books


7
Nov 22

Twelve hundred more rambly words

Do you have a case of the Mondays? Well, we’ve got a solution to that: the workweek is 20 percent over! You’ve built momentum! You’re going to spend Tuesday around the water cooler exchanging voting booth stories, anyway. And Wednesday doesn’t matter because you’ll be thinking, all day, about how you can wrap up your week on Thursday. And then Friday, well, that’s Friday, plus you need to devote a few minutes to how you’re planning to burn the rest of your vacation time before the end of the year because you didn’t use it all, again, because This work-life balance thing is a nice concept, but who has the time? Did you see how this week flew by?

So we’ve got that going for us.

And if that isn’t enough, we have our regular weekly feature, the most popular and talked about feature from this site, and this corner of the web, if not the western world’s entire Internet, the Monday check in with the kitties.

I have to carry my phone around at all times on the off chance that I catch one of them doing something quirky or, even better, some way to get the rare composition that features both of them. This is my tether to the modern world, and that’s the story I’m sticking with, but, sometimes, the photos are worth it.

Poseidon has had enough of this week already. And if you think you’ve had a Monday, he made this decision on Saturday night.

Phoebe spent part of the weekend helping me read.

Which gives us a an easy transition.

I used the extra hour Saturday night to finish Andrew Ritchie‘s 1988 biography, Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer. Major Taylor was a turn-of-the-century bike racer, and was regarded as the fastest man in the world. The thousands that came to see him race in the U.S., Europe and Australia understood speed with a different perspective than you do, perhaps, it was a time before people knew what an airplane was, or understood what cars would become. Taylor, his bike, and his rivals, were the high performance machines of their day. And also, of course, he was the victim of the racism of the time. Despite those challenges, Ritchie has him well regarded by fans, hailed as a hero abroad, and on par with, or easily superior to, everyone who got on a bike opposite him. The term world champion was perhaps a bit looser back then compared to what you might see from the official UCI World Championships today, but he established seven world records, and beat all the prime racers, all of ’em, the world had to offer. Mayor Taylor was a world champion, and that was his place in the world as a young man, and in a time when George Dixon (Canada) was the only other world champion of any sport (boxing). Taylor was an almost singular star.

It’s a great shame that he’s only nominally known by modern audiences. There are bike clubs across this country bearing his name, today, and his adopted hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts celebrates him and there’s a velodrome in his hometown of Indianapolis named in his honor, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy the household, iconic name status many early superlative athletes have. You’ll say, “He was a cyclist,” but consider: he was a star at the peak of the cycling boom in this country, when college basketball was an infant, the NBA was decades away, football looked more like rugby and baseball was just exiting its juvenile delinquent stage. Bike racing was a spectacle and he was the most famous athlete in the world. Thousands would come see him. People paid to watch him do practice laps. It was a phenomenon. He was a phenomenon.

He retired in his early 30s, had some failed business dealings trying to cash in on the early days of automobile innovation, and then a series of other failures. And we’ll let Ritchie share the next few paragraphs.

Ritchie interviewed Taylor’s daughter, an elderly woman by then. The family had fallen apart in a sad way, but this is an amazing bit of character study. It’s clear she’s spent a lot of time thinking of how to explain her late estranged father. Reading this, I am equally interested in what she had to say, but also in the art of Ritchie’s interview with her.

After he and his wife separated, she moved away with their daughter. He left Massachusetts, a proud, determined man. He’d lived there for 25 years, but had to sell his large house. So he was trying, hat-in-hand, to sell his autobiography. (Ritchie, while even-handed and, at times glowing, about Major Taylor, is fairly critical of his autobiography.) He took a room at a YMCA in Chicago, stayed there for a time, had a heart attack in 1932 and died just a few months later, close to penniless and essentially alone.

I noticed that Ritchie stopped updating his WordPress site in 2014. There is another famous Andrew Ritchie in the cycling world, and so I did a bit more searching to see what had become of him, until I found this memorial, of sorts. He’d had heart trouble for years, and some financial difficulties of his own. But this is the part I want to remember.

On the night of Thursday 12th August (2021) he went out into the Cornish countryside to observe the Perseid meteor shower: probably his last moments were spent gazing at the heavens.

Sometimes it is important for the innocuous assumption to stick.

Also, I started Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming. Atkinson has won three Pulitzers and a few shelves full of other prominent literary and historical awards over the course of his prolific career. His trilogy on World War II was an incredible experience. I expect the same for this series. Volume one came out in 2020, no idea when the next ones are out, but I’m through the 30-page prologue, and I’m hooked.

I love when Atkinson writes like this.

That’s four paragraphs on two pages and it paints a rich portrait of, in this case, what was unknown. I bet it took weeks to pull those facts together, shape them into this order and edit them to that level of concision and in his typical narrative style.

I have 530 more pages of this to enjoy here.

It was an amazing day, yesterday. Here we are, November, and 67 degrees. You could do a lot of things with an opportunity like that. I, of course, went for a bike ride.

This was a lovely 32-miler. Maybe I can get one or two more in this week, before the weather turns. Already I’ve been outdoors longer this year than last, so I have that going for me. The question is how many more open-road miles I can add because, soon, all of my miles will be trainer miles. That yields to the more pressing question will become how close I can get to setting a new personal best in annual mileage.

So come back for that! And other things! Like books! And music! And come back tomorrow tomorrow! I’ll write about a run and election day fun!


2
Nov 22

A mishmash, a hodgepodge, poorly covered

OK, one more Catober bonus. Phoebe and Poseidon thank you for your attention. Now they want some more pets. And, also, some snacks, if you have any.

If you somehow didn’t come to this page every day in October, then you might have missed out on some kitty cuteness. Fear not! This link has the complete Catober collection.

I have no content filler for November. I should really work on that.

Visited the grocery store last night, for the third time in as many days. I had to pick up a few birthday cards. If you stand there, muttering, long enough, you can find a card that isn’t outrageously priced. That’s what I learned last night. Took some time to learn that lesson.

Also strolled by the produce section, and thought I’d pick up a few different varieties. An economist inspired me.

So, for today’s lunch, I present you with the Autumn Glory.

I can tell you this about my first Autumn Glory. It was surprisingly juicy. It holds a mild, even sweetness. The label at the store, and what I’ve found online, said I’d find hints of cinnamon and caramel. But my palette might not be sophisticated enough — or perhaps my peanut butter sandwich overwhelmed it — and no cinnamon or caramel notes were detected.

It had an odd skin texture, almost rubbery. But the apple was surprisingly consistent all the way down to the core.

I suspect I will eat an autumn glory apple again, if for no other reason than I purchased two of them.

I’m finally making real progress in Andrew Ritchie’s biography of Major Taylor. This is when the champion cyclist was traveling and racing around the world — an exhausting proposition at the beginning of the 20th century, I’m sure.

I worked my way through his peak racing years, his retirement, return and final retirement. This is where biographies get tough, particularly in Taylor’s case. He fell into obscurity and some sort of financial difficulty. There’s two decades to work through. Two decades after you’ve been either the toast, or target of racist hatred, depending on where he was. What happens in those years?

I guess we’ll find out in the next few nights. There’s another book to get to, after all. There’s always another book.

We can quickly work the two most recent CDs from the Re-Listening Project. One is hardly obscure … Stone Temple Pilots “Purple,” was their second record. Scott Weiland had quickly hit his stride and was stepping away from the grunge prototype. Seattle was still in there, but this was STP as they should be. “Purple” debuted at number one, was six-times platinum in the United States, three-times platinum in Canada, two-times in Australia and also in New Zealand. It was, in fact, one of the best selling albums of the 1990s.

This record is also one of the ways I know I had too much free time in my freshman year of college. We realized that each of the evenly-numbered tracks were huge, or going to be. (The odd number songs are all pedestrian, at best.) Indeed, we were right. I have a recollection of exactly where I was standing in our place when this epiphany set in.

Track 2 was “Vasoline,” track 4 was “Interstate Love Song” track 6 and track 8 were “Pretty Penny” and “Big Empty,” respectively. The first two topped the Mainstream Rock chart and hit number two on the Alternative Airplay chart. “Pretty Penny” somehow stalled out at number 12, “Big Empty” got to the third spot. Track 10 was never released as a single, but it has its moments.

The best song on the record, then as now, is the hidden track … and it’s number 12. And this, weirdly, isn’t even performed by a member of the band, but by a Seattle musician named Richard Peterson.

Somehow, learning it isn’t one of the STP guys changes my impression of the whole thing. (So … thanks … world wide web …) But it also deepens the hilarity. (So thanks, world wide web!)

From magazine interviews:

Scott: “The guy is a kind of autistic savant who has this bizarre obsession with Johnny Mathis. He follows him around on tour when he’s in the north west, and he collects money on the street to fund his own recordings. We kept playing this song on tour before we went out, and it seemed fitting to put it on the end of the album.” (Melody Maker – 6/4/94)

Scott: “No one would be able to write a song like that for us. We had it played before our live shows.” (Sub-Line Magazine Germany – 8/1/94)

That song wasn’t on the Japanese edition of the disc, and they lost out. (They had, for whatever reason, a David Bowie cover.)

The fun of the Re-Listening Project to me, aside from the occasional flash of some place or time or activity associated with a song, is the mystery of what’s going to play next. I am putting these in my disc changer in order, but I don’t read the disc first. So that beat between one and the next is kind of fun. Do I remember what’s next? Am I going to like the first track? How much of this am I going to skip over? What poorly constructed paragraphs am I going to write about this? Does this hold up? Do I still like it? Did I ever like it?

The answers, this time, were “Not this time. Nope. A lot of it. Not much. Not at all. In no way. And, finally, not really, no.

There was just something weird going on in 1995 that let 311 rise to major airplay. I bought this — or picked it up in a giveaway stack, I don’t recall — on the strength of the single and have pretty much regretted it ever since. The record hit number 12 on the Billboard 200, and topped the Heatseekers Albums
chart and “Down” found it’s way atop Modern Rock Tracks, and the blue album sold three million copies, so I’m not kicking anybody here. And, the band is still doing it. They’ve released 13 studio records over the years, so good for them. But, man, this whole record is one riff, off-key harmonies and somehow a bunch of white dudes from Omaha put a little ska and reggae together with two chords and decided to rap and … we … accepted that?

This was not quite two years before Dre unleashed Eminem, so that explains a lot, or so I have convinced myself.

This is the only song that sounds different than the rest of the record, and they could only keep that uniqueness for 52 seconds.

OK, this one is a little different from the rest, too. But you can’t hear it without thinking, “Guys from Omaha. Yep.” And you can get that sentence out exactly twice before that same lick comes back.

It’s the whole album, and it never gets played, and this is why. Though they are still touring, music venues, Hard Rock hotels, festivals, cruises, so this works for some people. But it’s never worked for me.

Tomorrow: No music, more apples, and a bike ride!


3
Oct 22

Back to work

Back to work today. Catching up on meetings and the things I couldn’t do while working from home last week. Some things are virtual, some things you just need to be there. Fortunately, everyone has been understanding and most gracious with my absence last week. Family comes first, and that’s a nice perk.

I’ve worked places where that wasn’t the case.

I’d say this has been a great chance to slow down, except that everything seems to have sped up. But on Friday The Yankee’s mom came to town to see about her daughter and help out. That was a big morale boost. And this weekend she worked through those early days of surgical recovery. She’s also a week-on from the big crash, and so, on balance, she’s starting to move better.

On Sunday afternoon we all even took a walk.

When I got to the office I saw that the Poplars Building, which we’ve been documenting in this space since August, is now all gone.

They took that second half in a week. But you should see all the rubble that’s out of our view there. Maybe we can take a look at that this week.

Also, the leaves have started turning. Something about them seems off this year. Subdued somehow. Maybe I just caught it in poor light at the wrong time of day, and early in the turn.

There will be a few more days of opportunity to poorly demonstrate the leaf turn. I’m sure I’ll try.

I started, oh, almost two weeks ago now, reading Andrew Ritchie‘s Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer. I’m about 20 percent of the way through it now, but the beginning sets the stage. Late-19th century, a young black man rides a bicycle as well as anyone at the peak of American interest in cycling, both as a pastime, but also the sport.

“The fastest humans on earth.” Crazy, but it’s worth reminding ourselves to think in those terms.

Taylor was from Indianapolis, he’d moved with a mentor/employer to Massachusetts, and he’d signed with the League of American Wheelmen, the sport’s governing body of the time. He was 17 or 18 here.

Within the next year he’d be a world champion, and a world record holder.

He was, in fact, the first African-American world champion, of any sport. He died nearly penniless. He’s been all but forgotten outside of his adopted Worcester, Massachusetts, and some vibrant-and-growing cycling groups. Major Taylor will have a renaissance, you can just put your ear to the wind and feel it coming, on your left. His is an intriguing story.


19
Sep 22

Rocket ship emoji

The hill of truth. It isn’t much of a hill, and what little there is is basically behind the photographer at this point, but for some reason getting over and around that curve tell you a lot about a ride.

Of course it was two-thirds of the way through my Saturday morning ride. All of its truths had been laid bare already. It was a slow start, as rides often are, and the burst off the first little roller wasn’t as sharp or as long as it usually is. The sprint I’ve been tinkering with, one long straight road that takes you from one neighbor to another, I didn’t even try. And then she ran off and left me.

I only saw her again after one of the turnaround points. And that is what happens when you have no legs on a 30-mile ride. You get dropped.

I can enjoy it. This was the biggest mileage week for me in the last few months. Not a lot, but plenty for the moment.

Maybe I can find more miles this week, or the week after.

Let’s do the weekly check-in with the kitties. They’re both doing great, thanks for asking. Phoebe spent a bit of time last night hanging out in the entertainment center for some reason.

Poseidon was more than happy to take a nap in the fuzzy blanket. When they cover their eyes like this I assume they are embarrassed about something going on around them. The only question is, by whom?

Probably his sister.

Finished the Thomas Cahill book, this evening. The barbarians invaded Rome. It all slipped away, slowly, then suddenly. Eventually literacy gained a foothold in Ireland. And then came Patrick, Columcille, and Colombanus.

It’s a light popular reading. So there’s not a lot of depth, but if you were looking for an entry-point into an important period of Irish history, this is a reasonable start. The book ends with this downer.

There are almost 8 billion of us now, last time I counted, so that at least gives us plenty of permutations and possibilities. And, if that somehow doesn’t work, there are always emojis.


14
Sep 22

A musical catchup

I am woefully overdue on an update to the Re-Listening Project. I am working through all of my old CDs in the car, repeating a project I did a few years ago. I didn’t write about it then, but using it as a bit of content now. And you’re along for the ride. What you’ll read today aren’t reviews, but maybe a few highlights or memories.

And the Re-Listening Project is strictly chronological, which is to say the order in which I bought all of these things. My discs crosses genres and periods in a haphazard way and there’s no large theme. It is, a whimsy as so much of music should be.

If you watched any MTV in the fall of 1995 or the spring of 1996, you saw Seven Mary Three. That is, most assuredly, how I discovered the guys from Florida. Their label debut, “American Standard” was rapidly surging toward platinum status and Jason Ross was screaming in everyone’s ear. And if that strikes a familiar cord, then you remember “Cumbersome” and “Waters Edge” and some of those last dying blooms of Gen X angst. (Or were these the first roars from the millenials? Hard to know.)

Anyway, this was the place where grunge and the pure rock of that era intersected. It was right-place, right-talent, right-A&R-staff, right time. And we’re going to hear more from 7M3 in due time. So as not to overburden you, dear friend, here are just three songs. All of these diverge from the over-the-top intensity of their singles, but also hinted at where they were going.

They evolved in interesting ways, releasing seven studio albums and one live record. I have at least four of them.

The math doesn’t make a lot of sense in this song. So I’ve decided it is hyperbole, which lets me just get back to enjoying the song. Which is good, because it’s a great little rock tune.

I’m pretty sure I bought this CD because of my roommate. He loved this song. I can still see us riding around in his pickup pumping this through the old worn speakers in the dashboard.

I don’t know if it is a false memory, but I can just seem him banging out the drums on his steering wheel, with that big perfect smile on his face. He was a good guy, and I always think about him a lot when I hear this record.

And to really shake things up, the next disc in my first CD book was “A Kind of Magic.” This was Queen’s 12th studio record, a quasi-soundtrack to the first Highlander movie. If you think there are a lot of things going on in that sentence, you are correct. Any number of them might be quirky on their own, but in this combination, they make for something totally weird.

It was an immediate and huge hit in the UK. Stayed on the charts there for more than a year, spawned four hit singles. This record peaked at 46 in the United States, but was a top 10 in Argentinia, Austria, Finland, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and West Germany. And, yes, we’re going with quasi-soundtrack. No official soundtrack was produced for Highlander. Six out of nine songs on the album appeared in the film, although all of them in different forms.

If you remember that movie, though, (and how could you not!?!?!?) this song also became the love theme.

That was a hit single, and one of the better ones. This was not released as a single, but is integral to the movie. And also, shows off Queen’s serious musicianship, punctuated by weird movie interjections.

I am pretty sure I picked up this CD at one of the radio stations I worked at. And I’m pretty sure two songs are the reasons why. “Princes of the Universe” became the movie theme and later, a modified version was the theme of the TV spinoff. Also, Brian May is really bending some strings here.

And while this was a quasi-soundtrack for Highlander, I learned about this song from the Iron Eagle movie, which was released the year before. And, somehow, it got tacked on to both movies. This is an open-road, windows down song, and it still evokes that feeling all these many (many) years later.

It has big allusions to Martin Luther King, Jr., and I did not know until just now that it was a Roger Taylor song.

{{{Fried chicken!}}}

(That part always ruined it for me, though.)

And so we move from the UK to Arizona, for another band I discovered because of moderate rotation on MTV.

People that didn’t take the time to get into The Refreshments probably thought this was a novelty act, or a splash in the pan. But let me tell you, Roger Clyne has chops. And some soul. The Refreshments put out one more record together, got disgusted with the big labels, split up and did some other things. Clyne and P.H. Naffah have another Arizona-based band these days, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, and they have 13 albums out and a huge party-band following. But, for now, a little bit more about “Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big and Buzzy.”

I must have picked this up late in the spring of 1996. I stayed at college. Everyone I knew at the time went off to work or home or wherever they went. But to my freshman way of thinking, if you’re paying rent, you may as well be there. If you’re there you may as well be taking classes. So I took classes. (Made the dean’s list that summer.)

And I listened to this record A LOT.

I don’t know what made the narrative structure work so well on me, but it surely did. Straightforward themes, you could see yourself in some of these dusty roles. And you can belt out the choruses with abandon if no one is around all summer.

What’s great about this record, to me, is that I feel exactly the same today about each of these songs as I did 26 years ago. They all still sit just as they should in my ears.

Maybe it was because I really took the time with this record in one hot, slow summer, and they were writing about the hot, slow world in Arizona and Mexico and added just enough wanderlust.

Also, there’s weird doses of humor mixed in everywhere. And if I had to describe the first half of college in one phrase, I could do far worse than saying “It was weird doses of humor.”

Anyway, The Refreshments were great. Another one of those bands I never had the chance to see live, but one day The Peacemakers will be nearby, and I’ll be there. It will be a glass-raising party.

I had one more musical addition. Some label sent me a maxi single of a band they were pushing. It was a hit in southern California, I guess. But they never caught on elsewhere. And the tracks just weren’t good. I made the mistake of googling the band. They managed to put out two records. And at least one of the former members is still in music. His website told me he composes stuff for games and a few movies and slot machines these days. He looked happy. He referred to his band in a nice way. Took the wind out of my sails about being critical of his old work. (I mean, how would I feel? And you certainly could.) So we’ll end the musical exploration here for now.

I’m about to wrap up Cahill’s book, How the Irish Saved Civilization. I will, that is, if I stop nodding off. (This is a function of going to bed too late, not being interested in what I’m reading. I need to start turning pages earlier in the evening once again, especially for good stuff. And this is a nice book. We’re getting close to it, and while these last sections have defied excerpting, this part is telling. After the fall of Rome, when surviving was the most important thing a person could do in Europe, not “reading” or “writing.”

I suppose the most impressive thing we’ve learned here is how quickly that could happen, over the span of time. Just a few generations of collapsing societies and economies and oncoming hordes and it was almost all gone. Makes you wonder a bit about what it will be the next time.

And, even worse, I must now start to wonder, even as I finish this book, what I’ll read next. (So many good options. Only so many I can read all at once.)