Monday, May 28, 2007

Random Flickr-Blogging: img_2506

Originally uploaded by underparachutes.
Random Flickr-blogging explained.
I need someone to live-blog the next Republican presidential candidate debate. Any volunteers?...OK, then; who wants to sit inside at the computer on a holiday and generate a Random Flickr-Blogging entry?

Originally uploaded by Trav28.
My heartfelt thanks to the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed in the name of preserving our American freedoms.

I sincerely hope it will not turn out to have been in vain.

Originally uploaded by Keith Kelly.
If a drum beats in the forest...wait...If there's a drum in the forest, and nobody's there to beat, that's not right...

Originally uploaded by boyssmith.
"I talked it over with my friend here, and it's all set. We're running away to join the circus."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Becker's Rest Cove '67

The Monkees - I'm A Believer
The Young Rascals - I've Been Lonely Too Long
Keith - 98.6
Procol Harum - Whiter Shade of Pale
The Fifth Estate - Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead
The Tijuana Brass - Casino Royale
The Choir - (And Now) It's Cold Outside

Living in a world with iTunes, ring tones, podcasts, streaming Internet radio, and satellite radio, it's hard to imagine depending on AM radio or a jukebox for exposure to new pop music. These are songs I will always associate with a particular jukebox, in a particular time and place, but also with what I've since learned was happening to pop culture that year.

Technically, for a month or so in the summer of 1967, my family was homeless. We'd left Mississippi, but couldn't move into our apartment in the NYC suburbs right away. So for a few legendary weeks, my mother, my brothers and I shared a small trailer, a tent, and a generous supply of insect repellent at a funny little camping ground near where my grandparents lived in Wisconsin, called Becker's Rest Cove. The center of social activity -- such as it was -- was a little recreation building with a canteen, a pool table, and a jukebox. A bunch of other songs would have been on the jukebox besides these I've listed, but I would already have been familiar with them, so those have other associations for me.
It's rare that cultural changes are as cataclysmic as they were between 1965 and 1969, and in 1967, those changes were in full swing. In San Francisco, the summer of '67 was "The Summer of Love". The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, often acknowledged to be the front edge of the cataclysm I'm talking about, was released. Jimi Hendrix started the year opening for the Monkees, and finished it a headliner.

For a while, in the time between Rubber Soul and The White Album, the Beatles were both the most popular group in the world and -- at least with us younger mass-pop consumers -- the ones pushing the envelope. Then the lesser-known influences that inspired them began to get their own recognition, and with the emergence of a musical and cultural underground -- aided by the emergence of "underground" (FM) radio -- critical acceptance and commercial success began to diverge. In the essential recurring irony of fashion, a form of cultural elitism became available to the masses, and that created a class distinction that could then be made between such "serious" artists as The Stones, Cream, Hendrix, etc., and other music deemed to be throwaway pop. It was about then that the term "Top-40" started to become a put-down.

[This class distinction wasn't necessarily observed by the artists themselves. For example, according to Mike Nesmith of the Monkees, he learned about Jimi Hendrix from John Lennon, over dinner with Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton.]

The Monkees
The Monkees
I'm A Believer, written by Neil Diamond, was the best-selling song of 1967. With Little Bit Me, Little Bit You (also written by Diamond, and based on his Cherry, Cherry) and Pleasant Valley Sunday also charting that year, The Monkees were the best selling group of 1967, outselling the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined. Regardless of the fact that much of the great pop music of the preceding years was manufactured by middle-aged white New Yorkers in assembly-line fashion, using session musicians, the Monkees were among the first victims of the arbitrary class warfare that was unleashed when artists took things into their own hands (and played their own instruments). Years later, even after these songs have been recognized as little pop masterpieces, The Monkees don't have a single entry on Rolling Stone magazine's "Top 500 Songs Of All Time" (ABBA's Dancing Queen is number 171).

The Young Rascals had four U.S. top-20 songs in 1967. I've Been Lonely Too Long was the only one not to make the top ten during that year, reaching #16. Along with The Righteous Brothers, The Box Tops, etc., this white, mostly-Italian, NYC-area band helped popularize what became known as "Blue-Eyed Soul". They payed sincere homage to their Motown and Memphis contemporaries, with mixed results -- some of the Rascals' big hits have a kind of forced, ersatz soulfulness that doesn't wear well with time. Although it's less well-known, this record has a more genuine R&B flavor, and remains my favorite Rascals side.

98.6 was the quintessential "one-hit wonder", a harmless ditty whose hook was the idea that normal body function -- as indicated by normal body temperature -- could be maintained by successful romance.

A Whiter Shade of Pale was a hit in Europe, #1 in the U.K., and made top ten in the States. In retrospect, Procol Harum had more affinity with the emerging "underground" artists of the day, and this song will always be one of those bizarre Top-40 anomalies that pepper the historical charts (a topic for another Friday Random Ten, perhaps). Its two hooks were its vaguely classical chord progression, which was like descending a stairway in an Escher drawing -- you go down and around and end up at the top somehow -- and the fact that its lyrics were obscure, if not completely undecipherable. My sixteen-year-old cousin -- also staying at the campground -- had managed a summer romance with one of the locals, and I remember them slow-dancing to this song. Years later, after casually dismissing Procol Harum as a "one-hit wonder", I was corrected by a college roommate, through whom I eventually became a fan. At its best, Procol Harum's music balanced a blues-based muscularity -- provided by guitarist Robin Trower and drummer B.J. Wilson in the original lineup -- with the structured classical elements from pianist and singer Gary Brooker and organist Matthew Fisher, and non-performing lyricist Keith Reid's inscrutable, often melancholy, sometimes playful lyrics.

The Fifth Estate, a Stamford, Connecticut garage band, recorded Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead after -- frustrated and cynical about the recording industry in general, and their own lack of a hit record in particular --
vocalist Don Askew vouchsafed the notion that any song, properly presented, could become a hit. Challenged to prove it with a song — any song — from The Wizard of Oz, Askew approached the group, and keyboardist Wayne Wadhams worked up an arrangement based partly on Michael Praetorius' dance suite Terpsichore. [source]
Unfortunately for the Fifth Estate, the novelty nature of their chart success relegated them to the either the glory or the ignominy of one-hit-wonderdom.

The charts of the mid-to-late sixties were sprinkled with instrumentals (Mason Williams' Classical Gas, Booker T. and the MG's, Paul Mauriat's Love is Blue), movie themes (The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly; A Man And A Woman), a string of hits by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and hit after hit written by Bert Bacharach. Casino Royale was all four at once, and remains a favorite of mine from that time in all four categories. It was a time when songs lived and died by their chord progressions, which were growing in sophistication (the venerable I/IV/V was joined by the VII -- e.g., B-flat in the key of C -- a lot of suspended fourths, and -- pardon my lack of training here -- whatever you get when you superimpose the V over the I), and the sound this arrangement pioneered found its way into everything from high-school band music to TV themes over the next few years. Although this only reached #27 on the national chart, Alpert and Bacharach would hook up a year or so later for a huge #1 vocal hit, This Guy's In Love With You.

The Choir
The Choir
The Choir (not to be confused with the contemporary Christian-rock outfit of the same name) was an Ohio band that had significant local success with (And Now) It's Cold Outside. That it was on a Wisconsin jukebox testifies that it was nationally-charting single (peaking at #68), but it's been below most people's radar all these years. After that summer, I waited thirty years to hear it again (thank you, eBay). When members of The Choir joined Eric Carmen to form the Raspberries, this song became an obscure link between the jangle-pop of post-British-Invasion America and later power pop by AC/DC, The Smithereens, The Romantics, etc.

It's hard to say why the memory of those few weeks is so strongly associated with this handful of songs, except for the fact that at the age of twelve, I was soaking up the pop music culture like a sponge; and that these songs all existed as equals on that jukebox, regardless of their respective chart success nationally. It might have also had to do with being temporarily suspended in time and place for a few weeks, a jukebox the only hint of the outside world and the rapid changes that were taking place in it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Random Flickr Blogging: img_5183

Originally uploaded by tavopp.
Random Flickr-blogging explained.
May 21, 2007
The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

We know about the Polaroids. Yes, those Polaroids. We look forward to your prompt response in this matter.


Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee

Originally uploaded by jpete.
Sure, the nuclear cellphone is cumbersome, but it's still in the early stages of development.

Originally uploaded by Varna Volunteer Fire Company.
I spend a lot of time stuck in traffic, so when I got my new George Foreman® grill, I couldn't wait to try it out in the car...

Originally uploaded by Angel L. Castro.
"This PBS broadcast of Feet As Depicted in the Great Art of Europe was made possible by the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, in partnership with Dr. Scholl's foot care products..."

Originally uploaded by Marcel van Gunst. know...I think the meaning of this image is self-explanatory...that is to

Originally uploaded by 3rdparty!.
The members of Led Zeppelin left the stage for the drum solo in "Moby Dick", as they had done for years. But there was an awkward moment when they returned twenty minutes later, and only then remembered that John Bonham had died in 1980.

Originally uploaded by annie_mess.
The auditions to replace Wolf Blitzer at CNN aren't going well, sources say.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More Gonzales Skullduggery Revealed in Comey Testimony

I know it seems like there have been dozens of revelations about the current administration, each of which should have been the tipping point, the event that precipitates the ultimate downfall, but the picture that emerges from the testimony of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey -- the number two man at the Justice Department -- to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday is of the kind of skullduggery that would make Nixon blush.

Essentially, Gonzalez (when he was White House Council) and Andrew Card tried an end-around when then-A.G. John Ashcroft and the DOJ refused to reauthorize the NSA spying, first by confronting Ashcroft in the intensive care unit of the hospital where he was very ill, then by trying to pressure and/or intimidate Comey, who refused to meet with Card without the Solictor General as a witness. It gets very Hollywood very quickly.This Washington Post editorial sums up the narrative quite well, and concludes:
Now, it emerges, they were willing to override Justice if need be. That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.
The transcript of the session has its light moments, such as this one as Chuck Shumer finishes introducing Comey:
I especially appreciate Mr. Comey's coming to testify here without the formality of a subpoena. In order to secure Mr. Comey's presence, I would have moved for consideration of a subpoena by the committee, but I'm glad that wasn't necessary because of your cooperation.

As far as I'm concerned, when the Justice Department lost Jim Comey, it lost a towering figure. And I don't say that because he stands 6'8" tall. When Jim left the department, we lost a public servant of the first order, a man of unimpeachable integrity, honestly, character and independence.

And now I'd like to administer the oath of office. Would you please rise?

I'm sorry. I wish we were administering the oath of office.

I think it's pretty clear everyone wishes it was someone of Comey's character and not Alberto Gonzales' that was in charge of the Justice department now. It's that divide between those in the administration (including, surprisingly, Ashcroft) that still held some regard for the rule of law, and the ones who don't, that's laid bare here. The sum and the details of the testimony are disturbing, shocking, chilling -- you name it. It's the cloak-and-dagger stuff that usually gets dismissed as liberal tin-hat conspiracy-mongering, except that it's there in black and white this time.

Cross-posted at If I Ran The Zoo

Monday, May 14, 2007

Random Flickr Blogging: img_2193

Originally uploaded by Aerk.
Random Flickr-blogging explained.
"Honey, it's the neighbors -- they'd like us to take down our Columbus Day decorations."

Originally uploaded by wkramsey.
This sculpture commemorates the struggle of the workers to fix their unwavering gaze on the horizon while they posed for the sculpture.

Originally uploaded by PeteBerg.
Friends don't let friends vote Republican...

Originally uploaded by chad050., if you know someone that seems particularly receptive to Republican ideas...

Originally uploaded by carrienation2002.
...please take immediate action, or call your local voter fraud hotline.

Don't worry, sweetheart, you'll be out Wednesday morning, after the votes have been counted.

Originally uploaded by martin_rak.
...and on the 37th day, God created the 454-cubic-inch big-block V-8 engine.

Originally uploaded by destinyuk*.
"Dear Lord, we ask your blessings on this horse; the front part of it, the middle part of it, and finally -- oh, that reminds me -- Dear Lord, also bless Dick Cheney, President Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, and all of the Republican Presidential candidates. Amen."

Originally uploaded by clinton.roy.
At first, putting the entire wedding party up on stilts seemed like a bad idea, but the maid of honor has adjusted to it very nicely, as you can see.

Originally uploaded by KarenShaZam.
Either the one in the middle is the designated driver, or she swallowed her straw and is hoping nobody notices.

Originally uploaded by jmacias.
Pink and green fedoras signaled the beginning of the end of the tough-guy gangster era.

Originally uploaded by jpete.
Because of the language barrier, it's not clear what this is advertising, but my money's on pharmaceuticals or lawn care products.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Random Flickr Blogging: img_3655

Originally uploaded by duncanmm.
Random Flickr-blogging explained.
...and when you join the Republican Party as a Sustaining Member, not only will you be making a patriotic stand against the evils of free speech, democracy, and the Constitution, but you'll also receive this special bonus gift (see photo, right) for your very own, as a gesture of our appreciation for believing in this Administration and its unchallenged record of success. Without Americans like you, none of this would have been possible.

Karl Rove

Originally uploaded by frebro.
His lifelong dream fulfilled, tears welled up in Ken's eyes as he accepted the award for Best Oversized-Check Designer.

Originally uploaded by willowyangcn.
If diversity is strength, then Coney Island is the most powerful nation in the world.

Originally uploaded by dckf_$êr@pH!nX.
As the old saying goes:

"Better to light a candle than to curse the stupidity of power industry deregulation, which has not only brought about a significant decrease in reliability -- as a natural outcome of profit pressures to concentrate on distribution rather than production -- but also created the lack of accountability that made the Enron scandal possible."

Originally uploaded by mannderdame.
Dear Valued Customer,

Please be assured that Verizon could give a flying #*!@ shares your concern about the dwindling number of pay phones, and that we are tearing them down as fast as we can doing everything we can to investigate the situation, as we are committed to obscenely excessive profits complete customer satisfaction. In the meantime, maybe you would like to learn about our cell phone plans, which will make you think there is a vacuum cleaner attached to your wallet provide a convenient, cost-effective way for you to communicate when you are away from home.

Verizon Customer Service

Originally uploaded by Cameron_Talley.
We must confront the sousaphone-playing jihadists at away games so that we don't have to fight them at home games.