Monday, April 29, 2013

Tong wars of old Chinatown

A history of crime in early SAN FRANCISCO wouldn't be complete without examining the TONG WARS.
HERBERT ASBURY addresses the secret-society Chinese gangs, the tongs, in his 1933 classic, "THE BARBARY COAST."
Asbury writes:
"The most spectacular and at the same time the most powerful agencies in the underworld of Chinatown were the tongs, which were always deeply involved in every evil scheme concocted in the quarter."
The tongs operated much like Sicilian Mafia organizations in other big cities.
Asbury writes:
"Each of these organizations employed professional murderers and also recruited a force of boo how doy, or fighting men, among its own members. In later years, the tong warrior fought with revolvers, bombs and even machine guns, but in earlier times his favorite weapons were hatchets, daggers, knives, and bludgeons, which he carried in a long silken belt wrapped around his body beneath a loose blouse."
As I am reading about the tongs and the early days of San Francisco's CHINATOWN, I can't help but think:
The Chinatown of opium dens and gambling halls is now the Chinatown of cheap trinkets and tourists mistakenly wearing shorts because they think all of California is warm.
That makes me a little sad.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

San Francisco's nexus of crime and racial tension

I'm reading HERBERT ASBURY'S landmark, 1933 examination of early SAN FRANCISCO crime, "THE BARBARY COAST," in preparation for my visit to the City by the Bay next month.
Last night, I read about the nexus of crime and racial tension of the 1870s.
Roving bands of young criminals, which were dubbed "HOODLUMS" by the San Francisco press, were the front line attack during a rising tide of sentiment against CHINESE immigration.
The hoodlums -- the word would eventually enter mainstream English -- delighted in terrorizing the community, robbing visiting miners, forcing girls into prostitution, etc. They saved their most pronounced viciousness, however, for the Chinese.
Asbury writes:
"All of these hoodlums, of whatever age, possessed a violent antipathy to the Chinese and tormented them at every opportunity and in every conceivable way. A favorite pastime of younger hoodlums was to board street cars on which Chinese were riding, tie the yellow men's queues (traditional hairstyle pigtails) together, and, if possible, cut off the ends."
I'm finding Asbury's book a fascinating view of early San Francisco and the problems that plagued the region during the years following the gold rush.
I'm sure it will give me inspiration as I visit San Francisco next month.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

We see Clermont make history on TV

We were in the mood for some RUGBY UNION today, and we were fortunate to see an engaging match on television.
Napolioni Nalaga scored a try and Morgan Parra kicked three penalties as CLERMONT AUVERGNE held off MUNSTER, 16-10, to advance to their first HEINEKEN CUP final.
Denis Hurley's converted try gave the Irish side hope, but the French hosts held on for the famous result.
Clermont next face TOULON or SARACENS in the final in Dublin.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Crankin' up the George Jones. 50 years at the top. R.I.P.

"If I don't love you grits ain't groceries and that's on every poor man's plate."
I'm cranking up the volume on the classics, sipping a whiskey and toasting the late and definitely great GEORGE JONES.
"Well, I don't want to sound like I'm demandin' I just wanta get a little understanding. If I don't love you grits ain't groceries and that's on every poor man's plate."
One of American music's greatest singers, Jones died today age 81.
His classic tunes spanned rockin' honky tonk numbers like "Why Baby Why" to heartfelt duets with one-time wife TAMMY WYNETTE.
Here's a tally that blows my mind: Jones scored No. 1 hits in five decades. Fifty years at the top of his profession?
That's unheard of. That's George Jones.
There are legends, and then there is George Jones.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A night of good Annika music!

ANNIKA performed tonight in the THOMAS JEFFERSON MIDDLE SCHOOL Spring Concert.
Her Seventh & Eighth Grade Orchestra played Mozart's Symphony No. 25, movement I (Allegro con brio); Strauss' The Emperor's Waltz; portions of Corelli's Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 8; and the "Hoe Down" portion from Aaron Copland's Rodeo.
She did a great job. I am really proud of her!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cold enough for a quick transformation

It's so COLD this morning -- 32 degrees outside with a 23-degree wind-chill reading and 53 in our house -- that I went from PYJAMAS to FULLY DRESSED FOR WORK in a mere 12 minutes.
That transformation includes showering, which wasn't very warm, either, since it was the second successive shower during my family's morning preparations.
I keep waiting for the relief of SPRING-LIKE temperatures.
Forecasters say they could come Sunday and Monday, when the daytime high soars to 69-73 degrees.
I'll believe it when I feel it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Get your "Seen a Monster" face on!

Nothing says "I've just seen a monster" quite like this face, from "JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT."

Monday, April 22, 2013

R.I.P. Chrissy Amphlett. You were great

It's a sad day for rock fans. CHRISSY AMPHLETT has died.
The lead singer of the Australian band the DIVINYLS was 53 and had struggled with breast cancer.
It's a shame most Americans only know the Divinyls for "I Touch Myself." The band released a clutch of great songs that scored big Down Under, such as "Boys in Town," "Science Fiction," "Pleasure and Pain" and "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore."
Her musical partner, guitarist MARK McENTEE, played guitar and endured a volatile relationship with Amphlett, who married Divinyls drummer CHARLEY DRAYTON.
Divinyls broke up in 1997 but had reformed in 2006. Their reunion was cut short as Amphlett's condition worsened.
I'm spending the morning listening to the band and honoring a great rock singer, now gone.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

San Francisco was HELLA EXPENSIVE in 1850, too!

My sister lent it to me ages ago, but today is the first time I picked up and began reading "THE BARBARY COAST," HERBERT ASBURY'S 1933 chronicle of the underworld of early SAN FRANCISCO, or as he describes it:
"The great mass of restless, turbulent, gold-hungry men who almost overnight had transformed the once-peaceful hamlet of San Francisco into a bawdy, bustling bedlam of mudholes and shanties."
Make that, "expensive shanties."
Asbury explains how the shortage of basic supplies and the abundance of gold nuggets created a unique inflation at the midpoint of the 19th century in the CITY BY THE BAY -- a small loaf of bread which would cost 4 cents in New York cost up to 75 cents in gold-rush San Francisco.
So, a day into reading Asbury's classic and I have already learned an important lesson.
San Francisco has *always* been expensive!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

An absolutely great album -- just too short

That's the only possible criticism of this 1969 album by THE IMPRESSIONS, which I heard while completing chores today.
Only 25 minutes long, the brilliant album provides both sides of the sublime songwriting of CURTIS MAYFIELD.
"Choice of Colors" and "Mighty Mighty (Spade & Whitey)" express the social conciousness of race relations in the late 1960s.
"The Girl I Find" and "Seven Years" both explore the ups and downs of relationships.
All 10 songs are beautifully rendered.
My only complaint? I wish there were at least 10 more of them!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Remembering Storm Thorgerson and his indelible legacy

Want news of the BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING manhunt?
I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere.
ROUTE 1 is today celebrating the work of ICONIC ALBUM COVER DESIGNER STORM THORGERSON, who has died, age 69.
His name might not be too familiar, but most music fans will know examples of his work. 
The cover of Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon?" The one with the light refracted through the triangle? Yeah, that's his work.
The covers for the first three, eponymous solo albums by Peter Gabriel, incuding the 1978 one with the light streaming up from Gabriel's claw-like hands? Yeah, that's his work.
The cover the Scorpions' "Animal Magnetism" album, the one with the woman and the dog kneeling next to the standing dude whose got his hand in his back pocket? Yep.
Thorgerson was a founding member of the creative team of HIPGNOSIS, the London art design firm that revolutionized album-cover design, creating indelible images for XTC, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Genesis and many other bands.
I first really paid attention to his work when I received LED ZEPPELIN'S "PRESENCE" on 8-track as a kid. The cover showed what appeared to be a happy family at a yacht basin staring at some strange, black obelisk.
It was mysterious and bewitching, and I've never forgotten it.
That's Thorgerson's legacy -- he created the unforgettable. Isn't that one of the best legacies of all?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This is the dawning of the age of curd austerity

As if the 7-2 losing scoreline was not bad enough, today's experience at the SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS game at the MILWAUKEE BREWERS' MILLER PARK held one more unpleasant surprise.
After watching Milwaukee pitcher Yovani Gallardo club one of his team's three home runs to sink my Giants, ANNIKA and I ventured to the concession stands for a HOT DOG (one of my requisites for any trip to a baseball game) and FRIED CHEESE CURDS (a uniquely Wisconsin experience).
The hot dog was great.
The cheese curds came half the size of last year's allotment, and I was stunned.
Times are tough all over, but giving half the amount of curds given last season? What are we living in, some new, dark age of CHEESE CURD AUSTERITY?
I'd complain to lawmakers, but they seem to have bigger problems at the moment.
Kind of like the suddenly struggling Giants, I guess.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Coyle & Sharpe offer a respite from the real world

I work at a newspaper, so the past few days have found me inundated with the increasingly horrific updates from TERRORIZED BOSTON.
By the time for bed, I've reached my limit of the sinister "real world," so to speak, so I've been falling to sleep to the sounds of the sinisterly silly.
JAMES P. COYLE AND MAL SHARPE introduced radio listeners of the early 1960s to a style of man-on-the-street prank that has been replicated thousands of times since but never bettered.
I've been enjoying a recording of their pioneering comedic experiments the past couple of nights before bed.
The straight-faced pair would ask random strangers if they would be willing to baby-sit a bear, what they think about elongating their foreheads to create sugar bowls and if they care to hear an afternoon's worth of a man droning into their ears.
The pair recorded the varied responses, and a bizarre and utterly hilarious form of radio comedy was born.
I've written about Coyle and Sharpe before, and I'll doubtless write about them again. I turn to them when I've had a little too much seriousness.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Battered book provides information, inspiration

I relaxed last night after work by burrowing my nose deep in a book that I've paged through so many times it is falling apart in numerous places.
"THE ALL MUSIC GUIDE TO SOUL" has been a valuable resource, teaching me about great music and pointing me in directions for musical exploration -- I never would have reconnected with the SOUL TRAIN sounds of my youth had it not been for this book.
Today, it has influenced me to listen to some CURTIS MAYFIELD and ISAAC HAYES -- two of the towering giants of SOUL.
I continue to turn to this book for information and inspiration, even though more pages seem to slip out every day.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

One side festive, one side fighting in FA Cup semi

Shaun Maloney and Callum McManaman scored as WIGAN defeated MILLWALL, 2-0, today to advance to the FA CUP FINAL.
The Latics' fully deserved victory threatened to become overshadowed by hideous scenes of fighting amongst Millwall supporters.
Millwall have tried to shed the image of a holligan-tainted club, but scenes like today's seem to cement a thoroughly tarnished reputation.
Hopefully what occurred in the stands won't be remembered when this match is reviewed in years to come.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" Giants ask in "Animal House" homage

The latest commercial for my favorite sports team, the SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS, has had me laughing all morning.
Outfielder Hunter Pence and his inspirational-speech ability is recast as "Bluto" Blutarsky's memorable, motivational Delta Tau Chi battle cry from "ANIMAL HOUSE."
Several Giants, notably Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Madison "What're we supposed to do, yuh moron" Bumgarner play key roles in the "Animal House" homage.
Pence's real-life inspirational words seemed to have helped propel San Francisco to an improbable playoff run last year, culminating in the team's second WORLD SERIES title in three seasons.
I'm preparing to listen to the Giants on the radio now, still chuckling over this latest commercial -- and the hysterical film inspiration.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

I'll be all smiles with Philly soul

The weather has been so depressing lately -- unseasonably COLD, GLOOMY, WET AND DARK -- that I've brought out a heavyweight musical style to help keep a smile plastered upon my face.
PHILADELPHIA SOUL means the classic '70s sounds of MFSB, The Three Degrees, The Delfonics, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Intruders, The O'Jays, The Stylistics, The Spinners, Jean Carn, Archie Bell & The Drells and more.
It's a classic sound that always reminds me of the Saturday afternoons of my youth watching SOUL TRAIN and awkwardly (and never, ever proficiently) attempting to copy the dancers' moves on songs such as "One of a Kind (Love Affair)" or "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now."
I've recently compiled a 66-song, 4.3-hour Philly Soul extravaganza playlist that serves multiple purposes.
It gives me classic tunes to sing along with in the car, it reminds me I'll never really be able to dance to "Don't Leave Me This Way" and it keeps me smiling when all I really want to do is strangle OL' MAN WINTER.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Thatcher's musical legacy in focus

Reaction to the death of MARGARET THATCHER continues to reverberate across BRITAIN and the INTERNET.
Among the discussions are the attempts to describe her legacy left by musicians.
A generation of songwriters introduced us to protest songs specifically targeting "The Iron Lady."
I had THE BEAT'S "STAND DOWN MARGARET" playing in my head moments after learning of Thatcher's death.
I was not alone.
Countless stories have emerged about Thatcher's imprint on modern music. She provided plenty of grist for the proverbial mill.
Dorian Lynskey writes in the GUARDIAN:
"Musical responses to Thatcher came in three varieties. There were songs that took a hard look at the country, especially during the early 1980s recession and the Falklands war: the aimless dispossessed of 'Ghost Town,' the conflicted dockworker of 'Shipbuilding,' the struggling poor of 'A Town Called Malice,' the despair-poisoned citizens of The The's 'Heartland.' There were the character assassinations: Crass's incandescent Falklands response 'How Does It Feel to Be the Mother of 1,000 Dead,' the Blow Monkeys' somewhat premature '(Celebrate) The Day After You,' Morrissey's 'Margaret on the Guillotine' and Elvis Costello's venomous 'Tramp the Dirt Down.'"
We'll be hearing more about Thatcher's musical legacy in the coming days, I'm sure, with plenty of tunes to serve as examples.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Thatcher launched protests that still simmer

I didn't live in BRITAIN during her 11-year tenure as prime minister, so I have no real right to discuss her legacy, but the musicians I enjoyed certainly had strong feelings about MARGARET THATCHER.
The "Iron Lady" who died today launched hundreds if not thousands of modern protest songs.
The anger continues to resonate, based upon the mood of my TWITTER feed this morning when the news broke. There were plenty of people still incensed by Thatcher.
BILLY BRAGG was one of the loudest voices raised against Thatcher during her reign.
Today he posted on FACEBOOK:
"This is not a time for celebration. The death of Margaret Thatcher is nothing more than a salient reminder of how Britain got into the mess that we are in today."

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Orchestra meets silent film to delight of movie crowd

KERSTIN and I felt like we had stepped back in time last night.
We attended a showing of HAROLD LLOYD'S 1928 silent film, "SPEEDY," backed by the music of the local Pops Orchestra under the direction of conductor ROB TOMARO.
The showing at Dubuque's historic Grand Opera House was one of the highlights of this weekend's JULIEN DUBUQUE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.
In the film, Lloyd plays a New Yorker so obsessed with baseball he invariably loses his numerous, short-lived jobs -- until he's given the opportunity to save New York's last horse-drawn streetcar.
The orchestra's practice paid off perfectly, with musical cues punctuating the film's sometimes frantic action and little details -- such as the blowing of a policeman's whistle or the popping of a balloon.
The orchestra's well-timed musical accompaniment gave the film an additional dimension -- and gave Kerstin and me a glimpse at what the moviegoing experience must have been like for Lloyd's contemporaries.
The evening was certainly a treat.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Clermont fly to victory

KERSTIN and I watched live on television today as CLERMONT AUVERGNE flew past MONTPELLIER, 36-14, to reach the HEINEKEN CUP semifinals for the second year in a row.
Wesley Fofana, Aurélien Rougerie, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Lee Byrne and Napolioni Nalaga scored tries for the club historically known as "Montferrand."
Timoci Nagusa scored the lone try for the visitors.
The atmosphere inside Clermont's Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin was spectacular, with fans from both clubs singing, chanting and waving flags throughout the match.
Actually, we alternated between watching the rugby union match and watching the CATS watching the BIRDS gorging themselves at the bird feeder right outside the window.
There was plenty of action for everybody.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Here are a few of our favorite games

Wanna guess what happens when you try playing PAC-MAN on your smartphone while a cat rubs its flank across your face? Hint: The hungry ghosts l-o-v-e when that happens.
Which brings us to this week's ROUTE 1 FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What is your favorite arcade, computer or smartphone game?"
JILL H. -- Candy Crushers.
JOHN S. -- My favorite arcade game was "Sea Wolf" it was a submarine game and the controls were made to look like a periscope.
MIKE M. -- My 6-year-old son’s enthusiasm for Super Mario Bros. is infectious; I’m on World 6 on his DS.
STACEY B. -- Tetris.
MIKE D. -- I know not of this technology of which you speak. I did, however, enjoy playing Burger Time on Intellivision 30 years ago.
SANDYE V. -- I play Scrabble on the Kindle. Does that count?
ANNIKA H. -- Sunday Lawn.
RICK T. -- Solitaire on the computer.
STEVE M. -- A good pinball game.  no electronic games.  I know I know I must be missing some great ones.
ERIK H. -- The iPhone has reintroduced me to old-school favorites such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man (the latter does an effective job of raising my blood pressure). For actual enjoyment, however, there is no feeling quite like "shooting the moon" to win Microsoft's Hearts game.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Montana brings beauty to Philly soul

Occasionally you'll hear a piece of music and one of the musicians seems to tower over the rest.
VINCENT MONTANA, JR., does that for me on "MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE" by Philadelphia soul legends MFSB.
MFSB was the primary instrumental outfit in Philadelphia, linked with numerous productions by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
Critic Steve Huey writes:
" MFSB provided backing on a bevy of Philadelphia International hits, most prominently for the O'Jays and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, as well as other Philly soulsters like the Stylistics and the Spinners."
The collective included vibraphonist Montana, and his work punctuates such classics as "La La Means I Love You" by the Delfonics, "992 Arguments" by the O'Jays, "Betcha By Golly Wow" by the Stylistics and "Me and Mrs. Jones" by Billy Paul, among many others.
More than just another color from the musical palette, Montana's vibes are at the forefront of "My One and Only Love."
I played the song twice yesterday just to hear Montana's work.
He brought stunning beauty to soul music.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The triumphant return of fourth-grade excitement

Back in the FOURTH GRADE, all I needed to unwind from a tough day at WILLOW CREEK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, CONCORD, CALIF., was a big plastic superhero cup full of sugared cereal and an episode of "ULTRAMAN" or "JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT."
Sugared cereal is available at fine stores everywhere, I've had the complete 1966 season of "Ultraman" on DVD for several years and when "Johnny Sokko" finally made its appearance on disc last week, I snapped it up immediately.
My return to childhood entertainment is nearly complete!
Known as "JAIANTO ROBO (GIANT ROBOT)" in its native Japan, "Johnny Sokko" was a tokusatsu -- a live-action superhero series -- produced by Toei Company in 1967-68.
It was developed for American audiences of the 1970s by American International Television. It was ridiculously dubbed, but kept the mind-blowingly cheesy special effects in place.
Title character Johnny Sokko (played by Mitsunobu Kaneko) lived every fourth-grade boy's fantasy: He along controlled a 100-foot tall robot who could battle monsters trying to wreck havoc on Tokyo.
"Use your finger missiles," Johnny would command, and missiles would fire out of the robot's finger tips.
"Use your megaton-punch," Johnny would command, and the robot would wind up and pummel some poor stunt man dressed in a rubber octopus costume.
Pure delight for the after-school crowd!
I purchased Johnny Sokko for the same escapism I enjoyed on those afternoons following school.
Work won't seem all bad, when I can vicariously live through a kid with a monster-smashing robot at his beck and call.

Monday, April 01, 2013

No foolin' -- I'm glad baseball's back

This week's return of BASEBALL isn't just the renewal of a sport's season.
It's also a sign that WINTER'S lengthy hold on our area is due to loosen -- I hope.
We face another day of below-normal temperatures today.
We're only supposed to reach 37 degrees, when the temperature should be around 52.
No foolin', I'm ready for the start of baseball. Not just for the sound of bat on ball, but for the thaw of ice as well.