The Northern Lights 2010 Mix

At the end of the year I put together a mix of the best songs that I found in 2010. Some were new, some were old. I’d like to hear what you thought the best of 2010 was for you, music-wise. I’d make a Pipeline Mix 2010 where everybody submits a song, but I think Pipeline only has enough readers to make an EP…

1. “Harmonix”, by Surfer Blood, 2010–Probably my favorite record released in 2010. Thanks to BrentS for getting me to Surfer Blood. This got played all summer long on our back deck.

2. “Rill Rill”, by Sleigh Bells, 2010–My family had to listen to this record about 50 times in a two week period. I hooked Lily on it, and why not? Props to KariC for playing me the Funkadelic song that is the source of the riff. Props to KariC for buying that BASS!

3. “Lust for Life”, by Girls, 2009–This band is from San Francisco. In the song they wish they had beach house, a pizza and a bottle of wine. I happen to know people in San Francisco who have a beach house, a pizza and a bottle of wine. Coincidence?

4. “Ready to Start”, by Arcade Fire, 2010–I like Arcade Fire, I’m sometimes not sure if I really like them, or just like them. I think their records are fantastic (the debut in particular), and when I saw them play on the Neon Bible tour I thought it was one of the best shows I’d ever seen. Seems like I should really like them, but some reason I just like them. Pretty good double record, though…

5. “Valley of Abra”, by Alba Lua, 2010–I have no idea how I found this, but I love the melody, and the extremely trippy astronomy-based video is nice.

6. “Reasons”, by Built to Spill, 1994–Missed Built to Spill first time around, but really like this record. Good stuff.

7. “Life Magazine”, by Cold Cave, 2009–Not sure where I heard this first, but started hearing it on a number of commercials the last few months.

8. “One Touch”, by LCD Soundsystem, 2010–This record took a while to sink in, but now I think it’s one of the best of the year. If this is the last record LCD puts out that’s too bad, but at least we got three top-notch records.

9. “Sweepstakes”, by Gorillaz, 2010–I really regret not seeing this tour. (2010 was not a good year for seeing live music, unfortunately.)

10. “Crazy for You”, by Best Coast, 2010–Fun record.

11. “I Don’t Mind”, by the Buzzcocks, 1979–Just found the Buzzcocks this year; “Singles Going Steady” and 2010 will be synonymous henceforth.

12. “Never Gonna Give You Up”, by the Black Keys, 2010–Great Black Keys record; the guy who painted my house turned me on to this. This particular song is a cover of a song originally by…someone else. I could look it up, as could you.

13. “Born Free”, by MIA, 2010–Wow, the Pitchfork review of this record was harsh. Even by Pitchfork standards. Reading Pitchfork reviews is like reading Groupon offers. Anyway, MAYA probably is her third-best (or worst, if you want to put it that way) record, but it’s definitely not as bad as Pitchfork wanted it to be.

14. “Making Time”, by the Creation, 1966–Admit it, you thought this was the Who when you heard it. I bought at least two Who records looking for this song. 2010 was the year I finally bought the Rushmore soundtrack and voila! Life just keeps getting better and better…

15. “Rockers East Vancouver”, by Japandroids, 2009–Props to BrentS for recommending Japandroids to me. Another 2 person drum/guitar outfit, the kind of thing I’m thinking about forming with the 11 year-old drummer in my basement.

16. “Got Nuffin”, by Spoon, 2010–Love Spoon. More bands with more drummers.

17. “I’ve Been Broken (I’ve Been Fixed)”, by Beulah, 2001–KellyR put a Beulah song on a mix we used for our Northern Cali vacation this year, my introduction to this band. I really like it!

18. “The Place I Love”, by The Jam, 1978–I never made it to The Jam till 2010, still more to check out. I see why they are a big deal, though.

19. “Cousins”, by Vampire Weekend, 2010–Great, fun song. Love the guitar runs. Video’s pretty cool, too.

20. “Hometown Fantasy”, by Wooden Birds, 2009–Via KellyR, project of former American Analogue Set member.

21. “(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So”, by Drive-by-Truckers, 2010–Also got this from the house painter. Good man. Great band, still diving in.

22. “Mama Don’t Like My Man”, by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, 2010–Great stuff. Simple, great songs.

23. “Hot Potatoes”, by the Kinks, 1972–OK, I cheated. Well, I had this before 2010, but didn’t really get to it until…oh, who cares, it’s my list! You’ll get the Kinks singing about potatoes and you’ll like it!

Damnation, wouldn’t you do just about anything to own the Northern Lights 2010 Mix? Drop me a line and I’ll mail you a gen-u-ine CD, along with a slightly-used jewel case.

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2010 in review

Hello. I’ve been a bad blogger. I suppose that’s true in a number of ways but at this moment it means that I haven’t been writing as much as I would like to. But the holidays are over pretty much now, and life settles down a bit. To close the door on 2010, the fine folks at WordPress forwarded the below summary regarding Pipeline’s 2010 activity. I’m publishing it primarily because it includes a very random photo of myself and Friends of Pipeline BradT and KatyH, as Rocky and Juno, respectively. Presumably it was selected because so many people are doing Google searches for “Rocky and Juno drink Newcastle”. I’m playing one of those fine British chaps from Chariots of Fire. This was the Shack Nasty party from 2008, I believe, which was the year of the Academy Award theme. Excellent party; Catwoman and Nacho Libre are my primary memories of the evening, which ultimately ended with an angry cab driver yelling something about Clorox.

As for summary it’s pretty lame, as I didn’t write anything for 18 months, which in itself was pretty lame. Of the posts that were visited from the past, the one on Hegemons and anarchy is regrettable; I have no clue what I’m talking about there, I promise never to talk about geopolitics again, and you should not click the link. But the Shack Nasty post and commentary is fun and worthwhile for BradT’s comments on which specific Rocky look he was going for.

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 6 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 336 posts. There were 9 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 1,018kb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was May 31st with 92 views. The most popular post that day was When Hegemons Attack!.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, hyperboleonline.xanga.com, connorandhelen.blogspot.com, xanga.com, and Google Reader.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for facebook explosion, shack nasty, catwoman, human feat, and greatest human feats.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

When Hegemons Attack! November 2006
2 comments

2

Shack Nasty March 2008
9 comments

3

Facebook Explosion! March 2009
6 comments

4

The Count of Monte Cristo November 2010
3 comments

5

Unbeleivable Human Feat Synchronicity March 2009
2 comments

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Three Days in Tel Aviv (Two Hours in Amsterdam)

I have been fortunate to have business-related travel opportunities of late. In September I was able to go to Dubai and Italy for a total of 12 days. That afforded me the opportunity to see Milan, Venice and Florence, albeit for only about five hours each. When you have that kind of small window to see one of the great cities of the world, and you think there’s a pretty decent chance it’s the only time you’ll be there in your life, you have to make choices about how you will spend those precious few hours.

For the Italian cities, I took the hours I had and hit the ground running, almost literally. I walked as far as I could as fast as I could. I was by myself so I plotted my own course, was light on my feet, and just tried to soak up as much history, architecture, humanity and life as I was able to pack in. In Venice, I went to the Rialto, the plaza, shopped and ate. Shopping may not sound like a good use of time in Venice, but in fact it was. In Florence, I went in only one building, the Galleria, for the sole purpose of seeing Michelangelo’s David. (It was worth it. David is, without a doubt, the most impressive piece of art I have seen in my life.) But I also spent a fair amount of time taking in the duomo, the porto Vecchio, and the Uffizi from the outside. And, just marveling at Tuscany in general. No doubt, I left a lot on the table in both places. But they were days I will remember for the rest of my life.

David is huge and magnificent

Milan was mostly spent in the suburbs, but I took an evening to go downtown and see the duomo, la Scala, and Milan street life in general. It was Fashion Week in Milan, which is a bit like having Gay Pride Week in the Castro in San Francisco. When I stepped off the train I thought maybe everybody in Milan was a six foot tall, beautiful, immaculately-dressed woman or man. In fact, in a normal week I think only about 60% of the population fits that description.

And, not to be left out, Dubai was great too, but a whole different experience. The water park I went to there was world class; ever spend seven hours by yourself at a water park? You’ll sleep well that night if you do. Dubai was like a cross between New York City (for the melting pot culture and big-city feel), Las Vegas (feats of audacious architecture that are both awe-inspiring and crass, like building a replica of the Eiffel Tower…that’s one meter taller than the real Eiffel Tower) and what I imagine Riyadh to be (subservient women in full birqas, although that was only a small percentage of people overall). The luxury car spotting was primo in Dubai, but the highlight was swimming in the Gulf every morning…the water had to be close to 90 degrees. (Did you know they make swimming birqas?)

Every day in Dubai began on the beach

These are all kind of one-off trips, not a regular feature of my job, so I realize how fortunate I am to be able to see these places and definitely do not take these opportunities for granted. These trips have been special particularly because, although I have traveled quite a bit in the U.S., my international travel experience had previously been limited to a week in Belize, three hours in Vancouver, and yes, I also count going to Puerto Rico for a week as “international travel”. As you can imagine, my eyes were wide open on all these trips; everything was a new experience.

However, as a result of these being work-related trips, I’ve not been able to have my family or friends with me; I traveled with work colleagues to Dubai and Italy, and had a great time with them, but you feel odd seeing a place like Venice without the people you love. It was definitely bittersweet to have these opportunities, but to have them alone.

A new opportunity came up earlier this week; my employer recently purchased a company in Tel Aviv, Israel, and there was a business need for me to visit and share (and acquire) knowledge. It was a great time to go to Israel, in that I had to shovel about six inches of snow an hour before I got on the plane. Nothing helps you get through shoveling like knowing you’ll see palm trees in 12 hours. My time in Tel Aviv was mostly focused on business, so I didn’t get a chance to see Jerusalem or the older parts of the country. But I did feel like I was able to get a feel for Tel Aviv itself. Visually, it’s sort of like San Diego without all the blondes; very cosmopolitan, very bright people, great food.

Here’s what’s in my notebook from Israel:

As a sweet-tooth and lover of delicious pastries, it was a fine town to spend time in. Israel knows how to satisfy a sweet tooth.

People here have a very clear sense of the relative values of civil liberties and security. When your beautiful cafes start having a tendency to explode, and the country is small enough that your odds of having that kind of event hit close to home are relatively high, you probably feel a little different about building a giant wall and profiling the heck out of people vs. the value of free speech.

You’ve probably heard it said that everyone in Tel Aviv has a cell phone and it is omnipresent. This is a lie; it appeared to me that most people had three or four phones, and they were omnipresent. Whenever we implant phones into people, it will happen here first.

People here are nuts about the NBA and basketball. I had more detailed conversations about the Timberwolves than I’ve had in a year here in the Twin Cities. They really know their stuff; when people heard I was at the Kevin Love 31/31 game against the Knicks, I drew a crowd. They are all intrigued by the Wolves’ Love/Michael Beasley duo, which is nice. (A lot nicer than the Ricky Rubio scouting reports I heard…) It turned out there was a regular Tuesday night basketball game at this company. I was ecstatic when they invited me to play, even though I didn’t have quite the right shoes and my only shorts were swimming trunks. It was great to run with those guys; it’s just a connection on a whole different level.

There were two things about the game that I’ll remember. One was an extended, two-minute argument (in Hebrew) about what the score was. I couldn’t tell if it was actually heated or if this was just how these guys rolled. I stood to the side and smiled; when it was over I asked one of the guys on our team what the score was and he grumbled “Hell if I know.” I never did learn what the count was in that game, nor did it matter: They played first team to 12 wins, or the game is over after 12 minutes. But there’s just a very loose clock being kept on the side. So you never really know how much time you have. Remind you of any other sport? Here’s another thing that might remind you of another sport: When there’s any reason to stop play and inbound the ball, they would immediately scoop the ball up, run to the sideline, and do a soccer-style throw in as they run up and down the sideline. And it all happened fast. So, for example, if someone on your team travels and the other team gets to inbound the ball, you better find your man quick, because that ball’s getting thrown in immediately and they’re not waiting for you. Makes total sense when you think about their soccer background, and actually it was kind of fun once I got used to it. It was a great night.

I left basketball with only another six hours till I had to leave for the airport for a 5:40 AM flight back home, via a five-hour layover in Amsterdam. I decided to take a cab to the beach, even though it was dark. I didn’t feel like I could say I had seen Tel Aviv if I didn’t get to the beach. As I was getting out of the taxi once we arrived at the boardwalk, I could have sworn my driver asked me a question that implied an offer of an escort service. It wasn’t obvious by any means, and I didn’t clarify. But it was unexpected; “sex industry” wasn’t the first thing that came to my mind when I thought of Tel Aviv. However, as I walked the boardwalk I saw those business card-size advertisements for escort services laying all over the ground, like you see in Las Vegas. This made me think perhaps the cab driver really was asking me what I thought he was asking me; I guess Tel Aviv is like any other large, international city that way.

I ate dinner on the boardwalk at an English-style pub, which was pretty freakin’ English because there are a ton of ex-pats there. That in itself was an experience, full of mini-dramas not worth recounting to you here but which were entertaining nonetheless. As I got into the cab to return to my hotel, the driver immediately turned to me and said, in a thick accent, “Hey…you like girls?” The answer was “Yes…I married one!” When I told him I just wanted to go to my hotel he was obviously put out, he said in kind of a snotty voice, “You’re welcome.” Very pleasant guy. He asked me to change a $100 bill, I told him I couldn’t. (I realized later he was in the process of sizing up how much he could overcharge me.) As we drive, he sprays himself all over with a body spray. “You want some?” When I refuse he says, “But it’s Adidas!” As he shows me the can, I see he’s right. Adidas makes a body spray. But still I refuse; he shakes his head in disbelief. As we drive he asks me where I’m from. When I tell him Minnesota he starts talking about how he loves the U.S. and something about Beverly Hills. At first I’m thinking, “Wow. Is that really what people think of when you mention the U.S.? Beverly Hills?” In fact, he was talking about Brenda from Beverly Hills 90210, who was from Minnesota. I have not heard Shannon Doherty discussed with such reverence in a long time. That was hilarious, but not the funniest thing that happened on the cab ride. After we arrived at my hotel, he conned me into overpaying him. I was aware of what was happening, but at that point I really wanted to be out of his cab so I just went along with it. Plus, hey, I was looking for a way to get rid of all my Sheckels anyway. As I was leaving the cab he asked my name and offered me his hand to shake. But this guy was smarmy deluxe and I didn’t trust him much, so I gave him a fake name. It was totally spur of the moment, but I just lied. I said, “Bob. My name is Bob.” And he says, in his thick accent, “Kevin. I’m Kevin.” “Kevin?,” I asked incredulously. I just got out, shaking my head. I’m sure “Kevin” laughed hard as he drove away after sticking “Bob” with a bogus cab fare. At least a memorable ride will last a lot longer for me than that extra $20 did for “Kevin”.

I left the hotel at 3:00 AM to get to the airport. I was already exhausted; I had done Tel Aviv the best I could with the free time I had. This cab driver offers me no solicitations; he’s all business. Of course, it is also 3:00 AM. Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” comes on the radio, and I think about being at Baylor debate camp, summer of 1985. Then I notice he’s singing quietly along to the song, and I wonder what my cab driver was doing in the summer of 1985. Even in Tel Aviv, it’s a small world.

So, Amsterdam.

Now let me start by acknowledging there are two things that come to most people’s mind when you mention Amsterdam: Having lunch in one of their cafes, because their menus are of such high quality and you can get things there you can’t get here, and the Red Light District. But there’s a lot more to Amsterdam than that; a LOT more. Or so I have heard. Me, I was only there to see the cafés and the Red Light District. OK, I’m joking. Or am I? Being a history buff, a birder, a lover of culture, I was there for so many reasons. So there’s really no telling what a man of my tastes might do with two hours in Amsterdam. Who can say?

It took me an hour and a half to get out of the airport and onto the right train; I ended up with exactly two hours in downtown from the time I stepped off the train to the time I had to get back on. Two hours in one of the great cities of the world isn’t much time. I immediately left Centraal Station and marched into the heart of the city. It was cold and overcast, small patches of snow packed on the brick streets and sidewalks, a great day for a brisk walk. My previous plan with Venice and Florence would be put into play here: Walk as far as I can as fast as I can, to see as much as I can. I know I’m walking by amazing museums, awe-inspiring churches, literally history at every turn, but the more time I spend in one building or place is three or five more blocks of Amsterdam I’m not going to see. I might never get back here in my life, and I just need to keep moving—I want to know what it’s like to simply be a dweller of this city, even if only for an extended lunch hour on a cloudy, cold Wednesday in early December.

But hey, I can’t be expected to undertake an urban race-walk in sub-freezing temperatures in one of the great cities of the world without proper nourishment. I immediately found a café; there were many to choose from, but time constraints being what they were I went to the second place I saw…ordered from the extensive menu…lunch was wonderful. Perfect, in fact. Very laid back, staff was helpful. I intended to have lunch and run quickly, but I ended up staying for half an hour, just taking it in. I watched locals and tourists young and old come in and order lunch to go. A couple other people showed up and ordered lunch in, but for most of the time I was the only one there. Surprisingly, there was reggae music playing in the background. When I was done I had some lunch left over, and sometimes you just don’t want to bring your lunch on the plane, especially because on the way out of the airport I noticed there were a lot of dogs trained to find people’s lunches, so I donated my leftover lunch to the other patron there at the time. I made a friend that day.

After-lunch street scene of Amsterdam

I stepped out onto the street and had exactly 92 minutes to walk far, fast. I knew this because I had set my phone alarm. This whole operation had to come off without a hitch due to the time constraints; my first mistake would be my last. I left the café, turned left…and started walking. After a certain point I had to consult my map of Amsterdam, which turned out not to be the best; I had torn it out of the in-flight magazine on the airplane. Predictably, it turns out they left some streets and street names off the map. Not a huge deal. But here’s the thing: Amsterdam is really easy to get lost in. It’s sort of a collection of concentric horseshoe shapes, intersected by streets and canals. It makes sense, being built by the Dutch and all; it’s not all labyrinthine like Venice, which truly is a chaotic experience…but it’s still damned easy to get lost, even if you didn’t just have a large lunch.

A brisk walk through the neighborhoods of Amsterdam

Eventually, I realize I’m a lot farther away from where I thought I was, and I have a tiny anxious moment. My map’s not entirely up to the task I have set it, and while I’m not concerned about missing my train, I am concerned I won’t be able to see the Red Light District. Eventually I resort to using the many magnificent church spires as navigation tools; I lost perhaps 15 minutes as I regained my bearings. But even then, I was still covering new ground in Amsterdam; it wasn’t exactly a tragedy. Along the way I was enticed many times to stop and take in the magnificent birding opportunities the canals offered. Tons of scaup, ducks, swans, sea birds; I damn near got sucked into that a couple times, and that’ll eat up time like nobody’s business. Instead, I put my head down and kept moving. Later for you, birds.

Canals with birds, bikes, churches, row houses, and beer trucks--This is Amsterdam

Now, let me explain my rationale for getting to the Red Light District: I simply wanted to see it. Nothing more, nothing less. How do you go to Amsterdam and not see that? Plus, I like to look at sexy women. There, I said it. It’s not a crime. Not here, anyway. Do I feel dissonance, knowing the realities of the sex trade and how that negatively impacts so many people’s lives? Of course. I also don’t like Big Media conglomerates, the Coca-Cola company, or our country’s fascination with big-money athletics at the expense of more fundamental societal needs, but I consume those things, too. Life is complicated, shit happens, and I wanted to see the Red Light District.

The thing is, I expected the Red Light District to be a little more distinct. And at night I suppose it is, as you can see the glow of the red lights emanating from the windows. But in the daytime…it looks mostly like anywhere else in Amsterdam. So I’m walking down a street and I see what I think is a mannequin in a street-level window. Like, this woman’s actually imitating a mannequin. But then she blinked. Then I blinked. Holy cow! This was it.

Here’s what I learned: Don’t break stride. If you break stride, you learn that window that you think is a window is really a functioning door, and that door is going to open. In the span of about 30 seconds, I went from a brisk walk with my head down to having a Salma Hayek clone ask me if there was something else she could show me. I didn’t expect to have this conversation at all; I half expected to see “Kevin” over on the side brokering this deal, but it was just me and her. I said, “No, thanks”, and walked away a lot faster than I arrived. Then I chided myself on my Midwestern embarrassment and resolved to go down a few more streets, careful to stay to the other side of the walkway and take a slower pace. After all, if I was going to see the Red Light District, it only seemed right to take a moment to actually see it.

It was quite something, talent with a capital “T”. Pick your archetype, it’s there. Gaudy lingerie? Yes. The full arm tattoos with the Gothic Skank look? Check. Got Queen Latifah issues? You can work them out here. Girl next door with the pig tails, librarian glasses and the white cotton top? Uh…better walk faster. Hey, is that Russian blonde in the mini-skirt wearing a Santa hat? Oh my, look at the time! Gotta get out of here and catch that train!

And just like that, I was back in “normal” Amsterdam, whatever that is. I continued my walk back to the station, stopping to take in as much as I could. Seeing all the locals on their bikes made me homesick for my wife Jane, it was very easy to imagine her riding by on her cruiser. She’s German/Finnish/Swiss, but she would fit right in here. I realized my time here was almost done, and although I had enjoyed it the most of any of my recent travels, it really hit me hard that I was alone. I would recount these stories to her and my friends, but it could never replace a shared experience. I knew she had been to Amsterdam when she was in college, and so I imagined a younger her walking these streets, eyes wide open as mine were that day. I resolved then and there we would come back here, together. I imagined us riding through the streets together on our bikes; it was easy to see, it felt so real.

A long time ago I camped in Tahoe with some close friends. It was a perfect guys’ weekend, but I also imagined sitting on those same rocks, looking over those same lakes someday with Jane, Linus and Lily. It took six years to make that dream come true, but it happened this summer, and it was a special moment.

This Amsterdam bike ride I imagined with Jane? That’s going to happen, too.

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CliffP is My Cultural Uncle Ernie

A few weeks ago Friend of Pipeline CliffP noted that he felt culturally raped because he knew who The Situation was, even though he had made no concerted effort to obtain that knowledge. I failed to note the irony of me learning who The Situation was only because CliffP happened to make that statement while we were watching a bare-chested doofus be interviewed on TV. Of course, it was The Situation. Had CliffP not mentioned it I might today still be blissfully unaware of what The Situation looks like. I can’t say I was culturally raped, but I was at least culturally felt-up…because of CliffP. I immediately went into a shame spiral and didn’t confront him over this painful event.

Then last week we were watching TV again and the musical Tommy was on. I’m a fan of the Who, although I hadn’t seen the movie Tommy. And let me tell you, I really wish I could still make that claim. Tommy sucked so bad I’ve decided I can’t really share any of it with you. I can tell you, however, that pinball machines were definitely harmed during the filming of Tommy. Which is sort of ironic, that the movie that celebrates the pinball machine more than any other would in fact be the source of the single greatest pinball machine genocide ever committed to film.

(A sidenote: The Pinball Wizard pinball machine, featuring Elton John in platform boots and lots of mirrors, was my machine of choice from, I don’t know, 1976 to 1978 or so. My grandparents had one in the bar they ran in Paxico, KS. I owned that machine; I would always get a replay, never tilt at all, but I was blissfully ignorant of its origins.)

Now, you have to understand that CliffP controls the TV remote, and he is a master of the form. But on this night, Tommy lingered on the screen, and CliffP’s prior trenchant observation about cultural rape came to the forefront of my mind. The more Tommy I saw, the less I liked Tommy the movie, Tommy the album, Pete Townshend, for writing it, and definitely Roger Daltrey, who I never much cared for anyway, for being Tommy. I didn’t have to see Tommy, ever. Why was CliffP doing this to me?

Now, sure, maybe I was asking for it. When it first was on the screen I sort of perked up and said, “Hey, is that Tommy?!” But then things went too far, too fast, and before I knew it I wanted Tommy to end before more damage was done to my feelings about The Who. Did I explicitly say “no”? Not exactly. Maybe he got the idea that this was a consensual viewing; oh, I’m sure that’s exactly what he would say. I thought I gave off signals that I really wasn’t into it, but I couldn’t really testify to that in a court of law or administrative proceeding. It was late, things were a little foggy…you’ve heard this story before. People are partying, having a good time, and sure, maybe it’s fun to talk about The Who, but then things go too far you end up watching Tommy. When that happens lives, and pinball machines, can be destroyed.

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Bob Is My Co-Pilot

These days when I drive, I mostly listen to NPR. I hear music all the time at home or on my headphones at work, and sometimes I still can’t resist the urge to hear music in the car, but even then it’s almost always coming from my iPhone. Which is all another way of saying I don’t hear much broadcast music anymore. It wasn’t a conscious choice, it’s just where I find myself these days.

With one exception. About once every week or two I visit Friends of Pipeline CliffP and KariC in Minneapolis for a subdued night of revelry, TV, and maybe a little Coke. Over the many years I have made the journeys back home across the river to St. Paul, it has become my custom to turn the dial to 88.5 FM, KBEM, which is a jazz station. For some reason, whether I’m driving through a sticky summer night, a foggy autumn darkness illuminated by the street lamps on the Marshal Avenue bridge, or a snot-freezing cold Minnesota nightmare, hearing that Jazz Overnight program has always felt right on those late night drives back home.

I think it’s because of the after-midnight host, Bob Parlocha. Despite listening to the guy for years, I only learned his name a couple weeks ago. I’m not sure how that’s possible, because there have been nights the dude did nothing but talk from the entire time I got into my car in south Minny to the time I got out in St. Paul. It’s not idle chit-chat, though. In between songs he’ll go into excruciating detail about what he has played that night, or will play, or won’t play. If there were six guys in a session from the record he just played, you’ll know who all six of those guys were. You’ll know all the other guys those guys played with. You’ll know Bob Parlocha’s personal connections to those guys, when he saw them, what they are doing now. You’ll know everything Bob Parlocha wants you to know, which turns out to be quite a bit. And you might as well settle in, because Bob’s going to take his time telling you all these things.

I don’t know how old Bob is, but he’s one of these jazz warhorses who has been around. You can just hear it in his voice, and he’s in no hurry to spit things out because this…is…Jazz…Overnight. Nobody’s going anywhere, not Bob, not you, not Jack DeJohnette, who played that marvelous session you just heard from Jackie McLean in ’67. Yes, ’67 was a good year for DeJohnette, who also that year was on
the seminal records from…you get the idea. It takes Bob 90 seconds to tell me all of that, but for some reason I can’t change the dial. It’s like Bob’s voice is a sort of jazz instrument all its own. His voice, his cadence…he’s got nothing on Ambien, which may mean this is not the best idea for late night drive-home music.

As Jane and I were driving home from the Bumpkin Hollow Halloween Party this year at CliffP and KariC’s, I introduced her to the mellow sounds of Bob Parlocha. First we heard a great Cannonball Adderly tune, and then, as I hoped, Bob took a break from playing music and decided to talk music. I said to Jane, “Listen to this guy. He’s going to do this, then talk about this, then say this other thing, and we aren’t going to hear another piece of music before we get home. And it won’t matter.” And it all came true, he talked and talked, we didn’t hear another tune, and we didn’t particularly care. We just listened to an old man wax on about music that had clearly consumed his life.

So, as I mentioned, only a couple weeks ago did Bob actually say his name while I was listening. At first I was ecstatic; it was a revelation to finally know the name of the man who had been my co-pilot home for so many years. But then I had a disturbing thought—should I look up a photo of Bob Parlocha? What if, instead of the decrepit and frail Jimmy the Greek look-a-like I imagined, he instead looked like Bob Newhart, or Bob Barker, or Bob Dylan?

I never looked. It’s bad enough I know Bob’s name; I liked it better when he was just a nameless voice in the night, one who was always there, sounded the same and played the same music, even as I got older. But…I’ll get over it. I still prefer to hear the music rather than hear people talk about the music. But sometimes, late at night, you want someone to talk you all the way home while you enjoy the ride.

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The Band

I joined a band during Pipeline’s 18 month hiatus. As in, a rock n’ roll band, as sung about by other bands like Boston, though it’s doubtful Boston was singing about us in particular. Our band is called NGMP. It stands for something, but it’s not particularly important what that is. It’s one of those names that started as a working title, but ended up being our name anyway even though nobody particularly cared for it. Some things take on a life of their own, especially when you write an anthem where the chorus is “NGMP!” The song was better than the name, we needed songs, and the rest was musical history.

We’re a five man outfit; JohnS is the drummer, SteveC is our singer, ScottF handles the bass, TomJ handles the leads and I manhandle the chords. Some of us have been in bands before, some of us started from scratch, and some of us were just playing alone in our basements to an audience of none. I can’t say what the common link is we all share; I guess we all just wanted to be in a band, and that was enough.

We’ve been honing our skills and setlist for about a year now, mostly one night a week, sometimes twice a week, sometimes a week or three off. It’s slow going, but we’re pretty much ready for the big “friends and family” debut, play a couple parties, and then see about getting a 45 minute set on a weeknight somewhere. These goals are simultaneously modest and monumental.

When I joined the band, I thought that was the end goal…to play out in public. But along the way I’ve come to understand it really doesn’t matter as much to me whether we end up playing for 100 people or just the five of us, because no matter what happens, I’ve had the true experience I was seeking—to play music with other people. And make no mistake—even if we never play for anybody but ourselves–we are a band. We’ve put in the rehearsal time, we’ve argued over arrangements and setlists, we’ve had equipment fail, we’ve had blowups and meltdowns, we’ve downed beers and wondered why we were doing this, only to pick up the instruments again and remember why. True, we haven’t swapped wives, visited a guru, or snorted coke off a mixing board, but it’s only been a year.

Are we a good band? Not really; you’d see us play and know we were newcomers. But it doesn’t matter. Well, it matters to the extent that we don’t want to embarrass ourselves; naturally we want to be as good as possible given our time and talent limitations. But even a mediocre band of beginners is still a band. I know now what it’s like to not have to think about what chords to play, or no longer feel absurd being the middle-aged guy trying to catch up on things he wished he did 20 years ago. All of that melted away months ago when I realized how much fun we were having. Would I have been able to overcome my fears had I not had four other guys right there with me? I doubt it, but that’s what it means to be in a band. Now I just let it loose and play; we all do. It’s hard to describe how good it feels, even on the nights we kind of suck. But when it works it’s an amazing thing, one of the best things I’ve ever tried to do.

For the curious, here’s the setlist, more or less:

1. Who’ll save Rock n’ Roll, by the Dictators
2. NGMP, with a serious nod to The Wailers
3. Ever Fallen In Love, by the Buzzcocks
4. Everybody Knows, by Leonard Cohen
5. Red Right Hand, by Nick Cave (but we do it Arctic Monkeys style)
6. Pride and Joy, by Stevie Ray Vaughn
7. Freedom of Choice, by Devo
8. Chocolate Cake, with a serious nod to R.E.M.’s Carnival of Sorts
9. Coma Girl, by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros
10. Memphis Egypt, by the Mekons
11. Roadrunner, by the Modern Lovers
12. Suspect Device, by Stiff Little Fingers
13. Ghost Riders in the Sky, by a whole crapload of people
14. Kicks, by Paul Revere and the Raiders
15. Strychnine, by the Sonics

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The Count of Monte Cristo

I didn’t read much fiction in my younger days, so I’ve been trying to catch up on “the classics”. It’s a slow process, and there’s so much to choose from. To help guide me, I try to pay heed to the recommendations of friends, and more than one has mentioned how much they enjoyed Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. These same people gave somewhat tepid reviews of Dumas’ only other major work, The Countess of BLT, so the choice was obvious.

I somewhat absent-mindedly picked up a copy of Monte Cristo at my local Half-Priced Books, only to realize it was the abridged version. And how: the version I initially bought was 250 pages; the unabridged version I ultimately read was 1250 pages. That’s some serious abridgment, and as you can imagine a lot ends up being lost when you eliminate 80% of a book. As I compared the two volumes, I couldn’t believe what had been cut in the interest of brevity. For example, rather than write every character’s name out in full, in the abridged version people are only identified by their initials. Also, no spaces were used between words, and it goes without saying that no punctuation was used. I was appalled. Before I realized my error I came dangerously close to thinking Dumas had written the definitive run-on sentence about revenge and 1840’s Parisian society.

What’s it all about? In short, Edmond Dantes is a young up-and-coming sailor and part-time mime in Marseille, France. A few people conspire to bring down Dantes over petty jealousies, and before he knows it he finds himself in the Chateau d’If, a dank, isolated prison perched high on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. In a cruel twist, all of this happens just as Dantes was to marry the love of his life; instead, he is locked away for 14 years for reasons he would only come to understand much later.

While imprisoned, Dantes is transformed from a vigorous young man into a pale, gaunt figure, bent on exacting revenge on his tormentors if he can ever escape, which of course is impossible, except when it’s not. I won’t reveal how Dantes escapes, but suffice it to say that when he gets out he’s physically, emotionally, and financially prepared to open a humongous can of whup-ass on all the people who done him wrong. The important thing to know is that nobody recognizes him when he emerges. He is in every sense a new man—The Count of Monte Cristo, a dashing and worldly stranger who knows everything about everybody, and also has excellent hash. As it happens, all the people who done him wrong end up being fabulously wealthy and important people in Paris, where the bulk of the novel takes place. It works, though, because whose lives would you rather see ruined than a bunch of fabulously wealthy and important Parisians? It’s delicious.

Speaking of delicious, the novel answered a question I have long had, namely, what the connection was between the novel and the namesake sandwich, the monte cristo. For the uninitiated, a monte cristo is basically a giant deli sandwich made on French toast (of course), then deep-fried in a wonderful batter. If you’ve never had one I suggest you stop reading this blog and locate one in short order. As Dantes…sorry, the Count…methodically exacts his revenge on his nemeses, he plans to serve each of them a meal—a certain deep-fried delicacy none of those prissy Parisians had ever experienced before. Little do they know it is their last meal; none of his victims understand who the Count really is or how the past is about to intrude most rudely into their current lives until Monte Cristo says, “Some say revenge is a dish best served cold…but I say it is best deep-fried!” But then it is too late. One by one, Dantes…well, read the book yourself.

Of course Dumas wrote in French, so I’m not truly reading Dumas’ masterpiece; it’s a translation. The version I read was a translation by Robin Buss in 1996; prior to that the last major English translation was done in the 1890’s. That translation left out many important details, such as an entire lesbian subplot, so as not to offend delicate Victorian-era sensibilities, when people were very touchy about subplots. There were other important omissions, none of which are sexy enough to mention here.

It’s important to remember whenever you are reading a work that has been translated, that the act of translation itself is a sort of abridgment. At the same time, it may be also be an embellishment of sorts, though neither are necessarily a result of the intentions of the translator. Some things simply don’t translate. The beauty of language, any language, is that there are nuances, whole vistas of meaning that can be conveyed by a seemingly insignificant choice of one word over another when on the surface those words mean the same thing. These subtleties are what give great writing flavor…the tricky part is, at what point am I reading Alexandre Dumas, and at what point am I reading Robin Buss? You pretty much have to take what you read at face value if you aren’t fluent in the source language, but look where that got all those people who read the English translations from 1890 to 1996–A novel that lacked much of Dumas’ flair, not to mention some choice carpet munching and hash. For all I know Dumas’ original version in French has the all-time definitive scene involving beastiality and fried sandwiches, only for Robin Buss to decide that 1996 wasn’t the right time to reveal such details. Who knows what treasures await readers of the next definitive translation of Dumas’ classic in 2095?

It took me quite awhile to read the book; it accompanied me on a trip Dubai and Italy, and few weeks thereafter as well. I’m not necessarily recommending it to you, although if you ever want a primer on how to exact revenge after being locked in prison for 14 years, you might enjoy it. But whatever you do, don’t read an abridged version. If you’re going to read a classic, read a damned classic.

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