Friday, August 31, 2007

This FRIDAY QUESTION is soooo junior high school

ROUTE 1 staff assistant (and interior design consultant) Kerstin entered junior high school this week. Readers gave her a warm welcome by answering the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What music did you like in junior high school?"
Laura C. -- I had a big poster of dreamy Andy Gibb on my wall, and I liked
everything from Queen to KISS to Todd Rundgren, but the music I loved best was by Elton John...from Madman Across the Water to Honkey Chateau to Caribou and Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy. In my seventh-grade year he appeared in the movie Tommy as the Pinball Wizard, and in my mind that glittering, glammy vision far eclipsed (and almost made up for) the perky duet with Kiki Dee that same year. Unfortunately, the theatrics ultimately seemed to become more important than the music, and by the '80s he'd lost the magic, as far as I was concerned. Sad. But hey... we'll always have "Rocket Man" and "Levon," and I've got to thank him for that.
Lisa Y. -- Michael Jackson baby!
Rick T. -- Country music, and of course, Elvis.
Ellen B. -- Wham, "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go."
Diane H. -- I remember loving the Stray Cats and Wham. In fact, the first cassette I ever owned was Wham! Make if Big, which I received for Christmas when I was in the sixth or seventh grade. Back when I thought George Michael was dreamy.
Jim S. -- I don't respond too often, but I thought Kerstin might like some oldies among the respondents. When I was in junior high school, some of my favorite songs were "American Pie," by Don McLean; "Maggie May," by Rod Stewart; "Heart of Gold," by Neil Young; and, of course, that all-time fun classic, "Brand New Key," by Melanie.
Mary N.-P. -- It was almost all novelty songs -- "Wolverton Mountain," "Ahab the Arab" (and all of Ray Stevens' comic songs), "Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," "Purple People-Eater." I had no love life, so all that romantic stuff didn't resonate with me.
Inger H. -- Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, oh, the list goes on. Is there a name for it when the music you listened to as a young teen starts getting played on the "lite rock" stations? Oh yeah. I guess it means I'm a grup.
Mike M. -- Ah, junior high! My height of geekdom -- before geeks were cool! Prince, Billy Joel, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Elton John, Styx, Bee Gees. And let's not forget John Denver, Anne Murray, and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture!
Brian C. -- My years in junior high, 1966-68, spanned a great time in rock and pop music. Where to begin? British Invasion, Summer of Love, Sgt. Pepper's and such varied hits as "Harper Valley PTA" and "Ballad of the Green Berets."
Mike D. -- I remember our eighth-grade religion teacher, Fr. Ralph, asking us what our favorite song was. The only one I could think of at the time was The Eagles' "Hotel California," because my sister had just gotten the album.
Erik H. -- Like a lot of life, my junior high years were a time of transition musically as well. I gradually left behind my KISS eight-tracks and started following the far-off, excitingly exotic sounds of the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and the Damned.
This week, I was reminded of a song that really resonated with me during my junior high school years. My dad had purchased an album for me back then, Led Zeppelin's "Presence," and my favorite song on it was "Nobody's Fault But Mine."
This week, I heard the Blind Willie Johnson original of "It's Nobody's Fault But Mine," and I couldn't help but think about junior high school.
Here is the music junior-high school student Kerstin has been enjoying this week:
"I have been listening to girl groups, I guess, if you count 'Hollaback Girl' and 'Leader of the Pack.'"

Thursday, August 30, 2007

This one's for Hilly

Hilly Kristal wanted the Bowery club he founded the club in 1973 to draw country music to New York, so he named it CBGB & OMFUG, for "Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandizers."
It didn't quite work out that way.
Not many musical artists wanted to travel that far deep into a seedy New York neighborhood.
Instead, a weird collection of artists, glue-sniffin' street toughs and neighborhood eccentrics picked up guitars and began creating their own music at CBGB.
I am listening to one such collection -- the RAMONES -- this morning in honor of Kristal, who recently passed away age 75.
In CBGB's early days, the bands not performing on a given night would often form the audience for the band that was on stage. Members of Blondie, Talking Heads, Television and others would be listening to the Ramones, for example.
It was a small but highly influential scene, and by all accounts Kristal gave the fledgling bands plenty of leeway to develop unencumbered by commercial concerns.
The results, as the cliché says, speak for themselves:
"Beat on the brat, beat on the brat, beat on the brat with a baseball bat oh yeah, oh yeah, uh-oh!"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Baby, Please Don't Go"

I only have one song by BIG JOE WILLIAMS on iTunes, but it's a real classic.
"Baby, Please Don't Go" is one of the seminal blues tunes, covered by countless artists, including AC/DC, Aerosmith, Paul Butterfield, The Doors, Bob Dylan, Al Kooper, Van Morrison, Paul Revere & The Raiders and Muddy Waters.
Big Joe himself recorded at least two versions of this classic song, that concerns a man pleading with his woman to come back.
I have the 1945 version -- recorded 10 years after the first. In this later version, Williams' sparse Delta style is fleshed out by additional musicians such as Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck "Rice" Miller) on harmonica.
I am listening to "Baby, Please Don't Go" and other blues classics this morning, as I wait for the sun to break through the overcast and as I prepare for another night shift at work.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not much "idle" in these moments

I drove Kerstin to her second day of middle school this morning -- a trip more harrowing than I could have imagined.
I had to peer through the sun's glare while negotiating a rabbit's warren of steep narrow streets populated by parked cars and onrushing school buses.
Ironic, then, that the song oozing from the car stereo was the title track to Grant Green's "Idle Moments" album.
Vincent DeMasi wrote of the album in "Guitar Player" magazine in 2006:
"Not only Green's finest session, but also one of the hottest small-group dates of the hard-bop era. On the languid, 15-minute title track, Green is the paradigm of taste and restraint. Then, he cranks it up a notch for the exploratory whole-tone and modal sections of 'Nomad.'"
I was anything but the "paradigm of taste and restraint" later in the day, when I discovered I had made a stupid journalistic mistake in misspelling a person's name. I yelled at myself in language unfit for any moments, idle or otherwise.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Junior high school and the "cryptic world of frozen death"

Annika and I accompanied Kerstin to Jefferson Middle School this morning -- for her first day in sixth grade.
Kerstin was nervous and excited in equal measure, with a little fear tossed in for added spice.
"I don't know ANYBODY," she gasped when we surveyed the scene at the front steps of the school.
Then, a horde of her classmates from last year spontaneously appeared. Kerstin felt much better after that, and Annika and I trekked back home.
Now, I am preparing for a rare night shift at work while reading about an altogether different trek.
I am reading H. P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," a novella originally presented as a serial in the February, March and April 1936 issues of Astounding Stories.
It concerns a group of Antarctic explorers who discover horrific secrets during an expedition.
I have been reading a collection of Lovecraft tales selected and edited by Joyce Carol Oates. "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Call of Cthulhu" are among my favorites in the anthology. They are best read in daylight. Night-time Lovecraft reading tends to foster the development of vague dreams of surreal fears.
Hey! Just like junior high school!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Double FELINE feature

We settled in for a night of movie watching last night, cuing up the DVD player for what we called our "Double FELINE feature."
1) We opened the show with a DVD of a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats." The girls loved it. Kerstin sang along to "Memory" with Grizabella, while Annika termed Rum Tum Tugger the "Elvis of Cats."
2) I introduced Jill and the girls to Jacques Tourneur's "Cat People." It is one of the greatest of films, I think, with Simone Simon (pictured) starring as Irena Dubrovna, a Serbian immigrant convinced that she is among the cat people of her village, who transform into deadly panthers when aroused by jealousy, anger or passion.
The girls were transfixed by the shadowy imagery of the 1942 film.
Annika jumped at the "bus," a famous effect in which Tourneur interrupts our focus on a character's anxiety ridden face with the hissing of a bus door .
I love "Cat People" for its reliance on the power of suggestion -- and not technical effects -- to generate its fearful atmosphere. Plus I have a "thing" for Simone Simon.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

"Whiskey and women would not let me pray"

Cover artwork by R. Crumb... Three 78s issued in 1930 by Paramount Records, another bunch of songs recorded by Alan Lomax in 1941-42 for the Library of Congress and a trio of 1965 concert recordings during his "rediscovery" phase... I am LOVING my "Heroes of the Blues" compilation of SON HOUSE songs.
Kerstin and I listened to it en route to the Dubuque Regional Humane Society, where we volunteered today.
The songs from 1930 -- featuring a booming voice and hard-to-hear guitar -- sound like urgent messages from beyond. Recording equipment had improved by 1941, so on the Lomax sides you can actually hear what House is singing about.
The 1965 pieces are stark -- on "John The Revelator," House is accompanied only by hand claps. It sounds remarkable.
House preached before he sang the blues, and the conflict between religion and "whiskey and women" is inherent in his work.
His career ended tragically, almost as if ripped from the blues lyric sheet.
He passed out drunk in a snowbank during the winter of 1969-70 and his hands became frostbitten. He played only occasionally after this accident. When House died in 1988 in Detroit, it caught many blues aficionados by surprise. They thought this musical giant had already long since passed away.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Read any good books lately?

ROUTE 1 readers, alarmed that a quarter of Americans have no need for bookmarks, provide some evidence of R.I.F. by answering the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"Read any good books lately?"
Mike M. -- Doris Kearns Goodwin, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," 2005. Also, Victor Klemperer, "I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years," 1942-45.
Lisa Y. -- "Dinner With a Perfect Stranger" by David Gregory. A man receives an invitation to dinner with Jesus, which he thinks is a hoax. He goes, despite making his wife mad about being gone again, and what he learns is interesting... It's a quick read and teaches about various religions.
Rick T. -- Chicago Magazine! Gotta keep up with the BIG city.
Mary N.-P. -- I'm reading one now and I'm almost finished (but I don't want it to end). "The Tender Bar" is a wonderful memoir, and more, about a boy growing up without a father's presence and his search for that male presence in his life, particularly in the regular (and very irregular) patrons of a N.Y. bar. Author J. R. Moehringer got a scholarship to Yale, worked at the N.Y. Times, had a fellowship at Harvard and is an incredibly fun, fresh writer. The book is a paean to words and writing -- I give it 4 stars out of 4.
Brian C. -- "Burying the Black Sox," by Gene Carney. Not necessarily a "good" book -- I had no problem putting it down -- but an in-depth look at a topic of interest to me: baseball officialdom's attempt to cover up the Black Sox Scandal of the 1919 World Series.
Roseanne H. -- "Eating Heaven" by Jennie Shortridge. It is about a food writer who lives in Seattle. It is funny, sad, sensual and hopeful. A great read. In fact, I chose it for my book club members who are coming for dinner Wednesday night to discuss the book.
Erik H. -- Every time I finish a story in "Tales of H. P. Lovecraft," edited by Joyce Carol Oates, I feel a vague unease, as if I was remembering scattered details of a horrifying dream. And that's a good thing with horror story writers!
Last night, I read Lovecraft's story "The Colour out of Space." The premise -- a substance within a meteorite poisons the crops, livestock and ultimately people of a farm -- seemed eerily similar to some of the recently history's worst ecological disasters.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Everybody say, rock it, don't stop it

Last night I watched a fascinating documentary on the New York music scene in landmark year 1977.
While disco claimed the headlines with its elitist clubs, punk was flourishing downtown and pioneering DJs were planting the seeds of the hip hop revolution.
So much of our mainstream pop music traces its roots to that city in that special year.
The documentary also raised an interesting theory -- that the rise of DJ culture received an unexpected boost after the summer BLACK OUT, because so many aspiring artists pilfered mixing equipment from looted electronics stores.
This morning, I am listening to a later creation by one of those pioneering DJs -- one who not only had his own mixing equipment and had no need for looting -- AFRIKA BAMBAATAA.
In 1977, Bambaataa's sound system was among the most feared in the Bronx and uptown Manhattan. Those were the days when DJs hotwired their equipment into street lights to power their outdoor dance parties.
Now, I am digging the 1982 smash "Planet Rock," a song with The Soul Sonic Force that shows Bambaataa's creativity. He took the main melody from Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express," the drum-machine track from the Kraftwerk song "Numbers" and bits from other songs to create a template for electro-funk and future dance music.
It makes for heady stuff, but also catchy as hell dance music.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"History lives on in the books at home"

So, only one in four Americans bothered to read a book last year, eh?
That explains so much.
Today I am tripping down memory lane, listening to a band that sang about the "dumbing down" of society -- Gang of Four.
Here is how "MOJO's Punk: The Whole Story" -- a book, by the way -- described this landmark album and ever-present in my record collection:
"In its day, Gang of Four's debut was punk's most savage/extreme record, stealing the march from The Clash for sheer political and musical muscle. Entertainment! implemented the movement's anarchist rhetoric (destroy to create, etc.), deconstructing rock's accepted flow and putting the pieces in service of fierce anti-monetarist ideas. Backed by an awesomely taut, funky rhythm section, Andy Gill made harsher noises than any guitarist ever had before."
And they read loads of books!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity... but at least my neck feels better

My sore neck feels much better today, following a regimen of hot baths, regular Tylenol use and bed rest.
I find staying in bed all day to be interminably boring. Yesterday, I tried to occupy my day by listening to my iPod (that only helped a little), sleeping (turning over in bed made my neck hurt like hell) and reading H. P. Lovecraft.
I read "The Shunned House," one of the best haunted house-type stories I have come across.
Then, I began re-reading "The Call of Cthulhu," one of Lovecraft's best-known works.
The story's theme is summed up in one of the opening passages, within the writings of narrator Francis Wayland Thurston:
"We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far."
Lovecraft meant to convey the vast, unknowable majority of the universe and that the moments when man goes too far in uncovering some of the truths about the universe often lead to big trouble.
It's a theme Lovecraft returned to throughout his stories.
I'll finish re-reading this famous story today, happy at least that I can finally turn my head without yelping in pain!

Monday, August 20, 2007

"Spellbound," frightbound and bedbound

I somehow injured my neck, a development that left me stuck in bed most of the day.
I couldn't turn my head without yelping in pain, so I have been reading some H. P. Lovecraft horror short stories while listening to Siouxsie and the Banshees while flat on my back in bed.
I have loved Siouxsie and the Banshees since high school, but only just recently learned that the lead singer's real name was Susan BALLION, not Susan DALLION, as she said in some interviews. It seems she did not want fans bothering her mother by turning up at the family home in suburban Chislehurst, between Bromley and Bexley -- southeast of London.
I don't really care about Siouxsie Sioux's real name.
The sound she created with her innovative band always sounded so CINEMATIC compared to the other bands that blossomed out of punk's late-1970s heyday.
I am taking a break from my bedridden routine to type this blog entry, but my neck feels stiff and sore again, so I think I am going to swallow some Tylenol, grab a chunk of chocolate and listen to some Buzzcocks. I'll try anything to feel better!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Rain in the skies and "Rats in the Walls"

Dripping black clouds blanket the sky, snuffing the normal morning daylight and replacing it with a twilit gloom. A bone-aching dampness pervades the house as a ferocious rain obliterates the neighborhood scenes outside my window...
Sounds like the perfect atmosphere for reading some H. P. LOVECRAFT!
I have always been drawn to the criminally under-appreciated -- in music, cinema and literature -- and Lovecraft certainly fits that bill, at least during his lifetime.
I find it absolutely absurd that a writer whose imagination could render the memorably chilling "Call of Cthulhu" (the most frightening story I have ever had the morbid pleasure to read) had to sell his works for a pittance to pulp magazines -- pulp magazines that for the most part didn't even give him the honor of a cover story!
I think I most adore Lovecraft's work because so often it leaves the lingering impression of a sinister dream populated by vaguely remembered but soul-disturbing imagery. I also like the idea that there are aspects of the universe that humans don't know -- and that we cannot know -- because that knowledge would be so beyond out comprehension as to be overwhelmingly horrible.
This morning I read "The Rats in the Walls," a perfectly paced Lovecraft short story that appeared in the March 1924 edition of "Weird Tales" -- only after it had been rejected by another magazine called "Argosy All-Story Weekly."
In "The Rats in the Walls," a man restores his ancestral home, only to find it harbors secrets -- and genetically predisposed and immoral culinary habits -- too horrific to fully comprehend.
"The Rats in the Walls" is a good place to start if you consider reading Lovecraft's work -- perfect for a gloomy rainy day like today.
I wouldn't recommend starting with "The Call of Cthulhu" -- that never ceases to completely frighten me, even on the most beautiful, cloudless day.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mind Altering Demented Lessons In Beats

Otis Jackson, Jr. might be the busiest man in hip hop.
I have been listening to a lot of alternative hip hop lately, which means I have invariably heard Jackson in many of his various guises.
The Oxnard, Calif. native records and produces others under such aliases as Madlib, Jaylib (a collaboration with the late J Dilla), Madvillain (a collaboration with MF Doom), Quasimoto and Yesterday's New Quintet -- a jazz combo in which Jackson plays all of the instruments.
Jackson's background would seem to make music an obvious vocation. His father, Otis Jackson, Sr., fronted R&B bands and played in bands for Tina Turner, Bobby "Blue" Bland and others. His mother, Sinesca Jackson, is a folk/blues songwriter. His uncle, Jon Faddis, is a trumpeter who played with Dizzy Gillespie.
I love the Madlib creations, in part, because Jackson has such an affinity for sampling jazz. He even remixed some Blue Note classics as the album "Shades of Blue."
Check the liner notes on underground rap or alternative hip hop albums, and you'll probably see "Madlib" listed.
I have been checking the notes on my CDs, and he is everywhere.

Friday, August 17, 2007

What's that song you were singing?

ROUTE 1 readers have answered the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"Which songs had you singing along this week?"
Kerstin H. -- "Mamma Mia," like, a hundred times!
Rick T. -- A lot of Elvis songs. Long live the King!
Annika H. -- "GNO (Girls Night Out)," by Miley Cyrus.
Erik H. -- I mostly sang along to Kid Frost's pioneering Chicano hip hop song, "La Raza." I always have a hard time with the chorus, however. Kid Frost sings "This is for la Raza," but as he is Mexican-American, he rolls the "r," so that it sounds more like "This is for la Rrrrrrrrrrasssa." I have to really practice with my tongue to even come close to sounding like that.
"This is for... la... rer-rer-rer-rer-rer-rer-razzuh!"
That's how it usually comes out for me. Sorry.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Kalyanji Anandji gettin' down and funky

Take electric sitars and add them to a pulsating, 1970s TV theme tune such as "S.W.A.T.," and you have a close approximation of the Bollywood soundtrack music created by the Gujarati brothers Kalyanji Virji Shah and Anandji Virji Shah.
Then bring in San Francisco's ace producer Dan "The Automator" Nakamura to mix the album, and you have "BOMBAY THE HARD WAY: GUNS, CARS & SITARS."
Nakamura basically adds hip-hop beats to the already kitschy and catchy sounds of the Shah brothers, who were collectively known as "Kalyanji Anandji."
I have been listening to this great album this morning, shrugging off sleep and preparing for my work day. "Punjabis, Pimps and Players" is the current track. It's so F-U-N-K-Y.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sloan and the GIANT peach

I can't decide which is tastier -- the GIANT PEACH I just devoured as part of my breakfast, or "Who Taught You to Live Like That," the first single from the 2006 album "Never Hear the End of It" by SLOAN.
It was big. It was so juicy, I had to place a paper plate directly under my chin so I wouldn't get peach juice all over my "work clothes." The pit popped out quite easily. I still remember the taste of the peach, even though I was finished with it about 16 minutes ago.
It rules. It sounds like a GLAM single out of Britain in the mid-1970s. It just merrily stomps along. I can never figure out why Sloan aren't more popular in America. I know they will never be as big as they are in their native Canada, but my gosh -- they are so consistently catchy and diverse. Because they rely on four distinct singer/songwriters, Sloan can sound "rock," "power pop" and "indie" within the course of a single album.
As an added bonus, guitarist/singer Patrick Pentland's haircut completely changes with every music video (search for Sloan on YouTube and you will see what I mean).
I give a slight edge to the Sloan song, if only because I have it on my iPod and I can listen to it for the rest of the day, while that GIANT peach is now long gone.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

This month's idiosyncratic musical obsession

It's probably our December trip to Mexico that I'm thinking about. Maybe it occurs while I an rollin' in my car on a hot afternoon. Or it could be my two Mexican soccer jerseys (Tigres and Monarchas) rubbing off on me.
For some reason, I have been listening to loads of CHICANO HIP HOP lately.
Last night, I used an iTunes card to bolster my collection of these tunes.
Along with stalwarts such as Cypress Hill, B.O.C. and Kemo the Blaxican, I also picked up some gems by Vallejo, Calif. native Baby Bash, Brownside and the Tex-Mex rapper who styles himself the "Tamale Kingpin," Chingo Bling (pictured).
In case no one has been paying attention, Latinos account for about 40 million people in America now, and Latin musical styles populate the music charts.
Much of the currently popular Latin music is reggaeton, however, a musical melding of dancehall-style reggae and merengue that originated from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Reggaeton is catchy, but I am more interested in the sounds I imagine would thump out of a California barrio, so I am more interested in Chicano hip hop.
On my iTunes playlist, the highly charged, uptempo "Mexican Power" by Proper Dos kicks things off.
Kid Frost's slow and steady "La Raza" finishes the 22-song playlist.
It really doesn't matter that I cannot understand three-fourth's of the lyrical content (why does the word "chicas" end up in every song? just kidding!). The beats are catchy and the Spanglish just flows.
It's a perfect soundtrack while thinking about a Mexico trip while rollin' in my car on a hot afternoon as I wear one of my Mexican soccer jerseys.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Kiyomi Kuroda, take a bow

A rare Monday off work today -- hooray! -- meant I could stay up late and watch a film last night.
I chose an old favorite, Kaneto Shindo's "Onibaba," from 1964.
Sexual tension mixes with murder, suspicion and superstition in this tale of a pair of 14th century Japanese women who survive wartime by ambushing passing warriors and selling the stripped gear for millet.
The small cast is great, and I have written before about Jitsuko Yoshimura, one of my favorite actresses from the 1960s.
Last night, I concentrated on the expert camera work by the film's director of photography, Kiyomi Kuroda.
Kuroda seems to have done most of his major work with Shindo. In "Onibaba," Kuroda must deal with a series of challenges, including the continual motion of the swaying grass that acts as a de facto major character, as well as a variety of lighting requirements.
"Onibaba" is another of these films that almost requires repeated viewings. One viewing alone is not enough to fully appreciate Kuroda's work.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

van Persie scores and Frank Howard sings

Oh dear. I wasn't intending to watch the 6 a.m. Premier League match this morning. I had hoped to sleep in a bit. Our cat Lorelie had other ideas, apparently. She woke me up better than any alarm clock at 5:25 a.m. She alternated between biting my toes and licking my hair (ewww!) while walking all over me.
Oh well. The match was fantastic. David Healy scored a goal in the first minute for visiting Fulham -- following an absolutely shocking mistake by Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. The Gunners seemed doomed to defeat when Robin van Persie (on a penalty) and Alexandre Hleb scored in the final seven minutes to rally for the 2-1 victory.

Buoyed by that spectacle -- and utterly relieved to hear my great uncle is recovering nicely from a broken neck -- I had a definite spring in my step during a half-hour walk following the match.
I listened to the "Night Train to Nashville" compilation of classic Music City R&B.
Frank Howard & The Commanders often played with pre-fame Jimi Hendrix in Tennessee juke joints. On 1964's "Just Like Him," the group produced a ballad that simply soars.
It definitely matched my mood on the walk.
So... thanks to the pre-dawn antics of a cat, I have enjoyed a thrilling soccer match, an invigorating walk and a memorable song -- all before any of my other family members have stirred from their own slumbers.
Oh yeah... and now Lorelie is napping -- the little bugger.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

They made me do it -- um, create the "Donnie Darko" playlist, I mean

I have watched Richard Kelly's "Donnie Darko" several times on DVD the past several days. It easily bears repeated viewings, I think, because of its complicated themes, mix of humor and drama and great cast.
I don't know if I will ever completely figure out this film -- starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the title character, a troubled teenager struggling to cope with unsettling visions and the murky concepts of time travel.
There is one thing I know for sure: The soundtrack is fantastic!
On the "Director's Cut," Darko rides his bike down a hill in the film's opening to "Never Tears us Apart" by INXS.
Later, "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears plays as Darko and his friends hop off a school bus and head for their lockers.
Throw in "The Killing Moon" by Echo & The Bunnymen and "Under the Milky Way" by The Church, and you have a collection of some of the classier tunes emanating from the 1980s.
I thought so, anyhow, so I gathered up eight of the principal songs from the film and created a "Donnie Darko" iPod playlist.
There are some enlightening surprises, particularly in the use of "Notorious" by Duran Duran while Darko's younger sister dances in a talent competition (and Darko performs a crime for the public good) and the presence of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear us Apart," which sounds positively stunning when played at a party. Another surprise for me was the way Oingo Boingo's "Stay" has aged so well. Could "Stay" be the best Oingo Boingo song from a film? Don't tell the "Weird Science" fans.
The playlist ends, as does the film, with "Mad World," the haunting Tears for Fears cover by pianist Michael Andrews and vocalist Gary Jules that topped the UK charts at Christmas, 2003.
"The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had."
TONY WILSON, R.I.P. -- Speaking of Joy Division, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Tony Wilson from cancer at age 57.
Wilson provided the impetus that helped launch such an exciting and profoundly influential music scene in Manchester, England.
Wilson was among the founders of Factory Records, and Joy Division/New Order and the Happy Mondays are among the colossal bands that benefited from his endeavors. Watch the film "24 Hour Party People" to see what I mean.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Curtain time with the Friday Question

ROUTE 1 readers answer this week's FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What is your favorite song from a musical?"
Rick T. -- "Tonight, Tonight" from West Side Story.
Mike M. -- Best refrain from a musical: "Life is a cabaret, old chum!"

Kerstin H. -- "Mamma Mia" from Mamma Mia or "Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)" from Damn Yankees.
Eileen M. -- "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from Les Misérables. It's a powerful melodic composition, although I've often thought that it runs repeatedly through my head because of the strength of the lyrics. Perhaps it's just the best of both worlds.
Laura C. -- "Somewhere," from West Side Story. I walked down the aisle to Tom Waits' version.
Scout S. -- "What's the Buzz (Tell Me What's a Happenin')" from Jesus Christ Superstar.
Mike D. -- It's hard to think of anything beyond "High School Musical" because my kids have been watching it nonstop since I recorded it for them three weeks ago. But if I refresh my brain, I'd probably nominate something from The Sound of Music. "Edelweiss" is a simple, catchy and easy-to-sing tune. I used to sing it to my sons when they were babies. However, I didn't have the guitar accompaniment that Christopher Plummer had. A more upbeat selection, from the Grease soundtrack, would be "Summer Nights" by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. It makes a great karaoke duet.
Rob K. -- "Memory" from Cats. At 55, I'm trying to hold onto mine.
Erik H. -- Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," from the 1934 musical of the same name, sounds as pertinent today as it must have sounded then: "Good authors, too, who once knew better words, Now only use four-letter words, writing prose -- anything goes!" Porter was so great at matching catchy music with clever lyrics -- his tunes rarely age.
"The world has gone mad today and good's bad today and black's white today and day's night today."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Feel like a broke down engine, ain't got no drivin' wheel"

On top of a crappy day at work, I learned this afternoon that my great uncle fell and broke his neck today.
He is in a hospital in Chico, Calif., and the fear among the medical professionals is paralysis.
HUGH SMITH was always a role model of mine. He survived horrific encounters during World War II, but you would never know it from talking with him. I can only remember a handful of times in the past four decades when he wasn't smiling. His smiling was infectious.
Tonight, I sit here helpless, about 2,000 miles away from Enloe Medical Center and my great uncle.
All I can do right now is pray. I am doing that while listening to BLIND WILLIE McTELL (pictured).
Music has healing powers, they say. I hope they are right.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

All eyes -- and my ears -- on the Bay Area

Since all eyes were on the Bay Area the past couple days, I decided I would listen to my BAY AREA FUNK compilation as I drove around today.
This marvelous album includes a number of "should-have-been" hits by the likes of Sugar Pie DeSanto, Marvin Holmes and Onyx.
It's great music.
I am not sure where I stand on the Barry Bonds home run record. I have cheered Bonds for years -- since he joined the GIANTS for the 1993 season. I also feel cheated, thinking that the 73-homer season and some of his other marks could have been fueled by steroids.
What I really wish, however, is that the Giants would jettison some of their aging players and recall younger prospects. Players like Nate Schierholtz, Fred Lewis and Dan Ortmeier need to spend more time in the big leagues. The Giants need to know what the future holds.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Call my cellphone -- I'll let it ring and ring and ring

Sometimes I have to fight the urge.
My cellphone will ring and I just want to sit there and listen to the ringtone.
That's because I chose the HORACE SILVER tune "SONG FOR MY FATHER" as my ringtone.
It's one of the great compositions of Silver, taking its place alongside "The Preacher" and "Doodlin'" as the most cherished works of one of America's best composers.
"Song For My Father" also features one of the most memorable openings in jazz, which is one of the reasons why I chose it for my ringtone.
Silver opens the tune with a distinctive piano figure -- distinctive enough that Steely Dan lifted it wholesale to form the basis of "Rikki Don't Lose That Number." If you are familiar with that 1970s FM staple, you will recognize the piano playing immediately.
After the piano opens the piece, trumpeter Carmell Jones and saxophonist Joe Henderson blow the theme -- it marks an exciting moment of fanfare.
I usually pick up the phone once I hear the horns blow.
Sometimes, though, I just want to let the phone ring and ring and ring.

Monday, August 06, 2007

"At night in the country, you'd be surprised how that music carries"

"At night in the country, you'd be surprised how that music carries," MUDDY WATERS once said. "You could hear my guitar way before you get to the house, and you could hear the peoples hollerin' and screamin.'"
I listened to Waters and some other blues legends on a stress-relieving walk after work tonight.
The air was so saturated I thought I could cut it with my pocket knife.
The electric blues seemed perfectly fitting -- steamy music for a steamy late afternoon.
It also reminded me of another quote by Waters, about the steamy nights he used to play before he hit the Chicago clubs and began to make records:
"Everybody used to fry up fish and have one hell of a time," he said. "Find me playing 'til sunrise for 50 cents and a sandwich. And be glad of it. They really liked the low-down blues."
Today was a great day for those "low-down blues."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Spirit of the Beehive and decided by penalties

Soccer and cinema have filled the past 12 hours or so here in the Hogstrom household.
Last night, the girls and I enjoyed Victor Erice's "El Espiritu de la Colmena (The Spirit of Beehive)." Sumptuously shot by Luis Cuadrado, this 1973 film features a young girl (Ana Torrent) who believes the spirit of Frankenstein's monster lives in the vicinity of her Spanish village.
It is a beautiful film, and 8-year-old Annika in particular relished the opportunity to see a world through another child's eyes.
This morning, we gathered around the television for another special occasion.
Edwin van der Sar saved a trio of penalties as Manchester United beat Chelsea, 3-0 on spot kicks, following a 1-1 draw in the F.A. Community Shield (pictured).
It has become a Hogstrom family tradition -- watching early morning, live broadcasts of English football -- and the annual Community Shield signals the start of yet another season.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

"Oh I get it, Alan's called Vim and your mum's dead"

The girls and I have a busy Saturday -- they will be volunteering at the humane society this morning. I have been enjoying some vintage "Bad News" clips on YouTube in a bid to wake myself up by laughing.
A year before "This is Spinal Tap," Britain's "The Comic Strip Presents..." unleashed their own spoof heavy metal band on an unsuspecting populace.
"We'd be as rich as the Stones if we sold as many records as them," said Vim Fuego... or Alan Metcalfe to his bandmates who consistently forget his stage name.
Originally aired on Channel 4, the "Bad News" mockumentary starred Adrian Edmondson (Vim), Rik Mayall (Colin) and Nigel Planer (Den) -- three comics out of "The Young Ones" -- and Peter Richardson (Spider). Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders also appear.
Vim is the leader and self-styled genius of the band:
"I could play 'Stairway to Heaven' when I was 12. Jimmy Page didn't actually write it until he was 22. I think that says quite a lot."
You can learn more about Bad News from the (apparently under construction) fan site, located here.
Or log onto YouTube and search for "Bad News Comic Strip."
Then, try to imagine a double-bill gig with Bad News and Spinal Tap. Heavy...

Friday, August 03, 2007

Hot and bothered at the ballpark

I guess I am spoiled, having attended the majority of my recent Major League Baseball games at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Other ballpark experiences just don't seem to stack up.
The girls and I attended a Brewers-Mets game yesterday afternoon at Miller Park in Milwaukee. The first thing 12-year-old Kerstin asked: "Where do they have the garlic fries?"
She apparently craved AT&T Park's "signature" food, and seemed surprised and dismayed when told Miller Park was better known for bratwurst.
A 91-degree, humid day with no breeze didn't help improve the girls' outlook on Miller Park. They were already wondering where they could find the nearest GIANT COKE BOTTLE slide.
It wasn't a total loss -- well, it was for the Brewers, who were pounded, 12-4, by the Mets and then scuffled in the dugout during one of the latter innings -- the girls were able to give "high fives" to the Sausage Racers.
Still, we could have used some of San Francisco's "natural air-conditioning" fog during the game. Plus garlic fries!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Hip hop an' ya don't stop on "my Friday"

The temperatures are rising and my work week is coming to an unusually early end -- after today, I am off for four days. Weee!
Oh yeah, and if my 12-year-old daughter plays "Fergalicious" by FERGIE just ONE MORE TIME, I believe I will have to plug both my ears with cement.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't mind hearing "Fergalicious" the first 99 times Kerstin played the song. However, by the 199th time I heard "Fergalicious definition make them boys go loco; They want my treasure so they get their pleasures from my photo," I was ready for something different.
We have all been listening to a lot of hip hop as the hot weather returns this week (it is already 69 degrees at 7 a.m. and temperatures are supposed to climb as high as 91 this afternoon). I have been playing the heck out of "No Hay Manera" by AKWID (pictured above).
This song is the type of genre-bending hip hop that I adore (along with the jazz-flavored concoctions of acts such as A Tribe Called Quest and the indie-influenced jams by the Pharcyde).
Francisco and Sergio Gomez were born in Mexico but raised in south central Los Angeles, where the brothers began mixing hip hop with the norteño, corrido and ranchero music of Chicano tradition.
"No Hay Manera" is infectiously catchy. I find myself singing along, even though I have little idea what the Gomez brothers are rapping about.
Still, I think rapping along in my silly fractured Spanglish is infinitely better than singing along to Fergie:
"I'm Fergalicious (so delicious) my body stay vicious; I be up in the gym just working on my fitness."
No offense meant, Fergie, but you might want to grab a dictionary and tone up your grammar and vocabulary, too.
True dat!