Thinking Of George

November 29, 2009

Years ago, half dozen or so of us who worked together at a record store would often go for a drink – “the odd one” – after (or sometimes during) our shift.

The odd one was never one and hours would pass with the conversation equally divided between music and nonsense.

For the musical portion, The Drunken Frenchman was usually the tour guide and, nearly twenty years later, I don’t believe I’ve known another soul possessing more knowledge of rock music (or pop culture) prior to 1980.

It was an education.

And, like many folks of his age, those who had actually watched the Ed Sullivan Show performances live, The Beatles were the touchstone for almost everything that had occurred during his life. So, the discussion of favorite Beatle was a fairly regular topic.

There was no debate as far as The Drunken Frenchman was concerned.

It was The Quiet One.

Although there was a time when I would have reflexively answered “John Lennon” as my favorite of The Fabs, having heard The Frenchman offer up innumerable reasons as to why George Harrison was his guy, that’s no longer the case.

I vividly recall waking on this date eight years ago and opening the paper. George had passed away.

I immediately thought of The Frenchman. Our clan from the record store had scattered in various directions several years earlier. Had we not, we would have likely been together that night. And, as we often would do on significant dates in music history, we certainly would have hoisted a few toasts to The Quiet One.

So, today, eight years later, here are a few favorites from George Harrison…

The Beatles – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
from The White Album

The Beatles – Here Comes The Sun
from Abbey Road

George Harrison – All Those Years Ago
from Somewhere In England

Traveling Wilburys – Handle With Care
from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

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Nothing Like The Threat Of Armageddon To Stoke An Appetite

November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving, like the once annual airing of The Wizard Of Oz used to be, is an event.

Yeah, some people make it out to be dysfunction junction (and for them, maybe it is), but getting to watch football all day on a day which usually would be spent slogging through work is a brilliant concept.

And, of course, it is a chance to feast.

It’s like being king for a day.

Bring me gravy! I shall gnaw on this turkey leg in a slovenly fashion as these superhumans on the television perform amazing feats for my amusement!

OK. It’s not necessarily that dramatic and, as the Lions always play on Thanksgiving Day, the feats are not always amazing in a good way.

(though I cannot imagine how empty a Thanksgiving without the Lions playing the early game would be – it would be like a Halloween without a visit from The Great Pumpkin)

One Thanksgiving was spent living in London, eating some take-out pizza in an ice-cold flat.

And, in a cruel twist, my favorite team, the Steelers, was making a rare Thanksgiving Day appearance. They would lose, in overtime after a bizarre coin toss snafu to begin the extra period.

It was a game that would have been maddening to have watched and it was maddening to miss.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been brilliant every year, but that year – no food, no football, no heat – is really the lone one I recall as being truly miserable.

As a kid, our parents dragged us off to mass. I mean, you have the day off school and can sleep in and lounge on the couch; the last thing you want to be doing at an early hour is trudging off to church.

When I was fifteen, the priest decided to use his sermon to rattle off a laundry list of accidental nuclear exchanges between the US and USSR that had been narrowly avoided.

(this was 1983 and two months earlier there had been all of the hullaballoo surrounding the television movie The Day After)

I kept having images of an extra crispy bird and excessively dry stuffing.

It was a bit of a bummer.

It was also a year when the Steelers had a Thanksgiving game. Detroit beat them 45-3.

I had forgotten (or blocked it out) and had to research who played that season.

But, global tensions and football smackdowns aside, I have no doubt that the food was good.

That autumn, I was still listening to a lot of Top 40 stations, but Q95, an album rock station out of Indianapolis, had caught my attention as well and 97X was exposing me on a semi-regular basis to modern rock for the first time. Some of the songs on the radio that Thanksgiving…

Men At Work – Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive
from Cargo

By the end of 1983, Men At Work, who had burst onto the scene a year earlier, was over. It was amazing how massive they were and how quickly it ended, but their quirky music still sounds delightful twenty-five years later.

Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive was their third hit from album number two and had been preceded by Overkill and It’s A Mistake on the airwaves. I still think the former is their finest moment, but the latter did little for me.

I don’t actually recall hearing Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive on the radio much, but I always smiled at the line, “He loves the world except for all the people.” Some days, it’s quite true.

Rufus And Chaka Khan – Ain’t Nobody
from Stompin’ At The Savoy

I wasn’t much into R&B growing up. There was one station and, on occasion, I would end up there, but, unless the song crossed over to the pop stations, I wasn’t likely hearing it.

Ain’t Nobody crossed over big time and it hooked me the first time I heard it.

Michael Stanley Band – My Town
from You Can’t Fight Fashion

Cleveland’s Michael Stanley was a major act in the Midwest in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Living on the Indiana/Ohio border, their music found its way onto many of the stations to which I was listening.

There was a lot of economic malaise in the first few years of the ’80s, especially in the Rust Belt. The punchy, anthemic My Town was rock straight from the heartland and its sing-a-long chorus got it a lot of airplay, especially when stations began editing in a shout out to their respective city – Cincinnati! – into the song.

Genesis – Mama (radio edit)
from Genesis

Paloma professes to like Phil Collins, yet, whenever a song of his pops up on shuffle, she invariably is displeased and hits next. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that has us both baffled.

As for Mama, it was the first song from Genesis’ followup to Abacab and the album continued the trio’s trend toward more pop-minded fare (for the most part). Mama, though, is a sinister sounding track which is what happens when your lead singer cackles like he’s been on a bender with Gary Busey.


Evolution Isn’t Pretty

November 22, 2009

Paloma bought me an early birthday present yesterday, a copy of Andre Agassi’s new autobiography Open.

The book has caused a bit of an uproar in the sports world for some of its revelations and even rippled beyond as the man’s celebrity transcends the tennis court.

As a reformed jock, I played a fair amount of tennis growing up, but a lack of self-discipline – I smashed more than a couple rackets – hindered any natural ability I might have had. Ironically, the player I most admired was Bjorn Borg, the cool, unflappable Swedish great.

I was playing less tennis by the time Agassi began rising through the ranks. I was in college and other things were occupying my time. I wasn’t even following the sport as much.

In fact, I first really took note of Agassi when I was mistaken for him while traveling in Southeast Asia. It was 1989 and I had a mullet-like hair, a bit spiky on the top that was similar to his. In Singapore, some German tourists wanted an autograph. In Thailand, some local tried to dupe me into a common ruse to purchase worthless jewels – “You wealthy tennis player.”

I’ve read plenty about Agassi over the years inclduing an amazingly poignant piece in Sports Illustrated a few years back which I wish I could find. Driven from the time he was a small child to be a tennis machine by a father who had boxed for Iran in the Olympics, his tale reminded me of that of Michael Jackson.

I’ve also read excerpts from Open, including Agassi’s admission that he used crystal meth in an attempt to destroy/escape from a career that he, for the most part, never wanted.

I won’t discount that his career has afforded him a life that most of us would envy, though I imagine few of us would have had the fortitude to achieve. That said, I find the ballyhoo surrounding his tome to be missing the point.

The man wasn’t driven by blinding greed to pilfer and destroy the economy, placing the lives of millions in a precarious position. He didn’t manipulate facts in order to launch an illegal war to invade a sovereign nation, treating the lives and treasure of millions as his own toy chest.

The man hit tennis balls and did so well enough to become one of the best to ever do so. His mistakes were his own and though those mistakes likely caused those around him hardship and pain, they didn’t cause the average person watching him perform his athletic feats hardship or distress.

By all accounts, Agassi owns those failures in his book. There’s no, “Yeah, but…”

Since 1994, Agassi has been described as perhaps the most charitable athlete of his generation, founding a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children in Las Vegas as well as several other endeavors. And, as he played his final US Open match in 2006, he was arguably the most beloved US athlete.

In short, Agassi has travelled a star-crossed path from there to here, arriving a better person, an admirable person, flaws and all. If he’s to be held accountable for the hiccups along the way, he should also be applauded for rising above them.

It’s an interesting twist of fate that his book should arrive at the same time as another autobiography, that of someone who’s greatest attribute appears to be the ability to gut a moose, a woman who did quit when facing adversity, has no shortage of folks she blames for her failures, and apparently craves revenge more than redemption.

But, I suspect that Sarah Palin doesn’t believe in evolution.

Aimee Mann – Save Me
from Magnolia soundtrack

Sometimes it takes a while for the light bulb to go on. And, sometimes people need a hand. The closing scene of the movie Magnolia expressed those sentiments as powerfully as any film I think I’ve ever seen and Aimee Mann’s heartbreaking song Save Me was the perfect accompaniment.

Fiona Apple – Better Version Of Me
from Extraordinary Machine

Fiona Apple’s third album found the eccentric artist working with long-time Aimee Mann collaborator Jon Brion. The record had a troubled birth, rejected and held up by Apple’s label for a belief that it lacked commercial appeal.

It went on to be one of the most critically acclaimed releases of 2005.

Yoko Ono – Revelations
from Rising

Personally, I like Yoko’s music – not all of it, but there’s some compelling stuff in her catalog – and Revelations is simply lovely with lyrics that are words to live by.

Garbage – When I Grow Up
from Version 2.0

When I Grow Up is twisted fun from Shirley Manson and crew.