Friday, June 30, 2006

Funny-strange and funny-haha

This week ROUTE 1's FRIDAY QUESTION returned to ask readers to name an artist or band who had to overcome a funny name to strike it big. What's so funny?
Inger H. -- Death Cab for Cutie springs to mind. That kind of name probably sounds clever and ironic when you're playing gigs in tiny clubs in Seattle, but in a few years it'll sound as goofy as Strawberry Alarm Clock. Oh wait. It already does.
Annika H. -- The Wiggles. Everything about it is funny.
Rob K. -- Who can forget Engelbert Humperdinck... million-dollar voice of an era that sported the yin to his name's yang... Tom Jones.
Kerstin H. -- Gnarls Barkley. It's a one-of-a-kind name.
Erik H. -- I have been listening to the rambunctious, early 1980s punk band Tenpole Tudor (pictured above) throughout the week. It was hard to take them seriously. First, there was the ridiculous name. Second, there was the abysmal miming they attempted on Top of the Pops (YouTube has a couple of astonishing examples) and then there was the "singing" of leader Eddie (third from left in the above photo). He was really an actor -- Edward Tudor-Pole -- and he featured in "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle" and has subsequently appeared in more than 30 roles, according to the IMDb. They had catchy songs, though, that made up for a name I find both funny-strange and funny-haha.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Such a great song

Bah Bah Bah Bah Bah Bahbaaa!
Well, something like that.
I have been listening to a lot of bouncy pop-reggae this morning: It matches the sunny skies that have finally replaced the clouds and rain of recent days.
I just heard "Hold Me Tight," the Top-5 hit from 1968 by Johnny Nash. These days, an American radio listener is far more likely to hear the 1972 smash "I Can See Clearly Now" than "Hold Me Tight." That's a shame.
Lyn Taitt backs Nash and apparently created the arrangement for "Hold Me Tight."
It's positively infectious and matches the blue skies up above.

Monday, June 26, 2006

If your name is Nerlyn...

You might want to move. Or change your name. Or cultivate a talent so esteemed that people don't even care about your name.
Nerlyn Taitt took all three routes to elude his name.
He moved from his native Trinidad to Jamaica, he shortened his name to the more streamlined "Lyn" and in the mid-1960s he became the guitarist who singularly defined Jamaica's "rock steady" musical era.
Taitt and a small number of other musicians took the frenetic pace of Jamaica's existing ska style and sloooooowed it down. The resulting musical backdrop enabled vocalists to croon in a soulful style, blazing the trail for the phenomenal rise of reggae a decade later.
I have been listening to Lyn Taitt -- and his regular backing band the Jets -- as I have been driving around today. I admire his guitar style, a "less is more" approach that pared down extraneous notes. Rather than streaming toward the listener, Taitt's playing stands out because of its beautiful starkness.
It's a style, I would say, that almost makes the name "Nerlyn" seem cool. Almost.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

It sure wasn't pretty

David Beckham became the first England player to score at three World Cups as his curling, 30-yard free kick sent the Three Lions into the quarterfinals with a 1-0 win over Ecuador.
Today's match wasn't the most inspiring of performances, however, and England will need to play much better next weekend.
While watching the match, Kerstin and I munched on sourdough bread and California Bread Dip we purchased at the San Francisco Farmers' Market. The dip contains olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, basil and chili and is WONDERFUL. You simply soak a chunk of sourdough bread in it, and the dip is sublimely delicious.
Much lovelier than England's less-than-inspired win.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Germany equals wolf, Sweden equals lamb

It's not easy watching Germany take on Sweden in the World Cup right now.
Well, if you are a Sweden fan like me it's not easy.
Mighty Deutschland are tearing lil' Sverige apart. Lukas Podolski scored twice in the first dozen minutes and Teddy Lucic got himself sent off for Sweden.
Sweden looked like they were playing a couple men down BEFORE Lucic received his walking papers. Now, they really are playing short-handed.
It might be an ugly second half, but I feel compelled to watch. Poor Sweden!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Feel a Little Better

The FRIDAY QUESTION feature returns next week here at Route 1.
First comes the (none-to-surprising) revelation that I FEASTED on reggae during our recent Bay Area visit.
I purchased or received for Father's Day a trio of excellent sets of music:
1) A Treasure Isle compilation of rocksteady songs produced by Duke Reid. These tunes are real classics of the early 1960s and represent probably my favorite style of music.
2) A Studio 1 ska compilation. These bouncy tunes represent my comfort music. They have served me well, in fact, as I have returned from vacation. My arrival back at work at the newspaper coincides with a bitter, messy labor dispute between a local hospital and its nurses. I am covering the dispute (which seems headed inexorably toward a nasty strike) and can seem to do no right in the eyes of the warring parties. Ska has helped comfort me, as I find myself in the middle of haters.
3) The Trojan records REGGAE RARITIES box set. The three discs in this excellent set represent songs previously unreleased by reggae's premier reissue label.
It seems difficult to fathom how catchy songs such as "Feel a Little Better" by the Lloyd Parks-led Techniques, "(Name) Ring a Bell" by The Cables and "Why Did You Leave" by the Young Souls failed to become reggae staples. They are beautiful and memorable in spades.
I listened to the Reggae Rarities discs as I drove to a couple assignments today. They helped soothe me and helped me transition from vacation to workaday grind.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Love is a Treasure, strange but true

Sorry for the 11-day gap between blog posts. I was on vacation.
Only, it was more than a vacation: I returned "home" to the Bay Area with my family in tow.
It was a trip with enormous significance for me. Our two girls get to see where my wife Jill grew up -- the Dubuque, Iowa area -- every day. The last time they saw where I grew up, we were pushing now-7-year-old Annika around in a stroller.
We stayed with my sister in San Francisco and my mom in Reno, Nev. and we lived like locals. We rode buses, shopped in Chinese produce stores, toured Lake Tahoe by boat, took a Muni Metro train to a Giants' game and ate burritos at the beach on Father's Day.
The girls fell in love with San Francisco. They welcomed the diversity. They appreciated the unique beauty.
We only did two "touristy" things: We walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and briefly strolled through Chinatown.
Throughout our travels, Freddie McKay's rocksteady song "Love is a Treasure" played through the speakers of our rental car and in my head as we walked.
McKay's song about love, "strange but true" struck me as appropriate for my relationship with the Bay Area. I have lived away from it since 1989, but it remains the only place that can pull me back like a magnet. Strange but true.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Help! I'm stuck in the giant Coke bottle

Jill, the girls, my sister Inger and I attended today's Giants-Pirates game at AT&T Park.
I experienced three distinct SINKING FEELINGS at the ballgame:
1) When I followed 7-year-old Annika down The Guzzler, the longest of the metal slides down the ballpark's famous giant Coca-Cola bottle, I became stuck halfway down. Fearing I would spend the rest of my days ridiculed by children awaiting their turn at the top, I scrambled down the slide on my hands and feet. I emerged to the laughter of several adults, presumably because of the hysterically frightened look on my face.
2) When the girls discovered that AT&T Park has a "Build a Bear Workshop" on the premises. Nice to meet you, Cutie the Giants Monkey and GiGi the orange Giants bear. Oh yeah... did I mention they play an insufferable version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" when you squeeze their hands?
3) When Jose Bautista hit his first career grand slam, rallying the Pirates to a 7-5 victory over S.F. Until Tim Worrell threw the fateful pitch, I actually believed that the presence of four Hogstrom girls -- Jill, Inger, Kerstin and Annika -- would finally counteract my legendary bad Giants JUJU. I have seen the Giants in person dozens upon dozens of times. I can count the times I have seen them win on one hand.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

M.T.Y.L.T.T. revisited

Back in September, I wrote about the Dream Kings and their 1957 single "M.T.Y.L.T.T."
I fear that this great song will fade into obscurity. Internet searches provide almost no information on the song, the group or their lead tenor, Tom Daniel II (indeed, yesterday the first result from a Google search was a link to Route 1).
Then I received a message from Tom Daniel III, the son of the Dream Kings' leader.
"My father wrote "M.T.Y.L.T.T." and sang lead," the younger Daniel wrote. "He is one of two surviving members of both the Dream Kings and Drakes."
The message contained an invitation to call and possibly set up an interview. It is a call I intend to make today.
The interview will have to wait until after we return from a West Coast vacation. If the interview results in renewed interest in "M.T.Y.L.T.T." -- one of the greatest songs too few people have ever heard -- then the wait will be so worth it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rockin out the down under way

I interviewed a rural health practitioner from Hamilton, Victoria, Australia this morning at a local community college.
En route back to the office, I cranked up the volume on "Born Out of Time," one of the greatest compilations of all time.
The 22-song CD chronicles the Australian indie scene of 1979-88 and is packed with gems by The Lime Spiders ("Slave Girl," an absolutely classic rock song), Scientists ("Swampland"), Lipstick Killers ("Hindu Gods of Love"), Le Femme ("Chelsea Kids") and a variety of offshoots of the tremendous Radio Birdman, including The Visitors, New Race and The New Christs.
Powerful stuff, this is, with added bonuses of rare songs by Died Pretty and Hoodoo Gurus -- a pair of bands who emerged from the Aussie indie scene to find greater glory.
I know I have written about this compilation before and I know I will write about it again. It's just soooooo good.
G'day Mate!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Why would I put on a hat on when my best friend just got blown up right in front of me?

It's the last day of school for the girls.
As they scurry along, selecting just the right ensemble for the big occasion, I have been watching and rewatching Wes Anderson's American Express ad on YouTube.
YouTube features the two-minute, extended version of the spot, which mocks independent film-making and never fails to make me laugh.
You can see it here.
"Not enough smoke and the snow was too loud," Anderson says as he yells "cut."
"Can you do a .357 with a bayonet?" he asks the prop man.
"Those my birds? We need those," he tells director of photography Robert Yeoman as a flock of pigeons buzz him before a crane shot.
The in-jokes include someone introducing Anderson to the daughter of a man who lent the film production a car. The same thing happened during the making of "Rushmore," and the daughter played a cameo as the usher for Max's final play.
Well, the girls are still seeking items necessary for the last day of school. I better see what I can do to facilitate the process.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Summer of the robot?

England supporters like me sure hope so!
Lanky (6-foot-7) Liverpool striker Peter Crouch celebrates goals with a painfully awkward version of "The Robot" dance.
I watched live on television this morning as "The Crouchatron" celebrated three times after his hat-trick propelled England to a 6-0 win over Jamaica in a friendly at Old Trafford.
English nightclubbers have adopted Crouch's Robotic stylings for the dancefloor and YouTube offers several hilarious versions as well.
Hopefully, in a week's time Crouch will have many more opportunities to dance, as England open their World Cup campaign!

Friday, June 02, 2006

OVER!!! .... RATED!!!

Route 1's FRIDAY QUESTION asked readers to select an overrated song, album or artist:
Dave B. -- Most overrated song: "I'll be There for You" by The Rembrandts. Most overrated album: "Zooropa" by U2.
Brian C. -- Blasphemy from this Beatles fan? Perhaps. But I simply cannot warm up to Paul McCartney's "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard." (2005.) Anybody want to buy it?
Diane H. -- I realize the Grammys aren't exactly an arbiter of great music, but how the hell did Mariah Carey get nominated for like, 13 awards this year? I can't tell any of her new songs apart when I hear them on the radio. They all sound like standard-issue, watered down R&B to me.
Rick T. -- Garth Brooks!!! Thinks he's country, wishes he was country, heroes are rock & roll artists and turned his back on the Grand Ole Opry, (which he should be kicked off for not appearing as he is supposed to as scheduled)
Erik H. -- Sorry, grunge fans. Nirvana and "Nevermind" are waaay overrated. Since the beginning, I have been convinced that Kurt and the lads sounded like a fresh alternative to all other rock music -- but only to listeners unfamiliar with antecedent alt-rockers such as Pixies. The musical dynamism for which Cobain became synonymous can be heard in even the earliest work by Black Francis and the gang.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Wes Anderson on the DVD player

This week, my nightly relaxation has come in the form of Wes Anderson films on DVD.
"Rushmore" is probably my favorite. I have watched it repeatedly -- even with the audio commentary playing. I am obviously a committed fan.
"Bottle Rocket" is also a fabulous film. It reminds me of its Nouvelle Vague, misfit-crime caper antecedents, including "Bande à Part" and "Tirez Sur Le Pianiste." It also reminds me of other notable filmmaking debuts, including Godard's "À Bout de Souffle" and "Reservoir Dogs," because in all three instances the viewer gains a real sense that the filmmaker is rapturous with a love of cinema. It shows on the screen.
Tonight I watched "The Royal Tenenbaums." This 2001 Anderson feature continues the filmmaker's attraction to glorious failure, picture-perfect soundtrack choices and that mixture of comedy and drama that -- I think -- best mirrors "real life."
Next week I might go back to watching Japanese yakuza movies, the Nouvelle Vague classics I have cherished since college, or even an old standby like "Animal House."
This week, however, I have been devoting all movie-watching to Wes Anderson. I think I made a good choice.