Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Tuneage
Ozark Mountain Daredevils - "Jackie Blue"

When I shave in the late morning, I generally put on KOOL 108 on the portable radio in the bathroom. More times than not, I hear one of these songs: "Piano Man" by Billy Joel and "I Want A New Drug" by Huey Lewis and the News.

"Piano Man" is pleasant, but I got sick of it years ago. On my last listen, Joel drove me nuts ... he must have been pretty proud to own a rhyming dictionary back in '73, but who the hell drinks a "tonic and gin"? Do the Piano Man's buddies also like to order a "soda and scotch"? It reminds me of an establishment who try to gain respectability by billing itself as a "grill and bar."

"I Want A New Drug" is also pleasant, but I feel weird shaving with a razor and shaving cream as in the song's video, Huey uses an electric razor. (While on a boat!) (?)

The other day I must have been shaving at a different time than usual, because on KOOL 108 I heard the end of "Amy" by Pure Prairie League and then "Jackie Blue" by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Having not heard it in years, "Jackie Blue" was a knockout of a blast from the past. I love the soprano/falsetto/whatever-Italian-word-they-are vocals, the eerie guitar, and lyrics like: "you like your life in a free-form style." (Me too, but I can never get the free-form thing going! Where do I sign up to learn this?)

As an elementary school kid, I lived in a golden age of Top 40 radio in the mid-seventies. This tune is further proof of that. Which makes it such a great soundtrack for shaving. And good thing on that recent morning I finished shaving as the Ozarks wrapped up, as the next song up was by the dreaded Supertramp. Still haven't figured out with them if it is a guy or a chick singing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Tuneage
Go-Go's - "Vacation"

The decline and fall of a staycation, April 13-24, 2011:

1. I'm going to get so much done. Read a book, watch a Netflix movie every night, get caught up on my magazines, write every day.

2. Hey, I don't have to work tomorrow or the day after or the day after. Time to pour myself a drink and celebrate.

3. Damn this cheap scotch doesn't taste too bad when you're halfway into the second one. Cut with club soda of course. You know else I'm going to do on staycation? Go check out the Foshay observation deck, go to the Science Museum, go the Minnesota Historical Society, and definitely check out an art museum. I think it's time to switch to beer ...

4. I listened to
Secret Treaties last night? What's that can of Premium doing next to the stereo? Did I feed the cat? Damn, I'm hungry. I was going to go to Lowbrow or Burger Jones tonight but I gotta spend my dining dough on a greasy breakfast and lots of coffee at Curran's pronto.

5. Okay, I'm going to watch that highly-acclaimed miniseries on my streaming Netflix. Oh wait - this episode of
How I Met Your Mother on WGN is a classic. Cool, they're showing four episodes in a row tonight.

6. It's nice out, I should bike down to Roadrunner and check out what's come in on vinyl. Hmmm, it does look like it's clouding up. Might be best to pour a microbrew and listen to
The Best of Uriah Heep.

7. I've watched the Twins and/or the NHL playoffs on TV seven days in a row. Tonight let's make it eight.

8. I had forgotten how much fun making a beer can pyramid is.

9. In your face, iPod Touch! That's four consecutive victories in Hearts!

10. Boy, that Sid Hartman sure is a character.

11. Crap. I don't want to go back to work tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday Tuneage
Guided By Voices - "Teenage FBI"

I'm not at all qualified to write about Guided By Voices, not being a card-carrying member of the cult and having never even checked them out live. Plus after all these years of hearing the hype, what finally got me to go to my iMac the day after Christmas and buy a GBV album? Hearing their atypical polished "Glad Girls" on a rerun of How I Met My Mother, it played as montage music while Ted did something romantic and/or world-embracing. Then I chumped out by settling on the one-disc anthology Human Amusements At Hourly Rates rather than getting a real album, rationalizing it because Allmusic.com wrote that it's the equivalent of GBV leader Robert Pollard making me a mixtape of his best work.

But I write because I write. So, thirty-two songs on the disc and which one do I present to you?

"Teenage FBI" because I love the title, it's got hooks galore, and the lyrics start out as an ahhh-romance cliche than throw in some Fed-level 21 Jump Streeters at the end of the chorus, all in a buck-thirty-nine.

And speaking of that Allmusic.com review, it sums up the appeal of Guided By Voices on Human Amusements - an album whose vast majority of songs now seem to be on some sort of shuffle in my brain during many waking moments - perfectly: "77 minutes of great hooks, hummable melodies, man-sized guitars, and general rock geek bliss." No argument here.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Four Random Memories Of Frozen Fours

I wrote this up in honor of tonight's Michigan vs. Minnesota-Duluth title game. Go Bulldogs! And don't worry, none of these involve the University of North Dakota:

1984: Due to my folks moving from Grand Forks to Chicago in March of my freshman year, I moved into Walsh Hall at UND mid-second semester. I had only been there a couple of weeks when on a Saturday night I wandered down to the basement commons area to get a pop from the vending machine. I saw that the Minnesota-Duluth vs. Bowling Green final was on ESPN on the big TV in the little viewing lounge. There was just a few minutes left in the third, so I grabbed a seat and joined the three other guys - complete strangers - there to cheer on UMD's inevitable win. But Bowling Green scored late to tie it up. And then for four overtimes and well into the night we cheered on our WCHA brethren Bulldogs, who eventually lost in the fourth OT.

1988: Maine and Minnesota were favored all season to match up in the title game, I think Sports Illustrated even bothered to cover college hockey midseason for a page or two and declared the matchup all but inevitable. But the Black Bears and Gophers were upset by relative unknowns Lake Superior State and St. Lawrence in the semifinals. An obviously frustrated Maine and Minnesota matched up in the third-place game that ended up being a brawl-filled mess. I didn't see it, but I think the officials may have even called this game early with how nasty it got. The NCAA got wise a year or two later and eliminated the third place game altogether.

1990: I didn't have cable and nobody wanted to watch the game with me, so I walked to the Park Tavern alone and watched Wisconsin dismantle something called Colgate. I foolishly gave up booze for Lent back then and recall drinking near beer in bottles. Ugh.

1991: I was at the Boston University vs. Northern Michigan title game at the St. Paul Civic Center. The game went to three overtimes and after two, some Badger fan out in the concourse yelled to the delight of his buddies: "... And after two overtimes, Wisconsin is still national champion!!"

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Tuesday Tuneage
The Rulers - "Wrong 'Em Boyo"

Tonight on Album Club, we tracked The Clash's London Calling, which features their version of "Wrong 'Em Boyo." If it weren't for my many readings of the notes at the end of Greil Marcus's Mystery Train, I wouldn't have known that "Wrong 'Em Boyo" was a cover of a tune by the Jamaican rocksteady band The Rulers. The Clash even went so far as to use The Rulers' "start with 'Stagger Lee', stop, and then start a different song with a different beat but tells kinda the same story" move. Yeah, that move.

If the Clash's version of this song is burned in your brain, it takes a couple, three listens to get the vibe of the Rulers' version. But it's worth a few listens and is a lot more fun than most folk music. Weirdly, "Stagger Lee" celebrates the shooting of a guy named Billy (ouch) and I still can't get enough of its multitude of versions, whether it's Lloyd Price's chart-topping version from 1959 or by some rocksteady guys from Jamaica. Go Stagger Lee!

Friday, April 01, 2011

My Latest Fortune Cookie Said: "Writing Is A Craft Not An Art."

The writing mind game can be a tricky one for some of us. There are writers who can hammer out solid writing "using a trash can to set my laptop on" as my friend Jim once claimed, while some of us - yes, my hand is raised - are fussbudgets who need the right desk at the right height, the right chair, the right music, coffee at the right temperature, not too full of stomach, but not too hungry either, etc.

After all these years of writing, I still can't do much for creating at my apartment. Too many distractions: Day job (my accounting office is at home also), TV, email. Plus I haven't done a good job of creating a comfortable writing space. I have a desk, but it faces a wall and while that wall has a framed Van Halen Fair Warning LP cover, a Sergio Argonnes' "MAD Pictorial Map of the United States," a beautiful painting of Lester Bangs (by Alice DuBois), and a small bulletin board with writing notes tacked to it; I still feel boxed in. It's a space to rewrite and edit in, and to do original writing in short bursts; but it's not a place to catch the muse for a long period of time.

Hence the need for a coffee shop. There isn't much else for public spaces that offer caffeine plus a table and chair to use for writing. And my fave neighorhood coffee shop closed last week. Its chairs and tables were reminiscent of something used in the library of a high school or public college. The rest of the place provided bohemian comfort to go with the just-right lighting. The brick wall, the bikes and accessories hanging on the walls. Copies of bike and music magazines on the shelf of the coffee counter. An always-trusty paperback of Bangs's Psychotic Reactions And Carburetor Dung on the shelf. A PBR sticker on the wall of the bathroom. For six months or so this was my place to write. Now I have to find a new coffee home.

The prior coffee shop, the one I regularly went to for fifteen years or so until last fall, lost its appeal. There was this old guy who was there every afternoon that I went there. And while I have seen his photo in the paper being linked to one of the many local Ponzi schemes, his real crime is the amount of cologne that he wore. That oldster stunk up the room. I couldn't concentrate any more, and every little thing about that coffee shop started to bother me.

It's a similar situation to another coffee shop in my neighborhood in which I can't get good writing done. There it's not an old shyster who gets to me, it's some aged hippie. He has a weird habit of grinning at people -and his grin is evil - or trying to lock their eyes in for some contact. Otherwise he stares at his laptop and is quick to close it when you pass his table. Plus, I've seen him rummaging through my apartment building's dumpster; which means he's on the same level of civility as the neighborhood squirrels and racoons, but not up to the level of the neighborhood crows - those guys rule. I'm pretty sure he doesn't like me, maybe it's because I have a crew cut and look like a square. I got the same vibe one night years ago at the late Viking Bar with the West Bank hippies, though then the haircut was short back and sides. Hey comrades: I'm small in stature and totally nonthreatening. Plus, the sixties are over man! The other problem with Evil Hippie Guy's coffee shop is the general atmosphere. It's noisy, it's busy. It's kid-friendly (hence noisy and busy.) It's hippie-friendly, there's lots of notices on the board about new age stuff, and lots of stuff about being eco-friendly. I just want to write, I don't want to save the world.

So now the search for a new coffee place starts. It's rumored there's a new place opening up down the street soon, maybe that will be it. I just want to write someplace cool, a place that IS NOT too loud, hippie-ish, obsessed with going green, or being kid-friendly. I want someplace dark, where they have rock 'n' roll on, where the folks talk about booze instead of composting, where people smoke out on the sidewalk, where when it comes for my time to leave I want to walk or bike home and print off the notes I had been typing and attack them with a red pen. You know ... a writer's coffee shop.