Friday, February 27, 2009

Thank God It's Almost March Friday Random Ten

This winter has sucked-- too much snow, real friggin' cold, wet, messy-- I am very ready for Spring.

1. Hang On To Your Ego- Frank Black
2. Holly Holy- Neil Diamond
3. Devil In Her Heart- The Beatles
4. She Sells Sanctuary- The Cult
5. Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie- Johnny Cash
6. Heart of Mine- Bob Dylan
7. Last Trip To Tulsa- Neil Young
8. East Texas Red- Arlo Guthrie
9. After The Gold Rush- Neil Young
10. Sweet Young Thing- The Chocolate Watchband

1. The Pixies' Frank Black covering the Beach Boys
2. I loved how they kidnapped Neil Diamond in "Saving Silverman."
3. From the "With the Beatles" album
4. This one was on the jukebox of Danny's, in Bucktown, back when Danny still owned the joint.
5. Yesterday was Johnny Cash' birthday-- still miss him.
6. From Dylan's "Biograph" box set, which everybody should have in their record collection. He's had so much good material since Biograph's 1985 release, he could have a Biograph II
7. Some very Dylanesque Neil Young, from his first album.
8. Arlo Guthrie covering his father's song about a couple of hoboes getting their revenge on a cruel railroad detective
9. Neil Young's post-apocalyptic vision
10. From the "Nuggets" collection

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What A Piece Of Work Is Man

"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals--

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

A few months ago, I decided to change my tac; I'd been pursuing a degree in Pharmacy originally. A friend, who is studying nursing, and who I had classes with-- the prerequisites for the two programs are, in the beginning, almost identical-- was trying to talk me into it.

I thought about it a great deal. Were I to stay on the Pharmacy path, it would mean two more years of prerequisites, including some brutal upper level Chemistry classes, and then, cross my fingers, admittance into Pharmacy school, and then another four years of school-- if I got in; they only take about 10% of their applicants.

On the other hand, I could stay at the school I was at for two more years and get an RN degree-- and be done with school before my son starts college. With a job that will allow me to pay for his college. And they take close to 50% of their applicants.

In the end, the nursing idea won out. I've applied to the nursing program at Truman College, a Chicago city college. I'm waiting to find out whether I get in. There was one thing, though, that stood in the way, whether I had stayed on the path to a Pharmacy degree or my current one in nursing: Anatomy.

I'd been nervous about it from the beginning. Memorizing huge lists of strange words is not my strong suit. Last month, I put trepidation aside and began Biology 226-- Human Anatomy.

To make a long story short, I'm loving the class. I don't feel like I'm memorizing a huge list of strange terms; I feel like I'm entering a fascinating world of form and function, of miraculously evolved macroscopic and microscopic structures that, by the one, two, couple of dozen, millions and billions, work quietly, supporting, transporting, seeing, feeling, generating energy, secreting chemicals that control (in terms of a human body) far-off organs and tissues, processing information, attacking invaders, healing wounds, thinking and even creating life.

Like military planning, in Anatomy, the devil is in the details. Knowing the difference between an endocrine and exocrine glands; the difference between collagen, elastic and reticular fibers, and places in our anatomy where all three are found together; the difference between the three types of cartilage in the body and why blood is considered a connective tissue, even though it doesn't connect anything.

I am somehow comforted knowing that two weeks ago, I couldn't tell you the difference between regular and irregular dense connective tissue, but now I can tell you where it is found in the body and why. Two weeks ago, I would have been at a loss to tell you what stratum cornium and stratum spinosum were. Now I can discuss the difference between damage of the two-- it's the difference between sunburn and a burn that needs to be treated in a hospital.

And don't even get me started on Langer lines and the different sensations that Merckle and Meissner cells in the skin pick up.

I love this stuff.

I'm hungry. When I studied Political Science, History and Economics twenty-some years ago, I couldn't wait for the next class. I was hungry. Hungry enough to get a bachelor's and then Master's degree in Political Science, and minoring in the other two subjects. On the other hand, when I studied teaching, it was a means to an end. The theories of teaching left me dry. I loved teaching, but not learning about teaching. This stuff intoxicates me. Yesterday, we learned where in the approximately 206 bones of our body we have blood-cell producing marrow. We learned that the hands and feet have over half of those bones. We learned the difference between osteoblasts and osteoclasts and the fact that bones have blood vessels and small holes called foramins that allow blood vessels into the bone. According to the book, tomorrow we'll look at bone homeostasis-- the remodeling and repair of bones. I can't wait.

Oh, and we have a short lab tomorrow on top of the classwork-- we'll be extracting DNA. Way cool!

I've talked to both of my kids how it's much easier to learn stuff when you're interested-- or even fascinated by it. I'm fascinated by what I'm studying-- the human body-- and fascinated by how learning about the minutiae of it makes me more, not less awed by the big picture its workings.

Maybe this has been influenced by the combination of raising a couple of lovely kids, the Facebook-expedited resumptions of some old treasured friendships, and realizing just how much I lost with the death of a beautiful old friend a few years ago, but as I study the nuts and bolts of these buckets of water, carbon, nitrogen and a few other elements that are put together in the amazing, innovative way that millions of years of evolution has done, I think that the most amazing thing, beyond the complex and sometimes improbable way these collections of proteins, lipids and minerals are put together, is the fact that they somehow provide a vessel for a concousness, a soul and, if it all works out, a conscience. What a piece of work is man-- and woman too.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Strangely Coincidental Friday Random Ten

On Sunday, I posted a picture of my long-lost friend Alan's old car in a blog post. The next day, by sheer coincidence, he contacted me through Facebook. It had been probably 20 years since I'd contacted him. It was one of a bunch of weird coincidences the last week or so. I was telling a friend at work about it, and she mentioned that she too had had a bunch of strange occurences and coincidences in the previous week. Maybe it's in the air.

1. Is Vic There?- Department S
2. For The Love Of Ivy- The Gun Club
3. Summer- War
4. Dr. Feelgood- Aretha Franklin
5. Ship of Fools- World Party
6. Under Pressure- David Bowie and Queen
7. We're Having a Party- Sam Cooke
8. Sit Yourself Down- Stephen Stills
9. Keep Your Hands To Yourself- The Georgia Satellites
10. New Values- Iggy Pop

1. Heard this song one day on the Comcast Cable new wave/punk station. I particularly love the part where he sings in French.
2. From the fabulous "Fire of Love" album.
3. Lots of cowbell in this one!
4. Someone told me that they're going to put the funny hat Ms. Franklin wore at the inauguration into the Smithsonian.
5. I heard this one at the grocery store the other day. Never thought I'd hear World Party at the Jewel's.
6. Remember the whole ruckus over Vanilla Ice ripping off the riff from this song? Thank god he's slipped into the obscurity he belongs in.
7. Man, Sam Cooke sounds better and better to me every year.
8. One of a number of great songs Stills did solo.
9. The Satellites came out of the remains of the Brains, who wrote and performed the original of "Money Changes Everything," which Cyndi Lauper covered.
10. I love the Igster!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Is Way Cool

Last week, Skyler's Dad had a post about a really cool piece of artwork, a portrait of Da Vinci done with nails.

Yesterday morning, as I walked into the classroom building of Truman College, where I'm taking prerequisites for their nursing program, I glanced up at the large portrait of Harry Truman that graces the lobby of the building. I must have been more awake or observant than other days, because I realized for the first time, after walking by the thing probably a couple of hundred times, that it's done in nails and staples.

It was created by Mikhail Onanov, an art instructor at the school.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'm a "Two"

One night a few months ago at work, I was chatting with my co-worker and friend Karol Kent, who's an actress, about the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The game's name was a spoof on the hit John Guare play (and later movie) "Six Degrees of Separation.

In "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," you try to connect an actor or actress to Kevin Bacon within six steps. For instance, Blair Brown to Kevin Bacon would be "Continental Divide" with John Belushi to "Animal House," which Belushi appeared with Kevin Bacon.

As we talked, it dawned on me that Karol appeared with Bacon in the 2001 movie Novocaine, and I mentioned it to her. She replied "Yep-- Johnny, that's right; you're a 'two.'"

And that means that you're all "threes."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Three Interesting Guys

Recently, three pretty interesting people passed away. Of the three, you may have heard of one, but I think you'd find the other two interesting as well.

In April of 1985, I was finishing up my Master's Degree in Political Science at Eastern Illinois University. One evening, at a party, a group of friends and I decided to leave the party and road trip to Memphis, under the theme "Elvis is dead; we checked." I recounted that road trip in this post.

I knew that it was important to have photographic documentation of this historic event, and took my camera along. At some point, I was amused by the detritus from the trip that had accumulated in the back of my friend Alan's car-- the picture at the top of this post. If you look to the far left, you'll notice a book with a black and red cover. It was the textbook from one of my grad classes: Samuel P. Huntington's 1968 classic Political Order In Changing Societies.

Putting aside the silly notion that I was actually going to study on this road trip, I did actually read Huntington's book that semester. The book was controversial when it was published in 1968. It was just a few years after a wave of former colonies had become independent. The wide assumption was that this was a good thing across the board. Huntington pointed out that it was not necessarily smooth sailing once a country achieved independence and began to modernize. He asserted that if a nation brought in modern institutions, but the political and social institutions did not keep up with that modernization, that there could be conflict. I think that this aspect of the book has been borne out by history.

The book was also an examination of the imperatives of a third world leader. In a manner, it was a modern version of Nicolo Machiavelli's The Prince. Poliitical Order In Changing Societies pointed out that many of the things the leader of a nation attempting to modernize were complex and often contradictory. A leader had to try to establish modern institutions without trampling on the old ones to the point of alienating the populace. A leader must try to increase political participation but stay in power. The leader of a developing country has a set of strategies to stay in power-- including creating an outside enemy. This particular aspect of Huntington's observations will be explored in a post soon regarding Israel and the surrounding states.

In the end, Huntington observed, the job of the leader of a developing country was to stay in power. It ran contrary to the assumption modernization would necessarily lead to democratization; conversely, if a society's political institutions did not keep up with the social modernization, violence and disorder can result. Today's Iran is clearly a result of this.

Huntington published another controversial and much-read book about ten years ago, Clash of Civilizations. In that book, he urged a fundamental shift in paradigm in understanding world politics, stating that peoples' cultural and religious identities would become more important than ideology. This is not necessarily a new view and one I don't necessarily agree with. Daniel Bell and others explored this idea in the sixties. But I admired Huntington, even if I frequently disagreed with him. He had the courage to follow his intellect, even when his ideas weren't popular.

The second interesting guy was Conor Cruise O'Brien. He would have been just a nice academic guy were it not for the fact that UN Secretary Dag Hammarskjöld read a review O'Brien had done in a literary journal. Somehow, Hammarskjöld felt like this meant Irishman O'Brien had the skills necessary to deal with an increasingly bloody and chaotic situation in the Congo.

The Belgian Congo was perhaps the worst of the worst of the African colonies. The Congo was owned not by Belgium, but by King Leopold II personally. As bad as the abuse and exploitation of the people in Europe's African colonies were in general, the Congo stood out.

In the late fifties and early sixties, the European powers saw the writing on the wall and started divesting themselves of their colonies. This included Belgium. However, Belgian companies did not want to walk away from the mineral riches of the Congo. After the Congolese formed a government, Belgian mining companies hired mercenaries and fueled a movement by the Katanga province to break away from the Congo-- and form a government friendly to European interests.

O'Brien walked into a horrific situation. Katangan troops, along with mercenaries, were murdering whole villages of people who supported the central government.

In his book To Katanga and Back, O'Brien recounted his dealings with Hammarskjöld and the UN, and the decisions he made-- to send UN troops in to capture (or kill) the mercenaries who were behind it. Using troops supplied by his native Ireland and newly independent Ghana, he was succeeding in this task, and saving hundreds, maybe thousands of lives in the process.

The response in the West was unbelievable. This was 1960-61, and the Cold War was in full force. Somehow O'Brien's inclination to choose the lives of darker-skinned people over the financial interests of Western mining companies meant that he was a flaming Red. He was called (among other things) "the Irish Castro." In retrospect, this was laughable; O'Brien, who later served as a member of the Irish parliment, was ferociously anti-IRA, pro-Israel and a conservative. He was later to write a laudatory biography of Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism (which indirectly led to me meeting Mr. O'Brien).

Hammarskjöld buckled to Western pressure and pulled O'Brien from his assignment. O'Brien was later to tell his side of the story in the aforementioned To Katanga and Back (a book I highly recommend). The Congan peacekeeping mission was taken over by a succession of people, and Hammarskjöld himself was to die in a still-unsolved airplane crash while on assignment in the Congo.

The Congo was to slip into chaos-- their president, Patrice Lumumba, was murdered, and after a great deal of struggle, in which Ernesto "Che" Guevara led rebel troops (futilely), the country came under the sway of Western stooge/kleptocrat Seko Mobutu. Mobutu was eventually overthrown, but the Congo remains a violent, poverty-stricken morass, unable to use the vast mineral wealth it has to move forward.

Mr. O'Brien continued to lead a distinguished life as a scholar and author. He published a book about Israel, "The Siege," a biography of Edmund Burke and a critical biography of Thomas Jefferson. He served as a conservative member of the Irish parliment and was eventually named the chancellor of Trinity University.

Around 1992 or 1993, I saw in the newspaper that Mr. O'Brien was doing a book-signing of his Burke biography in a downtown Chicago bookstore. I grabbed my worn copy of To Katanga and Back, hopped on the el and went to the bookstore.

Years later, I laugh at what Mr. O'Brien must have thought-- a guy with shoulder-length hair pulled back in a ponytail, in an full-length World War II era coat, approaching him with a copy of the book he wrote more than 30 years before. I purchased a copy of his Burke biography, and approached him to sign it. I asked if he'd mind signing the Katanga book-- "I'd be delighted!" he told me. As we sipped brandy, we discussed Katanga; at the time, the war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia was full-blown. We discussed the similarities and differences between Katanga and Yugoslavia and the difficulties of peace-keeping.

Like Huntington, I didn't agree with everything Mr. O'Brien held dear, but I admire him greatly. In the end, he's someone who made a difference in the world. I think that he lived up to my favorite quote about activism, ironically by conservative Edmund Burke:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

The third fascinating guy was gambler, mob guy and casino boss Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal.

It might seem odd, putting a guy who had a lifelong association with the mob next to a couple of scholars, but bear with me.
Part of my interest in Rosenthal was that, like me, he was a Chicago guy. He grew up on Chicago's rough west side, and became childhood friends with future mobster Anthony "Ant" Spilotro.

Rosenthal is best known these days by his thinly-vieled portrayal in Martin Scorsese's 1995 movie "Casino." Sam "Ace" Rothstein, was portrayed by Robert Deniro. The movie is one of my favorites, but do yourself a favor-- get ahold of the book "Casino," written by Nicholas Pileggi (who also wrote the movie screenplay). The non-fiction book portrays Rosenthal as a very intelligent and complex guy. He was a man who left nothing to chance professionally, yet married a woman who was an absolute mess. He made a fortune through gambling and mob ties, but was an intensely dedicated parent. He eschewed violence, yet had a lifelong friendship with the hyperviolent Spilotro. He was a case study in contradictions.

Rosenthal, who changed the face of Vegas-- he brought legal sports booking to the town-- was eventually banned from it because of his mob connections. Still, he made a fortune while he was there, and provided well for his kids. He got custody of them when their drug and drink-addled mother walked away. And when he died in October of 2008, it was of old age-- unlike his friend Anthony Spilotro, who, along with his brother Michael, was beaten to death by other mobsters and buried in an Indiana cornfield.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I just read that the Senate and House quickly reconciled their respective versions of the economic stimulus package and passed it. Kudos to the three Republican Senators who voted for it, allowing it to pass in the Senate 60-38.

The House of Representatives passed it 246-183. Not one Republican representative voted for it.

So much for bipartisanship.

This week, Paul Krugman, the Nobel-laureate economist who has a column on the New York Times Op-Ed page, said that he feels that the package, as big as it is, may not be enough, and that it is too dependent on tax breaks-- tax breaks that didn't work under Bush. He also fears that Obama, after seeing the fight he had to get this watered-down package passed, may not have the stomach for another fight.

Krugman pointed out that when Japan had a similar problem, in their "lost decade," the 90's, they did something similar-- measures that weren't enough. What worked, Krugman pointed out, was drastic measures-- including the temporary nationalization of many of the nation's banks.

I'll leave the details to economists and others who are more qualified than me. But as a citizen and a voter, I will tell you this: I will not forget the assholes in the Senate and House who refused to work with our president in dealing with this situation. The Republican party is already in tatters from eight years of horrendous leadership. Let's kick it while it's down. I want the utter destruction of the self-serving, unpatriotic Republican party.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday the Thirteenth Friday Random Thirteen

It was crazy busy at work last night, so I'm beat, but financially solvent.

I have to be amused by the fact that Valentine's Day this year is preceded by Friday the 13th.

1. Flying Sorcery- Al Stewart
2. Crazy Train- Pat Boone
3. Solitary Man- Neil Diamond
4. Play That Funky Music, White Boy- Wild Cherry
5. No Matter What- Badfinger
6. Sugar and Spice- The Cryan' Shames
7. Go Where You Wanna Go- The Mamas and the Papas
8. Down By the River- Neil Young
9. Godzilla- Blue Oyster Cult
10. I'm A Believer- Tin Huey
11. Looking For A Kiss- The New York Dolls
12. It's No Secret- The Jefferson Airplane
13. She Came To Me- Billy Bragg and Wilco

1. From Al Stewart's great "Year of the Cat" album. It's a song about being in love with a female aviator.
2. Yes, that Crazy Train, and yes, that Pat Boone. From Pat's great metal spoof album, "In A Metal Mood."
3. I was thinking recently that Neil Diamond's appearance in "Saving Silverman" was one of the funniest parts of the movie.
4. "Lay down the boogie, and play that funky music 'til you die!"
5. Badfinger was the first band signed to the Beatles' Apple Records
6. These guys were from Chicago.
7. The soap opera story of this group was almost as entertaining as their music.
8. I loves me some Neil Young!
9. "Helpless people on subway trains scream "My God!" as he looks in on them.."
10. A new wave cover of the Monkees classic. Also, Neil Diamond's second song in the set.
11. Hey! Whaddya know, my favorite New York Dolls song!
12. Jefferson Airplane's first (minor) hit, before Grace Slick joined the band.
13. From the fabulous "Mermaid Avenue" record, when Billy Bragg and Wilco put music to a bunch of lyrics Woody Guthrie's daughter had come across.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

What I Missed

As I made breakfast for my kids today, I discovered that I missed what may have been one of the great musical moments of our still-young century.

Recently, we unlocked Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" on Rock Band 2. My kids' and my Rock Band 2 band "Psycho Neighbor" haven't yet been able to play this anthem together yet for various reasons-- last night, it was because I was at work, and my step-daughter has had limited singing due to the tail end of an illness. However, Adam was in luck-- our friends Wendy and Guido were over, along with Mel's best friend Anya and her seven-year-old sister Julia. Adam, hell-bent on playing drums to this metal classic, recruited Julia to sing while he pounded the skins. History will surely regret that nobody got this moment on a camera, when a teenager clad in a Ramones t-shirt beat out the savage rhythm of "Ace of Spades," while a seven-year-old girl screamed:

You know I'm born to lose, and gambling's for fools,
But that's the way I like it baby,
I don't wanna live for ever,
And don't forget the joker!

Since we missed that magic moment on video last night, we'll have to content ourselves with the great clip of Motorhead, when they showed up to play their classic in the living room of "The Young Ones" in 1984.

James Whitmore, Character Actor Extrodinaire

I was saddened the other day by the passing of actor James Whitmore. He was a solid character actor who had hundreds of parts in movies and television shows. He was also known for a stage show, "Give 'Em Hell, Harry!," about President Harry Truman. Younger folks might remember him best as the elderly prison librarian who has trouble adjusting to life outside prison in The Shawshank Redemption.

For me, though, Whitmore holds a place in my heart as an important part of my son's childhood. Whitmore starred, along with James Arness (later Marshall Dillion in Gunsmoke) in Them!, a 1954 sci-fi classsic about giant ants, created by the first nuclear test at Almagardo, New Mexico, attacking Los Angeles. In a post a couple of years ago, one of my earliest posts, I recounted my son's early childhood obsession with the movie, and how it ended up being responsible for a piece of of great art.

Friday, February 06, 2009

That's Why They Call Him Dick

I hear again and again that comedian Jon Stewart has the best news show. Here's proof.

And why does Cheney have to be such a dick?

The Warming Trend Friday Random Ten

We had a harsh January here in Chicago-- really, really cold and lots of snow. It's supposed to warm up this weekend. I'm all for it.

A couple of other bloggers have mentioned the loss of Lux Interior, singer of the Cramps. RIP, Lux. Thanks for psychobilly memories.

1. Things We Said Today- The Beatles
2. Get Together- The Youngbloods
3. I've Never Been To Spain- Three Dog Night
4. Roller Derby Queen- Jim Croce
5. Boogie- A Taste of Honey
6. In Dreams- Roy Orbison
7. Stray Cat Blues- The Rolling Stones
8. Back In the Saddle Again- Aerosmith
9. The Man In Black- Johnny Cash
10. Goodbye, Little Darlin'- Johnny Cash

1. Some early Beatles
2. This song has become an anthem of the sixties. I hate hearing it in commercials.
3. One of many songs Hoyt Axton penned for others: "The Pusher," by Steppenwolf, the "No, No Song" by Ringo Star and another hit for Three Dog Night, "Joy To The World." It must have run in the family; his mother co-wrote Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel."
4. I read recently that Roller Derby is making a come-back. Holy seventies, Batman!
5. Disco one-hit wonders
6. This song is a showcase for Roy Orbison's incredible vocal range. And it's also embedded in bizzaro-pop culture, thanks to David Lynch's "Blue Velvet."
7. The Stones at their delicious nastiest.
8. Aerosmith at their drug-addled best.
9. Johnny Cash explaining his mono-color wardrobe.
10. ...and more Johnny Cash!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Rockin' Your Thursday Away, New York Dolls, "Looking For a Kiss"

Finally, this year, after decades, "Looking For a Kiss" bumped "Personality Crisis" from first place as my favorite song on the New York Dolls' self-titled first album.

The sound is a little tinny in the video, but the performance is great.

A few months ago, I chased down the lyrics of the song with the idea of doing it in a family hootenanny with my kids, and realized, for the first time, that it's the tale of a guy explaining his preference for nookie over smack. I'd never caught the "When everyone goes to your house, they shoot up in your room" part. The song will make for a nice wholesome family evening.

Singer David Johansen, who shares a birthday with two other great rockers, Elvis Presley and David Bowie, just turned 59 last month. He has what may be my favorite rock and roll quote, when he said of the Dolls:

"We like to look 16 and bored shitless."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Occasional Forgotten Video, Jesus Jones, "Right Here, Right Now"

A few days ago, I was talking to someone about things that have passed in my lifetime that I never thought would. This included the fall of the Berlin Wall, and of course, an African-American US President. Wish I would have thought about this one inauguration week, but better late than never.

The thought occurred to me that some of the youngsters who voted for Obama were actually born after the Berlin Wall came down.

Ironically, it was Hillary Clinton who used the song in her campaign.

Jesus Jones, originally from London, is still around. "Right Here, Right Now," from their first album, was a #2 hit in the United States. Their second and third albums sold well, but not as well as the first. They took an extended break and began recording again every few years.

"Right Here, Right Now" has been used in commercials and television shows, and a remix of the song was a club hit for producer Robbie Rivera in 2005.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Whole Different Meaning

Someone at work pointed out that "White House Stimulus Package" would have a whole different meaning if Bill Clinton were still President.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Book Recommendation: "Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff & Tim Buckley"

Sometime last year, one of my customers at the restaurant was reading David Browne's book "Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff & Tim Buckley," and I took note of it. I had known of Tim Buckley for years, and had loved Jeff Buckley's 1994 album "Grace." The fact that both father and son, who had had little contact in life, were both very talented-- and came to early ends-- was very haunting to me.

Tim Buckley was a sixties and seventies artist who was pretty much the textbook definition of a cult artist. He never sold a lot of records, but songs like Morning Glory and Pleasant Street brought about the classic "small but devoted" following. As the sixties rolled over into the seventies, Buckley seemed hellbent on decreasing his commercial viability, veering into jazz-influenced extended jams. As his record company threatened to end its relationship with him, he knuckled down and tried to produce some commercially viable music, to no avail. He was able, though, to make a pretty good living through touring.

Ironically, it was while touring that he actually took it easy on the drugs and alcohol that were to lead to his death in 1975 at the age of 28.

Jeff Buckley was the product of Tim's marriage to his high school sweetheart. The marriage soured around the time the Buckley's wife became pregnant with Jeff (known in his childhood as Scott) and Tim's career began taking off. Browne does a nice job examining the dynamics of the relationship between Tim Buckley and his ex-wife, who remarried twice. Buckley and his ex-wife both lived in the Los Angeles area, but it wasn't until Jeff was 7 or 8-- around the time of Tim's death-- that Tim started establishing a relationship with Jeff.

Jeff's childhood was tumultous. There was an island of stability, when Jeff's mother married a really good guy who stepped up to bat and raised Jeff like his own child. That marriage and then another foundered, and Jeff's life was mostly filled with economic difficulties and frequent moves. He finally ended up going to school at the same Orange County high school that his father had gone to-- a school filled with jocks, and none too friendly to a shy, sensitive artistic kid.

Jeff took an early interest in music, and spent years trying to avoid comparison to his father. This was difficult; as you can see from the book cover, he looked astonishingly like his father. If you've ever heard their records, they also had very similar beautiful high-pitched voices. They shared both astonishing vocal ranges and a high degree of musical intelligence.

Tim's demise came at the end of a tour; before he even went home, he stopped and drank and did drugs with friends. He made it home and died in his bed. Ironically, when he was on tour, he avoided drugs and alcohol, pointing out that his voice was his way of making a living. Jeff, on the other hand, who friends said avoided drugs and alcohol as a youth, experimented with them while on tour. The book cites an infamous show here in Chicago at the legendary Green Mill (a nightclub once owned by Al Capone), where Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot mentioned how intoxicated Jeff appeared to be (he was, according to the book).

Jeff's demise, though, had nothing to do with drugs or alchohol, but an impulsive act. He was living in Memphis in 1997, preparing to record his followup to Grace, when he jumped into the Wolf River, near Memphis, fully clothed, to swim. Had he asked locals about it, they would have warned him that the river had dangerous currents. While a friend/roadie stood nearby, a barge passed by Buckley and he went under. His body was found several days later.

Afterward, there was a fight over his remaining music. He'd started to record with Tom Verlaine (of the legendary group Television), but was unsatisfied with the results. Some of the sessions made it onto a record, Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk, and are wonderful, though some were from preliminary recordings, and not perfect sound-wise.

If you have any interest in the art of either Jeff or Tim Buckley, I highly recommend Dream Brother. It's well-written and fascinating. And do yourself a favor-- get ahold of some of both Jeff and Tim's music. You'll be glad you did.