Friday, July 31, 2009

Father's Day

Father's Day was over a month ago, and though it might seem to be a bit belated to post about it, it isn't, for reasons you will see.

The picture at the top was not actually taken on Father's Day, but about a week later. it is one of my favorite pictures of my kids-- it includes their friend Alexandra. We'd finished eating food I'd cooked on the Weber, and they were toasting marshmallows.

This summer has been a ball-buster for me. I made the decision to take one of the courses I needed for the nursing program, Anatomy 2, one of the harder ones, in summer school. I took it for a number of reasons-- among them, that I wanted to have it out of the way, so that I wasn't taking it while I was juggling time with my kids, preparing for nursing school and work

Work has become interesting. When I was a teacher, I worked as a waiter because it was the perfect second job-- you walked out of the place with cash in your hands, no lesson plans to worry about, no politics to worry about-- it was a great part-time job-- and it was fun-- you had a couple of drinks at the end of the night and chatted with co-workers.

Now it's a different reality. It's my only source of income now. I like most of the customers and most of my co-workers, but the fact is that at 48, I am doing this at an age I had never planned to be doing this. While it helps keeps me in good physical shape, it also kicks my ass physically.

My school and work schedule has also cost me time with my wife and my kids. With Kim, my consolation is that she and I will have the rest of our lives together. Becoming a nurse will give us a financial stability that we've craved for a long time. The time I miss with my kids is harder. I have only a few years with Adam until he's an adult, and a few years with Mel after that.

Both of my kids have survived the end of their parents' relationships. They've survived my and Kim's financially difficult single days. They've survived blending two families into one. And thrived. They're friends. And, as people have noted, they think of one another as a brother and sister. I couldn't be prouder of them.

Today, I had a full plate; I had to get up early and take a CPR course this morning that is a requirement for my program. I had worked last night, and so was really exhausted this morning, and the rest of the day. But I try to keep my eye on the ball. I try to remember what this is going to mean-- that my kids will be able to go to college and come out of it without crippling debt. They'll be able to study whatever they want and do whatever they want afterward without worrying about paying off $100,000 in college debt. It's important to me.

But tonight, we weren't worried about college. We went and played putt-putt golf and had fun. We got home and the kids got out the "Settlers of Cataan" game. They're happily playing it right now with their friend Arleigh. They've got the Beatles playing on Itunes, and I can tell from the noise level that they're having a great time. And so am I. I'm brain-dead from my busy day, and am unwinding with a glass of wine, enjoying watching "When We Left The Earth," a dvd that Skyler's Dad was kind enough to send me.

Because of the joint custody agreement I have, my son is frequently not here. Last weekend, he wasn't here because I'd allowed my ex to have him last weekend for an event that was important to her. I realized that I was pretty irritable all week. And I realized that it was because I'd had to go too long without seeing my son. Tonight, I'm happy to have both my kids here, happy to hear them with their friend having a great time.

The other day, I overheard my stepdaughter and my wife having a discussion. My stepdaughter told my wife that she'd observed that I always made time for she and her step-brother, and for what was important to them, no matter how crazy my schedule has gotten. And she's right. And I always will.

When my son was a baby, my father gave me some great advice. He told me as daunting as it may seem, looking across the chasm of the next 18 years, it was going to be, believe it or not, a tiny, tiny moment of life-- of yours and theirs. You only get them for this moment, and then they are adults.

It's funny how much smarter your parents get as you get older. He was absolutely right, and I'm happy to say that I've always kept his advice in mind.

So on Father's Day, I had a wonderful day. Not only was I surrounded by my lovely wife and my wonderful kids, but Bubs and his family. But it isn't just that day.

I've had some great successes in my life, and some stunning failures. I'm about to start one more career and it scares me to death. I hope I'll be able to add it to the success column. But as I hear my two bright, kind and happy kids playing together, I know that I can put one thing into the success column. I've raised two kids who are going to be ready to take on the world. They're confident, curious and competent. They make me happy realizing that despite my greatest fears, I've done my job. I love being a parent. Father's Day is not just the third Sunday every June. To me, it's every day.

The "Bat Out of Hell" Friday Random Ten

I've been running like a bat out of hell for the last week, with work and trying to get everything done for nursing school-- hence the lack of posts. I did do the legwork for a couple of posts that I think you'll enjoy. Tonight, though, it's dinner and Putt-Putt golf with the kids.

1. Europa- Santana
2. Frankenstein- Edgar Winter Group
3. Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie (On The King of Rock and Roll)- Long John Baldry
4. The Stars of Warburton- Midnight Oil
5. Happy- The Rolling Stones
6. Run, Run, Run- The Velvet Underground
7. Forever Young- Bob Dylan
8. Jumping Someone Else's Train- The Cure
9. You Got The Silver- The Rolling Stones
10. Heaven- Los Lonely Boys

1. Love this slow, smoky instrumental.
2. Holy smokes, another of my favorite instrumentals!
3. A great story-song.
4. My favorite Midnight Oil song. Love the imagery in it.
5. From Exile On Main Street, the greatest rock and roll album ever.
6. The Velvets' first album is one of the great debut albums ever.
7. This is a lovely, spare demo arrangement from the fabulous "Biograph" set.
8. I wasn't crazy about the Cure in the eighties, but they've grown on me over the years.
9. Woo hoo! More Stones, this time from Let It Bleed
10. A sweet little number from a few years ago.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Vacation Friday Random Ten

My Anatomy 2 summer school class finally wrapped up on Wednesday. I took a day to decompress, and even get some reading done-- I'm devouring Bryan Burroughs "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34." It's been at the top of my reading list since it was published in 2004. I'll post a review as soon as I'm done, but let me just say that as much as I like Michael Mann as a filmmaker, the book so vastly superior. Like I said, more later.

1. Mainline Florida- Eric Clapton
2. The Old Laughing Lady- Neil Young
3. The Beat Goes On- Sonny and Cher
4. Redemption Song- Joe Strummer and the Mescaleroes
5. Love Me Tender- Elvis Presley
6. I Threw It All Away- Bob Dylan
7. Real Men- Joe Jackson
8. Excuse Me- Peter Gabriel
9. Moondance- Van Morrison
10. Blinded By The Light- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

1. From Eric Clapton's "comeback" album, 461 Ocean Blvd. Ironically, he had just got off heroin. (To "mainline" is to shoot up heroin).
2. From Neil Young's great first solo album
3. This one is still a lot of fun.
4. A great Bob Marley cover by the Clash's Joe Strummer
5. The melody of this song is based on "Aura Lee," an old folk song.
6. A bittersweet little number from "Nashville Skyline."
7. From Jackson's great 1982 "Night and Day" album.
8. From Peter Gabriel's first post-Genesis solo album.
9. The perfect autumn song.
10. Manfred Mann had a huge hit with a cover of this in 1976, but the original is my favorite

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I'm Still Here!

I know my posts have beens sparse lately. I am in the midst of three tests in three days. Tomorrow's the last day of class. I'll have a test on the urinary system, and I'll be pissed if I don't do well on it.

Okay, so I flunked out of comedy school...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Right Here, That's Where...

A few weeks ago, Republican Fucktard Congressman Boehner had a video where he had a bloodhound searching for jobs created by the Economic Stimulus money. Huffington had a post about it here:

I can tell him exactly where a portion of the money is: resurfacing Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Here's a picture.

The stretch of Lincoln Avenue, around Bryn Mawr, was pot-holed to the point of being dangerous; I had to drive over it when I picked up my son at my ex's house. I'm very happy it's being fixed.

Boehner is, of course, playing to the rubes that 1. forget that a Republican was president for the previous eight years, and the current Democrat has had not even eight months to start mitigating the damage of the previous administrations and 2. don't realize that his state, Ohio, has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and stands to gain the most from publicly-created jobs.

Keep on digging your hole, Republican Party.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The "Sprint To The Finish" Friday Random Ten

I've got to meet classmate Paul this afternoon to study for Monday's test, then work tonight, Saturday and a double shift Sunday. Oh, and tests and work on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thankfully Wednesday is the last day of class.

1. Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon- Urge Overkill
2. Sexual Healing- Soul Asylum
3. Original Sin- INXS
4. How Deep Is Your Love- The Bee Gees
5. School's Out- Alice Cooper
6. Suspicious Minds- Fine Young Cannibals
7. Bela Lugosi Is Dead- Bauhaus
8. Cherry Bomb- John Mellencamp
9. Keep Your Hands To Yourself- The Georgia Satellites
10. Cathy's Clown- The Everly Brothers

1. From the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Funny how I usually like Neil Diamond when others cover him-- Monkees' "I'm a Believer," UB40's "Red Red Wine," and this one-- though I do like his own versions too.
2. Okay, a theme here-- a midwestern band covering a song. This time it's a Marvin Gaye song.
3. I nearly wore this album out the summer of 1984, along with REM's Reckoning, Prince's 1999 and Huey Lewis and the News' "Sports."
4. This is one from the Bee Gees' disco period, but sounds more like something from their folky roots. The Brothers Gibb could write a pretty tune, couldn't they?
5. This one was put to good use in "Dazed and Confused," one of my favorite movies.
6. A fine cover from the Fine Young Cannibals' first album.
7. There used to be a punk bar at 63rd and Pulaski in Chicago called "Over Easy." They had a remarkable jukebox that had great songs like Husker Du's cover of "Eight Miles High," and this song, with a cover of T. Rex' "Telegram Sam" on the other side.
8. John Mellencamp at Poplar Creek in 1988 is one of the great shows I ever saw. This song was popular at the time.
9. These guys were refugees from The Brains, the song that wrote and originally performed "Money Changes Everything," which Cyndi Lauper covered.
10. The Everly Brothers were pioneers in the "Brothers Who Hate Each Other But Are In A Band Together" movement-- the Davies Brothers (Kinks) and the Gallagher Brothers (Oasis) have continued it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Movie Recommendation

I am totally fried; this is the longest week of my life and it's only Wednesday. My only consolation is that next week will be even more grueling-- three tests in three days. And that I have no class or work tomorrow (traded a shift with someone at work). I'm trying to get back to a post a day. Today's post is a movie recommendation.

This weekend, I watched a really fun movie with my son (my daughter wasn't back from visiting her grandparents yet). It was the 2003 "My Dinner With Jimi," which I'd wanted to see since it was released. The title is obviously an homage to "My Dinner With Andre," a movie I love.

In any event, the autobiographical "My Dinner With Jimi" was written by Howard Kaylan, one of the singers for the great sixties group The Turtles. It revolves around the short time when their lovely pop hit "Happy Together" was #1 in 1967, the "Summer of Love," and they were sent to England to tour to support the single. On his first night, Kaylan, who was an oddity in the music business-- an LA musician who was actually from LA-- meets all of his idols and then some. In the course of the evening he meets all of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones, Donovan, and of course a guy who he'd barely heard of, but who is, of course, the most sweet, charming, visionary and magnanimous guy in the whole bunch, Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix who had survived, among many things in his musical career, a disasterous tour with the Monkees, and was about to go back to the states with the band he'd formed with two Englishmen, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, and play the Monterey Pop Festival, which would break him out huge. Hendrix has no idea he is about to become a legend, and asks Kaylan, who is as hapless as he is about fame and legend, despite having a #1 hit, what his secret is. I'll leave it at that.

The casting is great, the story is great, with some surprises and some unflinching-- and at times unflattering-- depictions of '60's icons.

"Happy Together" was one of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio as a kid. My daughter and I love to karaoke together to this song. Everytime I hear it or sing it, it reminds me of what a pure piece of pop beauty it was. In the movie, they reenact this video from the Smothers Brothers show. Here's the original video from the Smothers Brothers show.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Greatest Game That Never Was

In June of 1979, I graduated high school. Toward the end of high school, I had, true to form, become friends with two completely different groups of people. One group was a group of guys and women who "partied," though I didn't. The other was a more serious group-- all college-bound, who shared my love of music.

Toward the end of the school year, someone in that second group had gotten ahold of the summer schedule for Ravinia, a beautiful pavillion theater in Chicago's north shore. Not only were there a bunch of great shows that summer, but we could get lawn seats for only 4 bucks. We picked out three shows to go to over the summer: Steve Goodman and Bonnie Koloc, David Bromberg and McGuinn, Clark and Hillman (basically the Byrds, missing David Crosby) and Pete Seeger with Arlo Guthrie.

It seemed particularly important to see the Seeger/Guthrie show. Pete Seeger was getting up in the years-- he was 60 years old in 1979-- and Guthrie was waiting to discover if he had Huntington's Chorea, the genetic disease that had taken his father Woody Guthrie's life.

In July, we heard of one other great event: Disco Demolition. For you youngsters, let me put the times in context. In the mid seventies, it was easy to hear great rock music on the radio, both AM and FM. Then suddenly, after the popularity of "Saturday Night Fever," radio programmers suddenly started switching to all-disco formats. When one rock station, WDAI became "Disco 'DAI," one of the disc jockeys, Steve Dahl, who was not happy about the format change, started openly disparaging the records he was forced to play. He was fired, and quickly hired by WLUP, "The Loop," which had continued a rock format.

From his bully pulpit, Dahl ranted against disco. He would "blow up" disco records on the air-- symbolically, of course, with an "explosion" soundtrack in the background.

Dahl announced that he was going to have a promotion with the Chicago White Sox. On May 2, a game with the Detroit Tigers was rained out. League rules required that this game be made up through a double-header on the next meeting the teams had. This was July 12, 1979. Dahl invited fans to bring a disco record to the game, where he was going to literally blow up the records.

My friends and I were excited about this game. My friend Jim got ahold of some disco 45's and we began planning for the game, just a few days away. Then it hit me-- that date sounded familiar. Sure enough, I checked our Ravinia tickets, and realized that was the night of the Seeger/Guthrie show. So many social engagements, so little time. Since we'd already bought the tickets, we decided to go to the concert.

The summer of '79, I ran into my high school friend Art Rus twice on commuter trains going from Chicago to the western suburbs. One of those times was the night of July 12, 1979. That night, as my friends and I returned from the concert, Art, nearly hyperventilating, told us a tale that was barely believeable. Indeed, we thought he certainly had to be exaggerating. Steve Dahl and company had gathered the disco records-- well, most of them. Hundreds of them had been whipping over and through the crowd like lethal frisbees. As Dahl blew up the bin full of records, Art told us, the crowd went crazy, spilling over the fences. In the meantime, the "Andy Frain" security people were dispatched to the perimeter of Comiskey Field in a vain attempt to stop the thousands of non-ticket holders who were climbing the walls getting into the stadium. With nobody to stop them, tens of thousands poured onto the field, stealing everything they could, even tearing out patches of the field. With Harry Carey, then the announcer for the White Sox, vainly beseeching the stoned masses to go back to their seats, the Detroit manager pointed out that since they couldn't get the crowd under control and the field was now unplayable, the White Sox would have to forfeit the game. The umpires agreed.

The crowd finally dispersed when dozens of baton-swinging Chicago cops arrived.

I had a feeling that I may have missed something historic.

A lot of people have pointed to that event as the death knell of disco. Over the years, my own hatred of disco has mellowed; I find it to have a kitschy humor, like platform shoes and white suits with wide lapels. But over the years, I've considered my decision to see Seeger and Guthrie that night.

In 1998, I saw Seeger perform once again, at an event in New York City. He just turned 90 in May, and is still performing. Arlo Guthrie, who had turned 32 a couple of nights before I saw him perform, did not, happily, have Huntington's Disease. He is now 62, older than Seeger was that night, and continues to perform. Maybe I'll go see him again the next time he's playing in town.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Johnny Yen's Chicago Stories: The Most Incompetent Bank Robber. Ever.

Last week, the Micheal Mann movie "Public Enemies" was released. The movie recounts the exploits of John Dillinger and other bank robbers in the 1930's. I'm eager to see the movie-- not only am I a big fan of Michael Mann ("Thief," "Manhunter," "Crime Story"), but the John Dillinger part of the story has a family connection: my grandparents were at the Biograph Theater the night Dillinger was shot by the FBI while coming out of the theater.

While Dillinger was regarded as a fairly successful bank robber, today I stopped to take a photo of the site of possibly the least competent bank robbery ever.

The bank in the picture has changed ownership several times in the last ten years. When it was BankOne, back about ten years ago, my now-ex-wife Cynthia and I had our joint bank account there, and she did the banking for her dance studio there. We were not there the day a bank robber came in and passed a teller a note to give him cash.

The teller quietly complied, and the robber left the bank with a bag full of cash.

Now, I've never robbed a bank, and have no plans to do so, but I do know that tellers usually put a dye pack in with the cash. And again, while I don't plan to rob a bank, if I were to do so, I would think that I would carefully plan my getaway.

The police quickly responded and just as quickly caught the robber. Apparently, his getaway plan was to take the commuter train-- you can see the station in the background, to the left, about a block from the bank, next to the railroad bridge. The police found the robber standing on the platform, covered with the blue dye from the bag full of loot that he held in his hands. Apparently, it hadn't occurred to him to check the train schedule, and plan his getaway accordingly.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Occasional Forgotten Video, Wire Train, "Should She Cry"

One of the things I find fascinating about music is how a song or an album can bring you back to a certain part in your life instantly. This is the case with Wire Train's "Should She Cry."

In 1991, I was working as a construction worker and taking classes toward my teaching certification. In the summer, we would work with asphalt-- working on driveways and parking lots-- and in the winter we would primarily do kitchen renovations. We had to make the countertops and cabinets in the northside Chicago shop my boss rented. The fall and winter of 1991, I spent a lot of time in the shop making cabinets and countertops and listening to the radio. I would switch between WNPR, which was giving coverage to the horrifying civil war erupting in Yugoslavia, and WXRT, our local "progressive rock" station. The two songs that got a lot of airplay at that time, and will always be associated with that time in my life, are Richard Thompson's "I Feel So Good (I'm Gonna Break Somebody's Heart Tonight)" and Wire Train's "Should She Cry."

Wire Train was formed in San Francisco in 1983 as The Renegades. They were on the same label, 415, as Translator and Romeo Void.

"Should She Cry" was on Wire Train's self-titled 1990 album. The vid for "Should She Cry" is simple and elegant, like the song itself. I've long conjectured about the meaning of the song. My favorite interpretation is that of an old friend, who thinks the "she" of the song is the sea-- taking in her men-- sailors-- and giving them back to their women at the end of the voyage, taking consolation in the fact that they'll always return to her.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Verdict

One of the reasons I started this blog nearly three years ago was to try to deal with the grief in the then-unsolved murder of my friend Mark "Atwood" Evans. Mark and I met at Eastern Illinois University in 1983, we remained close friends until his murder on the night of June 3/4 2006.

In August of that year, a young gang member was arrested and charged with being a participant in the robbery attempt in which Mark was shot to death. I elaborated on that in this post.

The police finally arrested the guy who shot Mark in December, 2007. It turned out that he had also murdered one of his accomplices, who he was afraid was going to "roll" on him. The prosecutors decided to try the case of the murder of the accomplice, which had more eyewitnesses, and was, consequently, a stronger case. If they could secure a conviction on that case, it would bolster the prosecution in Mark's case.

Because of school and work this week, I've got to keep this post short-- I'll post a longer one Thursday. Yesterday, the prosecution and defense gave their final arguments and the jury convened. I wasn't able to be there because of school, but old friends Tim and Matt were able to go. Since we have wifi at the school, I was able to keep Facebook on. Tim sent a note out that the jury had convened. When I got another message an hour later, that the jury had already returned, I knew that this was probably good news. It was. The defendant was found guilty on both counts-- Murder One and Use of a firearm in the commission of a crime.

The sentencing will be August 5. The minimum sentence is 45 years. The judge is known for not handing out minimum sentences. They will also have a hearing to begin the process of trying Mark's case. The same judge will preside over his case.

Funny-- as I'm finishing this post, "Alone Again, Or..." by Love came up on Little Steven's Undergound Garage. It was a song I discovered through Mark. Here's a Youtube post of the late Arthur Lee and Love performing it.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Fourth of July, 2009 With the Bubs Clan

A punishing work and school schedule is keeping me from posting as much as I usually like, but I did get a break to hang out with some delightful people at the Bubs clan's annual Fourth of July bash. Great company, great food (I ate more meat than I usually eat in a week), great hooch. And to top it off, Bubs gave me the recipe for the amazing Carolina Barbecue Sauce he serves with the vast quantities of smoked pork shoulder. I feel like I made off with a state secret.

Here are a couple of pictures:

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Hey, Baby, It's the Fourth of July

For a long time, the Fourth of July seemed to have a surprise awaiting me. This started with July 4, 1993, when I was awakened by a phone call from an ex-girlfriend telling me I was going to be a father. Fortunately, fatherhood has suited me fine, and in recent years, there have been no surprises.

Today, I'll go out to the great 4th of July party that Bubs and his family throw every year. I'll be flying solo-- Kim's on her way to visit her family in Minnesota, my stepdaughter Mel is on her annual visit to her father's parents in Florida and Adam, the best surprise I ever got, is with my ex this weekend. So I'll leave you with a link to the tale of 1997's Fourth of July surprise, when my first wife asked for a divorce, knowing full well that I was fighting for custody of the July 4th surprise from four years before, and on top of that was about to start student teaching. The night ended in a biker bar in Mattoon, Illinois with one of my closest friends, watching an AC/DC cover band, and ended particularly badly for one guy, who should have heeded the warning that it's all fun and games until somebody gets an eye put out.

Happy Fourth of July to you all!

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Day I've Been Waiting For Friday Random Ten

I ended up with an unintentional week off of blogging-- I added another shift a week, at least for the summer, school workload was staggering, and I went to the trial of the guy who killed my old friend Mark-- they're currently trying him for the murder of his own accomplice in the robbery that Mark was killed in. More on that in another post. For now, it's a beautiful July day here in Chicago, and I'm going to enjoy it.

1. You Can't Kill Me- The Washington Squares
2. Stand Or Fall- The Fixx
3. Kiss- Tom Jones with The Art Of Noise
4. Shades- Jon Wayne Texas Funeral
5. The Wall- Johnny Cash
6. We Better Talk This Over- Bob Dylan
7. I Think It Was The Wine- The Siegal-Schwall Band
8. What's What- Les McCann and Eddie
9. I Should Have Known Better- The Beatles
10. Solibury Hill- Peter Gabriel

1. Loved these guys-- punk rockers who formed a faux hipster/bohemian folk trio that sang political songs.
2. I liked the vid for this song, which was vaguely anti-war.
3. This was on the jukebox at Danny's, on Damen and Dickens, back in the day. Love the Prince original, too.
4. If you don't have this album, Jon Wayne Texas Funeral, get it. It's the funniest album ever.
5. From "Live At Folsom Prison."
6. From 1978's Street Legal. Not his best album, but it has its moments.
7. My parents used to see these guys in the sixties, down in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood, in the sixties. They're still kicking it out-- I've embeded a recent performance of this very funny song at the bottom of this post.
8. Heard this song the first time in the '70's on WXRT. Was delighted years later when I discovered that it was on the jukebox at Raven's, a bar on Clark Street I used to go after work when I worked weekend nights at a restaurant downtown.
9. The Beatles at their youngest and freshest. Still love the harmonica on this song.
10. From Peter Gabriel's first post-Genesis album. It was his biggest hit for a long time until Sledgehammer.