Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It Was The Summer of '68

Ned wants a vintage bike. Blue is tempting him.

Seeing that video and hearing the tune reminded me...

That summer I turned 11. I heard that song for the first time on a beach in Rhode Island. We were on vacation. Hippies everywhere. My parents were as cool as two second-generation Italian depression-era parents could be, which wasn't very cool at all. They certainly didn't approve of the long hair on boys.

We were at the snack bar area. Maybe a boardwalk. I have a vague picture of the scene in my mind, but it was a long time ago now. There was this one couple. Probably 19 or 20 years-old. The guy had cut-off shorts and hair down the middle of his back. (I still want to wear cutoffs today. Real shorts weren't cool, and those balloon bathing suits that were around labeled you as a real idiot back then. I swore off bathing suits and regular shorts at about 12. I had to admit about ten years ago that I looked the fool at 40 in cutoffs, so now I wear those lame docker shorts when it gets hot and a real bathing suit when I go swimming.) The girl was wearing a tiny bikini, and had long, dirty-blond hair. Both were wearing love beads and both had ankle bracelets. My mother said, "look at those two."

But I was already looking. Except that while my parents perceived them as a freak show, I secretly wanted to be them. I wanted to be the guy, and I wanted to, er, have a girlfriend like that. There was no way in hell I was ever going to be allowed to have long hair as a kid. I didn't know that at the time, and in retrospect it was the single, most argued over issue of my teen years. My parents were who they were, and they were great parents - but they got that one wrong. I think that I'm still a little mad about it, even at 50.

In any event, we were on vacation, and I was of an age where a vacation with my parents was still fun. We were at the beach snack-bar, which for me was way better than a restaurant. I could get a hotdog or cheeseburger and some fries, and a coke. (We were not a "coke" family. We had cokes on birthdays and holidays, and when we were out for lunch or dinner, which was a rare treat. I'm glad of that now, and that's how I raised my kids too. That shit is no good for kids, or adults for that matter. I hate it when I see some 7 year-old tearing it up at 9:00 P.M. with his clueless parents saying things like "I don't know what gets into him" in the same breath as "have another coke, Logan." And, apparently, the artificial sweeteners in the diet sodas actually interact with your brain chemistry and make you hungrier.)

I remember there was a radio playing, and "Born to Be Wild" came on. I was stunned. I couldn't make out the words, but I guessed it was about motorcycles. It sounded like a song about riding around on choppers with sissy bars. I LOVED it. Not only did I want to be a hippie at 11, but I wanted to be a biker. I guessed correctly at the name of the song, and decided that I was going to buy the 45 as soon as I could. And I did. I used to crank it up on my little scratch-box record-player with a tone-arm that weighed in at about 3 pounds and get psyched. I'd hop aboard my stingray bicycle and fly over the "motorcycle bumps." We called the spot on driveway entrances from the street where the curb tapered down to ground level forming the break into the driveways "motorcycle bumps," and the slope of some of them could get quite steep. We'd get our bikes up to full speed on the road and then hit those little moguls and pull up on the handle bars and leave the ground. And for that moment, I was a biker, with that song playing in my head.

Born To Be Wild
was the song of that summer, and now when I hear it some 40 years later, it still brings me back...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fountains of Wayne - "Traffic And Weather"

Cross posted at Newcritics.

I’m going to say right out of the gate that I’m a fan of Fountains of Wayne. Like many others, I was vaguely aware of them for some time, mostly due to the fact that co-founder Adam Schlessinger was the author of the wonderful title track from Tom Hank’s “That Thing You Do.” My interest in them was piqued with the 2003 release of their breakthrough record “Welcome Interstate Managers” which contained the surprise hit “Stacy’s Mom.” Suddenly they were everywhere, showing up on NPR and Austin City Limits. It seemed like everyone was asking me if I’d picked the new “FOW” CD. Contrary to the popular saying, in this case “Writing about music” was certainly not as useless as “Dancing about architecture,” because after reading some reviews of “Interstate Managers” I got the feeling that I would like this band very much, and that feeling was proven correct upon first listen.

“Traffic And Weather” is the long-anticipated follow-up to “WIM.” Sure, there was the hastily compiled “Out of State Plates” which contained a couple of newly recorded songs, but was largely composed of odds n’ ends, leftover tracks and B-sides. My complaint with that collection was that they included some trivial recordings that held little appeal to all but their most ardent fans, but left off the rocking “Too Cool For School (“Scary Movie”) and some must-have remakes, most notably “Better Things” (The Kinks) and “Bus Stop” (The Hollies.) (I should point out for the uninitiated that it does contain their brilliant remake of “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” which is everything a remake ought to be.)

The new album contains few surprises. That is to say, it sounds as if it could be “Disc 2” from “WIM,” had it been a double CD. If you’re a fan, this need not be a bad thing. The album is rife with the catchy guitar-parts, Beatlesque melodies, lush harmonies and tongue-in-cheek lyrics that we’ve come to expect from Fountains of Wayne. These guys are master craftsmen to be sure, and they draw liberally from the power-pop combos of the 60’s and the classic rock bands of the 70’s. One notable difference between this one and their previous effort is that former contained a number a songs that were obvious “tip o’ the hats” to some of their favorites from years gone buy. The aforementioned “Stacy’s Mom” was a letter-perfect homage to The Cars, and “Bright Future In Sales” sounded like The Steve Miller Band with a better lyricist. The songs on “Traffic and Weather” are less obvious tributes to any one band in particular, but contain references to The Beatles in particular, and classic rock bands in general.

Many listeners, and even some professional critics don’t really understand songwriters Adam Schlessinger (bass and backing vocals) and Chris Collingwood’s (rhythm guitar and lead vocals) lyrical perspective. I’ve heard their lyrics described as “mean-spirited” and “sophomoric,” but I think people that hold those opinions are totally missing the mark. I view FOW as a kinder gentler version of Steely Dan. Aside from the obvious differences in musical style, lyrically both songwriting teams focus on mini-character studies, often told in the first person. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan) tend to write about society’s underbelly – sexual perverts, criminals, drug addicts and losers - and are openly derisive of them. Donald Fagen presents those lyrics with his patented sneer, laced with sarcasm. Collingwood and Schlessinger on the other hand are more interested in the average Joe. While many of their songs at first listen appear to be sarcastic, after living with them for awhile you start to get the feeling that they are more ironic and sympathetic to the foibles and flaws of their protagonists. They know what is like to lust after the girl at the Motor Vehicle Bureau (“Yolanda Hayes,”) and kid themselves that they impressed her. They dreamed of cruising girls in a muscle car but had to settle for a used Japanese import (“’92 Suburu.”) They’ve suffered the indignity of being cuckolded by guys “wearing light-blue docker pants” (“This Better Be Good.”)

“Traffic and Weather” goes down easy on first listen and gets better over time. Is it going to change anyone’s opinion of Fountains of Wayne? Will it out-sell “Welcome Interstate Managers?” Does it explore new uncharted musical territory for the group? I’d say “no” to all three questions, but if you’re hungry for some well crafted, thoroughly enjoyable slice-of-life pop expertly played and recorded, look no further. The songs on “Traffic And Weather” are perfect for cruising down the highway at 65 M.P.H on a beautiful day, even if (or perhaps especially if) you are driving in a beat-up old Suburu. B+

“Someone to Love.”

Monday, June 11, 2007


Monday, June 04, 2007

I Am The Jurist

From The Smoking Gun

JUNE 1--Before his sentencing earlier this year on a felony burglary conviction, Andrew McCormack filled out a form which asked for a "recommendation as to what you think the Court should do in this case." The Montana man, 20, wrote, "Like the Beetles say, 'Let It Be.'"

Click here for the whole story...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

For Ned & Blue

Philip Baker Hall. Ever seen "Hard Eight?"

I came across the above purely by accident. Yesterday I met some friends from my old job (it was a great job and really miss those days) and the subject of Michael Richard's meltdown came up. Apparently, all of them missed this "Lost Episode" of Seinfeld.

Did you?

Friday, June 01, 2007

40 Years Ago Today?

On the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Peppers...

It's Friday. The end of a long week, with a buncha long weeks in the wings. Maybe YOU had Monday off, but I had to fly to Houston. I've been out of gas recently when it comes to blogging. Tom in a (I guess) Pirsig moment told me to write about one thing.

So, here it is. These are some of the butterflies that batted their wings the right way...

This IS the record that did it. Well, one of 'em anyway.

'Course, legend has it that Paul impressed John with his rendition of this one:

"Before Elvis, there was nothing."

- John Lennon

But wait! Would Paul have been Paul without him?

I'll leave you with this...from 1991,
Paul, in a rare moment of unpretentious cool.