Friday, May 29, 2009

A Few Political Thoughts

Obama's been president for a little over three months and a lot of liberals have got their knickers in a bunch-- and even more conservatives. My observation over the years is that this is usually a sign you're doing your job well.

I would, though, like to address some specific things.

First off, I've read a lot of criticism that President Obama has not put an immediate end to the military tribunals over people who were gathered in the aftermath of 9/11. A few things: first, it was not the tribunals that were a problem. It was the manner in which they were conducted. The military lawyers who were assigned to "defend" people being tried were the first raise objections. It was made clear to them that they would not have access to anything that they might actually defend their clients with-- and it was increasingly clear to them that a lot of these guys had nothing to do with Al Queda, 9/11 or any other threat to the United States. The Bush administration had been guilty of a monumental failure to act on loads of credible intelligence information that the 9/11 attacks were going to occur. They needed some good show trials to divert attention from this, and guilt or innocence was irrelevant.

Now the Obama administration is left to deal with this mess-- the illegal seizures and detentions, the torture. And somewhere in the middle of this are a handful of guys who are actually guilty. And to compound matters, there are guys who weren't guilty who undoubtedly now hate the United States, thanks to their seizure and detention, enough to go out to join Al Queda. How do we deal with them? None of this is going to be simple.

Then there are those who are demanding that the Obama administration launch a prosecution of members of the Bush administration for their various crimes. I agree that these people should be prosecuted at some point, but what's the rush? They aren't going anywhere any time soon, and the evidence of their crimes isn't going away. The Obama administration is faced with a bunch of huge problems-- the economy, energy policy, schools, etc. Blogger and co-worker Phil and I were discussing it the other night at work. Do you want to see the country grind to a halt for 2 or 3 years? Do you want to give a great cause for the far right to mobilize around? Then put all of those other things aside and prosecute them, by all means. No, Obama is absolutely correct to prioritize the other things for now. As the economy recovers and he makes legislative headway on the important issues, it'll weaken the right and hasten the Republican Party's slide into irrelevance and oblivion and grease the skids of an eventual prosecution of the war criminals and torturers.

As I've watched Obama come from a long-shot Democratic candidate to President, I've come to realize that the guy is a political genius. And nothing has shown that genius more than his choice of Sonia Sotomayor to fill the seat being vacated by Souter.

The Republican Party is in a froth. It's tune is being dictated by a guy who has never been elected to anything in his life or served in any governmental post, Rush Limbaugh. The most electable guy in the party, Colin Powell, a bona-fide hero who could probably swing a lot of votes from moderate Democrats, has been demonized. Now, the Republican Party is about to burn off a lot of the pitifully small amount of political capital it has left in a fight against a Supreme Court nominee who was first brought to the federal bench by one of their own, George H.W. Bush.

This has only begun, and it's going to get worse, for reasons I shall explain in an upcoming post. The Republican Party is going to become loonier and loonier, until one of two things happen: either one of their steady-- and sensible-- stalwarts, like Colin Powell or George H.W. Bush comes to the fore, grabs the reins away from the nutjobs and saves the party or they contnue on the path they're on now, into oblivion.

The Calm Before The Storm Friday Random Ten

I've got just a few days of break before summer school starts-- Anatomy 2. I've got an orientation for the nursing program on June 8, and I have to take a CPR course before school starts in the fall. It's going to be a busy summer.

1. Season of the Witch- Donovan
2. Girls- Iggy Pop
3. Hey St. Peter- Flash and the Pan
4. Wasn't Born To Follow- The Byrds
5. Ambition- Vic Godard and the Subway Sect
6. Puff the Magic Dragon- Peter, Paul and Mary
7. Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?- Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
8. Kiss and Say Goodbye- The Manhattans
9. Don't Worry Baby- The Beach Boys
10. Can't Hardly Wait- The Replacements

1. One of Donavan's many hits in the sixties.
2. The Ig's got a new album out-- I'm eager to hear it.
3. Two former members of the Easybeats ("Friday On My Mind") did this one. I remember hearing it all the time my senior year of high school.
4. Heard this one on Little Steven's Underground Garage yesterday as well
5. From the "No Thanks!" collection of seventies punk and new wave
6. A lot of folks thought this song was about drugs, but even the most cursory listening reveals it to be about a child growing up.
7. I love me some Lloyd Cole!
8. Okay, I'm busted-- a guilty pleasure from the seventies.
9. I love the Beach Boys in general, but this is probably my favorite Beach Boys song.
10. My second-favorite band from the eighties, after the Clash.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Someone Help This Lady Out

Yesterday evening, my stepdaughter informed me that she had some books, cds and dvds that needed to be back to the library that day. Since the library was closing in an hour, I told her I'd run the material over there.

While I was there, I took a sweep through the DVD section to see if there was anything interesting. And there was: they had the long-awaited DVD release of John Cassevetes' "The Killing of a Chinese" bookie, a movie that I've read about for years, but never had the opportunity to see. While I was checking it out, I noticed that the library had a bunch of DVDs explaining the switchover to digital television. I was reminded of an incident I'd witnessed on that very spot a few months ago.

I was waiting to check out some material, and an elderly lady in front of me was inquiring about a video she'd heard about that would walk her through setting up her old television to receive digital television signals. The gentleman at the counter told her that they did indeed have a DVD that would help her. She asked if they had a videotape; she did not have a DVD player. I couldn't help thinking of this video that my mother sent me:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Remembering Bobby

Yesterday, Memorial Day, I took a moment to remember and thank every vet who has contributed to the freedom we have here in the United States, and another to remember my late friend Bobby Scarpelli, who passed away 11 years ago this month. He was a combat veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam as a Marine in the late sixties. He worked as a Chicago cop afterward, but was best known for working as a bouncer, after leaving the Chicago Police department due to an injury. He worked at the legendary Tut's punk club and ended up working the door at the Gingerman, on Clark Street, down the street from Wrigley Field, where he and I became friends.

Right after Bobby passed away in May, 1998, Chicago Sun-Times writer Dave Hoekstra wrote a really nice article about Bobby, which I still have. I knew most of the information in the article, but there were some things I discovered about Bobby I hadn't known, even after ten years of friendship. I had known that when John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd were here in Chicago filming the Blues Brothers, they'd opened up a "blind pig"-- an unlicensed bar. What I hadn't known, unitl I read the article, was that Bobby had been the doorman there. A lot of guys would have bragged about it. It wasn't Bobby's way.

Have you ever seen the 1985 movie "Code of Silence?" It was a pretty unremarkable cop movie, set in Chicago. There's a scene in it that was based on a real incident, where two criminals unwittingly enter a "cop" bar with the intent to rob it, and are shocked to discover that the place they intended to rob was filled with dozens of armed cops. I knew this was based on a real incident, in a cop bar on Cortland Avenue. I'd heard the story over the years thirdhand from cops who had heard about it from cops who were there that night. One night, I was talking to Bobby about it and discovered that he'd been there that night. He described it in detail-- how they'd known instantly that the guys were robbers-- they walked into a bar on a hot summer night wearing full coats to conceal their weapons. As they walked around the bar, Bobby and the other cops were making bets on which of them would draw first. When the guys drew and were disarmed by dozens of cops-- apparently these two idiots were the only two people who did not know that this bar was a well-known cop hangout-- they had trouble getting a patrol to come pick the guys up; they thought the guys in the bar were pulling a prank. Nobody, they thought, could be dumb enough to try to rob that particular bar.

I got to know Bobby back in my illustrious youth when the Gingerman was my hangout. My favorite seat in the place was a barstool near the front. This meant that on a slower night, I frequently ended up talking to Bobby. He was a true Chicago character. There were a million things I remember about him-- one was that he insisted that he wasn't Italian-- he was Sicilian. As Hoekstra pointed out in his article, Bobby always gave people the benefit of the doubt-- he was fair, but firm when he needed to be. One of my favorite Bobby Scarpelli stories was about an incident I missed, but heard about the next night. A guy came into the bar and proceeded to move about the place pinching girls in the ass. Bobby walked up to the guy and politely told him that he needed to stop doing that. A few minutes later, a woman came to Bobby to tell him that the guy had continued doing it. Bobby walked over to the guy, put his hand on the guys shoulder and calmly told him that he had to leave.

The guy reeled around and swung at Bobby. Bobby, who saw the punch coming from a mile away, stepped back. He hadn't realized, however, that there was a barstool behind him. He stumbled over it, falling backward and the offender jumped on him.

I laughed out loud when other patrons described Bobby picking himself and the guy up, pounding the guy, then bringing him to the door and literally throwing him out the door. You can see why he had the nickname "Bobzilla."

Yet, in the end, he was one of the nicest, gentlest people I've ever known. When my son was born, we talked about him becoming my son's godfather. I was amused by the idea that my son would have a Sicilian godfather.

One of Bobby's trademarks was that he always wore a button, frequently one a customer had given him. Around the time of the 1988 election, I gave him a button I'd see him wear frequently over the years: "Lick Bush." Not only was Bobby politically liberal, but he loved a good double entendre.

Years later Bobby returned the favor. In the middle of the fight over custody with my ex-girlfriend over my son, he saw how upset and disheartened I was getting. I was trying to finish my teaching certification while spending money hand over fist on a lawyer-- and in the middle of it, my first wife asked for a divorce. I felt overwhelmed. One night he told me that he had something for me. It was a button that said "I'll Do Whatever It Takes." I was nearly in tears. He told me that one thing he knew about me was that I always kept my eye on what was important, and that as long as I kept doing that, things would turn out okay. And he said something that my mother had also said: "This too shall pass."

And it did pass. A year later, I was done with school and had signed a joint custody agreement with my ex-girlfriend. I started looking for a teaching job.

In early 1998, Bobby was stricken with liver disease. He was in a coma for some time. He came out of the coma, but was greatly weakened. The Gingerman held a fundraiser for Bobby, who had huge medical bills. I attended the fundraiser, where I had a chance to talk to Bobby. I was shocked at the sight of a guy who I knew as a strong, boisterous, lively guy greatly weakened.

A few weeks later, Bobby passed away.

Over the years, my life has moved on. Life has thrown a few more challenges my way, but not a day goes on when I don't think of my friend and his advice, "This too shall pass." I still miss him. I wish I could tell him that things were going well-- I'm happily remarried, am now raising two kids, and about to embark on another career. I'm still doing whatever it takes, Bobby.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Excuse My Absence

It's been a week since I posted, and my posting has been sparse in general lately. I came to the realization this weekend that the accident I had a few weeks ago had shaken me up more than I'd realized.

I haven't said much about it here. On May 3, I was driving my son to my ex's house, when a guy in a Nissan Murano SUV rolled a stop sign and broadsided my little Toyota Corolla. His car struck me square on the door. I had my eyes on the road, but my son was watching the other car-- he shouted out a warning just before it struck us. He said that the guy was actually accelerating when he hit us.

I checked to see that my son was okay, then realized I was cut up from the window, which had shattered when the Murano hit us. To my disbelief, the car was still driveable. I got my son out of the car, moved my car out of the intersection, called the cops and began getting information from the other driver.

The first thing out of his mouth was "Oh my god-- this car is brand new!" Uh, gee, I think my kid and I are okay. We exchanged information. I called Kim to tell her what happened, and to ask her to pick Adam up and get him to my ex's house. After nearly half an hour, the police still had not shown up. I drove my car to my home. My neighbor Bob was kind enough to let me keep the car in his garage overnight-- with the window broken, anybody could have walked off with battery, radio, etc. I cleaned the blood off of my arm and leg and went to work that night.

To make a long story short, the other guy's insurance company assumed most of the liability. I bought myself a new used car-- a Camry (I love Toyotas). I should get the settlement check tomorrow.

In the meantime, my various aches and pains have been subsiding, but I've been left with an unsettling realization-- that if I'd been in my old Plymouth Horizon, the car I was left with at the end of my second marriage, I likely would not have been able to walk away from the accident. I realized over the last couple of weeks that the accident had made me nervous about getting in a car and driving.

This weekend, I worked a lot, but otherwise took it easy. I counted my blessings; the accident could have hurt my son or I badly, or disrupted my plans to start nursing school this fall.

Tonight, I got in my new used car to go pick Kim and Mel up at the airport (they went to visit my in-laws this weekend). I turned on the satellite radio and took my Camry out onto the Kennedy expressway. Getting on the highway gave me a chance to try out the cruise control-- the one thing I'd asked my mechanic for when looking at cars. It makes the 11 or 12 hour drive to see my folks much easier. As I neared the airport, I realized that I was relaxed, and having fun-- I'd forgotten how much fun it is driving a car with a manual transmission. I also realized that there was one other benefit of having an old-fashioned manual transmission: it forces me to pay much more attention to my driving. And my son should be happy about it-- I'll be teaching him to drive in the next year, and he expressed a desire to learn how to drive a manual transmission car. Looks like he'll learn to drive on one.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Thoughts On Torture

In 1983, one of my brothers was a Marine, serving in the ill-fated "peacekeeping" force that Ronald Reagan sent to Beirut, Lebanon to expedite Israel's departure from that country, which it had invaded the year before.

In October of that year, two young militants drove up to a concrete barracks building that many of the Marines were living in, in a truck with over a ton of explosives and ignited it. Fortunately, my brother was not in that building, and not one of the 241 soldiers who were killed. His unit was living in tents about a mile from the barracks. He did, however, spend several days participating in the desperate efforts to get the handful of survivors out from under thousands of tons of concrete rubble. The experiences of dealing with the bodies of guys he'd known and watching others die in front of him have badly damaged him.

Years later, he told me that this wasn't even his worst experience in Beirut. The situation, he had told me, was chaotic; there were many factions fighting one another, and some of them sniping and shelling the Marines occasionally. His most terrifying experience, he told me, was one afternoon when he was catching a nap in his tent. A mortar shell from one of the many factions dropped near his tent. The concussion knocked him out of his cot-- and knocked his glasses off of his face. Like me, he is severely nearsighted. As the dust from the shell settled, he frantically searched for his glasses. He thought that the camp was being overrun by one of the factions, and the thing he feared even more than being wounded was being captured. If that had happened, it would not have been by a regular army that was abiding by the Geneva Convention. The time it took him to find his glasses, probably less than a minute, seemed like a lifetime.

Capture is one of the inevitabilities of war. When we send our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers off to fight in a war, there is the possibility that they will be captured. The Geneva Accords were enacted to assure that POW's would be treated humanely.

During World War II, members of Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe, made regular inspections of the POW camps that Allied prisoners were held in, to make sure that the conditions were relatively humane-- and that torture was not being used. Their concern was a practical one. They wanted to make sure that Luftwaffe members who were prisoners of the Allies would not be tortured. They hoped that if Allied prisoners were treated well, their captured colleagues would be too.

When I volunteered for Amnesty International, I learned a lot about torture. For one thing, it doesn't work as a means of obtaining information. Another thing I learned is that it usually has nothing to do with obtaining information to begin with; it's usually a means of social control, for instilling fear in the populace.

Another discovery that people who have studied torture made is that when torture is systematized, it attracts people who like to torture-- it attracts sadists and sociopaths. Ideology, ethnicity, nationality are all irrelevant. People who torture share a pathology that transcends all of those things. Also, it was discovered that the torturers usually end up more psychologically damaged that their victims.

There's a lot of debate going on right now about torture. It turns out that people our forces captured were tortured. If anyone tries to claim "waterboarding" is not torture, I think they should be subjected to it and then asked if they've changed their opinions. The stories that are coming out are surreal-- the two Al Queda suspects that were waterboarded hundreds of times. One wonders about the mentality of those who would do this-- after, say, the 115th time you tortured a guy, and he still hadn't "cracked," you say "Yeah, I've got him right where I want him! Another 20 or 30 times, and he'll give up the information!"

There's a lot of finger-pointing; who knew what, and when. And in the middle of it all, is a smug asshole, Dick Cheney, claiming that the torture saved hundreds of lives-- despite the fact that they tortured false information out of people to justify going into an unnecessary war with Iraq. An unnecessary war that's cost thousands of lives-- American, Allied and Iraqi.

The eight years of George W. Bush's presidency have damaged this country on so many levels-- economically, politically. Centuries old alliances are frayed. The economy is in tatters. And maybe worst of all, we've lost our moral compass.

One of the things that happened as the last administration hurtled us toward the disastrous war in Iraq was that those of us questioned it were called "unpatriotic." I can take being called a lot of things-- "liberal" seems to be an insult in the eyes of those people. But "unpatriotic" is one thing I will not abide. I'll hold my patriotism up to any flag-waving Republican's any day. You see, there are principals that this country stands for. They're enshrined in a remarkable document called "The United States Constitution." You know, the thing that an incoming President swears to uphold while taking the oath of office. In it, there are certain guarantees and protections that no law-- and no government official-- can take away. I'm willing to fight-- and die-- to protect that document.

You see, that's what separates us from them-- we have the rule of law. When we stray from that, we lose what's best and most important about our country. The war against the people who perpetrated 9/11 is a difficult one. It's not against a regular army. It's against a bunch of fanatics and sociopaths, headed by a megalomaniac.

I've mentioned in a previous post, that one of the stated purposes of using terror as a tactic is to cause the enemy to overreact, compromising his own principles, even coming down on his own people. And at first, Bin Laden and his cronies were successful in this. The "Patriot" Act, torture, illegal seizures and imprisonings, military tribunals that were kangaroo courts-- all of these things were leading us down a really bad path. But slowly, quiet heroes have righted things-- the lawyers appointed to the detainees, federal judges, legislators and others have been reinstituting the rule of law that was wiped away by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove. These other people see that the marginal benefit gained with these tactics were not worth the long-term damage they did to our society, to our souls. They see that in order to retain the most important aspects of our society, of our civilization, we can't let anything, even the horrific events of 9/11/01, make us give that up.

Because, goddammit, we are the good guys.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Brief Respite Friday Random Ten

I took nearly a week off of blogging inadvertently for various reasons-- work, school (two tests in three days) and dealing with the repercussions of my car getting wrecked a couple of weeks ago. Things are better now. I've got an insurance-company supplied loaner-- a PT Cruiser!-- and a settlement brewing. I've still got some pain in my left side-- the other car, an SUV, struck square on my door-- but it's subsiding. In the meantime, I'm planning out my three week break before summer school-- I'm going to take another crack at cleaning our crowded basement. Wish me luck.

1. Corrina, Corrina- Bob Dylan
2. God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)- Randy Newman
3. It's a Shame- The Spinners
4. Being Watched- The Uptown Rulers
5. Gimme Dat Ding- The Pipkins
6. I'm Still Standing- Elton John
7. Humdrum- Peter Gabriel
8. You're All Invited To A Party- World Party
9. A Little Is Enough- Pete Townsend
10. Not Fade Away- Buddy Holly

1. An early folky Dylan song
2. Randy Newman doesn't like religion, I think.
3. An early hit for these guys.
4. Don't look for this terrific central Illinois ska group on Itunes-- my old friend Dan and I digitized the songs from their two ep's some years back. This one's from their first ep, "12", Twelve!"
5. Some likeable seventies silliness.
6. One of my favorite Elton John songs-- an early eighties song telling the world that he wasn't done yet.
7. From Peter Gabriel's first post-Genesis solo album.
8. Waterboys alumnus Karl Wallinger is, pretty much "World Party." His first album, "Private Revolution" was one of my favorites of the eighties. This one is from the early '90's, and is, to the best of my knowledge, the only song in existence to mention both my hometown Chicago and Hanoi, Vietnam.
9. From Empty Glass, which I like nearly as much as any Who album.
10. Buddy Holly's music still sounds fresh and exciting to me these days.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Milk and Mom

A few weeks ago, I Netflixed Gus Van Sant's terrific movie "Milk." It got me to thinking about changes in society, homophobia and my mother.

The movie depicted Anita Bryant's hate campaign against gay folks. I remember it well. I was in high school, and was a good old American teenaged homophobe. Like racism and sexism, homophobia was entrenched in white suburban society.

One day, my mother and I happened to be in the kitchen at the same time, and the ever-present radio was on. The WGN newscaster recounted how Bryant had said that homosexuals should be wiped off the face of the earth. I chuckled and said that she was right. My mother, a little shocked, turned to me and asked why I would say a thing like that-- what have they ever done to you?

I stood there in shocked silence-- and thought. I realized that she was right. It was a turning point in my life. If I hadn't dropped the homophobia, I would have missed out on a bunch of terrific friendships, including that of my best friend Jim. On this Mother's Day, decades later, I realize how many of the core values I have were thanks to my mother, whom I'm lucky enough to have around still. Not everyone is so lucky. Thanks Mom, for what you gave me, and for being you.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Dion, "King of the New York Streets"

I've loved Dion's music since I was a kid-- "The Wanderer" and "Abraham, Martin and John," among others, have been favorites of mine since I started listening to the radio in the mid and late sixties.

A couple of years ago, my wife got me Sirius Radio for my birthday, and I quickly fell in love with Little Steven's Underground Garage. One of the things is that I've discovered lots of new music-- either newer groups I'd never heard of, like the Boss Martians and the Cocktail Slippers, older groups I'd never heard of, such as The Cake-- and old songs I'd never heard from artists I loved, like Dion's "King of the New York Streets."

"King of the New York Streets" is full of brilliant wordplay, both broggadio and cautionary-- the story of a guy who had it all, and then walks away before he loses it all. If you took away the melody, it could be a rap song. I found a performance on Youtube from 1990, where Dion has Mussel Shoals guy (and "Dock of the Bay" co-author) Steve Cropper playing with him.

The Aches and Headaches Friday Random Ten

As my aches and pains from my car being wrecked last Sunday begin to fade, I'm left with a lingering headache-- no car. I pick my stepdaughter up from school most days, and thusfar, my neighbor/friend Patrick has lent me his car. I expected a loaner by now. I talked to the other guy's insurance today. It looks like they're headed toward accepting liability, but haven't talked to their guy yet. They told me that I could get a loaner at their rate and they'd reimburse me when it's all settled up. I'll go rent one on Monday.

In the meantime, this afternoon's bike ride and softball practice with my stepdaughter is going to leave me with a more familiar and-- much more welcome-- soreness.

1. Wait Until Tomorrow- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
2. Freiheit!- Jamie O'Reilly and Michael Smith
3. These Dreams of You- Van Morrison
4. Frenchette- David Johansen
5. Bye & Bye- Bob Dylan
6. Lover's Concerto- The Toys
7. The Last Resort- The Eagles
8. Come Back Jonee- Devo
9. The Right Profile- The Clash
10. Senior Service- Elvis Costello and the Attractions

1. I grew up on "Purple Haze," "Are You Experienced" and "Foxy Lady." Discovered this one in later life.
3. German for "Freedom." It's from an album about the Lincoln Brigade. Michael Smith wrote the lovely song "The Dutchman," which Steve Goodman covered wonderfully.
3. From Moondance.
4. From New York Doll David Johansen's fabulous first solo album, and one of my favorite-ever songs.
5. From "Love and Theft."
6. The melody from this song is based on a classical song
7. This one's the closing track on "Hotel California," one of the first albums I ever bought
8. From Devo brilliant and often manic first album. Another one from that one, "Uncontrollable Urge" has become a Yen family favorite to do on Rock Band.
9. A song from "London Calling" about the tragic movie star Montgomery Clift.
10. From "My Aim Is True," one of the greatest first albums ever.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Best of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game"

When former Chicago White Sox announcer Harry Carey replaced the retiring Jack Brickhouse as the commentator for the Chicago Cubs, he brought with him a tradition-- singing "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" at the seventh inning stretch. When Carey died in 1998, the Cubs continued the tradition, with different people singing the song at each game.

One of my favorite memories of a game was one I attended with my old friend Dan and some other friends. The group Styx, whom Dan considers pretty much to be the worst music group in history, performed it at that game, much to Dan's dread (and our delight).

More recently, mediocre actress Denise Richards performed it-- very poorly. As a singer, Richards, is, well, a mediocre actress.

The most notorious rendition, however, remains Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne's August 19, 2003 travesty:

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

An Anniversary: Bob Dylan and Isis

"I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong
Bob Dylan

When I first started listening to FM radio, in 1975, when I was a freshman in high school, a world of music opened up to me. I'd heard songs on AM radio since I was a baby, and had grown to love the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan through their hits. With FM, I discovered there was a hidden side of all of these artists-- great songs that never got played on AM-- the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps;" the Stones' "Sympathy For The Devil;" and later, in early 1976, Bob Dylan's "Isis."

"Isis" was on 1976's "Desire" album. Like its predecessor, "Blood On the Tracks," a lot of the material was about the breakup of his marriage. Indeed, "Desire" ends with a heart-breaking song called "Sara," in which he recounts "Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel/Writing 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands'" for her.

There was also his return to protest after over a decade away, with "Hurricane." He wrote a number of story-songs, many with songwriter/theater director Jacques Levy. Among them were "Black Diamond Bay" and of course, "Isis."

Isis became one of my favorite songs. When I started taking piano lessons, I got myself a couple of Dylan songbooks, and "Isis" was one of the songs I wanted to learn.

A few years later, WXRT, the local "prog-rock" station began playing a live version of the song, from a promotional ep (extended play, for you youngsters out there) of songs culled from the "Rolling Thunder Revue." The Revue was part concert series and part burlesque show. He was joined by a number of others, including his ex-girlfriend Joan Baez, Byrds alumnus Roger McGuinn, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Kinky Friedman, T-Bone Burnette and others. At the beginning of the cut, he explains what the song is about: "This is a song about marriage. It's called Isis." I began to like this version as much as the much slower and cleaner studio version. I always searched the cut-out bins of records stores hoping to find a copy of the promotional ep that it was on, to no avail. Then, in 1985, Dylan released the great "Biograph" box set, and included the version that had appeared on the promotional ep on it.

I think that the vid is from "Hard Rain," a poorly-received 1976 television special that documented the "Rolling Thunder" tour. The performances were spotty, but this one was right on the mark. The violin player is Scarlett Rivera, who performed on the Desire album.

Monday, May 04, 2009

All Good News

I was able to get an appointment with the doctor today. My regular doctor wasn't available, but someone else in the practice was.

It looks like I was bruised internally on my left side. My arm and shoulder are sore, some cuts, which are already healing, on my elbow, hand and knee, but it's all minor, as I figured.

I was glad I went. I wanted to have a paper trail for other guy's insurance company-- that I was injured enough to see the doctor. There was a bonus. When the nurse took my blood pressure, which is routine, it turned out that it was normal-- 118/78. This is great. It's been high for a few years, but during the visits about my asthma, my new doctor got on me about it, telling me she was going to turn to medication if I didn't get it under control. I started taking it seriously, cutting the ridiculous amount of salt I had in my diet out. Obviously it worked.

Plus, when I asked my substitute doctor if I could play the violin when I was healed, he told me I could. I told him that I was really happy about that, because I couldn't play the violin before...

No, just kidding. That joke's too old for even me to tell. Well, not for a few years at least...


Yesterday, while I was taking The Dude to my ex's house, a guy in a Nissan SUV rolled a stop sign, right into the door on my side. The Dude was unhurt, fortunately. My left side is sore, and I got cut up by flying glass, but all in all, was lucky to be able to walk away. The car was barely drivable-- I got it home, where my neighbor Bob was kind enough to let me keep in his garage until I could run it over to my mechanic today. It's looking like it's going to be totaled. I exchanged information with the other driver-- we called the police, who never showed up. In the meantime, just to be on the safe side, I'm seeing a doctor at 6 PM today.

There was one funny thing. I called Kim, who came over and drove Adam over to my ex's house. She told me that he said, on the trip there, "Boy, my dad is sure a lot calmer than he used to be. Back in the old days he would have beaten that guy up...."

Friday, May 01, 2009

The "All Business" Friday Random Ten

Now that I've gotten into nursing school, I have to sit down today and start tackling financial aid. After that, a little housework and studying. All business today.

1. It Ain't Me Babe- Bob Dylan
2. Down On Mission Street- Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
3. Please Please Me- The Beatles
4. Someplace Where Love Can't Find Me- Marshall Crenshaw
5. Los Quatro Generales- Jamie O'Reilly and Michael Smith
6. Box of Rain- The Grateful Dead
7. Is Your Love Strong Enough?- Bryan Ferry
8. Girl From The North Country- Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan
9. Sex Machine- James Brown
10. Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying- Gerry and the Pacemakers

1. One of Bob Dylan's meanest songs.
2. I love me some Lloyd Cole...
3. One of the Beatles' first hits
4. This guy should have been way bigger than he was.
5. From an album about the Lincoln Brigade, Pasiones.
6. A lovely little song about life and loss
7. Solo stuff from Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry
8. What's better than Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan? Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan
9. "Stay on the beam..."
10. This song and "Ferry Across the Mersey" are a couple of my favorites by these guys.