Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Johnny Yen's One Hit Wonders: "Tighter, Tighter," by Alive and Kicking

"Tighter, Tighter" was a hit in 1970 for the Brooklyn group Alive and Kicking. The band formed in 1968 in the basement of the original bassist Rich Luisi. In 1970, they were signed to Tommy James' Roulette Records. At first, James considered having them record his song "Crystal Blue Persuasion," but he liked that song so much he wanted to record his own version of it (he went on to have a top ten hit with it). Instead, they recorded "Tighter, Tighter," which James had written with Bob King.

"Tighter, Tighter" was released in May of 1970 and stayed in the charts for 16 weeks, selling over a million copies, certifying it as a gold record.

Alive and Kicking were never able to repeat their chart success of the lovely "Tigher, Tighter." After releasing a couple of more records, they disbanded in 1971, but reformed in 1976, and some members of the original group still tour under the name. Bruce Sudano, the guy who played the great keyboards on the song, went on to join the group Brooklyn Dreams, and in 1980, married singer Donna Summer. They are still married, have two grown children and live in Nashville, Tennessee. Sudano is still a working musician, singing and performing with his wife.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Photographs And Memories

It's been nearly a week since I've posted. Part of it is decompressing with the beginning of my school break. Part of it was also dealing emotionally with coming across the photograph at the top of this post.

The picture was taken in July of 1985 at the farewell party my housemates threw for me when I finished my Master's work. The guy on the left is my old friend Jamie, who was one of the housemates. I got back in touch with him last year after losing track of him for ten years. The guy on the right was our mutual friend Mark "Atwood" Evans, who was murdered in a botched robbery nearly four years ago. His killer was convicted last year of murdering one of the accomplices in the robbery to silence him.

When Mark died, there were two things I set out to do. One was to find the picture, which had gone missing for a couple of years. The other was to track Jamie down to let him know what had happened. I'd hoped to find him before the funeral so he could attend, but that didn't happen. Every few weeks, I'd hit the internet searching for him again. Then, last year, at "Atwoodfest," a party we have every year around his birthday to celebrate Mark's life and memory, I remembered that our friend Sue, who was at the party, had grown up with Jamie's wife. Sure enough, Sue was Facebook friends with Jamie's wife. I friended her and sent a message for Jamie to contact me. I was able to tell him what had happened. It was, not surprisingly, devastating for him. I'd had three years to cope with Mark's death. It was new to him. To make matters worse, Jamie's mother had died recently. I badly wished that I'd been able to able to contact him sooner.

Over the last year, we've gone back to our old habit of epic phone conversations-- an old joke of "faxing" one another a drink over the phone has been resurrected. Two wild boys who met in their early twenties and got into a lot mischief are now rapidly approaching fifty and the fathers of teenaged kids. We're still the same old guys, though, with our in-jokes, liberal politics and memories about hijinks past. It's been really, really good to be back in touch with him. Between the fact that we live 50 miles apart, and the reality that jobs and kids, we haven't been able to get together yet since our reunion. But in May, when I have a break from school and he is off of work to have a knee replacement done, we're going to try to meet up.

This Friday, I went looking for something in a box in my basement and came across the picture of Jamie and Mark. I was stunned. After nearly four years, I'd given the photograph up as lost forever. I scanned it and emailed it to everybody who I thought would want it. Except Jamie. Luddite that he is, he refuses to go online. Fortunately, I was able to send the picture to his wife, who showed it to him. He told me he cried when he saw it. Today, I put the scanned picture on my USB flash drive and ran over to Target to print up a picture. I dropped it into an envelope and mailed it to him this evening.

I talked to him for a while tonight and let him know I'd be sending it. We made our plans to get together and started planning a trip to visit Mark's grave. After I got off the phone with him, I thought about how Jamie was one of a small handful of friends who I'd planned to grow old with-- Mark, Jamie, Larry, Tim, Dobie, Dan, Carolyn and a few others. And as painful as losing Mark was, I am thankful every day for the rest of them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Step By Step

Yesterday was Tuesday-- clinical day. This means the joy of getting up at 5 a.m., picking up two of my classmates and being down on the South side of Chicago by 7 a.m.

On the way down, my two classmates and I talked about how dissatisfying our clinical experience has been this semester. Due to various circumstances, we haven't been able to do too much. Happily, this changed yesterday.

When our instructor handed out the assignments, I was happy to see that it was my turn to do Accuchecks-- testing the blood sugar of diabetic patients. I was also nervous. I'd finally gotten to do one on myself in the skills lab last Thursday, but sticking a sharp object into another person and drawing blood is an entirely other matter.

One of the reasons that my clinical experience has been mediocre at best is that I've worked with, by the luck of the draw, a couple of people whose people skills weren't so great. Happily, again, my luck continued-- I had not only a nurse and a nurse's assistant who were great, but a couple of great patients.

When I got up on the floor, I talked to the nurse I'd be working with, who introduced me to the SNA, the nurse's assistant, who would be doing a bunch of Accuchecks. I jumped right in; after showing me one Accucheck, B. let me try one myself. I was all thumbs on my first try, but Mr. G., the patient, was cheerful and told me to try again. After having trouble with the second one, I let B. show me another one and I caught what I was doing wrong.

B. and I chatted as we worked about health care work. She talked about how important it was to remember that it was a person you were working with, and not a "case." Some of the people she worked with, she told me, forgot that. I told her that in the less than a year I've been training to be a health care professional, I'd already observed this a few times.

While working with B., I remembered a conversation we'd had in my Nursing 101 class about working with nurse's assistants, and how if you are respectful and attentive, you can learn a huge amount of information. I also thought about my experiences as a teacher; the first people I made friends with in a school I worked in were the secretaries. I found that not only did they run the school more than the principal or assistant principal imagined they did, but they were generally the "Rodney Dangerfield" of the school-- not getting enough respect. A little respect and recognition toward them went a long way. It's the same way with nurse's assistants. B. eagerly showed me all kinds of stuff I would never have learned in a classroom.

Later in my shift, I went in and introduced myself to the patient I'd be working with. Mrs. A., who was a 75-year-old woman who'd had a fainting spell. It turned out that her heartrate was well below normal. Later I discovered that she was going to have a pacemaker installed.

While giving her a "head-to-toe" exam-- checking pulse, temperature of extremities, blood pressure, pulse, respiration, etc. I got a chance to chat with her. It turned out that her husband was a physician at the hospital-- a neurosurgeon-- and that she was a retired nurse. She was curious about how many male students were in my classes. I realized that a semester before, I was nervous as hell giving a patient an exam. Now I was able to do one while holding a conversation.

Toward the end of the shift, my instructor told me it was time to do my blood sugar tests. I was a little nervous during the first one, but was able to get a good draw. The second one was routine and by the third one, which was back to Mr. G. again, the instructor didn't even go in the room with me-- she was confident in me. I joked with Mr. G. about being a vampire, and Mr. G. wished me luck on my future career.

I went in for one more set of vital signs from Mrs. A. and said goodbye to her. Like Mr. G., she wished me luck on my upcoming nursing career, assuring me I'd do well.

I'd had my best clinical day yet. I'd done something I'd been very apprehensive about-- stuck a needle into someone for a glucose test- and realized that it was a big step toward doing something else I'd been apprehensive about, start an IV. I was elated and exhausted. I dropped my classmates off at their homes, went home, had lunch and crawled in bed for a much-needed nap.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What It's About

Back in December, I ran over to a local business, Gallimaufrey Gallery, to shop for Christmas presents for my wife. I've known Michael and Pat, the lovely couple who own it, for years-- they were regulars at a barbecue place I waitered at in the early and mid-nineties, and are regulars at the place I work at now.

They sell art and jewelry produced by artisans in the United States and internationally. And like many small business owners, they were spending an enormous amount of their income on health insurance. In December, when I bought some yuletide baubles for my wife at their store, they told me that Unicare, who'd provided that overpriced insurance, had been their healthcare provider. I knew from the local news that Unicare was pulling out of Illinois. They were at their wit's end. Being over fifty, they tried AARP's insurance. However, since the wife has rheumatoid arthritis, a "pre-existing condition," even that avenue was blocked. Back in December, we talked about the prospects of healthcare reform, and how they had already pretty much spending their entire income on health insurance as it was.

Last night, when news that healthcare reform had passed, they were the first people I thought of. Today, since it was sunny and not too cold, my wife and I went for a walk to Lincoln Square, the commercial strip near our home where Gallimaufrey is located. We shopped at a new market on the square and stopped into Gallimaufrey.

The husband was there, the wife having run off to a yoga class. Immediately, I could tell that he had a sense of relief and elation. I discovered that they had managed to procure Blue Cross/Blue Shield coverage, undoubtedly at a high cost, and his wife was going to be able to get the knee replacements she badly needed, and the long follow-up care she'll need. He talked about the hope of subsidized coverage-- they have been hammered by the weak economy as badly as everybody else-- and how happy he was when he'd heard the news last night.

When I read about the Tea-Baggers who hurled racist and homophobic epithets at members of Congress, it reminded me that there's a really vile undercurrent to their venom-- there's a racism and a feeling that this is some kind of handout to the undeserving poor. As someone who is training to be a nurse, I can give you an earful about how much the lack of access to affordable healthcare is costing us in dollars, let alone the well-being of people. I'll save it for another time. What I will point out right now is that a large percentage of the 30 million people who will suddenly have access to affordable healthcare will be small business owners who have found themselves increasingly squeezed over the last couple of decades. Bless President Obama for not giving up on this. I'm thankful to have a president who not only looks out for the interests of myself and the rest of the working stiffs, but has the intelligence and drive to make those things happen. The health care package might not be perfect in everyone's eyes, but it's nice to know that people who have spent years building a business won't have to fold it because they can't afford health insurance.

Health Care Reform

Whoo hooo! It passed!

And now the GOP continues to show their paucity of ideas, being unable to do anything other than oppose what the Democrats do. Excuse me, Republicans-- your irrelevance is showing...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Keeping My Fingers Crossed

Word is that some fence-sitting Democrats have committed to voting Aye on the Health Care Bill, and there's good chance it'll pass. I'm running off to work, hoping to hear good news tonight.

Win, lose or draw, I'm glad we've got a President who's working for us.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The "Lightning Strikes Twice" Friday Random Ten

The picture at the top of this post was taken in December of 1998. My son's daycare center, at the now-demolished New City YMCA, had a festival, with all kinds of crafts. With this one, they took a Polaroid of my son and I, and he got to decorate the homemade frame. I wrote about it in this post a couple of years ago.

About an hour after this picture was taken, we left his daycare center. I was in a good mood-- I'd just had the last day of work before Christmas break at the tough west side Chicago school I was working at. As we left the school and drove down Clybourn Avenue, I entered a long three-way interesection. After I got through the light, it turned yellow. I was not about to back up, out of the intersection, so I continued on through.

Suddenly I saw blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror. Since we were near the notoriously violent Cabrini-Green housing projects, I figured it was a Chicago police squad car racing to deal with some violent crime. As I pulled over to let the squad car pass, it pulled over with me.

The cop got out of the car. He was a middle-aged guy, by my guess in his late 40's-- a big Chicago Cop walrus mustache, greying hair, a paunch-- and the blue uniform of a beat officer.

When he opened his mouth, it took me a minute to pin down why his voice reminded me of something-- his voice was a dead ringer's for Daffy Duck's.

I politely interacted with him as he claimed that I'd run a red light. I hadn't, but I knew that this middle-aged hack was justifying his existence by writing up bullshit traffic tickets while ignoring the violent crime in the projects just a few blocks away.

To add insult to injury, he informed me that he was also going to write me a citation for not having Adam, who was four years old, and over forty pounds at this point, in a child seat.

As politely as I could, I informed him that the law was that I had to have him in a child seat up to three, and that after that, I had to have him buckled in, which I did. He stammered for a second and told me that the law was that up to three I had to have him in a child seat, and from four and up, in a different type. I knew enough to know that I was not going to win this one. He wrote the second ticket, which meant I was going to have to go to court.

Later that weekend, my son talked to my parents on the phone, excitedly telling them that "your son got TWO TICKETS from the policeman!" It was the only funny part of it. At least for another 12 years.

I had to take a personal day to go to court. My father had found a copy of the law regarding kids and child seats on the State of Illinois' website, and I had a copy of it in hand in order to show this hack up in court.

My father had told me that his friend Chris, who had lived in the same condo building as my parents had when they were still in the city, had made Sergeant when he was in his late twenties. He'd told my dad that if you ever saw a patrolman who had even a little grey in his hair and was still in a blue shirt (Sergeants, Captains and Lieutenants wear a white shirt) he was, Chris had said, "a fuck-up." He was a guy who knew the law poorly, and wrote reports that the State's Attorney couldn't get convictions on. For every twenty good cops out there on the street taking care of business, doing a great job, there was one of these clowns, collecting a paycheck for decades, fucking up, but never fucking up quite badly enough to lose their jobs.

As I got to court, I was really ready to give it to him. But he saw it coming. When he saw me, law citation in hadn, he went over to the city Corporation Counsel (the city's lawyer) and talked to her for a minute. She came over to me and told me that he'd offered to drop the child seat ticket if I copped to the red light, and that she'd give me "supervision" for the red light-- meaning if I didn't get another ticket for a year, it would never appear on my record-- and my insurance company would never know about it. All I'd have to do is pay $75 court costs, less than the ticket would have been.

It was an offer I couldn't refuse. I knew that they'd take Daffy's word over mine on the light. I took the deal, but was disappointed that I wouldn't get to punk this idiot in court.

I've mentioned recently my travails with my license plate getting stolen from my car. I can get it replaced for six bucks, but first needed to get a $300 tune-up so I could pass the mandatory state emissions test, and then spend $100 for an early registration on my car, before I could apply for the replacement plate. On Monday, I finally had the time and money to get the tune-up. On Wednesday, I took the car out for a half hour drive to make sure the on-board computer had enough information in it to pass the emissions test. I took it over to the test facility off of Elston and Webster and it passed easily. As I pulled out and back on to Elston, I decided to run a couple of miles straight up to the DMV facility near Elston and Bryn Mawr to apply for the replacement plate.

As I passed a strip mall near Elston and Logan Boulevard, a Chicago squad car blew through a red light and almost hit me. I swerved, avoiding an accident, and let the cop pass me. However, he hit his lights, weaved over next to my car and rolled down his window. I rolled mine down and heard a Daffy Duck voice yelling that I was missing the front license plate, and did I want a ticket RIGHT NOW!

I reached over and showed him the emissions printout and told him the plate had been stolen, and that I'd had to get the emissions test done down the street before I could get the replacement plate.

And as I realized that I'd heard the Daffy Duck voice before, I looked over and saw a guy in a blue shirt, a walrus

It was the same guy.

This time he just said "I understand" and zoomed off and pulled over next to another car and started yelling at it's driver.

Lightning had struck twice.

I called my dad on my cell phone and told him the story as I drove to the DMV. After I talked to him, I left a message for my favorite cop, Bubs. I'd told him before about the first part of the story at some point in the past. I had to tell him the denouement.

Late that night, he popped up on chat on Facebook and I told him the story. He told me that the guy was probably still working because he had a couple of ex-wives to pay for, and needed to max out his pension (Chicago cops can retire at 50 and 20-- fifty years old and 20 years of service). He was, Bubs pointed out, going to eventually retire as a "Patrol Officer First Class." Here he was, around sixty or so, still having to hassle motorists to justify his job and his existence.

Bubs also reminded me of something I'd said to him a while back-- that anything that ends up resulting in a good story was probably worth it. And of course, we all know the adage about he who laughs last.

My weekend will be a busy one. My son is here, work, of course, and getting ready for a test on Monday. Have a good weekend all!

1. Sex ("I'm a...)- Berlin
2. Love Lies Dying- The Del-Lords
3. Saturday Night Is Dead- Graham Parker and the Rumor
4. Suavecito- Malo
5. Well Did You Evah- Debby Harry and Iggy Pop
6. The Weight- The Band
7. Roam- The B-52's
8. Cocaine Blues- Johnny Cash
9. Desolation Row- Bob Dylan
10. Bette Davis Eyes- Kim Carnes

1. Saw these guys on a "Where are they now" show on VH1 a few years ago.
2. I saw these guys once-- I think they were opening for Lou Reed when I saw him on his "New York" tour.
3. From the great "Squeezing Out Sparks" album.
4. This was a hit in 1972. This teenaged band was led by Jorge Santana, Carlos' brother.
5. Recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Iggy Pop and Debby Harry teamed up on this one for an album of Cole Porter songs to benefit AIDS victims.
6. From the fabled "Music From Big Pink" record.
7. From the fabulous "Cosmic Thing" album.
8. A live classic from Cash' Folsom Prison album.
9. I lived in Salt Lake City for a few months in 1980-81, and used to shop at a little mall that was built into an old streetcar repair depot. I remember one day shopping there with a friend of mine and a young busker was playing this song, much to my delight. A few years ago that mall was in the news when a young Bosnian immigrant rampaged through the mall with a gun and murdered several people.
10. Is there anybody out there who was alive in 1981 who isn't still sick of this song? Got badly overplayed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Musical Mystery Solved

Back in the days when I had the time, money, youth and energy to hang out in bars and clubs, I'd hear songs that I liked and loved. Usually I'd look at the jukebox, or ask the deejay or bartender who did the song.

One night at the Neo, a Chicago club that's still around*, I heard a song I'd heard many a time at clubs over the years, but never knew who'd done it or even the name of the song. It was, the deejay told me, Plastic Bertrand's "Ca Plane Pour Moi."

A few years later, I was watching the movie "Grosse Pointe Blank" with my now-ex-wife Cynthia and heard another song I'd heard in my barfly days. I looked up the soundtrack on the internet and discovered the song was "Go" by Tones On Tail.

There are still a handful of musical mysteries from my carefree youth. One of the last ones was solved by blogger Beckeye, who put one of them on her great "Forgotten Classic Videos" series. It's Bourgeious Tagg's " I Don't Mind At All."

The song was one of those songs always in the background while was in the midst of a great conversation with an old friend, a date, an acquaintance or a bartender. I always meant to find out who did it. I remember the rock press on the band, but never made the connection.

Bourgeois Tagg was formed by high school friends Brent Thomas Bourgeois and Larry Tagg, who moved to the Bay area when they finished high school. Their first album had a college radio/club hit (Mutual Surrender (What a Wonderful World)). Their second album, produced by Todd Rundgren, yielded the Beatlesque top 100 hit "I Don't Mind At All." It hit the top five in the Adult Contemporary chart.

That was the height of their success. Bourgeois left the group after quitting drugs and alcohol and becoming addicted to Christianity. Todd Rundgren kept the rest of the band, who supported him on his 1989 "Almost Human" tour. Bourgeois has continued with the Christianity kick, producing Christian music artists and leading musical services at a church near Sacramento, California.

*Years before I met him my friend Bubs and his wife had their wedding reception, When we started reading one anothers' blogs about four years ago, we were astounded that we'd never met before-- we hung at the same places and even lived near one another many times over the years.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The "Take a Breath-- It'll All Be All Right" Friday Random Ten

Had an interesting day. First the good part of it. I got together with a bunch of old classmates for a study session. It was very productive and it was just nice to see them; they were able to get our old teacher, I wasn't, so I don't get to hang out with them much.

I was reminded of how nice a group of people they are; one of the people they invited to the study session was Marixa, a woman about my age who's from Argentina. She struggled a lot last semester, largely because of the language difference, and so we tried to help her out. Obviously, they're still making sure to help her out. I know that I'll stay in touch with them when we all head out into the field.

Now the frustrating. I went to get the emissions tested on my car and it failed. That means that now I have to add a $300 tune-up to the $99 early registration-- all to get a $6 replacement plate for my car.

Both my son and my best friend have offered to lend me the money, bless their hearts. This weekend should be good at work-- the restaurant is ostensibly Irish-themed, though neither owner has a drop of Irish blood in his body. Still, our wonderful loyal regulars will come in for their Corn Beef and Cabbage, and hopefully I'll be able to take care of everything Monday without borrowing money from anyone.

I also had an interesting conversation with my son. He's apparently losing his patience with his mother and wants to be at my house every weekend until he goes on his trip to Hawaii early next month with his high school band. His mother is apparently all for it; apparently she's finally got a boyfriend, thank god. Now maybe she'll get a life and be less focused on giving me a hard time.

Only 726 days until he turns 18 and I never have to deal with her again...

1. Abraham, Martin and John- Dion
2. Must Have Got Lost- The J. Geils Band
3. Revolution Rock-- The Clash
4. Go- Tones On Tail
5. What's Happening?!?!- the Byrds
6. Chains- The Beatles
7. Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me- Elton John
8. It Never Rains In Southern California- Albert Hammond
9. Words of Love- The Mamas and the Papas
10. Friends In Low Places- Garth Brooks

1. Dion did this one right after he got off of drugs. It was written by Dick Holler, who also wrote "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron" for the Royal Guardsmen
2. One of the all-time great break-up songs of all time, with the greatest summation of the end of love ever: "You never see love coming/But man, you sure see it go..."
3. The last listed track on the Clash' "London Calling," but we all know about the secret last track-- Train In Vain, which became their first US hit.
4. Heard this one a million times in clubs in the '80's and had no idea who it was. I heard it while watching "Grosse Point Blank" and looked it up after that.
5. Written and sung by David Crosby, who, believe it or not, didn't sing lead on many Byrds songs while in the band.
6. A cover of the Cookies' original, one of the many hits written by Brill Building songwriters Carole King and Gerry Coffin.
7. Elton John almost didn't release this one-- he felt that his vocals were weak on it. The music public and music business felt differently-- it was one of his biggest hits and won a Grammy for best male vocalist.
8. Hammond has written a number of hits, including the Hollies "The Air That I Breath." His son Albert Jr. is a member of the Strokes.
9. I grew up listening to my dad's copy of the Mamas and the Papas' greatest hits collection, and have a very soft spot in my heart for them.
10. First heard this one about ten years ago while listening to a country station on my headphones while running and it instantly became one of my favorites. My wife's cousin Larry and I duet to it on karoake every three years at my wife's family's reunion-- it's become a tradition.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

No Punchline Needed

This is from Vikki via Grant Miller.

I don't know if it's true or not, but rumor has it that Republican State Senator Roy Ashburn may be an exception.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Sweet Sixteen Years

Years ago, I saw a piece in the old Life Magazine, a photoessay. It was a series of pictures taken of a father and daughter at the shore over many years. After seeing a picture of my son and I that was taken in late 1994, when he was about 7 months old, I started a similar series. The last one was three years ago. The backdrop of the picture, beginning with the first one, was a movie poster given to me about 25 years ago by an old girlfriend; she'd picked four old movie posters up at a flea market. About five years later, I had them framed. One of them was in my basement a few years ago when we had a flood, but I dried it out quickly-- I've done some research and found out it'll be easily restored.

The poster we have done the picture in front of over all these years was a classicly "B" movie, The Bellboy and the Playgirls, which was co-written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

As I mentioned, the picture above was taken when he was about 7 months old. I'd just cut my hair-- it had been very long when he was born. I'll be posting soon about why I cut it.

The picture above was taken when he was about two years old. Generally he was pretty happy, but for some reason he was grouchy when the picture was taken. This was the last one taken by his mother, and the last one taken when we were living together. We split soon after the picture was taken. Maybe that's why he was grouchy.

The above picture was taken when he was four. It was the first picture taken in the apartment we live in now. My custody fight with my ex-girlfriend was over, and you can see it in his face. He's back to being his cheerful self. He insisted on holding the toy truck, one of his favorite toys, in the picture.

This one was taken when he was ten. He was all about baseball and books then. If I look tired in this picture, I was. Cynthia (wife #2) and I had split, and it was just he and I. I worked full time as a sixth grade teacher and worked a second job as a waiter so that we could stay in this place. I worked every shift I possibly could.

This was taken when he was 12. His interest in music, big when he was a tot, had returned big time.

This picture was taken three years ago, when he turned 13. Kim and Mel had moved in; one of them took the picture.

Yesterday, he turned 16. I took this picture myself using the auto-timer.

Normally he smiles and combs his hair. And I can't believe how much I look like my dad in this one.

We had a nice birthday weekend. Friday night, we had carryout from Smoque Barbecue, a place I've been hearing some serious buzz on for a couple of years. The buzz was justified. Ribs, brisket, pulled pork, bbq chicken, great coleslaw and baked beans-- it was quite a treat. He got a couple of t-shirts, a couple of books-- John Maynard Keynes' "A General Theory of Employment," and Deedee Ramones' autobiography. And a dvd/cd/t-shirt collection of Spinal Tap.

We Skyped my parents on Sunday and went out for a couple of hours of driving practice. The driving practice paid off; today, my ex took him in to the DMV and he got his driver's license. As if I didn't feel old enough already.

I can't believe 16 years has gone by so fast. And I can't believe how much I've enjoyed being a parent. Happy Birthday, Sonny Boy.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The "Better Late Than Never" Friday Random Ten

Friday was a blur for me-- a ton of errands, including reporting a stolen front license plate for my car. I didn't realize it until I got a ticket for it. I can get out of the ticket by sending the city the police report, and have to apply to the Secretary of State for a new plate, and get a "temp" plate so that I don't get any more tickets until the new one arrives. A big pain in the ass.

The good part of my day was getting ready for my son's 16th birthday this weekend. We celebrated last night by having barbecue from a local place that I'm hearing raves about, Smoque Barbecue. The raves are justified. He opened his presents afterward. He got a Spinal Tap set from me-- dvd, cd and concert t-shirt. Also, economist John Maynard Keynes classic "A General Theory of Employment," plus a book I spotted at my old friend Ric Addy's book and record store, the late Deedee Ramones' autobiography, "Lobotomy: Surviving The Ramones." Also, his sister got him two t-shirts-- one with Mr. T. and another with our former governor Blagojevich on it. Both buffoons in their own way. Then I watched "A Fish Called Wanda," one of my favorites, with my kids, who loved it. All in all, a great evening.

1. Citadel- The Rolling Stones
2. Honey, I'm a Big Boy Now- Billy Bragg
3. Photographs and Memories- Jim Croce
4. Revolution Rock- The Clash
5. Ripples- Genesis
6. Love Will Find A Way- Pablo Cruise
7. Forever Young- Bob Dylan
8. Let Her Cry- Hootie and the Blowfish
9. Dance Away the Heartache- Roxy Music
10. Just Like Candy- The Jesus and Mary Chain

1. From "Her Satanic Majesty's Request," the Stones' answer to Sgt. Pepper.
2. "Talking To The Taxman About Poetry" was one of my favorite albums of the eighties.
3. I'd forgotten about Croce for years, and have been rediscovering his music lately.
4. London Calling is tied with Dylan's Highway 61 as my favorite-ever album.
5. A guilty pleasure from Genesis' mid-seventies "Trick of the Tail" album.
6. Another guilty seventies pleasure. I actually saw these guys perform at "Chicagofest," a summer festival the city of Chicago would throw at Navy Pier.
7. Funny hearing this song in a commercial lately. This is a demo acoustic version from the terrific "Biograph" box set.
8. Yet another guilty pleasure, this one from the nineties.
9. Roxy sounds so dated, yet so good. Loved the scene in "Lost In Translation" with Bill Murray singing "More Than This."
10. Speaking of "Lost In Translation," loved hearing this song in that great final scene.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Johnny Yen's One-Hit Wonders: "Lake Shore Drive" by Alliota, Haynes and Jeremiah

My nursing clinicals this semester are at the University of Chicago, in the south side Hyde Park neighborhood (the neighborhood our president calls home when he's not in Washington, D.C.). It's a fifteen mile drive from my house, verses the two mile trek I had to Illinois Masonic last semester, but there is one redeeming factor: watching the sun rise out of Lake Michigan as I take Lake Shore Drive down to the hospital.

Lake Shore Drive, which runs along Lake Michigan, is in an elite group of roadways that have had hit songs written about them (Route 66, Ventura Highway are a couple that spring to mind. "Lake Shore Drive" was a hit for Aliotta Haynes and Jeremiah in 1971. Like the Beatles song "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds," many people have mistaken the song as a drug song (though partying is definitely a theme of the song). In Chicago, "LSD" is a nickname for Lake Shore Drive (or simply "The Drive.") Lake Shore Drive runs from Hollywood Avenue in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood ("It starts up north on Hollywood") down to the South side, ending a little south of the Hyde Park neighborhood. The song describes a night out partying-- the Gold Coast was a big party scene back in those days (the fabled Rush Street scene). The "Rat's up on to riches" refers to going from the long-gone Ratso's restaurant, in Lakeview (3415 N. Broadway) where the group would perform, to the Gold Coast neighborhood, still Chicago's wealthiest. The "pretty blue lights" refer to the old mecury-vapor lights that Chicago, like most cities, replaced with the orange sodium vapor lights in the late 1970's. The "snakin' on by" probably refers to the old "S-curve," which used to slow and snarl traffic-- I think the speed limit dropped to 15 miles an hour at that segment. It was straighted out in the 1980's, greatly reducing congestion at that point.

There's a nice explanation of the lyrics here:

As I've mentioned, many people mistakenly thought this song was about the drug LSD. In the late seventies, I heard an interview with Aliota, Haynes and Jeremiah and they discussed this fallacy. They told the story of a radio station that told them that they wouldn't play the song because of its drug references, but they would play the b-side, "Snow Queen." The guys had a good laugh about this because "Snow Queen" was about cocaine.

One last note: most Chicagoans who have seen "When Harry Met Sally" have a good laugh. At the beginning of the movie, when Sally is catching a ride with Harry after graduating from the University of Chicago, they are driving south on Lake Shore Drive past the loop; they are driving toward, not away from the school. I always joke that they must have forgotten something at the school and had to run back.

Here's a nice vid I found on Youtube that has the song and some imagery about Chicago's iconic roadway.

Lake Shore Drive
There’s a road I’d like to tell you 'bout,
Lives in my hometown.
Lake Shore Drive the road is called,
And it’ll take you up or down.
From Rat's on up to riches,
Fifteen minutes you can fly.
Pretty blue lights along the way ,
Help you ride on by.
And the blue light’s shinin' with a heavenly grace,
Help you ride on by.

And there ain’t no road just like it,
Anywhere I’ve found.
Runnin' south on Lake Shore Drive,
Headin' into town.
Just slippin' on by on LSD,
Friday night trouble bound.

[Verse 2:]
It starts up north from Hollywood,
Water on the drivin' side.
Concrete mountains rearin' up ,
Throwin' shadows just about five.
Sometimes you can smell the green,
If your mind is feelin' fine.
There ain’t no finer place to be,
Then runnin' Lake Shore Drive.
And there’s no piece of mind or place, you see,
Ridin' on Lake Shore Drive.

And there ain’t no road just like it,
Anywhere I’ve found.
Runnin' south on Lake Shore Drive,
Headin' into town.
Just slippin' on by on LSD,
Friday night trouble bound.

It’s Friday night and you’re lookin' clean.
Too early to start the rounds.
A ten-minute drive from the Gold Coast back,
Makes you sure you’re pleasure bound.
And it’s four o’clock in the mornin',
And all the people have gone away.
Just you and your mind and Lake Shore Drive,
Tomorrow is another day.
And the sun shines fine in the mornin' time.
Tomorrow is another day.

And there ain’t no road just like it,
Anywhere I’ve found.
Runnin' south on Lake Shore Drive,
Headin' into town.
Just snakin' on by on LSD,
Friday night trouble bound.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A New Hope

I just saw on Facebook that President Obama is going to announce the new plan to try to bring about health care reform in our fair nation. I'd like him to listen to this 1989 Easterhouse song for inspiration: Come Out Fighting.

Monday, March 01, 2010

My Appalachian Epiphany and The Tea-Baggers

All the caterwauling by the Tea-Baggers has reminded me of an epiphany I had on a train trip in the early 1990's, a class I took in 1997 and a Monty Python bit. I'll explain.

As I've mentioned before, I got my bachelor's and master's degrees in Political Science in the mid 1980's. I also studied history and economics, and found all three subjects fascinating. One of the things we discussed frequently in all three subjects was the chicken and egg question of what comes first: political development or economic development. Does the political stability and physical and economic infrastructure provided by having a functioning government allow commerce, or does commerce provide the push and prosperity to form local, regional and ultimately central governments?

In 1990 or so, my parents moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. I loved two things about it. One was that it was fascinating to watch the planned development in the area they lived in-- how there were laws regulating the color of commercial signs and buildings to match the general aesthsetic of the area; how developers were only allowed to cut down the absolute minimum amount of trees to build; how expressways were built with the future capacity in mind (I used to laugh at how light the traffic was in rush hour, in stark contrast to the massive congestion of Chicago's). The second thing was that it was easy to take the train to Raleigh from Chicago.

I'll post another time of my love of train travel and the wonderful trips I've taken for another time. The trip from Chicago to Raleigh takes one through Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., where there's a couple of hours of layover-- just enough to wander out of the station and see the Capitol Building, Washington Monument and a few other things. And then there's the Appalachian Mountains.

One of the things I love about a train, as opposed to driving or flying, is that you go right through amazingly beautiful areas and are right in the middle of them without having to worry about driving. I've travelled through the Rockies and the Appalachians several times each via train, and hope to do so again when I'm done with school.

One of the other things I love about train trips is that it gives me time to read. On one particular trip I was reading Arthur Lall's book about his native India. Mr. Lall had been India's ambassador to the UN. The book was broad and readable, discussing India's history and present, including the challenges of development.

As the train went through the Appalachians and I pondered the questions Lall had brought up, we passed through a town. The train tracks ran on one side of a deep crevasse, and I looked across the crevasse to the other side, where the town was. The town was built on the other side of the enormous crevasse. It struck me that the architecture of the houses in the town were very similar to those in the town square in Charleston, Illinois, my college town. I figured that the towns had been built around the same period.

I began to ponder the economic reasons for various municipalities-- towns, cities, etc. and wondered about the economic reason for this town in the middle of the Appalachians.

We stopped there for a while-- there was a train station there, accessible from the town by a bridge built across the ravine. As I sat and looked at the quaint town, I realized that it had a fully developed infrastructure-- paved streets, electricity, streetlights, heated homes, etc. Thinking about Lall's book and his discussions about development in his country, I realized that in all but a few corners of the United States we can take the existence of a well-developed infrastructure for granted. We assume that with rare exceptions, the water we drink will be clean, the garbage will be picked up and disposed of safely, the human waste we flush down the toilet will not end up in our drinking water, the food we eat will not kill us, that we will be protected from crime, that fires will be put out, that streets will be built and maintained, that we will have schools, libraries, a postal service and other public institutions available to everybody. In short, we are able to depend on government at various levels-- municipal, county, state and federal, even in the poorest areas of our country.

A few months ago, my son and I were watching one of my favorite movies, Monty Python's "The Life Of Brian." There's a brilliant scene in which a rebel group is meeting, discussing how to rid themselves of the scourge of the Roman Empire. "What have the Romans ever done for us?" the leader asks:

Until that day, even having gotten two college degrees and having studied political science, economics and history, I had never pondered that-- the infrastructure was there, something I and most of my countrymen can take for granted. Through much of the world, that's not the case.

It takes an incredible naivete, then, to decry big government. We are, in every corner of the country, surrounded by the benefits of governments, even in the heart of "Tea Bagger" land.

When I was finishing my teacher certification, I took a required class: "Middle School Education." Sometimes I think that it should be required for everybody, for it gave me an insight into the behavior of adolescents. One of the themes that the teacher, Geno P., one of the best I had in getting my Elementary Education certification, hammered on was the exaggerated emotional response of adolescent children-- that "nothing is fair" to them-- even when their own behavior is infantile, outrageous, and, well, not fair. He reminded us again and again that their behavior is going to appear, to a mature adult, silly and ridiculous, and that you had to develop the ability to not take it personally. That class and his advice served me well in the years that followed-- my entire teaching career I taught adolescents. And of course it helped prepare me to raise a couple of kids, reminding me not to take behavior during adolescence personally.

Watching the puerile antics of the "Tea Party" protesters, I'm reminded of those adolescents I taught all those years. They are surrounded by a reasonably affluent and just society, but still it is not enough. What has the government ever done for them? Lots. To me, and most adults, their behavior is infantile at best, and racist at worst. It's alternately hilarious and frightening to see people who have been raised, educated, fed and protected by the infrastructure provided by government that is, for its faults, pretty effective, angrily denounce that government for doing things that every other industrialized nation has done-- keep their banking systems from collapsing and assuring adequate medical care for the majority of the population-- things that nearly every single one of them will benefit from.

It just isn't fair, is it?

So as an adult, I'll keep living my life. I'll reap the benefits of having a functioning government-- and do the adult thing by paying for it, through my taxes. And like watching a crybaby adolescent in my classroom who is screaming that it's not fair to be asked to do what is expected of everyone, and as long as they don't do anything rash, like fly their airplane into a federal building, and stick to their whining, I'll calmly wait them out and hope that they grow up someday.