Searching for Syd

Do they still put photos of missing persons on milk cartons? If so, we need to put Syd Straw on a few half gallons. She’s a wonderfully gifted singer and songwriter, a former member of the Golden Palominos waaay back when, who has put out only a handful of solo albums in the past 25 years. I always loved her voice, and would like to hear more of it.

I turned to the ol’ Interwebs in an effort to find out what  she’s been up to, but it was no help. (Well, at least Wikipedia told me that she started her professional career as a backup vocalist for Pat Benatar.)

Syd’s website has expired. I even resorted to Facebook – and I’m not even on Facebook! – but her Facebook page  has no posts since January of this year, and the previous post was from May of 2014. “Reclusive” doesn’t do her justice.

syd straw facebook


The most recent references I could find were from an NPR story about a Harry Nilsson tribute and she sings one song on a 2015 folk album of kids nursery rhymes. She used to do a yearly “Heartwreck” Valentine’s Day show, but that ended in 2014.

At least there are a few videos of Syd performing.

Here she is with the old Letterman band and Dave Alvin:

Here’s a song from her 1996 album:


I think Syd is right up there with Emmylou Harris as a harmony vocalist/backup singer. Check out her work on this tune from former Go-Betweens frontman Grant McLennan.


And here’s one where she sings with Michael Stipe. I think he was in a band of some note.

And a fun live song with Dave Alvin at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, CA (side note: McCabe’s is a fantastic place to see a show.)


The video of the Harry Nilsson session features Syd for a second, and as a special bonus to middle-aged fans of obscure artists (I’m on that list), also includes Bob Forrest, formerly of Thelonious Monster and The Bicycle Thief.


Hope springs eternal… maybe Syd Straw will put out a new album in 2016.




James Farr, Superstar

My beloved Xavier Musketeers are off to their best start ever (12-0) and have reached their highest ranking ever (#6) in college basketball. And the Washington Post thinks they may be the best team in college hoops this year. As someone who has followed the program since I went to Xavier in the early 1980s, it’s thrilling to see how far the program has come. But what’s really neat to me is that in this “one and done” era when most ballers view their college careers as just a glorified AAU program where they spend an extra year before cashing in as a pro (with Kentucky being the most glaring example of the “rent-a-player” mentality) most Xavier players stick around their entire 4 years. Not only that, but they all get their college degree too – every senior men’s player since 1985 has graduated.

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It’s fun to watch them develop as players, too. Seems like every year there’s a senior on the team that really shines after struggling in previous seasons. This year, that player is James Farr. He’s a 6’10” widebody, but his freshman and sophomore years he was perfectly happy jacking up three-pointers instead of banging in the post. This year he’s an inside force, corralling nearly every rebound in his area code and showing a deft scoring touch down low. Through 12 games, he averaging 10 points and nearly 9 rebounds per game while averaging only 20 minutes of playing time off the bench.

I could name several other Xavier players who have blossomed in their final season… Jason Love, Stanley Burrell, BJ Raymond, etc. Kentucky Wildcat fans can keep their 5-star recruits who leave before you really get to know them. I’ll take the blue-collar workers any day.

Odds are good that James Farr will not make the NBA. But his four years on campus likely have made him not just a better basketball player, but a better person. Smarter. More resilient. More determined. With a better appreciation of teamwork and selflessness. Those skills will last a lifetime.

Xavier’s lofty perch in the rankings may be short-lived – their Big East opener is a road game at #17 Villanova on New Year’s Eve, then they play #9 Butler at home three days later. But here’s hoping they are still a force to be reckoned with come March, and James Farr keeps on smiling. Let’s Go X!





Merry Christmas to all…

… including the innocent dog who had absolutely nothing to do with the Christmas tree falling.


Although our cats do like playing in the tree, and our dog likes chasing our cats. But that’s just a coincidence, I’m sure.


The sure cure for lame Christmas songs

99% of radio stations play the same handful of Christmas songs, over and over and over again. Tired of hearing Mariah Carey? Aren’t we all.

Last year I wrote a post about my favorite holiday tunes, i.e. songs that don’t suck. Here’s a nice article from American Songwriter about one of them, “Father Christmas” by The Kinks. It includes a funny story about how the song was such a crowd-pleaser in concert that the band The Kinks were opening for back in ’77 tried to keep them from doing it because Ray Davies dressed as Santa and rocking the rafters was a tough act to follow.


Looking forward (not backward)

I’ve posted before about my friend’s Dave and Jacqui, and how they’ve eloquently chronicled Dave’s two – count ’em, two – battles with lymphoma on their “Nashville or Bust” blog. Dave recently wrote a post with his reflections on hitting the 100 day mark post treatment and transplant. He’s feeling good, and that makes all his friends feel good too. As he put it:

Day 100. That does feel pretty good to say. In the journals and transplant literature it is a big deal. I don’t take that for granted but instead of looking back, I am spending it sipping early morning coffee with Jacqui, making breakfasts and lunches for the kids and getting them off to school and continuing to get the house ready for Brandon’s visit and the holiday…you know, the normal stuff.

It’s time to return this blog to new ideas and future plans.

Here is to love, laughter, friendship, music and adventure in the New Year.

Amen, Brother Dave… Amen!

The 12 Random Thoughts of Christmas

  1. The older your kids get, the more expensive their gifts get. You can buy a lot of wooden blocks for less than one XBox.
  2. Shoe companies should make shoelaces out of Christmas light wires, because those strands always stay tied up. 
  3. If you buy an “ugly sweater” anywhere other than a thrift shop, you are part of the problem.
  4. Fruitcake gets a bad rap – those boxed chocolates with coconut inside are just as bad. 
  5. Most holiday music is so awful, the “Toyotathon” remake of “Jingle Bell Rock” is probably in the top 10.
  6. Every kiss begins with Kay, but the word “sucker” has You and Kay in it.
  7. The “A Christmas Story” marathon is the best part of the season.
  8. If red cups = a war on Christmas, then Solo is in big trouble.    
  9. It’s only a matter of time until there’s a limited edition Figgy Pudding flavored Cap’n Crunch.  
  10. 40% of Mall Santas also sing Kenny Rogers songs at karaoke bars.
  11. Forget a better mousetrap – if someone  invents a better Christmas tree stand, the world will beat a path to their door. 
  12. Let’s not forget the real reason for the season: selling more Star Wars merchandise.

Plastic ain’t fantastic

Here’s a plastic surgery ad from a recent issue of Cincinnati Magazine:

plastic surg

I had no idea there were so many options… face lift, neck lift, eyelid lift (isn’t that called “waking up”?), volume lift, fat transfer (isn’t that what happens when you take a Twinkie out of the box and put it in your mouth?)… and things with sci-fi names like Dysport and Liposonix.

Here’s a better idea: accept your body the way it is. Warts and all. Saggy eyelids and all. Embrace the aging process, or at least deal with it in a way that doesn’t involve scalpels, injections, suctions or concoctions with an “SM” next to their name.

I have a theory that plastic surgery doesn’t just remove or reposition unwanted flesh, it also steals brain cells. So perhaps you’ll look a bit better but you’ll be a lot dumber. And looking better isn’t always guaranteed. Look at poor Meg Ryan, who went from America’s Sweetheart to looking like a stunt double for The Riddler.

Here’s a Twilight Zone episode that teaches a beautiful lesson about aging.

If you don’t have 25 minutes to spare—but you should always have 25 minutes to spare for Rod Serling—here’s the best line from the show, a quote from Robert Browning:

“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.”



Save a forest without chaining yourself to a tree

Every year, someone would drop a two-ton Yellow Pages book on our front porch… and they’d drop one on the porch of every other house on our street. And on every street in the neighborhood, the city, and the world for all I know. Seriously? Who uses the Yellow Pages print edition anymore? Marty McFly? Are they looking up “Betamax Repair Shop” in it?


Are they trying to hire a private investigator?

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Our gargantuan edition went directly from our front porch to the recycle bin, just like it has for the past  decade. But the prime directive of the green living trifecta is “reduce” (then reuse, with recycle as the last, least efficient option). So I found out that we can opt out of Yellow Pages print delivery. You can too. Let your fingers do the walking on your computer keyboard, and sign up here:

Tell your neighbors about the opt-out option too – based on the heft of the YP tome, we can save a tree or two per house, easily.




How I became a growler guy

I like beer. Sometimes it loves me back. These days we only get together on the weekends, which is good because if we see each other too often I get a headache.

Man Holding Ice Pack On Head.

Until this Thanksgiving, my post-college retail beer purchases had been relegated to cans or bottles. But now I’m on board the growler bandwagon. I know I’m late to the party – and all the hipsters have been there a while – but I didn’t think growlers made sense for me. Because I drink beers so infrequently, and when I do I only have a few, I thought a growler would just mean that I’d buy a half-gallon of beer and most of it would go bad and I’ve have to toss it. Somewhat akin to buying a 5-gallon vat of mayonnaise at a club store. And I hate wasting money. I’m worse than this guy:

But if you do the math, a 64-oz. growler is a mere 4 pints, and you can get it filled a lot cheaper than buying 4 pints at a bar or taproom. A lot of the startup craft breweries aren’t even canning or bottling their product yet, so the growler is the only way to take some home with you. My first growler fill was a limited edition Opera Cream Stout from Blank Slate Brewing. It’s delightful, but only available for a few weeks each year. Short of taking up residency in the Blank Slate taproom, my growler was the best way to prolong the enjoyment.


A growler is perfect for trying out new beers, too… enough to determine whether or not you like it, without getting stuck with leftover cans or bottles in your fridge. It’s a nice way to bring beer to parties as well.

All this beer talk has left me parched. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get a refill…






Calling all word nerds

If, like me, you’re a word nerd (or perhaps you prefer the more appealing appellation of “linguistics lover”), this article from the Washington Post is a must-read. It’s about how — and why — the WaPo is changing their official abbreviation for microphone from “mike” to “mic” and how they’re ditching the hyphen in e-mail. Fascinating stuff about how our living, breathing language evolves over time.