Gertrude the Great

My good friend Walter’s mom Gertrude passed away last weekend at the age of 78, after a long and valiant battle with ovarian cancer.

wally-email

Most of my friends and I are now at the age where parent departures are happening with more and more frequency. Most of my buddies have lost at least one parent; many have lost both of them and are now middle-aged orphans, as am I. As Walter said in his email, Gertrude had a wonderful life. Given her age and her cancer diagnosis, her departure wasn’t really a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to the folks who raised you.

Walter has led a very Forrest-Gump-like life. When he was a young kid, his parents were good friends with Tom Cruise’s parents – Walter has a picture of Tom Cruise at his 6th birthday party. In high school, he was a star defensive back for a team that won state, and also had a bit part in the movie Stripes, appearing in the opening scene as one of two kids who run away without paying after getting a taxi ride from Bill Murray. He was in ROTC at Xavier, and has dozens of great stories from his summers at Army training camps. He graduated from the University of Kentucky law school, worked as an attorney in Horse Cave, KY (more great stories from this era), got his Masters in tax from the University of Denver and worked for big accounting firms in Minneapolis and Cleveland, then became a border patrol agent before returning to Louisville to teach high school and coach football. Now he’s a practicing attorney and still does some tax law work on the side.

Walter was also one of the groomsmen in my wedding in June of 1997. He had to race back to Fort Wayne, Indiana on the night of our wedding because his father had suffered a massive heart attack. Sadly, his dad died a couple days later. So June 21st, 1997 is a day that is etched into both of our memories, for polar opposite reasons. 

I met Wally during our freshman year of college, way back in the Jurassic Era (a.k.a. 1982). He’s always been one of those guys that you felt comfortable talking to, even about the most difficult subjects. With Walt, you can always have a discussion that is deeper than the typical guy conversations about sports and… other sports. I think a lot of Walt’s simpatico in that area comes from his mom. After her first career as a mother, she spent more than 20 years as a counselor, seminar leader, speaker and workshop facilitator. She always had a deep spirituality about her and she passed that on to her kids.

gertrude-martin

Here’s an excerpt from her obituary:

gertrude-obit

Whenever a parent of one of my friends dies, I like to pass along the Ray Bradbury short story called “The Leave-Taking,” partly because Ray Bradbury is the greatest author that ever lived, but mostly because truer words have never been spoken than the line in the story that says “no person ever died that had a family.”

Tomorrow I’ll make the 90-minute drive down to Louisville to pay my last respects to Gertrude Martin, but her spirit is so strong that I know there ain’t no grave that can hold her body down.

Lucius, looming large

I’ve blogged about the band Lucius before. And I’ll do it again. Because they’re just so darn good. They’ve had quite a run lately. Last weekend they sang with My Morning Jacket and Roger Waters at the annual Bridge School Benefit concert put on by Neil and Pegi Young.

lucius-with-neil-young

And on Tuesday they knocked it out of the park with this incredible performance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, showcasing not just their vocal range but also their emotional range (and their fabulous matching outfits, as per usual).

Their fall tour started today. Here are all the dates… if they come anywhere near your town, check ’em out.
lucius-tour
lucius-pose

Get on the bus

I’ve ridden public transportation (or my bicycle) back and forth to the jobs I’ve held for 19 of the past 20 years. And the one year where I had to drive to my job at an ad agency in the ‘burbs, I hate-hate-haaaaated the daily commute. White-knuckle wheel gripping, getting stuck in rush hour logjams on I-75, watching all manner of reckless driving (and mind you this was two decades ago… texting has take distracted driving to an entirely new level).

traffic-jam

Riding the bus is so much less stressful. I’m blissfully unaware of traffic as soon as I take a seat, put on my headphones and bury my nose in a magazine or book. It’s not a bus, it’s a chauffeur-driven limo. It’s my Uber, only cheaper.

public-transportation

When people try to guess my age, they usually guess quite a few years lower than I actually am. Some of that is genetics (none of it is Just For Men, I swear), but I think some of it can also be attributed to the fact that my daily commute has been considerably less stressful.

Because I’m a tree-hugger, I also like the fact that public transportation is also better for the environment.

Because I’m a cheapskate, I like the fact that riding the bus saves me cash on gas, parking, insurance and wear and tear on our cars.

Because I grew up in Arkansas, where snow was a rarity, I feel much safer riding inside a ten-ton machine instead of driving a puny car when winter weather hits.

keep-calm-and-get-on-the-bus-4

But retired police officer turned urban living/mass transit advocate Derek Bauman brought up an interesting point that I’d never considered about public transportation: it also saves lives. Please read his great CityBeat article here (a quick excerpt is below). It’s written about Cincinnati, where we just added a streetcar to our public transportation options, but it applies in any major metropolitan area.

Buses and trains have fatality rates far below cars and trucks. A 2013 study in Research in Transportation Economics titled “Comparing the Fatality Risks in United States Transportation Across Modes and Over Time” found that busses and trains have a fatality rate of between .11 and .15 per billion passenger miles, while cars and light trucks have a fatality rate of 7.3 per billion passenger miles. 

What’s Beach Slang for “really good band”?

Beach Slang has my favorite album of the moment, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings.

slang_lp2_v1_01front

If you have a half-hour to spare, you can check out the entire disc here (or click on the image below). If you like earnest, guitar-driven, punk-tinged rock, it’ll be time well spent.

To me, Beach Slang has a great early-era Replacements sound to them. And their lead singer James Alex seems like he pours his heart and soul into the music, based on this interview. A few key quotes:

“And we play our guts out. That’s what we do every night. Even if we play for one kid, that could be the one kid who sparks this whole thing. Every kid matters. If it’s one person or thousands, we’re gonna play just as hard.”

“I had a wrecked childhood, so you look for family when you don’t have one. I found that in punk rock, in the scene, my friends were my family and I want to shout that out for all the kids who are lost and looking.” 

“There’s something very romantic and necessary about rock and roll not being handed to you. It’s a blue-collar job and you have to work hard for it. If it means enough to you, you’ll do anything for it.”

“Sweat, urgency, unpredictability and danger. Rock and roll needs to have that. No two shows should be the same.”

beach-slang

 

 

 

Lost their home, not their sense of humor

Just east of downtown Cincinnati, alongside Interstate 71, there’s a dense, jungle-like thicket of trees and shrubs along the hillside leading up to Mt. Adams. The multi-acre site has been a favorite haunt of homeless people for many years. I’m guessing  one or more of them modified this sign to read “Trespassers will be pros.”

2016-10-14-18-10-07

Love and marriage… and baseball

My father Herbert had two enduring loves in his life:

  1. His wife (my mom, if you’re keeping score at home), Olga (nee Osellame).
  2. The Los Angeles Dodgers (nee Brooklyn Dodgers).

He grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey and was just a subway ride away from his beloved Dodgers during their “Boys of Summer” (a must-read book by Roger Kahn) days. He was 10 when they made their first World Series in a generation, 15 when Jackie Robinson made his historic debut. He cheered “dem bums” on in four World Series match-ups where they wound up on the losing end, before they finally broke through in 1955 and beat the dreaded Yankees in a seven-game classic.

dem-bums

The Dodgers broke his heart when they moved to Los Angeles after the ’57 season. But he found joy in the five World Series they won during the rest of his lifetime.

gibson-homer

He married my mom on October 15, 1960.

herb-olga-wedding-with-uncle-john-arthur

She broke his heart when she died of leukemia in 1968. But he found joy in the four children they had, and their kids’ kids too.

Tonight, October 15, 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the Chicago Cubs in the first game of the NLCS. I wish Herb were still around to root for his squad. But I know there can be joy after heartache, and I take solace in the symmetry.

It’s no holiday

Today is Columbus Day… although there seems to be a bit of momentum in certain cities (including Cincinnati) for making it more of a Native American/Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

 

smallpox    col-day-fry

Here’s a blurb from the Cincinnati Enquirer about it:

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not a new idea. The idea was first broached in 1977 at the United Nations’ International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. Since then there has been education about how Native American people suffered during American colonization – countering what many people learned about Christopher Columbus in grade school.

In 1992 Berkeley, California City Council symbolically renamed Columbus Day for indigenous people. Other cities have followed suit. The most recent adopters include Denver, Colorado and Spokane, Washington.

You may think that’s political correctness gone astray (historically speaking, the Native Americans likely came from another continent, so they are neither “native” nor “indigenous” to North America).

col-day-house

However, the fantastic blog/comic/website The Oatmeal has an enlightening post about Christopher Columbus that will certainly give you pause and probably make you reconsider why we celebrate this holiday. And with one of the presidential candidates threatening to build a wall to keep out immigrants, the post is timely too.

col-day-native-amer

 

 

 

6 degrees of music separation

At the beginning of each month, a co-worker friend of mine sends out a list of the celebrities who have passed away in the previous month. Don’t ask why. (Cough… Celebrity Death Pool… cough, cough.)

Some of the folks who passed away this September have a direct connection to music, such as the great Buckwheat Zydeco:

 

Country trailblazer Jean Shepard:

And R& B singer Clifford Curry:

 

But a few recently deceased celebs have a connection to music that’s a bit less obvious.

Transgender actress Alexis Arquette’s first acting gig (back when she was known as Robert) was as the boy on the amusement ride in the video for “She’s a Beauty” from The Tubes:

Boxer Bobby Chacon? He features prominently in Warren Zevon’s song “Boom Boom Mancini”

And Herschel Gordon Lewis was known as The Godfather of Gore for writing and directing B-movies like Blood Feast. But two bands took their names from his films: The Gore Gore Girls (from the movie by the same name)

and 10,000 Maniacs (inspired by Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs flick).

(Herschel Gordon Lewis was also one of the most revered direct-response copywriters ever.)

 

 

They’re an American Band

Drive-By Truckers have a new album out called American Band. It’s phenomenal. It’s also political. In that order. Here’s a nice blurb from NPR Music:

Racism, immigration, gun violence, hate symbols and censorship all get their turn in the crosshairs of the band, fronted by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. But the record isn’t driven by unfocused anger: It’s a poignant take on what it means to be an American in a time when uncertainty and fear are omnipresent. As Hood says, he hopes to “turn on that light in the basement and see what’s scampering so we can figure out what we’re dealing with.”

You can check out the entire album performed live here:

http://www.npr.org/event/music/496689769/first-listen-live-drive-by-truckers-american-band

And here’s a track from the album, “Surrender Under Protest” recorded live at Electric Lady Studios in NYC:

 

Here’s a slower one, with Patterson Hood on lead vocals, from the CBS Saturday morning show:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/saturday-sessions-drive-by-truckers-performs-what-it-means/

And here’s their full interview on the CBS morning show:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/how-rockers-drive-by-truckers-took-on-the-south/

Mic drop

Vin Scully will call his final baseball game today, after 67 years behind the microphone for the Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers. He is, without any doubt, the best baseball broadcaster ever, and second place isn’t even in the same universe. He did games on TV, but radio is where he really was at his most brilliant… he could paint a picture of the action and draw you into the game like no one else. Because it was never about Vin – as it often is with today’s ego-driven broadcasters – it was always about the game.

When he was on TV, he knew that the video could tell more of the story, and didn’t feel compelled to fill up the air with drivel. Probably his most famous call was Kirk Gibson’s home run in the World Series, and his line “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!” is classic. But watch and you’ll see how Vin sets up the confrontation between the MVP pitcher and the hobbled batter so brilliantly. And note that Vin is silent for a full minute after he calls the homer, allowing the magic of the moment to shine through.

Here’s a link to a nice 3-minute video profile of Mr. Scully:  http://www.cbsnews.com/live/video/vin-scully-announces-final-game-on-sunday/

vin-miss-you

He will miss us, but baseball fans – and baseball itself – will miss him more.