Thursday, May 30, 2013

Burke's death brings great song back to center stage

Sadly, it took this week's death of CLARENCE BURKE JR. to bring a fantastic song back to the forefront of American musical consciousness.
"O-O-H CHILD" was the 1970 smash hit by THE FIVE STAIRSTEPS, a CHICAGO group comprising lead singer Burke and his siblings.
I heard "O-o-h Child" several times since learning of Burke's death. It is an uplifting song that transcends the genres of pop and soul.
More than 20 other artists have covered the song, too, so the tune's reputation is cemented among singers.
It's a little hard to believe it only peaked at No. 8 on the pop charts, considering how the song's stature has endured relative to many of its contemporaries.
That must be one of Burke's legacies -- he created music that truly does stand the test of time.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Literary escapism with the Doctor

I'm taking a little break from serious reading for some classic escapism.
"DOCTOR WHO AND THE KEYS OF MARINUS" is a novelisation by PHILIP HINCHCLIFFE of the fifth serial in the British television series "DOCTOR WHO," featuring the First Doctor (portrayed by WILLIAM HARTNELL).
It's a quick read -- I consumed half of it last night -- and a highly entertaining one.
The Doctor and his companions arrive on an extraterrestrial island under attack, and agree to help the solitary inhabitant find microchips necessary to restart a massive computer built to stamp out evil in that world.The quest leads to numerous adventures -- and plenty of opportunities for cliff-hanging developments.
I'll read something serious later. For now, I'm off on a brief literary escape.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Celebrating a classic travelogue

It's the land that gave the world Alexander the Great and its empire once stretched as far east as present-day India.
MACEDONIA boasts a prominent place in history, yet its current place remains burdened by controversy. Bulgaria claims all of its population as its own people, Greece refuses to acknowledge any Macedonia but its own, while a former Yugoslavian republic claims its name.
I just completed reading a wonderful book about this land that is so difficult to pin down -- the multilingual land of Macedonia -- and the tome was about the best $5 I ever spent.
WILL MYER taught Islam in his native United Kingdom when he traveled to "PIRIN MACEDONIA," that portion of the ancient kingdom now located in BULGARIA and "VARDAR MACEDONIA," that portion once a component of YUGOSLAVIA.
He recorded his travels in a manuscript posthumously published following his sudden, untimely death as "PEOPLE OF THE STORM GOD."
I purchased the book for five bucks at a small, used bookstore in MOUNT HOREB, WISCONSIN, and finished reading it today.
I highly recommend it.
Myer went searching for a "true Macedonia," and found a land boasting strong Christian and Muslim communities, little in the way of economic progress, but a friendly people working hard to maintain as much of a unified identity as possible in the face of internal and external challenges.
Myer's book accomplishes the primary aim of any travelogue.
His writing makes the reader *want* to visit his subject matter. "Armchair travelers" like myself could ask for nothing more.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Biding my time until a Bluth binge

While other ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT fans have been "binge watching" the newly released, fourth season of the television show on Netflix, I have been biding my time.
I work today, and I want to complete my tasks before "rewarding" myself with the resumption of the BLUTH family's misadventures.
I work until 9 p.m., and rest assured, by 9:30 I will be tucking into the new series.
It will give me something to look forward to while I toil during a holiday weekend.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Goliath takes the cup

Joe E. Lewis once said:
"Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel."
He meant that rooting for the monied, talent-laden team was like rooting for an industrial monopoly that always seemed to crush opposition with no real fight required.
The Yankees were the ultimate favorites, much as I viewed BAYERN MUNICH in today's CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL against fellow German club BORUSSIA DORTMUND.
Arjen Robben's 89th-minute goal gave Bayern the 2-1 victory they deserved, but I found it impossible to celebrate their title.
Bayern are the Goliaths to almost every other team's David, and my heart has always been on the side of the underdog, not the robber baron.
Watching today's final was like watching U.S. Steel crush yet another competitor on the road toward industrialized hegemony.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Visiting my roots and the people who planted them

One of the things that keeps me going in this crazy thing called life is the fact that I can occasionally reconnect with my roots -- the places and people that shaped me, but that now lie thousands of miles away.
I thoroughly enjoyed one of those occasions the past week, during a visit to my native SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA.
Beyond the baseball games, the used book shopping and the fine restaurants, the trip provided an opportunity for me to trod on the ground of my birthplace, OAKLAND, CALIF., and celebrate my relationships with family members.
I'm grateful for these times.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A great day for Shorter's towering tenor

WAYNE SHORTER towers over most other tenor saxophone players -- as both a player and a composer.
Shorter's work is impressive, whether as a solo artist, celebrated MILES DAVIS sideman or co-leader of WEATHER REPORT.
Today, I'm listening to Shorter's work on the 1960 ART BLAKEY & THE JAZZ MESSENGERS album, "A NIGHT IN TUNISIA."
Along with his stellar playing, Shorter provided his composition "Sincerely Diana," the album's second track.
It sounds perfect on an unseasonably warm day like today -- or any day, really.

Monday, May 13, 2013

What if... the Daleks celebrated Opposite Day?


Sunday, May 12, 2013

A haunting tale from the brothers Grimm

A young man we might think of today as having a mental disability has no sense of fear.
His father has basically disowned him, so the young man leaves home. He will travel the countryside, he tells his family, so that he might finally learn what it means to shiver.
"A TALE OF ONE WHO TRAVELED TO LEARN WHAT SHIVERING MEANT" is one of the most haunting of the almost universally dark entries in GRIMM'S FAIRY TALES, a collection I am re-reading for the first time since childhood (when I couldn't possibly appreciate them as much as I do now).
In "A Tale of One Who Traveled," I see the protagonist almost in the same vein as Lennie from "Of Mice and Men," except without a George to serve as protector.
Coming upon a group of seven men hanging from gallows, the protagonist of "A Tale of One Who Traveled" takes them down and arranges them around his fire when he fears they are getting cold. Then, he becomes angry when the dead men allow their clothes to catch fire.
It's one of a number of striking scenes in the story, that also includes successive nights spent in a haunted castle.
If, like me, you haven't read Grimm's Fairy Tales in years, I recommend you pick up a copy. The imagery is often cinematic. The subject matter is often thought-provoking -- never more so than in "A Tale of One Who Traveled."

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Still feeling shorthanded, but the hockey helps

Sniffles and slapshots?
Chicken noodle soup and cross-checking?
Facial tissues and faceoffs?
I'm unsure of the connection, but for some reason I seem drawn to watching HOCKEY while recovering from a BAD COLD.
Last night, I watched as Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur scored and James Reimer stopped 43 shots and the visiting TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS beat the BOSTON BRUINS, 2-1, to avoid elimination in the STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS.
It was a treat to watch the CBC's HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA broadcast feed on the NHL NETWORK.
I blew my nose throughout the game and downed pills during the intermissions.
This lingering cold still has me feeling shorthanded, but at least the hockey took my mind off it for three periods.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Things aren't what they seem in Matsuno's horror flick

I enjoyed watching HIROSHI MATSUNO'S 1968 horror film "KYUKETSU DOKURO SEN (THE LIVING SKELETON)" today, even though I found it difficult to follow in spots.
KIKKO MATSUOKA plays two characters, a grief-stricken woman struggling to cope with the death of her sister, and the sister who was brutally murdered when pirates slaughtered people on a freighter that was carrying gold.
Three years after the slayings, the pirates begin to be murdered and the dead sister appears to be the culprit -- getting her revenge from beyond the grave.
Things aren't what they seem in this engaging film, however, and there is no better example than a priest played by MASUMI OKADA.
Film buffs will remember the Japanese-Danish Okada as "Frank," the finger-snapping Amerasian in the 1956 classic "KURUTTA KAJITSU (CRAZED FRUIT)." 
In "The Living Skeleton," Okada's character has a connection to the freighter tragedy we don't learn until late in the film -- a plot twist that surprises other characters as much as it does the film's viewers.
I will need to watch "The Living Skeleton" again before I fully understand it. One viewing, however, was enough to know I like it.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Alien-possessed vampires meet plane crash survivors

Here are 10 things HAJIME SATO packed into his delirious, 1968 JAPANESE sci-fi horror film "KYUKETSUKI GOKEMIDORO (GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL)."
1. A jetliner flying through a blood-red sky.
2. Birds committing suicide by flying into the windows of the jetliner.
3. A UFO that causes the jetliner to crash.
4. Nobuo Kaneko, the veteran Japanese character actor who appeared in "Aru Kyohaku (Intimidation)," "Yaju No Seishun (Youth of the Beast)," "Jingi Naki Tatakai (Battles Without Honour and Humanity)" and many other films.
5. A hijacker who is kidnapped, then possessed by aliens who turn him into a vampire.
6. "I think we're in for something that will blow our minds."
7. A battle for water among the survivors of the plane crash.
8. Hypnotism involving the flame of a candle.
9. A woman whose body becomes possessed by the aliens so they can announce that their invasion of Earth has begun.
10. A tollway full of dead drivers.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Seriously unhinged fare from Shochiku Studios

Japan's second-oldest film studio had some catching up to do when men in rubber monster suits began to dominate the nation's cinema in the late 1960s.
SHOCHIKU was better known as the studio home of Yasujiro Ozu and "serious" movies, but wanted to join the rush in producing DAI-KAIJU (giant monster) films that were making big money.
Knowing Shochiku's reputation for thoughtful drama, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered the deliriously unhinged nature of the studio's horror/sci fi output.
Yesterday I watched KAZUI NIHONMATSU'S "UCHU DAIKAIJU GIRARA (THE X FROM OUTER SPACE)," Shochiku's 1967 combination of toy spaceships, jazzy soundtrack music and men in rubber monster suits.
A crew from a space mission returns with a glowing rock that hatches an energy absorbing monster that rampages through JAPAN.
The space crew then stumbles upon the only substance that will subdue the creature.
I vaguely remember seeing the movie as a kid. Then, I don't even think I noticed that the society depicted in the film would have a fully staffed moon base while still relying on late '60s model automobiles and rotary telephones.
Those incongruities just added to the fun while I enjoyed the movie as an adult.
I can't wait to see more of Shochiku's horror films.

Friday, May 03, 2013

What's your favorite sound of spring?

Don't let the occasional snow flake fool you. It's SPRING!
This week, ROUTE 1 readers mark the season by answering the following FRIDAY QUESTION:
"What is your favorite sound of spring?"
ANNIKA H. -- When the teachers say there is only one more month of school.
JOHN S. -- My bike.
SANDYE V. -- The cardinals singing. They are with us all winter, but in the spring, their song is magical. And at night, the frogs or tree toads.
JIM S. -- The bubbling brooks/streams that you so often can hear as you jog or ride a bike along Heritage Trail. (Of course, I have to temporarily turn off my iPod to hear them!)
KERI M. -- The opening riff of Smash Mouth's "Walkin' on the Sun." Patio music.
BRIAN M. -- As much as they grate on you later on in the summer, the sound of a lawnmower running, along with the "clink" of garden tools.
KERSTIN H. -- My favorite sound of spring is rain. It's quiet and peaceful and it means the beginning of new life.
LISA Y. -- My favorite sound is my kids and their friends running around playing and having fun!
STEVE M. -- With the windows open, hearing the distinctive chatter of the cardinals.  They stick around all year, but they really only start to make noise in the Spring.
RICK T. -- Here in Florida it's spring all year round. But,to answer your question, the birds singing in the trees.
ERIK H. -- My favorite sound of spring is "Happy Birthday," which I heard today.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Reconnecting with "The Hurting"

One of the consequences of my daughters falling in love with '80s music is that I occasionally return to an artist or an album I haven't heard in years.
"THE HURTING" by TEARS FOR FEARS fits that bill today.
I had the Bath, England duo's on cassette back in the day, and would either sing along to "Change" in the car or dance around to "Suffer The Children" in the kitchen.
Like a lot of those cassettes from those days, I eventually wore out "The Hurting." I just listened to the album a little too much.
I was musical snob enough to begin losing interest in Curt Smith's and Roland Orzabal's musical endeavor after the pair struck it really big with "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" and "Shout" from "SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR" (although I will always love "Head Over Heels").
When the girls play the songs today, I am transported back to high school and the early days of college.
My, that was a long time ago.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Heavy metal sounds about right for thunderstorms

I know I shouldn't let the WEATHER dictate my musical choices, but sometimes I can't help myself.
How could I not listen to steamy dub reggae on a humid summer day? How could I not listen to the cold, synthetic beats of the '80s while it snows?
Similarly, THUNDERSTORMS put me in the mood for HEAVY METAL.
Our recent bout of storms prompted me to listen to SAXON -- one of the leaders of the NEW WAVE OF BRITISH HEAVY METAL.
I adore the twin screaming guitars of Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver, particularly on the band's 1980 single "747 (Strangers in the Night)."
Often, the characteristics of a good thunderstorm -- wind, lightning and the bass drum-like rumble -- seem to perfectly match both the music and lyrics featured in classic heavy metal songs.
So, maybe this is one time when it's OK to let the weather dictate my musical choice.