Saturday, March 27, 2021

Reliving the past with The Baseball Project

2014: McCaughey (cap), Mills, Pitmon, Buck, Wynn

Major League Baseball's Opening Day is Thursday, and I am sad to report that I'm not feeling much excitement about it this time around. What with pandemics and universal designated hitters and free extra-inning baserunners and expanded playoffs and whatnot, all I have left for this sport are memories about how much fun it used to be. I'm a purist, I admit it. The game's history and its overarching storyline have captivated me for decades. But no more. It's like the pandemic and Rob Manfred and a new media age have conspired to push a reset button and everything is starting over from scratch, and I have no interest in starting anew with it.

Thankfully, though, the memories and the game's history do hold on. And for you folks who like me love what has gone before, let me introduce you to this indie-rock group of baseball superfans who celebrate the grand old sport in song. They call themselves The Baseball Project.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Doing the Pandora shuffle, 3rd edition

"OK, Google. Shuffle my Pandora."

"Ice of Phoenix," Audiomachine (Phenomena, 2014):
As far as I know, this is the first time I've encountered this band. It's an ambient instrumental track dominated by synthesizer and orchestra arrangements, not particularly interesting. A quick look at Wikipedia says Audiomachine is a production company headed by two guys who make music mostly for film soundtracks. They've been around since 2005 and have been releasing commercially available albums since 2012. Next.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

A deep dive into Lou Reed's catalog: A preview

2011: Reed in Kent, England, in one of his last performances

Anyone who knew me in the last quarter of the 20th century knew well that I had two real passions -- St. Louis Cardinals baseball and Lou Reed. For a few reasons, I drifted far away from the Cardinals in the mid-1990s. But I did stick around with Lou for a few more years, until I realized in the mid-2000s that he had stopped rocking and become laser-focused on legacy building.

Cannabalism, adultery and murder: The dark side of Nantucket Sleighride


An ode to 19th-century whaling hardly seems a topic for a 1970s hard-rock band, but Mountain made it work with their 1971 song “Nantucket Sleighride.”

The title song to the group’s second album was created by Felix Pappalardi, the band’s bass player/producer, and his wife, Gail Collins. Pappalardi came up with the idea for the song while he and Collins, who penned the lyrics, were on Nantucket Island off Massachusetts. Now a tourist mecca and summer playground for the wealthy, in the first half of the 19th century, Nantucket was at the heart of the New England whaling industry.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Doing the Pandora shuffle, 2nd edition

It's 11:20 a.m. Let's see what Pandora has in store for us. "OK, Google, shuffle my Pandora."

"Big Time," Peter Gabriel (So, 1986): Gabriel's second big hit single, after "Sledgehammer." "Big Time" reached No. 8 on the Billboard Top 100. The video employed the same stop-motion claymation that we saw in the "Sledgehammer" video. Subsequently, many folks see this as a followup to "Sledgehammer," but "Big Time" actually was written and recorded earlier. "Big Time" is where bassist Tony Levin's "funk fingers" style originated. Drummer Jerry Marotta used a drumstick to pound Levin's strings with his sticks in time with Levin's playing, creating that heavy bottom in the song. Levin loved the sound and began taping pieces of drumsticks to his fingers to play bass in concert.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A case of mistaken rock-star identity

The latest entry in the Things That I Did Not Know Until Now list:

Last night I watched a movie on Hulu titled Stardust that purports to tell the story of David Bowie’s attempt to find stardom in America in 1971 following the release of his album The Man Who Sold The World. The movie ends with Bowie finding success as he transforms into the Ziggy Stardust character.

The film begins with a disclaimer that “What follows is (mostly) fiction” so I settled back expecting to be entertained, not enlightened.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

A classic riff and an old friend

Raise your hand if Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar riff on Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” inspired you to play guitar -- or to at least try. Or maybe the four-note blues scale melody launched you into a gyrating, sizzling, melt-your-face air-guitar solo.
Yeah, I thought there would be a sea of hands. 
Those of you who didn’t raise your hands are just too cowardly to admit it.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Doing the Pandora shuffle, 1st edition

Pandora, the grandaddy of music streaming services, has a pretty cool feature for its paid subscribers.

You know how Pandora works. It calls itself a music recommendation service, though in reality it doesn't recommend as much as it drops stuff take-it-or-leave-it. More precisely, I would call it an algorithmic automatic service.

If you're a paid subscriber, specifically a Pandora Plus customer, you have tweaking control of your library of stations -- which you can listen to for hours ad-free. But what I find invaluable, and the only way I use Pandora any more, is the option to shuffle your stations. With that, Pandora delivers its automatic, on-the-fly queue through random polling of your entire library.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Waits' wild years: Tom finds musical adventure under every rock

There was a time quite awhile ago when I listened to Tom Waits' post-1970s albums constantly. For a few years in the mid-2000s, I commuted for work about 40 miles each way four times a week. And most of the time, one of those CDs was spinning at a volume a little higher than might have been healthy. The fairly current ones in heavy rotation at the time were Alice, Blood Money and Real Gone -- with Mule Variations and Bone Machine finding their way in every now and again.

But that was a long time ago. It had been several years since I listened to any of those albums straight through. So before I wrote this piece with the intention of ranking these albums, I decided to run through all of them consecutively -- both to refresh my memory and to analyze them with perspective. And I am truly shocked at how well every damn one of these things (except one) holds up. I found that ranking these albums was damn near impossible. We're talking about 10 albums, and it's no exaggeration to say that nine of these things are 4.5-star albums or better. There's not a hair's-width of difference between my favorite and the ones that land fifth, sixth and seventh. Wow, that was tough. And I'm still not happy to have to rate a couple or three of these things so low, but I don't have a clue what to drop down to slot them any higher.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Tom Waits: The only thing real is the music (the Asylum years)

With longtime friend and frequent collaborator Bette Midler

The Tom Waits story is a difficult one for anybody to tell. We don't know much at all about who the guy is as a person because he guards his privacy like it's gold.

In the half-century since Waits emerged from the fertile Southern California music scene with his unique style of jazzy folk, he has rarely done interviews with reporters, never with any biographer. He is well-known for pleading with friends and family to zip it up whenever a potential biographer comes calling. He's never, as far as I know, granted an interview with anyone as musician/actor/writer Tom Waits -- it's always been as offbeat, alternative-reality "Tom Waits." 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

My wayback machine wish list

The Doors refining their craft on stage at the London Fog in LA

Among my collection of T-shirts is one with a message that asserts, “I may be old but at least I got to see all the cool bands.”

Well, not really. There were a lot of really cool bands and musicians that I missed out on back in the day, a veritable slew of if-onlys.

So, if I had a time machine and could make one trip back to the past, who would I see? Interesting question. I’ll let you know in a minute or two.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Happy birthday, Lou. I still miss you.

2013: A few days before Lou said goodbye

Happy birthday, Lou. Today would have been your 79th had the self-abuses of your early adulthood not caught up to you before your 72nd. But hey, a half-century ago, who among us actually expected you to see your 40th? So all in all, I guess the sobriety and health regimen that drove the last three-plus decades of your life did get you pretty far, didn't it?

Anyway, just thought I'd check in to let you know you're not forgotten. I'm not listening to your music much these days, mostly since your rock-and-roll output stopped around the turn of the century as you turned to legacy-building and your vanity projects.