Monday, August 27, 2018

Odd Bits - The Maverick Edition

Leave it to ol’ John McCain to leave everyone all riled up, even after his death.

I saw today that after flying the White House flag at half-staff over the weekend, the Trump Administration has it back up to full-staff already. The recent precedent, when such a dignitary passes, has been for it to remain at half-staff until the funeral. Just one more thing that if Obama had done it, there would have been seething rage pouring from the Right.

It was a shame that Senator McCain passed so soon. While I didn’t agree with his politics, he was a gentleman of conviction and class, and a throwback to when politics wasn’t a zero-sum game.

Everyone’s mentioning that town hall clip where he cuts off the lady blustering about how Obama was an untrustworthy Arab, telling her that he is a real American and a fine man, one with whom he has a difference of opinion.

Would that all politicians man-up and squash hysterical misinformation like that. Of course, it might have cost him the election, being all decent in the face of ginned up anti-foreigner propaganda.

Same with his refusal to “go negative” during the campaign. In the HBO movie “Game Change,” the story of the McCain/Palin campaign, his advisors implore him to drop the civility and go negative against Obama. Release the Palin and all the froth she could whip up.

John McCain refused, saying he wanted to run a civilized campaign and talk about the issues rather than denigrate his opponent’s name and character. I’m pretty sure that also cost him dearly in the election.

I respect his principled decision, but I fear he will be the last Republican to take such stand. The modern Republican base will not be happy with a campaign about mere policy. They’ll want blood. And “Lib tears.” And if they lose on that platform, hey, it’s just more evidence that George Soros and Hillary Clinton have the whole thing rigged, right?

Rest in peace, Senator McCain. At ease.


Selective Attention Rages On
Last week, authorities found the remains of Mollie Tibbets, that Iowa girl who had been missing for over a week. It had been a story on my Yahoo page, seemingly, forever. After all, the missing was a nice looking, white, college girl. Black girls go missing all the time without creating a national story.

And then, it turns out she was killed by an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Cue the nationalistic politicization machine!
 Yep, by objecting to children being torn from their families and put in cages, Democrats hate you and want you killed by the brown scourge.

Why is it that we can’t seem to entertain multiple thoughts at one time? Can’t we keep families intact (many of whom are not “illegal” at all, but merely seeking legal asylum), while still creating a rational immigration process that bars dangerous people from entering?

Note to Republicans: Being brown is not indicative of being dangerous. But the Right is so racist today, they try to give credit for Johnny B Goode to Michael J Fox.

The unspoken part here is that statistically, the number of people killed by illegal immigrants is dwarfed by the number of people killed by good old home-grown Americans. But no one is willing to do anything about that
It’s like, “I’m Amurcan and I demand to be killed by only another red-blooded Murcan, preferably one who is using a Second Amendment-protected semi-automatic firearm. We can’t have these ferners coming in here and doing all the killing… that’s OUR job! Hooah!”

Case in point: we had another mass shooting this weekend. Another anti-social, sullen, white boy shot up a video gaming contest after losing his match. Whatever happened to just throwing your controller after getting blown out on Madden? Sheesh!

If only there was a “good guy” with a gun there, to fire back and totally not hit anyone else in a crowded, panicky room. But here we are again, with two dead, (plus the shooter via suicide) and over a half dozen more injured. Can’t you just smell the “freedom” in the air?

Funny how “freedom” usually smells like gunpowder.


Locally, there’s been some news around town that the City of Baltimore is trying to be better prepared to save people who fall in the water at the Inner Harbor. Walking to work this morning, I saw some new life preserver stations lining the waterway leading to the Harbor.

I think they have more work to do. Considering the quality of the Harbor water, they need fewer stations for life preserver rings and more stations for Silkwood Showers.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Music Associations

Following last week’s Springsteen post, I wasn’t going to write about music again so soon, but then I saw this graphic on Facebook:
I thought it looked like the makings of a fun post, so what the hell, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I’m answering these as songs I like, even when not specified, and not just as a trivia test. I will list song/artist/album (when known) and my rationale. Many of these songs I’ve mentioned here before, so look for the links for additional information.

1)      A song you like with a color in the title: Still Got the Blues, Gary Moore, (title track). Also considered Back in Black, but I like this slow, smoldering, soaring blues number better. RIP Gary Moore. Also reminds me of those several months where I was a regular in a little Schenectady strip bar.

2)      A song you like with a number in the title: I Can’t Drive 55, Sammy Hagar, VOA. Also 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. (j/k) Great driving beat for a great driving song. (Not the best, however, see #7.)

3)      A song that reminds you of summertime: Let’s Go, The Cars, Candy-O. I could really pick any song by The Cars. They were always a primo summer band to me. Lots of sunny-day, top-down music.

4)      A song that reminds you of someone you would rather forget about: The Dream, David Sanborn, Change of Heart. This was an instrumental jazz sax track that I always associate with that girl from Cleveland who put me through the ringer, both in the 80s and the 2000s. Nice song, but it’s impossible for me to separate the two.

5)      A song that needs to be played LOUD! Rock You Like a Hurricane, Scorpions w/ the Berlin Philharmonic, Moment of Glory. The power chords of the Scorpions meet the original heavy metal of a full symphony orchestra… this track ROCKS.

6)      A song that makes you want to dance: Shout, Otis Day and the Knights, Animal House Soundtrack. This was THE dance/party song of my college years. And of course, we all would do the “gator.”

7)      A song to drive to: Roll On Down the Highway, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Not Fragile. There are so many good “driving songs,” but this one is a favorite. You want to know frustration? Being stuck in traffic when this one comes on.

8)      A song about drugs or alcohol: I Ain’t Drunk, I’m Just Drinkin’, Albert Collins, Cold Snap. Great party song that came out just after we stopped having Barn Parties.

9)      A song that makes you happy: Let it Ride, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Bachman-Turner Overdrive II. Always reminds me of when I saw them in concert in the 80s and they opened with this song. And it was stone cold perfect.

10)   A song that makes you sad: Keep Me in Your Heart, Warren Zevon, The Wind. It hurts every time I hear it. This was the last song Zevon recorded for his final album, made while battling terminal cancer. And I have a tight association between this song and my late friend, Brill, who introduced me to Zevon way back when.

11)   A song that you never get tired of: Up to my Neck in You, AC/DC, Powerage. I had this album for over 20 years before I really paid attention to this song and now I’m obsessed with it, due completely to that long, slow-building, simmering and explosive guitar solo. I yearn for the days when we used to go all out on the “air-guitars” during barn parties. I would have nailed this one.

12)   A song from your preteen years: Spirit in the Sky, Norman Greenbaum, Title Track. From a very young age, I loved that nasty, greasy, grungy guitar lick. The heck with the smarmy “uplifting” lyrics, this had a grooooove!

13)   One of your favorite 80s songs: Hells Bells, AC/DC, Back in Black. This was the song that opened the door to me for AC/DC. Believe it or not, at one time I hated them. Hell’s Bells made me rethink my position and I’ve been rocking out to them for almost 40 years.

14)   A song that you would love played at your wedding: Some Kind of Wonderful, Grand Funk, All the Girls in the World Beware. As a matter of fact, I’ll be getting married next summer and if we were playing music, I’d play this song. So far, it’s the only “Our Song” we have. Why? Because when we first started dating steadily, I hugged her and said, “My Babeh!” Then she said, “Mah Babeh!” And we went back and forth going “Mah Babeh” like they do at the end of the song. The fact that she picked that right up told me I had found the right girl.

15)   A song that is a cover by another artist: Jumpin Jack Flash, Aretha Franklin, Jumpin Jack Flash Soundtrack. Also, the same song by Johnny Winter. Both artists put their mark on it. Aretha belts it out with funk and gospel choir backing vocals. Johnny tears it up with a lot of yelling and a wicked, high-speed guitar solo. (RIP Aretha.)

16)   One of your favorite classical songs: William Tell Overture, Glen Campbell, B-Side to the Southern Nights single. Found this by accident. As a joke, I got my mom the Southern Nights single (she hated that song) but I found this on the back, with old Glen pickin’ it along with the orchestra. Hiyo Silver!

17)   A song you would sing a duet with on karaoke: Disorder in the House, Warren Zevon (with Bruce Springsteen), The Wind. I’d sing the Bruce part because it doesn’t require any actual singing. I couldn’t carry a tune with a forklift.

18)   A song from the year you were born: Hit the Road Jack, Ray Charles, (1961). I had to look up some songs from ’61 and among all the doo-wop and saccharin orchestral tunes, this was the one with the most “cool.” Brother Ray doesn’t play.

19)   A song that makes you think about life: You’ve got a Friend, Carole King, Tapestry. I had a hard time coming up with a song that makes me think about life. I ended up thinking about friends and how awful life would be without them. I have a number who would come running if I called their names, as would I if they called mine. That’s life. (OH! That totally should have been my song! That’s Life! (I’d go with the David Lee Roth version over Sinatra, though.)

20)   A song that has many meanings to you: Funeral for a Friend, Elton John, Goodbye Yellowbrick Road. I wrote a whole college paper on what I heard in this instrumental. It was the combination of mourning the loss of a loved one (during the slow/sad parts) and the fond remembrance of good times past (during the upbeat parts.) This was a favorite of my late friend Brill’s and mine. That he passed so young made the song all the more poignant to me.

21)   A favorite song with someone’s name in the title: Johnny B Goode, George Thorogood, Live: Let’s Work Together. As George calls it, “The Rock and Roll National Anthem.” Chuck Berry basically invented rock and roll with this song.

22)   A song that moves you forward: Ride On, AC/DC, Dirty Deeds. Who would have thought I’d find inspiration from these guys? But once, long ago, while feeling sorry for myself in a far-away hotel room, this blues ballad picked my ass up and stood me back on my feet. Got me moving again.

23)   A song you think everybody should listen to: Tanqueray, Johnny Johnson, Johnny B Badd. I have many of these, but this is one of the coolest songs I ever heard, yet hardly anyone knows about it.

24)   A song by a band you wish was still together. Don’t Pass Me By, Georgia Satellites, Open All Night. No question that the band was going to be the Satellites. It’s a cryin’ shame they only cut three albums. This was my favorite, a cover of an old Beatles/Ringo Starr song that they totally raved up.

25)   A song by an artist no longer living: Pride and Joy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Texas Flood. This song sent my musical taste in a whole new direction. One song, one time. I was hooked on SRV and the blues.

26)   A song that makes you want to fall in love: Moondance, Van Morrison, Title Track. First time I heard it was in the movie “American Werewolf in London,” during the love scene. Made me want to go take a shower with a cute nurse, immediately! (This activity proved to be more romantic in theory than in practice.)

27)   A song that breaks your heart: Into the Fire, Bruce Springsteen, The Rising. As mentioned in last week’s post, I bought the CD based on seeing Bruce and the band play it in concert (on TV). It’s still hard to listen to because it never fails to bring back the feelings of 9/11/2001.

28)   A song by an artist with a voice you love: Bat out of Hell, Meat Loaf, Title Track. Possibly my favorite song of all time. Powerful vocal performance amid pounding piano and howling guitars. I think Meat is the greatest rock singer of all time.

29)   A song you remember from your childhood: Zorba the Greek, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Going Places. I remember tons of songs from my childhood but this was a favorite. It’s a whole party in four and a half minutes. No wonder Greece is in such bad shape. Who can get anything done with all the dancing and “Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-yip-yip-yip?”

30)  A song that reminds you of yourself: Oreo Cookie Blues, Lonnie Mack, Strike Like Lightning. 
“Chocolate on m’fingers/Icing on mah lips
Sugar diabetes and/Blubber on mah hips
I keep the night light burnin’ in the kitchen, baby
So I can go downstairs and cruise…
I got da Oreo Crème Sandwich, Chocolate Covered Cream-Filled Cookie Blues.”

Monday, August 13, 2018

My Top Ten Bruce Springsteen Songs

A few weeks back, Sweetpea and I got into a conversation about our favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. Bruce is an artist we both like a lot, but it’s funny how profound our differences are about what we like.

On her part, she’s into meaningful lyrics, and so favors songs she can sink her brain into.

On my part, I see two distinct Bruces. I tend to favor Loud, Fun, Rock Party Bruce over Mumbly, Introspective, Navel-gazing Bruce. But when talk went to our Top Tens, I found I had a bit of both in there.

Now, I’m sure my list will rile a lot of life-long Bruce fans. I was never one of those. While I liked Born to Run, once I really listened to it, I didn’t give him much more thought until he took over the world with the Born in the USA album. I saw him on that tour in the Pontiac Silverdome and that performance colored my opinions about a couple songs.

So I’m basing my Top Ten not just on the songs alone, but their significance in my life and memories that they conjure up. I’m not saying these are his critical best, but they’re the ones I like best. Now without further ado, or like Bruce, without an opening act, here are my Top Ten Bruce Springsteen songs.

10) “Dancing in the Dark,” Born in the USA album, 1984. No, it’s not the greatest song in his catalog, but it was catchy, fun, and most importantly, hit the country like a nuclear bomb, raining down the magic of Bruce like so much radiation. This album came out at the onset of MVT and this was his first real music video, where he escapes the watch-cap-wearing mumbler image and debuts the buff, energetic all-American guy image. And to kick off the magic Springsteen touch, the cute girl he pulls out of the crowd to dance with him grows up to become Courteney Cox.

He may have been energetic in concert in years before, but only the people in attendance knew about it. This song and video broke him nation-wide, to the point that people from all generations knew about Bruce. The album went on to spawn seven Billboard #1 singles.

9) “You’re Missing,” and” Into the Fire,” The Rising album, 2002. The Rising was Bruce’s 9/11 album, coming out the summer after the twin towers fell. The last thing I wanted was to hear an album about 9/11, so I avoided it for a while. Then one night, I stumbled over a Springsteen concert on TV, in which he was playing his new songs.

Hearing both of these songs moved me to near tears. From the sad violin of You’re Missing to the haunting imagery of Into the Fire, the spare message of unresolved pain was searing. I got up from the couch, went to the computer and ordered the CD that night. These songs are so powerful, I rarely listen to them anymore, but I’ll never forget them. When I hear Into the Fire, all I can think about is this photo:
“Up the Stairs, into the fire…”

8) “Jungleland,” Born to Run album, 1975. I never even heard this song until well into my college years in the early 80s. I was listening to a lot of Meat Loaf at the time and this 9-minute opus seemed to fit right in, with its drastic tempo-changes and rock opera energy. And I loved how Steven King quoted from it and referenced it in the title of perhaps my favorite book of all time, The Stand.

7) “Born to Run,” Born to Run album, 1975. I loved the desperation of the lyrics, the great release of rock and roll energy, and the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-ala-Phil Spector production. This was Bruce’s Bat Out of Hell. (Like I said, I was listening to a lot of Meat Loaf.)

6) “Badlands,” Darkness on the Edge of Town album, 1978. I was never drawn to this song until I saw it played in concert. It was this one bit that I loved, in the bridge, where at each break in the lyric, drummer Max Weinberg would nail this huge bass drum strike. Like:
Talk about a dream [BOOM]
Try to make it real [BOOM]
You wake up in the night [BOOM]
With a fear so real…” [BOOM}

I’ll never know how Max gets such a huge sound out of such a tiny drum kit. Good sound tech guy, I guess.

5) “Downbound Train,” Born in the USA album, 1984. Bruce sings the blues. It’s not as rockin’ as I usually prefer but he does such a great job of making you feel the sadness of the character facing the emptiness of his heart. It was riveting in concert.

4) “Stand on It,” Born in the USA album, B-side single, 1984. This was the B-side of the Glory Days single and in my book, far outshines the A-side. Stand on It is a 50s-inspired rock and roll romp, with a bouncy bass line and killer piano laid down by “the Professor,” Roy Bittan. This song would be a natural for swing dancing. Here, see for yourself…

3) “Trapped,” USA for Africa, 1984. This was Bruce’s contribution to the USA for Africa/We Are the World album. It was a song by reggae star Jimmy Cliff, that Bruce did as a live cut. And live is where it thrives. I love the massive volume changes between the soft verses and the slamming chorus. Backup singer and future wife (at the time), Patti Scialfa cuts through the sonic field like a laser with her background vocals.

2) “Cover Me,” Live 1975-1985 box set, 1986. I always liked the original, from the Born in the USA album, but the live version is far more powerful. When I saw it played live, you didn’t even know what song it was from Patti’s “Nowhere to run to baby/Got nowhere to hide…” intro, not until Bruce came in with an echo-effected, strobe-lit “Cover me…”

In the live version, the guitars howl louder, the bass pounds, and the drums thunder, just the way Bluz likes it!

1) “Further On (Up the Road),” The Rising, 2002. Bruce’s 9/11 revenge song, the one that said, after of all the heartbreak and fear, the tears are dried and now it’s time to go and get some.

Got on my dead man’s suit, and my smilin’ skull ring
My lucky graveyard boots, and a song to sing
Got a song to sing, to keep me out of the cold.
And I’ll meet you further on up the road.”

This one starts starkly, with only Max’s hi-hat and snare drum beat, and as the song progresses, more instruments get laid on until the sonic field is jam-packed with guitars, mandolins, and huge backing vocals.

Other Bruce “Honorable Mention” moments, (in no meaningful order):

1. Contributor, “We Are the World,” 1985. I think his part redeemed the whole thing, because face it, this song was pretty lightweight and sing-songy. Then when it comes to Bruce’s turn to echo the chorus, he brings that lion’s roar of his to the show and provides a little vocal firepower.

2. Backing vocals and guitar on Warren Zevon’s “Disorder in the House,” 2003. When Warren Zevon was diagnosed with a fatal lung disease, he went directly into the studio and began what would be his last album, “The Wind.” His rock star friends came out in force to contribute whatever was needed to the effort.

Bruce showed up to provide vocal accompaniment on Disorder in the House, and play electric guitar, including three long wild-ass solos. After as he wound up his third one, Zevon looked up at him from the control panel and said with mock amazement, “You ARE him!” You can see for yourself right here:

3. My Ride’s Here, (live) “Enjoy Every Sandwich,” 2004. Following Zevon’s death, an album was released of various artists performing Zevon songs. Bruce and the E Street Band contributed a soft, affectionate version of “My Ride’s Here.” You can hear the love for his friend in his earnest introduction.

Note: The album title was taken from a comment Zevon made to his close friend, David Letterman, who asked how it felt to live with a fatal diagnosis. Warren said something like, “It makes you want to enjoy every sandwich,” meaning, appreciate the little things in life.

Monday, August 6, 2018

All Photo-Ops Are Not Created Equal

Perhaps you’ve seen this meme on Facebook.
Here’s why it’s complete bullshit.

1)      It’s a president’s job to meet with world leaders, no question. You can see by each of the first five shots that these were informal photo-ops, not two leaders having secret meetings. And a shot of Trump acting like a comrade of old Vladdie wouldn’t have been a big deal either if that’s all there was. When all the leaders are pouring out of a G-8 meeting, people mix and pose for photos. That is indeed, fine.

2)      Prior to the first five photos, there hadn’t been overwhelming evidence shown that Russia had hacked private political emails and released them to damage one political party. Further, we hadn’t yet seen evidence that Russia had engineered a social media campaign to divide the country, sow unrest, and ultimately back one candidate over another. Also, Russia hadn’t forcefully annexed Crimea or sent fighter jets to counter our military operations in Syria.

3)      None of the people in the first five shots had a private, one-on-one, meeting with Putin, in which there were no witnesses (save for translators), and with no transcriptions of the meeting made available to the public or even other Cabinet members. All we know about what went on in that meeting comes from the comments of two seasoned liars, both of whom will tell whatever story suits their purpose at any given moment.

What we have here is another logical fallacy of false equivocation. Five of these examples are nothing like the last one, therefore any comparison is misguided. But the creators don’t care about that; they just want their base to get pissed off about it and blame the media.

This country is careening down a dangerous path right now, with all the drummed-up antipathy toward the media, social and otherwise. To this president, any media outlet that’s not fawning over him, not telling everyone what a great job he’s doing, is “The Enemy.”

Journalists are doing what they’ve been doing for centuries, reporting on what politicians do and say, and are receiving state-sanctioned death threats for it.

I’m certainly not the first to warn that the prosecution and suppression of journalists is a primary tool of dictators. I can’t understand why the Right, supposed to be so super-patriotic, is determined to shred one of America’s founding principles. Their tribalism run amok is stripping this country of the very greatness they pretend to revere.