Bye Bye David Dye

David Dye, longtime host of NPR’s wonderful music program World Cafe, signed off a couple of Fridays ago after a quarter century of spinning a ton of great tunes.

My musical tastes veer away from the mainstream, to singer-songwriters and indie rockers and “legacy” artists who still push the boundaries. I could always count on World Cafe for two hours of music that was right in my wheelhouse – check out David Dye’s list of 25 albums from the 25 years he hosted the show for a taste. Better still, the show also featured interviews and live performances from the artists. It was appointment listening for many years for me, on the local affiliate WNKU-FM. Now David is gone, and WNKU is soon to follow.

But when one door closes, another opens. My wife got me an Amazon Echo Dot for Christmas, and all I have to do is say “Alexa, play radio station KEXP-Seattle” and I’m immediately tuned in to what is, in my humble opinion, the best station going.

It’s not the same as having a local connection, but I’ll take what I can get. Gotta keep rockin’.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant

Straight from the “We Couldn’t Make This Up If We Tried” Department comes a report from the Louisville Courier-Journal that the Kentucky Coal Museum has a very interesting new installation: solar panels. Yes, a museum that showcases all aspects of the coal mining industry, in an old coal camp town in Harlan County, in the heart of coal country in southeast Kentucky, has put solar panels on the roof to cut their energy costs.

The coal museum’s electric bill typically costs about $2,100 per month, but this initiative is expected to save between $8,000 and $10,000 a year.

Trump can talk all he wants about a “war on coal” and “job-killing regulations” but really it’s a war of attrition. Coal’s contribution to climate change (it’s real) and environmental and health issues, along with increasing competition from both natural gas and renewable energy sources, are digging coal’s grave.

If DT really wants to create more jobs (with less pollution, btw), he should consider the following facty-facts (not alternative facts) from this article:

In 2016 alone, the US solar industry created more new jobs (51,000) than there are coal miners still working in the US (50,200). There are now 260,000 solar workers in the US — five times the number of coal miners.

“Follow the day and reach for the sun…”

 

 

 

King Richard the First… and Only

Last night I saw Richard Thompson live in concert at the newly refurbished Memorial Hall in downtown Cincinnati.

I’ve seen him a dozen or more times over the past quarter of a century. I originally opted to skip this show, mainly because:

  1. I had seen him so many times prior to this show.
  2. Tickets weren’t cheap and I’m trying to save cash.
  3. As a suburban 52-year-old with a job, a wife and 4 kids (two of whom I have to wake up at 6 a.m. every weekday) I can’t make as many shows as I’d like to.

But last week some friends of mine were talking about going, and I got the fever. One catch: the show was sold out. I checked StubHub and SeatGeek to no avail. On a last-second “what the heck” whim, I checked Craigslist, and lo and behold, another suburban dad had a pair of tickets that he had to unload because the concert conflicted with a Daddy-Daughter dance. Which is how I wound up at a Kroger parking lot on a Wednesday night, meeting a stranger for a ticket purchase.

The show was a typical RT show… which is to say, amazing. I don’t think you’ll find his rare combination of talents in too many folks:

  • virtuoso guitarist – I’d put him up against any teenage phenom. Even solo and acoustic, like last night, the dude can shred
  • phenomenal voice – so strong, even at age 68. And the acoustics in Memorial Hall did it justice.
  • fantastic songwriter – great, sometimes twisted lyrics and wonderful melodies. It’s no wonder his tunes have been covered by the likes of R.E.M., Elvis Costello, Bob Mould, Bonnie Raitt, Reckless Kelly, The Neville Brothers, Marshall Crenshaw and Dinosaur Jr. (that’s a festival lineup I’d like to see).
  • entertaining stage presence – that dry British wit is always in evidence. Last night after absolutely tearing up the solo on “Valerie” and getting much-deserved applause from the audience, he shrugged his shoulders and said “it’s easy.” He also referred to himself as a “folk rock dinosaur.”

I went with my neighbor/friend Mark, a true music fanatic (he’s been to hundreds of shows over the last 40 years, still plays in a local band, went to Cleveland a few weeks ago to see Patti Smith… you get the picture). Mark’s a longtime Richard Thompson fan, and saw him in 1986 in the same venue as last night’s show. The vast majority of folks in the audience were in the same age bracket as Mark and I are. (The show should be sponsored by a doctor who specializes in knee and hip replacements – he’d make a killing.) That’s a shame. Richard’s always been a niche artist, an acquired taste, a critic’s darling almost completely ignored by the mainstream. But he puts on a fantastic show every damn time. You whippersnappers should go see him – now get off my lawn!

Next time I have a chance to see such an amazing artist in a gorgeous venue, I won’t trust my fate to Daddy-Daughter dances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going, going… Gong!

Chuck Barris, the creator and host of one of my favorite childhood shows, The Gong Show, passed away a couple of weeks ago. The Gong Show was unlike anything else on TV back then, and I loved the complete wackiness of the entire thing. It was like a sideshow version of America’s Got Talent. Amateurs would perform all sorts of weird vaudeville-style acts (or “stuff” as Chuck would call it), and three celebrity judges (a roster that included Jaye P. Morgan, Rex Reed, Rip Taylor, Jamie Farr, Arte Johnson and David Letterman) could either hit a giant gong to end the awfulness, or give the acts a score if they liked them.

  

Chuck didn’t fit the mold of a classic game show host – he wore wacky hats, cracked up instead of staying in character, brought out stagehands to dance… he was in on the joke and brought us along for the ride.

Barris’ original idea had been to create a show that featured fine performers, but in his search for talent, he frequently encountered awful acts. “I came back and said, ‘Let’s change the show, have all bad acts and one or two good ones, and people can make a judgment,’ ” he said in a 2010 interview with The Archive of American Television.

“Everybody could relate to somebody wearing a lampshade and dancing around,” Barris said. “Bad acts are inherent in everyone.”

[from this obit in The Hollywood Reporter – well worth a read]

Chuck also boosted the careers of folks like composer Danny Elfman (as part of Oingo Boingo), Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens and The Unknown Comic.

 

Chuck seemed a bit crazy, and he probably was (later he wrote a book Confessions of a Dangerous Mind where he claimed to be a CIA assassin). But he was crazy like a fox. He wrote a hit song in 1962, “Palisades Park” (a now-defunct amusement park that was close to my birthplace of Jersey City, NJ).

He was the creator of two other classic game shows, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. He wrote two bestselling books, and was a pioneer of first-run syndication, selling The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game to TV stations after ABC cancelled them. In 1986 he sold his shares in Chuck Barris Productions for a cool $86 million. So he was dancing all the way to the bank.

So long, Chuck, and thanks for all the great stuff!

 

 

 

 

Cheaters never prosper… except at the University of North Carolina

Tonight the University of North Carolina will take on Gonzaga for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship. The Tarheels are favored to win. And speaking of favoritism, there’s been very little press about the UNC decades-long cheating scandal where hundreds of athletes (especially in the revenue-generating sports of basketball and football) took sham/non-existent classes to boost their GPAs and maintain their eligibility.

News of the scandal broke way back in 2011, thanks to Raleigh’s News & Observer newspaper, which reported that an incoming freshman football player had been enrolled in an upper-level African studies class and received a high grade. That transcript ultimately exposed 18 years of fake classes, most of them created by Deborah Crowder, a clerical employee in the African and Afro-American Studies Department. UNC’s internal investigation blamed Crowder and a “rogue professor,” Julius Nyang’oro, and claimed that no one on the athletic side (AD, coaches, tutors, athletic advisors, et al.) knew anything about it. Which just ain’t so. The latest NCAA allegations (which came out in December of last year) say UNC and the athletics department “leveraged the relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to obtain special arrangements for student-athletes in violation of extra-benefit legislation.”

“Many at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football and men’s basketball, used these courses for purposes of ensuring their continuing NCAA academic eligibility,” the notice said.

But the only current article I can find about it is from the New York Times – it’s a great read. You’d think there’d be more talk of it, especially in light of the fact that UNC won two national championships during the years in question. This year’s group of athletes wasn’t part of the scandal, but you could rightly argue that if the NCAA had handed down any sanctions (postseason bans, scholarship reductions, etc.), this year’s team might not even be playing.
Funny how the NCAA is so quick to slap penalties on players and programs for the most minor of infractions, but in this case, with widespread, systemic cheating, it’s been radio silence. “Too big to fail”?
 

 

 

Traveling Music

My wife and two youngest children are on a Spring Break trip out west, with our friend Heather and her two kids. Meanwhile I’m stuck in rainy Cincinnati with our teenage sons. (I’m not bitter.) The way my music-loving mind is wired, every time my wife sends me a photo of their adventures, it makes me think of a song.

They started their trip in Las Vegas (where my Raiders are moving):

So naturally that makes me think of “Viva Las Vegas” – but not the Elvis version, the Shawn Colvin version from the Doc Pomus tribute album (and The Big Lebowski credits).

Next up was the Hoover Dam:

I cannot hear the words “Hoover Dam” without thinking of Sugar’s song by the same name.

They spent some time on Route 66:

Then they headed to the Grand Canyon:

That’s your cue, Drive By Truckers…

They’ve been spending a lot of time in Arizona

That calls for a double-shot, twin spin:

 

Yesterday they were in Sedona:

Great scenery… great tune by Houndmouth too!

And tonight they’ll get to Phoenix.

 

Looks like they’re really enjoying their time way out west:

 

And I am too, vicariously, via the soundtrack in my head.

Rock & Roll Never Forgets… or does it?

Here’s a great article on NPR about Bob Seger’s presence (or lack thereof) in the age of digital music.

His influence appears to be diminishing (along with his sales and airplay) and his legacy is losing a bit of luster because you can’t find many of his albums and/or songs on digital and streaming platforms. So he’s missing out on a chance to gain new fans.

I found the article fascinating… and I was also fascinated by the fact that it was written by Tim Quirk, who was the lead singer of the band Too Much Joy, a group I remember from my early 90s days at 97X, mostly for their fun (and funny) songs like “Long Haired Guys from England” and “That’s a Lie.”

Check out the article. Then check your dad’s record collection for some vintage Seger.

 

 

 

 

X Marches On!

My beloved Xavier Musketeers pulled off another upset last night (actually one a.m. this morning for most of us), rallying from 8 down in the second half to knock off #2 seed Arizona, 73-71.

Speaking of Bill Murray, his son Luke is an assistant coach for XU, and Bill has attended every tourney game, cheering on the Muskies. After they won last night, Bill celebrated by giving a good-natured “noogie” to the elderly woman in front of him…

That woman happens to be a nun – Sister Rose Ann Fleming, who as the longtime academic advisor to Xavier athletes, has as much to do with their success in the classroom as the coaches have to do with their success on the court.

Xavier has graduated every senior men’s b-ball player since 1986. (That’s the year I graduated… concidence? I think not!)

After the game, Bill Murray summed up how the game played out very well.

Beating Arizona in the Sweet 16 was pretty sweet too. Their coach, Sean Miller, left Xavier for Arizona several seasons ago. He was, and still is, a fantastic coach, and I have a ton of respect for him. Xavier coach Chris Mack was an assistant under Miller and they are great friends. Mack was less than thrilled about having to face his mentor for the 2nd time in 3 years:

But there’s one comment Sean Miller made that sticks in the craw of many XU fans. After he left Xavier for Arizona, he told a recruit it was like going from a Buick to a Lexus. Grandma has a message for him:

Now Xavier plays Gonzaga in the Elite 8. Two small Jesuit schools that have had great basketball programs for the past couple of decades… and one of them will finally reach the Final Four for the first time. So either way, I’ll be happy, but I’ll be happier if X marks the spot.

 

How Sweet 16 it is

Xavier pulled off another upset in the NCAA tourney last night, trouncing #3 seed Florida State 91-66 to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16. It’s been a rough season for the X-men. Senior guard Myles Davis started the season with an indefinite suspension, missed the first 15 games, returned for 3 and then left the program for good. Their super soph point guard Edmond Sumner blew out his ACL halfway through the year, and leading scorer Trevon Bluiett hurt his ankle and missed a couple of games and was ineffective in a few more after returning. Not surprisingly, those injuries led to a six-game losing streak toward the end of the regular season in the brutal Big East.

However, the Musketeers showed signs of life in the conference tournament and squeaked into the NCAAs as a #11 seed. They upset #6 Maryland in the first round, and yesterday they played what was easily their best game of the season.

 

It’s so true that in college basketball, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” Now Xavier will take on Arizona, coached by Sean Miller… who left XU for ‘zona about 8 years ago. The odds are against them once again, but I don’t care, because they’re playing with house money now.

I don’t know why they call it “March Madness”

Taking two days off work and setting up 4 TVs (and a laptop) in your living room to binge watch college basketball games for 12 hours straight each day sounds perfectly sane to me.

Just remember to root for the team favored by award-winning actors everywhere:

So far, so good…