A break from “news” with a focus on music, art, photos, history, and sports. Occasional glimpses into my life.
Monday, May 31, 2021
Friday, May 28, 2021
Friday Art and Music
Since I discovered the Ventures album of Jim Croce covers and listened to it a couple of times, I have been obsessed with the catalog of this band.
It’s unbelievably huge. Album after album, year after year, filled with great versions of all kinds of well known songs across many genres. Country, pop, R&B, soul, jazz, TV and movie themes, you name it, they’ve probably done it.
This band is so much more than just their best-known songs — Hawaii Five-O plus their first big hit “Walk Don’t Run” and a few others that got them labeled incorrectly as “surf music”. That was just a small part of what they did.
This music is best appreciated with good headphones, or turned up loud on good stereo speakers.
This one of course features their version — the original and best — of the “Hawaii Five-O” theme song, easily one of the greatest TV show themes in history.
From the same album here’s “The Letter”, a big hit first for the Box Tops — another excellent band — and later Joe Cocker.
“Galveston”, a huge hit for Glen Campbell:
“Lovin’ Things” a UK hit for Marmalade, later covered by the Grass Roots — a solid pop hit, but this one sounds best to me because there’s more going on musically.
“Theme from A Summer Place”, a melody that is instantly recognizable even if that title is not. The hit version in 1960 — a re-recording of the movie theme by Percy Faith — was a giant hit, staying at #1 for nine straight weeks which was a record at the time. I could listen to this on a loop all day.
Several more like this: “Dizzy”, a medley of Classics IV hits and another one of Fifth Dimension hits, “I Can Hear Music”, another hit from that era by the Beach Boys (a cover of the orignal by the Ronettes), and more.
It’s all great, because the arrangements are spot on, and the musicians are top notch. The innovation and excellence of these musicians is an entire topic all by itself. As it says in their Wikipedia entry:
The Ventures have had an enduring impact on the development of music worldwide. The band was among the first to employ and popularize fuzz and flanging guitar effects, concept albums, and twelve-string guitars in rock music. Their instrumental virtuosity, innovation, and unique sound influenced many musicians and bands, earning the group the moniker "The Band that Launched a Thousand Bands".And they did many albums like this throughout the 60s and into the 70s. Many, many albums.
More to come on this band.
Pissarro, Landscape at Eragny, 1894.
Thursday, May 27, 2021
Each Memorial Day weekend my thoughts turn to honoring the fallen.
It’s about remembrance. That’s the whole point of the holiday.
Memorial Day was originally established as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868 to honor the over 600,000 Civil War dead, a formal recognition of the Decoration Day ceremonies that many towns and villages had started to observe in the 3 years since the end of the war.
At that event Ohio congressman James Garfield, the future president, said:
“For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
Patriotism and virtue.
Later it was renamed Memorial Day to honor the fallen from all wars, shortly after World War I.
However today we mainly see it as a day off from work, a bookened holiday with Labor Day defining summer, a good day to throw a party and have a cookout. For most folks, “honoring the fallen” is not part of the mix, and as a result we have lost something very valuable in the process.
Upon learning more about all this several years ago I started a new tradition: paying my respects to the fallen at local cemeteries, especially those I had read about during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, by visiting their gravesites and planting a small American flag and saying a silent prayer.
One particular Memorial Day weekend I visited the gravesite of Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Larson. Nick was killed in Iraq in 2004.
He was nineteen years old, having graduated high school just 18 months before.
As I approached the gravesite I saw a man tidying up the area and so I assumed it might be his father. At first I was unsure if I should say anything or even approach him, since I did not know him personally — but then I thought if it were me in his shoes, I would really appreciate knowing that a random stranger took the time to visit my son’s grave to pay their respects, and I would definitely like to meet them.
So I introduced myself and offered my sincere condolences and mentioned that I had visited Nick's grave several times over the years to pay my respects.
He was friendly and appreciative. As a father of 3 boys, I empathized. It was an encounter I will never forget, even though it only lasted 30 seconds.
I would encourage everyone to visit your local military gravesites and learn about the people and stories buried there. Buy a few of those tiny flags at the grocery store and plant them in whatever graves you can find. Observe a solemn moment of silence at each grave and maybe say a little prayer.
It helps you feel connected to the whole idea of Memorial Day, and it feels good to leave a little symbol of your appreciation behind. It’s a small gesture, but it feels right, and it’s packed with meaning. And hopefully their loved ones know that some of us are trying to do our best to honor the fallen for their patriotism and virtue.
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Marvel Mystery Oil
I’ve been noticing some slight hesitation with my 2007 Honda Accord and figured the injectors might need a good cleaning, so I decided to get some fuel injector cleaner on the way home from work Friday.
I found many many brands at AutoZone but nothing jumped out at me. Then I saw this stuff ... Marvel Mystery Oil?
Hmmm ... says you can add it to your gas to clean injectors and upper cylinders and improve performance with better gas mileage too, plus other important stuff. And, you can add it to your oil to clean and de-gunk the engine.
Pretty impressive. Does all of that? Really?
What’s in it? Who knows! It’s Marvel Mystery Oil! Since 1923.
I’ve got to buy this stuff and try it. Since 1923!
So I bought it and went straight to the gas station. The instructions say to use 4 ounces for 10 gallons of gas, so I added the 4 ounces but there was already about a half tank so I just put in a couple more gallons.
The hesitation is mostly better but not gone. I don’t really track gas mileage with any regularity so that will be difficult to measure. I’ll use it every time I get gas and see how it goes over the next few weeks.
Here’s the promoional video from the website.
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Summer has finally arrived
But not for long, I guess
Yesterday we hit 90 or thereabouts, although the humidity was not bad so it was not oppressive.
However I see that the upcoming forecast is getting cooler again though. 83 today, 54 on Friday.
Well, that’s May in Chicago for you. There will be time for sweating and discomfort later this summer, I’m pretty sure.
After getting out on the bike 3-4 times in March - April but not at all in the last 4 weeks I finally got out for a couple of hour long rides on Thursday and Saturday, and will do one this afternoon.
Biking is my primary source of exercise in the warmer months — I aim for 3-4x per week, 45 minutes or more. This amount does a lot of good for my metabolism, cardiovascular system, leg strength, mood and emotional state, and sleep quality.
About 20 years ago I had a job that was about 8 miles away and accessible by bike path, so I decided to start riding to work twice a week. This worked great, and kept me in pretty good shape.
The only tricky parts were drying off at work and having dry clothes to wear, and making sure I had enough calories to handle the ride home during the hotter part of the day. I used powder and paper towels plus a change of clothes for the first challenge, and found that the best solution for the second was a small bag of vending machine potato chips right before I left. The salt, carbs and fat were perfect for energy.
Energy food looks like this sometimes. Don’t listen to “experts”. Your body knows different.
I did this bike to work twice a week from May - September for about 10 years at two different jobs that were pretty close to each other. Sadly that came to an end when I got one of those “work from home” jobs that everyone seems to love so much.
Working from home does not provide this opportunity. Keep that in mind.
Memorial Day is coming up
Did you know it’s literally one of the most important days on the calendar? I’ll post an essay about that on Thursday.
Enjoy your Tuesday friends.
Monday, May 24, 2021
Brooks Robinson with his 15 Gold Glove awards. Or is it 16?
This means he was voted best fielder at his position 15 separate times. Or is it 16?
On the Outside Looking In
It’s Stanley Cup playoff time again and once again I have no rooting interest. The last time the Chicago Blackhawks made the playoffs they got their ass handed to them, swept 4-0 in the first round by Nashville, in 2017. It was embarrassing and painful to watch. The Hawks got shut out in both of the first two games, at home. The effort and the pride was simply not there.
The year before that they lost to St Louis in 7 games, again in the first round — with the series-winning goal scored by Troy Brouwer, a member of the 2010 Blackhawks Cup-winning team — but at least that was a competitive series. Still, a first round exit, and they were the defending Cup champs, and very nearly the winner of 3 Cups in a row. More was expected.
The last few years we have seen:
- All their core players getting older, with little help from younger players they have supposedly been “developing”
- A coaching change (the jury is still out on that one), Quenneville fired, Colliton hired
- A string of serious concussions suffered by two-time Cup winning goalie Corey Crawford, out for months at a time, and his eventual free agency in 2020 (signed by New Jersey right away but Crawford retierd right before the season started),
- A GM (Stan Bowman) who did not acquire or draft any of the Hawks best players during their Cup years — those were all Dale Tallon players — and loves trading players and then re-acquiring them which seems on its face to indicate incompetence at one end or the other, at least, or perhaps it shows that other organizations get more out of any random player than the Hawks do.
I love Stanley Cup playoff hockey, and there is no greater trophy in sports. The playoff runs of 2010, 2013, and 2015 are etched in my mind —and so is the heartbreak of 2014 when they were on track to winning another one, but lost in OT of Game 7 to the Kings in the Conference Finals on a fluke goal, deflected off their D-man Nick Leddy (that series was the true Cup final).
Now the playoffs start wthout them yet again. Meanwhile Patrick Kane is another year older, Toews missed the entire season due to some mystery ailment that nobody will give details on which of course makes you fear for his life not just his hockey career, and they are still searching for an NHL goalie, having used 3 different goalies this year, and Seabrook is retired, Keith is nearing that point, and Marian Hossa is still missed (they have missed the playoffs every year since he retired), and the GM got a contract extension even though his record is mediocre.
On the plus side there is Dominik Kubalik.
It looks like it’s going to be “another one of those
Sunday, May 23, 2021
On This Day 87 Years Ago (May 23, 1934)
The notorious Bonnie and Clyde were killed by police in a roadside ambush.
The car allegedly had 167 bullet holes:
On May 23rd, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down in their stolen 1934 Ford Model 730 Deluxe Sedan. A posse of police officers ambushed the couple and unloaded 167 bullets into the car on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.
“Each of us six officers had a shotgun and an automatic rifle and pistols. We opened fire with the automatic rifles. They were emptied before the car got even with us. Then we used shotguns,” officers Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn stated afterwards. “There was smoke coming from the car, and it looked like it was on fire. After shooting the shotguns, we emptied the pistols at the car, which had passed us and ran into a ditch about 50 yards on down the road. It almost turned over. We kept shooting at the car even after it stopped. We weren’t taking any chances.”
Friday, May 21, 2021
Friday Art and Music
Two songs — coincidentally both from 1973 — about young love but telling two very different stories ...
Alabama Rain, Jim Croce
The lyrics are so visual and specific — you can easily picture yourself in that place and time.
Here are the verses only, all in a row:
Lazy days in mid July
Country Sunday mornin'
Dusty haze on summer highways
Sweet magnolia callin'
Drive in movies, Friday nights
Drinkin' beer and laughin'
Somehow things were always right
I just don't know what happened
On a dusty mid July
Country summer's evenin'
A weepin' willow sang its lullabies
And shared its secrets
And because Croce is so good at pacing the lyrics, with his great singing voice, and the music is basic and spare and beautiful, all of that naturally highlights the imagery within the lyrics.
His life story is full of the kind of lived experiences that make great songwriters and musicians, with odd jobs and traveling the world playing music. His Wikipedia entry is well worth reading.
Fun facts I learned today:
The Ventures pay tribute to Jim Croce the year after he died with “The Jim Croce Songbook”. All instrumental, as we would expect from The Ventures, and by highlighting just the music and melody with no lyrics, the strength of the great Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisen trademark twin acoustic fingerstyle guitar sound is brought to the foreground. These songs are quite strong even without any lyrics at all.
He self-financed his first album “Facets’ in 1966 with a $500 cash wedding gift from his parents who insisted that he use it for that purpose, assuming it would fail spectacularly and force him to give up music and get a real job. However he not only sold out all 500 copies, he made a $2500 profit!
Desperado, The Eagles
More great lyrics, visual and specific, but this time it’s giving advice to a friend who is always searching for the shiny object in the fish tank:
Don't you draw the queen of diamonds, boyWhen I was younger, lyrics like this went over my head. Wisdom is usually lost on the young.
She'll beat you if she's able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet
Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can't get
Desperado, oh, you ain't gettin' no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they're drivin' you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that's just some people talkin'
Your prison is walking through this world all alone
“Your prison is walking through this world all alone” ... visual and specific.
Another version of Desperado, from Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles on the legendary TV show Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert from 1974.
Fun facts I learned today:
Desperado was the first song Henley and Frey ever wrote together as a team. The second was Tequila Sunrise, just a few days later. These are two of the best songs the Eagles ever did, written in the first week they teamed up. Seems they caught lighting in a bottle.
The famous back cover photo (by Henry Diltz, see more here) recreates the capture of the Dalton Gang.
Posing on the ground as the freshly killed gang are Jackson Browne, Bernie Leadon, Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner, Don Henley, and J.D. Souther.
Short on time so no Art today.
Enjoy your Friday, friends.
Thursday, May 20, 2021
It’s Whirlybird Season
|Whirlybirds on driveway, millions of ‘em|
These things are literally everywhere right now.
We used to call them whirlybirds and they fall from maple trees I think.
Which apparently we have a lot of around here.
This is what my driveway looks like as of yesterday. Every one of those whirlybirds is wet from the rain.
Could I clean them all up, in theory? Yes I could.
I could sweep and scrape and bag, and then do it all over again the next day.
Doesn’t sound all that appealing, frankly.
Seems like a waste of time, where Mother Nature literally laughs out loud at your hubris and need to control her.
I’m thinking, “nah, I’d rather take a picture and blog about it”.
Enjoy your Thursday peeps.
Random music link:
- Callin’ Baton Rouge, New Grass Revival (Spotify)
- Callin’ Baton Rouge, New Grass Revival (Youtube)
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
A Few Minutes with Geoge Benson
This very good podcast with guitar legend George Benson, about his family, youth and learning guitar, features a great story about the start of his performing career at seven years old: Interview with George Benson (Rhino podcast)
He’s almost 80 years old now, but you’d never know it from listening to him in the interview. He’s funny, warm, and endearing, as likeable a guy as you will ever encounter.
He also tells a cool story about how he changed up the tempo of the R&B classic On Broadway to make it more upbeat. It became a big hit. Surprise!
All of that inspired me to dive deeper into his catalog where I found this album Guitar Man with excellent covers of several classic pop, rock and jazz standards like “Tequila”, “Paper Moon”, and “My Cherie Amour”.
Other albums worth digging into:
- Breezin’ (1976) his breakout album with his first big hit “Breezin’” plus “This Masquerade”
- Weekend in L.A. (1978) - with On Broadway
- The Shape of Things to Come (1968) - earlier work, jazz pop with little or no vocals
Image scraped from George’s official website.
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
Tuesday is Photos Day
Tuesday (or “Tuesdy” as some call it) is an excellent day to show some Scenes From My Life, I just decided.
Or, photos from my phone if you prefer. An iPhone 8 Plus, for those who care about details.
No promises on how spectacular or fascinating they will be from week to week, it’s more about documenting my life, partly — or mostly — for my own amusement. I will try when possible to get the best quality image each time, using various tricks I’ve learned from decades of photography. And I do have a digital SLR that I rarely use any more ...
I was outside my office taking out the garbage or something one day last week and happened to look up at the sky and was amazed by the simple beauty of the sky with the Sun behind these clouds. Things to note: deep blue of the sky, the contrast in the clouds from the dark gray in the middle to the bright white at the edges, and the overall richness and brilliance of the colors — all of that was strictly due to the beauty of nature, not some amazing technique I applied, I can assure you.
|Glance up at the sky sometimes, you may be surprised|
Friday last week I decided to execute on our plans to get a fire table after we looked at them last Fall and again a month or two ago. Home Depot came through for me.
|Our new fire table|
This one is from last fall but I wanted to throw it in because 1) several of these were consumed by me around the fire table this weekend and 2) why not, it makes me happy.
|Beer I like|
This dog ... spotted yesterday on my way home ... he or she was very energetic in the back seat of that small-ish car ...
|Dog enjoys the fresh air, a LOT|
Monday, May 17, 2021
Perfection and Its Opposite
A few days ago I was walking on a beautiful Spring day, sunny, dry and calm, about 60 degrees.
Until the brigade of garbage trucks came down the street.
Friday, May 14, 2021
Friday Art and Music
Camille Pissarro, Quay in Rouen Sunset, 1896
Eduoard Cortes, Flower Market at La Madeleine, year unknown
Explore more artworks at wikiart.org
Sometimes a song you’ve heard hundreds of times grabs you and compels you to listen closer and deeper than ever before. Recently “Get Closer” by Seals and Crofts did that to me.
The verse repeats the same basic line 4 times varying only the last few words each time, connected by nice piano fills. Where this song really shines is the pre-chorus and chorus, starting at 1:00, and especially the guest vocals by Carolyn Willis, who completely transforms the song.
Here is that section, about 45 seconds long.
They repeat everything again, but when a song is great, that’s exactly what you want.
Simple music, great arrangement, even better execution. That’s a winning formula.
Take it from the top.
Carolyn Willis was in the vocal group Honey Cone which had a big hit in 1971 with Want Ads.
Always liked that song too. Here’s their wikipedia entry.
Thursday, May 13, 2021
The Creative Process with Paul Simon
I find the creative process fascinating, especially the process of creating music and lyrics. You have to start with one or the other, first of all. Do you think up a chunk of melody and then some words to go with it, and then keep building on that?
Or the opposite, start with some words that resonate and then build a melody for them? Each songwriter does things a little differently, and even from song to song they may change that process around. It’s about as pure a creative process as you will find.
Or maybe you just do one or the other, like Elton John (music only) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics only) — Tapuin would hand fully formed lyrics to Elton who would then create the melody on piano.
Then there’s this: you sit down at the piano or with your guitar and then an hour later — or sometimes ten minutes later — you have this totally new thing that you created, with a tune and lyrics, and it’s destined to be part of history now. It did not exist until you created it. Now it’s forever. How cool is that? I’m not sure how non-creative people can even begin to understand what that feeling is like.
Here’s Paul Simon on music crtics and their weird obsession with lyrics:
Most of the time, what I'm writing is about music, not about lyrics, and critics pay scant attention to the music. I mean, if you're saying something with music and words - if you're saying one thing with words and the opposite with music and you're creating a sense of irony - that's lost. Or if the idea of a song is a musical idea, how to write a song in 7/4 time and make it feel natural, let's say, it's beyond them. I never heard anybody say, Now that was a clever way of doing 7/4 time. Instead, most critics are basically analyzing words. It's English Lit all over again.
My thoughts exactly. Analyzing and focusing on lyrics is okay up to a point, but pulling them out of the music they were explicitly created for, and intended to be consumed with, is just an attempt to call attention to yourself as a critic and the “English Lit” nerd inside you. I’ve got news for you: hardly anyone cares. Lyrics are meant to be heard backed by music, sung by singers, not recited at poetry slams populated by 4 people including your family.
The music is the thing. The music is always the thing. Lyrics are usually just sounds that happen to be words that work with the meter and the tone of the song. You might be overthinking it.
Before Simon & Garfunkel made it big, Paul Simon had already been semi-successful as a songwriter with Carole King. The two of them would write songs together, and create demo tapes with Carole playing drums and piano, and Paul playing guitar and bass, and both singing, obviously. Simon:
The game was to make a demo at demo prices and then try to sell it to a record company. Maybe you'd wind up investing $300 for musicians and studio time, but if you did something really good, you could get as much as $1,000 for it. I never wanted to be in groups - I was only after that $700 profit. I always tried to get my money up front, because you were never sure of getting your royalties if they put the record out. You were dealing with a lot of thieves in those days.Quite an array of talent on those demo tapes: Paul Simon and Carole King. The two of them had about 30-40 classic songs in their future, just waiting to come out.
Paul Simon really upped his songwriting game around 1969, and it’s obvious from listening to his work before and after that time. Here’s his take on that:
For me the significant change occurred around 1969, after I wrote 'The Boxer,'" he said. "At that point I stopped smoking grass and I never went back. I told a friend of mine, a really good musician, that I had writer's block. And he said, 'When are you going to stop playing this folkie stuff, all the time the same G to C chords? You could be a really good songwriter, but you don't know enough, you don't have enough tools. Forget about having hits - go learn your ax.' I started to study theory. I began listening to other kinds of music - gospel, Jamaican ska, Antonio Carlos Jobim. 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' was a gospel-influenced song. It was very easy for me to feel at home with gospel, because it sounded like the rock 'n' roll I grew up with in the early '50s.
He definitely took that advice to heart, because his 70s output has amazing breadth and depth. Start with “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” (Spotify) which has heavy gospel, ska, and jazz influences, plus one of biggest (and best) hits “Kodachrome”. Gospel group the Dixie Hummingbirds appear on several songs and make an amazing difference in the tone and depth of those songs, starting with “Tenderness” and the other big hit “Loves Me Like a Rock”. Simply one of the best popular music albums of the 70s.
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
“Everything is Beautiful” and Other Reasons I Miss the Early 70s
Ray Stevens - “Everything is Beautiful”
There were a lot of classic songs in the early to mid 70s, like this one, and sometimes I really miss that era. Those years were good for me. And for some reason, 1972 sticks in my head more than the other years.
1972 . . . somehow deep down inside where emotions reside, I get a good warm feeling just from thinking about that year. Whatever the reasons might be, including pure nostalgia for when we were young and life was simple, I know that part of the reason I like 1972 and his friends 1971 and 1973, plus their cousins 1970 and 1974, is because of the music of the era. Music exactly like this.
Music, on the radio, heard by everybody because radio was not the balkanized wasteland that it is today. If a station played music at all, it was generally Top 40. On AM radio. And did we like it anyway? Yes we did. Damn right we did. Instead of walking around looking like dorks with little white things in our ears, grooving to our own sounds, shutting out everything else, we listened in our cars and bedrooms and kitchens, on AM radios played through 3″ speakers, with other people. Hard to picture now, I know, unless you were there.
Music was far more communal back then. It was a cultural bond. It’s not like we sat around and thought about it, but looking back, yeah, that’s what happens when popular music caters to a mass market. Songwriters wrote songs and singers and bands recorded them with the hope that it would become a hit and thereby a small piece of the soundtrack of the lives of millions of people.
Sometimes, like this one, it was even a little bit spiritual, and that wasn’t unusual either (“Put Your Hand in the Hand”, “Day by Day” from Godspell, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, among other examples) — but that trend also stopped around the mid-70s.
Can you even imagine a song like this today, being written, recorded, and released, and becoming a hit? It just doesn’t seem very likely to me.
There was something different about the early 1970s, when the patchouli haze of the 60s had finally dissipated, but before Watergate would invade our minds and rudely demand all our attention, and during the time when we were slowly pulling out of Vietnam, assuming everything would be all peaches and sunshine when we left. Smiley face stickers and t-shirts were everywhere. People looked for reasons to be happy and positive, it seemed.
Looking back now, the early 70s seemed like an island in a vast sea, a port in a storm. The ugliness of the late 60s, the riots, the demonstrations, the assassinations (two historic figures were assassinated within two months of each other, Martin Luther King in April 1968, and Robert F. Kennedy, who was on track to be elected president, in June), all of that seemed so last-decade, probably because we so desperately wanted it to be.
But of course, soon enough, everything changed. By 1975, Watergate had forced Nixon to resign in disgrace and portrayed Washington as a national punchline, and we had to turn tail in South Vietnam which had been overrun by the Communists to the north, so as a result, public confidence in our country and in our future took a nosedive that we didn’t pull out of until the mid-80s and the economic boom and optimism of the Reagan years. Those of us who lived through the 60’s and 70’s think of it through two filters: Vietnam and Watergate.
But in between, there was a little respite, and 1972 was the year that defined that respite, at least to me and my then-13-year-old ears. Within a couple of years, other pop music trends started to dominate, like disco, art rock, punk, new wave, all sorts of influences that chased out the sense of pure unabashed naivete and childlike joy from our popular music, and therefore, to a degree, from popular culture. But pop music never recovered its 1972-ish halo.
The point here — besides my obvious nostalgia for my formative years — is that we have chosen (been forced into?) a much different way of doing all this today, due to cable TV and then internet streaming of music and video and then smartphones — and it has had entirely predictable consequences and some of them are not on the positive side of the ledger.
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
A Tuesday Link
Rick Beato “This Song Changed My Life”:
He was bored with his leg in a cast all summer long after 7th grade, and decided to learn this song by America “Never Found the Time” (Spotify) which includes about 15 different chord shapes, many of which he had to figure out on his own because the music book had them wrong.
That is a lot of chord shapes for one song — most songs only use 4 or 5, max. More chord shapes means more complex and challenging to play, and using minor 7ths, add-9, suspended chords, etc.
Picking a song like this as your very first song to learn all the way through is a challenge, to say the least.
It was also played on a 12 string, not a 6 string, which he also had to figure out himself by going to a guitar store and playing the chords on that 12 string, many weeks later. He got that 12 string, by promising his mom not to tell his dad how much it cost ($120 in 1975 was a pretty substantial sum).
Watch the video to learn the rest.
Monday, May 10, 2021
Streaming Updates and Other News
We finished watching a good short series yesterday, “Manhunt: Deadly Games” (Netflix, possibly others) about the pursuit of the Atlanta ‘96 Olympic Games bomber Eric Rudolph, and the incompetence and hubris of the FBI and the media in portraying the man who alerted law enforcement to the bomb, Richard Jewell, first as the hero he actually was and then as the primary suspect who was tried and convicted in the media for months.
The phrase they keep coming back to in the show is “don’t judge by appearances”, and this whole case is Exhibit A.
It’s far from a 100% factual account nor should we expect it to be. Never ever assume that you know exactly what happened down to the last detail from one TV show, movie, documentary, or news article.
But getting every detail right is unimportant as long as the big picture is correct, and the big picture here is the mendactiy, hubris, and incompetence of the FBI and the media, followed by a refusal to admit mistakes even when it was beyond obvious that they had started down the wrong road by working together to destroy Richard Jewell.
It’s 10 parts but we easily watched it over 3 nights. Good performances by all, and I particularly liked Arliss Howard as the grizzled old veteran ATF bomb detective that first uncovers the bombing signature connection to the later bombings which rule out Jewell as the suspect in the Atlanta bombing. Highly recommended.
My highly debilitating vertigo episode of last week suddenly disappeared Friday evening within 20 minutes of taking the first sip of Friday night Guinness. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. I do feel a lot better, although I have noticed the spins when I am lying down and move my eyes quickly, so something is still not quite right in there. Still — much much better.
Weather this weekend was still very cool, highs in the 50s and breezy, and it’s 42° F right now at 7:30 am, with a high today of only 50 expected. Highs in the 60 all week it appears. But that’s ok with me — I like cooler weather in Spring and Fall. Keep the 80+ and high humidity days for June, July and August where they belong.
Enjoy Natalie Cole with a good version of the jazz standard “It’s Only a Paper Moon”.
Contact Hitters and Why We Need Them
Accepted wisdom in baseball has changed through the years — due to the ascension of advanced metrics like launch angle— causing many teams to demote the value of the contact hitter in their hierarchy of lineup needs.
This was a mistake.
I’ve written on this before, several times, and will do so again, but for now let’s just watch this hit to drive in the game-winning run in the 8th inning on Saturday by Matt Duffy:
Click here to watch if above does not work.
Here he is right after hitting the ball:
Note the orientation of his left foot and his entire left leg, his head, shoulders, and hips — to right field. Physics and common sense tell us this is the _only_ sensible orientation of your body with a pitch on the outer third of the plate, as this one is. Trying to hit such a pitch anywhere *but* right field is giving away an out, and in this case, would have stranded the go-ahead run at second base going into the ninth inning.
Look how far his hips — the center of rotation that creates most of the energy in the swing — are from the ball. Probably 5 feet or more? If he tries to hit that pitch to the left side of the diamond, he almost certainly strikes out, or hits a weak grounder to an infielder. The physics of swinging a bat to hit a ball hard won’t allow you to hit that pitch to the left side and hit it hard enough to get on base. Which is, after all, the whole point of swinging the bat.
The Cubs, along with many other teams I would guess, have in recent years typically had only one guy on the entire roster who can do this consistently. There’s an epidemic across the league of this — mostly due to over-measuring and over-analyzing whatever we decide to measure and anaylze, launch angle in particular — which causes an increase in 3 outcomes (strikeout, walk, home run) and a decrease in all others.
What we called an “uppercut” swing — a decidedly bad thing because it made you strike out too much — has been re-branded as “launch angle”. See, you can “launch” the ball instead of just hitting it! Except when you strike out of course.
The list of ways that this changes the game is long and varied but a primary change is fewer baserunners with the aforementioned increase in walks, strikeouts, and home runs, and therefore far fewer exciting baserunning plays, because on those rarer occasions when there are baserunners, there are fewer hits like Duffy’s that advance (or drive in) those runners.
The effect is exponential, not additive. There is also a huge increase in use of defensive shifts, overloading the zones on the field where hitters have shown they almost always hit the ball.
Far, far less action in the game, in other words. It’s become boring, or more boring, depending on your patience. The league is tinkering with rules changes to increase excitement and shorten games, but it seems to me the simplest and most important change is the one they cannot mandate: the way hitters swing the bat.
This “hit it where it’s pitched” approach that Duffy employs — and most players used to employ, 20 or more years ago — is the main reason Duffy made the team out of spring trainng, and Cubs manager David Ross is quoted as saying that.
Duffy delivering that hit in that spot is the key reason they won the game Saturday.
Sunday, May 09, 2021
Friday, May 07, 2021
Wisdom passed down through the ages plus our own empirical experience combine to teach us many things, including:
- Don’t run with scissors
- Stop, drop, and roll
- Don’t pet the dog with sticky hands
- Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker
- Righty tighty lefty loosey - unless you’re on the other side of the bolt or it’s a propane tank valve
- Don’t get vertigo
- If you do get vertigo, don’t get the kind that stays with you for days
- If you do get vertigo, and you do get the kind that stays with you for days, don’t also get a tooth pulled during that same time period
- If you do get vertigo, and you do get the kind that stays with you for days, and you also get a tooth pulled during that same time period, plan on being dizzy and uncomfortable and having difficulty eating which then of course in addition to feeling nauseous and unsteady makes you weak and cranky too
I hope that’s clear.
I discovered a new radio show last night with great Americana roots music, it’s called American Routes and it’s out of New Orleans. It features “blues and jazz, gospel and soul, rockabilly and country, Cajun and swamp pop, Tejano, Latin… and beyond” and I like *all* of those styles of music. Thanks to my friend Rich who texted me the link while the show was on last night. Highly recommended.
This podcast is worth a listen too, about Lance Armstrong and his doping and PED scandal, it’s called “American Scandal” and it involves a lot of cycling community drama between Armstrong, Greg LeMond, and Floyd Landis. I listen on Spotify but it’s available on various platforms. Also highly recommended.
Thursday, May 06, 2021
Let’s Look at a Couple of Classics from Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66
This band had several very big U.S. hits in the mid-to-late 60s. Here’s Mas Que Nada, one of the biggest.
Infectious, eh? The lyrics are in Portuguese, and I have no real idea what they’re singing about ... but it doesn’t really matter, does it?
No it does not.
Here’s Pretty World.
Music is 100% a subjective experience, and for me, this is one of those songs that instantly lifts my mood. Everything about it says “happy”, from the melody to the lyrics to the percussive style and the beat, from the instruments to the production and finished product.
Yes, it’s lightweight pop entertainment. No, it’s not Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen or Bruce Springsteen delivering a deep thoughtful protest song or Dust Bowl ode to Tom Joad or some other brooding, boring and depressing “music as literature” think piece.
That’s exactly why I like it. Even lightweight pop entertainment can be sorted into piles labeled Excellent, Mediocre, and Bad. This one goes into the Excellent pile.
The lyrics to Pretty World:
Why don't we take a little piece of summer sky?
Hang it on a tree
For that's the way to start to make a pretty world
For you and for me
And for the sun we'll find a lemon bright balloon
You can hold the string
Oh, can't you see that little world of ours will be
The prettiest thing
We can gather rain enough for the stream
To hold our happy faces
When we want a breeze
I'll blow you a kiss or two
Take me in your arms and our little world
Will be the place of places
Nothing else to make but breakfast and love
We'll hang a little sign that just says
Paradise population two
I know together we can make a pretty world
For me and for you
It's what I long to do, to do
To make a world with you
Great imagery ... “take a little piece of summer sky, hang it on a tree” ... “hang a little sign that just says Paradise population two” ... The Sun as a lemon bright balloon and you can hold the string ... “we can gather rain enough for the stream, to hold our happy faces”.
And the phrasing on the lyrics pushes the whole thing into another dimension.
Excellent relationship advice too, because the desire to “make a world with you” is exactly the right attitude. We have choices every day on what kind of world we are making in all of our relationships, and so we can choose to make it pretty, ugly, or various points in between. The world you make is the world you chose.
I love everything about the bossa nova influences on American music in the 50s and 60s, and wish it had taken a greater and longer-lasting hold.
Wednesday, May 05, 2021
On-Screen Keyboards ... Why, Oh Why? Just Why
A Short List of Reasons Why On-Screen Keyboards are The Worst
On-screen keyboards are the worst. We all know it but we all use them anyway, the result of going from using mainly laptops and desktops 10-12 years ago to mainly mobile devices today. God forbid you should be unable to reply to some Twitter hot take for a few hours! Better you should deal with a horrible interface that ruins your day with a low-quality user experience like 287 times a day.
Here’s my short list of reasons why they are The Worst:
- Keys are tiny - at least for my thumbs and maybe yours too. And ladies with long fingernails, how exactly do you make that work? Watch someone you don’t know personally using their phone to type furiously from across the room sometime — do they seem to be enjoying themselves?
- Spellcheck sucks — we all hate it, don’t we? Ever had it convert something into a sexual term without your realizing it until just after you hit “send”? This is not ideal. And because of the above, spellcheck gets used a lot more than it would with a regular keyboard. It’s quite the combo.
- Using all your fingers is way faster — anyone disagree here? How could it not be faster, and therefore waste less of your time? One or two thumbs vs. all 10 fingers, this is not even close.
- Typing should be a tactile experience — here’s where the rubber meets the road. Anyone who learned how to type on a real typewriter knows exactly what I mean. Or anyone who plays piano or any type of keyboard — the pressing of the keys, the feel of them, the amount of pressure it requires, using all of your fingers at a speed that feels right for you and allows the process of writing to flow organically and just “feels right”, these are all an important part of the writing (or keyboard playing) process. Our hands are meant to move things from here to there, to push and pull, etc — the experience of pushing tiny virtual keys on a small screen is nothing like that. It’s entirely foreign and weird and unsatisfying. It sucks, frankly.
- Your brain backs up with unexpressed thoughts — this is my own Wild Theory but this seems to be true for me. I don’t write as clearly using a phone or tablet on-screen keyboard as when using a real keyboard. Probably true for others, I suspect.
On-screen keyboards are worse in every way.
But “they’re convenient”, you say. Sure, they enable you to stay engaged with every app on your smartphone every waking hour of every day.
Are you sure that’s a plus? That sounds like a big negative to me.
Do you use your smartphone, or is your smartphone using you?
Tuesday, May 04, 2021
Tuesday is Links Day
You like art? I like art. Especially Post-Impressionism.
Note a couple of things in this graph: 1) the hospitalizations rate for the 65+ demo is 1/5 what it was 3 months ago, and down near all the other demos, and 2) the rate for 18-49 was never above 10/100,000 which is 0.0001 or 0.01%.
A Handy Guide to Translating Your Wife’s Facial Expressions
Interesting songfacts.com interview with Eric Burdon (The Animals, War, etc).
Another one with John Prine
Monday, May 03, 2021
Back from our weekend trip to see family — and to nobody’s surprise, it was quite pleasant
The littlest guy is adorable, happy, pretty quiet and a little squishy. The other kids are fun to be around and full of energy. Weather was good, and Saturday evening we watched the neighborhood kids ride bikes up and down the sidewalk while we sat in the driveway and enjoyed adult beverages.
I was reminded again that watching your kids raise their kids is a nice bonus.
Over the weekend there was a discussion about Bruce Springsteen at thenewneo.com comparing his version of Blinded by the Light (the original, he wrote it) against the hit version by Manfred Mann. Not really a fan of either version, or the song itself, but I was a fan of his early albums and it encouraged me to rediscover a few of my favorite songs, especially those that are a little less well-known and never get radio airplay any more:
- Spirit in the Night
- Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
- Candy’s Room
- Racing in the Street
- The Promised Land
All are top notch examples of his songwriting prowess, with excellent arrangements and musicianship, and worth checking out if you liked early Springsteen at all. Those last three are all in sequence on Darkness on the Edge of Town, a major reason I thought that album had his strongest material of those first four “classic” albums.
The key, for me anyway, is to listen to what the band is doing, the arrangement and the individual instruments, not so much to the singing.
Spirit in the Night:
It has a bit of a Van Morrison “Moondance” feel to it (and no, I’m not saying it’s as good as that enduring classic).
Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy):
Again, listen to the band.
A very adventurous piece of music. It works for me. That leads into ...
Racing in the Street:
The band builds, layer by layer, piano and then percussion then bass and then the full band, building a nice groove before falling back to just piano again, all while the story builds. For me this might be best song he ever did, from a sheer “construction of a perfect song” perspective. And that leads straight into ...
The Promised Land:
I get some of these songs won’t appeal to everyone, but as I said, I wanted to rediscover some album cuts that I had not heard in many years. I don’t listen to much of this kind of music any more, but it still sounds good here and there, because it is good, and because it was never played to death on the radio.
Fun fact #1: his drummer Max Weinberg is the same guy who later became bandleader for Conan O’Brien from 1993-2010. He’s an interesting guy and just turned 70 years old last month.
Fun fact #2: Fans of Springsteen’s early music should check out Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, another “bar band from Jersey” that played a lot of classic R&B (Sam and Dave, Solomon Burke, etc), was heavily mentored by Miami Steve Van Zandt who wrote several songs for them, and whose first three albums are uniformly very good. Springsteen wrote “The Fever” for them.