Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Mas, Que Nada" only does so much

A few years ago, ROUTE 1 reader Steve M. from Virginia sent me a pair of CDs devoted to Brazilian music, including plenty of TROPICALIA by GILBERTO GIL, CAETANO VELOSO and JORGE BEN JOR (pictured, resplendent in the colors of Clube de Regatas do Flamengo).
I have been listening to this wonderful music for the past two days, trying to infuse a little artificial WARMTH into a life gripped by winter's bitter cold.
I am afraid I can only report limited success with this experiment.
There is no problem with the sunny, bubbly music -- it performs exactly as advertised.
I am afraid the warming music faces too great an adversary with this cold spell we're experiencing.
It was minus-2 Fahrenheit in Dubuque at 11 a.m. yesterday. It "warmed up" to 0 by noon and by the time I went home from work it was still merely 3 above.
Actually, things were not much better in the office, where renovation work has resulted in a steady stream of cold air pouring into my temporary workspace.
Some coworkers draped themselves in their winter coats while sitting at their desks.
I plan on wearing a sweater today.
So, to recap:
BRAZILIAN MUSIC -- not so good at warming, but a highly effective soundtrack for a complaining rant about inappropriate indoor air-conditioning.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Vampire Weekend? It's only Wednesday

We listened to VAMPIRE WEEKEND while eating dinner last night.
With their joyful, bouncy Afropop sound, Brooklyn's Vampire Weekend appear to be one of those rare indie bands that the entire family can agree upon.
Ezra Koenig (guitar, vocals), Rostam Batmanglij (keyboard), Chris Tomson (drums) and Chris Baio (bass) met at Columbia University, and their rather preppy origins seem to be fueling some of the critical backlash against the band.
One of the head-scratching reviews I recently read stated that you won't really like Vampire Weekend if you have heard The Specials' debut album.
Huh? That's like saying you won't like The Specials if you have heard Dandy Livingstone or Toots and the Maytals.
So what if Vampire Weekend sound like they have listened to too much of Paul Simon's "Graceland?" The alternative is a growing number of bands who have listened to too much of Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures."
Can't indie rock provide a little fun once in while?
For my money, Vampire Weekend provide another piece of evidence that good music is not dead yet, no matter what boneheaded moves the music industry and their "American Idol" spawn deem to attempt next.
Check out Vampire Weekend's video for their January 2008 single "A-Punk" on YouTube, click here perhaps.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Embarassing Piercing on the Lip of the University of California"

I am waiting for the blizzard while listening to Berkeley's great KALX live online.
Forecasters have issued a relatively rare BLIZZARD WARNING for the Dubuque area, predicting about 2 inches of snow with wind gusts as high as 45 mph. Because the temperatures are supposed to drop to 8 degrees Fahrenheit, the snow will be dry and easy to blow around. And around and around and around.
That's the reason for the blizzard warning.
The reason for KALX is clear: I am sick of WINTER and this 45-year-old, free-thinking radio station is playing some rather ANGRY PUNK ROCK right now. Grrrr!
It fits my mood perfectly. Henry the DJ just played "Paid in Cigarettes" by Hot Snakes. Grrrr!
I am so sick and tired of this winter! All we have had is cold and snow followed by cold and snow. Whoah... I suppose that's what winter is all about, really. Hmm... So, maybe I am not tired of *THIS* winter in particular. Perhaps I am actually tired of winter as a general concept.
Henry the DJ just said he is "tired as hell" -- it is currently 4:30 a.m. in the Bay Area -- "but it hasn't stopped me from playing sweet tunes."
OK, Henry the DJ.
If you can overcome the hardships to play some sweet tunes, I can use your inspiration to get me through another day of winter. Barely.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Dumbarton: Famous for a rock?

According to the crack team of dataheads at Google Analytics, the No. 10 spot on the UK chart of ROUTE 1 readership is held by the burgh of DUMBARTON, Strathclyde.
Here are six things you should know about DUMBARTON:
1) Dumbarton is located 15 miles northwest of Glasgow, on the north bank of the River Clyde where the River Leven flows into the Clyde estuary.
2) St. Patrick is said to have been born at Dumbarton before being carried away to Ireland by raiders.
3) Mary, Queen of Scots, was 6 years old when she sailed to live in France in 1548, following a brief stay in Dumbarton.
4) William Wallace was imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle. The castle is located on the twin peaks of the 240-foot-high Dumbarton Rock, which stands beside the junction of the Leven and the Clyde.
5) Ship-building once flourished in Dumbarton, and the clipper ship "Cutty Sark" was built at the Dumbarton yard in 1869.
6) Dumbarton is home to Ballantine's, a range of blended scotch whiskies distilled by George Ballantine & Son Ltd.
So, let's give our readers from Dumbarton a big salute! Dumbarton, hooray!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Balloons and a baby

I had never really seen anything like it.
The ball arrived in the Manchester City six-yard box and seemed to pin-ball off several balloons that had drifted out of the stands.
Michael Ball stepped over the ball -- thinking it was a balloon? -- and Luke Shelton was there to send it into the net.
Sheffield United were a goal up en route to a 2-1 upset win in the FA Cup.
I hate Sheffield United!
How did they beat Man City, with all that talent at Sven-Goran Eriksson's disposal?
We watched the match live on television this morning, and I am still trying to figure out how the Blades won.
It is much easier figuring out why Jason Reitman's "Juno" has scored multiple Oscar nominations.
Kerstin and I watched the film this afternoon as a "father-daughter day out."
Ellen Page is wonderful as the title character, but Kerstin and I were most impressed with Diablo Cody's script. "Juno" is a well-written film.
Michael Cera is also good as the geeky boyfriend/father.
Now, I am preparing a sauce for a meatballs and rigatoni supper we are planning.
To ready myself for a dish I have never attempted, I am drinking a little red wine and listening to a ton of Canadian music. I have concocted a 45-song Canadian playlist that runs the gamut from the Weakerthans to Joni Mitchell and the marvelous Modernettes ("Barbra!") to Stompin' Tom Connors.
That's what the Manchester City defenders were doing to the balloons *AFTER* they gave up that opening goal. Next time, I bet they start stomping balloons *BEFORE* they pose a hazard.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Can you imagine if a bunch of punks decided to make classic 60s soul?

Hah! A bunch of punks already did!
I just completed my afternoon chores while listening to DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS wonderful "SEARCHING FOR THE YOUNG SOUL REBELS" album from July 1980.
Before singer Kevin Rowland decided he was the leader of a New Wave Celtic band ("Come on Eileen"), he was definitely the head of a surprisingly tight soul conglomerate. Kevin "Al" Archer on guitar and "Big" Jim Paterson on trombone were among the collaborators on this post-punk landmark. Well before the "new soul" of Style Council or Paul Young, Dexys were really belting it out on songs such as "Burn it Down," "I Couldn't Help if I Tried" and the British chart-topper "Geno."
Whenever someone around me calls Dexys a "one-hit wonder," I usually wince. Instead, I should play them this great record.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Vinyl, CD or mp3?

ROUTE 1 readers traditionally celebrate the end of the week by sharing their views on a variety of topics. This week, they answer the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"Do you prefer vinyl, CD or mp3?"
RICK T. -- I hate to say it, but CD, for space and not having to turn over the LP. But the stars still call it "their new album coming out."
MIKE M. -- I prefer multiple formats. I still have a record player, and nothing beats the experience of looking at and listening to old albums. I remember when Styx came out with "Paradise Theatre;" the album had graphic art etched directly onto the surface of the vinyl. But mp3s are so versatile! Just this week, I burned a CD of about 25 versions of the song "Garota de Ipanema" using mp3s linked from (here).
INGER H. -- I prefer mp3s. The iPod has completely changed the way I listen to music -- having everything in my collection right at hand wherever I am is a wondrous thing.
MIKE D. -- I've had too many cassette tapes get chewed up or sound "warped" from too much play. I finally took a leap forward and started buying CDs a few years ago. Now, if I can just keep my kids from smudging or breaking them!
ERIK H. -- When I was a kid, there was nothing like going to the record store and actually buying a record. Right now, I am staring lovingly at the 45 of Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough," with the lazy cat on the monochrome cover.
I love mp3s, too, because the iPod means I can listen to whatever I want at any time.
However, I always fear some calamitous data crash will wipe the songs clean away.
That nagging (irrational?) fear is one of the reasons why I prefer CDs. They seem so permanent.
Besides, for a music geek like me, there is no greater joy than listening to music while reading about it in a booklet of extensive liner notes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

You can't tell the FREAKISH KUNG FU FIGHTERS without a scorecard

I know it is going to be difficult, but please try to follow along as best as you can, OK.
Tonight I watched "Du Bi Quan Wang Da Po Xue Di Zi (Master of the Flying Guillotine)," Jimmy Wang Yu's delightfully convoluted -- but immensely silly and fun -- wuxia kung fu film epic from 1975.
The story concerns a blind monk assassin who specializes in the FLYING GUILLOTINE -- a hat-like weapon with a bladed rim that is attached to a long chain. The flying guillotine lands on a victim's head, the user jerks on the chain, and the blades do the rest -- lopping the head clean off. Ouch!
OK. Here is where things get a little complicated. The blind monk assassin targets one-armed men, because the famed ONE-ARMED BOXER killed two of his disciples. The blind monk needs a little help tracking down the one-armed boxer (played by writer-director-star Jimmy Wang Yu), so the assassin enlists the help of the best foreign fighters appearing at a prestigious kung fu tournament, including:
1) A Thai boxer who prepares for fights by dancing to music only he hears.
2) A Japanese kobojutsu master who fights with two billy clubs with knives that shoot out the ends. Confusingly, his name is Wins Without a Knife. Huh?
3) An Indian yoga master whose arms elongate to extraordinary lengths during the course of a fight.
To further complicate things, the film includes a battle in a bird shop, a barefoot man attempting to fight on a metal floor heated to stove-like temperatures, an ambush in a coffin factory and small catapults that hurl hatchets.
See why I wanted you to try your hardest to follow along?
"Du Bi Quan Wang Da Po Xue Di Zi" is more like a FEVER DREAM than a film.
Bear with it, though, because I highly recommend this film for all of your fun, mostly brainless escapism needs.
Heck, it even features those wonderfully fake kung fu fighting sounds!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sword-locking weapon? We don't need no stinkin' sword-locking weapon!

I was in the mood for some wuxia cinema tonight, so I watched Chang Cheh's "Dubei Dao (One-Armed Swordsman)" with the audio commentary switched on.
The insights of film scholars David Chute and Andy Klein were interesting.
They contend -- rightly I believe -- that protagonist Fang Gang's disability (he is the one-armed swordsman of the title) actually provides his greatest advantage in conquering his foes.
A major plot point reinforces this view.
Fang Gang's teacher Qi has developed a "golden sword" that has given his martial arts school a distinct advantage over their rivals.
Until Qi's enemy Long-Armed Devil (so named for his prowess with a whip) develops a sword-locking weapon that binds the golden swords and allows Qi's forces to be killed with swift dagger thrusts.
Fang Gang's sword is "disabled," too -- it has been broken in two -- and its shortened state makes it impervious to the sword-locking weapon of Long-Armed Devil's forces.
OK... So "Citizen Kane" it ain't.
That's not really the point. I classify "Dubei Dao" as a great film because of its insight into the Chinese psyche *AND* its super-cool martial arts moves. So there!
I highly recommend "Dubei Dao." Maybe, if you watch it enough, you will even become as GEEKY as I am and you will watch it with the film-scholar audio commentary, too. You'll learn a lot!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Big ol' jet airliner, don't carry me too far away"

On second thought...
There's nothing quite like some pre-dawn snow shoveling to make a person (me) really weary of our worst winter in several years.
The weather service has yet to post our storm totals for the most recent bout of snow. However I know from direct experience that it was at least 5 inches, if not more.
Oh sure, it's "light fluffy snow" that is relatively easy to shovel. Frankly, I don't care how light and fluffy the snow is, the temperature is 4 degrees Fahrenheit right now -- a bit too low for my liking.
So, "big ol' jet airliner," I would like to amend Steve Miller's classic song.
*PLEASE* carry me far away. Somewhere with palm trees would be preferable.
I listened to the Steve Miller Band's "Greatest Hits 1974-78" while shoveling this morning.
The songs brought a smile to my scarf-covered face, even if the weather did not.
There is a reason why these songs continually appear on radio playlists -- they are so catchy and fun-loving.
They almost make shoveling snow enjoyable. Almost.
Hurry up, "big ol' jet airliner." I want to go somewhere warm!

Monday, January 21, 2008

To our biggest readership area: "Yo! How *YOU* doin'?!?"

Thanks to ROUTE 1's crack research team (oh OK -- it's only Google Analytics), I now know where this blog's largest group of readers resides.
It's not Iowa (No. 4 on the list). It's not my native California (No. 3).
Nope. The most readers (316 of you) come from NEW YORK.
Specifically, our readers come from the FIVE BOROUGHS, with Manhattan and -- yo! -- Brooklyn leading the way.
I have no idea why so many readers hail from the BIG APPLE -- it's meshugas I tell ya! -- but as I have learned from working at a local newspaper, it's important to tailor content to fit your readership.
So... let's see here... NYC...
How 'bout them NEW YORK GIANTS? Go BIG BLUE!
Um... I spent about a month in New York City back when I was in college, and I subscribed to the SUNDAY NEW YORK DAILY NEWS for a year after that trip, but I admit I have lost track of most New York current events since those heady days. Michael Bloomberg is the mayor, right? "Hizzoner?" Something like that.
As you can tell, I have some work to do before I can effectively write for my newly identified audience.
Oh I know one thing... bagels! Mmm... mmm... I love 'em! A bagel with a schmeer!
Hello New York City readers! Welcome aboard!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I need to tinker with "The Aussie"

The sun was shining right in my face but it couldn't fool me: The temperature was only 2 degrees Fahrenheit when I left for the grocery store this afternoon.
Instead, I tried to fool myself by listening to a newly expanded Australian music playlist on my iPod.
It is currently midsummer down under, so I thought the music might fool me into thinking it was warmer here.
Listening to the playlist did take my mind off the cold, but not for the reason I had anticipated.
Instead, I realized there was something not quite right about the first half of the playlist: The song order was slightly amiss.
The playlist opens -- after an introductory "Waltzing Matilda" by Slim Dusty -- with a strong quartet of "The Dead Heart" by Midnight Oil, "Northwest Highway" by The Angels, the ridiculously great "Bad Boy for Love" by Rose Tattoo and old standby "T.N.T." by AC/DC.
After that song, though, things get a little off-center.
I love the next six songs -- "Aloha Steve & Danno" by Radio Birdman, "What's My Scene" by Hoodoo Gurus, "Get Free" by The Vines, "Don't Change" by INXS, "I Don't Mind" by The Hitmen and "Anthem for the Year 2000" by Silverchair -- but I don't like how they flow together.
I am going to have to tinker with my big Aussie playlist (45 songs and growing) while I watch the Packers and the Giants on TV.
Oops! But watching that game is going to remind me about the cold again!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Steel City derby, then I was absolutely freezing

Akpo Sodje, you're my hero!
Marcus Tudgay is my hero, too. All of the SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY players are my heroes today.
Sodje and Tudgay scored the goals as MY BELOVED OWLS beat Sheffield United, 2-0, in today's 120th STEEL CITY DERBY.
I followed the big match live online this morning before heading to work.
I had to cover an event at the NATIONAL MISSISSIPPI RIVER MUSEUM & AQUARIUM called "IceFest," and there was plenty of ice to go around today. When I attended the outdoor event the temperature in Dubuque was an unhealthy minus-7, with the wind-chill index an even unhealthier minus-26. Health officials warned that frostbite could occur within 20 minutes in such low temperatures. I thought about that as I took notes: I had to pull my glove off to be able to grasp my pen.
My friend Mary Nevans-Pederson had it much worse: She had the misfortune of covering a massive fire in downtown MAQUOKETA, IOWA. A blaze that started in a furniture store during the early morning hours burned throughout the day, torching half a downtown block, injuring at least two firefighters and displacing four families.
Me, I had it easy compared to all of the people impacted by the fire.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Survey says: ROUTE 1 readers watch television

Sometimes the apprentices need to guide the masters.
ROUTE 1's FRIDAY QUESTION was going to be something along the lines of...
"If you were stranded on a desert island but had enough electricity for a TV and you were allowed to bring with you DVDs with every episode of the best series that you..."
And I was just stopping to catch my breath when ROUTE 1 intern KERSTIN suggested the abbreviated and much improved:
"What is your favorite TV show?"
Ah... much shorter... much... better...
Ladies and gentlemen, start your answers:
SCOUT S. -- Like, ever? Or right now? If it's right now, I'd probably go with "The Amazing Race" or "Lost." If we're talking about all time, then boy howdy, that's a little trickier. Or truckier, which is what I typed the first time. My first thought is to go with the sketch comedy giants: "Mr. Show," "Kids in the Hall," "Upright Citizens Brigade," "The State," "Stella," and of course "Monty Python."
But then another part of my brain says "What about Joss Whedon?!" and so I nominate "Firefly" and "Buffy" (and to a lesser extent, "Angel").
But then Judd Apatow calls and reminds me about "Freaks & Geeks" (in a week, I am going to see a "Freaks & Geeks" reunion panel discussion, moderated by Patton Oswalt, and I am inordinately excited about this).
Anyway, out of all that, I think I am going to go with "The Greatest American Hero."
DIANE H. -- Dude, it would be easier for a TV addict like me to list five favorites rather than one. If I have to pick, I would say "30 Rock," because it consistently makes me laugh my ass off and has spawned about 27 catchphrases that I've incorporated into my vernacular. Much to the annoyance of any friends, family and coworkers who don't watch it. But if they watch "30 Rock," I should probably cut them out of my life anyway.
ROSEANNE H. -- My all-time favorite is "24." And we have the next season coming to Guanajuato soon (via our UPS mail drop). I can hardly wait!
MIKE D. -- It would have to be "M*A*S*H." My brothers and I still repeat lines from the classic show ("I distinctly remember saying, 'Frank, look out for that bar of soap.'")
War would seem to be an unlikely sit-com topic, but the show packaged humanity and compassion amidst non-stop laughs. My favorite episode ("Deal Me Out") involved a poker game interrupted by Radar, who had just run over Whiplash Wang.
(OK, here's one more... Col. Flagg (to Klinger, in drag): "Say, up close you're a man!" Klinger: "Far away, too.")
LAURA C. -- Hands-down, the best show that has ever been on television (albeit, not on network TV) was "Deadwood." Shakespeare in the gutter... muddy, bloody, profane and absolutely amazing.
ANNIKA H. -- "Hannah Montana!"
RICK T. -- "The Andy Griffith Show!" They don't get any better than that.
MIKE M. -- I vacillate amongst these fine programs: "60 Minutes," "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," "BBC World News" and "Charlie Rose," plus "SNL," NFL, "AFV" and "Cops!" Whatcha gonna do?
ELLEN B. -- I have two: "Desperate Housewives" and "Brothers and Sisters."
KERSTIN H. -- "Gilmore Girls."
JIM S. -- From the boomer crowd, I'd have to say "The Andy Griffith Show" (the B&W years). Barney Fife, alone, makes it unforgettable. But throw in Floyd the barber, Gomer, Otis, Opie and Aunt Bea, and you've got a winner. "Nip it!"
DAVE B. -- "M*A*S*H" is the greatest show of all time.
MARY N.-P. -- I'm a fanatic fan of "The Office" (have the calendar, season compilations, etc., etc.). It is so true and such great ensemble acting, but I know from experience that no one who has not worked in an actual office will "get it."
CLINT A. -- "The Sopranos." Need I say more?
LISA Y. -- I know it's pathetic, but I like reality TV.... My favorite is "The Real Housewives of Orange County." I hear "The Real Housewives of New York" is in the works!
ERIK H. -- I apparently treat television as a means of pure escapism. My favorite show when I was a kid was the classic first season of "Ultraman." My favorite show now would probably be "Reno 911!" I get enough news and/or reality during the day, so I don't need to see any cops and courts dramas. If it's not live soccer on TV (my *REAL* favorite show), then I need to see something to make me laugh.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

AC/DC in teen idol shock!

I love Murray Engleheart and Arnaud Durieux's excellent "AC/DC Maximum Rock & Roll: The Ultimate Story of the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band."
I have learned much about the band and their history, which is consistently entertaining.
Today I reached January 1977, when the band returned to their native Australia from seven months of gigging in the United Kingdom.
The return to Down Under marked a defining shift for the band, who had yet to make an appearance in America.
In the words of Michael Browning, the Melbourne Hard Rock Cafe owner who had become the band's manager:
"Prior to going to England, they played to screaming girls. England was the exact opposite and then that part was imported back to Australia."
What's that?
It's true. AC/DC had been teen idols for screaming teenage girls for the first couple years of their existence. Then their crowds became more populated by young males, and the rest is history.
I look forward to continuing the AC/DC story with Engleheart and Durieux's great book. I know the tale takes some tragic turns, but I look forward to learning more.
POSTSCRIPT -- Never in my wildest dreams did I suspect NEWCASTLE UNITED would name KEVIN KEEGAN their manager ONE DAY after I wrote about the situation at the football club. How prescient!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bring back the Geordie Messiah!

NEWCASTLE UNITED of the Premier League seem to be akin to the Chicago Cubs over here: They play before generation upon generation of rapturous crowds in a hotbed of their sport, but success surprisingly eludes them.
The latest twist in the tale came a short time ago, when the football club sacked manager Sam Allardyce.
Speculation is mounting as to who will take up the position, with former star Alan Shearer, Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp and other prominent names mentioned.
Check the sport blogs on media Web sites, and one sentimental favorite keeps getting mentioned -- former Newcastle manager (and former star player for Liverpool, mostly) KEVIN KEEGAN (pictured).
We were living in Oregon during the 1995-96 football season, and one of our television channels hosted a weekly round-up of Premiership matches. I was able to keep abreast of the entire season by watching the highlights, features and interviews on the station (now I get to watch live matches each Saturday and Sunday).
During that season, Manchester United had chipped away at Newcastle's 12-point lead at the top of the league table (and would eventually secure the title). Famous for waging psychological battles against opposing managers, Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson suggested that clubs tried harder against his club than against Newcastle.
Newcastle United then defeated Leeds, and in a subsequent interview Keegan unleashed a now-famous RANT against Ferguson, which I was fortunate to see on the weekly Premier League show.
Keegan told the interviewer:
"When you do that with footballers like he said about Leeds; and when you do things like that about a man like Stuart Pearce. I'm I, I, I've kept really quiet, but I'll tell you something: he went down in my estimation when he said that - we have not resorted to that. But I'll tell ya - you can tell him now, he'll be watching it - we're still fighting for this title, and he's got to go to Middlesbrough and get something, and... and I'll tell you honestly, I will love it if we beat them - LOVE IT!."
Sadly, Newcastle United came up short that season, but Keegan and his side's swashbuckling style entered into Toon folklore.
I would love it if he came back to manage Newcastle -- LOVE IT!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Where has this song been all my life?

Sometimes I hear a song for the first time, and it's GREATNESS is such that I ask myself:
"Where has this song been all my life?"
I am listening to my AUSSIE PLAYLIST on iTunes today. It is full of great stuff by Radio Birdman, Slim Dusty, Skyhooks, the Easybeats, AC/DC, Midnight Oil, INXS, the Scientists, Hoodoo Gurus, the Saints and many more. It also includes the absolutely masterful "KHE SANH" by COLD CHISEL (pictured).
I absolutely ADORE this song, and the first time I heard this 30-year-old single was only a couple years ago.
I have written about this song before, I know, but this tale of a disillusioned Australian Vietnam War veteran is just too good to ignore for lengthy stretches of time.
Where *HAS* this song been all my life?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Polly and her friends are in the crowd somewhere

I promised the girls I would play POLLY POCKETS with them today, so after watching the Giants upset the Cowboys, 21-17, in the NFC playoffs, I knelt down to the MASSIVE Polly Pocket complex the girls had erected near the dining room table.
The girls had used Polly Pocket furniture and other props to construct offices, apartments, restaurants and other locations.
When my male Polly Pockets arrived on the scene, we were whisked off to an Italian restaurant, then to front-row seats to a BON JOVI concert.
After dancing in front of the stage to "Living on a Prayer," Kerstin had an announcement before clicking on "You Give Love a Bad Name" on iTunes:
"Clearly since we are making this up," she said, "let's say that Bon Jovi always let us come up on the stage during this song."
Fair enough.
Our Polly Pocket figurines hopped onto "The Rough Guide to Rock" -- standing in for the concert stage -- and the little plastic men and women ROCKED OUT.
Then, they all climbed into the Polly Pocket helicopter car and flew away.
Now that's what I call a memorable evening.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I did indeed want to ride in her Mercedes

I have been busy throwing all sorts of playlists together for my new iPod.
I listened to some 80s music as I compiled a half-dozen playlists devoted to that era.
Several songs stopped me in my tracks -- long enough to sing along.
Among them was a nugget from 1988, sung by a girl from MY BIRTHPLACE -- OAKLAND, CALIF.
"MERCEDES BOY" was the second big hit by PEBBLES (after the previous year's "Girlfriend." Ridiculously infectious, "Mercedes Boy" song reached No. 2 on the U.S. charts, but I never held that success against it. I *adored* that damn song.
I loved it again tonight, as I heard it for the first time in long while.
"Do you wanna ride in my Mercedes, boy?"
My future brother-in-law (and current Route 1 reader Dave B.) played "Mercedes Boy" frequently when he DJed at our local college watering hole.
I wasn't aware at the time that Pebbles was in fact Oak-Town girl Perri Alette McKissack.
She later managed TLC and married R&B producer L.A. Reid.
I heard many more songs tonight that I haven't enjoyed in years. "Mercedes Boy" is my favorite of the bunch. I love it just as much 20 years down the road.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Read any good books lately?

This week, ROUTE 1 readers show off their bookish ways by answering the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"Read any good books lately?"
Lisa Y. -- Most recently I read "Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City, or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me?" by Jen Lancaster. Click here for an idea of what the author is like. Her first book is funny, too -- "Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office."
Mary N.-P. -- Yes, two -- "The Kite Runner," which probably everyone else has already read, but if not, you must -- hard to put down and tightly written. Also "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" -- travel/humor writer Bill Bryson's account of growing up in the 1950s in Des Moines, Iowa. Well written, well researched and a hoot to boot.
Mike D. -- "The Jaguar's Jewel" (A to Z Mysteries Series No. 10) by Ron Roy. My kindergarten-age son brought his first "chapter book" home from school over Christmas break. I read it to my boys and actually liked it. It reminded my of "The Three Investigators" series I used to read in junior high. This week, we started another in the series -- "The Invisible Island." On a more personal quest, I'm pleased to report that during the summer I made it to the half-way point of Al Stumpf's 400+-page biography of Ty Cobb that I started reading in 1998. I plan to finish it once the kids move out of the house.
Robert H. -- Yes, a real thriller: "Jackdaws" by Ken Follett. WWII French Resistance novel with insight and many different twists.
Brian C. -- Bill Bryson's memoir of growing up in Des Moines, "The Thunderbolt Kid." A fun read!
Mike M. -- I just read Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled thriller "The Maltese Falcon" (1930), which reads "like a fist when you open your hand." Also currently reading "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine." Did you know wine bottles are stored horizontally to prevent the corks from drying out?
Laura C. -- "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. I'm sure my friends and family are weary of my decades-long insistence that McCarthy is the new Faulkner... but this book is one that everyone -- fan of his previous work or not -- should read. Absolutely astounding. And truly, deeply disturbing.
Erik H. -- From the "Great Singing Voice, Shame About the Drinking" file comes Diane Diekman's excellent "Live Fast Love Hard: The Faron Young Story" from University of Illinois Press.
Diekman tracks down Young survivors and exhaustively reviews all known interviews to present the full-sided picture of the country music legend. Yes, he would give money to strangers and went out of his way to promote little-known but worthy young songwriters (step forward, Willie Nelson). However, a suspected "small man" syndrome meant Young would often pick on the biggest guy in the bar/dressing room/restaurant/home/etc when he had been drinking. Which was often. Young drank to self-medicate an undiagnosed problem with depression, which ultimately led to his 1996 suicide.
It was a good read but not a happy read.
I am hoping my new book restores some "feel good" vibes -- I have started Murray Engleheart and Arnaud Durieux's "AC/DC Maximum Rock & Roll: The Ultimate Story of the World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ain't nothin' but a playlist migration

We're groovin' to The Show Stoppers and their wonderful single "Ain't Nothin' But a House Party" this morning while I move some playlists over to the NEW IPOD I received for Christmas.
In what passes for nostalgia, I remember feeling that my original, 20GB iPod was the ultimate in musical enjoyment -- I could fit *ALMOST* all of my music on it!
Now I look back and laugh. My new sleek, black, 80GB iPod enables me to fit *ALL* of my music on it. I am still trying to come to terms with that.
Here is an example:
Before, if I wanted to hear somebody like The Rolling Stones but they were on iTunes but not on my iPod because of space considerations, I had to swap out one artist for another. I was continually rotating artists on my iPod, and the swapping could barely keep up with my ever-shifting musical moods. As soon as I took Big John Patton off my iPod, for example, I would immediately be in the mood to hear some Big John Patton!
Now I finally have the hardware to match my moods.
Today's mood? Classic soul from the 1960s, hence The Show Stoppers.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"Remember this, if you see someone doing something but at the same time watching you... then he is a cop."

Annika receives a surprise gift today, her ninth birthday: Dense fog has caused a two-hour delayed start to school.
She gets to sleep in!
We will play The Beatles' "Birthday" for Annika when she wakes up -- it's a Hogstrom family tradition.
While I wait for the girls to wake up, I have been thinking about Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's "Wu jian dao/Mou gaan dou (Infernal Affairs)," which I watched for the second or third time on DVD last night.
The story of a gang mole and a police mole closing in on each other is memorable -- enough so that Martin Scorsese remade the film as "The Departed."
I focused on the actors during last night's viewing.
Tony Leung is masterful as the undercover cop. I can see why Leung is held in such high regard by fans of Hong Kong cinema.
Andy Lau is equally impressive as the police infiltrator who becomes torn -- is he a good man or a bad man?
Roger Ebert wrote that "the movie pays off in a kind of emotional complexity rarely seen in crime movies."
Surely, much of that emotional complexity comes from the brilliant acting of Leung, Lau and the remainder of the great cast.
Well, I hear some stirrings from upstairs. Time to start celebrating with the birthday girl!

Monday, January 07, 2008

AC/DC's secret weapon

I have been listening to a lot of AC/DC lately.
We recently purchased the double-disc DVD set "Family Jewels," the AC/DC video collection. That spurred me to listen to some of the old albums -- "High Voltage," "Let There Be Rock," "Powerage," etc.
Vocalists Bon Scott and Brian Johnson feature prominently in the videos, as does spastic lead guitarist Angus Young.
More than ever, though, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young (far left in the above photo) remains my favorite band member.
In "Guitar World Presents the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time," authors Jeff Kitts and Brad Tolinski examined the role of Malcolm Young:
"Malcolm's mighty crunch, coaxed from a battered '63 Gretsch Jet Firebird, is AC/DC's great secret weapon, the standard against which all power chords are measured."

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"The sun comes out at Turf Moor"

Wouldn't "The Sun Comes Out at Turf Moor" be a great name for an indie band?
It was actually one of the first things Peter Brackley said today during his commentary for the Burnley v. Arsenal match in the third round of the FA Cup.
I watched visiting Arsenal claim a 2-0 win live on Fox Soccer Channel this morning. I was really cheering for the Clarets, and Burnley did fight to the end against the Premiership leaders, but the home side faced the proverbial mountain to climb after Kyle Lafferty was sent off in the 60th minute.
Later, the girls and I listened to some of the latest pop music sounds on BBC Radio 1 (thanks to the station's Web site).
I heard a good song by Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong, which is quite possibly the worst name I have heard for an indie band in some time. Or it could be among the best names -- I really haven't decided.
Decide for yourself on the musical merits of the London band by viewing their video for "Lucio Starts Fires" on YouTube. You can find it here.
I think they are quite good, even if I can't quite decide whether I like the name.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

More in common than just blades

We watched a pair of memorable films last night during a "Family Movie Night" on DVD -- Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands" and Chang Cheh's "Dubei Dao (One-Armed Swordsman)."
Although selected coincidentally, the films shared enough themes to make it seem like an inspired choice. These films shared more than just hands full of sharp objects.

They had more in common than just blades.
Directors known for their uncommon visionary styles were at the helm for both films. Both films also concerned a disfigured man who struggles to adjust to the world around him.
Edward (Johnny Depp) is plucked from his lonely world by the visiting Avon Lady (Dianne Wiest).
Already feeling like an outsider at his martial arts school home, Fang Gang (Jimmy Wang Yu) loses his arm when it is lopped off by the teacher's daughter Qi Pei-er (Pan Yin Tze). Then Fang Gang is plucked from certain death by a passing farm girl on a boat -- Hsiaoman (Chiao Chiao).
Both Edward and Fang Gang are driven by loyalty (remember Edward helping to rob the house simply because Winona Ryder's Kim asked him?).
Perseverance also pays off for both characters. Fang Gang must re-learn martial arts with only the use of his left arm. Edward takes his seeming deformity -- scissors for hands -- and learns to create beautiful works of art out of hedges and hairstyles.
Ultimately, the films both end with a feeling of enforced separation. Fang Gang saves his adopted father, but doesn't return home. He has dedicated his life to farming with Hsiaoman. Edward returns to the mansion on the mountaintop. He couldn't conquer irrational human fear -- just as he ultimately couldn't understand most humans, most humans couldn't understand him.
Watching these films was a great way to spend a drizzly night indoors. They gave me plenty to think about, too.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Nostradamus takes a backseat to ROUTE 1

Oh. Sorry. You will have to excuse the ROUTE 1 staff this morning. We were up late, covering the Iowa presidential caucuses. We were up early, driving staff member Jill to the airport so she could catch a flight to Phoenix, Ariz.
Still, we never let fatigue keep us from our duties, so here goes.
This week, ROUTE 1 readers responded to the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What are your predictions for 2008?"
Rick T. -- I predict that Erik Hogstrom will become our next President! (I'll write his name in the ballot.)
Kerstin H. -- I predict that McFly will tour the United States.
Dave B. -- Johnny Rotten and Queen Elizabeth will have lunch together. U2 finally makes an album that does not suck.
Brian C. -- Neither of the respective parties' winners of the Iowa Caucuses will win the presidency in November.
Mike D. -- The Top 5...
5. The Oregon Ducks will make it to the Final Four. (Brown-noser!)
4. Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee will discover that they are really long-lost siblings, fathered by Strom Thurmond.
3. Anna Nicole Smith will be seen having lunch with Elvis at a Fort Wayne Burger King.
2. Britney Spears will have the starring role in a story about an undisciplined singer who joins the convent and gets a job as a governess for the children of a wealthy Austrian cereal baron in "The Sound of Mueslix."
1. Mike D. will answer the Friday Question on time.

Clint A. -- I predict that despite all the buzz about global warming, that there will be the discovery of evidence that we are entering into the next ice age.
Erik H. -- I predict that sweet, sweet sleep will overtake me about 11:30 this morning. Is that too early for a siesta?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Reggae before the caucuses

Tonight I will join the other reporters in covering the Iowa Caucuses. It will be a busy night.
I am relaxing a little bit this morning, burning some discs of music I have purchased over the years from iTunes.
I am putting together some discs of reggae music -- an ironic sound on a day like today, with the temperature hovering around 4 degrees above zero.
One song I "rediscovered" was the charmingly lo-fi "Stop Them," a 1967 single credited to Hazel & The Jolly Boys & The Fugitives and produced by the wonderful Sonia Pottinger.
Pottinger (pictured) became the most powerful woman in Jamaican music. She opened a record shop in the mid-1960s and began recording musicians in 1966. She worked with such stars as Delano Stewart, The Ethiopians and Ken Boothe during her career.

Fans of Jamaican music have probably heard about the mento ensemble The Jolly Boys. As best as I can make out, that rather well-known collective is NOT the same Jolly Boys as credited on this disc. I haven't quite figured out who Hazel was, either. As for The Fugitives, well... Who knows?
I love this song regardless of who performed it.
I characterized it as "charmingly lo-fi" because it sounds like it was recorded in a hallway. It might have been.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Gettin' the girls movin'

We are listening to Bohannon's fantastically catchy "Let's Start the Dance" this morning.
I am going in to work a little later this morning, so I can supervise the girls' final day before the resumption of their classes.
Both girls have homework to complete -- school work they missed while spending much of December in Mexico.
"Let's Start the Dance" is one of those disco-era dance numbers that has aged well.
Hamilton Bohannon knew a thing or two about maintaining a groove. He served as Stevie Wonder's drummer before striking out on his own.
"Let's Start the Dance" hit the charts in 1978, thanks in part to a spirited vocal performance by Carolyn Crawford.
The song might be 30 years old now (gosh -- that certainly makes me feel old), but it still has the power to cause heads to bob up and down to the beat -- especially while working on homework.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2008: Three firsts

Happy New Year!
Here are a few of the ways I welcomed in the new year...
FIRST THING I WATCHED ON TELEVISION -- Carlos Tevez scored in the 25th minute (above) to give Manchester United a 1-0 victory over Birmingham City at Old Trafford.
Alex McLeish's Birmingham City side showed some improvement in the second half of today's Premier League encounter, but couldn't quite manage their first win at Old Trafford in 30 years.

FIRST SONG I HEARD -- I am always quick to correct people who claim DEXY'S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS are a "one-hit wonder" one the basis of "Come on Eileen."
Not so! The Birmingham band first hit the top spot on the UK charts two years earlier with the wonderful "GENO."
Kevin Rowland and Kevin Archer wrote this classic song, a tribute to soul singer Geno Washington.
Like "Come on Eileen," it is catchy enough to lodge in your brain for hours. Unlike "Come on Eileen," it has not been played to death on American radio. For me, that means it still sounds as fresh as when I first heard it so many years ago. For others, that lack of USA airplay means it remains an elusive treat. Dexy's a "one-hit wonder?" In America? Perhaps. Elsewhere? No way.
I actually watched the video for "Geno" this morning on YouTube. Click here to check it out.
FIRST MEAL I ATE -- Ahh... A whole-grain bagel topped with a bit of cheese and some jalapeƱo slices. What a wonderful way to start the year.
Happy New Year everyone!