Thinking Of Sandy Victims

I know I’m terribly late, chiming in on the devastating Super Storm Sandy that has, as of this writing, claimed 110 lives and severely damaged or destroyed thousands of homes, buildings, and infrastructure.

The reason: Having been born and raised in the New York-New Jersey area, I really can’t get my head around the images I’ve been seeing online.

Like this one:

That’s Seaside Heights, New Jersey, and can you blame me for not being able to conceive of the magnitude of the storm damage, when, for most of my life, when I’ve thought of Seaside Heights, I’ve seen an image like this in my head:

My most cherished memories of childhood through young adulthood reside in New York City and the Jersey Shore.

There is nothing cliché about, hanging out on the beach, walking the boardwalk, nursing a sunburn, eating junk food, gawking longingly at the bikini beauties, and then driving home with the windows down and Bruce Springsteen blasting out into the summer night.

No, it’s not cliché. It is quintessence, and I was in heaven.

And so, my thoughts remain with the millions touched by Sandy, from annoying inconvenient interruptions to daily routines to the displaced, injured, dead and mourning.

I encourage everyone who might read this to consider a donation to the Red Cross, no matter how small. Every little bit helps.

Thanks.

Tweet of the Day: @springsteen

I’ve written before of my love of Springsteen, a love born from having grown up in New Jersey, where his music was like the state soundtrack.

And while I still love him so dearly, he lost me a little in the late 1980s, as the music he started producing and my musical tastes diverged, and now I have to be honest and say that I don’t listen to anything he released after 1982′s Nebraska.

Springsteen released both of his first two albums in 1973, the two albums combined have a running time of only 84 minutes, meaning that if Springsteen debuted these days it could have nearly been one album…and it would be a classic.

But that was nearly 40 years ago, making the following performance all the more impressive, still edgy and rockin’ and full of soul.

Tall Buildings and 9/11 Redux

Like many bloggers, I tend to write mostly off-the-cuff. As a result of that approach, I often post stuff that hasn’t been fully processed and analyzed, and occasionally a post lingers in my mind because I have doubts about assertions or conclusions or emotional reactions I’ve expressed.

However, I’m committed to this method, as I’ve come to believe that spontaneity is an essential part of the creative process, and self-censorship can be the death of spontaneity.

Besides, I can always follow up with an additional entry, to build on what I wrote initially, or I can just retract it altogether.

To illustrate, almost a year ago I wrote about my mixed feelings concerning the grand opening ceremony for Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. There were a few things that were unsettling to me about the event, but one thing had nothing to do with the structure itself: The fireworks display (see video embedded in my post).

I wrote at the time:

Am I crazy to think about 9/11 as I see explosions and smoke coming out of a very tall building?

Anyway, I posited something in that blog entry that I was actually uncomfortable with when I posted it, but I put it out there, only to have said lingering doubts nag at me for days and days, until the entry disappeared from the Home page as I moved on to other topics.

I wrote:

Despite my non-adversarial attitude towards Islam, the design of that fireworks display, to me, so uncannily evokes 9/11 that I can’t help wondering, watching that video, to what extent this building was built, at least partly, to exude an air of superiority, flaunting their achievement, as the smoke from the fireworks clears and there it is, still standing.

While I have come to reject the notion that evoking 9/11 was the intent of the promoters, I still don’t think I was wrong to think of 9/11 when I watched the video of the fireworks display.

I was raised in New Jersey, a short bus or train ride from New York City, I’d been to the top of the World Trade Center a number of times throughout my childhood, and one of the fondest memories I have is riding on the Staten Island Ferry as it approached lower Manhattan, the skyscrapers impossibly rising from that sliver of an island, most prominent of which were the Twin Towers, growing larger and larger the closer we sailed to the terminal.

The trauma of 9/11 manifested in a wide variety of ways, severity in the case of the families of the victims and the survivors, incredibly disturbing for New Yorkers, and deep, deep sadness for people like me, for whom the World Trade Center was an indelible icon.

Therefore, I can understand why some people reacted the way they did when they saw this architectural rendering of a proposed building in Seoul, South Korea (via Inhabitat):

I do want to believe the architects when they say that they had no intention of evoking 9/11 when they designed this building, AND I think they’ve done the right thing in apologizing for how the design was disturbing to some people.

However, it does strike me as somewhat alarming that anyone could NOT have thought about 9/11 when they came up with this design. How could they be so clueless as to not see the connection? Or, alternately, how could they be so utterly insensitive to have seen the connection and yet decide to move forward with it. The fact that it was a team of people, not just one architect, who worked on this and then green-lighted the release of the image makes it all the more difficult to accept.

But all that said, 9/11 didn’t effect everyone as much as it affected me. I never look at a skyscraper without thinking about it, and sadly I don’t think that will ever change.

The New York Times 20-Article Diet

It truly is no exaggeration for me to say that the newspaper alternatively known as the U.S. Paper of Record, The Gray Lady, purveyor of “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” or simply The New York Times, changed my life in a very dramatic way.

Sadly, I don’t remember exactly who turned me on to reading the Times, but I do know that it dates back to my young adulthood in New Jersey, specifically my time as a student at Rutgers University.

And while I don’t remember the person, curiously I do remember a passionate endorsement impressing on me how important it is to know what’s going on in the news, and, additionally, that the winner of 104 Pulitzer Prizes was also a window on world culture, with broad coverage of science, the arts, travel, etc.

As a consequence, in a very short period of time, I was transformed from someone who was woefully ignorant and disengaged with national and global events into someone who could spend most of his free time on Sundays immersed in the voluminous Sunday edition, including the always eagerly anticipated Magazine section.

Now, while I don’t often read the paper edition anymore, I do read at least some of their digital content pretty much every day, and it’s all over the news sites and blogs that this coming Monday the Times will be implementing a long-anticipated subscription service for their website and iPhone/iPodTouch/iPad apps.

Plenty has already been said concerning the business implications of the so-called paywall — some saying it will be successful, some not — so it’s a good thing that all I really want to say is:

It.Will.Hurt.

Whether I think it’s worth the cost or not is hard to say, I’m on the fence, but I have to be honest and say that I don’t see myself dishing out $15/month or $180/year for unlimited access to the website via computer and my iPod Touch, even though the paper edition is roughly the same price.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for the 20 free articles per month that the Times will continue to offer, and I might resort to the various workarounds that have been circulating.

Tele turns 60

Heard a great piece on NPR last night celebrating the 60th birthday of the Fender Telecaster, the first great solid-body electric guitar, a guitar with a beloved and iconic sound that can be heard in volumes, and volumes of Country, Blues, R&B, Soul, Jazz, and Rock & Roll music.

Having grown up in New Jersey, naturally the first Tele player that I became familiar with was Bruce Springsteen. And yet, over the years, I would eventually hear that bendy, twangy, and even dirty and crunchy Fender as played by many of the masters of the instrument listed here.

Choosing one YouTube clip to represent the quintessential sound of the Tele proved to be impossible, since, due to the variety of genres, techniques, or methods of amplification involved, the Tele’s voice cannot be fully heard from one player.

And so, I decided to choose a clip that perfectly captures the first sound I think of when I think of the Telecaster, the sound made by R&B and Soul master Steve Cropper, heard in all its glory at the 1:30 mark of this Booker T. & the M.G.’s classic, Green Onions:

 

Neil & Bruce, approximately

This has already made the viral rounds on the interwebs, but I just loved it SO much that I had to post it here.

I’ve seen Jimmy Fallon do his Neil Young impersonation before, and it really is uncanny and well done. (Although, I would point out, music and guitar geek that I am, that Neil Young ALWAYS played Martin acoustic guitars, not Gibsons like the one that Jimmy’s playing.)

And yet this latest bit includes another impersonation of sorts — Bruce Springsteen dressed up to look like himself circa 1975 — an impersonation that strikes real personal. You can’t grow up in New Jersey, like I did, when I did, and not have a strong connection to Bruce Springsteen. Oh, you might not be the biggest fan, you might even hate the guy and his music, but he’s a New Jersey icon, the airwaves were saturated with him, and in the summer before I entered high school, Carol Miller, a DJ at WPLJ in New York City, waged a campaign to make Springsteen’s Born To Run the official state song of New Jersey. (Funny, if you consider the lyrics, which include: “Baby this town rips the bones from your back, its a death trap, a suicide rap, we gotta get out while were young”.)

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, Neil Young, sort of, and Bruce Springsteen!

Video Fridays: R.E.M.

I really thought that I was done with R.E.M., which is remarkable considering how much I loved them, and for how long.

R.E.M. were a central part of the soundtrack of my adolescence and young adulthood. Their first full-length album was released in 1983, during my senior year of high school. I REALLY didn’t like the so-called New Wave music that was coming out at the time, with all those synthesizers, glossy production values, and spiky multi-colored post-punk hairdos, and it didn’t help that it was now being blasted, not only on the radio, but on this new TV station called MTV. Just think Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran

So, R.E.M. came along with a gritty and basic guitar-bass-drums-vocals sound that helped form a refreshing musical oasis, along with Elvis Costello, Squeeze, The Police, and a few others.

And yet, when I think back to hearing their earliest stuff, I had no idea that they were starting out on a consecutive run of consistently great albums, 10 in a row over 13 years, rising from college radio cult status to international megastardom in the process, a run that rivals any of the greatest bands in the history of Rock & Roll.

I’d say it was right around the release of 1987′s Document when I first thought to myself, I can’t believe they’ve produced another amazing record!, a refrain I’d repeat with each new release, with a pause — Monster — in 1994, and then one last time in 1996 — New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

The last R.E.M. album I bought, 1998′s Up, was largely unmemorable upon early listenings, but then something happened that inadvertently severed my connection with them. My son, about a year old at the time, got a hold of the Up CD when no one was looking at it was rendered unplayable from all the scratches and what I think were teeth marks. This incident prevented me from giving the CD more time, which could have led to me embracing it more, and I suppose that the combination of getting some distance from R.E.M., being consumed by parenthood, and discovering new music contributed to my not listening to any of their music for literally the next 12 years.

And then, this January, the friend whom I mentioned in this morning’s post, sent me an R.E.M. CD, a live album from 2009 titled Live at The Olympia. Interesting story about the album. It consists of performances recorded over a 5-night stand at The Olympia Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. These were arranged as live rehearsals, as they were in the process of recording their 2008 album Accelerate. As a result, the band sounds incredibly loose and lively, freed temporarily from the artificial environment of the studio. Additionally, since they weren’t on an official tour, they seemed to have used this as an opportunity to eschew most of their biggest hits in favor of deeper cuts from their older albums.

One listen was all it took for me to be catapulted (dig the reference to a song from their first album) back in time, where I remembered how much I loved this band. I’ve now listened to the live album many times, I’ve dug out my old CDs and have fallen in love with them again, and I’ve spent some time on YouTube watching some amazing clips.

Which brings us, finally, to Video Fridays!

It was hard to pick just one song to post, but I settled on this one, from their first TV appearance, on the old Late Night with David Letterman show. Their first album, Murmur got them to Late Night, and the first song they played that night was their first big hit — Radio Free Europe. But, then they did a gutsy thing and played a new song that hadn’t been released yet, a song from what would be their second album, Reckoning. It seems to me a powerful harbinger of the greatness to come.

So, Happy Holiday Weekend everyone! Here’s So. Central Rain:


Salon feels threatened by Fish & Bicycles

Last week I wrote two whole posts (1, 2) about how, starting June 1st, Washington State will start taxing candy purchases…but not just any candy purchases.

I was rather proud of how I covered the topic, with penetrating research and analysis served up with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Now Salon, obviously threatened by Fish & Bicycles, has published their own exposé on the subject, an obnoxious display of one-upmanship.

Their piece begins:

Is candy really a food?

Last week, Washington state joined more than a dozen state governments that have passed or proposed a tax on sweets: Starting on June 1, the state will begin adding sales tax to the price of candy. The hard part, it turns out, is figuring out exactly what “candy” is. Does a chocolate-covered pretzel qualify? What about a yogurt-covered raisin? Where does “candy” end and “food” begin?

Yeah, that’s SO original and timely. Yawn.

Neener, neener, neener, I beat you to it!

But then, Salon got nasty (my emphasis in bold):

Clearly, the flour rule is not an effective way to distinguish what is and isn’t candy, but is there a better way? To find out, Salon spoke with Samira Kawash, also known as the “Candy Professor,” a professor emerita at Rutgers University who is writing a book about the cultural history of candy in America.

Oh, sure, flaunt your superior budget and name recognition by interviewing a candy expert…

…from Rutgers…

…my alma mater!

Of course, for all her supposed expertise, Professor Kawash didn’t even take the time to unearth the real origin of the ‘candy with flour in it isn’t candy’ designation — the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board — as I did in my second post.

So, who’s the expert now? Huh?!

Listen Salon, if you happen to read this, from here on out you better watch your ass.


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The love and hate of Christmas

xmas tree
Let me tell you a dirty little secret that you’ve probably already heard from someone else who was raised Jewish:

Jews, including me, LOVE Christmas.

Not all of us will admit it, and many of us have actually convinced ourselves that, far from loving it, we HATE Christmas for typical woe-is-us-the-constantly-oppressed reasons: Christmas is everywhere; it’s assumed that everyone celebrates it; it’s all a materialistic orgy; it’s a right-wing conspiracy to Christianize America; it forces us to eat Chinese food and go to movie theaters when everyone else is eating ham, drinking egg nog, and giving presents to each other; Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, and Bob Dylan are Jews, so what are they doing recording Christmas albums?… etc.

My love of Christmas started with a perfect storm of holiday TV specials and next-door neighbors who, year after year, celebrated with quintessence. My best friend lived next door, we did everything together, and so I helped put the lights on the house and helped decorate their tree, every year until they moved to Cleveland the summer before I started high school.

I knew all the lyrics to all of the Christmas songs and carols, and I would have worn a Santa hat everyday if I owned one.

Then, one year, we took the train into Manhattan, as we’d done many times before, but this time it was Christmastime, and we walked down 5th Avenue, past all the famously decorated shop windows, we went to Rockefeller Center (pictured here) and beheld the most magnificent sight, the biggest Christmas tree ever, towering over the most idyllic skating rink you could imagine, we ate hot roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, we walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was all decorated out and a choir was singing Christmas songs…

…it was absolutely magical!

Meanwhile, in our home, we did a very strange thing. My parents, obviously, didn’t want me and my two sisters to feel totally left out of the season, so along with lighting the menorah, reciting the blessings, eating latkes, and playing dreidel on Chanukah, my dad would read us “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve, and in the morning, in our living room, there’d be presents laid out…

…not under a tree, but on and around our coffee table. No Christmas decorations anywhere else in the house, but the gifts were all wrapped in traditional Christmas wrapping paper.

It was confusing to say the least, but we got presents, so who were we to complain? Am I right?

Still, I wanted a tree SO badly. And one year I did a completely crazy thing.

We lived across the street from the elementary school I went to, and the school had this big, flat lawn in front of it that was perfect for playing football on…

…except for that small tree growing right smack dab in the middle.

We had all sorts of collisions with the damned tree, going long for a pass and suddenly not going anywhere but down to the ground, hard, as the ball soared overhead.

It wasn’t my fault that this tree just happened to be an evergreen, with a distinctly Christmas tree shape to it, and so one winter’s night a couple of weeks before the holiday, my friend and I sneaked across the street with a pruning saw, we ran from bush to bush on the way, and then we crawled, soldier-like, across the frozen lawn, and once at the tree we cut it down as quickly as we could and ran, dragging it across the street. It eventually ended up in our basement, where we were confronted with the fatal flaw of our plan. We had no idea what to do next.

Needless to say, it ended badly. I tried some good old-fashioned Jewish guilt tactics, telling my parents that it was all their fault because they wouldn’t let us have a tree of our own, but that didn’t work. I don’t really remember the punishment, but I do remember feeling a little bad about having killed that tree, and justice was ultimately served, as we ended up tripping over the stump we’d left just about as often as we’d collided with the tree, during our epic half-time football games in those often bitter cold New Jersey winters.

Anticipation…is keepin’ me way yay yay yay yay yay tin’

snow

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to skiing, and I blame it all on socioeconomic oppression. Seriously!

When I was growing up in New Jersey, I lived in a neighborhood that my parents could barely afford. Consequently, most of my friends’ families had much more money than my family had.

One of the more painful experiences born of that situation hit me hard in high school, when all of my friends could afford to join the ski club, but I could not. Neither of my parents were skiers, so we never went as a family, and then, suddenly, my closest friends would take off every weekend for the mountains, coming back to school on Mondays with exciting tales of their adventures, adventures they had without me.

The worst was a trip the ski club took to Canada, including several nights in a hotel, and the stories of the hijinks from that trip are legendary.

You can imagine the hours of torture I endured, hearing these stories over and over again, for years, not to mention all the talk about the actual skiing, about the snow conditions, and about their latest gear. It was brutal and I developed quite a grudge against the sport, since developing a grudge against my friends would have only led to more alienation.

I finally tried skiing during a winter break from college, on a trip to visit friends in Lyme, New Hampshire. The slopes, typical for the northeast, were unforgiving hard-packed and icy, and I fell, a lot, and I hurt for at least a week.

I didn’t go to a ski area again for nearly 10 years, and considering that many of those years I lived here in Bellingham, an hour away from Mt. Baker, the grudge seemed to be holding its ground.

In 2007, I finally succumbed to enormous peer pressure, the product of being surrounded by skiers and snowboarders, and made my first trip to Mt. Baker for an activity other than hiking. I chose snowboarding, hoping that it might actually be easier than skiing, because, um, there was only one device sliding on the snow instead of one on each foot.

Yeah. Right.

But then, this funny thing happened. Despite the fact that snowboarding brought back all the horrendous physical memories of that miserable experience in New Hampshire, which was tied to all the pain of being left out of ski club in high school, despite the fact that I fell so hard so many times over the course of three trips to the mountain that I ended up in physical therapy…

…I had a blast! If all I did was drive up to Mt. Baker in the winter for the scenery it would be worth it, but to go there with my wife and son and spend the day playing in the snow was more fun than I had had, than we as a family had had together, in a long time.

At the end of that season, I tried skiing again and it was a revelation! WAY more intuitive, it by no means came easy to me, but I was able to stay upright consistently, able to make progress, and by the end of my second season I was able to ski on intermediate trails.

And so, it’s still October but I already have skiing on the brain. I read in the Herald that the first significant snow had fallen at Mt. Baker, I checked the snow report, and the photo I’ve posted here got me incredibly excited.

Life is full of surprises, and it’s a heck of a lot more fun without grudges.

Seeya on the slopes!

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