Jun 23

Gather ye songs while ye may

We had a late lunch outdoors at Buffalouie’s, one of our favorite local joints. It’s the sort of place where the owner thinks of it all as a party, and he’s the host. He knows people. Knows their names, remembers their stories. He has the great gift of recall, such that, despite the thousands of people that come through his doors each year, he can make a mental reconnection even if you haven’t been in for a bite in a long, long time.

He has always been good to students, for he knows where he makes his money. And he’s always been helpful to the students I know, for he knows a little free marketing might be a good thing. And he’s just a decent sort. During the beginning of the pandemic he made lunches for some time for all of those little kids who were missing out on free lunches — an important part of many kids’ diets — because they weren’t in school. All of it together makes one loyal. And the food isn’t bad, either. Much better than the nostalgic dive a block away.

So we were sitting out under an umbrella on the sidewalk when the funniest, saddest, happened. Someone we know walked by, doing that thing where they stare intently at their phone so they don’t have to make eye contact, or engage with you. It was perfect.

Then I had a moment that reminded me of the early scene from “Dead Poet’s Society.”

Seize the day, boys …

Seize. The da — ahh, never mind, then.

We went to the lake to float on floats, which we did for an hour or two yesterday. And then the thunder came through. So we called it early. That just meant we got to dinner faster, takeout Japanese to celebrate another big day, and that was Tuesday. Today, the usual, which means you get more music.

Since we saw The Indigo Girls two weekends ago, and I have video, I’m sharing video. This is from 1992’s “Rites of Passage.” Oddly, this record gets dismissed by critics in the qualitative sense, but they all give it a lot of stars for quantitative purposes. No one knows what they are talking about. This is the fourth studio album from Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, and it included contributions from the likes of Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Michael Kamen, Kenny Aronoff, Benmont Tench, The Roches, Nollaig NĂ­ Chathasaigh and more. Six or seven of the songs have become standards in their catalog, including “Joking.”

The record peaked at 21 on the Billboard charts and is certified platinum. Maybe no one knows what they are talking about, but fans know what they’re buying. This wasn’t released as a single, but there was a video. And aside from the clothes, some 31 years later everything is the same.

OK, the clothes and that TV set. But every shot they put in the TV is still with us today, too. The activism went mainstream, and time is still funny.

We continue along in the Re-Listening project, as well, with Keb’ Mo’s “Slow Down.” This is the thing where I am listening to all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. This record came out in August of 1998, but I picked this up in 1999. (Eventually, I promise, we’ll make it past Y2K.)

This is the second Keb’ Mo’ record I have, a few months ago we touched on “Just Like You” for the Re-Listening project. It’s good to have a few pieces from his catalog for hinting at some musical complexity. Variation is important. Here’s the thing, Keb’ Mo’ sounds so comfortable, so confident, so at peace with himself, that it doesn’t sound much like the blues.

Peoples Exhibit A, the opening track.

Now that’s a fine song. Good and fun. But is it the blues? He won his second Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album with this record, so I’m clearly wrong here, and that’s fine. This song is about that all-too-common phenomena many of us experience, the money going out before it can even come in. There’s a certain sadness,some blues, you might say, with the concept behind “Soon As I Get Paid,” but he’s just too joyous and the guitar is too comfortable.

There’s a lyric about not being able to afford the bar tab, Monday mornings, and the IRS, but it’s just happy listening, somehow. He’s got three Grammy awards for blues records, and has another a handful of nominations spread out across his 19 records. And, at 71, he’s still touring, crisscrossing the country several times between now and October. Hopefully he’s getting paid. But even if he’s not, you know what the tunes will sound like when he takes the stage.

Apr 23

The officially recognized beginning of spring

It has been cold and damp all day. Mid-fifties and wet socks are no way to live, but that’s how we’ll approach the last week of April. The rest of the weekend’s forecast doesn’t look much better. At least next week the sun returns which, hey, April.

It might have hit 55 degrees this morning, in the pre-dawn hours. So, this year, my seven-year-long hypothesis, the Little-500-marks-the-beginning-of-spring hypothesis, has not held.

The long-range forecast suggests we’ll maybe hit 70 degrees … sometime before the first week of May is over. Maybe.

This is our chance to catch up with the Re-Listening project. Catch up, that is, until the next CD is over. Which means we might be behind again by Tuesday. Such is the pace of things, when you’re listening to old CDs in the car. I’m not sure how I run through whole albums so quickly, I will probably run out of music before I figure that out, but 40-or-so minutes goes fast, considering the small amount of road I cover.

Anyway. We’re cruising down memory lane. It is the summer of 1998, the summer of Natalie Merchant. “Ophelia” was her second studio album, her only one to crack the top 10 on the Billboard 200, where it settled in at number eight. It went platinum in the U.S., largely on the strength of “Kind & Generous” which broke into the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay Chart.

That’s the one you remember. The first track, the title track, is a total mood setter.

For some reason it is easy to remember the talent that Natalie Merchant put into all of her work. She left the regular artist route to do other things, but this record is full of examples of a quality of work that her fans appreciate.

And, in the interests of time, I’m skipping over the great wah wah guitars of “Frozen Charlotte” and the piano ballads like “My Skin.” Mostly just to get to the last song, a cover of “When They Ring Those Golden Bells.” It’s a popular and important gospel and bluegrass song from 1887, written by a French immigrant, a man who fought in the Civil War, the American-Mexican War and, for something even more intense, was a clown and a circus leader.

Dolly Parton has covered it. Jerry Lee Lewis has covered it. But this duet between Natalie Merchant and Karen Peris is something to behold.

Like so many things that take place when you’re the age I was when this CD came out, I didn’t have the ability or insight or patience to fully appreciate this album. But what I missed out for in 1998 I enjoy more today. Ophelia is always a fine listen.

(Natalie Merchant has released a new album this year, her first in six long years. (Update: I had no idea she’d gone through this terrifying surgery that almost robbed her of her voice.) And she’s touring this summer in support of that album — 37 dates in the U.S. and Europe between now and November.)

Back then, though, I wanted something more like what came out that fall, when Pearl Jam released “Live on Two Legs.” It’s a series of live recordings from their summer tour. It debuted at number 15, and went platinum. It’s a quality of recordings far superior to most any bootleg you might capture. But the band was a bit more restrained by this point — Eddie Vedder was 34, after all, and the rest of the band was right there, too. One review called it a “thank you” to fans. To me, today, it feels more like a valentine to Pearl Jam’s part of grunge. But in 1998, no one thought in that way just yet.

There’s more to the timing in retrospect. This was three years after the band revolted, almost alone, against the Ticketmaster monopoly. That stand effectively clipped their wings in the United States from 1995 to 1998. It’s also two years before the tragedy at the Roskilde Festival. Less important than all of that, the musical landscape changed underfoot.

It is technically proficient for the genre, and a good ride for fans. And, clearly, they don’t want this embedded.

If you play that on YouTube, though, you can hear the full album. It’s worth hearing, even if you’re familiar with the catalog, though there’s not a lot new there. The last time I saw them was a few months after Roskilde. Grown men were crying; it was a bit much. It was in that period of the official bootlegs, and I have a copy of that 2000 show somewhere in this collection.

Pearl Jam, as a band, are still on tour. They have a mini schedule for late this summer. Eddie Vedder is doing a few solo shows, too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shiver some more.

Apr 23

Spring begins here tomorrow

I visited Chick-fil-A drive-through for lunch yesterday. The local Chick-fil-A now has multiple touch points along the drive-through path. It eats up half of their small parking lot, but they are incentivizing drive-through customers if you’re using their app. We use the app for our regular Saturday lunch run.

It’s hopping at noon on Saturdays, of course, so you roll down the window and talk to three people along the way. First there’s the person getting the order. Then there’s the first merge point, three lanes to two, and the a second person who is controlling the order of traffic. Someone else confirms the order, usually after the second merge point which pulls the two lanes into one line, just before you reach the window. Three or four crew members in that little space, and then two people outside of the window that actually hand you your food. On Saturdays, we briefly interact with four people to get our sandwiches; who knows how many people are in the back doing the actual food work.

The point of having all of those people isn’t to speed up the process, but to control the flow. Your wait isn’t at the window, but in the line, with the slow illusion of progress via motion. The other virtue of the setup is that they can put people outside, or pull them in, based on customer rush.

Take yesterday, which is the point of mentioning this anyway. The early lunch crowd on a Wednesday isn’t particularly busy, so I only talked with two people between entering the parking lot, and making the window.

At the window, a guy was leaning out, waiting for me. Big smile on his face. Gregarious, ready to have a chat. (It stands out here.) My food wasn’t ready he said, so he leaned into the little easy chitchat. He loved this, and he leaned in by leaning out of the window. He asked me how my day was and complimented my pocket square.

He wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Instead of having to ask me two or four easy throwaway questions, I started asking questions of him. You could tell this doesn’t happen to him a lot in that job. We talked about the weather and naps and his other job. He works for DoorDash, and I wanted to know if he got to meet a lot of people that way. I asked him if they took care of him there, and how far he drove. And then my food was ready, in my car and I was on my way.

I’d like to think that he somehow took the exchange forward, and was even more enthusiastic with the next several guests.

I once again find myself behind in the Re-Listening project. Somehow a few days go by, and a few more CDs get played and now you have to power through whatever I write about it all here. The point of the exercise being to listen to all of my old CDs, in the order that I acquired them. The secondary point being to write about them here. They aren’t reviews, or the dreaded re-reviews, just an excuse to go down memory lane, and to post a few videos for you.

Which brings us to the only reason most people bought this particular album in the mid 90s.

New Zealand’s OMC released this, their only record, in 1996. I got it as a freebie in 1998. It made it to number 40 on the Billboard 200. On the strength of this song, and three other singles you probably don’t recall, it was certified gold.

How do things catch on half a world away, I wonder. It’d be easier today, sure, but getting airplay from around the globe … it had to be MTV. Whatever it was, the critics liked it.

There is a certain infectiousness to the songs. This was the second single.

This is the third single, and the track that sticks with me whenever I listen to this CD, which is admittedly rare. This is also the first track you hear if you play the whole album and, I like to think, this is why critics struggled to label the record. In 1996, this was a unique collection of sounds.

I bet you never thought of New Zealand hip hop, Urban Pasifika is is called, as influencing the global sound — and that’s OK, I hadn’t put that together before now, either — but here we are, hearing the strains of OMC in other people’s work, and OMC itself enjoying a resurgence on TikTok of all places.

OMC only produced the one record, mostly because of record label disputes. Pauly Fuemana was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder and died in 2010, just 40 years old.

Which brings us to New American Shame. This was released in March of 1999. Didn’t like it then, and I never, ever listened to it. I am so unfamiliar with it that when the first song began in my CD player — it’s always a question of what comes next in the Re-Listening project — I wasn’t sure what AC/DC ripoff I had picked up somewhere. Kiss without the appeal. Buckcherry without the adhesive backing removed. (There’s nothing to stick to here, is what I’m saying.) It’s a power slop dirty rock ‘n’ roll sound that doesn’t appeal to me, with rote mixing and mastering on the production side. This is the first track, which was remixed when the band signed a major label deal, and released as a single. It hit 35 on the Mainstream Rock Chart and, unless this was your genre, I’d be surprised if you’ve ever heard it.

The rest of the record sounds a lot like that. It has its place, I guess. It’s all the sort of thing you’d heard from the annoying pontoon boat just upstream that ruins your day.

I don’t want to play any more of it here, for fear of that very thing.

Mar 23

Marked safe from the weather

The wind has been whipping through. The storms that have bruised and battered and, I fear, destroyed and killed through the Midwest and the South are coming through here as well. This is weather that we’ve been watching for for a week. In some ways, that makes it worse. But at least it isn’t the stuff that pops up, unannounced, in the middle of the night. We don’t get that hear, but it is something I am accustomed to. Certain times of the year, you pay close attention to the barometer and the low pressure fronts.

Here, I have charged the phones, prepared the cat carriers, set out bike helmets and brought the weather radio downstairs for the evening — so I wouldn’t have to go up and down the stairs to hear the many announcements. But there was only one. We stayed in a tornado watch from the early evening and into the night. Late in the night, just a few moments ago, the bigger line of storms pushed through the region. Two cells that were surely scaring people in Illinois came this way.

We were under a tornado warning, then, but it was north of us. The radar overhead looked fine. The local broadcast meteorologists looked befuddled, as they often do, with severe weather. The cell passed north of town, and north of us, by about 16 or 18 miles. We listened to the wind whip and whirl, hearing the screens on the windows flex, and wondered how it is that siding stays on the side of a house. Surely, when the breeze turns into a considerable 40 or 50 mile per hour gust, wind could get underneath a few lines of siding and start moving it around, but it thankfully never does. And everything on the deck and the porch stayed where it was, too. The power never flickered, it didn’t even rain overmuch. We were quite fortunate, indeed. Hopefully, because this storm was in the forecast for most of the week, people have paid attention and are prepared.

Before all of that, I got in 20 miles on the bike. Just enough to get the heart rate up. The 2,200 feet of simulated elevation gain does it every time. Look! Here I am! On top of a mountain!

This was the Epic KOM climb, and I set a new Strava PR, absurdly improving on my previous best by 10-plus minutes.

When I got to the top of that climb there popped up a graphic for “Bonus Climb.” I don’t know how laid this out, but there was no bonus about that, or any extra climb. The HUD shows you how long the climb is, and this one is 5.9 miles. That last half mile, then, was all about dose energy.. And then they gave this slow, extra hill. It was almost demoralizing.

Anyway, since it is the end of the month, let’s check on the mileage chart. The purple line is what I’ve done.

That horizontal part marks the two weeks A.) we were out of town, and B.) I was fighting off a cold. So a light March — despite five consecutive days of pedaling — but I’m still ahead of all of my humble little projections.

This isn’t a lot of mileage, not really, but it’s a lot to me.

Tomorrow, a rest day, probably.

Feb 23

I complain about fruit, rather than late nights

This was my third late night in the office in a row. They’re not all long days, because I can shift things, but sometimes, sometimes they are long days. And sometimes the days get longer. This is hardly something to complain about, but you grow tired and keep busy working 10 and 12-hour days.

So I’ll complain about this. I am out of apples.

That’s a Cosmic apple, which I discovered last fall and have enjoyed since. The tangy skin is the real treat, a perfect complement to the sweeter flesh. They’re also quite colorful. Only now, they’re at the store, because there are none in the refrigerator. This is a problem of sorts.

Here’s a photo of equal importance, from our walk last Sunday. I forgot to do anything with it, but we can celebrate maple buds for several more weeks, yet.

We walked down the newest part of the multi-use path, too. This part has just opened in the last month or so, and is a nice chunk of progress to the overarching goal. At some point, apparently, the path behind our house is supposed to connect to pretty much everything in town — if you’re willing to take a trip of that sort. With this addition they’re pretty close to reaching, if not already at, that goal.

It’s a nice feature, all these paths and trails. The city’s tourism site boasts 200 miles of trail, and, I assume, the number is ticking upward, though I’ll need to explore the other side of this recent addition. The city’s maps online are months — and, in some cases, years — out-of-date.

The view when I headed into the studio this evening, another painfully bare tree. In a month and change, there will also be leaves in the way of this obstructed sunset view.

It was a comedy show. They did something with gingerbread houses, that traditional St. Patrick’s Day treat, and discussed Halloween costumes. I’m not sure why, but that’s collegiate comedians doing something semi-sorta avant-garde. Or so I assume. It was a long day, I could be wrong about all of this.