Saturday, June 30, 2007

State of the Athletics

Another month, another update on the state of the Oakland A's.

Last month I said they were the epitome of a .500 team through the first two months, but should start heating up through the summer months. And they did heat up. For the first three weeks of the month. At one game short of the halfway point of the season, the A's are at 41-39, a full two games over .500. They were 15-13 for the month of June, an up and down month that included a five game winning streak and a five game losing streak. They're solidly in third place, 9 games behind the Angels, 4 behind the Mariners, and ready to start getting hot again as soon as head home after this Roadtrip From Hell (tm).

They beat Igawa and the Yankees 7-0 today, behind three HRs and a one-hitter by Chad Gaudin. I was half hoping they would lose to keep their streak of .500 months alive, but it's nice to be above the break even point, and always great to beat the Yankees. Catfish Stew has a breakdown of where the A's have stood at the halfway point of the last five years and where they stood at the end of the season each of those years.

2006: 42-39, 1st place, 1.0 game up on Seattle, won AL West
2005: 40-41, 3rd place, 10.0 games back of LAA, missed playoffs
2004: 46-35, 1st place, tied with Texas, missed playoffs
2003: 46-35, 2nd place, 7.0 games back of Seattle, won AL West
2002: 46-35, 3rd place, 5.0 games back of Seattle, won AL West

This is a lot like two years ago, when the A's were horrible for the first two months of the year (14 games under .500) then started getting torrid through the summer before falling short at the end of September. Historically, they're always strong in July and August, so if they're still hovering around .500 at the end of July, I'll be ready to write them off. There's still half a season to go, and it should be an interesting summer, whatever happens.

Friday, June 29, 2007

OK iPhone

Very few people realize that the original working title of Radiohead's 1997 album OK Computer was OK iPhone.

It was going to be a concept album about the technological dystopia brought about by the introduction of a next generation of intelligent mobile device, called the intelliPhone (or iPhone for short). The iPhone was a cellphone, camera, media player, and wireless internet browser all in one handheld device. The must-have gadget of the summer of 2007. People were lining up for days for an opportunity to buy an iPhone.

Next generation technology doesn't come cheap, so iPhone devices cost US$500 each (or US$600 for more storage) plus a mandatory two year service contract at a minimum of US$60 per month. This made the total cost of iPhone ownership close to US$3000, outside the means of all but the most affluent, and outside the brains of all but the most gullible.

This "next generation" device only worked on a last generation data network with a top (top!) speed of 128kpbs. Which was "more than twice the speed of dialup" as they said in AOL broadband commercials, but many times slower than anything else. And the network was maintained by a ruthless oligarchy famous for poor service, hidden charges, and releasing their customers' private phone records to the U.S. government. They didn't care. They didn't have to care. They were The Phone Company.

The songs on OK iPhone explored the future balance between cool technology and the evil Phone Company. "Paranoid Android" was about the paranoia brought about by knowing that the Phone Company knew what you were doing, "the yuppies networking.. God loves his children". "Fitter Happier" was a series of feel-good slogans in a MacInTalk voice (which is how an iPhone would sound, if it could speak).

After the album was finished, the band surrendered to their own paranoia and changed the title to OK Computer. They feared that if the iPhone was just ten years away, it would be easy for the Phone Company to borrow a page from The Hitchhiker's Guide, and travel back in time to sue Radiohead for trademark infringement. Which they definitely would have done if the original title, OK iPhone, had been kept (unless Cisco sued Radiohead first).

Go Home Productions - Karma In The Life
Hard n' Phirm - Rodeohead
Luka Bloom - No Surprises
Menny Moore - Fitter Happier (Radiodread)
Radiohead - Palo Alto (OK iPhone outtake)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Knocked up with nostalgia

I finally made it out to see Knocked Up this week, and enjoyed it, but wasn't knocked out by it. It's a lot like Judd Apatow's first film The 40 Year Old Virgin, a series of funny scenes strung together by a fairly weak. Both movies are like early 80s teenage sex comedies updated for middle-agers who remember the time before AIDS and "Just Say No". I heard 40 Year Old Virgin referred to as a "middle-aged sex comedy", which is a pretty apt description of that film.

Actually, Knocked Up reminded me a lot of 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High. When it came out, Fast Times was perceived as another mindless teenage sex & drugs movie (Roger Ebert called in a "scuzz-pit of a movie"), but now it's seen as a classic of the genre. A raunchy teenage sex comedy with a heart and a mind. The cast included three future Oscar winners (Sean Penn, Forest Whittaker, and Nicolas Cage) and other actors who went on to greater things (Sean's stoner buds were played by Nic Cage, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards).

There was one part of Fast Times where Jennifer Jason Leigh's character Stacy gets pregnant and then decides to have an abortion. This was all handled completely matter-of-factly, like it was something that happened every day. Fast Times was the first R rated movie I saw in a theater (it came out right after I turned 17), and it's also one of the only times I remember a pregnancy being aborted in a comedy (this was before I saw Polyester).

In Knocked Up, Alison gets pregnant by some guy she barely knows, and then decides to keep the baby. It's all treated the same way that Stacy's pregnancy is treated in Fast Times, as something that needs to be taken care of. Some reviews have said that the values in the film "defy credibility". The story of the film is not really why she gets knocked up or decided to make a go with an aimless slacker, but how they both handle the situation of having a baby. Sometimes you need to suspend your credibility in a comedy. Just repeat to yourself "it's just a movie, I should really just relax... and remember to laugh!".

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

So, uh, Milton has been let go?

On Monday, Dave Del Grande of the Oakland Trib/ANG wrote a column explaining why the A's designated Milton Bradley for assignment. Del Grande is an annoying writer who seems to take great delight in yelling fire in crowded theaters to provoke readers, but I thought this piece was over the line even for him. The paper has pulled the article from their website, but I don't recycle my newspapers until Thursday so I can pull quotes from the paper itself.

Let me get this this straight: The A's basically cut a supremely talented black outfielder because they have a dime-a-dozen white guy who complains less about being a backup. What in the world was Billy Beane thinking? Bradley has the potential to be a difference-maker when he's hot. Name me one of the Oakland white guys about whom you could say that.
Swisher, Cust, Buck, Chavez, Ellis, Crosby, Kotsay, Scutaro, Kendall. Every player on the Oakland roster, every player (black, white, or brown) on every major league roster has the potential to be a difference-maker when he's hot. I'm a big Milton Bradley fan, wish he was still playing for the A's, and hope he hooks up with another team, but he wasn't their only player with the potential to be a difference maker. And he hasn't been healthy all year. Bradley was on the disabled list three different times, and only played in 19 of the A's 70 games. The A's embarked on a roadtrip from hell after Bradley was let go (losing five in a row before winning tonight), but his presence wouldn't have made much difference. Because he's hurt.
This wasn't even a financial decision. This was a matter of Bradley being ... well, black. Tell me it's not as simple as that.
It's not as simple as that. I'm kind of upset that the A's got rid of Bradley, because he's a great player (when he's healthy) and seems to be a good guy too. But letting him go wasn't a simple black and white issue, either figuratively or literally. It's idiotic and irresponsible for a writer to break out the race card without a shred of proof or evidence.

Del Grande's article generated a firestorm of controversy, just as he and the paper probably hoped it would, but I'm guessing they didn't expect this angry response from A's general manager Billy Beane. My favorite paragraph.

Let me state first of all that I have never met Dave Del Grande, and as our public relations people inform me, he hasn't been out to cover a game in years. He formed his opinions expressed in Monday's column without talking to me, our players or manager, as is common practice by responsible and well-respected columnists in the Bay Area.
Dave, dude.. You got served!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Free Format

In honor of the album's one year anniversary, the Format are offering last year's Dog Problems album as a free download until July 16th. Free for an email address.

This was one of my favorite albums of 2006, and is well worth a free download. Impeccably crafted pop somewhere in the neighborhood between Sparks and Jellyfish.

Dog Problems is an album that should be heard from start to finish to be fully appreciated. And once it is appreciated, Hi-Fi Heart has some nice Nilsson, Kinks, and Jellyfish covers by the Format available for download.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I'm a closer baby

The announcement of Rod Beck's death this weekend at the too young age of 38 reminded me of the time I ran into him at a gas station by the San Mateo bridge, 14 years ago.

I stopped by an Arco station in Foster City on my way home from work. My tank was running close to empty and the regular commute traffic was even worse after a late season Giants game at the ballpark formerly known as Candlestick. Traffic was crawling, and I wanted to add a few gallons so I wouldn't worry about running out of gas on the San Mateo bridge.

The Giants were in a tight pennant race with Atlanta, and this was their last home game of the season. They’d lost a close one that day to the expansion Colorado Rockies, because rookie manager Dusty Baker had chosen to start a young rookie pitcher named Solomon Torres, who had given up five runs in the first three innings. Because of the loss, the Giants were now tied with the Braves, both teams with 100 wins and 58 losses. This was before baseball had the wildcard, so one of the two teams would not make the playoffs with 100 wins.

The Giants final four games were against the Dodgers in L.A. and the Braves had four at home against those same expansion Colorado Rockies. The Braves probably weren’t going to lose to the Rockies (they hadn't all year), so the Giants' hopes hinged on sweeping L.A. at Dodger Stadium, and then beating the Braves in a one day playoff. They were up against the wall.

When I got out of my car and headed to the pump, I noticed this strange character on the opposite pump, filling up his van and silently muttering to himself..“I can’t believe we f—ing lost..I can’t believe we f—ing lost..” I thought it was a Giants’ fan taking their latest loss to heart. He was big guy with a fu manchu moustache and a mullet hairdo, wearing a huge leather cowboy hat. He looked like someone I knew from somewhere, and kept muttering “I can’t belive we f—ing lost..”, loud enough where other people at the station were looking at him.

I suddenly realized that the weird dude across from me was none other than Giants' All Star closer Rod Beck, the workhorse who had been singlehandedly keeping them in the pennant race. He was on his way to 48 saves and a 2.16 ERA, and was pitching in nearly every game. It looked like he was filling up his van for the long drive to LA, because it was full of personal belongings. I’d finished adding my three gallons, and wanted to give him some encouragement, so I shouted “sweep L.A. Rod” as I got in my car and drove away. He looked over and gave me a thumbs up.

The Giants did not end up sweeping L.A. They won the first three games, but lost the final game of the season because their rookie manager Dusty Baker gave the ball to the same rookie pitcher Solomon Torres, who gave up a bunch of runs early and lost the game. Meanwhile, the Braves easily swept the Rockies and ended up winning the NL West by one game. The Giants ended up winning 103 games, but missing the playoffs by one game. Baseball introduced the wildcard system the next year.

And now Rod Beck is gone. Sometimes life just isn't fair.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Interliga Fini

Interleague play in baseball is finally over, and apart from the local derbies like A's-Giants, Yankees-Mets, and Dodgers-Angels, it's mostly just a bunch of games by teams from opposite leagues with no history between them, with a few exceptions, like the just completed San Francisco versus New York serieses.

This weekend our Bay Area teams played against their New York counterparts in a couple of World Series rematches, Yankees-Giants (from 1962) and A's-Mets (1973). The A's were finally swept in a three game series this year, but the Giants took two of three from the Yankees, reversing the results from the two World Series.

The A's - Mets series was one where the pitching matchups just weren't there for Oakland, and the Mets went to town against bottom-feeding lefthanders DiNardo and Kennedy, and wasted a great effort by Joe Blanton yesterday by not breaking through against El Duque. It was just one of those series where the breaks were beating the boys. The Giants did win two of three from the Yankees, so there is that. It's always great when the Yankees lose!

I think the Giants should play home-and-home with the A's each year, plus one or two other series, but a whole month of interleague is overkill, and provides some unfair setups, like the A's having to play the Mets in Flushing while the Angels get three games against Pittsburgh. I guess it all evens out in the end, but interleague play seems like an unnecessary diversion all in all. Anyway, no more interleague nonsense until next year. Back to real baseball tomorrow.

Bunny Lake is blown up

Sometimes when I'm looking for things to write about, out of things to post, I like to check wikipedia for today's birthdays and things that happened X years ago.

Among today's birthday boys are Jeff Beck, Colin Blunstone, Mick Fleetwood, and Arthur Brown (as in "The Crazy World of"), which sounds like a supergroup waiting to happen.

Blunstone's and Beck's bands (say that five times fast!) were both featured in cult movies from the mid 1960s. Colin (born in 1945, so he's 62 today) and the Zombies appeared in Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake Is Missing, which is about about a woman who reports that her daughter is missing, even though there isn't any evidence that her daugher ever existed. It's a strange premise for a movie, and I think Zombies appearance is the best thing about the film.

They perform on the television in one scene and play a few songs for the soundtrack ("Come On Time", "Just Out of Reach", and "Remember You"). The first two are the same song with different lyrics, which was one of the few Zombies songs penned by Colin Blunstone. There isn't any youtube footage of their performance, so I've ripped and uploaded the three soundtrack tunes. Anton Barbeau and the Loud Family covered "Remember You" on last year's What If It Works? album.

The Zombies (from Bunny Lake is Missing)
Come On Time
Just Out Of Reach
Remember You

Our other birthday boy in the spotlight, Jeff Beck, is 63 today, so he's one year older than Colin Blunstone and three days younger than Ray Davies. Here's a cool performance from Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up of Beck playing "Train Kept A Rollin'" with the Yardbirds (short-lived Beck, Page dual lead lineup) and smashing his guitar at the end, a la Townshend.

Blow-Up also doesn't have much of a linear narrative, but has lots of scenes of swinging London, and full frontal nudity, as well as this scene with the Yardbirds.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Songs by Randy Newman, etc.

Nowadays, Randy Newman is mainly known as the guy who makes soundtracks for Disney movies that get nominated for Academy Awards every year. And, oh yeah, didn’t he also do those funny novelty songs about short people and living in L.A.? He should be known first and foremost as a songwriter. Here are seven covers of early Randy Newman songs.

The Beau Brummels - Old Kentucky Home (from Triangle, 1967)

I caught a Beau Brummels reunion gig at the 2000 Baypop festival, and they ended their set with “Old Kentucky Home”. It was a great version of one of my favorite Randy Newman songs, and they introduced it as being from the album Triangle, which was out of print at that time. I finally picked up Triangle a few years ago when it was reissued by Collector’s Choice. It’s an underrated gem, and should be required listening for anyone who still think of Beau Brummels as American Beatles copycats who appeared on the Flintstones (check it out on youtube)

The Everly Brothers - Illinois (from Roots, 1968)

Speaking of underrated, the Everly Brothers were one of those early rock acts who were gobbled up by Beatlemania, but the series of albums they made for Warners in the mid-late 60s after their chart run was over stands up to almost anything from the era. I’m still astounded at the two-disc Everlys collection that my friend Bradley made for me when his band started covering “It Only Costs a Dime”. This is from 1968’s Roots, an collection of early country songs, that Lenny Waronker corrupted with a few contemporary songs by his friends Randy Newman and Ron Elliott (of Beau Brummels fame). Randy never recorded “Illinois” , to my knowledge, so he may have written it for the Everlys to sing. It sounds like Sufjan’s Illinoise album condensed down to two minutes.

Van Dyke Parks - Vine Street (from Song Cycle, 1968)
Harry Nilsson - The Beehive State (from Nilsson Sings Newman, 1970)

Van Dyke Parks covered Randy’s “Vine Street” on his solo debut Song Cycle. This album has been both praised as a classic and dismissed as pretentious twaddle. My opinion is somewhere in the middle – a pretentious classic. Van Dyke's singing is an acquired taste (like Randy Newman's). Harry Nilsson also covered "Vine Street" on Nilsson Sings Newman, his album of Randy Newman songs, but I'm including "The Beehive State" from Randy Newman's first LP. Nilsson Sings Newman is a good Newman primer for people who might like Randy’s songs more if someone else like Harry Nilsson were singing them. I love Randy's singing voice, but nobody sings like Nilsson. And the album is just Harry singing and Randy playing piano -- a short, simple, and extremely non-pretentious record!

The Flamin' Groovies - Have You Seen My Baby? (from Teenage Head, 1971)

These are the first three songs from my favorite Randy Newman album, 12 Songs. The Flamin’ Groovies covered “Have You Seen My Baby?” on their Teenage Head album. The Groovies turn the the song into a rollicking rocker that sounds like one of their original tunes. The Walkabouts covered “Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield” with Carla singing on their 1991 album Scavenger. “Mama Told Me Not to Come” was a huge hit for Three Dog Night that gets heavy airplay on classic rock radio. It's probably his best known song, but Randy’s original version is better than TDN's, so I’m including it, but this is as good a time as any to tell this Three Dog Night story...

A few years ago I was on a Southwest flight from Chicago to Oakland, quietly reading Ben Fong-Torres’s Gram Parsons biography Hickory Wind. The guy across the aisle sees the book, and mentions that he’s a big GP fan and his band played a few gigs with the Flying Burrito Brothers. What band was that? Three Dog Night.

It was Michael Allsup (one of TDN’s backing musicians, not one of the tres perros), and he told me lots of great stories about life on the road with the Night. I told him that his band exposed me to the three Ns (Newman, Nilsson, Nyro) at a young age, and also told him about the time that I put put two quarters in a pizza parlor jukebox when I was a kid, and punched six consecutive plays of “Joy To The World”. This did not bring joy to my fellow pizza eaters!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Waterloo solstice

Today is the first day of Summer and also Ray Davies' 63rd birthday.

This means he was just 23 when he wrote the most beautiful song in the English language in the Summer of 1967.

Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney also celebrated birthdays this week. And they both turned 65, so Paul is just two days older than Brian. I'm not that big on astrology, but maybe there is magic in the cusp of magic when Gemini turns to Cancer?
The Gemini/Cancer cusp combination, also known as the Cusp of Magic, correspondences symbolically to the period of human life at around the age of twenty-one..These are individuals who can wholeheartedly throw themselves into devotional activities and often appear to be mild, even self-effacing characters. Easily seduced, most of these cuspians have the ability to enchant those around them...both consciously and unconsciously.
Ray, Brian, and Paul have been enchanting me for my entire life, at it's great that they're all still actively making music with a combined age of 193. Happy Birthday Guys.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Poem for a baby tiger

I am Sam. Sam I am.
My father won the Tiger slam

My dad is Cablinasian
My mom is Scandinavian

This makes me.. Supertrampian?
Tell me who I am, who I am


I am New Bohemian
What I am is what I am

Monday, June 18, 2007

Once in Dublin's fair city

"I do not look like that prat from Coldplay!" -- Glen Hansard

I went to see Once this weekend, as I threatened last week, and liked it a lot. For me, the film started off with one strike against it, because the lead actor (Glen Hansard of the Frames) looks and sounds a lot like Chris Martin from Coldplay. See side by side photos of both of them above.

After I determined that it really wasn't Chris Martin in the lead role, I was able to get over my "Oh no, it's that dude from Coldplay!" prejudices and follow the film with a clean head. I actually saw the Frames live many years ago (opening for the New Pornographers, I think) and recall that they did not rock very much, but they don't deserve Coldplay comparisons, because they've been around a lot longer.

In Once, Hansard plays a street musician and vacuum cleaner repairman who meets a young Czech immigrant (played by Marketa Irglova) selling roses on the same Dublin street where he's playing. She (their characters are unnamed) likes his songs and happens to be a musician, so they end up ... making music together. In real life, Hansard and Irglova are partners (musical partners), who collaborated on a project called The Swell Season, making an album that contains many of the songs featured in Once. Their album is on emusic, so if you're having trouble getting "Falling Slowly" or "When Your Mind's Made Up" unstuck from your head after seeing Once (like I did) the songs are easy to grab as cheap digital downloads.

Hansard played the guitarist in The Commitments, so Once was only his second movie role and Marketa Irglova's debut. They are both musicians and not actors, so the musical scenes are more realising then they'd be with actors playing musicians. Once actually reminded me of The Commitments, with a smaller budget and less of a "Hollywood" storyline. It's the movie making equivalent of a four track demo, shot with a single camera and a lots of rough cuts which gives it the look of a fly-on-the-wall rockumentary. Apparently director John Carney didn't get a permit to film in Dublin, so all the shooting in the city had to be done incognito.

Once has been getting great reviews, both from professional reviewers and my own friends, so I was pretty sure I'd enjoy it, and I did. Now I'm down to just three free Cinemark passes, and don't know if I want to use one one up on Michael Moore.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

An Open and shut competition

My battle with my brother for U.S. Open selection supremacy is over, and the results aren't pretty!

A regular tail kicking! Six of my ten picks didn't even make the cut, and my brother ended up with twice as many points, and chose the eventual winner. It wasn't even as close as our regular golf games!

As major championships go, the U.S. Open is like running a marathon, up a hill, in a rainstorm, while carrying a a refrigerator on your back. The USGA likes to trick up the courses by adding length, mowing and rolling the fairways and greens until they're as hard and fast as the Pennsylvania turnpike, and letting the rough around the greens grow long. It's more a test of survival than golfing skill. The winner is usually the player that makes the fewest mistakes. And I made a lot of mistakes with my Open picks.

One of the best blog headlines ever on Athletics Nation:
"We had righteous grass until the Police showed up!"

The Who exploded into fire and light

More Monterey Pop video blogging.
This is how it all ended.

The Who
Monterey Pop Festival, 06/18/1967
A Quick One (While He's Away)
Summertime Blues
My Generation

After this, the Grateful Dead blew everybody's mind
and Jimi Hendrix, baby believe me, set the world on fire, yeah!

But the festival wasn't over until The Mamas and the Papas played.

Creeque Alley
San Francisco (with Scott McKenzie)
Straight Shooter
Dancin' In The Street

They should have encored with this duet.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Laura Nyro's music made me cry

One of the major myths about the Monterey Pop Festival is that Laura Nyro was booed off the stage. This video of Laura's performance of "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Poverty Train" from the bonus DVD puts those myths to rest once and for all.

This was the second major performance by an virtually unknown 19 year old girl, in front of eighty thousand stoned hippies waiting to hear the Jefferson Airplane. If the crowd look stunned, it's only because Laura's performance was so stunning, and at the end, the closest thing to "boos" is someone shouting "beautiful". She was not booed off the stage!

I had a major crush on Laura based on the photo on the Eli and the 13th Confession album cover and it broke my heart to discover that she "played for the other side". When I saw her live in 1989, the crowd was divided between people like me who were there for the oldies like "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Stoned Soul Picnic" and a militant LGBT crowd. That was a strange experience, but probably nowhere near as strange as seeing her in 1967 at Monterey would have been.

Of course, Eric Burdon actually sang in "Monterey" that Ravi Shankar's music made him cry, but Laura Nyro's singing on "Poverty Train" makes me weepy! It's that strong. I've sampled lots of "next Nyros" from Nellie McKay to Amy Winehouse, but there will never be another Laura Nyro for me.

The Byrds and the Airplane did fly

More Monterey Pop Festival, June 17, 1967

The Byrds play after Moby Grape, and
David Crosby betrays Roger McGuinn for the last time.

Matters came to a head during the three-day Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967, where the Byrds were one of the acts in a line-up that included musical luminaries of the day such as Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix. During the Byrds' set, Crosby prosletyzed about the benefits of LSD and played with an STP sticker prominently displayed on his guitar. Moreover, Crosby prefaced the playing of the song "He Was a Friend of Mine" (McGuinn's tasteful eulogy to John F. Kennedy) by ranting that Kennedy had been shot from several different directions, that witnesses to the assassination had been killed by the conspirators, and that the whole affair had been covered up by the government. The other Byrds were embarrassed because Crosby's controversial pronouncements seemingly spoke for them all, and because his comments resulted in the exclusion of the Byrds from television and film coverage of the festival. As well, the next day Crosby performed as part of Buffalo Springfield without notifying his fellow Byrds in advance, an act the others viewed as one of open defiance and a betrayal of loyalty.

Maybe conspiracy theories on the JFK assassination were the 9/11 conspiracy theories of 40 years ago? I'm surprised that Crosby didn't offer a counterharmony to McGuinn's "from a sixth floor window" line by singing "from a number of different directions by different guns".

This onstage monologue led to David getting fired from the Byrds. They replaced his picture with a horse on the cover of Notorious Byrd Brothers,but at least he managed to escape the shadow government operatives that perpetuated the lone gunman theory!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Three electric guitars, grooving real loud

This weekend is the 40th anniversary of the Monterey International Pop Festival, which was the unofficial start to the "Summer Of Love". Razor & Tie has released a two-disc retrospective of various performance. Some of the album is available on eMusic, including songs by heavy hitters like The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Byrds, and the Jefferson Airplane that aren't usually on eMusic.

One band that isn't on the album, and wasn't in D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop film, or Rhino's 30th Anniversary CD box set, or Criterion's 35th anniversary DVD was Moby Grape. They opened the second night of the festival, but their set wasn't filmed for the movie because their manager asked too much money. They weren't even name-checked in Eric Burdon's "Monterey", but his line about "ten thousand electric guitars grooving real loud" was probably written under the influence of Moby Grape.

With three guitarists who all wrote airtight three-minute songs and sang three part harmonies like angels, the Grape were easily the most talented San Francisco band of the 60s, but they were cursed by bad management and overzealous promotion. Their debut album came out the same week as Sgt. Pepper, in tandem with five simultaneous singles which killed off any sales momentum they ever had. They went on to make a few more albums, but never delivered on the promise of the first one. Sony has just put out a single disc overview of Moby Grape called Listen! My Friends, which is a pretty good starting point, at least until their first album is reissued properly. It's currently only available on a cheapo CD on their sleazy ex-manager's San Francisco Sounds label.

Here is Moby Grape's opening set at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival from 40 years ago this weekend. After being introduced by Tommy Smothers, they blasted through four songs from their debut album, which had come out just a couple of weeks earlier.

"Three guitars leading the charge, and voices blending in delicious harmony" as Joel Selvin wrote in his Monterey Pop book.

Moby Grape 06/17/1967
from the Monterey International Pop Festival
0. Introduction by Tommy Smothers
1. Indifference
2. Mr. Blues
3. Sitting By The Window
4. Omaha

There are a few early Moby Grape performances on youtube, including this kicking version of "Omaha" from a 1968 Mike Douglas Show where Mikey calls them "the Moby Grapes".

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Open is Open

The U.S. Open started this week, and they have three channels of streaming webcasts in high-def. Watching golf on a computer probably doesn't sound that exciting to most people, but the quality is stunning, and it's a nice way to waste a few hours of the workday. My brother and I did our Open picks, just like we did at the Masters, and he has a nice advantage on me after the first day.

His ten picks have taken 17 fewer strokes than my ten picks, but there are still a lot of strokes left over the next 54 holes. My guys start their comeback tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Last month I won five free Cinemark theatre movie tickets from work for answering a film trivia question (imagine that!), and there are a bunch of Cinemark locations near where I live and where I work, but the passes are only valid for movies that are more than two weeks old, and it seems like they're all showing the same movies this summer.

The main batch are the sequels and three-quels (Oceans Thirteen, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Shrek The Third, Spider Man 3, 28 Weeks Later). I used my first pass for Spiderman 3 a few weeks ago (suck-o-rama, and I liked the first two), and am not that interested in seeing the others. I haven't even seen most of the parts two of these movies.

The next batch are so-called "chick flicks" like Knocked Up and Waitress. I liked Judd Apatow's last film, 40-Year Old Virgin, so I'd like to see Knocked Up, and it opened on June 1st, so my passes are good starting this weekend . I've also discovered that Cinemark passes are also good at CinéArts theatres, so I could go see Once which is getting good reviews from people on my own blogroll. Once also gets the metacritic edge over Knocked Up (89 to 85), so I think that's the one I'll see first.

It's probably not big surprise to my readers that I'm not as up on the movies as I am on other things, so I'm open to suggestions for other movies to see. I'm open to anything more than two weeks old that's playing at a Cinemark cinema, at least until I use up all my free tickets!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mix tape's a mastodon

Last week I made a mix tape for a friend's birthday, just like she requested a few months ago. That's "mix tape" as in cassette (see example above). It was the first mix tape I've compiled in the last five years. In this download-mix-burn era, I forgot how much work goes into making a mix tape. Cue the tape/disc/record, check the levels, press play and record to tape a song, rinse, lather, repeat. And if you decide midway through recording side two that the fifth song on side one doesn't fit, you have to either live with it, or record the whole side over, or find another three minute and twenty second song that does fit! It takes at least three hours for me to make a 90-minute tape, but I can burn an 80-minute CDR in less than 15 minutes. It was a lot of fun to practice my tape making skills, but it's already a forgotten art.

One of my main concerns about Tower Records' going under last year was "Oh no! Where will I buy blank tapes?". Even after Tower's musical selection went downhill and their prices for new records went uphill, you could still buy a 5-pack of Maxell XLIIs for $6.99 , sometimes $5.99 on sale. Tower was the place for blank tapes, but in hindsight, being the best place to buy something I didn't need could have been a major reason they went out of business. I rescued two four-packs of Fuji 90 minute high bias cassettes (all XLIIs were gone, damn!) for $1.99 each from the Tower clearance sale last Fall, which should be enough blank tapes to last the rest of my life. I'm saving the rest of my blank tapes for times "when the moment is right", and hording them like they were Cialis tablets. Each one may be the last tape I ever make.

Is there another media format that went from ubiquitous to obsolete quicker than the audio cassette? Ten years ago, they were all over the place - I had a tape deck in my car and a Walkman, and would make a tape of almost every CD I bought. Then I got a new computer with a CD burner and a new car without a tape player, and pretty much stopped listening to cassettes. And the rest of the world stopped right along with me.

I started pondering the sad fate of the cassette after reading Rob Sheffield's book Love is a Mixtape, which explores his romance and marriage to fellow rock critic Renee Crist (who died of an aneurysm in 1997) by listing the songs the mix tapes that they sent to each other. The Rob and Renee story has a really sad ending, but I was almost as sad about their mix tapes, each one from a various stage of their relationship with their own story to tell. And there are millions of other tapes just like them, that no one ever listens to but can't bear to throw away.

Some of you may even have tapes that I've sent you over the years (Loud Family bootlegs, holiday mixes, swap mixes, and more) cluttering up your homes, or landfills near your homes if you've managed to finally throw your cassettes away. Cassettes were too popular and too pervasive to ever have the kitschy coolness of 8-tracks, and eventually they'll all be tossed in the trash with 5.25" floppy disks, VHS videotapes, and other magnetic memories of the way we were.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sweeping the Bayside derby

In English soccer, they call it a local derby when two teams from the same area play against each other, so I've started referring to the the interleague matchups between the A's and Giants as "Bayside derbys" (pronounced DAR-bees, like it is across the pond).

Oakland had the better of the San Francisco in this year's Bayside derbys, sweeping them at AT&T this weekend and winning two of three in Oakland last month. The rivalry between the A's and Giants fans is more good-natured and chummy than it is in other two team markets (there probably aren't many Mets-Yankees hybrid caps in NYC), but there's still a lot of pride in beating the other team, especially from the Oakland side. The Giants dominate the media coverage so much around these parts with their nice ballpark and their superstar players, that the Oakland fans have something of an inferiority complex (no there there and all that), and they take great joy in sticking it to the Giants.

And this weekend was one big sticking-to! On Saturday and Sunday, the Giants managed a grand total of zero runs, and it's hard to win when you don't score any runs. And on Friday, after injuries to both catchers (and over-zealous substitution by Bruce Boche), they ended the game with third baseman Pedro Feliz behind the plate and center fielder Randy Winn at third base and a pitcher Noah Lowery in right field. Not surprisingly, they ended up losing that one as well.

The two Bay Area teams are like mirror images of each other this year. The A's (34-28) have as many wins as the Giants (28-34) have losses, and vice versa. That would have stayed true no matter how this weekend's games had turned out, but with Oakland starting a June surge (8 out of 9 baby! Just like I predicted) as SF starts their June swoon, it seems like these are two teams moving in different directions. The A's are playing just good enough to win in each game, while the Giants play just bad enough to lose. Their hitters are staying patient and waiting for good pitches to hit, while the Giants hitters hack away at 3-1 slop with the bases loaded. The A's fans yell and cheer constantly, while Giants fans sit and chomp their garlic fries. It has to frost Peter Magowan to hear "Let's Go Oak-land!" cheers in his own ballpark!

Today's game was on two different television channels, but in order to watch in HD, I had to endure Kruk and Kuip's G's homerism, but there wasn't a lot for K&K to cheer about today. If I was still a Giants fan, this weekend's performance would cause me to reassess my fandom. If you're going to lose, at least go down swinging (and I don't mean at 3-1 pitches outside and in the dirt)!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Be True to Your Stereo

Almost every year, at the start of summer it seems like I go on an early Beach Boys jag, where early means "pre-Pet Sounds". Their mid-70s Endless Summer and Spirit of America compilations were two of the first records I bought with my own money. The Beach Boys and their songs are a big part of what Summer means to me.

The start of Summer is still a couple of weeks way now, but this generation now has their own Spirit of America, the 1975 collection the extended 1974's Endless Summer (which collected most of the big hits) with deep album cuts from the 1963-1965 era. Their original Capitol album were out of print, so SoA was a way for new fans like me to get the full picture of the golden era of the Beach Boys.

The Endless Summer for this generation was Sounds of Summer, the 2003 collection with all the Beach Boys biggest hits from 1962's "Surfin' Safari" thru 1988's "Kokomo". It was the career-spanning hit compilation for a new generation of Beach Boys' fans. And a few years later, the fans that want more have The Warmth of the Sun, which collects 30 non-hit songs from their history. This provides an alternative history of the band, and provides a much deeper picture of the Beach Boys than just skimming through the hits.

The main selling point of The Warmth of the Sun for old fans like me are the four songs from the 1965 Today! and Summer Days.. albums remixed for stereo. Their initial albums thru All Summer Long were released in both mono and stereo. But the albums from 1965's Today! thru 1967's Wild Honey (including Pet Sounds) were only released in mono and duophonic (ie fake) stereo, because Brian Wilson only delivered a mono master to the label for these albums. This was the height of Brian's studio creativity, and the mono masters were true to his vision, they didn't provide the full picture of his genius. The songs used three of the four recording tracks for vocals, so Brian's arrangements were condensed down to one track then Spectorized down with the vocals into a mono recording that may have sounded great on the radio but not as great on the hi-fi. Getting these songs reissued in stereo has become a holy grail for some Beach Boys obsessives.

Pet Sounds was reissued in stereo ten years ago, and back then I thought the stereo mixes were an aberration, but I've come to accept the stereo Pet Sounds as the real album because it sounds just so much better than the original mono version. Remixed stereo versions of Today and Summer Days (the two albums before Pet Sounds -- Brian's Rubber Soul and Revolver) would be a godsend, and stereo mixes of these songs have come out on various compilations. A stereo "Kiss Me Baby" on Endless Harmony, "Dance Dance Dance" on Sounds of Summer, and new stereo mixes of two of my favorite Beach Boys songs ("Please Let Me Wonder" and "Let Him Run Wild") on Warmth of the Sun.

Being able to hear these two tracks in glorious high fidelity stereo makes me feel twelve years old all over again. "Let Him Run Wild" was on Endless Summer and "Please Let Me Wonder" was on Spirit of America, so I grew up thinking they were important songs in the Beach Boys canon, but they were both b-sides to lesser singles. Both songs sound like early blueprints for the arrangements that Brian later perfects on Pet Sounds.

Here are those two, plus "Kiss Me Baby" from Endless Harmony and and original Capitol Records full dimensional stereo version "Be True To Your School" from 1964's Little Deuce Coupe album, courtesy of the late Chuck Britz.

The Beach Boys in stereo
Be True To Your School (1964, from Little Deuce Coupe)
Kiss Me Baby (2000, from Endless Harmony)
Please Let Me Wonder (2007, from Warmth of the Sun)
Let Him Run Wild (2007, from Warmth of the Sun)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Curt Schilling Gets a Peter Schilling

A Peter Schilling is a one hitter. Get it?

I went to Yahoo Sports about 30 minutes ago to check on the score of today's A's - Red Sox game and saw this line score.

1-0 in the bottom of the 9th. Still time to get another run and.. wait! Is that a 0 in the "hits" column for Oakland? And it's in the bottom of the 9th! At the bottom of the box score, I saw


Then after refreshing a few minutes later, it said


And about a minute after that..


Wow! He's on the verge. But then..


Oh well. This is Schilling's third career one hitter, but he still doesn't have a no-hitter. And for the A's, taking three games out of four from the best team in baseball isn't too bad. They're now 5-2 in the month of June, which puts them three games over the .500 mark they were tethered to during April and May. And if Mark Ellis (who hit for the cycle on Monday night) had followed Stewart's single with a home run, it would have been their sixth win in a row.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

If you really like it you can have the rights

One week ago, none of Paul McCartney's songs (Beatles or Wings or solo) were available for legal digital download. Within one week, his EMI back catalog was added to the new DRM-free iTunes, and his latest album Memory Almost Full was just added to emusic.

Macca's album is on Starbucks' HearMusic label, so the only place to buy the physical album is at Starbucks. I read this report today that said the album might be a "sales flop" in the UK because Starbucks sales aren't registered with Britain's official charts. So even if it "sells", it won't "make the charts". And if it doesn't "make the charts" it has to be be a "sales flop".

Since this is Paul's first album on a boutique coffee label after 45 years with EMI, and he's releasing it DRM free on all the digital services, I'm trying very hard to like his album, but after a couple of listens it's not happening. There are a few songs I like ("Ever Present Past", "Only Mama Knows", "Vintage Clothes"), but on the whole, it seems just as half-baked as all the other albums he's put out for the last 20 years. It gets bonus points for being the first one you can buy as high-bitrate non-DRM mp3s. Now both living ex-Beatles have their recent albums on emusic.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Thirty years ago today

On June 5, 1977 , the first Apple II computers were introduced for sale. Back then, their standard configuration was 4Kb of RAM, the Integer BASIC programming language burned into the ROM, and an audio cassette interface for loading and storing data. There was also a RF interface so it could be connected to a regular television. Their CPU was a MOS 6502 with a clock speed of 1Mhz. That's 4 (Four) kilobytes of RAM and a clock speed of 1 (One) megahertz.

In today's world, an Apple II is about as powerful as a garage door opener. But in terms of future impact on my life, the Apple II might be the most powerful product ever! From my first exposure to that machine in 8th grade math lab, I was hooked, and knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I grew up, I wanted to be a computer programmer!

Back in the early days of personal computing, the Apple II was the iPod of home computers. Other models (TRS-80s, Commodores) might have been cheaper and just as powerful, but the Apple II had that special something. I've thrown away a half-dozen or so personal computers over the past twenty years after upgrading to bigger and better models, but I still have the Apple IIc that my parents bought me for my high school graduation. There's no way I'm ever going to throw that away! I don't have any programs to run on it, but if I wanted to, I could turn it on today, hook it up to my TV, and write a few programs. The BASIC interpreter is burned into the ROM. And even now, I could probably program a space shuttle in Applesoft BASIC!

I was reading Steve Wozniak's autobiography iWoz, earlier this year, and he said that one of his goals for the Apple was to inspire users to write their own programs. Instead of being bundled with lots of programs like computers are now, the Apple II came with a BASIC interpreter and a tape recorder. You don't need us to write programs, write your own programs! And there were probably lots of people just like me who were inspired enough by this to end up programming for a living. And sometimes just blogging, while appearing to be programming. Thanks Woz!

Monday, June 4, 2007

It was one day ago yesterday

that Aimee Mann wrote an op-ed in yesterday's New York Times about what Sgt. Pepper means to her, 40 years on. I'm sharing this mostly as an excuse to post that picture, which is just begging to be printed out and colored! Where are my Crayolas?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Salt N Pepa Knew My Father

As I promised yesterday, here are selections from the other side of NME's Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father. Three Wize Men also do the "Sgt. Pepper's" reprise, so I'm skipping that, and I'm not that fond of Michelle Shocked's "Lovely Rita" (or Michelle Shocked in general) so I'm replacing it with the Nields version from their 1997 reissue of Gotta Get Over Greta.

Sonic Youth - Within You, Without You
Courtney Pine Quartet - When I'm Sixty Four
The Nields - Lovely Rita
The Triffids - Good Morning, Good Morning
The Fall - A Day In The Life

Isn't it ironic that Sir Paul wrote a song forty years ago when he was 24 about when he'd be 64 spending summers renting a cottage on the Isle of Wight with grandkids on his knee, and now when he is 64 (going on 65), he's getting ready to promote new album which makes him too busy to do a nostalgia tour for a record his former band made forty years ago?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Sgt. Pepper Knew My Grandad

It was 40 years ago today when Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, or at least 40 years since the album was released. Which means that it was 60 years ago today when Sgt. P taught the band to play. And they were going in and out of style, but were guaranteed to raise a smile.. etc. etc.

This album is such an icon of the boomer generation, that it's hard to review on a musical level. And the last thing the blogosphere needs on this first day of June twenty ought seven is tireless Beatle nostalgia from someone who wasn't even toilet trained when the record came out.

So let me introduce to you, an album probably forgotten for all these years. It was just under 20 years ago today when the NME released Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father to honor the album's vicennial (I had to look that up). Since this is the 40 year anniversary of the album, it's also the 20th anniversary of the 20th anniversary. This is when Sgt. Pepper was first released in the "audio compact disc" format, and that's the version of the album that's still for sale at music retailers. Anyway, Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father is a song-for-song cover of the album by an assortment of the pop scene circa 1987/88. As such, it's kind of a mixed bag. I'm going to post most of the album over two posts, today and tomorrow, which is the 40th anniversary of the U.S. release date of Sgt. Peppers. The cover of the title track by Three Wize Men (not an XTC pseudonym) and the Christians' "Lucy In The Sky" aren't very good, so I'm skipping them, leaving us with these five tracks. The Wet Wet Wet and Billy Bragg songs were released as a split single and topped the UK charts in early 1988.

2. Wet Wet Wet - With A Little Help From My Friends
4. The Wedding Present - Getting Better (with Amelia Fletcher)
5. Hue & Cry - Fixing a Hole
6. Billy Bragg - She's Leaving Home (with Cara Tivey)
7. Frank Sidebottom - For The Benefit of Mr. Kite

As a special bonus, here's William Shatner's cover of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" from his 1968 album Transformed Man. I'm still not sure Shatner intended this theatrical spoken word version to be serious of if it was all a put on, but it's definitely worth a listen. "Picture..yourself.. in a BOAT... on a RIVER!"

I'm going to post selections from side two of Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father tomorrow. That has Sonic Youth doing "Within You, Without You" and the Fall doing "Day In The Life".