Friday, August 31, 2007

Score One for Document

R.E.M.'s Document came out twenty years ago today. Wikipedia lists its release date as September 1st, 1987, but it was officially released on August 31st. That was the day I moved to CA, and I remember buying the album at Tower when it opened that morning. It was the same day that Michael Jackson's Bad was released, and I had to wade through tons of MJ detritus to buy the R.E.M. album. I also bought the cassingle, the first item I ever purchased in that newfangled format.

Last week was the 25th anniversary of Chronic Town. R.E.M.'s five-year run from Murmur through Document is about as solid as any band has ever been in my life. I bought almost everything they put out, in multiple formats. I bought the single for the B-side, an acoustic version of "Maps And Legends" from a show at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. Dead Letter Office had come out a few months earlier, which compiled all of R.E.M.'s B-sides through Lifes Rich Pageant, but their Document-era b-sides haven't been as widely available. They're on the singles and the bonus IRS "vintage years" CDs and the In the Attic collection, none of which are currently "in-print" (which doesn't mean "hard to find").

Most of Document's b-sides were acoustic live songs taken from that 5/27 McCabe's show. Three songs from this gig ("The One I Love", "Maps and Legends", and "Disturbance at the Heron House") came out on various 7 and 12 inch singles. There was also a live medley of "Time After Time", "So. Central Rain", and Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain" from a Dutch radio show that came out on the "Finest Worksong" single. The only studio B-side was a cover of Floyd Cramer's "Last Date" instrumental, which isn't too essential, but the acoustic versions and live medley are great. Here are all the live B-sides assembled.

R.E.M. live in 1987
  1. The One I Love
  2. Disturbance at The Heron House
  3. Maps and Legends
  4. Time After Time, etc.(medley)
(#1-3 from Mc Cabe's, Santa Monica CA 5/27/1987)
(#4 from Utrecht, Holland 9/14/1987 )

Thursday, August 30, 2007

An Oakland A's Postmorgan

Right after I talked about the A's resurgence last week, when they'd won their fifth in a row, they backed up their five game winning streak with a five game losing streak. Even though they broke it yesterday with a win, they're pretty much dead now, and unless something dramatic happens, this will probably be my last baseball post before the end of the season. I'll keep watching, but I've lost my emotional attachment to my team, so there isn't much to talk about.

One of my favorite baseball blogs is Fire Joe Morgan, which uses the Hall of Fame second baseman as a figurehead for so-called "traditional values" in baseball that values gut instincts over hard statistics. In his time as a national broadcaster at ESPN, Morgan has rallied against the use of statistics and computers as bad for baseball. Somewhere along the way he crossed the line from a good natured contrarian to an irascible old coot.

Needless to say, one of Joe's least favorite teams is the Oakland Athletics. Joe has a history with the A's since he grew up in Oakland, ended his career with the A's, and was part of the ownership group that tried to buy the team in 1999. The higher-ups at ESPN always try to keep the A's off national telecasts that Joe broadcasts, since the team makes him irrational, but every once in a while, an A's question creeps into his weekly chats at Pulled from FJM.
Q: Joe, do you think the A's will ever get some guys that know how to manufacture runs by advancing the baserunner, bunting and stealing a base or two? It's frustrating watching this team as it is dead last in the AL West in runs.

Joe Morgan: Well they are built on walking and hitting home runs, and they have not been doing that a lot this year. That is their philosophy, as far as walks and home runs (ed: what the Miss Teenage SC?). During the regular season there are so many weak pitching staffs that you can at times get away with looking for walks and trying to hit home runs, but once you enter the playoffs that is not the case. That is why they have struggled in the post season. They may win the division with that philosophy, from time to time, but they will never win a World Series like that.

First, the Oakland A's have always been built on pitching and defense. Offensively, they value patience at the plate, mostly because it's undervalued in the market, but they are far from being built on "walking and hitting home runs". They don't hit many home runs as a team, which is kind of frustrating. Joe's answer doesn't explain why the A's are struggling this year, which has very little to do with philosophy and a lot to do with bad luck.

During the A's run last week, they swept a four game series from the Chicago White Sox, one of those teams that plays the game "the right way" according to Joe Morgan. They did it by following their "be the house" philosophy and not taking any risks on the bases or making unnecessary outs, while the Sox tried to sacrifice and steal and consistently gave outs away to play for one run. That style works well in a short series, where one run here or there makes a difference, but over the course of a season, it's like going to the casino and hitting on 16. Anyway, I'm rambling and trying to make points in my last baseball post of the year, and now I forget where I was.

Oh yeah, Oakland rules. Joe Morgan drools! 1972 dude!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I just want to hear some rhythm

The Guardian has Bruce Springsteen's new single "Radio Nowhere" as a free download for the next week. It's also available on iTunes for listeners who prefer AAC (with DRM) to MP3 (sans DRM).

Someone said ('jes kiddingly) that it "sounds like the Hold Steady", but I think it definitely brings the rock more than anything he's done since, I don't know, that "57 channels and nothing on" song from the early 90s. The intro sounds like the Hollies' "Long Cool Woman In a Black Dress" or "Jenny/867-5309" by Tommy Onetune. Just download it.. it's free!

And while you're in a Springsteeny mood, you can download Bruce's legendary 1978 show at the Roxy in Hollywood here. Or listen to his 1978 S.F. Winterland show here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Chronic silver exposure

R.E.M.'s Chronic Town EP celebrated it's 25th anniversary a few days ago. Here they are early in 1983 performing "Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)" on Nickelodeon's Livewire (courtesy of Photo Robert's youtube video vault).

Come to think of it, it might not be early 1983, because they performed "So. Central Rain" on the same program, which didn't come out until Reckoning. There was also a Q&A section with the band where one young fan (future Beastie Boy Ad-Rock) asks if he can get a lyric sheet so he can find out what Michael Stipe is singing about.

There's a new R.E.M. live CD/DVD coming out in October, that was recorded and filmed in Dublin on the Around the Sun tour. This is their first official live album, but it weighs a little too heavy on inferior ATS material to be essential. I'd like to see them do a The Name Of This Band is R.E.M. type set, with the best performances from all their tours, especiallly their early tours.

Near the top of my R.E.M. live shows list is their show on the night that Chronic Town was released (8/24/82) at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco. That concert was recorded by KALX FM in Berkeley, and they played nearly all the songs from Chronic Town and Murmur (most of their debut LP was written before the EP came out) in a blistering hour long set. I wasn't there, but got the tape in a trade, and was blown away from first listen.

The next night was when the video for "Wolves, Lower" was filmed at Club Lingerie in Hollywood.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Back To Beatnik

Emusic didn't have the new New Pornographers on its street date (at least in the U.S.), so I used up the thirteen August downloads I was saving for Challengers on Imperial Teen's The Hair, The TV, The Baby, and The Band, their first new album in over five years. The album title explains what the four IT members have been up to since their last release (2002's On).

The album is a near-perfect encapsulation of how the New Pornographers used to sound. I used to always confuse Imperial Teen with Imperial Drag back in the day, and couldn't remember which band was the good one. Imperial Drag was the band with Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish, so they had the more impressive pop credentials, but Imperial Teen were the one with the better songs. I'd forgotten about them until I saw the new album among emusic's batch of new releases last week, and still had them half-confused with Immaculate Machine. Too many I bands!

The initial pick to click is "Shim Sham" (which plays on when you start it up), but the whole record is a lot of fun. Pitchfork's review says it's "a meta-album that downplays the pansexual exuberance with which Imperial Teen are most closely associated" but they still as pansexually exuberant as ever to these ears!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Big Star's #1 Record is 35.5 years old

While I was watching the Stax Records Story on PBS a few weeks ago, I kept thinking of the first Big Star record that got neglected in the label's early 70s shuffle when Stax declared bankruptcy and were bought by CBS. Ardent Records (a Stax subsidiary) released Big Star's #1 Record in early 1972, and the album received lots of glowing reviews from the rock press, but no one could find it in stores. The album sold fewer than 5000 copies, and was ostensibly "out of print" just a few months after it was released, since it wasn't available to purchase.

In his introduction of "Thirteen" on Ryko's Live album, Alex Chilton says "this is a song from our first record, that can't be found anywhere. I can't even find any copies at Ardent Records". He said this less than two years after the album came out. Until it was reissued, #1 Record was as rare as Game Theory's original Blaze of Glory LP is now.

In the CD age, #1 Record has always been paired with Big Star's second album Radio City, so it's hard for most folks to think of it as it's own standalone album. Radio City is one of the greatest albums ever, and #1 Record is half great/half okay (if you throw out Andy Hummel's "India Song" which isn't bad, but doesn't fit at all). The first side has four or five great songs in a row (thru "The India Song"), which are some of their most popular and best-known songs. Below are covers of these first five songs on #1 Record.

One of Big Star's biggest acolytes who brought them to prominence in the early 90s were The Posies, who covered #1 Record's "Feel" on the B-side to "Suddenly Mary". Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer had the Big Star sound down pat, and later joined up with Chilton and Jody Stephens in Big Star II, initially a one-off Missouri show in 1993 (documented on the out of print Columbia CD) then a 1994 appearance on the Tonight show (viewable on youtube), which developed into an ongoing touring Big Star band. They even made a studio album in 2005. The less said about that, the better, but the reunited Big Star are still touring -- they're playing the Fillmore in SF later this Fall.

Matthew Sweet's and Juliana Hatfield's covers of "El Goodo" and "Don't Lie To Me" are from a Big Star tribute Small World, which was recorded in the mid 90s but didn't come out until last year. It's a standard 1996 tribute album with all the big names from that age (Sweet, Posies, Teenage Fanclub, Wilco, Whiskeytown, Afghan Whigs) that didn't come out until 2006, so it's like a double anachronism. What an appropriate way to pay tribute to Big Star?

Elliott Smith's cover of "Thirteen" was also recorded in the early 1990s but not released until 2007, on his posthumous New Moon CD. "Thirteen" is Big Star's most popular song according to, with nearly twice as many plays as any of their others. It's been covered a bunch of times (probably because it's easy to play) and credited as the first "emo" song, which is probably not a good thing. The song is kind of played out now, but it's still a gem.

"In The Street" (played on that Tonight Show clip) is now mostly known as the theme to That 70s Show, and it's one of the few Big Star songs that Alex plays at his solo shows. The link is from a solo live album recorded in Belgium in 2004, demonstrating that Chilton might be an oddball, but the dude can still sing it. Most of the Chilton/Bell songs on #1 Record were either Chilton songs or Bell songs, but "In The Street" was truly co-written. If only they were both around to make money from its TV show residuals.
  1. Feel - The Posies
  2. The Ballad of El Goodo - Matthew Sweet
  3. In The Street - Alex Chilton
  4. Thirteen - Elliott Smith
  5. Don't Lie To Me - Juliana Hatfield
Note: I've received complaints in comments and via email about divshare as a web host. All the uploading and downloading has always worked for me. And it's free, which fits my budget. If it doesn't work for you, keep trying. If I keep hearing complaints, I'm going back to esnips for hosting. And nobody wants that!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A's on the Upside

I vowed that I wasn't going about the Oakland A's again until they were over .500, and now that they are, I can break my baseball silence.

At the end of July, Oakland was eight games under break even, 13 games behind the Angels in the division and 10 behind the Mariners for the AL wildcard. They've really picked things up this month, winning 15 of 22 games and their last five in a row, but they're still 10.5 back in the division race and 8.5 back in the wildcard race. They're too far back with too few games remaining.

Even though they're mostly playing for pride at this point, it's sure been a lot of fun to watch. Due to ongoing injuries and their place in the standings, the A's have been playing young players who've given a big boost to their anemic offense. Jack Hannahan, J.J. Furmaniak, and Jeff DaVanon are hardly household names, and they're only "young" in the baseball sense, since they're all in their upper 20s, but they're all playing like it's their last chance to make it in the major leagues.

It's times like this when I realize why I love baseball. Even when your team is out of the race, it's still worth your while to keep following, because you never know what surprises are in store. The first step toward making a move is to get to .500, and the A's are over .500, so all they have to do is keep winning and hoping that the teams ahead of them start fading. They're at least a month away from elimination, and it isn't over until the magic number is zero!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A new challenge for a new age

"The New Pornographers rarely grab listeners the first time around" - Cleveland Scene

Say what? I headed over to the local big box retailer after lunch yesterday and treated myself to a physical copy of the new New Pornographers album, Challengers, as a birthday gift. I was prepared to be underwhelmed, because I was kind of split on Twin Cinema, after being blown away by their first two albums. After 2.5 listens over the last two days, I like the new one slightly better than the last one, but not as much as the first two.

As with Twin Cinema, my favorite songs initially are the ones that Dan Bejar sings. It's a lot closer to that album or Carl Newman's solo album The Slow Wonder than classic New Pornographers sound -- more understated and less frenetic. I'm a big fan of the frenetic, but this probably holds up better for repeat listens.

I didn't want to include a copy of the album cover, so here are the NPs performing "My Rights Versus Yours" earlier this week on the Late Show with David Letterman.

I also went to the next-to-last night of San Francisco's International Pop Overthrow Festival at the Red Devil Lounge. This had everything against it: a Tuesday night at my least favorite club in SF (the last time I went there, someone broke my car window) with a bill of seven unknown bands with the one I knew (Bye Bye Blackbirds) stuck in the middle. So naturally I decided that I had to go. The show's circumstances were so wrong that they had to be right!

I've been to a few IPO shows over the years, and I'm convinced that David Bash runs the whole thing as a vanity festival, without any hopes or intentions of reaching the masses. He just gets a bunch of bands that he wants to see in a city, sets up a four or five day "festival" where they all play, and gets to see 40 bands over five nights. If I ran a pop festival, I'd be concerned if people would go see it and stuff, but David Bash runs IPO without any cares about the outside world. IPO is like the anti-Noise Pop. And he's been doing it the same way for nearly ten years, so he must be doing something right.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The time is nearly upon us

From The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Two severely dressed men, sat respectfully before the terminal and waited.

"The time is nearly upon us," said Loonquawl.

"Seventy-five thousand generations ago, our ancestors set this program in motion," Phouchg said, "and in all that time we will be the first to hear the computer speak."

"An awesome prospect, Phouchg," agreed Loonquawl.

"We are the ones who will hear," said Phouchg, "the answer to the great question of Life...!"

"The Universe...!" said Loonquawl.

"And Everything...!"

"Shhh," said Loonquawl with a slight gesture, "I think Deep Thought is preparing to speak!"

There was a moment's expectant pause whilst panels slowly came to life on the front of the console. Lights flashed on and off experimentally and settled down into a businesslike pattern. A soft low hum came from the communication channel.

"Good morning," said Deep Thought at last.

"Er ... Good morning, O Deep Thought," said Loonquawl nervously, "do you have ... er, that is..."

"An answer for you?" interrupted Deep Thought majestically. "Yes. I have."

The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not been in vain.

"There really is one?" breathed Phouchg.

"There really is one," confirmed Deep Thought.

"To Everything? To the great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?"


Both of the men had been trained for this moment, their lives had been a preparation for it, they had been selected at birth as those who would witness the answer, but even so they found themselves gasping and squirming like excited children.

"And you're ready to give it to us?" urged Loonquawl.

"I am."


"Now," said Deep Thought.

They both licked their dry lips.

"Though I don't think," added Deep Thought, "that you're going to like it."

"Doesn't matter!" said Phouchg. "We must know it! Now!"

"Now?" inquired Deep Thought.

"Yes! Now..."

"Alright," said the computer and settled into silence again. The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.

"You're really not going to like it," observed Deep Thought.

"Tell us!"

"Alright," said Deep Thought. "The Answer to the Great Question..."


"Of Life, the Universe and Everything..." said Deep Thought.


"Is." said Deep Thought, and paused.




"Forty-two," said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

It was a long time before anyone spoke. Out of the corner of his eye Phouchg could see the sea of tense expectant faces down in the square outside.

"We're going to get lynched aren't we?" he whispered.

"It was a tough assignment," said Deep Thought mildly.

"Forty-two!" yelled Loonquawl. "Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?"

"I checked it very thoroughly," said the computer, "and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."

"But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything!" howled Loonquawl.

"Yes," said Deep Thought with the air of one, who suffers fools gladly, "but what actually is it?"

A slow stupefied silence crept over the men as they stared at the computer and then at each other.

"Well, you know, it's just Everything ... Everything..." offered Phouchg weakly.

"Exactly!" said Deep Thought. "So once you do know what the question actually is, you'll know what the answer means."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hey hey, we're the Flight of the Conchords

I've really been enjoying the HBO summer series Flight of the Conchords, which follows the adventures of New Zealand's "almost award-winning fourth-most-popular comedy-folk duo." The show stars Jeremy Clement and Bret McKenzie of NZ's fourth-most-popular comedy-folk duo Flight of the Conchords, who play themselves. This makes the show confusing, because viewers don't know if they're musicians playing themselves, or just actors who portray musicians in a TV show about themselves.

The show airs at 10:30pm on Sunday nights, and has a TV-MA rating for "adult situations" because many of the episodes have FOTC songs like these that center on relationships between adults.

Business Time
If You're Into It
I Am Not Crying
A Kiss Is Not a Contract
Most Beautiful Girl In The World

Jermaine has a deep soul voice like Barry White or Isaac Hayes that suits him well on songs like "Business Time" and "Most Beautiful Girl In The Word", while Bret's quavering Robin Gibb/David Bowie voice suits songs like "I Am Not Crying" or "Bowie's In Space ".

All in all, they're just trying to be friendly, come and watch them sing and play, but they're in the 25-54 marketing demographic, and they've got something to say. Here's Flight of the Conchords' topical song "The Issues (Think About It)".

The TV show allows Flight of the Conchords to be billed as stars of stage and screen, and now they have a CD out too. Earlier this month, they put out an EP on Sub Pop called The Distant Future, featuring songs from the TV show. Now they're stars of stage, screen, and record. These songs are also available for free on youtube (click the links above) and Sub Pop has an mp3 of "Business Time" available for download from their site. This version changes "netball practice" to "social sports practice", probably to "Americanize" Flight of the Conchords. Why does Sub Pop hate netball? It's just basketball without a backboard!

Anyway, FOTC are the Monkees for the new millennium, so check the show out on HBO if you have cable, or on youtube if you don't. Search for "Flight of the Conchords".

Initially I thought the band was called "The Conchords" and the show was their flight, but they are actually known as "Flight Of The Conchords". I think there should be more bands of the "(article)(plural noun)" form and fewer bands of the "(article)(noun)(preposition)(article)(noun)" form. They should rename themselves "The Conchords", which would be a good name for a comedy folk duo. Flight Of the Conchords isn't as good a name for a comedy-folk duo.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Another Bayside Derby

Back in June, I talked about the annual Bayside Derbys between the Giants and the A's. There's another annual local showdown every year between the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. These teams play each year in the preseason for Bay Area bragging rights, and it's treated as a big deal by the local media. Even though it's a "friendly" in world football terms, fans of each team want to beat the other one. Tonight's game is on two local TV channels with each team's announcers hometowning for the Niners (2) or Raiders (5).

I've been Not Feeling Love for the NFL for the past couple of years, but was a 49er fan back when I followed football, and more importantly, do not like the Raiders. I grew up as a Raider fan during their 70s heyday, but broke up with them after they moved to L.A. in 1982 (from a long distance, since was living on the other side of the world). 1982 was also the first year that the Niners won their first of their five Super Bowls, so it was the year I changed my allegiance.

When the Raiders returned to Oakland in 1995, I mostly viewed their return with apathy (and distress that my taxes were used to lure them here), until they started ruining one of the best baseball stadiums in the league by enclosing it and adding a concrete monstrosity in left field that most people call "Mount Davis" (after the Raiders megalomaniac owner). When I watch an A's game in August and see those yardlines in the outfield, it's a sign that Summer is over and baseball is going to be supplanted by football, two things that make me sad.

One thing that doesn't make me sad is that the stadium formerly known as Candlestick is now called Bill Walsh Field, which is a great tribute to a great coach, even if the stadium itself is still a dump. At least it's not a waste of a perfectly good baseball stadium!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rogue Covers

Linking to a song from the new Rogue Wave album the other day reminded me that I've been wanting to post all the various cover tunes by Zach and the guys that I've managed to collect from various internets. Quite a unique collection of songs.

Rogue Wave
All You Need Is Love (Beatles)
Debaser (Pixies)
Everyday (Buddy Holly)
On A Plain (Nirvana)
Odorono (Who)
Something in The Air (Thunderclap Newman)

Sometimes you can judge a band by their covers, and Rogue Wave has a way of adding a certain something to other people's songs and making them sound like RW originals. "All You Need Is Love" was posted on their myspace page a few months back, "Debaser" is on one of the OC mixes. "Everyday" is from the Stubbs The Zombie video game soundtrack, "On A Plain" is live from some college radio station, "Odorono" was recorded (por moi) at an in-store at Amoeba Music in SF last January. "Something In The Air" is from this show at Southpaw in Brooklyn last June. It's identified (incorrectly) as a Randy Newman song on the ID3 tags, but it's originally by Randy's brother Thunderclap.

Zach also covers of R.E.M.'s "Driver 8" on a CNET podcast available here (and iTunes) "Seconds" by U2 on this exclusive EP (also on iTunes). Rogue Wave has become my 21st Century R.E.M., where I'm constantly checking radio sessions and live recordings for cool covers, and they always have new ones. I wonder what they're cooking up for the new tour?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

30 Jahre und Elvis ist noch tot

Thirty years ago this week, I was vacationing with my family in the country formerly known as West Germany. We were walking around Munich one morning and saw a huge banner headline on all the papers as we walked by a newstand. ELVIS IST TOT.

We didn't have to check our Berlitz German phrase book to see what "tot" meant. When we got back to our hotel, the English language TV station was playing "G.I. Blues", or maybe it was the next day, but I remember watching G.I. Blues on television shortly after he died. Back then, I figured he was popular in Germany because he was there in the army, but a few years later, I realized that Elvis was popular everywhere, and the same headline was in all the papers around the world that day. Mojo Nixon was right. Elvis really was everywhere!

Next week I'm going to be the same age that Elvis was when he died. I'm hoping to outlive him by at least a few years, and if I manage to steer clear of Reese's Peanut Butter & Banana Creme cups and BLQ (bacon, lettuce, and quaalude) sandwiches, I probably will.

Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper - Elvis Is Everywhere

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rogue waves on Lake Michigan

Spin has an mp3 from Rogue Wave's upcoming album, Asleep at Heaven's Gate, which is coming out on September 18th.

The song, "Lake Michigan" is also streamable at RW's myspace page, and there's also a "making of Asleep At Heaven's Gate" video up on youtube.

Last year was an up and down ride for the Wave – drummer Pat Spurgeon had a kidney transplant, keyboardist Gram Lebron lost his father, singer Zach Rogue had a daughter and the band recruited a new bass player (or "newfound low-ender" as Spin put it, ugh!), Patrick Abernethy, formerly of Beulah. They also left Sub Pop and signed with Jack Johnson's Brushfire label.

With all those changes they still managed to put out a new album on schedule, which based on the live songs I heard recently, should be a good one.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Watching us all in the eye of the Tiger

For the last ten years on the PGA Tour there have been two types of major championships: majors that Tiger Woods doesn't win, and majors that he wins. The ones that he doesn't win tend to be more exciting because there are usually a lot of players in the hunt and everything goes down to the wire. The ones that he wins are kind of boring, because when Tiger has his game working, there isn't anyone who can compete with him, so he usually wins going away.

Last week's PGA Championship was one of the majors that Tiger wins. Golf isn't like tennis where the best player always wins. There isn't a big spread in the skill level, so whoever's hitting the best and making the putts that week has the best shot. Tiger Woods has won 13 of the 44 major championships of his professional career, which amounts to a .295 winning average. That's Barry Bonds lifetime batting average, and about as dominant as anyone has ever been over any ten year period in the history of golf.

In my inter-sibling major championship battle with my brother, I finally managed to get the better of him. The PGA was my turn to pick Tiger, so I picked the winner, but I also picked the second and third place finishers (Woody Austin and Ernie Els). I should have dropped some real money when I was in Reno last weekend!

We have Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 on our Wii in the break room at work, and it's nice to have a video game that I can beat everyone at. Wii golf requires the same touch as regular golf, except I'm a lot better at it. I'd like to play against Tiger -- he's probably one of those uber-competitive players that throws his controller when he hits it in the trees!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

IPA IPA all day

I headed out to the Bistro yesterday for their Summer IPA Festival, where they had more than 50 IPAs on tap. IPA (short for India Pale Ale or Imperial Pale Ale) is one of my favorite liquids in the whole world, so I was in hops heaven. As an added bonus, the Bistro is walking distance from where I live, so I could sample the wares without worrying about driving home.

I've never met an IPA I didn't like, or at least hadn't until yesterday, so I tried to sample the ones I wasn't familiar with. I discovered that I'd already had more than half of the 50 selections, and tried most of the smaller ones I hadn't. I liked E.J. Phair (the one with the highest IBU) and Bear Republic APEX, but didn't like care for the two Oregon IPAs I tried, who's names I won't mention.

To finish up, I had a Deschutes Inversion (an Oregon IPA I do like) and a 21st. Century (the best IPA in the world from San Francisco). At the end, 21st Century ended up winning the gold medal, and Bear Republic ended up with the people's choice, so my views were in line with the public and the voters.

After the IPA festival, the Dead Guise (a Grateful Dead tribute band) played a set at the Bistro. That kind of music sounds a lot better when you're hopped up on IPA!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Are you ready for some football?

I was talking with someone this week about the sad fate of our local Bay Area baseball squads (G's: 49-65, last place. A's: 56-60, recently resurging but out of the mix), and when he said he was looking forward to football starting this week, I said that I was also looking forward to the start of football.

It took me awhile to realize that he was talking about American football (which doesn't start til September, that pre-season stuff doesn't count), while I was talking about Association football (or "soccer" as it's better known over here). The English Premier League (EPL, or Barclay's Premiership in sponsor-speak) kicked off today, and I've been looking forward to August 11th ever since the A's started their post all-star slide out of contention. Watching these matches on FSC has been one of my weekend highlights since I got digital cable two years ago. Getting up early on Saturday to watch Aston Villa v. Liverpool now is like getting up early on Saturday to watch Looney Tunes was when I was a kid -- a reason to get up!

The EPL is one of the most top-heavy sports leagues in the world, where the majority of the publicity goes to four clubs: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool. The "big four" spend and make more money than any other club, so they're pretty much guaranteed to take the top four spots in the league. The top four clubs in the EPL gain entry in the European Champions League the following year, and only a couple of clubs outside the big four have qualified for the Champions League in this century.

This makes the biggest battle in the league after the title the one for 5th place, below the big four. The four best EPL clubs that don't qualify for the Champions League gain a berth in the UEFA cup, which gives more revenue and exposure to the teams. The clubs just outside the big four are fairly evenly matched, so the battle for Europe gets heated as the season rolls on.

On the other end of the table is the battle for relegation. After each season, the bottom three clubs from the Premier League get dropped to the lower (Championship) division and the top three clubs from that league are promoted to the Premier League. This is to provide some "league churn" with new teams being elevated to the top flight each year, but for the last few years, teams like Sunderland and Birmingham have oscillated between the leagues, finishing at the top of the Championship one year and bottom of the Premiership the next.

The one exception to this is Wigan Athletic, who were promoted in 2005, and have managed to stay in the Premier League for three straight years. Wigan's promotion started when I started watching the EPL, so I've adopted them as one of my teams, but they really aren't very good, so I've also ended up adopting Chelsea. In sports, you don't choose your team, your team chooses you, and my interest in the EPL coincided with Chelsea being dominant. I'm trying to wean myself off the blues, but they're just the team I ended up following.

Anyway, here are my predictions for the various battles in the 2007/2008 Premier League.

The Big Four:
1. Chelsea
2. Manchester United
3. Arsenal
4. Liverpool

It's almost a cinch that these will be the top four clubs, and it's only a question of which order.

The UEFA Four:
5. Blackburn
6. Everton
7. Reading
8. Tottenham

The top four clubs that don't qualify for the Champions League qualify for the UEFA cup (European soccer's NIT tournament). These are my picks for the best non big-four clubs this season.

The Drop Zone:
17. Wigan
18. Birmingham
19. Derby
20. Sunderland

The bottom three are the same three clubs that were promoted to the Premier League this year. Birmingham and Sunderland are on the EPL-Championship pendelum, and Derby has never played at the top level. The one wildcard is Wigan, who have stayed up for the past three years despite all odds. Is this the year their luck runs out?

I'm going to try to make it out for more EPL matches at the Englander this year. There aren't that many opportunities to drink beer at 7:30am on a Saturday!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Boots, dragonflies, and daffodils

Lee Hazlewood's autumn came last weekend. He passed away last Saturday after a three year battle with cancer. He was 78, and I was surprised to hear the news, mainly because I thought he was already dead. Hazlewood is probably best known nowadays for the hits he produced and wrote for Nancy Sinatra, most famously this one.

I remember watching that clip every day on MTV's Closet Classics. Back when MTV used to play videos, they would play old videos from the 1960s and 70s (the pre-MTV era) for an hour each day. "Boots" was in CC's regular rotation, it was on the show nearly every day, and was always one of the highlights for me. It was the first of a series of hits that Lee and Nancy made between 1966 and 1968, followed by other hits like these.

Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra
Sugar Town (1966)
Summer Wine (1967)

A few years before he worked with Nancy, Hazlewood made a solo album called Trouble Is A Lonesome Town, which included one of his signature songs "We Make All The Flowers Grow". Here's an mp3 of that one, as well as Lee's version of the song that helped pay his bills for the last 40 years of his life, from his 1966 album The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood. Nancy's grrl power anthem sounds a lot different sung by a self-effacing guy.

Lee Hazlewood
We All Make The Flowers Grow (1963)

As an added bonus, here's the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet "Somethin' Stupid", a song that
Hazlewood didn't write, but did produce. This is an alternate version that Nancy released on an EP called For My Dad (available on emusic), which includes some in-studio chatter between Lee and Frank. This really is a beautiful record, and a great father/daughter duet.

Frank & Nancy Sinatra
Somethin' Stupid (1967)

Nancy Sinatra has a nice tribute to Lee on the Sinatra family forum, with some nice photos of the two of them in the studio. Their chemistry in the studio was a big part of what made these records so special. I don't want to quote the corny line about Lee Hazlewood "dying with his boots on", but he definitely did!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

10 Nonessential albums from 1967

Last month as part of their 40th Anniversary Issue, Rolling Stone came up with their list of 40 Essential Albums from 1967. It's a pretty good list, with all of the consensus "classics" from that year and a few left-field surprises. I'd never heard of Serpent Power before, but the album is going for $120 on amazon, so it has to be good!

Rolling Stone's list is arranged by release date, but here it is in semi-alphabetical order (would Mississippi John Hurt fall under M or H?)

The Beach Boys - Smiley Smile, Wild Honey
The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's, Magical Mystery Tour
Big Brother - Big Brother And The Holding Company
James Brown - Cold Sweat
Tim Buckley - Goodbye And Hello
Buffalo Springfield - Buffalo Springfield Again
The Byrds - Younger Than Yesterday
Country Joe & the Fish - Electric Music for the Mind and Body
Cream - Disraeli Gears
Donovan - Mellow Yellow
The Doors - The Doors, Strange Days
Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding
Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
Grateful Dead - Grateful Dead
Arlo Guthrie - Alice's Restaurant
Jimi Hendrix - Are you Experienced?, Axis:Bold As Love
The Hollies - Evolution
Mississippi John Hurt - The Immortal
Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing At Baxter's
The Kinks - Something Else By The Kinks
Love - Forever Changes
Moby Grape - Moby Grape
The Moody Blues - Days of Future Passed
Van Morrison - Blowin' Your Mind
Otis & Carla - King And Queen
Pink Floyd - Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Procul Harum - Procul Harum
Rolling Stones - Between The Buttons, Flowers
The Serpent Power - The Serpent Power
Howard Tate - Get It While You Can
The 13th Floor Elevators - Easter Everywhere
The Velvet Underground - Velvet Underground & Nico
Dionne Warwick - Golden Hits
The Who - The Who Sell Out

As an academic exercise, I've tried to come up with a few 1967 albums that RS left off. Anyone who's read that magazine knows that they have lots of musical blind spots, and tend to value "importance" over "listenability", and devalue bands that start with definite articles. Here are ten of the largest omissions I've noticed on the list, and I'm sure there are many more.
  1. The Beau Brummels - Triangle
  2. The Bee Gees - Bee Gees' 1st
  3. The Bonzo Dog Band - Gorilla
  4. The Fifth Dimension - Magic Garden
  5. The Left Banke - Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina
  6. The Merry Go Round - You're A Very Lovely Woman/Live
  7. The Monkees - Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
  8. The Harry Nilsson - Pandemonium Shadow Show
  9. The Turtles - Happy Together
  10. The Yardbirds - Little Games

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

There's a new home run champion

And it's this guy.

The record breaker was a 3-2 fastball in the fifth inning off Washington Nationals lefthander Mike Bacsik, who's dad managed to avoid giving up Hank Aaron's 756th home run 31 years ago when he faced him during one of his final games. Hank wasn't at the ballpark, but he did send a video tribute (better than a telegram!).

Bonds #756 gave the Giants a 6-5 lead (which they've since blown), and I missed catching it by this much. If he'd hit it 13 miles further, I was right there on the deck with my glove! He'd had a single and a double before the home run, so he was ready, and was going to hit one sooner or later. Fortunately for people waiting for it (or waiting for it to be over), it was sooner.

Unfortunately, Bonds left the game in the top of the 6th after hitting his home run, so he wasn't able to go for the cycle. The only way that could have been better was if 756 was a game-winning, inside the park homer in his fourth at bat after he'd already hit a single, a double, and a triple!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Piper At The Gates of Mid-Afternoon

Piper At The Gates of Dawn was released 40 years ago yesterday, and to mark its anniversary, EMI is putting out a special 3-CD edition of the album with newly remastered mono and stereo mixes plus other 1967 singles and bonus tracks. There's also a 2-CD version with new mono and stereo mixes, but without the singles and bonus tracks, that will be at a single-disc price.
I heard the mono mix of Piper that came out for the 30th anniversary of the album, and it's interesting to hear once or twice, but hardly essential. The mono mix of "Interstellar Overdrive" sounds like a new song without all the stereophonic effects. The new stereo mix and companion singles ("Arnold Layne","See Emily Play", "Apples & Oranges") make this worth a purchase even for those of us who already have the original. And anyone who doesn't own the record should, because it's the greatest psychedelic album ever. Full Stop.
I posted a few covers of early Pink Floyd back in May that should still downloadable, and youtube also has these Piper-era videos for viewing and listening. Happy Piper Day!
  1. Arnold Layne
  2. Astronomy Domine
  3. Bike
  4. Scarecrow
  5. See Emily Play

Sunday, August 5, 2007


Barry Bonds hits home run number 755 in the second inning against the San Diego Padres last night, tying Henry Aaron for the all time HR record in the history of the MLB.

It was smacked to the opposite field off Padre starter Clay Hensley, who was suspended a couple of years ago for violating MLB's steroids policy (irony!).

Also, commissioner Bud Selig was there to watch, but didn't applaud. Most of the San Diego fans did cheer after the HR, even though they booed him before every at bat, as is the custom.
Barry probably won't play today (day game after night game on a getaway day), but should break Aaron's record sometime during this week's home series against the Washington Nationals.
Washington has a baseball team?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I'll teach you to laugh at something that's funny!

Just back from the local singleplex, where I sawThe Simpsons Movie (in 2D) tonight. Their show has been on a plateau for the last few years, not a decline just a plateau, but the movie takes me back to the early days of the series. It has a story arc instead of just being a series of gags, and the focus is more on the Simpson family than the supporting cast or celebrity guests, just like it was on the first few seasons of the show.

It was a lot like a 3-part Simpsons episode where the first part sets the stage, the second part leads to the crisis point (the "To be continued" point if you've seen the film), rand the third part resolves the story. It follows a standard story plot, rather than the flow of recent Simpsons episodes, where situation A leads to unrelated situation B, and so on and so forth until situation Z, when the show ends. It takes good writing to do shows like that, but would grow tiring if the shows were 90 minutes long instead of 30 minutes long.

And the Simpsons Movie is even shorter than 90 minutes in length! I went to the 5:00 show and was home for dinner by 6:40, even with the previews and the ten minute drive home. There are some raunchy bits to give it the PG13 rating: casual drug use, frontal exposure, using the Lord's name in vain, but no one dropped any f-bombs, even if it would have been funny to see America's cartoon family cursing like the kids on South Park.