's great visual jokes.

The law office of Saul Goodman
 
Walter White and wife Skyler discuss money laundering options with Saul in his gaudy office. 



***

Now on to my mercurial and ever-changing music habits: I'm just in a RUSH mood right now. I've had 2112 playing in my head for days. The way I am though, it could be something completely different next week. (It all started after a chance viewing of RUSH Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland, which appeared on cable TV).

Rock's most self-effacing band


Though the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a sham, I'm happy that RUSH finally made it in. They may not have the "hipster cred" that is generally necessary to gain admittance to that institution, but there has been a ground swell of love and appreciation for them in recent years, so the RnR HoF was forced to relent.

RUSH's lack of "cool quotient" comes down to several factors:

1. The whole Ayn Rand-as-lyrical-inspiration thing, which upon close inspection I find to be overblown. (First of all, Neil Peart was in his 20s when he wrote the bulk of his Ayn Rand-inspired stuff, and many, many people of that age are taken by Ayn Rand. Plus, Peart seems to have been moved more by Rand's championing of artistic freedom more than her objectivist philosophy--then again, I could be completely full of shit on this point. It's not as if I'm any expert on Ayn Rand or Neil Peart, for that matter).

2. Then there's the whole "prog rock" thing, and we all know how much the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hates anything that smacks of prog rock. (And RUSH only has periodically flirted with proginess, anyway)

3. The three guys in the band are, without a doubt, the nicest guys in rock. Self effacing and with a good sense of humor about themselves. Unfortunately, politeness and modesty don't generally rate very high among rock's hip circles.

4. Science fiction/fantasy-related lyrics. I don't think Neil Peart (or Geddy Lee) have written about sex and/or drugs in their lives. There is also not a single song about romantic love in the RUSH canon, as far as I can tell. Another strike against the band.

5. Geddy Lee's voice. Yep, couldn't leave that off the list. The oft-criticized "hamster in a blender" vocal stylings of the band's lead singer. Once again, this is overblown. Yes, on the earlier albums, Geddy did tend to shriek. However, as the years have gone by, Geddy has harnessed his singing, entered a slightly deeper register, and the shrieking is a thing of the past.

***

Well that's about it for now. That was my random collection of thoughts and I hope it wasn't too boring.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lessons learned from watching "Goodfellas" for the 30th time (give or take)



"Goodfellas" is one of my all-time favorite movies. Heck, it may be my number one favorite movie. Last night, it made an appearance in its uncut glory on the cable station, Encore. I caught about the last 2/3 of it, and I have to say it's a movie I never tire of seeing. I suppose part, if not most, of its appeal is that the gangster life is a side of life I will NEVER see and, quite frankly, hope to never see. Still, it's extremely fun to live vicariously through a gangster, and imagine what that existence might be like. Mainly, though, "Goodfellas" is just a hell of a great movie with brilliant acting, glorious direction from Martin Scorsese, and some of the best dialogue ever written for film.

Just for kicks, I compiled a few lessons learned from my 30th (give or take) viewing of “Goodfellas”:

1.       Don’t “bust a guy’s balls” asking for money you think is owed you. You will probably end up dead.

2.       If you insist on brazenly cheating on your wife, make sure none of your firearms are left out in the open or otherwise within her easy access.

3.       If you can help it, never sit in in a car’s passenger seat with a guy sitting behind you, particularly if the guy is known to have a penchant for extreme violence.

4.       If your bosses offer to bestow upon you “made man” status, politely decline (if possible)—particularly if you’ve already “whacked” another “made man” without permission.

5.       If you’re a gangster, liberal use of the “f-word” is permitted. Go ahead and use it all you want.

6.       If you and your friends/acquaintances/co-workers suddenly find yourselves the lucky beneficiaries of a multi-million dollar heist, do not immediately spend your share excessively on frivolous items. This could end badly for you.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ele's Race is in the bag

I know all two or three of my readers are dying to hear the news. I DID successfully run Ele's Race on Sunday--my first ever organized "competitive" race ever. (The only one I was competing with was myself, of course). Despite my shin situation (shin splints? Stress fracture? I'm not sure what's going on down there, but it's been annoying), I soldiered through the race and actually managed a personal best with a (not very) blazing time of 31:19. I can't help but wonder if my time would have been better if I wasn't running on one good leg, but it's not worth fretting about. I completed the race and I'm very happy about that.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Brief little boring update on stuff

Yet another boring running update:

Still nursing the shin splints, or whatever it is, in my left shin. It seems better than it was last week, but still annoying. I'm gonna gut it out and run on it Sunday in Ele's Race.

As it is, I haven't run since Sunday the 21st, and am in withdrawal.  I just don't want to risk aggravating the injury before Ele's Race. Anyway, not running this week has left me feeling a general sense of malaise.

********************************************************************************

I'm also finally about to finish Detroit Rock City. I'll try and give an update on that soon.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Running update

I'm still running, and have successfully completed the Couch to 5K program. I've run about a half-dozen (give or take) 5 kilometer distances in my weekly workouts.

I've also take the first big plunge: I signed up for my first official 5K. It's Ele's Race (which benefits Ele's Place) and takes place on July 28.

For more information about Ele's Place and they great work they do, click here:

Ele's Place

Right now, I'm nursing some nagging pain in my left shin/calf, so I think I better take it easy until the 28th. Today, I put in a 3.17 mile run, and the calf is bugging me and I find myself hobbling around this afternoon. If I chill for the next week, maybe making one short little run in the middle of the week, I hope to be fine for this 5k.

It does seem that taking up running at age 45, I seem to be constantly nursing one little ache and pain or other. (I don't want to discourage anyone from taking up running, though. It is a wonderful activity and, overall, I feel better than I have in a decade).

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Detroit Rock City"

I'm currently reading this great oral history of rock music in Detroit from the mid-'60s until the first decade of the aughts. If you're at all interested in the MC5, The Stooges, Bob Seger, Mitch Ryder, Alice Cooper, Ted [renowned asshole] Nugent (et al.), then definitely do yourself a favor and check out this fine book. The full title is Detroit Rock City: the Uncensored History of Five Decades of Rock 'n' Roll in America's Loudest City, by Steve Miller. (No, not the "Take the money and run" Steve Miller. This is Michigan journalist Steve Miller who was also in the Lansing punk band The Fix).



Right now, I'm a little beyond the early seventies and the flame out of the MC5 and The Stooges, and am reading about lesser-known bands such as Destroy All Monsters (Ron Asheton played with them) and Fred "Sonic" Smith's post-MC5 band, Sonic's Rendezvous Band. Reading about these groups has inspired me to check out some clips on YouTube and they are both great, particularly Sonic's Rendezvous Band. I'm coming to the conclusion that Fred "Sonic" Smith is one of the true unsung heroes of rock music.

The book also covers later Detroit bands, and keepers of the Detroit rock flame, such as The Gories, Laughing Hyenas, Dirtbombs, Bantam Rooster, and The White Stripes. (I haven't gotten that far yet).

Gotta run now, but I hope to add to this post later, and maybe post selected music, etc.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My adventures with running (and my personal advice for beginners)

Before I talk about my new-found running program, I want to let all my cyber-friends and cyber-readers (all three or four of you) know that we're bouncing back from Shadow's death. The first few days were tough, but we're getting back to normal. I've even warned my wife that I may get the itch to get another cat. (Not immediately, but maybe in another year or so. We'll see).

I still worry about our other cat, Stella. Shadow was her friend, and she spends most of her time in our basement. She's petrified of our poodle, and slightly less frightened of our two sons. But I suppose that it just her personality. She's a solitary creature and as close to autistic as a cat can get. At least she has free reign of the basement, since the dog doesn't venture down there.

*********************************************************************************

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've ventured into the world of running. In my case, calling it "running" might be a stretch, since I move at a pace that could generously be called a "jog."

The source of my inspiration is my brother, who has been a serious runner for the last few years and only a few months ago ran the Lansing Marathon. (I think I mentioned that in my earlier post. Sorry for the repetition). As I think I mentioned in that old post, I have no illusions or aspirations of running in a marathon, but I think a 5K is certainly a possibility.

My primary reason for running is health-related. Though I have been walking regularly for about three years, I wasn't happy with my appearance or health. My cholesterol level has been fairly high for several years, and I never seemed able to lose those extra pounds I've been trying to get rid of for years. It was time to up the ante and attempt a more aerobically challenging exercise routine. One that would actually make a dent. At my age, 45, it's become especially urgent that I get into better condition.

So in late April, after my brother's accomplishment so impressed me, I started a "Couch to 5K" program. For those unfamiliar, the program is nine weeks long (though it is flexible and can be increased or decreased at the runner's discretion). The first few workouts are fairly light, and the program gradually gets one to point where a 5K run is a definite possibility. I never thought I'd get there, but I seriously think that a 5K run is in my sights. The program works brilliantly.

The main point I want to impart is: If I can do it, you can too.

Here are some pointers that I feel comfortably passing on for those who are considering a running program:

1. Have realistic goals and expectations. You will not look like an Olympic athlete after the first week or two. You will not be running at Steve Prefontaine-like speeds in a matter of a few workouts. (To be completely blunt about it, you will NEVER run at world-class speed. That is NOT your goal, anyway). Your manta should be: "It's about getting healthier, stupid!" If you stick with the program, you will eventually see results. Just be patient.

2. Don't overdo it. This is especially important for runners who are either middle-aged (or older), or have been couch potatoes for a long period of time. I don't subscribe to the "no pain, no gain" philosophy. If your body is telling you it's worn out or you are in pain, then slow down. The idea is to enjoy this exercise, not kill yourself and become discouraged. Now, I don't mean to suggest that you should give up the second you have to breath harder than usual, or you feel a little pain in your hip or knee. If it's something you can tolerate, than keep going. If it's something excruciating, than by all means slow down or end your work out. Which leads me to...

3. Don't get discouraged. Not every run will be better than the previous one. Depending on factors such as your mood, the time of day, or the weather, you may find that your run that day is a slog. Your time may be worse than it was the last time you ran. It's okay. Remember that what you're doing is much better than sitting on the couch watching TV, and that the more you keep at it, the healthier and more fit you will become.

4. Give your body time to recover. The Couch to 5K program recommends three runs per week, and this seems quite reasonable to me. Especially for older runners like myself, it's natural for your legs/knees/hips to ache a little after you run. You need to give your body a day (or two) to recover. On the days you're not running, take a brisk walk or engage in some other low-impact cross-training activity.

Another important reason for giving yourself a day or two between runs is the "burnout factor." You want running to be an enjoyable exercise, not a daily chore.

5. Get fitted for proper running shoes. This is the most important advice I can give, and yet I almost forgot!

Before you venture too far into your running program, go to a sporting goods store (preferably one that specializes in running equipment and apparel) and have one of the employees fit you for proper shoes. At the better running stores (like Playmakers here in the Lansing, Michigan area) the employees are often experienced runners who know what they're talking about. Tell them about the type of exercise you will be embarking upon. They will study your gait and running style and fit you accordingly. Good running shoes generally cost between $100 to $150 dollars, but it's money well spent. The only other equipment you may need is a pair of running shorts (easily obtained at places like WalMart or Meijer for less than $10) and possibly a stopwatch. (If you have a smartphone, I highly recommend downloading the free app, MayMyRun. It's a GPS and timer all-in-one, and also logs your workouts).

That's about all I have for now. If you stick with running, you may discover what is known as the "runner's high." It's the endorphin rush one gets from good exercise. You may not necessarily feel it while you run, but there's a darned good possibility you feel it afterwards. Running can become so addictive that soon after you finish a run, you'll be planning your next run.

I'll periodically keep everyone posted on how my running program is progressing, and offer more advice as I think of it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

R.I.P., Shadow (October 25, 1994-June 11, 2013); farewell dear friend

Shadow sitting in a window of my old apartment, summer 1995. One of his favorite places to cool off on a warm night.

If someone had told me, eighteen years (or more) ago, that I’d be writing an obituary for a cat, I’d have laughed. But here it is…and I’ve been practically crying my eyes out while writing this.

Shadow's health had been declining for several months, but took a precipitous dip in the last few days. He was a mere shell of his former self and was clearly dying, probably of cancer. We had him euthanized late yesterday afternoon.

Shadow entered my life in the summer of 1995, when I—as a reluctant pet owner—took him in at my mother’s suggestion. My mom had a friend who desperately needed to find this nine month-old cat a home. His first two situations had not worked out for a variety of reasons, and he was in a precarious predicament. I couldn’t bear the thought of this cat having to be placed at in a shelter, so I took him in.

As I said, I was reluctant. It seemed like more “hard work” than a bachelor like me wanted to take on, but from the moment I saw him, I fell in love. The truth was, I was lonely and needed him as much as he needed me. We quickly became best buddies, or at least the best pals a human and cat can be.

Originally, I liked "Malcolm" as a cat’s name and was dead set on using it, but when my new feline and I were together on that first day, I noticed that he followed me around wherever I went, just like, drum roll please...a shadow. "Shadow" seemed like such a corny and over-used name for a pet, but it just fit perfectly. Not only did he follow me all over the house, being black in color, he literally looked like a shadow.

Shadow was unlike any cat I've ever known. His personality was more like that of a dog, owing perhaps to the fact he was at least part Maine Coon. Once he got to know you, he was your devoted friend. He enjoyed sleeping on my chest or under the crook of my arm. He also had a habit of "grooming" me by excessively licking me with his sandpaper tongue. When he scraped my skin raw, this ceased to be fun, but looking back on it now, I really miss those licking sessions.

In his youth, Shadow was a skilled mouser, and this came in handy in the early days when I lived in an apartment with a rodent problem. I clearly remember one morning when I found a furry little "gift" in my book bag before I headed off to work. There was also a memorable evening when Shadow cornered a hapless mouse in my bathroom and was batting it around like a hockey puck.

Shadow’s greatest trait may have been his adaptability. Not including the few moves he endured before I obtained him, he endured six more moves, my engagement and marriage, the birth of two children, and the introduction of two other animals (Stella the cat in 2003 and Bodhi the dog in 2010). For the most part, he took it all in stride, and got along extremely well with both Stella and Bodhi AND our two sons. Even when the boys were toddlers and not-so-gentle with pets, Shadow endured their many pokes and prods with admirable patience.

I’ve been trying to prepare myself for Shadow’s decline, but nothing can quite prepare you for the loss of a companion animal, and Shadow truly was a “companion animal” and not merely a “pet.” I never saw him as my toy, or merely a cute cuddly object, he was my friend who loved me unconditionally through good times and bad.

So, farewell dear Shadow. I will never forget you, and I will hold a place for you in my heart for the rest of my life.

Shadow and my oldest son, summer 2009.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Memorial Day, and a few other things

I hope everyone takes a moment during his or her day off to think about or thank those who gave their lives for our country. The United States has had many wars (perhaps too many), some of them have been just causes and others have been folly. Let's all give our heartfelt gratitude for all who have, in the words of Lincoln, given "the last full measure of devotion." Everyone who has served and died for the United States deserves our respect, regardless of what conflict they were engaged in, and regardless of our own personal feelings towards the justifiability of the conflict.

It's also appropriate on Memorial Day to remember all of our friends and family who are no longer with us, whether or not these people were veterans.

Once again, I apologize for being so negligent with this blog. I do intend on eventually publishing some "real" posts. For example, with the recent death of Ray Manzarek, I'm currently working on a Doors-related post--sort of  "Mark's up-and-down Doors fandom over the years, and his thoughts on the 'crazy old story-telling uncle' known as Raymond Douglas Manzarek." I also have taken up a running program, and intend on writing about that in some detail. I want to relate my experiences as a middle-aged running novice and give encouragement to people who want to get into shape, but are hesitant to give it a shot. (HINT: As long as you take it slow and don't overdo it, it is possible. Just have realistic expectations and goals).

As usual, it's just a matter of finding the time to spend writing, which tends to be a rather time consuming activity. With my son's Pony League baseball schedule, my nascent running hobby, work, kids' school, and all the other everyday life stuff, I tend to neglect this blog. Please bear with me, folks--and keep your eyes peeled for blog posts in the near future.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Breaktime walk thought #1 (or at least the first one I've ever published in this blog)

Things I think about when I'm taking a walk:

What possesses someone to want to be president of the United States? Certainly has to be someone with a "type A" personality. Someone who has an ego the size of Washington, D.C.: after all, if you run for president, you have to believe that you have what it takes to make a mark on history, and are the best person in America to be leader of the free world. Shrinking violets need not apply for job of U.S. president.

I couldn't be president. Don't have the personality for it (and certainly don't have the money to run, anyway). I'm most definitely not a type A personality, closer to a type C, (whatever that may be--I just made it up). Plus, the idea of half of the country hating my guts is not so appealing. Think about it, roughly 100-150 million people probably don't care for you. Of that number, maybe 10 million wouldn't mind seeing you dead. That sounds like a pretty horrible existence. Just the thought of ONE person hating my guts bothers me. I couldn't deal with millions, I'd never be able to sleep.

Anyway, that's what I thought about yesterday while taking one of breaktime jaunts.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Baseball, Boston, etc.

This is an experiment.

I always complain that I don't have enough time, or any time, to write in this Brainsplotch blog. Today (4-17-2013) I've decided to sort of "live blog" throughout the day, and publish it when I finish late this afternoon.

The end result may be a jumble of various thoughts.

(Naturally, as is often the case, my attempt to get this off at the end of the day was a complete failure. I'm coming back to this blog post four days after I originally started it).

***

I'm a few days late, but April 15 marked the 30th anniversary of the near perfect game Milt Wilcox of the Detroit Tigers had against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park back in '83. To this day, I have not forgotten watching that game with my dad. It was a Friday evening contest, and we both were on pins and needles as the journeyman Wilcox closed in on a remarkable baseball milestone. After setting down the first 26 Sox batters with precision, Wilcox faced pinch hitter Jerry Hairston. One the first pitch, Wilcox hung a fastball that Hairston sent screaming into centerfield for a single. Nothing cheap about the hit at all. Wilcox made a mistake and Hairston made him pay, which is what a major league hitter is supposed to do.

So hat's off to you Milt Wilcox. Thirty years later, I've never forgotten your bid for baseball immortality. And ironically, perhaps I remember this game even more because you did come just short of perfection.

***

The older I get, the less patience I have for music that doesn't kick ass. Isn't it supposed to be the opposite?

***

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Boston, and what a weird week it was, from the the bombings on Patriots Day at the Boston Marathon, through the manhunt for the perpetrators, to the Friday morning shootouts and getaway, the subsequent lockdown in metropolitan Boston, and finally the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The work week was bookended by the horrific images on Monday and the heroic ones from Friday night.

 It was so odd to get up for work on Friday morning, turn on the radio in the kitchen, and hear about the crazy events that took place between midnight Thursday and 6:00 AM Friday. My ear was glued to WBUR Boston almost the entire day on Friday, as Boston was locked down by authorities and the strange lives of the Tsarnaev brothers were pieced together. On Friday evening, I drove my son to his fencing class and came home to learn that the one surviving Tsarnaev brother had finally been taken into custody.

As much as the police often rightfully get criticized for, shall we say, overly aggressive tactics in the pursuit of justice, they are an important part of our society. When they do their jobs well, they deserve all the credit in the world, and this couldn't be more true than Friday night in Watertown, Massachusetts. From the bombing on Monday through the suspect's capture on Friday evening, the authorities--from all outward appearances--did an exemplary job. I was truly touched to watch the raucous applause from the folks in Watertown as the police slowly left the scene of Tsarnaev's arrest.

***

I still want to write something about the movie 42, which I took my son to see last Sunday. I also want to discuss my experiences at my first ever Record Store Day yesterday. That stuff may have to wait, as I've been on the computer too long already.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A brief little post

Hi everyone, sorry that I've not been here in awhile. I've been spending most of my time on my MSU sports-related blog, the ridiculously titled "Treasures from the Spartan Attic."

It's a little late--in fact I really should be getting to bed--but thought I'd take some time in these wee hours of Saturday morning to jot in here.

Went to see Life of Pi tonight. It was a good movie. Sort of Castaway goes to India with a ferocious Bengal tiger replacing "Wilson" the volleyball. Okay, that's severely underselling the movie, but go out and see the movie and let me know if you agree.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Looking at my stats...and a shout out for reader feedback

I see that by Edgar Winter review has had 647 views...but no comments. Come on folks, what do you think? If you think it's crap, let me know. I'm a big boy, I can take it! If you have any feelings about They Only Come Out at Night, let me know about that, too.

In fact, I'm offering up this post as an open invitation for you to let me know what you like on this blog and what you don't like. Apparently, there are some people out there who actually look at it once ain awhile.

If you dig my local history stuff, maybe I will get off my butt and write more of that. If you want to read more Bargain Bin Finds, I will oblige. Here's your chance to let me know what you think. Thanks in advance.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super (Oversaturated) Sunday

I like football, as you may have gathered from reading this blog. I know it's violent and excessively macho, chockful of ridiculously overused war cliches--but I love it anyway.

Having said that, I'm already sick of Super Bowl coverage, and the game hasn't even started. The wall-to-wall analysis and coverage of this game has reached insane proportions. It's probably been this way for several years, but I have really noticed it this year.

Every day and every hour for the last two weeks, ESPN, NFL Network, Fox Sports and just about every other television outlet has had some kind of Super Bowl show. Who the hell watches all of this? There must be an audience for it, or else they'd have some other programming. Right?...Right?!?

I long for the good old pre-cable TV, pre-internet days when the pre-game hype consisted of an hour-long show immediately preceding the game--and that was it. Those days are long gone and will probably never return.

Okay, the game started finally, so I'm outta here.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

All day chess tournament

Hi folks. I am coming to you from the Michigan Chess Association's youth tournament at the MSU Union. It's an all day affair and it will probably go until late afternoon.

I've become sort of an old pro with these all day tourneys, as I've been through several of them and know what to expect from the parents' perspective: bring lots of toys to occupy you throughout the day, which in my case means a good book, my Nook, my writing journal (which zI have neglected for far too long) and my phone. My son has his laptop and phone. As you can see, we're not hurting for electronic toys to keep us busy during the down time between matches (and to keep me busy in the quiet time when the kids are upstairs playing their matches).

The way these tournaments work is as follows: all of the kids and parents establish a "base camp" in the basement of the Union. Each community has a designated area of the basement to camp out. I was thrown off this morning because the area ordinarily occupied by Okemos had been switched to the contingent from Ann Arbor. We found our Okemos peeps and had to scramble to find two chairs.

Down time at the chess tournament is a chirping, beeping cacophany of kids playing computer games, wrestling with each other on the floor, and a few practicing chess moves. Parents are generally plugged into their laptops or amiably chatting with one another. The quiet respite comes when the kids finally receive their pairings and go upstairs to play their matches.

We are approaching round two, my eyes are getting fried from typing on this tiny zNook screen, so I am gonna take a break for now.



Sunday, January 13, 2013

Welcome to 2013

Hello everyone and welcome to 2013. I hope your new year is going well so far.

I am writing this on my/our new Nook tablet. It's quite a nifty device and the kids are not allowed to touch it.

We finally packed up the Christmas decorations and took the tree down. As I was wrapping the tree in a tarp, shoving it in the back of the van, and finally disposing of it at the township-sponsered Christmas tree drop-off, I was struck by how odd the whole Christmas tree tradition is. We cut down a perfectly good tree, place a lot of shiny decorative objects on it in our homes and allow it to slowly die (though we keep it on "life-support " by watering it). When our holiday is over, and the tree is as good as dead, we remove the decorative objects and unceremoniously dump the tree corpse in a huge pile of other tree corpses. December and January are months of massive coniferous genocide.

***

I'm taking a break from this post for now, but will try and get back to it later.

***

I'm back...and reading the first part of this post, my do I seem to have a cynical view of Christmas. Really, I don't. But when one stops to think of it, some of our holiday traditions are a little odd.

***

I can't believe I misspelled "welcome" in this blog post title and had to correct it.

***

As you may already know from reading this blog, I'm a bit of a music nerd. Recently, I have been listening to, of all artists, Michael Jackson and Frank Zappa. Quite a contrast there. My wife, as sort of a goofy joke, gave me as a Christmas gift, MJ's Bad album. It's not...er...bad. The thing is, I liked Michael Jackson's music as a kid and loved his Off The Wall album, which I begged for and received on my 12th birthday in March 1980. (Okay, hold that train of thought. Taking a break again--more later).

***

One of these day, I may actually get back to what I was getting to re: Michael Jackson and Zappa. (Heck of a combination, eh!).