Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Feel Like Nigel Tufnel These Days...

My lab partners in my Biology class and I got the go-ahead to do our group report on the subject we chose-- food allergies. We chose it because we had experience with it-- with family members, or, in my case, personally. I've mentioned before that I have celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that is triggered by wheat gluten.

It's entailed a lot of changes, diet-wise. I've mentioned before how I pretty much lived on sandwiches for long stretches of my life. I missed sandwiches.

Fortunately, I discovered that there are brands of bread made of non-wheat ingredients. They're dense and taste a little different from regular bread, but hell, it's bread, and I'm happy to have sandwiches again. There's just one little thing: the bread is small. You can see in the picture at the top that it's much smaller than the cold cuts and cheese. It's left me feeling a little like Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel. It's a complete catastrophe. I'll have to talk to my road manager about it.

The Greatest Sin

When I was a kid, my father and I would stay up late and watch old movies together. One of the movies we watched was Compulsion, starring Bradford Dillman and Dean Stockwell as two young guys who attempt, unsuccessfully, to pull off the perfect crime-- kidnapping and murdering a young boy and collecting a ransom from the family. Bradford Dillman's character is super-creepy, frequently referring to his mother as "Mumsy."

The movie was a lightly fictionalized account of one of Chicago's most infamous murder cases, the 1924 murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. I remember my father telling me about the case. Two young guys who were rich and very intelligent-- at 18 and 19 years of age, both had already graduated college. Leopold was enrolled in the University of Chicago's law school, and Loeb was planning to enroll. They lured a neighborhood kid, Bobby Franks, into a car, where the smashed his head with a chisel until he was unconcious, then suffocated him. They dumped Franks' body into a culvert and poured hydrochloric acid on his body to make identification more difficult. They typed up and sent a ransom note, though they were later to state that their main motive was the thrill of getting away with the crime; their rich families gave them as much money as they wanted. The fancied themselves "Nietzschean supermen" who could commit a crime and get away with it.

Bobby Franks' body was found and identified, despite Leopold and Loeb's efforts to thwart it. When the police returned his remains and effects to his family, among the effects were a pair of glasses. The family told the police that Bobby Franks did not wear glasses. It occurred to Chicago Police detectives that the glasses might have belonged to the perpetrators. They consulted the Almer Coe company, which had made the glasses, and discovered that the company had sold only three pairs of glasses with that particular frame. One was sold to an old lady, another to an attorney, Jerome Frank, who had been travelling in Europe at the time of the murder. That third pair had been sold to Nathan Leopold. Leopold was brought in for questioning, and then Loeb. The "Nietzschean supermen" quickly broke down and then tried to finger the other perpetrator as the murderer. They were, they told the police, going to demonstrate their intellectual superiority to the world with their crime.

Interestingly, Jerome Frank would have one more brief moment of fame in the 1950's, when, as a federal appellate judge, he denied the last appeal of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenburg

The boys' families hired "Attorney For the Damned" Clarence Darrow to defend the boys. Darrow concentrated not on exonnerating the boys but in saving them from the death penalty. He was successful in this. The two were convicted and sent to Joliet Prison. Loeb was murdered by another inmate in prison in 1936 and Leopold was paroled in 1958. He donated the infamous glasses to the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago Historical Museum) upon his release.

Reading up on the case this morning, I found an answer to a question I'd had for years-- why hadn't Leopold realized that the glasses were missing in the first place? I discovered that he hadn't realized that he had them with him. He'd been prescribed the glasses when he'd had headaches months before; he'd worn the glasses for a few weeks, until the headaches disappeared. He no longer wore the glasses and didn't know that they were in a pocket of the jacket he wore when he and Loeb dumped poor Bobby Franks' body in the Eggars Woods Forest Preserve.

It had never occurred to me that I might actually someday see the infamous glassses. They're in a display at the Chicago History Museum on how historians determine the authenticity of alleged historical artifacts. On Sunday, I looked with macabre fascination at this item I'd heard about as a kid and I thought about Leopold and Loeb. Their crime was especially horrifying to me-- Bobby Franks was about my own son's age. It occurred to me, though, that in the end, Leopold and Loeb's greatest sin might not have even been murder-- it may well have been their hubris, thinking that they were smarter than everybody else, and thinking that they could completely control their own fates.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What Does This Bode?

Today, Adam and I went down to the "Museum Formerly Known As The Chicago Historical Society." It was closed for nearly a year, and re-emerged as the Chicago History Museum.

The Chicago History Museum is the plain-jane stepsister of Chicago Museums. Because it's not as flashy as other museums in Chicago-- no World War II fighters hanging from the ceiling or dinosaur fossils gracing the main floor-- it gets lost in the shuffle in the Chicago museum pecking order. It is, however, a favorite. I'll be posting over the next few days about the dense and wonderful visit Adam and I had to the museum today. But before that, I have to post briefly about a strange thing that happened today.

As we left our apartment to walk to the el, to go to the museum, we stopped to take note of a couple of bumper stickers we saw on a car. We stopped to take pictures of the stickers, which were on a hybrid car with Wisconsin plates. We surmised that perhaps the young guys who live next door had a college friend visiting.

We had a grand time at the museum and took the bus back home. When it came time for him to go to my ex's home, we got in my Blazer and got on the Kennedy Expressway. As we drove along, I pointed out that the car in the lane next to us had the "If You're Not Outraged..." bumper sticker we'd seen on the car parked in front of our home earlier in the day. At the same time, we both saw that it also had the "Impeach Bush" sticker. I think at the same moment, we both noticed the Wisconsin plates (cue "Twilight Zone" theme) and realized it was the car we'd seen in front of our home earlier in the day.

Does it bode good things to come? Hell, the Boston Red Sox just won the World Series for the second time in three years. Anything can happen.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Promise Kept

Most days I take the bus and el to work. I've mentioned before how one of the things I've enjoyed lately is that it's allowed me to read more.

When my friend Mark died last year, a bunch of us helped his family clear out his house. They told us to take anything that had some personal meaning to us. Among the thousands of books in the house was a weathered copy of Jack Kerouac's classic On The Road. It was beside Mark's bed, and I knew that it was important to him. I realized that it was a book that helped define a generation, the so-called "Beat Generation," whose influence rippled to Mark, me and the people I went to college with, people who are my closest friends to this day. When I saw it, through my stunned grief, I realized that I had referred many times over the years to this book but hadn't ever read it. It was among the items I took. I made a promise to him that I'd read it eventually.

For the last year, the book sat in the garage with a handful of other things I'd grabbed that weekend. My grief was still too fresh to deal with it. When my landlord began the renovations this summer, I had to move those things out of the garage. When I started school, beginning the next phase of my life, and with my grief having become more manageable, I decided it was time to start reading the book.

Today, while sitting at the Wilson el stop here in Chicago, on the way to work, I finally finished On The Road.

I had a lot of feelings reading the book. Part of the enjoyment of reading the book is the near-poetic rhythm and pace of the prose. The travels of principals of the book, "Dean Moriarity" and "Sal Paradise," obviously Neal Cassady and Kerouac himself, evoked my own memories of travels and adventures with friends.

On the other hand, I found myself uncomfortable with how the women in their lives seemed to be second-class citizens, mere props in their lives, and how the children of those unions seemed to be non-entities.

Despite that, I can see how and why this book inspired so many people in the sixties. After childhoods spent in bland suburbs, the depictions of life lived on a level of passion must have been seductive and led to many road trips and adventures.

The group of people I met in college came from suburbs, small towns, the city-- many places. I think it would be safe to say that the common experience most of us shared was that a lot of our childhoods were staggeringly boring. Our parents were concerned with getting into, and staying in the middle class, and the fact that we were often bored to tears was rarely, if ever, noticed. When we all met in college, there was a joy and excitement that we'd found kindred spirits, people who wanted to live passionate lives. There are a bunch of things-- music, art, literature-- that were totems and shared experiences of this exhilirating time in our lives. The Replacements, R.E.M., the Velvet Underground, Monty Python-- and On The Road-- were among the things that symbolized our shared experiences.

Most of us have entered middle age as parents. A couple of years ago, I was visiting Deadspot, one of my friends from those college days, and while our sons played games and watched movies, he told me about the running joke he and his son have about the fictional video game, Gandhi Street Fighter. Everybody involved, including our boys, obviously, got the joke. And as I finally finished On The Road today, I realized how we've found a balance in our lives. We've continued to live our lives on a level of passion. We love art, movies and literature, good conversations, laughter, living rebelliously and great friendships. We still travel and have adventures. But our children are not incidental in our lives; they are the center of our lives. We have learned from both our boring childhoods and the exciting first years of adulthood that we had-- to teach our children that you can live a passionate life while living up to our responsibilities as adults, and as parents. And one the central missions in our lives is to make sure that our children don't grow up as bored as we did, while still evolving into functional adults.

Tomorrow, I'll put Mark's copy of On The Road into storage in the basement. Tomorrow night, my kids, Kim and I will carve the pumpkins we bought tonight, and talk and laugh. We'll talk about current events, politics, school, what my kids are reading, listen to music and have a grand old time.

And someday, one of my kids is going to mention On The Road. And when that day comes, I'll go down to the basement and fish the book out and give it to him or her. I hope that the road my kids take is as rich and fulfilling for them as its been for me, and that they find as good a group of people-- people like Tim, Dan, Ron, Andreas, Jim and of course Mark-- as I've managed to find.

Southern Treats

Had time to do some shopping the other day. It was quite the relief to pay for groceries with cash rather than a credit card.

A few months ago, Jewel's, one of the big food chains here in Chicago, mysteriously stopped carrying Talk O' Texas pickled okra, and started carrying a gourmet brand of pickled okra. In a word, the new one sucked.

Then, just as mysteriously, they started carrying it again. I treated myself to a jar of these little delights.

The other thing I was looking for was hot peppers in vinegar. When I was a kid, my family would travel down to central Louisiana to visit the relatives of my father's stepfather. My dad's step-aunt, Florence, would cook us a great "dinner"-- what they called lunch-- every day. My brothers and I would go back in her enormous garden and pick green beans for our meal. I remember a lot of the dishes that she cooked-- "shelly beans"-- green beans, pinto beans and bacon cooked in vinegar. Pork chops. Fried chicken. Corn bread.

At the end of our trip, we'd drive back to Chicago with several Mason jars of hot peppers Aunt Florence had picked in her garden and pickled in pint Mason jars.

Back in Chicago, my mother would make a dish Aunt Florence had taught her to make. She'd cook up navy beans (also known as Great Northern Beans) with a ham bone and a little salt. She'd serve it over corn bread. You'd sprinkle vinegar from the Mason jar of peppers we'd brought back from Louisiana over it. After the meal, we'd refill the jar with vinegar for the next time. We'd have this dish a few times a year. The jars would last a couple of years, until the next time we went down to Louisiana.

Aunt Florence has been dead for years, but I still have this dish once in a while since I discovered years ago that I could find the pickled peppers in stores in Chicago. I've adapted it a little. In the interest of lower fat consumption, I use turkey ham. And since I have celiac, I have the concoction over brown rice, rather than corn bread (corn bread has wheat flour in it).

Sometimes, when I have this dish, I think of a poem I first read in sixth grade, John Tobias' Reflections On A Gift Of A Watermelon Pickle. It's a poem I've come to understand better as I've become older. The poem is a rumination on a summer long ago with an old friend. The narrator reflects on a summer filled when the purpose of knees were to be skinned, watermelons ruled and unicorns were possible.

I remember those trips to Louisiana-- the sights, smells and sounds of Louisiana and the gentle kindness of Aunt Florence, who I always loved seeing. I remember how those Mason jars of peppers used to seem to stretch those trips to Louisiana out for a couple of years. Whenever I sit down to my adapted Louisiana "dinner," it brings me back to those happy summers.

Busy Friday Random Ten

The new job is going well. I've also been covering for a guy who's sick at Jury's, so the week has been very, very busy. I'm looking forward to a weekend spending time at home and maybe even catching up on blogs.

1. I Need Somebody- Iggy and the Stooges
2. My Sweet Lord- George Harrison
3. Voodoo Child (Slight Return)- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
4. Promise Me- The Gun Club
5. Is She Really Going Out With Him?- Joe Jackson
6. Love Is The Stranger- Eurythmics
7. Standin'- Townes Van Zandt
8. Home In My Hand- Foghat
9. She Belongs To Me- Rick Nelson
10. Alternative Ulster- Stiff Little Fingers

1. From Iggy and the Stooges self-titled debut album.
2. This is the one George Harrison got sued for-- it sounded just a little too much like the Chiffons' He's So Fine.
3. Whenever I hear this one, I think of the scene in the movie Withnail and I where it's played-- Withnail, up for a couple of days without sleep, driving down the highway, declaring "I'm making time!"
4. From the great Fire of Love album, which also had one of the great songs of the eighties, She's Like Heroin To Me.
5. Joe Jackson's first hit. Can it be nearly 30 years ago?
6. My favorite Eurythmics song. One of my favorite videos, too-- very creepy.
7. Townes Van Zandt is one of my favorite late-life discoveries.
8. Foghat is one of my big guilty pleasures. They played at the first concert I ever went to, 30 years ago, along with the J. Geils Band, Climax Blues Band and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
9. Rick Nelson had a minor hit covering this very ironic Dylan song.
10. From the splendiferous No Thanks! collection of '70's punk songs.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

One More Thing...

This morning, over breakfast, I was reading this week's Newsweek, and a headline caught my eye: Cheney and "Deliverance." It was obviously a reference to the movie Deliverance, one of the most powerful, disturbing and yet paradoxically beautfully-filmed movies I've ever seen, and I bee-lined for the article.

It turns out that the article was written by Christopher Dickey, a respected journalist who happens to be the son of James Dickey, the author of the book that the movie was an adaptation of, and the scriptwriter for the movie. Christopher has worked for the New York Times and the Washington Post before working for Newsweek, and and has authored several books, including one I'd read in the early nineties, With The Contras: A Reporter In the Wilds of Nicaragua.

With The Contras was a powerful book. Dickey spent time with both Nicaraguan soldiers and contras-- "contrarevolucionarios"-- literally, counterrevolutionaries. I won't go much in this post into the 1979 victory of the leftist Sandinistas. What I will mention is that the United States, under the Reagan regime, funded, trained and supported several terrorist organizations within Nicaragua that cut a swath of murder, maiming, rape and crime across Nicaragua. Dickey, while voicing legitimate criticisms of the Sandinistas, documented the basically sociopathic nature of the contras, whom Reagan referred to as "freedom fighters."

In any event, Christopher Dickey, in his Newsweek article, alludes to the movie Deliverance, comparing Vice-President Dick Cheney to the character of Lewis Medlock, the character that was played excellently by Burt Reynolds.

Medlock is a blowhard. He's a rich boy whose money comes from inherited real estate. He runs his mouth off about how he loves to "come near death, then survive-- that intensity, well, that's something special." He is, as Dickey points out, a "country club Friedrich Nietzsche."

Our society is rife with these types. They are people who quote Sun Tzu's The Art of War at business lunches. They sit on a barstool and blather on about how linebackers need to deliver "punishing hits." And they sit in offices in Washington, D.C. and talk about the United States dominating the world. They are paper tigers

In his article, Dickey alluded to Ronny Cox's character, Drew Ballinger, who insists that they need to report what has happened to the authorities-- the law is, after all, the law. He's overruled by Medlock and the others. "The law? What law? Where's the law, Drew?," exclaims Medlock. Like Cheney, Medlock has dragged these guys into this fiasco and when it unravels, wants them to take away the thin line that separates them from the wilds he has disasterously tempted fate with. And like Lt. Commander Matthew Diaz, the fundamentally decent guy who stands up for the law and what is right, pays the price for the hubris of a cardboard warrior.

But there's one more scene from Deliverance that Christopher Dickey needed to include in his article. It comes toward the end, when the sheriff, who was actually played by Christopher's father James, the author and scriptwriter, talks to the survivors of the weekend. As he begins to get a notion of what actually happened, with a look that is a mix of disdain, amazement and anger, gives them advice that is the most unnecessary advice ever: "Don't ever do something like this again." With a loaded Supreme Court, and and emasculated Congress, it might be the next President who plays that role-- indictments, changes in laws, fixing the military that's been damaged so badly by this war. That might happen. But in the end, it'll be we the voters who need to tell them, through the various means available to us, "Don't ever do something like this again."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Road

Tonight, as I was finishing one last bit of studying before the midterm I have for my Biology class tomorrow morning, my best friend Jim called, just to catch up with me.

In the course of our conversation, we talked about the Biology class, which he'd taken a few years ago, when he was considering a nursing career. He'd worked for a long time as a graphic designer, and had become frustrated with the field; most graphic designers work in advertising, and advertising is the first thing to be cut when there's an economic downturn. Fortunately, someone had the good sense not only to hire him permanantly in the field, but to promote him into management a couple of years ago. He shelved his plans to enter the health care field, but his foray into the classes in that field made its mark. We talked about cell structure, the electron transport chain, evolution and the universe. It was a typical conversation for us.

In fact, a typical conversation might also include art, history, global warming, karma, families or ethics. Or any of a thousand topics. He's someone who I can mention Crick and Watson, Roger Maris and asterisks, or make a joke about Jackson Pollock and he knows what I'm talking about without me having to preface or explain it. He's babysat my son, been the best man at my wedding, and knows every skeleton in my closet. He's celebrated every success and commiserated with me on every failure of my adult life. We have more "in-jokes" than I can count.

I talked to him about my recent work experience and how if I hadn't have lost the job downtown, I wouldn't have ended up in the current job, which I love, and would probably have had to drop my class. He told me how much he's enjoyed his new hobby, running in 5K races, and when his next couple of runs are. We made plans to talk before next weekend to make plans to get together.

After we hung up, I got a glass of red wine and settled in to spend an evening hanging out with Kim and watching the Red Sox and Indians play, and I thought about the road to where I am.

In the course of our conversation, we had talked about how, statistically, we have about another 40 years or so left to our lives. We are, statistically, a little past the half-way point in our lives. We are, as they say, middle-aged.

After talking to him, I thought about my first 46 years and the beginnings of our friendship when he and I were 18 and 22, respectively. I remembered a hundred great times with him, including the "Gentleman's Lunch," an institution that cemented my and Jim's friendship when we were in college together. I remembered the couple on the tandem bicycle, "adamant" and "copiously." Like I said-- a million in-jokes. I'll probably blog about them all over time.

Something he reminded me of tonight, and always reminds me of, is that there are things that you think are bad that turn out to be blessings in disguise. The road you take sometimes isn't what you thought it was going to be when you turn around the bend. And it occurred to me that sometimes, it isn't just the road you take; it's who walks beside you that is important.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Until Next Year...

I was running late yesterday morning, so I drove my truck to the Addison Red Line stop, which is near Wrigley Field. Coincidentally, I parked right in front of the apartment building that Kim lived in when I met her, just a few doors down from Wrigley Field.

I had no trouble finding a spot, as there will be no baseball played there today, or the rest of the year.

Took the above shot in the late afternoon. Wrigley has the last manually-operated scoreboard in the big leagues.

The "I Feel Good" Friday Random Ten

I started the new job yesterday. It's really funny-- the place is somewhat similar in concept to the awful place I worked downtown-- Irish-themed Pub/Restaurant-- but it's so much nicer a place to work. I really feel more like I'm joining a family than starting a new job. The people who own the place are wonderful, and my co-workers are great. And it looks like the money is going to be good, too.

1. Calling Dr. Love- Shandi's Addiction
2. Dancing Days- Led Zeppelin
3. Lullaby- The Cure
4. Carefree Highway- Gordon Lightfoot
5. The Swing- INXS
6. Makes No Sense At All- Husker Du
7. Soul Love- David Bowie
8. Cretin Hop- The Ramones
9. Wreck On the Highway- George Jones
10. Love Will Tear Us Apart- Joy Division

1. From the awesome Kiss My Ass Kiss tribute album.
2. "I told your mother that I'd take you home/But I didn't tell her I had no car..."
3. The Cure got overplayed in the eighties, but I think I'm finally over it. I love this moody little song.
4. Has one of the great opening lines ever:

Pickin' up the pieces of my sweet shattered dream
I wonder how the old folks are tonight
Her name was Anne and I'll be damned if I recall her face
She left me no knowin' what to do....

5. This was one of my favorite records in college. It was right before INXS got huge.
6. Can Husker Du really have been gone 20 years?
7. Ziggy Stardust was one of the first records I ever bought, and it still sounds great today more than 30 years later.
8. There's just no stoppin' the cretins from hoppin'!
9. George Jones is a national treasure. My favorite song of his is the country classic Window Up Above.
10. Back in the eighties, my late friend Mark went to the Cabaret Metro, right around the corner from the Wrigleyville apartment that he and the Elk and I shared, and saw Camper Van Beethoven. He told me later that they encored with two songs: a cover of the Captain and Tennille's Love Will Keep Us Together and then a cover of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart. Funny guys, those Campers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Who'd Have Thought It? Guliani Supports Obama!

It appears Rudy loves Obama, complimenting him, "You're no Reagan!" I can't think of a greater endorsement!

What's more, Guliani supports Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez! (read the article). Maybe Rudy's not as bad as I thought!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Splotchy's Green Monkey Mix- Geography Pop Quiz

I recently participated in another installment of Splotchy's Green Monkey Project, which was based on an idea from Chris. The theme this time was "Geography Pop Quiz--" songs with geographical places in their titles.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - Charlotte Street
When I first got out of college in 1985, I lived on the south side of Chicago, not far from Oak Lawn, where my friend Tim, who'd also recently graduated, lived. I ended up in his very cool circle of friends (which included the guys in Naked Raygun). One of these friends was a guy named Dave Flores. Tim had met Dave when they worked together at the Southtown Economist newspaper. Davey, as we called him, was a unique guy. One time, when he had a two week vacation from work, he packed a small bag, went to O'Hare airport with his passport and walked around until he saw a destination he liked (I remember that he ended up going to London).

In any event, Davey used to make these mix tapes-- a mix of music, snippets of movies, interviews-- and give them to all his friends. It was on one of these tapes that I first heard Charlotte Street, the first Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song I ever heard. I just fell in love with this song, with its sad tale of a broken romance-- it's almost a rewrite of the Rolling Stones "Beggar's Banquet" classic No Expectations:

Here comes my train
I'm on my way, will you not see
I don't need your sympathy
I won't read your poetry, oh sweetness please...

I was hooked on Lloyd Cole for life, especially after I heard Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?.

R.E.M. - (Don't Go Back to) Rockville
Simply one of the greatest songs ever. It has one of the greatesst lines ever:

At night I drink myself to sleep
And pretend I don't care that you're not here with me

I mentioned this one recently-- that it should have been both the #1 pop and #1 country hit of 1984.

Brook Benton - Rainy Night In Georgia

Yet another song of romantic longing. This song is just gorgeous, filled with imagery. It reminds me thematically a lot of John Hartman's Gentle On My Mind.

When I was trying to track down the 45 of this when I was in college, it took a while to find-- I'd always thought it was a Ray Charles song.

Another of my favorites of Benton's is the duet he did with Dinah Washington on Baby, You've Got What It Takes.

Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
Okay, this is not a song of romantic longing. It's about Charles Starkweather, who went on a killing spree across Nebraska, Missouri and Wyoming in 1957 and 1958. It's the first dark song on the dark, yet ultimately hopeful Nebraska album, a masterpiece.

The story of the Nebraska album itself is fascinating. It was intended to be a demo. Springsteen was running around for months with the cassette tape of the record, which he'd recorded at home on a Teac 144 four-track recorder. People who heard it convinced him that the stark power of the songs was on the demo. He brought into a studio, added minimal keyboards onto a couple of songs with a cheap Casio keyboard, cleaned it up a bit, and released the album. After Born To Run it's my favorite Springsteen album.

Red Rockers - China
I posted recently about this song-- a favorite from the eighties. A gorgeous little gem. The video is one of the first videos I remember liking, though in retrospect it's funny watching it-- it was obviously done on the cheap.

John Griffith of the Red Rockers is now a member of Cowboy Mouth.

Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Born In Chicago
I grew up listening to The Paul Butterfield Blues Band's self-titled first album, which my father had. When I was a kid, my family lived in Chicago's then-bohemian Lincoln Park neighborhood, and my parents loved to walk over to Big John's, a popular blues club in the Old Town section of Lincoln Park that is where Second City is now housed. You could see James Cotton, Muddy Waters, and of course Paul Butterfield.

Their original guitarist was Elvin Bishop, who was a student at the University of Chicago (he later had a big hit in the seventies with Fooled Around And Fell In Love, with Mickie Most, later the Jefferson Starship's vocalist, singing). They recruited Mike Bloomfield, the "Blue Jew," who was the hot guitarist in town, to play lead guitar on the record, relegating Bishop to rhythm guitar. Bloomfield played guitar that same year on Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited album, providing the distinctive guitar sound on that record.

The Pixies did an interesting cover of this song on the Rubaiyat collection that celebrated Elektra Records' 40th anniversary.

The Blasters - Hollywood Bed
I love this tawdry tale of an illicit love affair:

What's that you say?
You've got a rich old man?
I live on the streets
Doin' the best I can
Well he can call his friends
He can call the cops
He can call 'em all but they won't find us
Rockin' in this Hollywood bed..."

A lot of the Blasters' material was unavailable for years until the good folks at Rhino Records released Testament, a collection of everything the Blasters did for Slash records.

It was nearly five years ago, in November of 2002 that I saw the reunited Blasters at Fitzgerald's in Berwyn-- one of the best shows ever. It was there that I became Dave Alvin's favorite person.

Thanks to Splotchy and Chris for another edition of the Green Monkey Mix!

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Couple of Cool-Guy Obits

When I was a kid, I noticed that my grandmother always read the obituaries first. I later found out that it was because she was looking for people she knew there.

Fortunately, I'm not at that point in my life yet. My reading of the obituaries first started even before I was in a Celebrity Dead Pool. I started reading the obits because often it was the first I'd heard of many interesting people. Today was no exception.

The New York Times had the obit of Nolan Herndon. He was the navigator of one of the B-25's that flew the Doolittle Raid. The raid, which was meant to bolster American morale after the Pearl Harbor raid, was amazing. The pilots took off of the carrier Hornet in B-25 bombers, which were not designed to be taken off of aircraft carriers.

Mr. Herndon scoffed at being called a "hero," stating "We were just doing our job." Against his wishes, I'll still call him a hero.


Herndon's crew landed in the Soviet Union. Since the Soviet Union was not at war with Japan at that point, Herndon and his crew were detained, and escaped to Iran a year later, where they made it to the British consulate and were repatriated to the United States.

The damage to Japanese military and industry was negliable, but the raid may have in fact had a part in the ultimate U.S. victory. The Japanese did not know that the raiders were on a one-way trip (they were to land in China), assuming the United States had developed a new long-range bomber. The Japanese military hastily redeployed carriers and aircraft to be nearer Japan to protect against such a threat. The reduced strength in the Pacific had a big role in the U.S.' shattering victory in the Battle of Midway, which was the beginning of the end for the Japanese in World War II.

The other cool-guy obit was for Bud Ekins, a stunt cyclist in the movies.


Ekins was responsible for two of the great stunts in the movies, and played two parts in one of them.

One was Steve McQueen's famous motorcycle chase in The Great Escape. Contrary to popular belief, McQueen didn't do all of his own stunt work. The part where "The Cooler King" took a 65 foot leap over a 12 foot barb-wire fence was actually done by Ekins. I've included the Youtube clip of the chase, including the jump, for any of you youngsters who have never seen it (and for us old folks who just love seeing the clip).

Ekins was paid $1000 for the jump, an exorbitant sum for a stunt those days. When asked about the landing, according to the obit, he simply responded "Hard!"

Ekins had not one, but two parts in the legendary chase scene in Bullitt, one of my top ten favorite movies. Many film buffs rate this as the greatest chase scene ever.

Ekins alternated driving the Dodge Charger with stuntman/actor Bill Hickman, who is actually shown driving the car in the movie. Ekins did the motorcycle stunt-- dropping the motorcycle to the road when McQueen's Ford Mustang and the mob hitmen's Charger nearly hit him. I've included this legendary scene too.

Notice that Detective Bullitt pauses for a moment to make sure the motorcyclist is okay, before resuming the chase. Ever the good guy.

Just for fun, watch the scene and count two things: One, how many times they pass the green Volkswagon, and two, how many hubcaps the Charger loses. Hint: it's more than four. The chase scene, done in parts, is still harrowing, no matter how many times I've seen it, and runs through some of my favorite parts of the Bay area.

Ekins did stunts in Animal House, the Blues Brothers, Diamonds Are Forever and many other movies. He also shared a birthday with me, May 11.

The Great Friday Random Ten

Bloggers Lulu and Tenacious S, whom I know outside of the blogsphere, have frequently stated the belief that I know everybody. Lulu is convinced that even where she resides now, in Bangladesh, she'll run into someone who knows me. They may be right, it turns out. I'll explain in a moment. But first, hats off to both of them. When they discovered I was looking for a waitering job, they directed me to friends of theirs who own a restaurant, and Ten-S put in a good word for me. Bless their good hearts, for I start working there on Tuesday. In the words of Elton John in "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters," I thank god for the people I have found."

Here's the "Six Degrees of Johnny Yen Separation" moment: When I went into this restaurant to put in an application last week, I walked in the door and spoke to a server who was working. We started talking, when she stopped, said, "Wait, you look really familiar. Oh, I know-- Johnny-- it's me, Christina C." I suddenly recognized her. It was my friend Christine, whom I'd lost touch with a couple of years ago. Christine and I had become friends when I contacted her after reading an arts and politics publication she used to publish-- I'd been very impressed with it. Not only do I have a job, I reconnected with a friend. What a life this is.

In any event, I found out about the job Monday, but wanted to wait until I'd confirmed my schedule to post about it. Thanks again Lulu and TenS! You are the greatest!

Here's my Friday Random Ten:

1. She's A Fool- Leslie Gore
2. Crosstown Traffic- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
3. We Are The Normal- The Goo Goo Dolls
4. Cruisin' and Boozin'- Sammy Hagar
5. Neat Neat Neat- The Damned
6. Just One Of Those Affairs- Pete Shelley
7. Hey, Good Lookin'- Hank Williams
8. I'll Be Comin' Around- The Bottle Rockets
9. Country Girl- Faron Young
10. I'll Be Coming Home Next Year- The Foo Fighters

1. I love Leslie Gore. My favorite song of hers is California Nights. I had a big crush on her since seeing her sing that song on the Batman television show as a youngster.
2. My son's a big Hendrix fan. We raised him right, didn't we?
3. Love the Goo Goo Dolls. Slide is one of the great wedding songs ever.
4. Okay, so Sammy Hagar is a dick, and no substitute for David Lee Roth (who is finally once again touring with Van Halen!). But I love this song.
5. From the great No Thanks! collection of '70's punk rock.
6. I loved Homosapien, Buzzcocks singer Pete Shelley's early eighties solo album. This is from that album.
7. There are two kinds of people: those who love Hank Williams' music, and those who haven't heard it yet.
8. When my friend Mark died last year, mutual friend Matt, who was Mark's closest friend, cited this song as explaining his feelings about the loss. It's a lovely little song.
9. From country legend Faron Young, whom folk singer Phil Ochs cited as a big influence.
10. This is as sweet a song as there is.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How Do I Meet These People?, Part 1

Monday night, I talked on the phone with my co-best friend, Viktor Zeitgeist,* and later thought about something that he and I have discussed a number of times over the years.

Viktor, who is a lifelong friend of Deadspot (I met Deadspot through Viktor-- Deadspot has related some of his own adventures with Viktor) and I have long resigned ourselves to the fact that we are "weirdo magnets." Individually, we attract weird people and situations. There is apparently some as-yet-unmeasured physical force in the universe that draws weirdoes to us individually. When we are within physical proximity of one another, this effect is magnified exponentially. More on that in another post.

In October of 1994, Adam was six months old, and I was living with his mother. Viktor was living in Frankfurt, Germany. He was there trying to reconcile with his wife, who'd grown up there, the child of Spanish immigrants. The fact that Viktor was living in Frankfurt with his girlfriend was not helping the reconciliation along. You'd have to know Viktor. But I digress...

He asked me to come visit him there, and sent me the money for a ticket. I took him up on his offer to visit.

We had a great time. I was having huge problems in my relationship with my son's mother, and Viktor and I had lots of time to hang out and discuss things. One day, he and I were walking around Frankfurt, talking about things, when he related the tale of the kamikaze bicyclist.

We were strolling through a plaza, when he pointed to a bench and told me he'd been sitting there, innocently eating his lunch, when he witnessed one of the most bizarre incidents of his life. As he sat there, he noticed a dreadlocked, hippie-looking guy on a bicycle, circling around the plaza. Suddenly, the guy on the bicycle started pedalling furiously, speeding up. He broke from his circling, heading for the large front window of a nearby bank. Then, shouting, in German, "Down with parlimentary democracy!" he rode through the plate glass, shattering it, ending up inside of the bank.

He was, of course, attended to by paramedics and taken away by the police.

Over the years, bizarre things have happened to he and I individually, and particularly when we hang out together, including witnessing a particularly bizarre-- and gruesome-- Fourth of July incident. In my new series, "How Do I Meet These People," I'll be relating bizarre things that have happened to my friends with and without me.

*His name has been changed to protect the guilty.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Some Additions To The Blogroll

Underemployment has left me with enough time to update my blogroll.

Since I've actually met them, I've added Evil Genius and The Idea of Progress.

I recently added my stepdaughter-- The Way I See It. She is, of course, wise and funny beyond her years.

My and Kim's dear friend Sheb has returned to the blogosphere, this time with a musically-oriented blog, Will Anyone Hear This?. She always puts us to shame when she comes over to our place for karoake because she's a phenomenally talented musican and singer.

The last one was a surprise. Apparently there was some kind of plot during the blogger get-together. I followed a link back from Evil Genius' blog to The Evil Dictator's blog, and was struck by the fact that it was exactly the blog that my son Adam would do if he was to do a blog.

Well, guess what. It is his blog. Stop by there-- he's asking for volunteers to be interviewed.

Am I A Bad Person For Laughing At This Story, #2?

Am I a bad person for laughing at this story, too?

Charges dropped in sherry enema death

I'm not a sherry drinker, but were I to consume sherry, I can think of at least one orifice that I'd choose other than the one that the gentleman in the article did to consume it. But that's just me.

This Is Not Bubs

I got up this morning, hopped on my bicycle and rode down to Addison and Broadway to watch some of the 45,000 folks running the Chicago Marathon, specifically, our marathonning blogger, Bubs.

Amazingly, I managed to see him, shouting out "Go Bubs! Run, you hillbilly, run!" I'm pretty sure he heard me-- he turned toward me when I shouted this.

Not so amazingly, I missed videotaping him-- I was not quick enough on the draw with my camcorder as I saw him approach. To make up for it, I videotaped someone in a scary costume about a minute behind him. I was reminded of the words of wisdom Bubs had given his kids: "If your job entails wearing a costume, your career's probably gone off the rails at some point." It can only be worse if you're running a marathon in a costume.

Besides Bubs and the scary costume guy, I also saw Elvis and, I swear to god, Lou Reed. He was about two minutes ahead of Bubs. I'm sure he'd have been running right beside Bubs if he knew how much Velvet Underground Bubs had on his ipod playlist.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Splotchy's Green Monkey Mix- Speed It Up!

For the last couple of months, I'd been watching from afar as bloggers had fun with the various incarnations of Splotchy's Green Monkey Mix. As I've mentioned, because of my stressful, overscheduled work situation, I didn't have the creative energy to participate. Thankfully, that situation has improved, and I was happy to participate in this round-- "Speed It Up."

The premise was ingeniously simple-- to make a list of eight songs, from slowest to fastest. Here's my list, and thoughts on the songs.

1. Who Knows Where The Time Goes?- Fairport Convention
This slow, beautiful song features the achingly sweet vocals of the late Sandy Denny. You may recognize her voice as the female co-vocal on Led Zeppelin's Battle of Evermore, on Led Zeppelin's fourth album (the one with Stairway to Heaven). A young Richard Thompson played guitar for Fairport Convention.

I've always loved this song, but as I've become a parent, it's really become resonant to me. The other day, I was getting into my truck to run out and apply for a job, when a neighbor asked me for a favor-- he and his wife were bringing home their newborn son, and he asked me to take a picture of them getting out of the car. It brought me back to when my now-ex and I were bringing Adam home from the hospital. I couldn't believe it's been over 13 years. Who knows where the time goes?

2. Flake- Jack Johnson
I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it. I love everything about it-- the story the song tells, the melody and especially Ben Harper's guitar at the end. It's got one of the greatest lines ever: "It seems to me that 'maybe' pretty much always means 'no.'"

This song is one of the two on the list that actually speed up, fitting with the theme of the list.

3. Pablo Picasso- Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
Some people may be more familiar with the Burning Sensations' cover of it on the Repo Man soundtrack. This is the original.

The first Modern Lovers album is like what John Cale said about the first Velvet Underground album-- there were only a few thousand copies sold, but everybody who ever bought the record formed a band. The album, which came out in 1972, was a huge influence on punk and new wave.

This is also probably one of the top ten funny songs ever. Case in point, the first lines:

Some people try to pick up girls and get called an asshole
This did not happen to Pablo Picasso
He could walk down the street
Girls could not resist his stare
Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole
(not like you)

Rhyming "Picasso" with "asshole" is genius in and of itself.

Drummer David Robinson went on to be a founding member of the Cars, and keyboard player Jerry Harrison was later in the Talking Heads.

4. Free Man In Paris- Joni Mitchell
This song was a late-life discovery. I'd heard it a million times and never really given it any thought. Strange, given that her Hejira album is one of my "desert island" albums. I heard it one day around the time Adam was born and just fell for it.

The song itself is about her old friend music mogul David Geffen, who found himself suddenly rich and successful and a lot less happy. He was, as he said, a free man in Paris. The song tells the whole story.

5. That's All Right, Mama- Elvis Presley-
This was Elvis' first hit record. It's an almost straight-up rockabilly cover of a blues song. I grew up loving Elvis' later hits, like Suspicous Minds, In the Ghetto and Kentucky Rain and as I got older worked my way back to his early career. Whenever this one comes on satellite radio (they play it a lot on Little Steven's Underground Garage) I have to crank it and sing along with it. It's just one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

6. Brand New Cadillac- The Clash-
From the 1979 London Calling record, my favorite-ever record. It's the only song on the record that's a cover. It was originally a b-side on a record by Vince Taylor in 1958. It tells the story of a guy who sees his girlfriend in a "brand new cadillac," and questions her-- where did she get the Cadillac? It's obvious that she's dumped him for a guy with more money (this same theme was brilliantly explored the same year by the Brains in their song Money Changes Everything, which was covered by Cyndi Lauper). In the hands of Joe Strummer and the Clash, it becomes a song about class, wealth, romance and selling out.

The song also speeds up. Some years ago, the Rolling Stone had an issue where they listed what they felt were the 100 Greatest albums ever. London Calling was, of course, one of them. They told the story of recording Brand New Cadillac. It was done on the first take; the members of the Clash thought it was a rehearsal. Strummer begged producer Guy Stevens to re-record it, pointing out that it sped up. Stevens refused, saying it should speed up.

Turns out Stevens was right. The song's become a classic.

You may see the resemblence between the Elvis and Clash album covers. It was not accidental.

Ace of Spades- Motörhead-
This is one of the greatest songs ever.

When I was in college, living in the dorms in 1982, there was a guy on the floor who like listening to the worst pop crap really loud. I mean bad, bad, bad-- he apparently thought Loverboy was the greatest band ever in history, and would play them loud enough for the whole dorm to hear. Again and again.

My roommate and good friend Scott were usually a little hung over, and this did not sit with us well. We decided to do something about it. Scott had an excellent, very loud stereo-- his went to 11-- and we would put on Motörhead's No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith live set to combat the dreck that was being foisted upon us. If that failed, we would play #8 on my list (soon to follow)

Motörhead and the song Ace of Spades were responsible for one of the greatest moments ever in television history, on The Young Ones show. In history's greatest non sequiteur, Motörhead shows up in the boys' living room, play Ace Of Spades and disappear. No context, no explanation.

And don't forget the joker....

8. Religious Vomit- The Dead Kennedys-
If Motörhead didn't work with my Loverboy-loving dorm neighbors, or if Scott and I were just particularly hung over and feeling mean, we'd crank up The Dead Kennedys' Religious Vomit.

When I lived, briefly, in Salt Lake City in 1980-81, one of my housemates, who was from San Francisco, was telling me about a band from San Francisco that was called, get this, the Dead Kennedys. Can you think of anything more offensive, he asked?

Of course not. And of course I became a huge fan. What's better was that their music was even more offensive, to most people, than their name. Jello Biafra and the boys took on all the things I hated-- Ronald Reagan, the Moral Majority, religious hypocrites in general, nazi punk rockers, etc., and I loved them for it.

I fished around Youtube and found this clip of the Kennedys recording Religious Vomit. Enjoy.

Thanks, Splotchy, for sponsoring the Green Monkey Mix, and inviting me to participate!