Saturday, January 31, 2009

No place for a poor boy like me

I'm weekending in Las Vegas, and reuniting with friends I haven't seen in 30+ years (since we all attended grade school together in Sumatra).

I got back in touch with these folks(except for to Elvis, who didn't go to school with us!) through facebook, and we set up a get reacquainted weekend for the last week of January in Las Vegas. I wasn't very big on Vegas for the longest time, but I've come to appreciate it for what it is, and it's a great place for people to get together, since it's easy to get to from everywhere.

I'm hitting it on the tail end of a weeklong vacation in the Southwest, and it's a big change (weather-wise and culture-wise) to go from New Mexico to Las Vegas in one day. The one thing I notice here is that everything costs money. Almost every hotel has free wi-fi, but hotels in Vegas charge $15 per day for it. Anything to keep people out of the room and in the casino. Forget $40 a day -- you can't get out of Vegas for less than $100 a day. It's like Disneyland for grownups.

Tomorrow I head for home, and after a week of running around, I'm ready to head back to my regular life again.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Lord knows I can't change (the station)

If you ever plan to motor West on the day after (the keyboardist, and last remaining original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd) Billy Powell dies, and check out the FM dial while you're driving, you're going to hear "Freebird" at least once an hour.

Yesterday was one big Freebird-fest along the I-40 airwaves. I didn't even listen to the radio that much, but kept stumbling on that song around the dial again and again. Jam some Fray-bird!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

One More For St. Rachael

In my first two nights nights in Santa Fe, I've managed, completely by accident, to eat at two different restaurants featured in Rachael Ray's Food Network programs ($40 a Day and Tasty Travels). On Sunday, I ate at the Cowgirl Hall Of Fame, where there was a photo of Rachael in her cowgirl gear alongside the photos of real cowgirls like Dale Evans and Kitty Wells. And last night, I went to Upper Crust Pizza, which also has a signed photo of Ms. Ray on the wall.

I think Rachael might be the patron saint of Santa Fe, NM cuisine. She's literally everywhere here. She must have got through Santa Fe under $40 a day by not drinking beer or wine with dinner. I dropped $20 at the Cowgirl Hall Of Fame and Upper Crust just for myself, but that included a couple of Santa Fe Nut Brown Ales at $3.50 a pop.

Even though I'd never heard of it two days ago, SF Nut Brown is my new favorite beer, so tonight I went to the source (Santa Fe Brewery) to get more. It's only $3 a pint at the brewery, but they didn't have any pictures of Ms. Ray on the wall, so I broke my Rachael streak. Still, one hamburger plus two Nut Browns set me back $15, so I spent well under $40 today, which should earn me honorary Rachael points.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ski Santa Fe

Isn't it a little homophobic that the easiest way down the hill is called "Gayway"? Not that there's anything wrong, etc..

I'm spending a few days in Santa Fe this week, and took the day off today to try out the local ski area (Ski Santa Fe). It has one of the highest base elevations in the continental US (10,000 feet) and is over 12,000 feet at the summit. This means that the top hills are above the treeline, so it's cold and windy, and you need to stop every six turns on your way down the hill. Luckily, they sell morning half-day tickets, because I don't think I could handle skiing eight hours at 12,000 feet, even though I wasn't ready to quit at 12:30.

It was a beautiful day on the slopes and a beautiful drive to the ski hill. Ski Santa Fe is only 15 miles from the city of Santa Fe, but there's a 3,000 foot elevation rise in those fifteen miles, so it's like climbing up Alpe D'Huez. The terrain also goes drastically from high desert to mountain, so it's like going to a completely different world that's only fifteen minutes out of town.

I actually drove all the way from the Bay Area to Santa Fe this weekend, a 1000 mile trip that took one and a half full days of driving. I drove to Flagstaff on Saturday (730 miles) then the remaning 350 miles yesterday by way of the Grand Canyon (which I'd never seen before).

I'm here through tomorrow then driving home via Las Vegas. One of the best things about traveling via car is that you can bring whatever fits in the trunk without needing to pay excess baggage, and you can take as long or as short a time as you like. You also get multiple hours of iPod listening with no repeats. I made a special three-hour playlist for driving on (the former) Route 66, with 66 songs from 1966 by 66 different artists, and I've listened to it three times all the way through.

The downside is that the Western United States is huge, so it takes an entire day to drive from Northern California to Northern Arizona. But an 11 hour drive is still a lot less stressful than a two-hour flight!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This side up

Even with the problems with Iraq, Gaza, the economy, and everything else, the President's approval rating skyrocketed from 28% last week to 72% this week. It's like the world has suddenly turned right side up after being upside down for the past eight years!

Friday, January 23, 2009

I adore my '64

Before the next one comes out, I should mention that Scott Miller seemed to hit all the right tunes in his latest "Music: Wha'Happen?" (from 1964).

Unlike his list from the following year, he only included one Beatles track ("If I Fell", one of the fillers from A Hard Day's Night) but includes many of the other first wave British Invasion bands (Stones, Animals, Kinks, Zombies), early Beach Boys and Dylan tracks, Phil Spector songs, Motown songs by the Temptations, Four Tops, and the Supremes, even a jazz track from John Coltrane.

The entire list looks like something that would make a great CD, so I created this dozen song playlist on

1. Iko Iko - Dixie Cups
2. Secret Agent Man - Johnny Rivers
3. House Of The Rising Sun - The Animals
4. Where Did Our Love Go? - The Supremes
5. Time Is On My Side - The Rolling Stones
6. Gloria - Van Morrison & Them
7. Pink Panther Theme - Henry Mancini
8. Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss) - Betty Everett
9. Don't Worry Baby - The Beach Boys
10. She's Not There - Zombies
11. You Really Got Me - The Kinks
12. If I Fell - The Beatles

Random notes about MWH:1964

1) I knew "Iko Iko" from the Dr. John and Dead versions. Hearing the Dixie Cups version was the best thing about the movie The Big Easy.

2) For another 1964 song from an 80s movie, I would have included Manfred Mann's version of "Do Wah Diddy" (made famous in Stripes).

4) Thanks to Marc Almond, I can't listen to "Where Did Our Love Go?" without hearing it tagged onto the end of "Tainted Love", so I would've prefaced it with Gloria Jones' original version of "Tainted Love" (also from 1964).

6) Scott included "Gloria" in both his 1964 and 1965 lists. He must like the song.

7) Since I was raised on Saturday morning cartoons, I can't hear the "Pink Panther Theme" without singing the jingle from Pink Panther Flakes ("Pink Panther Flakes, are pink!"), a breakfast cereal that would turn your milk pink.

10) I tried to sing "She's Not There" at a karaoke place once. I thought it would be easy, but the chorus ("well, let me tell you 'bout the WAY SHE LOOKS!") is hard to sing. Colin Blunstone is a better singer than me.

11) Two songs on Scott's 1964 list ("You Really Got Me" and "Oh, Pretty Woman") were later covered by Van Halen. I was glad when the originals started getting more airplay than the VH covers of these songs.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Innocent pleasures

Jon Carroll had an article in the SF Chronicle this week about "comfort music", which he describes variously as "music that has been very, very good to us all throughout our lives..the music you listen to when you need to listen to music..stuff that has lingered with you, sometimes for decades, and that you're always happy to hear again"

I knew exactly what Carroll was talking about because I read the article while riding the Bart to see Fountains of Wayne at the Cafe du Nord. FoW are like comfort music to me, a band that I always turn to during troubled times. Their songs are hooky and melodic, with lyrics that tell stories about everyday life.

This week's shows were billed as "acoustic", but it was the full band with acoustic guitars, electric bass, and drums. They played a handful of songs from their upcoming album (a summer song called "A Summer Place" and a road song called "Road Song" ) and many more from their previous four albums, and after every single one I was thinking "I like that last one. Wait, this one is good too!" Every FoW song sounded like an old favorite to me, even the ones I'd never heard before.

Midway through the set, Adam Schlesinger switched from bass to piano, and they broke out some of their quieter songs like "I-95" and "Valley Winter Song" (now reborn as an LL Bean ad). They also played a mellowed out version of "Stacy's Mom" which sounded like grafting its words to Jellyfish's "I Wanna Stay Home". It's hard to play that song acoustically without the prominent synthesizer hook.

They did the two fire songs from their last two albums ("Fire Island" and "Fire In The Canyon") with opening act Mike Viola on bass and backing vocals. These are two of my least favorite FoW songs (not as bad as "Planet of Weed") but these performances gave them new life.

Mike Viola is most famous for singing Schlesinger's theme from "That Thing You Do!" (which they sadly didn't play), but he's a fine pop craftsman in his own right. I arrived midway through is opening set (because I didn't know he was opening the show), but enjoyed what I saw of his set with bassist Kelly Jones. They played songs from Mike's latest album Lurch (one of 2f's top albums of 2008 well worth an emusic download), newer songs, and oldies from his days with the Candy Butchers. The entire evening was a big dish of comfort for popheads like me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

End of an error

Today is a day of reckoning for millions of bumperstickers, buttons, coffee mugs and t-shirts across the internets. A day they all claimed would happen eventually.

And now it has. Hooray calendar!
And hooray country!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pitchfork in the road

Pitchfork's headline about the new Neil Young album might be the funniest thing I've seen this year. And Neil's video for the title track (and leadoff "single") of said album might be the second funniest.

I think Pitchfork should lighten up, and stop slamming Sparks!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Take off your hobo shoes

The Arizona Cardinals will be playing in the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hell is freezing over, and the Cubs haven't even won the World Series!

The Gridbirds making their first championship appearance in 60 years calls for top ten hit from 39 years ago.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


This January is the fourth annual National Just Read More Novels Month (NaJuReMoNoMo), so I'm trying to find a novel to read. Unfortunately, I started reading Rick Perlstein's Nixonland after the holidays, a study of the Nixon years which is (a) over 900 pages long and (b) not a novel.

Since I'm a serial reader (in the sense that I can only read one book at a time), I need to finish Nixonland before starting my novel. And once I start a book, I have to finish it, no matter how long it takes to read. At 900 pages, I have to average 30 pages per day to read the whole book in a month, and that's about what I'm averaging so far.

It's January 18th, and my bookmark is just over halfway through the book (page 476, chapter 23) and I've still got more than 400 pages of Nixonland to go. This should hold me over until the end of January (hopefully a few days earlier, because it's due back at the library on the 28th), so I might need to pust NaJuReNoMo until February. C'est la vie, c'est pas grave.

Friday, January 16, 2009

We like him better when he walks away

Here's recent birthday dude Alejandro Escovedo with "Castanets", a song he vowed to stop performing after GWB included it on "iPod One" a few years back.

Now that Bush is on his way out ("four more days! four more days!"), Al's started playing it again, and turned it into a celebration of his leaving. So long Shrub!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Take me to another place

Inspired by the recent coup in Tennessee's State House ("full of win" as the kids say), here's another good song from 1992.

This single and album swept the 1992 Pazz & Jop poll, but seems to be mostly forgotten nowadays. I traded in the album a few years back, but still cherish my "Tennessee" cassingle!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


One of my prize possessions (technically my brother's possession, but I claim half ownership) is a 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson rookie card.

I've kept it as a financial safety net, so if things ever get too tough I could sell it on eBay and retire with the proceeds. But given the current baseball card market, the best I could do with the proceeds is treat myself to a round of golf at Willow Park (after 3pm on a weekday).

That might change now, because Rickey's a Hall Of Famer. Rickey was a near unanimous selection, listed on 511 of the 538 ballots (94.8%), but I wonder how the 27 voters who didn't select him can justify keeping out the all-time leader in runs scored (2295) and stolen bases (1406), a player with 3000 hits (3055) and 2907 walks (second to BB). With stats like that it should have been the easiest selection ever.

But all those numbers don't compare to the thrill of actually watching Rickey play in his prime. One of my thrills as a baseball fan was sitting on the first base stands watching Rickey take his crouched lead off first with his fingers twitching, just knowing that he was going to steal second on the next pitch. And all those home runs to lead off games (81 in his career).

Plus he was a genuine "character", my generation's Yogi Berra. There are tons of Rickey stories, but this is my favorite.
In 1996, Henderson’s first season with San Diego, he boarded the team bus and was looking for a seat. Steve Finley said, “Sit wherever you want. You have tenure in this league” Rickey looked at Finley and said, “Ten years? Rickey has 17 years in this league!”

There's also the Olerud story that apparently never happened.
A few weeks into Henderson’s stint with the Mariners, he walked up to John Olerud at the batting cage and asked him why he wore a batting helmet in the field. Olerud explained that he had an aneurysm at nine years old and he wore the helmet for protection. Henderson said, “Yeah, I played with a guy in Toronto that had the same thing.” Olerud said, “That was me, Rickey.”

Congratulations to the greatest Athletic ever. Go Rickey!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Monkeys dancing in a cage

Scott Miller calls 1992 "the quintessential bad nineties year ... the year music listeners decided once and for all to settle for crap".

1992 wasn't a great musical year, but I can't dismiss offhand any year that produced a song like this one (co-written by Mark Everett and Parthenon Huxley).

Five more good songs from that "bad nineties" year.

1. Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead - XTC
2. Dyslexic Heart - Paul Westerberg
3. If I Can't Change Your Mind - Sugar
4. Friday, I'm In Love - The Cure
5. Upside Down - Yo La Tengo

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Going to the birds

After a series of unlikely upsets, here are next week's NFL conference championship matchups.

AFC: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
NFC: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals

Notice anything?

Three of the four teams remaining (Cardinals, Ravens, and Eagles) are birds, who prevailed on the road against more favored teams with larger mascots like Panthers, Titans, and Giants.

2009 might be the year of the Ox, but in football, it's shaping up to be the year of the bird.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I didn't participate in the shuffle meme when it was going around last month, so here's my chance. Here's the drill.

1. Put your iPod, iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. Write the name of that song down, no matter how silly it sounds.

How would you describe yourself?
"Before Too Long" (Paul Kelly & the Messengers)

What do you like in a man/woman?
"Only Love Can Break Your Heart" (St. Etienne)

How do you feel today?
"Blowin' Away" (Laura Nyro)

What is your life's purpose?
"Joy Division Oven Gloves" (Half Man Half Biscuit)

What is your motto?
"Don't Feed The Rats" (The Lilac Time)

What do your friends think of you?
"Tractor Rape Chain" (Guided By Voices)

What do your parents think about you?
"Back Seat Of My Car" (Paul McCartney)

What do you think of your best friend?
"Radio Wave" (Oranger)

What do you think of the person you love?
"It's the End Of The World As We Know It" (R.E.M.)

What is your life story?
"The End Of Something" (David Lewis)

What do you want to do when you grow up?
"The Evangelist" (Robert Forster)

What do you think when you see the person you love?
"You Think Too Hard" (Syd Straw)

What will you/did you dance to at your wedding?
"Charmless Man" (Blur)

Your favorite hobby or biggest interest?
"Dreamer" (Dennis Wilson)

What is your biggest fear?
"Hickory Wind" (The Byrds)

What is your biggest secret?
"A Proper Cup Of Tea" (Anton Barbeau)

What do you think of your friends?
"Trouser Press" (The Bonzo Dog Band)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Rising above the scarlet tide

More ukelele, from a musician with the same first name as yesterday's other birthday dude.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Now the ukers have struck for fame

For Bowie's birthday, the definitive version of "Life On Mars" by the
Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Searching for the Ukelele Orchestra on youtube turns up many more uked-up rock covers.

Their version of "Shaft" has to be seen (and heard) to be believed! As Nigel Tuffnell might say: "How much more white could that be?" And the answer is "None. None more white"

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Curse of the Giambino

After Jason Giambi bolted from the A's to the Yankees in 2002, I put a hex on the team so they'd never win a World Series with him on the team. And they haven't, but I guess the Yankees can go back to winning championships now that Jason is back in Oakland.

As far as the A's go, I'm not sure what to think. On one side, they're getting a guy who hit 30 HRs last year for a bargain basement salary, and Oakland's hitting was so woeful last year that even Jeremy Giambi would help them, and the acquisitions of Jason Giambi and Matt Holliday will definitely help the offense.

On the other hand, this transfers the curse of the Giambino to Oakland, and Jason left no bridge unburned on his way out of town seven years ago when he dissed Oakland on the Letterman show just one day after he signed with the Yankees -- "Have you ever been to Oakland?".

Yes I have. And it's not a bad place. Welcome back Jason, to the poor side of town. Doot-doo-doo-wah-shooby-dooby.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Circle Round the Square

One of the songs on Scott Miller's 1985 installment of Music: What Happened? that I'd never heard of was "Circle Square" by Other Bright Colors. The song is standard mid-80s college rock, but it's standard mid-80s college rock that I'd never heard before. "Circle Square" sounds like the 13th Floor Elevators to me, possibly because this youtube video of the record playing is so lo-fi.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Back in the Real World

Scott Miller tackles two years from the fabulous 1980s (1983 and 1985) in the latest double dose of MWH. Even though he doesn't have many nice things to say about that decade, he manages to compile two pretty decent playlists from those two years.

My one pedantic complaint about Scott's song selection is that he kind of played loose and fast with his years by including 1982 songs like Marshall Crenshaw's "Favorite Waste Of Time" ( b-side to "Someday, Someway") and this Bangles tune ("The Real World") from their debut EP on his 1983 list.

But cool songs are still cool songs, no matter what year they came out. One year after this, the Bangles had their first taste of fame covering another song on Scott's 1983 list thanks to this video they made with Mr. Spock. How fascinatingly illogical!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Going For the Cup

One day after making fun of college football for not having a playoff, I should say that I think the FA Cup is the essence of sports competition. Every team in the English Football Association, from Man United down to the lowest conference side, playing it off for a trophy with a blind draw in every round.

I used to not like the FA Cup because it was kind of confusing, with a lot of teams I'd never heard of, but it's great to watch anonymous teams like Southend and Hartlespool match up against Chelsea and Liverpool (and sometimes knock them off).

The larger Premier league teams get byes into the third round, but sometimes end up getting shocked by lower division teams confident after winning four matches in a row. It's pretty much what sports is all about.

My new favorite cup underdogs Hartlepool get to play West Ham (the Hammers) after beating Stoke City this weekend.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Da Utes Win!

Watching the Utah Utes against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last night, I kept thinking of this scene in My Cousin Vinny.

Just like in the movie, where Vinny got the two utes off a murder rap in Alabama, the Utah Utes rolled over the Crimson Tide 31-17. And Utah coach Kyle Whittingham made Nick Saban look like Joe Pesci.

As much as I enjoy watching college football, the way it determines a champion couldn't be more messed up if it tried. The Bowl Championship Series (with four traditional bowls plus a championship game) was supposed to fix this, with the top two teams playing off for a championship, but it only works when there are two (no more, no less) top teams.

Going into the bowl season this year, there were six major conference teams (Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Alabama, USC, Penn State) and two undefeated mid-major teams (Boise State and Utah) who could claim to be the top team in the country. This would have been perfect for an 8-team playoff, but instead, the first two teams (Florida and Oklahoma) play for the title, while the other teams are paired off in lesser bowls, more or less at random.

This makes the bowl season frustrating for those who are concerned about who's number one, but why is it so important to know who's number one. The one thing that's certain for Utah is that they'll end the season 13-0, ando even if they aren't picked #1, they won all their games, which is as well as they could possibly do.

At worst, Utah deserves to be #2 under whatever team wins the fake championship.

Vinny Gambini: Everything that guy just said is bullshit... Thank you.
D.A. Jim Trotter: Objection. Counsel's entire opening statement is argument.
Judge: Sustained. Counselor's entire opening statement, with the exception of "thank you", will be stricken from the record.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008: The Year That Was

Here's my annual 2008 mix. I wanted to fit 25 songs on a single CD (for a perfect 5x5 iTunes grid), but came up a song short. Close enough for an imperfect year like 2008. I ended up not including the Coldplay song, but there's still a Jonas Brothers track, as my indie cred sneaks quietly out the door.

The hidden theme of this mix is "light" (as in "lumina" not as in "light rock") since at least six songs have some form of light in the title.

01. School of Language - Rockist Part 1
02. Army Navy - Saints
03. British Sea Power - A Trip Out
04. The Bye Bye Blackbirds - Leave A Light On
05. Death Cab For Cutie - No Sunlight
06. Even - I Am the Light
07. Firewater - Borneo
08. David Byrne & Brian Eno - The Lighthouse
09. The Fireman - Light From Your Lighthouse
10. Robert Forster - Let Your Light In, Babe
11. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
12. Jonas Brothers - Pushin' Me Away
13. The Kooks - Shine On
14. The Lonelyhearts - Harlequin Bands
15. The Lucksmiths - Good Light
16. Matthew Sweet - Let's Love
17. Nada Surf - I Like What You Say
18. Pugwash - Take Me Away
19. The Baseball Project - Past Time
20. R.E.M. - Living Well Is the Best Revenge
21. Shake Some Action! - Unusual Girl
22. Sloan - Cheap Champagne
23. Sparks - Lighten Up, Morrissey
24. The Week That Was - The Good Life

For emusic subscribers, here's a simple way to legally download the songs that are available there. The rest of you can illegally grab the whole thing here and here.