Still high on the Hogs

This is my favorite Sports Illustrated cover of all time:

Sure, it’s a fantastic photo, capturing Sidney Moncrief’s great elevation and determination, with a helpless Texas defender looking on. It’s fun to study the crowd too, and see the looks on people’s faces. This lady is my favorite:

She knows Sid’s about to throw it down…

But it’s also my favorite cover because in February of 1978, when this came out, I was a 13-year-old kid living in Arkansas, and I was definitely high on the Hogs. (HT to my Aunt Virginia for getting my brother and me an annual subscription to Sports Illustrated back then.) I loved those Eddie Sutton-coached teams, playing in Barnhill Arena. They had a very talented trio, nicknamed “The Triplets”: Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph and Sidney Moncrief. Steve Schall and Jimmy Counce rounded out the starting lineup. They made it all the way to the Final Four that year before losing to eventual champ Kentucky by six points in the semis. Back then, they still played a third-place game, and the Razorbacks beat Notre Dame 71-69 on a last-second turnaround jumper by Ron Brewer. I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was nearly 40 years ago.

Arkansas begins conference play this afternoon, with a home game against #19 Tennessee. I’m a Xavier alum and season ticket holder so I’ll be at the Muskies game, but there will always be a special place in my heart for my Hogs too. Woo Pig Sooie!

 

 

 

I love Buffalo this time of year

Buffalo Tom is my favorite band. Their heyday – such as it was – was back in the early 90s. A three-man band from Boston (not Buffalo), they are still together, but record only sporadically and tour even less frequently.

However, they did give their hardcore fans – the ones like me who contributed to their Pledge Music fundraiser for their new album – an early Christmas present. On 12/24, they shared an early release of their new album, Quiet and Peace which is slated to come out on March 2 of next year. It’ll be their first release in seven years, but they haven’t missed a beat. It sounds fantastic. (You can pre-order it here.)

The first song is available on Spotify and Soundcloud.

Here’s an excerpt from this Stereogum article with lead singer Bill Janovitz talking about the track:

“[‘All Be Gone’ has] this blue sky, sunny day feel to it, but it’s a really melancholy lyric in a lot of ways,” Janovitz told me when we spoke over the phone yesterday. “It’s pretty self-evident about getting older, [with lyrics like] ‘My time behind is greater than my time ahead’ — that sort of stuff. But it’s kind of a blazing, Buffalo Tom ‘let’s get the guitars up’ sort of track.’

“[As] you get older, you feel like holding onto time, especially when you have kids,” he adds. “And I’m just a victim of nostalgia in any point in time — I’m so vulnerable to it. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. Kids grow at such an exponential rate, it really hits home to you. A lot of [the song] is about that, certainly. But it’s also not just this sad, melancholy song — it’s really about carpe diem, seizing it all as you can, and trying to hold on.”

And check out this Stereogum article about the Boston music scene in the 90s for more on my boys:

Buffalo Tom are roughly analogous to other somewhat overlooked artists such as Judee Sill or the Dream Syndicate; not the most prominent artists of their time, but a hidden treat for someone that falls in love with an era’s music and wants to dig a little deeper. If they do, they’ll find scores of poetic, ingratiating rock songs that can stand proudly on a playlist next to Weezer and Guided By Voices. Anyone who cares enough to know who they are thinks well of them, and Janovitz suspects he might hear a bit of their influence on younger artists like Japandroids and Speedy Ortiz — both of whom he loves. Buffalo Tom have carved out a place for themselves, and these days, that’s enough for him.

Later in the same article, there’s this great quote from Janovitz:

Not only is Janovitz surprisingly open about why Buffalo Tom never connected on the same level as some of his peers, he brings the subject up himself. “I can give you theories why I think we weren’t bigger. I think our lyrics are opaque, but we’re not like Pavement with opaque music. A lot of our music was very emotional, but it wasn’t really direct songwriting. There really wasn’t a compelling frontman. It was faceless and nerdy, but not ‘nerdy cool,’ like Weezer. It was a bunch of things that were never quite right,” he says. “I wish I could blame a press agent or a manager or a label. But I think we were given an ample shot.

“Ultimately, I can’t complain too much,” he adds. “I always wanted to be respected more than rich. I wanted people to really like our music. I wanted to touch people. I wanted people to understand. I wanted people to hold us up like I hold up my heroes.”

Mission Accomplished, Buffalo Tom. 30 years later, I still love your music.

You make the Yule cool

While the children are still nestled all snug in their beds (they are teenagers, after all), I just wanted to take a moment to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. I’m sending this special Casey Kasem long-distance dedication your way: the Eels doing an acoustic version of “Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas.”

Favorite lyrics:

As days go by the more we need friends
And the harder they are to find
If i could have a friend like you all my life
Well i guess i’d be doin’ just fine

 

 

Happy trees, happy dad

My kids are on winter break and it’s easy for them to fall into the trap of staring at a screen for hours on end. But yesterday my daughter Leah foraged for art supplies in our basement, and wound up creating this:

Picasso had his Blue Period, and now Leah is following suit (mainly because we only had blue and white paints in the basement).

I should mention that she was staring at a screen during the creation of this masterpiece – she was watching a Bob Ross video.

Good old Bob and his happy trees and happy accidents.

Bob and his amazing hair left us in 1995, but he’s gotten a second wind of late. It’s not just the fun hairstyle and the soothing voice… it’s because he clearly loved what he did. And a lot of his art instructions were really life instructions. Here are a couple of Bob-isms to ponder:

  1. “I think there’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us.”
  2. “Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.”

I’m thrilled that my daughter is watching those old shows. Her work may never end up in the Louvre, but her life has a better chance of being a masterpiece. Thanks Bob, for continuing to make the world a happy place.

 

 

We’re through being cool

When I think of plastic hair helmets, I think of the band Devo. (Don’t we all?)

But the old codgers who exercise at the same rec center that I do always insist on having one of the TVs in the fitness room tuned to Fox News (a.k.a. Faux News). It’s actually good for my health, because I get so worked up about the tripe spewing from the talking-heads-with-trumped-up-talking-points that my heart rate is elevated before I even start my workout.

Having (unwillingly) seen many hours of these broadcasts, I realized that Fox anchors have Devo-style hair helmets too:

And if you peel back the onion, and study a bit about Devo, and what they are all about…

The name Devo comes from their concept of ‘de-evolution‘—the idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society.”[8]

Devo’s music and stage shows mingle kitsch science fiction themes, deadpan surrealist humor and mordantly satirical social commentary.

… you realize that Fox News is the greatest ongoing Devo performance of all time. Well played, Spudboys!

 

 

 

What does the Fox say?

My old pal John Fox (he’s the editor of Cincinnati Magazine now, but he used to visit the 97X studios when he was editor of Everybody’s News) commented on my last post about the death of the lead singer of the Smithereens, Pat DiNizio:

Great tribute, Damian. I was a huge Smithereens fan. There was a time from the early 80s to the early 90s when I delighted in finding cool new bands, pre-internet. Some hit the big time (REM, The Cure), when I sort of lost interest, and many toiled in the shadows of occasional MTV and 97X fame that was good enough for me, and the Smithereens were in that category. There was an even smaller category of bands where I thought maybe I was the only person who appreciated them, and we lost one of those guys in recent weeks. Tommy Keene died November 22 at age 59. He was from Maryland and was big on the east coast for a while; here’s a great tribute in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/tommy-keene-power-pop-songwriter-and-star-of-80s-dc-music-scene-dies-at-59/2017/11/24/ed373d1c-d12b-11e7-9d3a-bcbe2af58c3a_story.html

Thanks, John, for shining the spotlight on Tommy Keene. He certainly deserved more of a spotlight while he was with us. I was vaguely familiar with his work, but I’ve spent the past couple of days going through his catalog of tunes and it’s rife with power-pop gems. And he played with Velvet Crush, a band that also falls into the “brilliant yet criminally overlooked” category.

Dave Holmes also did a nice tribute to Tommy in Esquire. This paragraph sums things up quite nicely for folks like us who appreciate the under-the-radar folks:

A great artist can make you feel like he’s speaking directly to you. That’s how Tommy Keene made me feel for the last 31 years, and at the end of the day—and it is the end of the day—it doesn’t matter whether ten or ten million other people had that same feeling. What matters is that we did.

Only a memory. Sadly.

When the rock stars you grew up with pass away, they take a piece of your heart and soul with them. It’ll never be 1979 again but whenever I hear Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That” I’m immediately transported back to my childhood home in Hagarville, Arkansas… listening to that song on KKYK-FM (K-Kick), the rock station out of Little Rock. 1982 is long gone, but whenever I hear David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” I hearken back to my freshman year at Xavier and hearing all the fantastic songs on Kevin Fagan’s cassette of Changesonebowie. 1992 is way back in the rear view mirror, but when I hear a Smithereens song – which isn’t often enough – I think of my time spinning those tunes at 97X in Oxford, Ohio.

Petty’s gone. Bowie’s gone. And now the lead singer of The Smithereens is gone. Pat DiNizio passed away Tuesday at the age of 62, after battling health issues over the past several years.

If you’re looking only for Top 40 appearances, The Smithereens catalog of tunes pales in comparison to Petty and Bowie. But if you’re looking for pure, unadulterated power-pop, The Smithereens could go toe to toe with anyone.

The music writer for the Buffalo News, Jeff Miers, wrote a wonderful appreciation piece for Pat, a woefully underappreciated garbageman turned singer/songwriter/band leader. Check it out here. I love this excerpt:

On Dec. 12, we lost a beautiful musician whose name is not likely to be mentioned on Entertainment Tonight or during the local news broadcast. Pat Dinizio, a former garbage man from New Jersey, wrote some of the finest power-pop tunes this side of Big Star and Cheap Trick. His band, the Smithereens, released a string of indelible guitar jangle-driven gems that actually became hits at the tail-end of the ’80s. Then the bubble burst, and DiNizio and his band-mates spent the next 30 years touring like madmen, releasing great records that only true fans and rock aficionados appreciated, and making a living through a string of club gigs and the occasional casino date pay-off.

The Smithereens represent the old music business model. They played scummy clubs, they became very good at what they did, they built a following one enthused concert-goer at a time. Their integrity was hard-earned.

I wonder where the next generation of bands like that will come from… or if they’ll even come at all. It’s all laptops and Auto-Tune these days. Pat saw that even back in ’88, in an interview with NPR’s Terri Gross:

There are hooks today in a lot of popular music, but it seems as though the song itself is being ignored in favor of writing songs around a beat or a drum machine.

I’m still a sucker for the type of hooks that the Smithereens mastered. Always have been, always will be. Even in 2017. R.I.P. Pat DiNizio. Long live rock.

 

 

 

Let’s keep it stuck in neutral

On Thursday, the FCC is going to vote to end net neutrality—breaking the fundamental principle of the open Internet—and only an avalanche of calls to Congress can stop it. Net neutrality is the way the internet has always worked… if it’s repealed, giant cable/broadband/phone companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will be able to call the shots, play favorites, throttle speeds, charge more for internet services, block competing sites and censor content. Isn’t it funny how the current chairperson of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a former Verizon attorney?

Please call your congressional representatives and let them know where you stand. http://act.freepress.net/call/internet_nn_call_congress/

 

The original “Just do it”

I recently read this book:

It was extremely interesting to me, as I’m fascinated by how the punk scene came about. Here’s a quote that really stuck in my brain, from Danny Fields, who signed and managed Iggy & The Stooges, signed the MC5, managed the Ramones and worked in various roles with Jim Morrison and The Doors, the Velvet Underground and Modern Lovers. It this passage, he’s talking about how the Ramones, on their 1977 tour of England, encouraged Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, who were just starting the Clash:

The Ramones said “You just gotta play, guys. You know, come out of your basement and play. That’s what we did.”

And it wasn’t just the Clash whom the Ramones inspired. Here’s more from Danny Fields:

Basically the Ramones said to them, which they said to countless other bands, “You don’t have to get better, just get out there, you’re as good as you are. Don’t wait till you’re better, how are you ever gonna know? Just go out there and do it.” 

You don’t have to be in a band for that advice to resonate. It’s the same advice that countless other folks have given, from marketing guru Seth Godin (“ship your product”) to creativity guru Elizabeth Gilbert (“done is better than perfect”) to… yes, shoe peddlers like Nike (“just do it”).

I had a blog for about two years before I shared the URL with anyone. Why? Because I kept waiting to “get better”… waiting for some fairy godmother of writing to sprinkle pixie dust on me. Eventually I realized that the fairytale ending wasn’t going to happen, and what I had to do was face my fears and “just get out there.”

My “art” – using the term very loosely – is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s lowbrow… raw, gritty, rough around the edges… it doesn’t hit all the right notes. That’s alright. Because I’m not really a blogger… I’m a punk rocker.

Danny Fields, who was quoted above, has lived an amazing life… he’s like the Forrest Gump of punk rock. Check out this documentary on him, called Danny Says.

 

All I want for Christmas is…

All I want for Christmas is a pair of Mariah Carey-cancelling headphones, so I don’t have to listen to that song roughly 28 billion times each year over the course of a mere 55 days.

Seriously, just make it stop!

It’s on the radio. It’s on the Muzak system at every retailer. It’s played in every “festive” public gathering spot. I cannot take it anymore.

“Take your saccharine song and move it away from me. Now!”

 

There’s only one real solution.