Saturday, June 30, 2012

Newhart creating sanity surrounded by surrealism

Today has been a quintessential SUMMER DAY characterized by three classic "N" pursuits -- napping, national pastime and Newhart.
In between snoozing and listening to baseball on the radio, I've been enjoying bits from some of the BOB NEWHART records of the early 1960s.
Before his successful television shows, Newhart was an "accountant turned comic," writes Michael B. Kassel, "(whose) ability to create sanity while surrounded by surrealism and insanity" became his hallmark and "who became famous for his outlandish comedy routines based on telephone conversations with people like Abraham Lincoln and Sir Walter Raleigh."
Newhart's "Driving Instructor" skit is one such memorable moment of keeping sane amid surrealism, as he narrates one side of a conversation between the instructor and his willing but inept student:
"You're doing fine... You're not blocking anyone's lane... No, as long as you are here on the safety island, you are not blocking anyone's lane... Now let's practice some turns. Um, the important thing on turns is not to make them too sharp, just kind of make a gradual... Now that was fine... That was a wonderful turn... It's hard for me to believe you only had two lessons after you make a turn like... Are you sure you haven't had more now?... One little thing... This is a one way street... Well, no, no, actually it was partially my fault, you see, but, uh, you were in the left hand lane and you were signaling left, and I just more or less assumed you were going to turn left."

Friday, June 29, 2012

Parents liked it, we sure don't

Jalapenos, Miles Davis, samurai films... There seem to be plenty of things I love that the kids just don't "get," which leads us to this week's ROUTE 1 FRIDAY QUESTION:
"Is there anything your parents liked that you just can't seem to enjoy?"
JOHN S. -- Raddishes.
BEKAH S. -- Well, for starters, kids. Ironic, right? They had two, and then adopted three, in addition to caring for many more via foster care. I always admired them for it, but that's one thing they enjoyed that I would NEVER want to do.
KERSTIN H. -- Jazz music. It puts me to sleep.
RICK T. -- They liked liver and onions. I will not eat that to this day!
SANDYE V. -- Baseball (the Cubs) and big band music -- not necessarily in that order.
ERIK H. -- My dad was a war buff, fascinated by all conflicts but in particular the Napoleonic Wars. Armed conflicts have never interested me, and I only know the Napoleonic Wars involved France (and the rest of Europe, I think).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Heating up and cooling off with the Melodians

A local HEAT WAVE begins today -- we're looking at a high temperature of 96 degrees -- so I walked this morning, instead of this afternoon.
I had a bounce in my step despite the early hour because I was grooving along to a playlist of THE MELODIANS.
The vocal group behind "Sweet Sensation," "Rivers of Babylon" and "Swing and Dine" had a twin-toned vocal approach that set them apart from their other, stellar contemporaries.
"They had the advantage," write critics Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton, "of possessing two exceptional lead voices in Tony Brevett's warm baritone and Brent Dowe's anguished tenor, plus an excellent harmony singer in Trevor McNaughton."
Their songs helped keep me going in the emerging light of day. I'll listen tonight, too, hoping they help cool me after a scorcher.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

One nation, under surveillance

I'm reading the book "STASILAND" by Anna Funder. It's a fascinating look at EAST GERMANY under the constant surveillance of its notorious secret-police force, the STASI.
Funder describes a nation under constant, Orwellian scrutiny that seems copied from the pages of the dystopian novel "1984."
"The Stasi had 97,000 employees -- more than enough to oversee a country of 17 million people," Funder writes. "But is also had over 173,000 informers among the population. In Hitler's Third Reich it is estimated that there was one Gestapo agent for every 2,000 citizens, and in Stalin's USSR there was one KGB agent for every 5,830 people. In the GDR (German Democratic Republic, a.k.a. East Germany), there was one Stasi officer or informant for every 63 people. If part-time informers are included, some estimates have the ratio as high as one informer for every 6.5 citizens."
It's hard to fathom having your every movement chronicled and every statement recorded.
Even now, citizens of the former East Germany are pouring through mountains of Stasi files, learning what aspects of their lives were scrutinized.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Giving the songs about "bayous, swamps and juke joints" another chance

My jazz-loving dad's second-favorite rock band -- after THE BEATLES -- were a Bay Area combo that I could never appreciate.
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL are duly famous, with five No. 2 singles and albums such as "Bayou Country" that are regarded as classics.
I never connected with them, in part because I couldn't understand how songwriter JOHN FOGERTY could pen songs about bayous, swamps and juke joints.
I grew up in the same East Bay/Contra Costa County region Fogerty did, and I don't remember any bayous, swamps and juke joints.
Recently, I read an interview with Fogerty that prompted me to give the band another chance.
Fogerty claimed his El Cerrito, Calif., hometown was so boring that he created an imaginary, mythic "South" full of the bayous, swamps and juke joints that later populated his songs.
I had always considered Fogerty a little false. Now, I have a better idea about what he aimed for with his songs.
I'll listen to Creedence today and tomorrow, and see if my opinion of them changes.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Reconnect with the spirit of baseball

We just watched my nephew TREY play a pair of high school baseball games in MARION, IOWA.
Trey's PRAIRIE HAWKS (of Cedar Rapids) defeated BURLINGTON, 9-4, and hosts MARION, 13-9, in the HEALD-JACKSON BASEBALL CLASSIC.
I've watched plenty of live Major League baseball this season.
Today, it was fun to experience the game at a simpler level.
Players batted, caught, pitched and ran for the love of the game.
The hot dogs were big and cheap, the super nachos featured homemade taco meat and the seats were the folding chairs we packed in our car's trunk.
It was a nice way to reconnect with the spirit of baseball.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Spring highlights from Route 1 readers

A series of journeys meant a number of FRIDAYS spent away from ROUTE 1 H.Q., but fear not -- the FRIDAY QUESTION returns this week as readers respond to the following query:
"What was the highlight of your spring?"
RICK T. -- Going to the beach as often as we can (Panama City Beach Florida).
JOHN S. -- My new bike!
SANDYE V. -- It was my son Dan's wedding in April. We hosted the reception at the Hazel Green Opera House and I made 120 cupcakes for the wedding "cake" with puppet bride and groom on top.
KERI M. -- Planning my wedding.
MIKE M. -- I spent a couple of days with my wife and kids at the cabin at Four Mounds during spring break. We went for hikes together, cooked fancy meals, played games, watched movies, and enjoyed the fireplace. We had a lovely time.
STACEY B. -- Marrying my best friend. Still can't believe zombies were mentioned more than once in our vows. Incredible!
ERIK H. -- I enjoyed two trips west in as many months, celebrating my mom's birthday, touring San Francisco and showing Jill and the girls around my home area.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Enjoying an afternoon of baseball

People have taken a day off from work to attend an AFTERNOON BASEBALL GAME since the sport's 19th century origins.
Yesterday, it was my turn.
JILL sent MY FATHER-IN-LAW MARK and me to the BREWERS versus the BLUE JAYS at Miller Park in MILWAUKEE as a Father's Day present.
It was my fourth Major League Baseball game of the season and the first time I had seen Toronto play since the 1989 American League Championship Series in Oakland.
It was also a home run bonanza, with five round-trippers hit, including three in one inning by the Brewers, who won, 8-3.
I drank some beer and got a little sunburned, kept score and purchased a Brewers media guide.
The afternoon commute we had to negotiate to leave Milwaukee was an annoyance, but the rest of the day was first class.
I recommend taking an occasional day off for an afternoon sporting event. It's worth it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Flaco plays on another Tejano type of day

I don't know what they are singing about, but they sure make me tap my toes.
Our hot-and-windy weather conditions have put me in a TEXAN mood, and few musical performers symbolize the Lone Star State quite like the CONJUNTO ACCORDIAN pioneer FLACO JIMENEZ.
Before he won Grammy Awards, before he collaborated with acts that include The Rolling Stones and before he joined the Texas Tornados, Jimenez was just a 16-year-old kid wowing audiences with his blazing skills while recording with LOS CAMINANTES, circa 1958-59.
ARHOOLIE RECORDS collected these recordings on a fabulous compilation called "FLACO'S FIRST" and I have been enjoying hearing them while driving around in our unseasonable hot-and-windy conditions.
Now... if only I could find some delicious Tex-Mex...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Music for a Texan day

Today's HOT AND WINDY conditions had me thinking "TEXAS," and no album in my collection conjures up the Lone Star State quite like "CANCIONES DE MI BARRIO."
The compilation collects late 1950s and early 1960s rock, pop and rhythm & blues tracks by a youthful FREDDY FENDER.
The recordings include American pop hits the future country star sang in Spanish as well as Mexican ranchera standards.
The tunes were recorded for the Ideal Record label, based in San Benito, and are emblematic of the hot, windy and wide-open aspects of Texas.
That's why I'm listening today -- we're experiencing our own little Texas day!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Reading about radio's bad-boy genius

Today, a disc jockey's banter with the newsman, an airborne traffic reporter and improvised characters augmented by sound effects are old enough to be considered RADIO MORNING SHOW cliches.
I'm reading about the man who launched those elements as a trail-blazing radio announcer in the 1950s.
DON SHERWOOD was the original bad boy of radio, a "shock jock" decades before the term would gain traction in popular culture.
From his studio at SAN FRANCISCO'S KSFO RADIO, Sherwood captivated a region.
It details his fascinating career, including the alcoholism and rebellious spirit that prevented him from taking his pioneering approach to a national stage.
The smartest general managers gave Sherwood free rein. The results were hilarious man-on-the-street bits, mangled commercial endorsements that somehow suited the advertisers just fine and shows-within-shows, such as "Just Plain Rosita," a recurring skit in which Sherwood played a Spanish-language instruction tape and "translated" the phrases into the offbeat scenes of a faux soap opera.
Standard stuff, now, but revolutionary in its day.
However, general managers who gave Sherwood free rein also risked filling the air on the days when he simply wouldn't show up for work, or risked having to apologize when "Donnie Babe" ruffled too many important feathers.
There are a few online resources boasting recorded moments of Sherwood's radio brilliance. Sadly, it's all we have left to hear from him.

Friday, June 15, 2012

School food blogger faces council ban

A Scottish council has banned a 9-year-old girl from photographing her school lunches after her popular blog, NEVERSECONDS (see it here), attracted unwanted attention to the poor quality of the meals.
Martha Payne had begun the blog as a writing project with her dad as a way to hone her literary skills, not necessarily cast an unwanted glare on the meagre and unpalatable meal options at her school.
ARGYLL AND BUTE COUNCIL leaders decided enough was enough, however, and Payne was told to quit photographing the food this week.
Now, Payne's plight is splashed over the front pages of Britain's newspapers.
Something tells me, this story has not yet run its course.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Returning to work. What is it I do again?

I return to WORK after VACATION today, and I am honestly struggling to remember exactly what it is I do there.
I think it has something to do with NEWSPAPERS.
Oddly, I've been away from work for longer periods of time and not felt so disconnected.
Perhaps it was the nature of this particular trip, with its party for my MOM and the reliance of early morning departures, cars, buses, trains and planes to arrive at our destinations (couldn't we fit a boat in there somewhere?).
I'm sure it will all come back to me as I wade through the hundreds of email messages awaiting my gaze. At least, I hope it all comes back to me!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stuck on "Homestuck"

"Since you are reading this, chances are you have installed this game on your computer already. If this is true, like many others, you have just participated in bringing about the end of the world."
-- Rose "tentacleTherapist" Lalonde

It all started with a trip to SAN FRANCISCO'S JAPANTOWN.
There, amid various COSPLAY participants -- kids and young adults dressed as anime/manga characters -- we saw a group of about 25 girls wandering the mall who were dressed essentially alike. Each wore a black shirt, a black wig and candy corn-colored horns.
The idea of a couple dozen girls all wearing the same cosplay costumes intrigued me, so I began scrolling through a cosplay costume database when we arrived home.
Page 18 of the database solved the mystery: I saw a girl dressed like the Japantown hordes.
It was a TROLL, one of the supporting characters in the "HOMESTUCK" episode of MS PAINT ADVENTURES, a lengthy, still-evolving webcomic by ANDREW HUSSIE about a group of kids playing a rather intense, immersive reality computer game.
I read the first act today. Created by Hussie in 2009, it provides background on two of the kids, John and Rose, and chronicles their early experiences with the game.
I find the comic to be funny, packed with some in-jokes I get (some of the pop culture jokes) and some I do not get (some of the gaming and computer programming jokes).
I'm going to keep reading, though, because I also find it interesting. (You can find it by clicking here.)
Other people find it interesting, too. Interesting enough to plant candy corn-colored horns on their wigged heads.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Croatian for a day -- apparently

I didn't really intend to antagonize SAN FRANCISCO'S IRISH COMMUNITY when I walked out of INGER'S house wearing a CROATIA football team away shirt the other day.
A bloke in an Irish T-shirt shouted as JILL, KERSTIN, ANNIKA and I strolled down 24th Street toward the MUNI stop on Castro.
Croatia had just defeated IRELAND, 3-1, in the EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP.
I started smiling, but some of the bloke's mates must have wondered why he was booing.
"It's because they're Croatian!" he told them.
We both smiled at each other -- football supporters have to respect each other, despite differing allegiances.
We're not really Croatian. We're just visitors who love football (well, I do. I think Jill and the girls mostly tolerate football).

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Heading west again!

Well, here we go.
We're heading west -- this time to SAN FRANCISCO and RENO.
ROUTE 1 will return next week.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Uncle Tupelo and a flawed premise to head west

I prepare for another trip west today.
As I left work yesterday, it dawned on me that the best way to move back to the PACIFIC COAST is to simply shorten the intervals between trips.
Eventually, the intervals would conceivably compress down to hours and minutes, and I would practically live in my native region once again.
I pondered this obviously ridiculous premise while walking the dog last night and listening to the fabulous UNCLE TUPELO albums "MARCH 16-20, 1992" and "ANODYNE."
Uncle Tupelo's premise seems so simple with hindsight: Revive Gram Parson's legacy while spicing the country music with a dash of Neil Young guitar noise.
Acting upon that premise blew open the doors for the acceptance of ALTERNATIVE COUNTRY.
It's just a shame, I think, that JAY FARRAR and JEFF TWEEDY couldn't maintain their friendship long enough to keep the band operating. Sure, we wouldn't have SON VOLT or WILCO, but wouldn't the world be a better place with more Uncle Tupelo?
That's a question I'll ponder tonight, during my next trip west.
Keep cutting down the intervals and see what happens -- that's my approach.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Wacky, violent and I love it

It's wacky and violent and I have always loved it.
"YAJU NO SEISHUN (YOUTH OF THE BEAST)" is a 1963 thriller by SEIJUN SUZUKI starring JOE SHISHIDO as a mysterious stranger who infiltrates two yakuza gangs in Tokyo.
I watched the film last night on DVD.
Playing one gang against the other is a risky endeavor, and the stranger endures creatively painful torture as be proceeds with his plans.
Shot in glorious color, the film also provides a glimpse of a vibrant Japan emerging from its postwar malaise.

Monday, June 04, 2012

So long, Mr. Trololo

EDUARD KHIL could have had no idea that his wordless vocalizing of "I Am Glad, 'Cause I'm Finally Returning Back Home," recorded in 1976, would become an INTERNET SENSATION decades later.
The quirky video (see it here) has been watched at least 12 million times, gaining Khil fame as "MR. TROLOLO."
Khil died today, age 77, which has launched many more viewings of the goofy video.
I watched it again, too.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A little Diamond Jubilee before work

I'm watching the DIAMOND JUBILEE on television before work.