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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Some stuff that's on my mind before my laptop poops out

As usual, I've been extremely neglectful of this blog this year. I've given up extending empty promises of "doing better" or "writing more." In all honesty, it's probably not gonna happen.

So let me at least get you up to speed with what I've been up to, or at least write about what's been on my mind recently.

I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens last weekend, (December 20, to be exact). In the Star Wars Fandom Rating, with 1 being "indifferent" and 10 being "superfan who has seen all the movies, read all the books, owns most of the merchandise," I am about a solid 3 1/2. I unabashedly enjoy the first three films (Star Wars, aka A New Hope; The Empire Strikes Back; Return of the Jedi) but absolutely loathed the next three movies (Episodes I, II, III). In fact, those movies made so little impact on me that I can't honestly say if I saw all three. I can't remember. I know I saw Phantom Menace, and I may have seen Attack of the Clones, but for all I know I skipped out on Revenge of the Sith. Anyway, that doesn't really matter. The point is I strongly disliked those movies, so it was particularly thrilling to give a shit about a Star Wars movie for the first time in 32 years. To have that movie exceed my expectations was doubly thrilling.

It was fun to feel like a kid again at the theater. I don't remember the last time that happened.

Well, my laptop is only at 10 percent power and I'm nowhere near my charger, so let me publish this before I lose it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Howdy, folks!

Another few months go by, and another few months that I'm completely neglectful of this blog.


So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan, a detailed but casual and personal look at the life and legacy of The Great Gatsby, is the most recent book I've read since Between the World and Me.


I've generally fallen into the college football rabbit hole, so I've spent most of my time writing on my Treasures from the Spartan Attic blog.


I don't know if I mentioned another book I read recently, Detroit City is the Place to Be by Mark Binelli. It's a look at the current state of Detroit and its attempts to reinvent itself. That's a fairly reductive description, there's way more to it than that so if you have any interest in the city of Detroit, give it a read.


This is designed as a post to let you know that I'm still alive and not completely mothballing this blog.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A ridiculously brief review of Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me.

No matter how enlightened or open-minded or colorblind I think I am or pretend to be, no matter how much I read, no matter how many lefty podcasts I listen to or first-person commentary I absorb, I can never fully comprehend what it is to be a person of color in the United States. But I hope that by reading a book like Ta-Nehisi Coates' searing, lyrical, and deeply personal Between the World and Me, I can at least get a little closer to some basic idea--though if you never have lived it and never can live it, all you're left with is an intellectual comprehension and a sense of empathy.

I urge anyone and everyone to read Coates' new book, particularly white people like me. It's truly an eye-opener.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Steely Dan and Elvis Costello

Last night at Pine Knob (technically the DTE Energy Music Theater, but I try to avoid that terrible corporate name as much as possible), My wife and I saw Steely Dan with opening act Elvis Costello & the Imposters.

It was a pairing that would've been unthinkable in the '70s and '80s. Of course, Steely Dan didn't perform live back then, so for that reason alone it wouldn't have happened. But back in those days, the two would have been seen as incompatible: Elvis the jittery, angry pub/punk rocker and Steely Dan the kings of sophisticated (though sardonic and subversive) jazzy pop/rock.


But really, the two have a lot in common: intelligent and often acerbic lyrics, great ears for melody, and catholic musical tastes embracing everything from rock to blues to jazz. I'd say that as the years have gone on, Elvis Costello and the Dan have converged artistically and their fan bases are now comprised of many of the same people--including me.



Now about those fans. They're old geezers, at least the ones at Pine Knob. I don't know how I should feel that I was one of the "kids" at this show, at the youthful age of 47. Practically a teenager compared to most of the other folks at this show.


I'll get back to this post again when I'm not so tired and can go into some detail about Elvis and the Dan's sets. Both were great and genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves despite the hot summer night.

I'm back now to try and fill in some gaps and elaborate on Elvis and the Dan.


Elvis Costello hit the stage at exactly 7:00 PM. Since Pine Knob has a strict 11:00 curfew, there's no time for musicians to dilly-dally.


I have to admit that, though I'm a fairly big fan of Costello's music (though I haven't paid much attention to anything he's done since Spike in 1989), this was the first time I'd seen him live. That's really almost an embarrassing admission, but I suppose better late than never to finally correct this. The Imposters feature original Attractions members Steve Nieve (keyboards) and Pete Thomas (drums). Guitarist Davey Farragher, according to Elvis' Wiki site, has been playing with Mr. Costello since 2002's When I Was Cruel album (coincidentally one of two post-Spike albums I have in the music collection. That and the Burt Bacharach collaboration that I never listen to, to be perfectly honest).


So, anyway, Elvis and the Imposters hit the stage at 7:00 and bashed out a no-nonsense one-hour set that played pretty much like a greatest hits album: "Accidents Will Happen," "High Fidelity," "Alison," "Watching the Detectives," "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea," "Everyday I Write the Book," and closing with a rousing "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding." The latter is a song that never fails to choke me up with emotion. Yes, I know that Nick Lowe wrote it and not Elvis, but Elvis Costello's version is definitive (much in the same way that Jimi Hendrix's version of the Bob Dylan-penned "All Along the Watchtower" has to be considered definitive).I'll be back later to rehash Steely Dan...


Finally back to discuss Steely Dan. I hope at this point I can remember enough almost two weeks after the fact.


At this point in their careers, Walter Becker and Donald Fagan could be mistaken for a couple of tenured English professors on summer sabbatical. Becker, looking casual in t-shirt and running shoes, started off with a rambling, colorful monologue/rap that had most of the crowd in stitches.


More later...


...I'm back again. This has to officially be the most drawn-out blog post I've ever had. I really need to just put this thing to bed. Look, what more can I really say, Steely Dan was excellent and I greatly enjoyed seeing them. No, they don't have dynamic stage presence, but nobody should ever expect that with these guys, particularly now that they are in their late 60s. It's all about the musicianship, and Becker/Fagen along with the rest of Steely Dan (2015 edition) have it in spades. Jon Herington, on lead guitar, played with meticulous precision, and drummer Keith Carlock is an excellent player, and particularly extraordinary on the intricate title tune from Aja. The Dan's touring band also featured a tight three-piece horn section and three honey-voiced back-up singers, who offered the only choreography of the show.


I have not always been a Steely Dan fan. I remember their hits from the late '70s and early '80s and they made little impression on me at the time. It wasn't until a chance encounter, in the early '90s, with "Rikki Don't Lose that Number" played over the PA during a late-night visit to a grocery store that I finally "got it," and fell through the Dan rabbit hole. I've been an addict ever since and it was a joy to finally see these old curmudgeons in concert.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

De La Soul is very much alive, my belated take on Charleston, and my evening at Comerica Park (and crotchety complaints about the ballpark)


Working at the library, I make a point of going downstairs to the basement to check out our "Book Burrow" from time to time. That's the store that our Friends of the Library runs, and they sell books, CDs, LPs, cassettes, magazines, and a few other sundries that are donated mainly by people trying to unload crap out of their houses. For this reason, there's not usually anything there that I can't live without, but every once in awhile I find something good.

On Friday, I poked around the $1 CDs and found De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising, the original release on Tommy Boy Records. I've had this on cassette for many years, but I barely listen to cassettes anymore so it's been languishing in my basement for years.

I'm happy to report that Three Feet High and Rising is still a great album, and about the most perfect summer listening I could imagine. Not that I'm any kind of rap/hip-hop expert, but it's definitely part of what has to be considered a golden era for the genre, which I'd say spanned from about 1987 to 1993. (However, people out there with a greater knowledge of hip-hop may dispute this).

In any case, it was a real score. Great to find this for only a buck.

***

I may be the last person to jump on the whole "national conversation" (that's an expression that I'm growing tired of hearing, since these "conversations" are more like "shouting matches") about the Charleston church murders and the subsequent debate over the Confederate battle flag. First of all, it's obvious that these murders were all about racism. Pure and simple. Anyone arguing that it had anything to do with "anti-religion" is delusional.

But now the debate has morphed into one about the Confederate battle flag, a little like when you're in a conversation with someone and the subject suddenly changes from one topic to another. In all the back-and-forth over the Confederate flag, I hope we don't forget the most important issue: we don't live in a "post-racial" society. Racism is still alive and well and there is still much work to do.

As far as the Confederate flag goes, I'm happy that South Carolina had the good sense to remove it from the grounds of the state capital. If has no business being officially recognized by any government entity in the United States. However, I'm concerned with the knee-jerk reaction to get rid of the flag entirely. We can't and shouldn't erase our history, no matter how unsavory it may be. So though I am for removing the flag from flying in front of government buildings, I'm not in favor of outlawing it entirely or taking it out of museums or national military parks (Gettysburg, Antietam, Vicksburg, etc.). Now having written that, I don't want to sound as if I'm minimizing what the flag represents to many people: intimidation, hatred, and racism.

And as for TV Land's decision to stop broadcasting Dukes of Hazzard re-runs. Really? Dukes of Hazzard was, besides being a ludicrously silly and goofy show, about as apolitical as it came (at least as I remember it. Then again, I was not much of a fan even when it originally aired). It's the ultimate in impulsive reactions.

Off the soapbox now.

***



On July 3, the family and I went to Comerica Park to see the Tigers play the Toronto Blue Jays. I'm almost embarrassed to say that it was only the third game I've ever attended at CoPa since it opened in 2000. (For those keeping score, I saw the Tigers play the Reds in 2000, and didn't return again until last year when--with a group of people from my wife's work--went down to see the Tigers play the Yankees in a memorable game won in the bottom of the ninth by an Alex Avila RBI single).

The game itself was interesting--two games in one, really. Anibal Sanchez pitched 8 1/3 innings of no-hit ball and the Tigers looked to be cruising with an 8-0 lead. But then all hell broke loose as Sanchez got tired, was left in the game too long by Brad Ausmus, and then the train wreck of a bullpen tried its best to lose the game. The Tigers managed to hang on for a nail-biting 8-6 win.

I have mixed feelings about Comerica Park. There's no doubt that its location on Woodward, in the Detroit "Theater District," makes for a more celebratory atmosphere than Tiger Stadium's location in Corktown. Comerica is a more open and inviting ballpark than Tiger Stadium, but the Corner was much more imposing and impressive. Al Kaline once said that when he first saw Tiger Stadium (Briggs Stadium back in #6's rookie season), he thought it looked like a battleship. (As someone who grew up in Baltiimore, I assume that Kaline probably saw his share of big ships in the city's harbors and knew what he was talking about). It's an apt description of The Corner. No matter how many times I went there (which had to have been between 40-50 games from 1974-1999) I was always in complete awe of the place.

I've long since completed the mourning process since Tiger Stadium's demise, and enjoy Comerica with some reservations. On the plus side, Comerica doesn't have any obstructed view seating, though I always found this argument against Tiger Stadium to be overstated. And as I already wrote, Comerica Park's open design is much more bright, airy and inviting. On the negative side, I'm bothered by the architects (or organizations') refusal to include ANY of Tiger Stadium's good qualities in the design of Comerica. This includes: the overhang in right field, seating that was close to the action, roofs over most of the ballpark providing shade on hot summer days and early evenings. I will give the Tigers credit for placing a flagpole in play in centerfield. That was a nice recognition of tradition.

I also find Comerica's exterior design to be a bit too busy. About three dozen too many tiger sculptures outside the ballpark. There may be many out there who disagree with me, but from the outside, Comerica Park looks more like an amusement park attraction than a baseball park.

My biggest problem with Comerica Park is the slope of the stands. No matter where you sit in the ballpark, it feels like you are about a half-mile from the game. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. If you have seats in the first 20 rows of the lower deck from the left field line to the right field line, it only feels like you're a quarter-mile from the action.

Got that off my chest. Stay tuned for a later post when I complain about the current state of major league baseball and my theories of why they are losing the next generation of would-be fans.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I'm finally back...to talk about the Sticky Fingers reissue

I've been absolutely terrible about keeping up with this blog, but I'm back to get in at least one entry before the end of June.

So what's new?

Well, here goes.

If the Rolling Stones reissue an album, it's pretty much a guarantee that I won't be able to resist. And this is exactly what happened with the Sticky Fingers reissue.



Of the four killer albums that the Stones recorded and released between 1968 and 1972 (Beggars' Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St,), I'd say I rank Sticky Fingers fourth on that list. Really, I suppose it varies depending on my mood. In fact, ranking those four brilliant albums is really splitting hairs. They're all great.

I'm not much of a stereophile, so I honestly can't tell if the sound quality is that much better than the old CBS CD I have had in my collection since the 1980s, but the main reason for purchasing these reissues is the bonus tracks...and these bonus tracks are fun.

There is a folk rockish "Dead Flowers," with the Stones sounding more like the late '60s Byrds than the Rolling Stones. (Not that there is anything wrong with that).

A wonderfully ragged sounding "Bitch" with Jagger guide vocals. Lyrics not developed yet, but it's a fun recording.

And we also get a garage-y "Brown Sugar" with Eric Clapton on slide guitar. Apparently, Keith Richards considered substituting this version over the familiar Muscle Shoals recording. As enjoyable as this version is, I'm happy that never happened.

What's particularly great about these reissues is that they force me (us?) to listen to these albums again with fresh ears. I appreciate the sheer range of the Stones sound on Sticky Fingers more than I have before. The Stones have an underrated ability to master everything from blues ("You Got to Move"), Stax-ish soul ("I Got the Blues"), free form jazzy jams that would make Carlos Santana proud ("Can't Your Hear Me Knocking"), country shit-kickers ("Dead Flowers"), balls-to-the-wall rock ("Brown Sugar" and "Bitch"), Velvet Underground-ish psychodrama ("Sister Morphine"), string-laden epics ("Moonlight Mile"), and the spellbindingly gorgeous "Wild Horses" (written by Gram Parsons? This is a debate that may go on forever). Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, maybe my favorite song on the album, "Sway." I don't know how to categorize "Sway." I'll just say I've always liked Jagger's world-weary lyrics and delivery and the moment in which Mick Taylor is fully unleashed upon the world with his kick-ass guitar solo.

Maybe Sticky Fingers has now elevated in my critical estimation.

So I suppose the big question now is what's the next Stones album to get the big reissue treatment? Unfortunately, it won't be anything pre-Sticky Fingers since that stuff is all owned by Abkco (or whatever it's called these days) and it's safe to say they won't do anything with the older catalog. They brought out reissues in 2002 and I'd say, based on their "only the bare minimum" track record, they are done. (This is a real shame, because what Stones fan would NOT want a multi-disc reissue of Beggars' Banquet, Let It Bleed, Between the Buttons, or maybe even Aftermath?).

So we're looking at something post-1972. I don't think there is enough interest in Goat's Head Soup or It's Only Rock 'n' Roll for a reissue. Black and Blue--no, Some Girls has already been done, Emotional Rescue-definitely not.

The best candidate is probably Tattoo You. Despite being an album famously (or notoriously) composed of leftovers, Tattoo You is arguably the best album the Stones did after Some Girls, and I'm sure there are plenty of good live recordings in the can from that 1981/1982 tour for an enjoyable bonus disc. To top it off, 2016 marks the 35th anniversary of Tattoo You's release.

So save your pennies for that lavish Tattoo You reissue. You heard it here first. Mick and Keith, are you listening?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Kinks 1964-1971 box set



I've been on a Kinks kick of late, probably as a result of receiving The Kinks: The Anthology 1964-1971 five-disc box set for my birthday. It's an amazing box set, and I didn't expect to acquire it--mainly due to its rather steep price (it's just not the sort of thing I'd go out and buy for myself without feeling really guilty). I had checked out a digital copy of it via Hoopla and raved about it so much that a certain person took notice and got the physical version of it for me. I am extremely grateful.

Along with the Beatles--and in fact maybe even slightly more so than the Beatles--there is hardly a single song by the Kinks that I can't at least tolerate (at least from the band's beginnings in 1964 through the Muswell Hillbillies album in 1971). I suppose some of the Kinks' earliest songs, when Ray and Dave Davies were still honing their songwriting chops, are a bit spotty, but from 1965's Kink Kontroversy album through Muswell Hillbillies, one would be hard-pressed to find a single mediocre track in the discography.

So what makes the Kinks so great? Well, where to start? First of all, in the Kinks' heyday, Ray Davies had an uncanny ability to match intelligent, witty, insightful, and frequently funny lyrics with appropriately brilliant melodies. And the Kinks as a band were able to perform just about any style of music imaginable: crunchy garage rave-ups, jaunty music hall tunes, acoustic folky numbers. You name it. The only band that comes close to this is probably those four guys from Liverpool (though I don't know that the Fabs--at least on vinyl--ever rocked with the dirty ferocity of the Kinks, particularly on songs like "You Really Got Me," "Milkcow Blues," "I Need You," or "She's Got Everything").

The Kinks are among my favorite bands/artists/musicians. In fact, depending on the day or month, I may say they are my absolute favorite. It's a tough call, since there really are quite a few musicians out there who have given me enjoyment and pleasure for many years. So, as of this moment, I'd have to place the Kinks in the top three--and I'm enjoying the hell out of this box set. It'll most likely be in heavy rotation for weeks and months to come.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Beverly Cleary and Kim Gordon (I don't know that those two names have ever been in the same sentence)

I'm taking a few minutes to get this out there while I'm thinking of it, so it may not be a perfectly formed post.

At work, I'm processing books in our library's technical services department when I come across the early 1990s reprints of Beverly Cleary's Ribsy. The illustrations are not the classic Louis Darling ones that I remember from my youth in the '70s, they are--at least in my judgment--inferior "modernized" illustrations.

1950s Louis Darling illustration from a Beverly Cleary book

Part of the charm of the old Beverly Cleary books was that they were from the fifties, and the characters portrayed in the illustrations dressed differently from the Pro-Keds and cut-off jeans of my 1970s youth. I liked the exoticness of it all. It was an artifact from the past, yet the stories still had a universality that applied to my life in 1970s Detroit as much as 1950s Portland, Oregon (where the Beezus & Ramona and Henry Huggins books were set). Do kids these days really need "contemporary" illustrations to make the books more relevant? I'd like to think not. But what do I know?

Rant over.

***

I just finished reading Kim Gordon's memoir, Girl in a Band. Good reading if you have any interest in Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon, No Wave music, or just the "alternative" music scene of the 1980s and 1990s. Early press and reviews I read made a big deal out of comments Kim Gordon made about Lana del Rey and Courtney Love. What's the issue? I didn't find anything Gordon wrote to be outlandish or slanderous; and it really is only a small portion of the book. Lana del Rey I have little interest in anyway, and who really thinks Courtney Love is or has ever been in her right mind?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

One last (boring) post for January

My goal is to crank out more content in this blog, even if the content is crap. So don't say I didn't warn you.

I have 30 minutes to get this in before it's officially February. I'd like to actually get in three blog posts in one month. That'd be amazing.

So I'm drinking a glass of shiraz and watching the local news, trying to simultaneously type and stop the cat from destroying the living room.

So now Saturday Night Live has started and the opening sketch is one of ersatz Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch hosting their own TV show. Not as funny as Key & Peele's Super Bowl Special that aired last night.

Watching the opening credits of SNL, the current cast are young enough to be my children. They all look like fresh-faced kids.

I love J.K. Simmons and he's the guest host. Doing a fun riff on his maniacal music teacher role in Whiplash. Various cast members flailing away on the drums while Simmons yells at them. Now Fred Armisen, a real drummer, takes over behind the kit and tears through a drum solo. Cute sketch, but not that funny.

Well, this post is tedious enough, so I'm out of here for now.





Saturday, January 24, 2015

Random thoughts on a Saturday morning

Remember that ebola post I wrote several months ago (see below)? Isn't it funny that we heard absolutely NOTHING about ebola in the United States immediately after the elections took place?

Nothing, At. All.

At least nothing from the major mainstream news sources (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN). If you wanted to hear anything about the ebola epidemic in Africa, you had to really dig for information. It's not as if it was over, either. Though the situation seems to be under control in Liberia, the last I checked it was still a serious problem in Sierra Leone.

Now all we hear about is something called "DeflateGate." Suddenly, The biggest news in the United States are footballs that weren't properly inflated in the AFC championship game (Super Bowl semifinal for anyone who doesn't follow American football) between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. The 24-hour news networks like CNN have been treating this ridiculously overblown and ultimately unimportant story like it was a world crisis.

This is the screwy world we live in.

***

I sort of made a new year's resolution to try and get the hell off my phone and read more books, like the old days before, let's say, 2010. To that end, I started reading Don DeLillo's White Noise, a book I've heard lauded for years. Somehow, the book came up somewhere in conversation (perhaps a podcast I was listening to). Well, it's very good. Quite funny. A biting satire of the absurdity of academia (so far anyway--I've only read about the first 25 pages).

I have also been a connoisseur of Bret Easton Ellis' podcast. He's an author who made a big splash in the late '80s with Less Than Zero and a certain degree of notoriety with American Psycho in the '90s. Of course, he's also written many other novels and essays over a career that has now spanned almost 30 years. On his podcast, he interviews various people from the arts and entertainment and injects his discussions with his own opinions about film, literature, and music. I don't always agree with everything he says, but he always has something interesting to say. I particularly enjoy his theory of "empire" and "post-empire" America. We are now in "post-empire" America, which has been brought upon by the internet/digital instant gratification society we are currently mired in (of which I find myself a slave--trying to break free of it) . Anyway, that's the gist of what I gather from Ellis' ideas of "empire" and "post-empire."

I hadn't read anything by Ellis. I vaguely remember when Less Than Zero came out--actually remember more about the movie adaptation that was released a few years after the book. But I never saw the movie, even though its story of decadent 1980s teens should have been right up my alley seeing as that is "my generation" (though my life in the grimy Midwest was decidedly different from Less Than Zero's wealthy southern Californians).

Well, I'm being interrupted by real life and will have to get back to this later. So let me just hastily conclude this post by saying that I've started reading Less Than Zero and have a feeling that my middle-aged self will find the characters to be spoiled brats.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

A ten-minute update

I have a few minutes to spare, so I thought it might be a good opportunity to drop in and say hello, while also making an attempt to not be a stranger to this blog. I have about ten minutes, so I'm here to try to crank out ten minutes of content.

As usual, I'm experiencing both the "post-Holiday blahs" and the "pre-birthday blues." I'm rapidly closing in on birthday #47 (on March 1) and I have to tell you that with each passing year they become less and less exciting. Actually, that's an understatement. I think the last time I was truly excited about a birthday was when I turned 21. It's been downhill ever since. Thus, the two month period between January 1 and March 1 tends to verge between boredom and anxiety.

What makes it slightly more bearable is that my younger son's birthday is on February 26, so at least the focus is more on HIM and less on ME. This year in particular will be eventful because he hits double-digits.

Looking at the clock and I have three more minutes to crank something out.

We went to see Selma last weekend. It's a very good movie, despite whatever historical inaccuracies it may have. It always makes me laugh when people gnash their teeth over Hollywood not getting history "right." For gosh sakes, people, these films are dramatizations, not doctoral dissertations. My feeling has always been that if a dramatic film based on a historic event/person can get the casual viewer to investigate the subject in more detail, then that film is a success.

My ten minutes is up.