Unanswered prayers

Saw this poor critter while waiting for the bus last week:

Looks like his prayers went unanswered, unless his request was to die on the streets of downtown Cincinnati.

Naturally I immediately thought of Don Dixon’s song “Praying Mantis.” You’ve likely never heard the song, and perhaps you’ve never even heard of Don Dixon. All he did was co-produce Murmur and Reckoning by R.E.M., as well as albums by The Smithereens, Marshall Crenshaw and Guadalcanal Diary. Jangle pop wouldn’t exist without him.

Please look beyond the bad hairstyle and appreciate the tune.

Since 1988, Don has been married to the equally talented and equally underappreciated Marti Jones. They live in Canton, Ohio and still tour occasionally. Here’s a nice interview with them.

 

 

When did pop songs become clown cars?

I know I run the risk of sounding like Grandpa Simpson or SNL’s “Grumpy Old Man”….

… but when did every pop song become a clown car, where you cram in as many artists as you can? “Back in my day” there were solo artists (we miss you John Denver), bands (hello Pablo Cruise) and the occasional duet (Kenny/Dolly or Kenny/Sheena or Kenny/Kim, whichever you prefer). But now it seems like there is some sort of rule (actually “formula” might be more apropos) that a single can’t be released unless it has at least three of the following:

  1. A DJ
  2. A rapper
  3. a pop singer known more for their looks than their pipes
  4. A Disney/Nickelodeon kid show star
  5. Rihanna

Ryan Seacrest must get laryngitis every week just announcing the names of the Top 40. It’s like a music version of The Love Boat.

I think Rihanna just lives in some giant recording studio complex – she steps into Studio A, sings a hook, moves on to Studio B, then C, D, and E… and by the time she gets back to Studio A there’s another disposable band in place working on a song that she can “feature” on. (And I’m using the term “band” very loosely. Most times it’s probably a 22-year old with a laptop.)

More doesn’t always equal better, and the sum is not always greater than the parts. I don’t know how bands and artists can establish any sort of staying power when their identity is based mostly on a Lazy Susan of condiment guest stars. (DJ Khaled, you’re the spicy mustard. Lil’ Wayne, you’re the Dave’s Insanity hot sauce. Biebs, you’re the fat-free mayo.)

Maybe instead of breaking up, the Beatles could’ve just become Lennon & McCartney with George Harrison and Ringo Starr, featuring Yoko Ono and Billy Preston. And they could’ve done the theme song for Matlock. That’s music to my ears.

 

It’s floodin’ down in Texas…

I never officially lived in Houston, but I spent roughly two years residing there, one summer at a time. When I was a wee lad (back in the Stone Age), our widowed dad used to ship us down from Arkansas to stay with our aunt, uncle and cousins just about every summer. Back then, a heavy rainstorm would leave a few inches of water on the street for a couple of hours, and my brother, sister and cousin would have a blast riding Schwinns through it.

But this is serious business. Looks like my aunt and uncle’s former home is in one of the flooded areas:

And if you want to help, the old standby of donating to the American Red Cross may not be the best use of your charity dollars.  Even more reassuring (he said sarcastically), is knowing that the tax dollars used to rebuild the infrastructure may get washed away again next time, thanks to your president trying to curry favor with the climate-change deniers. (Two excerpts from the linked story are below.)

Ten days before Hurricane Harvey descended upon Texas on Friday, wreaking havoc and causing widespread flooding, President Donald Trump signed an executive order revoking a set of regulations that would have made federally funded infrastructure less vulnerable to flooding.

The Obama-era rules, which had not yet gone into effect, would have required the federal government to take into account the risk of flooding and sea-level rise as a result of climate change when constructing new infrastructure and rebuilding after disasters….

“This executive order is not fiscally conservative,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, said in a statement. “It’s irresponsible, and it will lead to taxpayer dollars being wasted on projects that may not be built to endure the flooding we are already seeing and know is only going to get worse.”

The Obama administration estimated the regulations would increase building costs by 0.25% to 1.25% but save taxpayers significant money in the future. Studies have found that for every $1 spent on disaster mitigation, the government will save $4 on post-disaster aid.

50 inches of rain from an “unusually warm” Gulf of Mexico yet there’s no such thing as climate change? That’s a bit hard to fathom.

 

My 17-year-old son has a sweet new alarm clock

Pretty cool, huh? It doesn’t consume any electricity, never needs any batteries, and it’s very easy to reset the alarm time on it.

Patent pending.

(And yes, I did wake him at 8 this morning. Then again at 8:15. And 8:25. Snooze option sold separately.)

2 Kool 2 B Eclipsed

Not-so-breaking news from the solar eclipse department: My daughter Leah was one of several kids interviewed at school on Monday by a local TV station. Actually, “interviewed” isn’t the right description – the reporter just asked the kids to use a single word to describe the eclipse. (And clearly some kids need a refresher course in math, because they use more than one word.)

In case you don’t know what Leah looks like, I’ll give you a couple of hints to help you spot her in the video below:

A. When she is interviewed, she lifts up her protective eyewear… much like football players who take off their helmet after they score, she knows that you have to show off your face if you want to get more endorsement deals.

B. She uses teen slang to describe the eclipse.

Yes, that’s my daughter… she’s so sick – in the Urban Dictionary sense of the word.

As Casey Kasem liked to say, “keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for those stars.”

First day, final year

Our oldest child started his final year of high school yesterday.

If you look closely, you can almost see a Mona Lisa smile…

Seems like only yesterday we were putting the “McNicholas High School Class of 2018” sign in our yard when he was halfway through 8th grade, and 2018 seemed light years away. Now it’s just around the corner. College applications await… so do financial aid forms, which I hear are a real treat to fill out.

Gabriel is a great student (no, we don’t have the bumper stickers on our cars but we could). He’s a hard worker (he held down two jobs this summer and will keep one throughout the school year). He’s a safe driver (my insurance premiums are thankful for that). He’s gone from never having played a single second of organized football as a freshman to the starting right tackle on the Rockets team (see “hard worker” above). He’s come so far, so fast… yet the adventure is just beginning.

Here’s to a great senior year.

 

You can’t improve on perfection… so please don’t try

Why, Ben Gibbard, why?

Why would you even attempt to cover Teenage Fanclub’s “The Concept”? It’s a heaping helping of pure pop perfection, from their brilliant 1991 album Bandwagonesque. That album was so good that Spin magazine named it album of the year, which means it beat out an obscure album called Nevermind by some trio called Nirvana. (You can – and should – listen to the entire album here.)

“The Concept” is the lead track from that album, and just one of several amazing tunes on the release.

Teenage Fanclub was (and is – they put out an album last year and still tour) the rightful heir to the Big Star crown, and like Big Star they don’t get the credit they deserve. But being underappreciated just comes with the territory when you’re a Scottish band (looking your way, Frightened Rabbit, CHVRCHES, We Were Promised Jetpacks and the inappropriately named Texas).

And now, Mr. Gibbard, you have the temerity to cover the entire album? Don’t get me wrong, I know your intentions are pure.

In a press release, Gibbard explained why he chose the particular record: “Bandwagonesque is my favorite record by my favorite band of all time.” He continued, “It came along at a pivotal time in my musical life and I’ve loved it for over 25 years. It’s been such a blast taking these songs apart to see how they work and then putting them back together again.”  (Source: Pitchfork article)

I like your band Death Cab for Cutie, and even your side project The Postal Service.  But if you can’t bring something new to the cover song, or make it completely your own, then don’t do it. And you’ve taken a great song and turned it into a bit of a dirge. Which is weird, because when Iron & Wine slowed down your Postal Service song “Such Great Heights” it worked great.

But for your treatment of “The Concept”? Not so much.

However, there is a silver lining, BG. Maybe by covering the entire album, you’ll induct a few members of this generation into the Teenage Fanclub fanclub (no, I didn’t stutter).

That’s a brilliant idea! And if the band is on board, then I am too.

Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake is also happy with the result: “I was thrilled and extremely flattered when I heard that Ben Gibbard had decided to cover Bandwagonesque in its entirety. Needless to say that the reimagining of the album by this very talented fella is both inventive and deftly executed. Thanks Ben.”

 

 

 

 

Your daily dose of sunshine* (*not available during the eclipse)

Today is the Great American Eclipse.

(Because apparently every semi-major event needs an official name…. and logo too!)

It’s exactly as the prophet Roger Waters foretold in Floyd 73, Chapter 10, verse 6: “Everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.”

The official ISO-certified Great American Eclipse viewing glasses are sold out. You can probably still get some counterfeit versions that’ll fry your retinas (not recommended), or you can make your own pinhole projector.

I think I’ll try to dig up my welding mask from when I failed shop class in high school. Damn you, Mr. Nicholls… damn you to hell!

You’ll also need some sort of safety eyewear to view this piece of dazzling brilliance from several years ago:

Happy viewing!

 

How my mind works… or doesn’t work

When I’m taking my afternoon walk at work, and I see a license plate that reads TSE…

… I immediately think of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Never heard of them? You’re not alone. We played a few of their songs when I was a DJ at 97X back in the early 90s, and while I’m not much of a hip hop guy, I did like their tunes. One of the founders of that band was a dude named Rono Tse.

So now can you see (or Tse) why I think of them when I see that license plate? You more literary types can conjure up thoughts of T.S. Eliot when you see “TSE” but I’ll stick with Rono.

The other founder, Michael Franti, has gone on to bigger things, and has had a few hits performing as Michael Franti & Spearhead. And jazz guitar great Charlie Hunter made his debut with DH of H. But what about Mr. Tse? I can’t find any recording info on him past 1995. And I miss him.

I just wish the license plate were from California.

 

And they’re off…

Here are my three youngest kids waiting at the bus stop yesterday morning on the first day of the new school year.

Leah (9th grade) was “so excited” that she couldn’t sleep the night before. (To be clear, the excitement stems from seeing her friends, not from the classwork.) Peter (11th grade) just had to have his four eggs and oatmeal for breakfast, to stay on his weight training plan (I think it’s called “suns out/guns out”). Andrew (7th grade) had the trepidation you’d expect from someone attending their first day at a 7-12 school with a big campus, a confusing classroom layout and 2000+ kids.

They all survived. Live and learn.