Jan 23

There’s a lot here for a Friday

Here’s a question — and it is a real and earnest question. I, being from somewhere sensible, don’t have a lot of experience with this. But if it snows on Wednesday, and your car still looks like this on Friday morning, would it be inappropriate if I got out at the red light and scrapped all that stuff off your car?

Here’s another question — again, asked in all earnestness. If the car in front of you, and the car behind you, has the same idiotic problem, which car should I prioritize?

“Two days, y’all,” he said drawing out the y’all, so that you might understand that it is a word of his people, not just something he has appropriated from others, so you realize, This guy is from the South, and he has found your snow care … wanting.

I spent much of my morning working on my calendar. It’s riveting stuff, I tell you, but February is now planned to a fairly granular level. No one ask me for anything, please, lest we upset the applecart.

In the middle of the day I realized that not everyone knows the expressions “song and dance” and “dog and pony show.” I’m not sure if that’s a generational issue, or perhaps I was misheard. Either way, it will surely make me self-conscious. I sometimes tell people to break a leg, in the show business sense, but there’s going to be a day when someone doesn’t know the phrase, and I’ll sound like a callous, violent person.

“He was very helpful. He asked me twice if I had any questions before he left. And then he told me to break bones. But the weirdest part of all was, he said it in a kind of cheery voice.”

I’ve got to work that out of my lexicon.

Late in the day I had the chance to watch people use a state-of-the-art studio and control room as props again. This never fails to amuse. I also met a folklore major, who taught me a bit about folklore. I now feel as if I can enroll in a folklore 101 class, sneak in late on the second day and be ready to learn.

Folklore is fascinating, as an area of study. I was in their building in October, and admired some of the class offerings on the walls. Some looked worth trying, not that I’d be a folklorist, whatever that actually is outside of the academy.

Looking at classes years and years later, when the pressure is off and it doesn’t matter so much, is an interesting exercise. And, you find, your horizons broaden when you’re not contemplating tuition.

I left the office promptly at 5 p.m. today. First time since Monday. Saw the daylight and some sunshine on the drive back to the house. First time since … I’m not sure when. Maybe Monday, but nothing is jumping out at me. Could it be last Friday?

Anyway, the days are slowly getting longer, which is encouraging. The view in the backyard this evening was even more so. What’s that blue stuff back there?

It is the first sign of spring, if you’re desperate. It’s the first time you’re going to be tricked by the prospect of spring, if you are foolish. There are three stages to this trickery. This is the first stage.

I’ll be foolish. I’ll take it. It isn’t spring, not even close. But that doesn’t matter so much when you see the sun and sky actually, finally, beating up the clouds, even if it is just for the small part of one day.

The next CD in the Re-Listening project is another media update. I had “Throwing Copper’ as a cassette, even though it was released in 1994. (Remember, late adopter.) So in late 1996 or early 1997, I had to get a CD copy because I still wanted to play it a lot, because it was the 90s, and I was young, and Ed Kowalczyk screamed a lot. And the rhythm section on that record is pretty decent.

“Throwing Copper” was the mainstream breakthrough, after two smaller records and an EP. And it was a huge success. Two of the five singles went to number one, and “Lightning Crashes” sat atop the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for ten straight weeks. After it had been on the Billboard 200 album chart for a full year, the record hit number one. It sold eight million copies in the US alone.

It is amusing to me that these guys were all about 24 when this record was released. Picked up straight out of high school, dictionary in hand and angst to share.

Since it was that broadly popular, and since this was a tape-to-CD upgrade for me, and because it is getting late into the evening, here’s just two quick tracks from later in the album. I always enjoyed this bass line, even as the song goes well against the general feel of the rest of the record.

And then Kowalczyk goes full Kowalczyk three-and-a-half minutes in.

This was the hidden track, and the slide guitar is so atypical, and works so well. It still doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this was on as I drove away from campus today, and it still works.

I saw Live three times in concert in the next few years. They put on some great shows. Then the music got more exotic, and then the tensions within the band got weird. I’m trying to make sense of it on Wikipedia now. The singer left, or was uninvited or something. The band continued without him, which seemed weird. He sued them. Then the original band got back together for a time, then fired one member. There was another lawsuit, and now Kowalczyk is the last original member still playing under the name. That’s the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, I guess.

Since I premise the Re-Listening project as a quick stroll through the memories that got pinned to some of this music … I remember, and I am being as vague as possible here, a job I had in high school. I worked with a guy who was a college frat boy. He was funny, goofy, nice, and guaranteed to fall into some sort of trouble. You know the sort. There was a young woman who worked there, too. She was nice, attractive and guaranteed to be trouble. You know the sort. They got pregnant. “Lightning Crashes” was their song, which, I mean … really.

But that was 1994. To be young just then brought a certain set of choices, just as any other period. I wonder how long those two lasted.

I got in a quick ride before dinner tonight, tapping out 33 miles on Zwift, racing to finish before the batteries on all the necessary devices died. (The speaker didn’t survive the ride. My phone and iPad just barely did.) Tonight I got in two routes in France. I set three Strava segment PRs, somehow.

This lighthouse spins as you’re riding through the digital countryside of northern France.

I’m in an interesting place for the month. Earlier this week I compiled my highest volume months of bike riding, in terms of miles. It’s still a humble number, but this month was in 9th place overall. After tonight, this month is now my third best month. Tomorrow, it’ll be second. Maybe I can make it my most prolific month before it’s over.

May as well get something out of January.

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 48 routes down, 72 to go.

Jan 23

The color fits, see

I had a meeting this morning, and there were doughnuts. The doughnuts were from a craft bakery, which means they put non-traditional toppings on them so they can charge you 36 bucks for a dozen. Also, they seem to be croissants covered in non-traditional toppings. Tasty, sticks with you throughout the day. Makes you think of doughnuts all day. They also ensure you don’t need to eat anything else all day.

The rest of the day was the rest of the day. A few meetings here and there. A lot of emailing and some phone calls. The usual stuff. And then into the studio in the evening. The late night host was interviewing an expert on M&Ms. As a part of the bit, she was doing so in an awkward British accent. The expert was not actually an expert. But she new many things about the hard-shelled candy, despite not being old enough to have spent 33 years researching them. Also, some of the information might not have been perfectly accurate. Wikipedia might need some updating.

Very usual stuff.

Here’s a photo from Wednesday I forgot to share. I like this one. A monochromatic skylight seems just right for the moment, somehow.

Three long days in a row. Just a regular 8-hour day tomorrow. It’ll feel like a half-day, I’m sure.

That recent weather has meant slower driving. My commute — a normally mysterious 20-minute, 4.5 mile adventure — has been longer. I guess that’s why I’m working through discs in the Re-Listening project so quickly in the last few days. So we return once more to revisit old music. I’m playing all the old discs, in the order that I picked them up.

Did you know I have some photographs in the Museum of Alabama. I used to, anyway. It’s been a long time. I’m sure they’ve been archived and warehoused or destroyed by now.

In the summer of 1997 I was commissioned to drive around much of Alabama and photograph the old covered bridges. I think they were doing a series of these in different seasons, and also some paintings. But traipsing through woods and creeks in the heat of an Alabama summer seemed like the perfect job for a college student, and someone knew me and that’s how I got the job.

I drove over a third or more of the state listening to Tigerlily. It came out in 1995, went platinum five times in the United States and peaked at 13 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Somewhere in late 1996 or early 1997 I bought it. Probably as a bulk deal, but when I got around to listening to it, I listened to it a lot.

The record starts like this.

There’s a lot of interesting texture in this record. There’s a moment in this song, a lament of losing a lifelong spouse, where Merchant’s voice breaks. It’s a syllable, and it is so impactful I remember it years on. I know it is coming. It gets me every time.

She didn’t sing it that way live. On a subsequent re-release (with new instrumentation) it isn’t there, and the song, a powerful ballad, is lesser for it.

Or, if you prefer a different kind of mood.

Music is a funny thing, and if I look at the five or 10 CDs on either side of this one in my collection, it is pretty obvious I wasn’t ready for Natalie Merchant in 1997. But I should say that about a lot of things and 1997 me. Driving on country roads on dirty, sweaty days, listening to this CD spin was a good thing, and a lot of fun. Ready or not.

Wikipedia tells me Natalie Merchant is teaching arts and crafts to kids these days. She has a new record due out in April. Maybe I’ll be ready.

And that’s enough for today. Don’t worry, there will be more tomorrow including, incredibly, another CD in the Re-Listening project.

Jan 23

These aren’t snowtunes

It snowed overnight, and most of the morning. This is the first substantial snow we’ve received since last February. We got about four or five inches. On the drive into the office there were two nervous moments. I got into a bit of a fishtail at a roundabout. And then, at a red light, I wasn’t sure how and when the car would stop.

But at least this guy got to sleep in.

And two of his buddies were driving around, with their snow plows up off the ground.

That might be unfair for one of a few reasons, but, then again, the roads were a mess.

Somewhere approaching 11 a.m., well after the morning rush, they got around to clearing the roads, as you will see. And they didn’t even wait until the snow had stopped falling. Just before it ended, the great big flakes, one last bit of winter defiance, came down. Here’s the tail end of that.

But those first few hours after, it was quite lovely.

It is the wrong kind of snow, however, in that it didn’t melt right away. It won’t melt until the weekend, if the weather forecasts are accurate and it won’t look that lovely in a day or so. But that’s for Thursday or Friday. For now, we listen to music.

It is time, once again, to dive back into musical memories, with the Re-Listening project. I’m going through all of my CDs, in order of acquisition and listening to them in the car. It’s about memories, rather than music reviews. No one is asking for another review of quarter-century-old songs, after all.

In the fall of 1996, a buddy of mine told me to look for a particular band. They’ll be big, he said. You’ll like them, he said. At the same time, there was always a stack of CDs on the giveaway table at my station. And one day, there they were.

This is one of the two things I remember about the Matchbox 20 debut. It sold something like 12 million copies in the United States, and 15 million worldwide. People liked it. It got a lot of airplay. This is the other thing I remember. The wrong single got all the attention.

This was the debut single, and the best bit of the record, by far.

The rest of it is a bit aggravating to me. Maybe it got overplayed. Maybe it wasn’t something we played in crowds. It definitely sounds whiny today. And, oddly, I have no other recollections associated with the album.

Similarly, I don’t have a lot of memory attached to “To the Faithful Departed.” Seems odd, but I don’t recall picking this up, either. I knew I had it, but I am slightly dismayed that I don’t recall what came behind it. And, yes, I think I should remember how and where and why I bought a circular piece of plastic in 1996. I probably barely listened to it, which is a shame. It seems, at times, conceptually and lyrically repetitive. At the same time, the instrumentation is there, and Dolores O’Riordan’s talent is fully on display.

This song struck me tonight, and I was surprised to learn, or re-learn, that this was one of the singles. (This is how closely I was paying attention to The Cranberries, I guess.) It also figured prominently in O’Riordan’s funeral in 2018. Beautiful song.

Two other singles were released. A fourth was canceled when the tour ended and the Irish rockers went home after O’Riordan had some health problems. In retrospect, that the fourth single wasn’t released might have been a good idea. It is hard to listen to that song in the context of the album and airplay at the time and think it would be as successful as the songs that came before it.

Why they didn’t release this as a single though is an enduring mystery. It’s U2, The Cure and Depeche Mode all in one. It would have been a big alt hit.

There was a well-packaged ballad just waiting to be called upon, too. And there’s an all too obvious Doc Martens reference in there, just waiting for sponsorship.

The contemporary reviews suggest this wasn’t The Cranberries’ best album, but “To the Faithful Departed” didn’t top charts in four countries and climb to number four in the United States by mistake. Maybe it was my mistake to overlook it.

A wise man said you should never end a post by admitting a mistake, so … a joke.

What is a snow man’s favorite song?

“Freeze A Jolly Good Fellow.”

Jan 23

No, they’re not fussy chickens

I saw some birds Monday evening. They are spending some time in Dunn’s Woods, on the IU campus. Once private property, this is the southwestern part of campus. Today, this is where the 20-acre Old Crescent, is. The woods are right next to my building. The property was sold to the university by Moses Fell Dunn in 1883. This is the heart of the campus, and it’s a lovely green space. Quiet, peaceful, a lovely stroll. When all of that bird noise isn’t happening, that is.

There’s an apocryphal story about the Dunn sale. The story goes that if a tree is cut down, another must be planted in its place. It’s a great story, and would be some lovely 19th century conservationism. It’s not real. But the campus architects actually put in more trees than they take away. It’s a lovely bit of 21st century conservationism.

And the birds need them. So do the rabbits and squirrels and the rest of the critters that are in those woods, but, today, we’re thinking about birds.

It has been a long time since I’ve seen a huge flock of birds. I mean a real, stop-you-in-your-tracks, worthy of awe, collection of birds. It could be because I don’t live on one of the primary flyways. Then again, I never did.

But don’t you remember, as a kid, being mesmerized? The flowing, pulsing order of birds. The chaos and structure of so many living creatures moving independently, and unison. The slow crawl, birds moving across one section of the horizon to another. I could be outside playing and play would stop, because look at all of those birds. And when you learn and really think about migration, the miles they put in, the time it takes, those little tiny wings and great big dreams. It’s a staggering prospect.

Ahh, but who knows how accurate those flyway maps are. Maybe I was closer to one of the aviary superhighways than I thought. Or maybe the birds got lost. Who knows how far off that very generic map birds would wander? They’re just birds and there aren’t signs. Biologists and ornithologists could speak on this at great length and, I imagine, could get it down to terrain and tree cover and things to eat.

Or, as a colleague, a real outdoorsy sort, pointed out: when was the last time you took a long car trip and your car was covered with bugs? Good point, I said, but I hadn’t thought of that. I’ve been too busy wondering about the birds.

Maybe the insects went somewhere else, too. When I hear the birds today, I always look up. Now I wonder how they’re eating.

This is the section where I’m sharing things that, judged too good to close, have been sitting in open tabs for far too long. There are a lot of tabs open in my browser(s). Rather than lose them altogether, I am bookmarking some and closing them. (Novel!) And others should be shared, and then closed. So here we are, and here are today’s stars.

This is from August 2021. I’m guessing I’ve had this open for a good long while, since. Star Pitmaster Moe Cason Shares How To Make Impeccable Barbecue Brisket:

“I remember seeing all these different trailers, pits, and cookers,” Cason says. “I was just like, ‘Man, it’s just really cool! This is where I need to be.'”

After showing his skills in some 20 cook-offs that first year, the would-be chef was hooked and began branching out further to Texas, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Tennessee. In the years since, Cason has competed in hundreds of barbecue contests in various countries. He’s also been a contestant, judge, and star on Destination America’s BBQ Pitmasters and BBQ Pit Wars — solidifying his reputation as one of the best in the game.

After meeting “Big Moe” at Austin’s Treaty Oak Distilling last month, I was amazed by his immense barbecue knowledge and his incredible heart. During our conversation, I asked him about his intro to ‘cue and managed to snag a seven-step guide to barbecuing his specialty, brisket.

I can’t taste it through the browser, but those photos look great.

Speaking of photos … there’s a nice design, and some warmly charming photographs, in this April 2021 New York Times piece. Have I had this opened as a tab on my phone that whole time? I can’t say for sure, but it probably wouldn’t be the riskiest bet of the day. A Cyclist on the English Landscape:

A year ago, as a travel photographer grounded by the pandemic, I started bringing a camera and tripod with me on my morning bicycle rides, shooting them as though they were magazine assignments.

It started out as just something to do — a challenge to try to see the familiar through fresh eyes. Soon it blossomed into a celebration of traveling at home.

I live in a faded seaside town called St. Leonards-on-Sea, in Sussex, on the south coast of England. If you’ve not heard of it, you’re in good company. It’s not on anybody’s list of celebrated English beauty spots. Indeed, most of my riding is across flat coastal marsh or down-at-the-heel seafront promenades.

There’s history here, of course. This is England after all. The lonely marshes I pedal across most days are where William the Conqueror landed his men in 1066. Otherwise, except for being a haunt for smugglers, this stretch of coast dozed away the centuries until the Victorians brought the railways down from London.

Again, gorgeous photos. And, at the bottom, there are links to other interesting things. So that means … more tabs.

(I now have 39 tabs open on my phone browser.)

On my bike last night, I pedaled through Central Park. There’s nothing like New York in the fall.

As I have said before, some of the Zwift routes are realistic. Others are more fantastical. There are flying cabs in New York, for instance. And also these bridges. These bridges, which you can see through, somewhat. They look like ice. There’s a nice skyline back there, but who can look at that when you’re busy looking down.

The way the trainer works, your back wheel is connected to a drum system. It is meant to go along with the terrain, climbs are hard, downhills are easier and faster, and so on. Your front wheel is propped up, so you can’t ride off somewhere. Good thing, too. The front of my bike points at a wall and a window; it’d be a short trip! And, yet, when I see these bridges in the New York routes, and my avatar makes a turn on them, I tense up, just a bit. How am I going to hold up on this ice?

Which is silly. The ice, the real stuff, will be here tomorrow. My avatar has nothing to fear, these bridges don’t exist. Floating cabs? Maybe.

Anyway, after last night’s ride, I made another spreadsheet to chart a different sort of progress. (This makes three cycling spreadsheets. If you think this is excessive, you are correct! But I also say, N+1.) This one will compare my highest volume months. This month is ninth, all time, going back to 2010. It is the second highest January, and my second-highest month this decade. It will be in my overall top 5 when I can get back on the bike on Friday.

I wonder how many birds I’ll see between now and then.

And, yes, there are birds in Zwift. A giant pelican flew by me the other night.

Jan 23

‘It’s a radiation vibe’

I benefit from a traditional that The Yankee has kept for, I dunno, most of her life. It goes like this. When it snows overnight, you have chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast.

It snowed last night.

And it was the best kind of snow. The sort that arrived in the evening of a night I didn’t have to be anywhere, accumulated to an amount that was in no way an imposition to travel. And, most critically, it was gone by mid-afternoon.

We took a walk at about 2 p.m. to admire what was left in the woods.

The kitties stayed inside, because they are inside cats, and it is cold outside. And they have their creature comforts. For instance, here’s Phoebe sitting on a two-cushioned chair.

On Saturday she was napping on a pillow. The pillow was on top of the mattress. The mattress is also covered by many blankets. She knows what she’s after.

Poseidon, he’s more accustomed to roughing it. You can see him here, just on the one cushion, taking advantage of the arm rest as a pillow.

These are the most comfortable cats in the known kittyverse.

I took a midnight ride on Saturday-Sunday, tapping out 28 miles. Felt slow and, at times, it was! But then at one point the game awarded me a green jersey. It just digitally appeared.

And it means that I was the fastest person on a sprint segment. This is a platform with global appeal, but the result has to be the time of the evening. (I am not a sprinter.)

The 2023 Zwift route tracker: 42 routes down, 78 to go.

It is time, once again, to dip our toe into the soothing waters of musical nostalgia, with the Re-Listening project. I’m going through all of my CDs, in order of acquisition and listening to them in the car. It’s one part memory, three parts fun and, the occasional skip-to-the-next track. This is my second round of the Re-Listening project. I did it a few years ago but, this time, decided to write about it. Easy blog filler! But these aren’t reviews, no no, they’re memories. They are fun, they are whimsy, as most music should be. And today the waters of musical nostalgia are provided to us by Fountains of Wayne.

Their self-titled debut album was released in late 1996. I am guessing I picked it up in early 1997. “Radiation Vibe” was on the radio, and peaking at 14 on the US Billboard Alternative Songs chart that January. Probably somewhere around there I got this. It was a giveaway from one of the radio stations I was working at, rather than something I purchased. I liked the single.

And I hated the rest of the album. This record did not enter the US Billboard 200, but peaked at number 20 on the US Heatseekers Albums Chart. Not that I knew that at the time, or that it mattered. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t realize they were behind “That Thing You Do” in 1996. You assume, through the distance of time, that the movie song was a huge hit. But it was only moderately successful. It is also not on this album, which is what we’re talking about today. (This is the second single.)

As I said. Didn’t care for it in 1997. Liked the one single, but that’s it. Probably didn’t listen to it for more than two decades, until the last Re-Listening project. And let me tell you something fascinating that happened. I realized, decades on, that everything that happened in indie and pop music since 1996 is on this record.

True story. Every nuance, every string, every open note, every bit of air, every emo chorus inspiration, every bit of millennial adolescent spark are all found on this album. It’s incredible. This is the point of the Re-Listening project.

This is a lot to accept, I know, especially if you’re invested in the period. But you can’t escape the evidence.

Others did some of this earlier, and bigger acts completed the form with great success later. But the synthesis of what came before it — The Zombies, The Hollies, maybe some BOC and others — is all right here, the output of what was to come later is all found in the power pop ingredients in this record.

The band broke up in 2013, an 18-year run, but Fountains of Wayne released five studio records. They found themselves in commercials and soundtracks and with Grammy nominations. Their biggest hit was in 2003, a song that reached 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 12 on the Hot Rock and Alternative Songs chart. It was another song I didn’t like, so what do I know?

What I know is we’ll be moving swiftly through the next installment of the Re-Listening project. It’s another whiny record. (I need to make better skip rules for this game.)

Until tomorrow, then, have a great start to your week!