Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Death of a Word / Word of Death

The holidays this year were shaken from their good cheer with the incredible images and stories of death that a series of tsunamis caused in 9 countries bordering the Indian Ocean. 45,000 people killed (at this point). The timing (as if Nature had timing…) could not have been crueler.

For those of us in the States, the shock could be understood as our attention is not obtained unless the numbers of the perished climbs high. Tsunamis in the past decade resulted in deaths in the teens, possibly the hundreds. Just not enough to register on our emotional radar. They all happened over in the Far East; far away enough not to have tragedy interest us, close enough for us to load up on holiday related detritus.
"How many American deaths equal how many Italian deaths equal how many Rwandan deaths? Such a question may seem insensitive to a culture in agony, a nation built upon the ideal that all are created equal. But as we ponder the meaning of more than 6,000 human beings dying in acts of terror on our own land, it may be time to contemplate what it means as journalists to number the dead." Read on at Poynter on-line

However, we're not exactly strangers to this phenomenon. There is evidence that a major tsunami struck Canada sometime in the early 1700’s, wiping out an entire native village in Pachena Bay. Europe, specifically Norway, is also subject to punishing waves (see
Norwegian Tsunami ).

If you’re not inundated with enough information already, Tsunami Info is a rational place to go to. Of course, there will be internet places like Armageddon on Line, where rationality takes a back seat to scaring the hell out of you.

Such a cataclysmic event will have an effect on tsunami, the word. Companies such as Tsunami.com will have to do some creative name-changing. Otherwise, their company name will trigger thoughts of death and destruction to potential and existing companies.

Newspaper and magazine articles that proclaim something like Tsunami of Change will have to be edited. "Tsunami" will be anathema in a written piece that doesn’t specifically have to do with a watery disaster. Or else, a modern-day Ambrose Bierce will have to surface to add his/her take of "Tsunami" for "The Devil’s Dictionary".

For those with tendencies leaning toward compassion rather than derision of mankind, donations can be made @ Red Cross.org

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Belgian Chocalate Cookies Supreme
These cookies, when made, are your Christmas gift to your senses. You'll enjoy them too.

3 bars of Galler Chocolate Noir 85% (Yep, that's 85% cocoa)
1/2 Gallon of Milk (optional)
1 bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream
1 tablespoon of flour
1-2 pinches of Malden salt flakes
Sugar to taste

Heat oven to 375 degrees
Open bottle of Bristol Cream
Fill cognac glass half-way
(For non-alcoholic version, but with touch of class, fill the same cognac glass half-way with milk. To splurge, use whole milk)
Place one bar of Galler Chocolate Noir 85% on flat surface.
Carefully (!!!!) peal back the paper wrapper.
Peal back the foil.
Firmly grasp the bar with one hand and tilt 45 degrees.
With other hand, use your index and thumb fingers to break off one square. If other hand is not available, teeth will do.
Un-grasp the bar.
Lift the cognac glass.
Alow Bristol Cream to bathe the mouth.
Slip in the Galler Chocolate Noir 85% square.
Let ingredients mix and melt.
For good luck, take the Malden salt flakes in your left hand and flick them over your shoulder. The flakes should land on your shoulder and skid and stop on your back. You may need to change to a wool sweater to achieve this effect. Aside form possibly generating luck for the next year, you will appear to have a serious scalp-shedding problem. This is a good thing. It'll keep folks away from your Galler Chocolate Noir 85%.
Spread the flour on a cutting board. A semblance of baking/concocting is in order.

The oven should be warm enough now.
Put your favorite pair of comfortable leather shoes in.
Bake for 5-7 minutes, depending on altitude.
Remove and place on feet.

Take in your state of being. This is called bliss.

Repeat all of the above steps until sated or delirious.

The cookies? You don't need no stinkin' cookies.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 20, 2004

My Tractor, My Love
When I was still in the youthful stages of sponging up all that was thrown at me without filtering out the unbelievable, my father loaded me up with stories of his war service in the "Grand and Glorious Tito's Army". My father was a political prisoner during WW II, since he neither agreed with the position of the Royalists in Yugoslavia, who were siding with Germany, nor with the blather of the Partisans, the Communist guerillas, who sided with the Brits and were headed by Josip Broz Tito.. His tales tended toward the pseudo-ridiculous realism of "The Good Soldier Schweik".
Since he was given a wooden rifle (seriously, a rifle made entirely of wood, including the barrel), he was not a mortal threat to anyone, friend or foe.
Hold it.
Let me take that back.
He was a threat to anyone who wanted to smoke, which in those days was everyone and his mule. War sharpens one's scrounging skills, so he and his mates concocted cigarettes from scraps of newspapers and a finely blended mixture of hay, pasture grass, and some non-memorable flower petals. Conducting oneself as a political POW made for a plentitude of time. Since you couldn't be shooting anything or anybody with wooden rifles, smoking and spieling were the prime time burners. The only other activity available was indoctrination opportunities. Wartime Yugoslavia did not have its version of Hollywood, so it counted on Russia to provide the movies to instill comradeship and Motherland in its troops. Tito didn’t necessarily trust Stalin but he borrowed some films.
My father spoke of these movies. Well, he didn't really speak. It was more like a stream or two of words put together cogently and than a waterfall of guffaws and laughter that tended to leave him prone on the ground in heaving hilarity. Let's say the movies didn't have the affect they were intended to have by the "Grand and Glorious Tito's Army". One film, "Tractor Drivers", came up repeatedly as a sure sign that the Russian film industry were out to lunch and enjoying their meal. The gist of the movie was how one farmer loved his tractor so much because it let him meet his production quota, keep his family safe, and helped him to defeat an entire German division.
He did all this while singing on the tractor.

When he came to this country, as a chemical engineer who spoke 5 languages, he was rather surprised to see that America also had its share of "Tractor Drivers" entertainment. What stunned him was that people paid to see this type of entertainment. On Broadway. Needless to say (but I’ll waste your precious time by saying it anyway), it took a long time for him to "appreciate" musicals; at times he just couldn't contain himself and ended up off his chair rolling with laughter.

When not enthralling me with tales of the Grand Army, Russian cinematography, POW camp shenanigans, my father was also introducing me to the great Slavic satirists. These included the already mentioned "Good Soldier Schweik" by Jaroslav Hasek, Ilf & Petrov's "The Little Golden Calf" and “Twelve Chairs”. Vladimir Voinovich's "The Life & Extraordinary Times of Private Ivan Chonkin", and Mikhail Zoshchenko's "Nervous People & Other Satires", among others.

(available at DVD Empire and at Netflix)

Somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous lies lunacy. Totalitarianism is not far behind, especially if one throws in cruelty and blindness. So, where does all that bring us? Why to East Side Story, "a delirious documentary that unveils a part of film history until now unknown in the West: Soviet and eastern block communist musicals. Featuring hearty peasants and workers singing and dancing their way through fields and factories, these Hollywood-style musicals interpret American escapism in socialist terms." Dana Ranga and Andrew Horn have taken a collection of Russian and other East bloc countries’ propaganda films and collected the best bits into one film. We get to see a clip from the 1939 "Tractor Drivers", and it's quite goofy seeing these proud Soviet farmers singing joyfully about their tractors and their good lives. There is a little chill, however, when they go out of their way to boastfully sing how they will be willingly be directed by Stalin to fight any invading force they enters their country. (So it's clear that the Soviets, despite the non-aggression treaty with Germany, weren't totally naive about the situation brewing in the west.) As well, we get to see another blatant propaganda clip from the 1940 effort, "The Bright Path". In the clip, a young woman has a dream where she is lead down an actual path by some holy-like figure to paradise - which is a factory! Yes, work is the key to happiness, work will make you free, and the young woman is so overjoyed, she picks up a broom and starts sweeping the factory floor. (Every little bit helps the Mother Russia!)

Just waiting for the next Netflix delivery.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

If it's Broke, Fix it
At J. Luster, there's a caption contest for this photo. If our Prez is taking a stand against homosexual marriage, he seems to be going about his stance in a most peculiar way. Or maybe it's just the angle.

If not, for those folks familiar with some of the recordings of Lewis Black, you may recall a routine that he does in which he describes how HE would mis-spend money if he were a highly paid executive @ Enron, Adelphia, or Tyco. Rather than buying more mansions or expensive houses so he could impress his other rich buddies, Mr. Black would hire the services of a professional ball washer. I'll leave it at that. If you want to hear the whole routine of this particular career choice, buy his cd Rules of Engagement. After all...this is a PG-rated blog site.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Pent Up
(Pic courtesy of congiano) For those not within shouting distance of NYC, the passion still left over from the Prez elections is in full display at 927 Fifth Avenue. Scoot over to Jo Miller and Pale Male for a blow by blow account of NYC class warfare, with red-tailed hawks caught between factions and their nest. For our family, this has been especially interesting as quite a few summers ago, the ever-loving wife read passages from Marie Winn's "Red-Tails in Love while we were doing some summer travelling. Even for folks not into birding, the book is a treat to read if you love NYC, Central Park, off-the-beaten-path characters, and flight. Pale Male, one of the red-tailed hawks that came up again and again in the book, is now in trouble. New Yorkers have come out in droves to protest the boorish behaviour of some of a specific building's tenents . Throw in the names Paula Zahn (a villain), Enron (a villain), and Mary Tyler Moore (a heroine) and you've got something to take your mind off of Christmas shopping.

Bing's the Thing

Most of you know what the plot line is in White Christmas, but for those who don't and who also want to read a critique, The Plaza's a place to go. Be forewarned that, like most commentaries about WC, this site is not too pleased.
I don't necessarily disagree with the negativity; I just feel that WC is one of those films that you just have to suspend your sense of logic. Turning down your schmaltzmeter also helps.

The film is not director Michael Curtiz'(of "Casablanca" fame) best effort. Repeat offerings of the same songs within a short time frame gives the film an impression that not enough material was available.
The cast of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Mary Wickes are excellent, with Kaye & Crosby obviously enjoying themselves and each other. Kaye was the third choice for his role, accepting only after Fred Astaire and Donald O'Connor passed. Lucky for us. The script has some clever dialogue sprinkled in with the (mostly) great songs. The movie even managed to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song for "Count Your Blessings"

Like most of you, I've always seen this movie at home, either on one of the commercial stations or on video. As a kid, I couldn't stand it. Who in this world is having a conversation in a train one minute and then crooning about snow in the next? My folks watched it each winter. My mom even joined in the singing. Jeez, I'll never get that sappy!

Well, as a child is father to a man, I've been watching "White Christmas" with my daughter and son for the past 12 years or so. I'm not singing along; my children are well-armed with pillows, rolled up socks, and verbal barbs. But, I now enjoy the film each winter holiday.

Then, this year, I really saw the film. Wilmington's Grand Opera House occasionally shows old movies, when the hall is not booked. Last night, they showed "White Christmas". Small Audience. Great enthusiasm (clapping after certain song & dance numbers). You were able to see ALL of the facial nuances of Crosby & Kaye when they did their version of "Sisters". Vera-Ellen's dance routines seemed even more energetic. And her legs...well, they must have been 10 feet long. Crosby's voice, as my ever-loving wife noted, hit you in your chest and then your ears. Sappy? No doubt. Contrived? You betcha. See it again? Absolutely. Except, I'm spoiled now. Only the Big Screen will do.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Black Widow
This Headline, The "Uncommonly alarming woman" (behind Blunkett affair), caught my eye from The New Zealand Herald.
Some tidbits regarding the "..alarming woman", to chew on:
1) She was described as "an uncommonly alarming woman" by Max Hastings, former editor of the London Evening Standard. The background of Kimberly Quinn, whose affair with Home Secretary David Blunkett led to his downfall, could not contrast more with the deprived upbringing of her former lover.

2)Her first husband, American investment banker Michael Fortier, said: "Even when she is lying in her grave she'll be thinking if there is anybody more interesting she could have lying next to her."

3)She was, in her own words "a New York debutante who didn't even know how to use a washing machine" and who sometimes went to work in the morning in her ballgown after a night out partying.

4)Quinn, 43, who is said to have been attracted to men with status, moved to Britain with her first husband in 1987 when he was transferred to London. He later said she had "a string of affairs" during their marriage, one of whom was with Stephen Quinn, the publisher who later became her husband.

5) "Her idea of a good week would involve two or three cocktail parties a night," Fortier said. "She would want to introduce me to the next politician or movie star and I would just find it all incredibly false and boring."

6)It was (at the Spectator) that she met Blunkett, who is said to have fallen head over heals in love with her. On their first meeting Quinn is said to have told Blunkett that she had always wondered what it would be like to sleep with a blind man.

Whew! I thought this type of woman was just a caricature you saw in movies. I know, I know, someone's going to comment that if she were a man, we'd admire her. Sorry folks, but in this age I truly believe cold, heartless, and ruthless is the same, no matter which side of the sex you're preying from.
I feel a movie of this whole debacle to be in the works within the year. Jonathan Glazer of "Sexy Beast" fame should direct.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Rock, Paper, Beer

When asked why he chose to minor in Geology, my son (NOT pictured here) looked at me, shook his head in that "You poor, poor man" sort of way, and said, "Because rocks move very slowly." Now, one has to know that my continually-evolving son proceeds at glacial speed. This rate is necessary since he walks with non-tied shoes, size 36 waist pants for a 33 inch waist, and views belts as an oppression of the masses. Any speed above glacial could result in an accident requiring casts & crutches, thereby reducing his glacial speed to the speed of....rocks. So, his reply regarding Geology showed quite a bit of forethought on his part. If, one day, he accidently tied his shoes and belted his pants and thus propelled himself into a pedestrian pace, some speed-induced bone-breaking event was sure to follow. What career could he enter that would then allow him to work & to snail (appreciate life in the slow lane)?


In addition, what other field seems to have professors who seem so damn happy? Just looking at some of his profs at Denison U.'s Dept of Geology site tells the story. These guys look lively, happy, contented.

Geology seemed to offer something different, aside from the great educational trips to locations of seclusion and quiet. But, what was it?

And then, this week, in the NYT Tuesday Science section, there was an article regarding rocks and beer. That "special something" started to become clear, as clear as a golden ale. (I'll reprint the article here, so you don't have to do the login thing)

"With Great Beer, It's All in the Rocks (and That Doesn't Mean Ice)

Published: NYT December 14, 2004

DENVER - The refreshing bitterness of an English pale ale, the clean light taste of a Pilsener, the dark, almost burnt graininess of Irish stout. To Dr. Alex Maltman (you can't be serious!?!?! This IS his real name?), these are prime illustrations of the power of geology.

Wine connoisseurs often talk of terroir - a French word expressing the notion that vineyard soils impart flavors to the finished wines. But data to back up the notion is sketchy, said Dr. Maltman, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Wales. And though whiskey distillers often make much of the water they use, there is little correlation between the taste of whiskey and the geology of where it is made, he said.

Beer and geology, on the other hand, are closely entwined, Dr. Maltman said last month at a seminar on geology and beer held at a meeting of the Geological Society of America.

For one, geologists drink lots of beer, typically ending a long day examining rocks with a trip to the nearest bar. Mayor John W. Hickenlooper of Denver, a former geologist turned pub owner, told the geologists how an earlier geology meeting in 1988 bolstered his fledgling microbrewery. (Emphasis added for potential Geology majors)

And as Dr. Maltman got up to talk, two-thirds of the audience also got up and headed for the lobby, where Denver microbreweries were handing out samples in small cups.

"I'd like to suggest this evening, to the people who remain, that in fact it is with beer that there is the most direct link between the drink and geology," Dr. Maltman said.

Beer is more than 90 percent water, and because almost all brewers use water from wells, not rivers or lakes, the different styles of beer were traditionally derived from the rocks that the breweries sat upon.

Today beer is usually thought of as an unchanging product. But much scientific research and technological effort have been put into achieving that consistency from agricultural ingredients that change from year to year and season to season.

"There's a lot of science going on about beer," said Dr. Charles Bamforth, a professor of brewing science at the University of California at Davis. "The scientific understanding of beer is better understood than that of wine. It has been studied for many, many years in considerable details in a number of locations around the world."

Beer of various varieties has been drunk for thousands of years. The Epic of Gilgamesh, a king from the third millennium B.C. who ruled a land that is part of modern Iraq, mentions beer.

In the New World, archaeologists reported finding a hall in the Andes of Peru this summer with 20 brewing vats more than 1,000 years old. The brewery could be the oldest known tangible remnant of "large-scale state-sponsored institutional brewing," said Dr. Patrick Ryan Williams, an assistant curator at the Field Museum in Chicago.

The brewery produced an Andean beer called chicha from berries of the Peruvian pepper tree. The output, several hundred gallons at a time, had to be consumed quickly, at large feasts, because chicha turned bad within a week. "They came to the beer," Dr. Williams said. "It wasn't your typical bottle-and-export kind."

Beer is, by definition, alcohol fermented from grain, and most beer today is fermented from barley that is partially germinated, or malted. Hops, a type of flower, is added to give a bitter, fruity taste to the beer.

When commercial beer making started in the 19th century in Europe, brewmasters came across a problem similar to those experienced by the Andean brewers, that the beer spoiled easily. Yet there were places that were exceptions. Burton-on-Trent in England was one, a small town that had more than 30 breweries, producing a style of beer called pale ale or English bitter.

"Let's not forget at this time beer was not pasteurized," Dr. Maltman said. "Burton beer, somehow, did travel well. The supposition was that it was the water, but it was some decades before it was demonstrated what was going on."

Burton-on-Trent sits on sandstone rich in minerals like gypsum from water that had percolated through the rocks long ago. The waters had a pH of 5 to 5.5, ideal for extracting sugars from malted barley steeped in warm water, an important step known as mashing.

"This is why the Burton waters were so good for brewing," Dr. Maltman said. "It turned out they had a very high mineral content, but just in the right balance to get the right acidity for good leeching, good mashing. The balance of fermentable sugars has everything to do with the flavors and the kind of beer that results. The mashing stage is crucial."

The water was also rich in sulfates, which acted as a preservative, allowing the beer to be shipped to distant locations, even India - the Burton beers were called India pale ales, or I.P.A. for short. "The I.P.A. style came about because of the geology on which Burton was sited," Dr. Maltman said.

Today, any brewer anywhere can produce India pale ales by adding minerals to - or "burtonizing" - the water to match what burbles in Burton-on-Trent naturally."


So, now when my continually-evolving son says he's going on a Geology field trip, the destinations are endless. It could be Death Valley, Ironbound Island in Maine, the Dew Drop Inn, Sudbury Structure, or Hank's Bending Elbow Salve Emporium. And he could legitimately state he's doing college credit research.


Where was MY college counsellor when career crossroads needed to be navigated ?


Continuing on the Holiday viewing fare.... Who's kidnapped The Happy Wanderers and what ransom are they demanding? The Wanderers, aka, the Shmenge brothers, are not available (using my limited search algorithms) for VHS or DVD viewing. Specifically, their Ukranian Christmas special, last seen on SCTV episodes back in the '80's, seems to have disappeared. I've checked the recent releases on DVD and found them to be packaged sans Shmenge. No hanging of the traditional socks on the tree. No toothy smiles by either Yosh nor Stan Shmenge to be seen this holiday season. No scenes of Ukranian family toasts.
I think it's those Canadians. Tired of seeing the southward migration of their prime comedy talent, they've put a kabosh on any further leeching. Will I be forced to drive North, rent a cheap motel room in Chateauguay, buy a cheap VCR and a case of cinquante, and rent tapes available up there but not here? You would think with all of the old concert footage that PBS stations are dredging up for their fundraising month, one holiday fare of SCTV would be available. The phones would be ringing off the hook, with pledge money flowing in. Yes, perhaps not dollars but some strangely colored foreign currency. But lucre is lucre, whatever its conversion value.

The tree is up. I need to hear the sock decorating song, so I can properly finish it off.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Holidays at the "Diner"
From the week before Thanksgiving to the night before New Year's Day, the tried and true parade of Christmas related movies march back and forth across the various tv/cable channels. The usual suspects. No need to go through the list. Even the PBS stations fall into line. And yet each year, one movie seems to always fall by the wayside.


Luckily, I have an old copy on VHS (it is available on DVD, though). Each year I pull it out of storage, blow off the dust, shove a pencil in one of the gears, turn the pencil 10-12 times to prime the tape (so it doesn't tear), and plop it into the VCR. It's a chore gathering the family members around the warmth of the VHS player, however. They have been indoctrinated by tv programming and disbelieve me when I plead with them to watch this forgotten Holiday gem.

What gives? Why the strong urge of flight from the son & daughter, when they see me reaching for "Diner"?

A modest list of reasons:
1) Mickey Rourke. Most movie fans cannot simultaneously juggle the idea of Mr. Rourke and fun family holiday cheer. Is it the hair? Is it the usual oiliness of his characters? I say, it's basic prejudice.
2) Baltimore Colts. Viewers are asked to suspend their belief that the Colts ever played in Baltimore; most feel it's just a made up football team. Unbelievable! Johnny Unitas is rolling over in his grave.
3) Jews. Because there is a Jewish wedding and three main characters who are Jewish, the idea of "Diner" being labelled a Holiday picture seems impossible. This is the most difficult excuse for me to swallow. If anything, the presence of three Jewish characters in the movie make the whole movie more palatable as a Holiday Fest and more attractive as a broad based audience film. Besides, without these Jewish characters, the movie would not be as funny nor as complete. And aren't Hannukah & Christmas both holidays?
4) Gifts. This is probably the main reason, "Diner" never makes it on tv during the holiday season. Nobody in the movie is out in Baltimore hurriedly buying up dreck for the holidays. This movie is not about obtention of mass quantities. Advertisers don't like that.
5) The Creche scene. Though very, very funny, I'm sure the religious right and their ilk let the networks know that this "desecration" of Christianity does not belong on tv at the same time of the year as the Hallmark Hall of Fame tear-jerkers do.

A Shame.

So, if you're tired of another threatening film about Christmas not coming, or one wherein a Scrooge-like character gets converted to pillaging & purchasing, or the umpteenth bowl game, say the Kohler Bowl, with colleges you never heard of playing, then you owe it to your addled brain to catch "Diner", without commercial interference. Just don't feast on the left side of the menu.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Reading the Papers
Brazenly copped from Turkish Torque, who may have "borrowed" it from someplace else, we have the following:

"Who reads what?

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country. (Yeni Safak?)
2. The New York Times is read by people who think they run the country. (Hürriyet & Milliyet?)
3. The Washington Post is read by people who think they ought to run the country. (Milli Gazete, Radikal & D.B. Tercüman?)
4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't understand the Washington Post.
5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country, if they could spare the time.
6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country. (Cumhuriyet?)
7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country. (Fanatik & Pas Fotomac?)
8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country, as long as they do something scandalous.
9. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country, or that anyone is running it.
10. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country. "

Friday, December 10, 2004

Nick Hornby & Marah, Philly. Dec. 8, 2004

The North Star Bar in Philly is located just a few blocks north of the Art Museum in a residential area that's a mish-mosh of townhouses in the throes of renovation and of homes where bedsheets will do for curtains. The building, parked on the corner of Poplar & 27th Streets,is comprised of two 1910's adjoining townhouses with additions abutted to their backsides. The main bar and a backroom pool table room take up one of the townhouses, while the music stage takes up the other half. Both parts of North Star are about 25 ft by 150 ft. A long & narrow chute for the music to stream down and bounce back from. The smooth skinned waitstaff and bartenders are nicely decorated with artistic tattoos which are displayed proudly, thanks to minimal coverage. The anger of some of the body painting stood in contrast to the laidback manner of the staff. Sounds of conversation, noise from the tv in the background, and music form the back-of-the-bar CD player reverberate within the confines of the rooms, creating a comfortable hum. Tonight’s crowd is a mix of college kids, townies, suits, and the occasional senior citizen. The joint appearance of Nick Hornby and Marah made for a mélange of a mob. The performance was sold out. Standing room; no chairs (well...except for the chair provided for Marah’s Bielanko brother’s mom, front stage right).

"What exactly were Marah's Bielanko brothers and Nick Hornby going to do together?

Guitarist Serge Bielanko told the back story. Hornby became a Marah fan in 1998 after - full disclosure here – I went to a reading and gave him a copy of the band's wide-eyed and freewheeling debut, Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight”. Since then, the scrappy rockers and the author of High Fidelity have become friends." (from Dan Deluca’s review in the Philly Inq).

Two sets were played. The first set had Mr. Hornby reading one of five autobiographical essays. Some of the essays were from his book, Songbook . Others were more current remembrances. After each essay, Marah would play the song(s) he'd mentioned...or not. It was a semi-structured evening. Mr. Hornby's first essay was inspired by a 1972 Rory Gallagher (Irish blues & rock 'n roll guitar player) concert, his first exposure to LOUD concert hall music. He talked about "life-changing" events and how it's so much harder to find one as the years go on. At 15, though, he was a "blank sheet of paper" and the excitement of seeing a band that "made me realize that I knew nothing about anything, and all the things that I was going to know about were going to be great." Marah, fronted by Dave Bielanko, then played Gallagher's version of Freddy King's "Tore Down". They closed the first essay performance with their own song, "East," from this year's cd release,"20,000 Streets Under the Sky".

Why was this music so important to Hornby? "Youth is a quality not unlike health: it's found in greater abundance among the young, but we all need access to it. (And not all young people are lucky enough to be young. Think of those people at your college who wanted to be politicians or corporate lawyers, for example.) I'm not talking about the accouterments of youth: the unlined faces, the washboard stomachs, the hair. The young are welcome to all that ? what would we do with it anyway? I'm talking about the energy, the wistful yearning, the inexplicable exhilaration, the sporadic sense of invincibility, the hope that stings like chlorine. When I was younger, rock music articulated these feelings, and now that I'm older it stimulates them, but either way, rock 'n' roll was and remains necessary because: who doesn't need exhilaration and a sense of invincibility, even if it's only now and again?" The other 4 reflections followed, all accompanied by pure raw renditions by the band. Riffs on the group, "Faces" and drinking, heroin, self-doubt, sadness & loneliness, the grossly over-serious period of rock and roll highlighted by the interminable Led Zeppelin drum solos (which he compared to staying at home and watching the washing machine), when punk (specifically "The Clash") came to the rescue, and the duty of any R & R group to take you "from the place where you are to a better place. If the music doesn't do that, it ain't worth shit."

He read from a crumpled collection of papers, took in what the crowd sometimes said in reaction to his comments, and then noted it on his papers as he kept on speaking. It was an interactive reading and you could tell he enjoyed this part of his craft as much as the enthusiastic, but relatively quiet, audience did. I wish I could rememeber the full detail of his essays; his phrasing's so unforced and connective. "That's exactly what I was thinking!", you'd say to yourself, knowing you'd never express it so dead-on. He shared your thoughts with yourself. You heard quite a few mumblings from the audience.
"Damn, how does he do that."
"Wait, that's what I've been meaning to say."
"Unbelievable! How does he...?"

I'd come much earlier than the scheduled 8:00 pm performance. I meandered around the bar and then the stage area, eyeing the usual merchandise that bands sell to stay liquid. A box of books was off to the side of the t-shirt table, Hornby's own collection of essays from The Believer magazine, Polysylabbic Spree. I reached over, plucked a copy, and proceeded to read, shaking my head at the way he crafted his commentary together. An intense-eyed fellow ah-hummed, to the right of me.

"How'd you like it?"
"Well, it's just his usual funny insightful stuff. I mean, how perspicacious can one person be, for God's Sake? I'm a blind man. He gives me light."
"That's very generous of you. Hornby, Nick Hornby."
We shake hands. I offer to buy him a pint...or two. I lean on the bar, trying to find that mental button I've been having difficulty finding. Record! Record! Damn, it's still stuck. He regales me with his tour stories with Marah. Family life. New Yorker back room gossip. I forget all the details, just remember the intricacy of the tapestry.

Then, I hear a low hum..."Mate. Mate? How'd you want me to sign this book?" I mumble something closely resembling English, walk away, and recall l'esprit de l'escalier. He walks away, nodding hopefully that I would put a sentence together. I'd spaced. He was the Pope and I'd forgotten the "Our Father". But I was in a better place and it was Nick Hornby's words that got me there.

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Giant Steps, a Visual
If you haven't experienced Coltrane's Giant Steps, Illustrated already...

Giant Steps Explained visually...
Click the Explain "circle" first.
(You need to have your audio on to fully appreciate this)

Then click the Play Now "circle" for a fun visual display in time to the music.

Went to see Marah and Nick Hornby last night at The North Star Bar in Philly.


Too dark to take notes. Not the perfect environment for cassette recording. I'm de-clogging the head for scraps of Hornby's commentaries. So, hopefully a post within the next few days on a memorable night in the City of Bro Love.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Late for the Show
( "The Art of Looking Sideways" from Jane Andrews Co.)

There's a scene in Alexander Payne's movie, Sideways, when the driver of a beat-up Saab is a concrete block. At this point (3/4 of the way through), you are prepped for another thick-headed moment. So, you are surprised when the concrete block (no actor's name given in the film's credits) exercises better judgement in avoiding a potential hazard then do the two protagonists who substitute the block for themselves in the car. It's a funny scene; perhaps the only one in the movie that doesn't make you cringe. Empathy for either of the "heroes" changes to pity and then to a low level desire for comeupance within the first 10 minutes of the film, as one of the protagonists steals cash from his mom's not so secret hiding place in one of her clothing drawers. If the California wine industry was hoping this movie would raise people's interest in the wine-tasting tours out there in the Land of the Lotus eaters, I hope they did not set their hopes too high. The "Slacker" in Richard Linklater's film have been uprooted from Austin to California wine country and gotten melancholy.

My expectations were high for this film. I'd delayed seeing it to the point where I was reconciled to having to see it on video. But, lo and behold, it was still playing the 'burbs. There were enough stars given to it from various reviewers that made it a Fourth of July celebration. Perhaps there was a wine-tasting, free of course, offered to these folks when they went to see the movie. Clouded their judgement or put them into a mood of charity and mis-understanding.

Thank the casting director for Virginia Madsen. Aside from radiating wisdom, desire, and, especially, a sense of self, she's given the best lines in the movie. This is a "guy's" picture, which is a shame. The cast, while excellent, would have been better served if Ms. Madsen & Sandra Oh had been allowed to be the leads in a "girl's" version of this movie. Paul Giametti, Thomas Haden Church, and the concrete block would have been excellent foils for the two women. This would have made the movie an "Opus One" rather than the "Gallo" that it was (for me).

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Beauty of Mathematics
Plus signs, minus signs, multiplication, associative properties, distributive properties and even limits. These things I'm comfortable with. Daily use and all that. Cosines, sines, bovines...well these make me nervous. Perhaps old teaching methods failed to capture the innate beauty of these contraptions. Today, in the NYT magazine, there's an excellent photographic journey through the upper levels of trig. Who, aside from those mathematical whizzes, would have concluded that beauty lies in the formulae. No wonder these folks have smiles of serenity as they walk on their streets, shoelaces untied, belts missing beltloops, short-sleeved in the 32 degree weather. Please help them navigate our crosswalks; they are artists of the mind.
Advanced Trigonometry in plaster, as photographed by Hiroshi Sugimoto. A slide show is available. You'll have to register on the NYT site, if you haven't already, but it is well worth the minimal effort.

Seating for One
Weekend plans start with an early rise, minimal ablutions (enough to de-scale a night sleep's accumulations of dust mites and body grit), grabbing choice sections of the NYT and Philly Inqy, and stumbling out the door to the car. Turn the ignition key and aim the automobile in the general direction of Hank's Diner, just across the border in PA.
If all this stuttering motion begins before 7:30, there's a chance for a place to plop one's asleep derriere. Perhaps even a small table. At worse, it's a stool at the counter. Seating for one. Cup of coffee quickly appears, liquid sloshing out of the cup, forming a moat in the saucer. A load sluuuuurp. Jolt of joe. Peruse the day's morning specials, dry-marked in various colors on the white board hanging over the range. Eeenie, mineee, moe. There's the choice! Kennett Square Mushroom omellette. Open and fold and fold and then re-fold the paper to the Sports section. Admiring glances from your fellow stoolies on your NYT origami work.
It's going to be a good day. And the sun is at that clear winter chill blinding level. You should be schussing. Couldn't be better.

This is all, of course, based on that early rise.
And if I doddle around in the embrace of a comfortable bed and a comfortable wife? Well, then it's a 9:00-9:30 slog down the stairs. A brew of one; the ever-loving wife prefers The Tea. Rescue what sections are left of the papers. Shuffle into the kitchen and assume the position.
Paper's open on the stove. The stove canopy's light is on. Mug of coffee is parked on my right. "Morning After" show is playing onWVUD and the incomparable Mr. Don Berry is hosting. Heavy on the Ahmed Jamal. I stand over the stove and pore. It's not a Kennett Square mushroom omellete. But, it'll do. Good Weekend to all. Check out the Delawhere blog for an "Ode to a Backpack". Might make a girlfriend jealous.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Philly Bliss
On Wed., Dec. 8th, Marah and Nick Hornby will be playing at the North Star Bar in Philly (Poplar & 27th Sts.). Mr. Hornby will be reading selections from his book Songbook. Marah will be playing the songs he's reflecting on in his stories. I'm still kicking myself for missing last month's double-billing of Ozomotli and Galactic. This will serve as salve.

Here'a an Op-Ed piece Nick Hornby did in the NYT on May 21, 2004 on Marah and the injustices of life:

Nick Hornby | 2004-05-21

LONDON- It's just before Christmas last year, and the Philadelphia rock 'n' roll
band Marah is halfway through a typically ferocious, chaotic and inspirational
set when the doors to the right of the stage burst open and a young man
staggers in, carrying most of a drum kit. My friends and I have the best seats
in the house, a couple of feet away from Marah's frontmen, Serge and Dave
Bielanko, but when the drummer arrives we have to move our table back to
make room for him. He's not Marah's drummer (the band is temporarily
without) but he's a drummer, and he owns most of a drum kit, and his
appearance allows the band to make an even more glorious and urgent racket
than they had managed hitherto. The show ends triumphantly, as Marah
shows tend to do, with Serge lying on the floor amid the feet of his public,
wailing away on his harmonica. This gig happens to be taking place in a pub
called the Fiddler's Elbow, in Kentish Town, north London, but doubtless
scenes like it are being played out throughout the world: a bar band, a pickup
drummer from an earlier gig, probably even the table-shifting. It's just that
three or four months earlier, Bruce Springsteen, a fan of the band, invited
the Bielanko brothers to share the stage with him at Giants Stadium for an
encore, and Marah will shortly release what would, in a world with ears, be
one of 2004's most-loved straight-ahead rock albums, "20,000 Streets Under
the Sky." These guys shouldn't be playing in the Fiddler's Elbow with a pickup
drummer. And they shouldn't be passing a hat around at the end of the gig,
surely? How many people have passed around the hat in the same year that
they appeared at Giants Stadium? Thirty years ago, almost to the day, Jon
Landau published his influential, exciting, career-changing, and subsequently
much derided and parodied article about Bruce Springsteen in The Real Paper,
an alternative weekly — the article that included the line "I saw rock 'n' roll
future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." I had never read the rest of it until
recently, and it remains a lovely piece of writing. It begins, heartbreakingly:
"It's four in the morning and raining. I'm 27 today, feeling old, listening to my
records and remembering that things were different a decade ago." I'm only
guessing here, but I can imagine there are a number of you reading this who
can remember what it was like to feel old at 27, and how it bears no
resemblance to feeling old at 37, or 47. And you probably miss records
almost as much as you miss being 27. It's hard not to think about one's age
and how it relates to rock music. I just turned 47, and with each passing year
it becomes harder not to wonder whether I should be listening to something
that is still thought of as more age appropriate — jazz, folk, classical, opera,
funeral marches, the usual suspects. You've heard the arguments a million
times: most rock music is made by the young, for the young, about being
young, and if you're not young and you still listen to it, then you should be
ashamed of yourself. And finally I've worked out my response to all that: I
mostly agree with the description, even though it's crude, and makes no
effort to address the recent, mainly excellent work of Neil Young, Bob Dylan,
Robert Plant, Mr. Springsteen et al. The conclusion, however, makes no sense
to me any more. Youth is a quality not unlike health: it's found in greater
abundance among the young, but we all need access to it. (And not all young
people are lucky enough to be young. Think of those people at your college
who wanted to be politicians or corporate lawyers, for example.) I'm not
talking about the accouterments of youth: the unlined faces, the washboard
stomachs, the hair. The young are welcome to all that — what would we do
with it anyway? I'm talking about the energy, the wistful yearning, the
inexplicable exhilaration, the sporadic sense of invincibility, the hope that
stings like chlorine. When I was younger, rock music articulated these
feelings, and now that I'm older it stimulates them, but either way, rock 'n'
roll was and remains necessary because: who doesn't need exhilaration and a
sense of invincibility, even if it's only now and again? When I say that I have
found these feelings harder and harder to detect these last few years, I
understand that I run the risk of being seen as yet another nostalgic old
codger complaining about the state of contemporary music. And though it's
true that I'm an old codger, and that I'm complaining about the state of
contemporary music, I hope that I can wriggle out of the hole I'm digging for
myself by moaning that, to me, contemporary rock music no longer sounds
young — or at least, not young in that kind of joyous, uninhibited way. In
some ways, it became way too grown-up and full of itself. You can find plenty
that's angry, or weird, or perverse, or melancholy and world-weary; but that
loud, sometimes dumb celebration of being alive has got lost somewhere
along the way. Of course we want to hear songs about Iraq, and child
prostitution, and heroin addiction. And if bands see the need to use electric
drills instead of guitars in order to give vent to their rage, well, bring it on.
But is there any chance we could have the Righteous Brothers' "Little Latin
Lupe Lu" — or, better still, a modern-day equivalent — for an encore? In his
introduction to the Modern Library edition of "David Copperfield," the novelist
David Gates talks about literature hitting "that high-low fork in the road,
leading on the one hand toward `Ulysses' and on the other toward `Gone
With The Wind,' " and maybe rock music has experienced its own version.
You can either chase the Britney dollar, or choose the high-minded cult-rock
route that leads to great reviews and commercial oblivion. I buy that arty
stuff all the time, and a lot of it is great. But part of the point of it is that its
creators don't want to engage with the mainstream, or no longer think that
it's possible to do so, and as a consequence cult status is preordained rather
than accidental. In this sense, the squeaks and bleeps scattered all over the
lovely songs on the last Wilco album sound less like experimentation, and
more like a despairing audio suicide note. Maybe this split is inevitable in any
medium where there is real money to be made: it has certainly happened in
film, for example, and even literature was a form of pop culture, once upon a
time. It takes big business a couple of decades to work out how best to
exploit a cultural form; once that has happened, "that high-low fork in the
road" is unavoidable, and the middle way begins to look impossibly daunting.
It now requires more bravery than one would ever have thought necessary to
try and march straight on, to choose neither the high road nor the low. Who
has the nerve to pick up where Dickens or John Ford left off? In other words,
who wants to make art that is committed and authentic and intelligent, but
that sets out to include, rather than exclude? To do so would run the risk of
seeming not only sincere and uncool — a stranger to all notions of
postmodernism — but arrogant and vaultingly ambitious as well. Marah may
well be headed for commercial oblivion anyway, of course. "20,000 Streets
Under the Sky" is their fourth album, and they're by no means famous yet, as
the passing of the hat in the Fiddler's Elbow indicates. But what I love about
them is that I can hear everything I ever loved about rock music in their
recordings and in their live shows. Indeed, in the shows you can often hear
their love for the rock canon uninflected — they play covers of the
Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait," or the Jam's "In the City," and they
usually end with a riffed-up version of the O'Jays' "Love Train." They play an
original called "The Catfisherman" with a great big Bo Diddley beat, and they
quote the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" and the Who's "Magic Bus." And
they do this not because they're a bar band and people expect cover
versions, but because they are unafraid of showing where their music comes
from, and unafraid of the comparisons that will ensue — just as Bruce
Springsteen (who really did play "Little Latin Lupe Lu" for an encore,
sometimes) was unafraid. It was this kind of celebration that Jon Landau had
in mind when he said in his review that "I saw my rock 'n' roll past flash
before my eyes." For Mr. Landau, the overbearing self-importance of rock
music of the late 60's and early 70's had left him feeling jaded; for me, it's
the overbearing self-consciousness of the 90's. The Darkness know that we
might laugh at them, so they laugh at themselves first; the White Stripes
may be a blues band, but their need to exude cool is every bit as strong as
their desire to emit heat, and the calculations have been made accordingly:
there's as much artfulness as there is art. In truth, I don't care whether the
music sounds new or old: I just want it to have ambition and exuberance, a
lack of self-consciousness, a recognition of the redemptive power of noise, an
acknowledgment that emotional intelligence is sometimes best articulated
through a great chord change, rather than a furrowed brow. Outkast's
brilliant "Hey Ya!," a song that for a few brief months last year united races
and critics and teenagers and nostalgic geezers, had all that and more; you
could hear Prince in there, and the Beatles, and yet the song belonged
absolutely in and to the here and now, or at least the there and then of
2003. Both "Hey Ya!" and Marah's new album are roots records, not in the
sense that they were made by men with beards who play the fiddle and sing
with a finger in an ear, but in the sense that they have recognizable influences
— influences that are not only embedded in pop history, but that have been
properly digested. In the suffocatingly airless contemporary pop-culture
climate, you can usually trace influences back only as far as Radiohead, or
Boyz II Men, or the Farrelly Brothers, and regurgitation rather than digestion
would be the more accurate gastric metaphor. The pop music critic of The
Guardian recently reviewed a British band that reminded him — pleasantly, I
should add — of "the hammering drum machine and guitar of controversial
80's trio Big Black and the murky noise of early Throbbing Gristle." I have no
doubt whatsoever that the band he was writing about (a band with a name
too confrontational and cutting-edge to be repeated here) will prove to be
one of the most significant cultural forces of the decade, nor that it will
produce music that forces us to confront the evil and horror that resides
within us all. However, there is still a part of me that persists in thinking that
rock music, and indeed all art, has an occasional role to play in the
increasingly tricky art of making us glad we're alive. I'm not sure that
Throbbing Gristle and its descendants will ever pull that off, but the members
of Marah do, often. I hope they won't be passing around the hat by the end
of this year, but if they are, please give generously. Nick Hornby is the
author, most recently, of "Songbook."

It's Philly this time around. They're back home. Christmas is coming early.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Three Day Fish Hotel
As we were driving, leisurely I might add, one bright blue-skyed, white-cloud puffed Sunday afternoon, my ever-loving wife ah-hummed and then carefully pointed out that I’ve been suffering curmudgeonitis for the past 2-3 years. Since illness is diagnosed by the eye of the perceiver, I realized that it was she that was suffering from my curmudgeonitis, not I. I was merely wrapped up in the soothing blanket of my opinions.

I was not surprised that she had brought up her analysis of my crustiness while we were enjoying the day. I’m an off-the-boat-from-Europe 100% Slavic kind of guy and therefore tend to display Slavic sensibilities (which are sometimes viewed as lack thereof); my ever-loving wife is American content, which means she’s got a bit of variety. Luckily, I’d married a woman with a touch of Hapsburg and a trace of Magyar in her blood. So, she came to her sardonic world views naturally. Personal critiquing has been raised to a high art by Slavic women, even those with just a slight presence of that heritage. The story goes that, had there been a Slavic woman on Jesus’ walk to Mt. Calvary, she’d been complaining to him that while He was out with his drinking buddies having a good time, she was stuck at home slapping clothes on rocks. As I saw it, what better way to cheer one’s spirits and keep the blood flowing than to have one’s character criticized.

So, I ventured into that curmudgeonitis diagnosis with my mouth already curving toward the grinning stage. While the ever-loving wife is quick with a barb, she is as generous with the wit. The medicine she dispenses is sweet to the ear. It’s when it gets inside the head that the true intent is known.

"Give me an example of this curmudgeon thing.", I asked.

"Well, how about all these "If I owned/ran this…" situations you comment on?", she replied. The "all these" part of her comment clued me in that she’s been storing my commentaries for a while. Her inventory was full and our Sunday drive seemed to be a good enough time to hold a liquidation of her memory assets.

Going on, she threw out, "It’s the queue thing, isn’t it?"
I seem to have a lot of "things". If it’s not the "curmudgeon thing", then it’s the "queue thing". And if it’s not that, it’s the "memory thing", which is a "thing" of black hole proportions. Now, gentle reader, you may think me henpecked or victimized. There, you are wrong. Both my ever-loving wife and I agree that, like all sentient beings, I am an ongoing project. Our disagreement lies at what stage of the project I’m at. If I were a piece of pottery, I’d say I’m past the forming, firing, and glazing stages. I’m almost ready for the “admiring glances on the pedestal stage”. Granted, it’s a low pedestal, perhaps a brick, but an off the ground scenario, nonetheless. My wife, ever-loving that she is, would probably say I’m still on the potter’s wheel, spinning like a cheap set of rims.
Granted, this "queue thing" she’s referring to is one of my many Achille’s Heels. I’ve heard of this Job guy and his patience. Maybe in the days of Yore, patience was a talent like channel-surfing is today; something that most every had to a degree based on the pace and technology available in those days. Measuring time via a sundial versus by an atomic clock sets different standards for societal acceptance (or demand) of behaviour. Patience today is measured in seconds as compared to days (or years) in Job’s time. Perhaps, my ever-loving wife is being too Biblical when she’s discussing my "queue thing". Hmmm.

But back to her "If I owned/ran this…" situations you comment on?" statement. It’s Holiday time. Time when one’s emotional train choo-choo’s from Love Station to Hate Depot, with stops along the way at Exasperation Gulch, Pecuniary Peak, & Backorder Chasm. Throw in visits from relatives and you’ve got a train wreck waiting to happen. Every season starts with Hope and inevitably ends with Heartbreak, of one size or another.
Mulling over this year’s holiday time trip, I came up with The Three Day Fish Hotel. Not a complete solution. That would require the True Miracle. The Hotel would be a small token of a man’s limited magical skills.
(to be continued….shortly)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Click for Wilmington, Delaware Forecast Locations of visitors to this page eXTReMe Tracker
follow me on Twitter