Friday, January 21, 2011

The Depths of Winter Friday Random Ten

Yesterday I had an epiphany: it's right around now, the third week of January every year, that I begin to really hate winter. It arrived right on schedule yesterday.

Had a busy, busy week. I went back to school this week. It was great seeing all the friends I've made over the last few years there. I ran into a couple of friends who dropped out last year who are trying it again, successfully, it would appear, this time.

In the meantime, I'm waiting; waiting for a supplementary textbook I ordered a few days ago, and mainly waiting for a couple of pairs of glasses I ordered. I had realized that I pretty much had a headache all the time. I thought that it was because of the stress of juggling full time school, full time work, kids and a marriage. I realized a couple of weeks ago that it may have had to do more with an outdated glasses prescription. I thought about waiting until I was done with school, but thought better of it. I went in for an exam and discovered that my last exam was in August of 2007. No wonder I was getting headaches. This prescription was my first bifocal one. Both my reading and distance had changed significantly. I got a good deal on a two pairs. No bells or whistles except for the bifocals being lines-free, which was included in the special deal they had. I'll have to wait until after school to get the thinner lenses, non-glare, etc.

1. Living In Hard Times- Wendy Waldman
2. Rock and Roll Niggah- Patti Smith
3. Hello Stranger- Barbara Lewis
4. Things Have Changed- Bob Dylan
5. Queen of Hearts- Gregg Allman
6. Sugar Man- Rodriguez
7. Althea- The Grateful Dead
8. C'est La Vie- Robbie Nevil
9. 30 Days- Chuck Berry
10. Understand Your Man- Johnny Cash

1. Ms. Waldman's written hits for other people, but I loved this song of hers performed by her that came out in the mid-eighties.
2. Patti Smith deconstructs and redefines the "n-word" brilliantly in this song.
3. Ms. Lewis is a Chicago native.
4. Dylan at his dourest.
5. A beautiful smoky song.
6. Rodriguez has been a pretty recent discovery for me. Great political singer-songwriter who's being rediscovered these days.
7. From the "Go To Heaven" album.
8. This guy was one of my one-hit-wonders. Didn't know he was white until I bought the single back in the day.
9. I'm hoping Mr. Berry is doing better; he collapsed onstage here in Chicago about a month ago.
10. Listening to this one, I realized that musically and thematically, Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" is nearly a rewrite.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some Random Thoughts

I had some random thoughts, none of which were enough for a stand-alone post.

Regarding the Wikileaks...

I had mixed feelings on this, particularly as someone old enough to have grown up with the Watergate scandal brewing. I absolutely want as much transparency in government as possible. On the other hand, there is a need for some secrecy; there are some bad people and bad governments out there in the world. But the thing I find a little funny is the shock that American diplomacy involved secret meetings, dealing with some allies that are neither good nor reliable, backdoor deals-- isn't this pretty much how diplomacy has always worked?

Regarding the horrific event in Tuscon this last weekend...

When the behavior and words of the alleged perpetrator became public, I knew right away the guy was a paranoid schizophrenic. When I did the psychiatric leg of my clinicals last semester, I worked with a number of paranoid schizophrenics, and the behavior is remarkably similar in paranoid schizophrenics: delusions of grandeur, paranoia, jumbled ideas, the idea that the government and others are spying on them, increasing isolation, etc. The only unusual thing is the violence; people suffering from that particular mental illness are rarely violent. They generally just start avoiding contact with others.

The family should have gotten him started on some kind of treatment for two reasons. One, he needed it; there are effective treatments for what he probably has. Secondly, if they'd had him in treatment at any point, he wouldn't have been able to purchase a weapon. His family dropped the ball, and a bunch of people paid the price.

Lastly, regarding Fred Phelps and the Westboro Church...

The Arizona State Legislature passed emergency legislation to prevent demonstrations within a certain distance of a funeral. The jagoff Phelps and his whack-job church plans on circumventing this by tying up a nearby intersection. I'd throw this thought out. Some years back, my son's mother for some reason lived in a really bad neighborhood-- I think she was trying to show me that despite being a rich girl who grew up in the suburbs, she could be "urban." So when ghetto people started sitting on her stoop drinking "40's," she asked me what she should do. I don't remember where I read or heard this, but I gave her a suggestion that ended up working. You pour ammonia all over the steps. The ammonia makes it unbearable for an hour or two, and they end up moving somewhere else. The ammonia evaporates, and is therefore relatively innocuous environmentally in the long term. Just a thought...

Friday, January 07, 2011

The "Getting Ready For The Final Sprint" Friday Random Ten

For being on vacation, I've been insanely busy, both at home and work. I'm still trying to finish off some big projects here, and the restaurant seems to be reflecting the general upturn in the economy; it's been good and busy, easing some of my money worries.

I found out on Wednesday that David, who, along with his wife Kathy, was one of my favorite regulars, passed away on December 22nd. He was someone who was an absolute delight. He was retired, and would come in, despite a bad hip and congestive heart failure, and take the bus to meet his wife, who was a teacher, at the restaurant. He drank his vodka rocks with a splash of diet Coke, and was witty and warm. Kathy came and had dinner with her sister on Wednesday and told me that David had finally lost his struggle with his health problems. I was sad, but told Kathy that David was a guy who didn't waste a day of the life he was given. I will miss him. I kept thinking of the Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute to their late guitarist, Hillal Slovak on the bloodsugarsexmagic album, "My Lovely Man." I hope I'm wrong about my atheism, and that I'm good enough to get to where he's at.

"I'll see you later, my lovely man, If I can..."

In happier news, my friend and co-worker Leslie, who was the person who talked me into going to nursing school instead of Pharmacy school, found out yesterday that she passed her state nursing boards. I'm hoping that I can repeat that. I've ordered my book for my first rotation, Pediatrics, and plan to get ahead of the reading next week before classes resume (a week from Tuesday), and to get to the nursing computer lab to take some practice NCLEX (nursing board) tests.

1. Quinto Regimento- Jamie O'Reilly and Michael Smith
2. Holly Holy- Neil Diamond
3. All Tomorrow's Parties- The Velvet Undergroung
4. Absolutely Sweet Marie- Bob Dylan
5. Flowers On the Wall- The Statler Brothers
6. Cyprus Avenue- Van Morrison
7. The Living Years- Mike and the Mechanics
8. One Piece At A Time- Johnny Cash
9. Roll Over Beethoven- Chuck Berry
10. Itchycoo Park- The Small Faces

1. From "Pasiones," a play about the Lincoln Brigade. Michael Smith also wrote "The Dutchman," which Steve Goodman covered.
2. Neil Diamond's music has grown on me over the years.
3. I remember John Cale saying something to the effect that the reason Nico got to sing in the Velvet Underground was that it was your basic "the guitar player's girlfriend gets to sing" situation.
4. From the fabulous "Blonde On Blonde" album.
5. Looked the Statler Brothers up a while back and discovered that they weren't actually brothers. Kurt Vonnegut cited this song as his favorite in an interview I read in the Rolling Stone years ago.
6. Every once in a while, I'll discover a Van Morrison song that I somehow missed. This was one of those.
7. From Genesis alum Mike Rutherford.
8. Johnny Cash in a comical turn.
9. Two good covers of this song-- by the Beatles and by, of all bands, ELO.
10. A big hunk of psychedelia from the mid sixties.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Johnny Yen's One-Hit Wonders: "Walk Away Renee" by the Lefte Banke

My schedule is making a liar of me; I'd promised myself to blog more often, especially since I have a five week Christmas break. I've been trying to get some big projects done that will make my day-to-day life a little more easy, a little more streamlined. I've plowed through a clean-up of my closet, a clean-up of my son's room (a lot of the stuff in there was mine) and a clean-up of the basement. I've also been working a lot-- trying to get ahead of finances, since it looks like my first clinical rotation will be Sundays, 7 am to 7 pm, which will mean I'll miss a day of work a week for about five weeks. There's been a big uptick in business at the restaurant I work at-- I think the economy is finally recovering. New Year's Eve was just insane-- I made as much money as I typically make in four shifts.

Somewhere in there, I've kept my promise to get some reading done. I've been plowing through Dan Epstein's "Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the '70's." I grew up watching baseball in the seventies, so the book is like a trip down memory lane, but with peeks behind the curtain to see the seamier side of the sport. I can't recommend the book enough.

Today is no exception schedule-wise. I'm trying to get a carload ready to run to the Salvation Army, but first I have to run my daughter to an audition at a performing arts high school she's applied to. And I can't tell you how much it means to me that she asked me, rather than her birth father (my wife's ex-husband) to bring her.

In any event, I decided I had time today to do a "One-Hit Wonder," The Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee."

The Left Banke was formed in New York City in 1965. According to Wikipedia, consisted of keyboard player/songwriter Michael Brown, guitarist George Cameron, bass guitarist Tom Finn, drummer Warren David and singer Steve Martin, who also used the name Steve Martin Caro. Brown's dad, Harry Lookofsky, a prominent session violin player, became the band's producer, manager and publisher (and was undoubtedly responsible for the prominence of the violin in "Walk Away Renee" and their other songs).

In true rock and roll fashion, personnel changes and problems began even before "Renee" was a hit. Drummer Warren David was kicked out of the band and guitarist George Cameron took over the drum slot and Jeff Winfield was brought in to play guitar.

"Walk Away Renee" was sold to Smash Records, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Mercury Records, and was, appropriately, a smash hit in 1966. By then, though, there were problems. Despite the fact that The Left Banke had a subsequent, though much smaller hit, "Pretty Ballerina," Michael Brown bolted, using the name of the group for himself. The other members of the group ("Holy Pink Floyd, Batman!") hired lawyers to try to keep Brown from using the name for himself. In the meantime, Brown continued to record and release records as "The Left Banke," using session musicians, including, very appropriately, future Spinal Tappper Michael McKean. The other band members, who still controlled the band's fan club, urged fans to boycott the Brown version of the band.

In 1967, the band members settled their differences (no doubt the money coming in from their hit singles influenced this), but there was still confusion over their status, and they were never able to capitalize on their success much.

Eventually Brown left the and ended up in the group The Stories, who had a huge hit in the early seventies with a cover of Hot Chocolate's song of interracial love, "Brother Louie," (a future "One-Hit Wonder) But again showing his abysmal timing, Brown had left the group by the time of the hit single.

Apparently "Renee" was a real person, and seemed to be Brown's muse; not only was "Walk Away Renee" about her, but so was their follow-up hit "Pretty Ballerina," as well as the lovely, but not-so-big-selling "She May Call You Up Tonight." "Walk Away Renee" stands as one of the most lovely hit singles of an era rich in great music.