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, and 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:

Sweetness Follows

The title of this blog post is the title of an R.E.M. song. R.E.M. will be featured in this week’s Video Fridays installment later today, but first, I thought of the title after I heard a brief piece this morning on NPR.

NPR regularly airs clips from the StoryCorps project, an amazing depository of life stories recorded by average people all over the country. This morning’s clip hit me personally for two reasons.

First, this past Monday, my wife and I celebrated our 12-year wedding anniversary. And so, to hear this couple talking about how it’s been 11 years since they celebrated their 50th anniversary is incredibly heartening, even though it’s a longevity accomplishment that is hard to get one’s head around.

Secondly, this couple, Hunny and Elliot, reminded me SO much of the parents of one of my best friends, the Best Man at my wedding. While my friend’s parents were from Manhattan and Queens originally, rather than Brooklyn, the accents are close enough and the frankness and seemingly God-given humor are identical. Oh, and my friend’s mother has an identical twin sister.

The Redeeming Power of Nostalgia

It all started when the New York Times dissed a treasured memory from my past.

IT’S easy to knock the New York street pretzel — tasteless as “Jersey Shore,” dry as a vacant lot in August, tough as a water bug.

Listen, there are things we loved when we were younger that just don’t stand the test of time. For instance, when I was kid I thought Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles was, hands down, the funniest movie ever made. And yet, after having not seen the film for nearly 20 years, I watched it recently with my 12-year old son (inconveniently forgetting how much profanity it contained), and found it to be, on the whole, terrible.

Still, I pretty much had a smile on my face the whole time and I did laugh out loud quite a bit, but when I thought about why I had those reactions I discovered something that will eventually bring this tangent back around to the humble New York City pushcart pretzel.

You see, my smiles and laughter had little to do with whether or not the scenes were funny, and they had everything to do with the fact that my friends and I recited those lines from memory, hundreds and hundreds of times, over many years. As I laughed, I could see my friend Keith acting out Slim Pickens’ nearly reprehensible “Number Six” bit.

Keith absolutely killed that one!

I’m sure that if I had a pretzel from a New York City pushcart today I’d probably find the pretzel itself as disappointing as Blazing Saddles. After all, I’ve become somewhat of a food snob over the years. But then, I have no doubt that the overall experience would be incredibly positive, the experience of going to New York, my favorite city, of walking down, let’s say, 5th Avenue, stopping at some hole-in-the-wall tavern for a few beers, then, back in the crosscurrent of people rushing to a million different places, of coming across a pushcart, of ordering one of those enormous pretzels, of taking the plastic mustard bottle and squeezing the mustard out in a continuous line, tracing the continuous dough tied in that iconic knot, of eating away at that pretzel as I continue on my way, towards Central Park, finishing my low-brow snack in time to take in some high-brow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To me, a New York street pretzel is all those things, not just some tasteless dough covered with salt and mustard.


Stuff We Don’t Need: Nipple Enhancers

Listen, I like nipples as much as the next guy or gal.

But this is so wrong in so many ways.

To name a few:

  • Leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination
  • There are only two answers to the legendary question, “Is it cold in here or are you just happy to see me?”
  • As the Gizmodo contributor writes, “But what would you think if one of these fell off during a groping session?”

I suppose I can understand how someone might find it exciting to don these out in public, getting off on all the attention they’d bring. But come on! Halloween only comes once a year!

I really don’t think it is in the best long term interest of humanity for us to find more and more ways of artificially enhancing the human body. In other words, I don’t think this is what Darwin had in mind in terms of evolution.

Lyric of the Day: John Lennon

A lot of people like to trash John Lennon’s memory by claiming he was a hypocrite, because he espoused certain spiritual values and yet had the nerve to struggle with his very human flaws.

I don’t know any perfect people. Do you?

Anyway, I just heard one of my favorite songs of his, the Beatles-era Across The Universe, and I certainly wish more people saw the world the way he did:

Sounds of laughter, shades of earth
Are ringing through my open views
Inciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love
Which shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on, across the universe


Hot Metal Action

This past Saturday, the family unit and I attended what may be the coolest event in a town that has a thing for cool events.

The Welding Rodeo, held at Bellingham Technical College, is, if anything, a celebration of creativity. For I would wager that most people, when they think of art, don’t think of suede-clad teams of individuals wearing masks and wielding sledge hammers and welders. The Welding Rodeo shatters the cliché of the beret-wearing, palette-holding intellectual, dabbing oil paint delicately at a canvas with sable brushes.

Think of it this way: In high school, you’d usually have no problem distinguishing between the kids in metal shop and the kids in life drawing, the former destined for an auto repair shop, the latter for an art gallery. No such segregation at the Welding Rodeo.

The event’s format is simple. Teams of four have eight hours to fabricate a metal sculpture using only the scrap metal available to them at the 8am scrap dive:

The teams retreat to their booths with their materials and go to work, sparks and hammers a-flyin’.

Slowly but surely, the sculptures start to take shape, all of them, in some way, representing the theme chosen ahead of time. This year’s theme: Human Form.

One of the teams has traveled to the Welding Rodeo five years in a row…

…from Denmark!

A bonus for the day: anyone who wanted to try welding could sign a waiver and get a taste for the metal-on-metal action. Here’s my son Julian going for it:

These few photos really can’t do the event justice, so you either need to come to the rodeo next year or check out the extensive photo galleries they already have posted.

Video Fridays Bonus: The Candy Man

I couldn’t help myself.

With all this talk of candy

Have a great weekend!

For this second one, press play and then pause, and let the the whole video load before you play. It might take a while, but believe me, it WILL be worth it!

Vodpod videos no longer available.


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.


Video Fridays: TED Talks

If you aren’t familiar with TED, I’d really like to introduce you to him…um…it…um…them…oh whatever!

No, I’m not gonna give you the whole TED story here. I mean, why should I do that? It’s all there on the TED website! Taking the time to type it all out here would be a ridiculous act of senseless redundancy.

I will say that is one of my favorite sources of information, inspiration, and even entertainment. The annual TED conference attracts some of the most brilliant people on the planet and offers them 18 minutes to show their stuff.

Some of these TED Talks make you think deeply, some make you scratch your head at the complexity of things, some make you laugh, and some make you cry.

So, today’s installment of Video Fridays offers up two TED Talks, one that makes you think and laugh, and one that just makes you laugh.

Stones In Exile

It’s all over the internet this week that the legendary Rolling Stones have released a remastered version of their 1972 ragged and glorious masterpiece Exile on Main St..

It’s hard, if not impossible, to overstate my adoration for Rock & Roll from the late 1960s to mid 1970s. I feel so strongly about the music from this period that, should I ever be stranded on that proverbial desert island, I’d choose as many live recordings from the Fillmore East as possible.

The Fillmore East was only open from 1968 to 1971, but those were possibly the three most incendiary years in music history, and it seemed that everything — the cultural revolution, adventures in mind alteration, the Vietnam War, racial tensions, and an explosion of inventive new music — converged at the Fillmore.

Meanwhile, back in England, the Rolling Stones were at their peak and released three magnificent albums — Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Sticky Fingers — in those same three years. And then, as the Fillmore closed, it was as if the transmission of all the turbulent and creative energy that had been brewing there made its way across the Atlantic to the Stones. The band fled England, where they were crippled by back taxes, moved to the south of France, and there, in the infamous villa Nellcôte, a sordid, often chaotic bacchanal commenced that almost tore them apart.

That the Stones managed to produce Exile on Main St. in the midst of this experiment in tax evasion and debauchery surely lends a mystique to the album, but the music stands on its on as a delicious, rowdy mix of blues, country, soul, and good old Rock & Roll.

Anyway, a documentary of the making of Exile has been produced in conjunction with the remastered album, and it should be obvious that it isn’t a matter of whether or not I’ll see it, but when.