Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Occasional Forgotten Video, Talking Heads, "Burning Down the House"

The Talking Heads came out of the same seminal New York punk scene that spawned Patti Smith, Television, Blondie, the Ramones and a bunch of other great bands in the mid seventies. They were among the first bands from that scene to score some commercial success, in 1977, with their cover of Al Green's "Take Me To The River." They'd have a couple more hits over the next decade. One of their biggest was 1983's "Burning Down The House."

This vid is everything a vid should be-- vaguely thematic, anarchic and damned funny. I especially love the scene in which the band member's alteregos vie to control their instruments. And the song has got one of my favorite-ever lines in a song: "Watch out-- you might get what you're after" I've always taken the song to be them unabashedly celebrating their success-- refreshing, in a world where rock stars are always whining about "the cost" of their success.

Click on the link below to see the vid.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Death-- and Life-- of Ben Linder

Twenty-Two years ago today, a twenty-seven-year-old American guy named Ben Linder was murdered by Contras, Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries, who were armed and trained by the United States. His death deeply affected me then, and haunts me today.

In July, 1979, about a month after I finished high school, a group of left-leaning revolutionaries called the Sandinistas, overthrew Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. At first, they were a mixed group, spanning the spectrum of center to left. Over the next couple of years, things changed. First, Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States. Secondly, the Sandinistas began a turn to the left, and began accepting aid from Cuba and the Soviet Union.

The United States began supporting dissident elements in Nicaragua. Some were legitimate dissidents, such as former Sandinista commander Eden "Commandante Cero" Pastora. Most, however, were violent thugs. With US training and weaponry, they began a campaign or terror and murder in Nicaragua.

Here in the United States, a political fight began. Memories of the harrowing US experience in Vietnam were still fresh in the minds of most Americans. Congress was hesitant to get involved in another war. Reagan used his popularity to push through various forms of aid to the Contras.

The Sandinistas, in the meantime, were debating furiously. A lot of scholars feel that there was a group within the Sandinistas who thought that the world's balance of power had shifted to the Soviet Union. Others within the party felt that the US should not be antagonized.

Looking back, a giant "chicken and egg" situation was developing. The US viewed any help from the Soviet Union and Cuba as justification for arming the contras. The Sandinista directorate viewed the arming of the contras as rationale for accepting aid from the Soviet Union and Cuba. Through 1983 and 1984, tensions escalated between the US and Nicaragua.

During this period, I changed majors from Biology to Political Science; I'd discovered I had a passion for the subject. And I began closely watching the situation in Nicaragua, as were some of my friends.

As tensions escalated, with Nicaragua declaring a state of emergency, tens of thousands of people were murdered by the contras. If you ever want to read a great account of the activities of the contras, read journalist Christopher Dickey's book "With the Contras." The contras, who Reagan called "Freedom Fighters," engaged in an orgy of murder, rape and destruction of Nicaragua's pitifully small infrastructure. Teachers and schools were particular targets. The Nicaraguan government received large amounts of military aid from the East bloc, including Hind helicopter gunships and SAM's, surface to air missles.

In barroom conversations, fellow leftist students and I discussed the situation. A couple of us decided; if the US invaded, we would go to Nicaragua and join the Nicaraguan army, in the spirit of the Lincoln Brigade of Spain. Looking back, I wonder if I would actually have done it. Was it drunken youthful bravado? I think that I was young enough and cocky enough to have done it. And I was, I think, willing to give my life to that cause.

Nicaragua held an election that was declared, by most of the world, to be relatively fair. Still, the US escalated the war. The harbor of Managua was mined; infamously, the CIA produced a "how-to" manual on terror for the contras and distributed it. And most infamously, Oliver North and a handful of other right-wing whackjobs began conducting their own foreign policy from the basement of the White House, sending covert military aid to the contras, despite a Congressional prohibition against it, financing it through the sales of missles to Iran.

I ended up finishing my bachelor's, and then my master's in Political Science. One of the papers I did in getting my Master's was on the Sandinista revolution and the contra war.

In the early eighties, a young guy from Oregon, who was trained as an engineer, Ben Linder, decided to go to Nicaragua, not to fight, as I'd thought I might, but to help with small hydroelectricity projects, to bring electricity and lights to Nicaraguan villages.

Linder had orginally intended to stay for only a short time in Nicaragua, but as he saw the good things the Sandinistas were doing, such as literacy campaigns, he stayed on. In Joan Kruckewitt's excellent book, The Death of Ben Linder, she recounts Linder's struggle to do what he'd gone to Nicaragua to do, fighting the weather, Nicaraguan government bureacracy, the huge amount of illiteracy in Nicaraguan society-- and sometimes his own loneliness.

As time went on, he became closer to the Nicaraguan people-- and to the war. In early 1987, Linder began working on a hydroelectric project in El Cua, a small village that was dangerously near the war zone. He began carrying a rifle, and had Nicaraguan soldiers to protect him.

On April 28, 1987, Linder began his day's work on the dam project. Shortly thereafter, nearby contras launched an attack. Contras began firing rifles and throwing hand grenades, wounding Ben, and killing two of the soldiers assigned to protect him and the project. As he lay wounded, a contra walked up with an American-issued assault weapon and blew his head off.

The contras, knowing that the shots would be heard in the nearby town, and that Nicaraguan soldiers would be arriving shortly, stripped Linder of his wallet, camera and watch and left.

Between the Iran-Contra affair and Ben Linder's murder, the United States public began losing its tolerance for supporting the war in Nicaragua. In 1990, elections were held in Nicaragua, and opposition leader Violetta Chamorro, won. She was the widow of Pedro Chamorra, who had owned Nicaragua's top newspaper, La Prensa, and was a vocal opponent of the Somoza regime. His murder, in 1978, by Somoza's thugs, had been one of the things that had galvanized popular support behind the Sandinistas. She had been on "Los Doce", the politically mixed group that had nominally held power immediately after the revolution. She had later been, as the head of La Prensa, critical of the Sandinistas. Her credentials as an opposition leader were unimpeachable. With her election, and Reagan leaving office, there was no more rationale for the war.

Talking to a latino co-worker, he said that the Nicaraguan people had not so much voted for Chamorro, they had voted for an end to the war.

In the end, the Contras murdered tens of thousands of Nicaraguans. Most estimates are around 70,000 dead, mostly civilians, in a population of about 3 million. And a handful of Westerners, including Ben Linder.

Since the war ended, the Sandinistas, who are now a political party, have alternated power with moderates and conservatives. Currently, Daniel Ortega, who led the Sandinista revolutionaries to power in 1979, is President.

When I heard of Ben Linder's death, I felt survivor's guilt. In the end, I hadn't gone to Nicaragua. They didn't need guys with degrees in Political Science. They needed people who were engineers, soldiers, mechanics, electricians, doctors-- and teachers. When I returned to school in 1989 to learn Spanish and get my teaching certification, spending some time eventually in Nicaragua was in the back of my mind.

I admire Ben Linder. He was a hero. He was a guy who was about my age who had the guts to do what he did; to live for-- and die for-- his convictions. I haven't forgotten him. I feel like I owe him. Perhaps I'll still spend some time in now-peaceful, but still desperately poor Nicaragua in the not-too-distant future, volunteering medical services after I finish my nursing degree.

Oh, and what about that hydroelectric project? One of Ben Linder's friends, Rebecca Leaf, outraged over Ben's death, continued to work on the project. On April 28, 1994, the seventh anniversary of Ben Linder's death, the hydroelectric project was completed and began providing electricity and light to the people of El Cua, which it continues to do to this day.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Chicago Spring, 2009

A few weeks ago, my co-worker/friend Sarah made the very valid complaint that this was going to be one of those Chicago winters where it went straight from Winter to Summer, with no stop at Spring.

Yet, today was a classic Spring day in Chicago. When I went to school at 8 AM, it was cool and sprinkling rain. When I got out of school, it was cool, but not raining. When I ran to the grocery store in the late afternoon, it was warmer, but raining a little. When I set out to go to work at 4:45, I ran back into the house and got into shorts because it was sunny and warm. I hopped on my bicycle and ran to work in that weather.

I walked my bike home from work in the cold pouring rain-- in my shorts and short-sleeves. Fortunately, I'd packed my umbrella, just in case, for this is a Chicago Spring day.

You may ask why we Chicagoans put up with it-- why we don't just run off to Southern California, Colorado, Arizona, or any other place with more reasonable weather. And then, a day like today happens, where, after a winter where you were sure you'd never ever again see anything green or colorful in this godforsaken place, in one day, a whole bunch of green and color erupts everywhere. A week ago, every one of the spots these pictures were taken would have been tones of brown. Every one of these pictures were taken today, near my school and near my home.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The "Even Better" Friday Random Ten

Yesterday morning, I ran to my school to drop off the paper that confirms that I accepted my slot in their nursing program. When I handed the paper in, the lady who runs the office said "Night, right?" I thought she was referring to the orientation-- there were two orientations times on June 8, one in the day and one in the night. I had checked off for the daytime one. It turns out that she was referring to the program itself-- there is a daytime one and a nightime program, in order to deal with students' work schedules. It turned out that I was in the nighttime schedule. This posed some problems-- I work nights, and pick my stepdaughter up from school most weekdays. I talked to Kim and we figured that we'd work it out somehow.

Fortunately, the lady who runs the office remembered me and remembered our conversation. It turns out that later in the day, another student came by to confirm and had the opposite problem. She gave me a call and we arranged for the other student and I to switch schedules. I won't have to give up shifts at work, and Kim and I won't have to figure out alternate childcare. Getting into nursing school was great, but getting a schedule that works is even better.

1. Drugs- Talking Heads
2. Jealous Guy- John Lennon
3. Where Have All The Flowers Gone?- The Kingston Trio
4. The Model- Kraftwerk
5. Open My Eyes- The Nazz
6. Have You Ever Seen The Rain?- Creedence Clearwater Revival
7. Welfare Mothers- Neil Young and Crazy Horse
8. Back Home Again- John Denver
9. Right Back Where We Started From- Maxine Nightingale
10. Emma- Hot Chocolate

1. The closing track to "Fear of Music," my favorite Talking Heads album.
2. Bryan Ferry did a nice cover of this after Lennon's death.
3. Some polite, well-dressed protest.
4. From the guys who brought you "Autobahn."
5. From "Nuggets." This band was headed by Todd Rundgren
6. Great Vietnam protest song.
7. I find this song really funny
8. Guilty pleasure!
9. A one-hit wonder from the seventies. I was watching "Slapshot" a while back and realized that they play this song like four times in the movie.
10. These guys are best remembered for "You Sexy Thing."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Some Random Thoughts

My regular readers may have noticed that I haven't been blogging as much lately. Part of it is a busy schedule, but part of it was lack of inspiration-- and worry about whether I'd get into nursing school this fall. Knowing that in the end, there was a lottery of the qualified applicants for the open slots didn't help. Nothing like your future being subject to luck of the draw to give you anxiety. Getting the tremendous news yesterday that I've been accepted to nursing school and I can now move my life forward was a big plus and a motivator.

I've had a bunch of things that really didn't warrant a whole post, but I thought I'd string them together into a post.

First off, let me go off about earmarks. All through the whole thing about the budget, the bailout, etc., people were ranting about earmarks. Here, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Full disclosure: I have a bachelor's and master's in political science, and actually studied earmarks. What is an earmark? It's a guarantee that when Congress passes a spending bill, that the money that is allocated for a particular project, program or job is actually spent on that thing and only that thing. Where I come from, that's a good thing. Apparently, the poliitcos were using the confusion between "pork" and earmarks to bullshit voters. What is pork? It's government spending added into bills by politicians that benefit their districts. Some is good, some is bad-- and it's a fact of life. If you want the money for the new schools in your inner city congressional district, you vote for the big park in the district of some yahoo in Texas or Florida to get his or her vote. And it's a tiny amount of overall spending. Blogger Vikki summed it all up beautifully when she said

"First of all, 'earmarks' and 'pork' are not the same thing. That’s like saying “movies” and “Battlefield Earth” are the same thing."

Another thing, in all the hullabaloo about government spending, something that the idiots with the "tea parties" conveniently forgot. Most government spending is for two things: the military and entitlements-- social security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.

There's a perception on the "whack-job right" that almost all taxes go to pay for welfare. Here's the fact: welfare is a tiny percentage of government spending. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), one of the most vilified programs, combined with food stamps, make up about 1% of all government spending.

Incidentally, I'm a big fan of AFDC. My ex and I were able to get formula, milk, cheese and legumes with the AFDC checks we got after The Dude was born. We were so desperately broke when he was born, I don't know what we would have done without the food AFDC provided us.

For more reading, here's an interesting page that points out that middle class entitlements are actually responsible for "runaway government spending."

Speaking of Medicare, when I called my folks to tell them the good news about getting into nursing school yesterday, my father and I had a discussion about the massive deficits that W. left us, and Medicare. I had just been reading a New York Times editorial about it-- how the "tea party" guys were a couple of years late-- that if they wanted to protest the deficits, they should have done so when Medicare Part D went into effect. To give Bush credit, it's a great program. My folks and everybody else on it pay a fixed cost for prescriptions, no matter how much the meds are actually worth. The problem is that someone has to pay for it. Here's the New York Times blog post:

Where Were the Medicare Tea Parties?

You can't drastically ramp up governmental financial obligations and cut taxes for the wildly rich at the same time.

This all leads up to another conversation, one with my son, about the far right in this country. As always, the Little Man, as he's been called since he was little, was perceptive, mature and wise. He pointed out that the far right is acting like petulant adolescents. Taxation is "unfair." You know, the way it's unfair, to a seventeen-year-old, to have to come home at a reasonable hour, to let you know where he or she is, not to drink and do drugs, etc. So when someone has to pay for the roads they drive on, the schools their kids attend, the fire and police protection they have, the clean water they are guaranteed by governmental regulations, military protection of the sea lanes to guarantee the flow of the petroleum that allows them to have a car and gas prices a fraction of those in the rest of the world, protection from industries dumping toxins into the environment-- you know, all those things government is our tool for providing-- well, that's just NOT FAIR!

It's occurred to me lately that the poster boy for today's far right is Timothy McVeigh. Here was a guy who was against the government! What did the government EVER DO for Tim? Nothing! Well, except for the public schools he attended. And the clean, cheap water he drank. And the safe food he ate thanks to governmental regulations. And the clean air he breathed (yes, the air is measurably cleaner in most of the United States thanks to the EPA, which Richard Nixon brought about). Oh, and yes, there was the government paychecks he drew when he was in the US military.

One last random thought, to end on a happy note. With all of the circus involving the downfall of Illinois' governor and the disgraceful appointment of our Senator, a couple of very happy things have been overlooked. First, Blagojevich's impeachment led to Pat Quinn, a great guy and a longtime reformer becoming governor. Yesterday, while listening to our local public radio, I discovered that Gov. Quinn has appointed Dr. Quentin Young as chairperson of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. Dr. Young, long an advocate of a national health care plan, has long been a fixture in Chicago progressive circles. I had the pleasure of meeting him several times, and am glad that he's in a position where he can steer public policy in Illinois.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The News

June of 2006 was not a good month for me. My father was diagnosed with cancer-- a huge tumor in his abdomen that the doctor feared had entered his pancreas-- pancreatic cancer is terminal; I was denied tenure in the school district I had been working in the previous four years-- I would soon be out a job. And most awfully, my close friend Mark was shot to death in a robbery in front of his own home.

Happily, my father's cancer was successfully treated; the surgeon was able to remove all of the malignancy. Even better, the tumor had not entered his pancreas.

I worked for a year as a teacher in an alternative school to buy some time. In the interim, I made the decision to go to Pharmacy school. In the fall of 2007, I started taking the prerequisites at Truman College, a Chicago city college not too far from my home.

In December, 2007, the cops arrested the guy who killed my friend. His trial starts this month; the prosecutors are pretty certain he'll be convicted.

In the meantime, I began having second thoughts about Pharmacy school. It was going to take 3 or maybe even four years to get the prerequistes out of the way, then another four years at University of Illinois at Chicago's Pharmacy program-- if I even got in. They only take about 10% of their applicants, and it was very competitive gradewise. And even if all went well, I'd be finishing school about the same time as my oldest one was finishing, too late to help him financially.

My friend from work, Leslie, started trying to talk me into applying to the nursing program at Truman. She had applied to Truman's program (she got in, but also got into Depaul's graduate nursing program, where she's attending). She pointed out the pluses-- that the program was only two years. I'd come out of it with an RN certificate, and a job skill that was in huge demand-- and paid a hell of a lot more than I made as a teacher. She finally convinced me. I put my application in in January.

Leslie had told me that I'd probably hear whether I made it or not in in May. My grades are very good, but since there are always more applicants than slots, there is a lottery for positions in the school. As May has gotten closer, I've gotten more nervous. A job in nursing would be a lot of things: it would allow me to pay for most or all of college for my two kids. It would allow Kim and I to eventually retire comfortably to somewhere with nicer weather than Chicago. It would eventually mean an end to constantly worrying about money. If I got in this semester, I would finish a year before my son starts college, and be able to be on a sound financial footing when I started paying for that.

Last night, I had trouble sleeping, which is unusual for me. With a very physical job, school and two very active kids, I never, ever have trouble sleeping. But last night I did. I must have woken up four times last night.

Today I came home from school, did a little cooking and took a nap. When I woke up, I checked for the mail, which had arrived. In it, was something unexpected-- a letter from Truman College's nursing program. I hesitated for just a second-- it could be either good or bad news. I couldn't wait any longer; I opened the envelope.

I got into Truman's nursing program. I begin in the fall.

Earth Day: The Activist Who Hides Among Us And The Long Road

When I was in high school, there was a girl named Sue Buchanan who was in various classes I had for four years. She was extremely quiet, and though I had several classes with her over four years and even had to work with her on a project in an English class one year, I never really got to know her.

I remember her well, though, nearly 30 years after graduating from high school for two things that happened our senior year.

Senior year, Sue and I had a consumer education class together. I remember the class well because I crossed paths with the teacher years later, when one of his kids was the student of my now-ex-wife-- and the fact that he owns the company that makes the Oscar statues. I also remember Sue surprising me, and everyone else in the class.

The class was one of the most useful classes I had in high school. We learned things like how to do a checkbook and how to avoid various consumer scams, such as a Bait and Switch, and why term life insurance was a better deal than "Whole Life" policies.

The teacher brought in a lot of guest speakers, one of whom was an insurance salesperson. As the salesperson went through her rap, extolling the virtues of Whole Life insurance, Sue suddenly spoke up for the first time that I'd seen in four years. She whipped out her notes and systematically and definitively destroyed the saleswoman's arguments for Whole Life insurance. The saleswoman was literally speechless at the end, as was the rest of the class. The teacher quickly pulled the plug on the presentation, allowing the presenter to make a quick and semi-dignified exit.

That was not to be the only time Sue surprised us that year. One day, I opened the local paper to see Sue leading a protest in front of the local McDonald's. The McDonald's restaurant that she worked at, the one most of the people in the area went to, and many of the students at my high school (Lyons Township High School, in LaGrange) hung at on the weekends, was being closed. The McDonald's corporation, whose headquarters was in nearby Oakbrook, had decided that it wanted to close as many of the old franchised restaurants as it could. The McDonald's Sue worked at, in Countryside, Illinois, was the second McDonald's ever opened (the first was in Des Plaines, Illinois). The story made it to our senior yearbook in 1979, pictured above.

I'd love to know whatever happened to Sue. My guess is that she's still one of the quiet activists among us, rising up when the cause moves her.

On this, the 39th Earth Day, I'm reminded of Sue when I think about my favorite environmental activist, The Fox.

In the early 1970's, a mysterious person began perpetrating acts of eco-mischief in the Fox River area of the Chicago suburbs. The first instance that made the local news was when a 50 pounds of raw sewage from Lake Michigan was dumped in the reception area of the company that had dumped the sewage. Over the years, other acts of eco-mischief were attributed to him, such as plugged sewage outlets and smokestacks. His antics inspired Greenpeace and other environmental groups over the years.

For decades, people in the Chicago area wondered who The Fox was. Finally, in 2001, a New York Times obituary revealed his identity: James F. Phillips, a middle school science teacher. Upon his death of complications from diabetes, his family revealed his true identity. He had kept his activities secret enough that he was also able to work as a field inspector for the Kane County Environmental Agency. Rumor was that certain journalists had known his identity, but had kept it secret-- in return for Phillips giving them a tip-off on his next activity.

On this Earth Day, I'd like to tip my hat to the Sue Buchanans and James F. Phillips of the world, quietly working to help us, despite our best efforts to destroy ourselves.

I'd also like to share one of my favorite Earth Day memories.

In Earth Day, 1972, the second-ever Earth Day, I was in sixth grade at Parkwood Elementary School in Hanover Park, Illinois. We had a raffle-- one kid in each classroom got to take home a tree, a small sprig just a few feet long. To my amazement, I won the tree in my classroom.

I took it home and planted it in our backyard. It grew quickly-- when we moved out of the house in 1974, it was already 6 or 7 feet tall.

Around 2000 or 2001, my now-ex-wife Cynthia and I went to a wedding; the reception was at a hotel near my old home. On the way from the wedding to the reception, we drove by my old house. To my delight, the tree, which was visible from the street, was now about 40 feet tall. It had been there for nearly three decades, soaking up carbon dioxide, kicking out oxygen, and providing various families shade and enjoyment. If you have Google Earth installed, run a search on "1606 roder court streamwood illinois." Run it up close to the house. That big tree to the left and down is the tree that an 11-year-old planted in 1972.

As we begin to confront the epic mess we've made of our environment, trying to deal with global warming and trying to create a sustainable future, it may seem overwhelming. Yet, we should remember that this tree was a little twig at one time, and remember Mao Tse-Tung's addage:

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."

Just In Case You Don't Know, Norm...

Just to explain things to Norm Coleman...

As per Minnesota state law, three judges were appointed to review the results of the Senatorial election, since it was so close. They determined that Al Franken got the most votes in the election, by 312 votes. Franken got the most votes-- that means he won. That's the way elections work, Norm. Just in case you didn't know. I'm pretty sure that the Minnesota Supreme Court will tell you the same thing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why hasn't someone snapped this one up?

I try to bring my stepdaughter to the library every Tuesday; she loves books, and I've learned, with both of my kids, that to know they'll consistently get to do something they love is important.

We missed going today, for various reasons, but I had to share this, which I saw in our last visit a couple of weeks ago. In the lobby of the library, there's a stand of "discard" books that can be purchased, 25 cents for a softcover, 50 cents for a hardcover.

I can't understand why the book on using Wordstar wasn't moving-- it was only a quarter!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The "It's All Good" Friday Random Ten

I'm plowing through a bunch of Anatomy today-- joints and muscles. I've got a test Monday.

In the meantime, it's all good today. We've been nervous about Kim's job, but it looks good for now. My stepdaughter made the softball team, we were extremely busy at my work this week, I'm signed up for my summer school class (Anatomy II) and the weather's finally nice.

Oh, and the Cubs whipped the Cardinals.

1. I Can't Help You Now- Bonnie Raitt
2. Rock Island Line- Little Richard with Fishbone
3. Love Kills- Joe Strummer
4. Highway 61- The Blasters
5. Younger Girl- The Lovin' Spoonful
6. The Girl With No Name- The Byrds
7. Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again- Bob Dylan
9. Morning Dew- The Grateful Dead
10. Beautiful- Gordon Lightfoot

and one more...
11. Rebel Waltz- The Clash

1. She scored a big hit in 1992 with "Something To Talk About," but Bonnie Raitt was around for a long time before that. I like this song, and love her cover of Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."
2. From "A Vision Shared," a benefit for the Folkways record label, which cataloged tons of American music.
3. From the "Sid and Nancy" soundtrack.
4. From the Blasters' fabulous self-titled first album.
5. These guys are best known for "Summer In the City," but also had a bunch of other hits.
6. The more the years pass, the more I love the Byrds
7. From Blonde On Blonde, an essential album. A lot of people picked Dylan's music apart, but they missed something obvious-- the guy was friggin' funny.
8. Mostly-instrumental R and B/Disco hit. MFSB was "Mother Father Sister Brother," and TSOP was "The Sound of Philadelphia. Was the theme song for the Chicago-based show "Soul Train." The singing at the end was by The Three Degrees, who had their own hit in 1974 with "When Will I See You Again."
9. I've heard versions of this by Rod Stewart, the Allman Brothers and others, but this one is my favorite.
10. One of Gord's lesser-known hits, but a lovely one nonetheless.
11. Had to include this one, which played after my Random Ten was done. It's a beautiful, haunting song of hope and Central American revolution from the great Sandinista! album, which I finally got on cd.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Occasional Forgotten Video, Santana, "Hold On"

This song was one of those songs that didn't register with me when it was a hit, then I fell in love with it years later. This was one of the earliest MTV videos-- hence, the difficultly in getting a good copy of it.

I love the story the song tells-- about someone teaching you how to love. It's ostensibly about being in love, but it could be about a lot of other things, like great times with a friend, your kids or any number of times you wish you could save in some kind of mental dvd, to be played back in detail years later.

"Just let me close my eyes, memorize
The way things are this minute
So when you're gone I can go on
If memory can hold on within it what I'm feeling
Should time try fading or stealing something away

Hold on, nothing's the same
Tell me why I feel this way
Life wouldn't be worth living without you
All along I've been the pretender
But now that's gone forever
Nobody's ever loved me like you do
Nobody's broken through"

The vid itself is a typical early eighties video, done on a soundstage on the cheap, with lots of sparklers and costumes. It's obviously set during Carnaval.

When I did a search for the video, I discovered there was one other vid for it, by the guy who wrote it, Ian Thomas. Those of you around my age may remember him as a US one-hit-wonder, with his 1973 hit "Painted Ladies." He also wrote the early eighties Manfred Mann hit "Runner."

When I watched the clip of Ian Thomas performing "Hold On" on SCTV, I thought it was SCTV'er Dave Thomas doing a spoof. I quickly realized that it wasn't Dave Thomas-- Ian Thomas is Dave Thomas' brother, and bears more than a passing resemblance to him. Again, the video and sound are not the best.

And here's a nice clean audio copy of the song. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tales of Sonny Boy: The First Ride Home

I live a little over a mile from the first apartment I ever had by myself. It was at Ashland and Berteau, on the north side of Chicago. I moved into it in April, 1986.

I remember that I went through a rental agency. The office was at Lincoln and Irving Park Road, in a building, since torn down, that also housed a bowling alley, bar and pool room. If you've ever seen the movie "The Color of Money," you've seen the pool room; it's in the scene where Paul Newman played pool against Forrest Whittaker. I looked at a handful of apartments before choosing the one at Ashland and Berteau. It was a second floor one-bedroom that reminded me of the brick apartment buildings I'd grown up in in the sixties and early seventies in Chicago, with porcelain fixtures and ceramic tile in the washroom and hardwood floors. And at $365 a month, I could afford it, even if the area was a little dicey.

One of the other things I loved about the place was that it was, on the Berteau side, on one of a handful of stretches of street left in Chicago that hadn't been paved over; it was still brick. I found that very charming.

I lived in the place for about a year-and-a-half. Sometime in the late nineties, the city finally paved over that stretch. I was a little saddened by it-- the brick pavement was, to me, a reminder of an exciting time in my life, just out of college and just getting started.

This winter was rough on the streets of Chicago. We've got prodigious amounts of potholes. Even pretty new pavement has broken up in places. A few weeks ago, I noticed that for the first time in about a decade, I could see some of the brick pavement of my fond memories, peeking through broken asphalt. It's only a matter of time before they pave it back over, but it was nice to see this memory of my youth. It also reminded me of one of my favorite memories in the beginning of my son's life.

My son was born in March of 1994 at Lincoln Park's Columbus Hospital, which was torn down recently to make room for condos. His mother had a c section, so she and he had to stay at the hospital for a day.

I was scared to death when he was born. His mother and I had split about a month before she discovered she was pregnant. She had offered me out if I wanted; she had made the decision and was going to have the baby, and raise it alone if I didn't want to participate.

I knew my answer immediately. No way. I'd spent a couple of years subbing in the Chicago Public School system, including a year in the notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects. I'd seen the results of absentee fathers. I decided to stick around and raise my son.

On the other hand, I had grave doubts that I'd be a good parent-- a doubt that a few old friends have recently admitted that they shared. I was a pretty angry person as a younger guy. Having grown up around a really angry-- and sometimes violent-- father, I didn't know how well it would go. I'd been living on my own for my entire adult life, doing whatever I pleased. Sacrificing for someone else's needs was not something I'd done a lot of in my adult life. I think I felt like I'd put a lifetime's worth of sacrifice time in dealing with my father through my childhood.

I was to learn, and continue to learn, a lot of lessons as a parent. One of them I quickly learned was that you have the choice to be different from your parent or parents. I've rarely even raised my voice to my son, and only spanked him a few times in his whole life. Choosing your battles wisely is another lesson I swiftly learned.

But the first couple of days after my son's birth were rife with lessons. The very first one I learned, upon picking my newborn son up for the first time, was Parenting Lesson Number One: newborns don't like to be moved. They've just gone from a quiet, warm place to a bright, loud place filled with unfamiliar things. I quickly learned to be calm and deliberate with my movements while I held my son.

The next day I drove his mother's car to the hospital; I didn't own a car at the time. I was in full-blown bohemian mode: ponytail, big earring, old army coat, new tattoo and all. As the two most scared people in the world brought a baby out into the cold Chicago March air and strapped him into a child seat-- a first for both of us-- I began to be nervous about the ride home. I had barely driven a car since selling my beloved 1972 Cutlass Supreme convertible three years before. Now I was driving with my newborn son in the car.

I made the decision to take side roads and side streets home. Not only was I nervously driving my newborn son home, my girlfriend had a gut full of stitches from her caesarean.

Remembering how much he fussed when he was moved, I thought that the 2 mile ride home through city streets was going to be a long one. I decided to take a familiar route home, a route where I'd pass by my old apartment.

As I thought he would, he started crying when the car started moving, despite my best efforts to drive smoothly. His mother turned to talk to him, trying to settle him. I drove down Clark Street, past Wrigley Field and and up to Berteau Avenue, where I turned left. I suddenly remembered the bumpy brick pavement on the upcoming section of Berteau, and realized that this route may not have been such a good idea. It was too late to change my route, I decided; we were getting near home, and it would be best to just get him home as quickly as we could.

As we crossed Ashland Avenue and hit the bumpy brick pavement right in front of my old apartment, I realized that it was now quiet in the car. I looked at my son in the rearview mirror and it was at that moment I learned, with some relief, Parenting Lesson #2: a moving car is the best pacifier in the world. Sonny Boy was fast asleep.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Separated At Birth?

Am I the only one who's noticed the more-than-passing similarity?

Thorny from "Super Troopers"...

...and Republican National Chairman Michael Steele?

Mother of God!

Weird Week Random Ten

This has been a weird week. Among the things that have happened:

--A couple that are close friends of ours appear to be splitting. There'd been no indication of problems

--A former co-worker at my old Evanston job was fired after he put a derogatory comment about a customer on the electronically generated check, apparently not remembering that the comment would show up on the check

--I found a $3,100 check on the sidewalk near my home, drafted to a person who lives a couple of blocks from me. I left a note at the address, but the check's owner hasn't contacted me.

Glad to be getting this week over.

1. Low Rider- War
2. I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)- The Proclaimers
3. Long Lonesome Highway- Michael Parks
4. Suddenly Last Summer- The Motels
5. California Dreamin'- Jose Feliciano
6. It's a Shame- The Spinners
7. Travelin' Man/Beautiful Loser- Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
8. Growin' Up- Bruce Springsteen
9. The Right Profile- The Clash
10. Don't Know Why- Norah Jones

1. My stepdaughter loves this song because it's the theme song for the George Lopez show, one of her favorites.
2. Big hit from a pair of Scottish twins.
3. Parks sang this song for the theme song of the 1969 series "Then Came Bronson." These days, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez keep him in work.
4. One of a handful of hits the Motels had in the '80's.
5. Feliciano came up in the Village folk scene that produced Dylan, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Richie Havens and of course, the Mamas and the Papas. This cover of the Mamas and the Papas song is even more haunting and sad than the original.
6. When they recorded this one, they were actually known as The Detroit Spinners to distinguish them from a British folk group with the same name. They're one of my favorite bands of the seventies, and the surviving members are still touring. The song was written by Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright.
7. Another great product of Detroit. I'd argue that "Live Bullet" is one of top five live albums ever.
8. From Springsteen's great first album.
9. A song from the incredible "London Calling" album about tragic actor Montgomery Clift.
10. One of my favorite songs of the last ten years or so.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Okay, Mahmoud, You First

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has responded to President Obama's peace overtures by stating that "The Iranian people would welcome a hand extended to it if the hand is truly based on honesty."

Okay, Mahmoud, why don't you make the first move toward honesty and stop denying the Holocaust ever happened?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Go Nora!

I just got off the phone with Bubs. I had called to let him know that the vote totals in the Fangoria contest had changed-- for some reason, votes were taken away from the person in the lead, leaving Bubs' daughter Nora in the lead.

Bubs was on the phone earlier in the day with the polling company; many, including myself, had had trouble voting. It appears that the problems have been fixed. If you tried voting before without luck, try again. The voting lasts until April 17.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Let's Help Her Out

Nora O'Sullivan, the daughter of my friend Bubs, is competing in the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors Spooksmodel Contest. Through our previous voting efforts, she's reached the finals. Why don't you take a moment to click through to the contest, scroll down to Nora O'Sullivan and vote.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Cleaned Up Friday Random Ten

A week ago, I added some music to my Itunes and discovered it would no longer all fit on my Ipod. I did some cleaning up of my Itunes-- I discovered, for instance, that I had 4 copies of Eddy' Grant's "Electric Avenue" on there.

Even after cleaning, I've got about 5200 songs on my Itunes.

1. I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock and Roll- Dave Edmunds
2. In The Modern World- Jesse Malin
3. Hey, Hey, We're The Monkees- The Monkees
4. Baby, That's Me- The Cake
5. Oh! Darling- The Beatles
6. Guess Things Happen That Way- Johnny Cash
7. Brave New World- Michael Penn
8. Venus- Shocking Blue
9. Two More Bottles of Wine- Delbert McClinton
10. Moondance- Van Morrison

1. Dave Edmunds co-wrote this song with Nick Lowe, who had a big his with it in the mid eighties.
2. One of my "Little Steven's Underground" Discoveries.
3. I loved this tv show when I was a kid.
4. Another Little Steven discovery. These ladies had a "girl group" in the late sixties, long after it was fashionable to do so.
5. From Abbey Road, the last album the Beatles recorded
6. What would my Friday Random Ten be without Mr. Cash?
7. Michael is the brother of Senn and the late Chris Penn, and the husband of Aimee Mann.
8. I loved this song when I heard it on the radio as a kid.
9. First heard this one on WXRT in the late seventies. Great song of dreams run aground.
10. A couple of years ago, my old friend Larry visited and gave me a mix cd of songs we would have heard in a night at the Uptowner/Cellar tavern, our hangout in college. This was one of the songs on it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Was It Just Me?

I saw the news story that President Obama, while visiting Queen Elizabeth of England, gave her an Ipod. According to the New York Times, the Ipod contained videos and photos of her 2007 visit to the United States, and some songs.

Was I the only one wondering if our Chief Executive succumbed to the temptation to slip the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" onto the Ipod?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Conspiracy?

News came over the wire that Herman Franks, who managed the Chicago Cubs from 1977 to 1979, died on March 30th at the age of 95.

I immediately began to suspect a conspiracy; two other former Cubs managers have died this year. Cuban-born Preston Gomez, who managed the 1980 Cubs, died on January 13th. Whitey Lockman, who managed the Cubs from 1972 to 1974, died just a couple of weeks ago, on March 17.

Should we sending some security to protect Don Zimmer-- or will the "Celebrities Die In Threes" Rule protect him?

Isn't It Nice...

Just saw on an internet news headline that President Obama has accepted invitations to China and Russia to work out trade issues and to try for arms reductions respectively.

Isn't it nice to have a President who isn't surrounded by neo-con nutjobs? Isn't it nice to have a President who sees a future cooperating with the rest of the planet for a sustainable future? Isn't it nice to have a President who doesn't induce cringes every time he opens his mouth?

Isn't it nice to have a President who knows his ass from a hole in the ground?