Monday, December 17, 2007

Dave's Top Ten for 2007

Wow! 2007 – What a great year for music! Paring down this year’s releases to ten titles was indeed a chore. After much deliberation, I used the “heavy rotation” method, which simply means I chose the albums that spent the most time in my CD player and on my iPod. The ten that made it to the top are listed below. A few of the releases that almost made the grade follow.
Here goes:

But wait, not so fast. First, an oversight from 2006 that deserves mention.
Bobby Bare Jr.'s Young Criminals Starvation League -
The Longest Meow
The son of a country legend, Bobby Bare Jr. has a long and uneven catalogue, but with The Longest Meow, he has produced an offbeat, country tinged, heartfelt masterpiece. (OK, not quite a masterpiece, but it deserves a listen!)

Now, on with the main event!
The 2007 Top Ten (in no particular order…)

Blanche - Little Amber Bottles

The ultimate “evil twang” album. Film noir meets alt-country in a most tasty way.

Shearwater – Palo Santo
Rerecorded, repackaged and re-released for 2007, this sadly overlooked release from last year sounds even better now. Soaring tortured vocals, art house instrumentation – certainly not background music.

The White Stripes – Icky Thump
Clapton is God? Sorry Eric. Jack White IS God.

PJ Harvey – White Chalk
PJ strips it down to produce a haunting, keyboard dominated release. Best listened to well after dark by candlelight.

The National – Boxer
PASTE magazine’s top album of the year could very well be mine, too.

LCD Soundsystem -
Sound of Silver
Hey North American Scum! James Murphy’s beats will have you dancing long into the night.

Great Lake Swimmers -
Ongiara
I never thought anyone could “out folk” Iron and Wine, but Tony Dekker et al have done just that. In a word – gorgeous.

Eddie Vedder – Into The Wild
It appears Eddie has grow’d up, and we all benefit. A smart, mature effort highlighted by an incredibly addictive cover of Indio’s “Hard Sun”.

Oakley Hall – I’ll Follow You
NY’s Oakley Hall (Papa Crazee from Oneida) have released their finest country-rock-hoedown to date.

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
The most accessible album yet from Austin’s indie darlings. They have all it takes to break into the mainstream, from tight edgy grooves to an extremely charismatic front man (Britt Daniel), but do they really want to?

Honorable Mentions:
Grinderman (Nick Cave)
Caribou – Andorra
Lee Hazlewood – Cake or Death (album title of the year)
Low – Drums and Guns
Queens of the Stoneage – Era Vulgaris
The Purrs – The Chemistry That Keeps Us Together
Heavy Trash – Going Way Out With Heavy Trash
Soundtrack – I’m Not There (Dylan Covers)

The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Airbound Again: Random Musings from Columbus

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a metal detector. It therefore detects METAL. If you are wearing, carrying or otherwise have anything on your person that IS metal, it will detect it."
Yes, certainly patronizing, but then again, surprisingly effective!

You know you're flying a low cost airline when their slogan is "Hungry? Thirsty? Bring cash."

When was the last time the national security level, as designated by the Office of Homeland Security, set to something other than "orange"? I fly a lot, and I don't recall if there even are any other colors. As we are constantly reminded by annoying loudspeaker broadcasts, the orange designation indicates a "heightened" level of security due to an increased "threat". However, they neglect to elaborate on the exact nature of this threat, choosing instead to implore us to report any "suspicious activities" to airport personnel. Are we destined to remain in this state of orange for ever? I pine for the good old "mauve" days...

You know you're flying a low cost airline when they wait until your scheduled departure time has passed before informing you that your plane will be delayed by at least an hour.

I like Christmas carols.
This may come as a bit of a shock to you, given my track record of general disdain towards many of society's norms and traditions. But don't worry, it came as quite a shock to me, too. Let me explain.
As I sit in this airport waiting for a delayed departure, my fellow passengers and I are being inundated with Christmas music. Now, my first reaction to this invasion of my privacy was in keeping with my usual conditioned response to all things pertaining to Christmas, or as I prefer to call it, the greatest display of rampant unbridled consumerism known to mankind. This would explain the sneer on my face as carolers sang of mistletoe.
However, moments later as my thoughts wandered elsewhere, I was surprised to notice that a smile had appeared on my face. Upon further investigation I realized that the smile had nothing to do with something humorous, or was the result of some cute girl smiling at me (remember, I'm in an airport in Columbus, Ohio and school is out - any cute girls have left the state). No, the smile was the result of the Christmas Carols and there was nothing I could do about it.
"But why the smile?" I asked myself. "I hate Christmas Carols!"
Or do I? It's true, I really dislike Country stars crooning away about Bethlehem, and could certainly live without another Norman Rockwell styled muzak interpretation of a holiday standard.
But, the truth of the matter is that Christmas Carols make me think about my mother, and she LOVED Christmas, carols included. My mother was a woman who started planning for Christmas in February, and was buying little thoughtful gifts for people each year before spring had even sprung! And Mom loved to hum and sing along when Christmas carols started playing on radios and in malls (and probably in airports, too). They made her happy, and brought back memories of her family.
So, for this moment, I'm happy, too. And it's because of the memory of my mother, and yes, because of Christmas Carols.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

2010 Olympic Mascots from Hell!

It was a very big day up here in Vancouver, host city to the 2010 Winter Olympics, for today was the day our esteemed Olympic organizers announced the official Mascots! That's right, just like every Wal-mart has its greeters, every Olympics have their Mascots.

For the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary it was the unforgettable "Hidy" and "Howdy", cowboy hat wearing polar bears that were conveniently mass produced into cuddly little stuffed toys for all the delegates to expense and bring home to their children. Sheer marketing brilliance!

Not to be outdone by our fellow Canadian Olympic city to the east, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will have not one, not two, but three official mascots…and a marmot friend named Muk-Muk.

Each of the critters has a "west coast" feel. Miga the "sea bear" is a combination of an orca whale and the Kermode spirit bear. (What the...?!?) Quatchi's a sasquatch and Sumi is a mythical thunderbird spirit who loves to snowboard. Their side-kick is a marmot named Muk-Muk (thankfully not pictured here).

I can't say I've ever been more embarrassed to be a Vancouverite. Those "things" are absolutely horrific and we are so PC it's ridiculous. By trying to include every possible ethnic and spiritual group represented in BC we have created characters that are so ugly they will frighten small children!

But maybe it's not too late. Maybe we can quickly rescind those abhorrent characters and replace them with a single, all encompassing mascot that not only represents every PC cause we can think of, but also provides ample cuteness for the obligatory stuffed toy market.

And, of course, far be it from me to pass up an opportunity to make a suggestion. Here goes...

Let's scrap Miga, Quatchi, Sumi, (the damn Marmot, too), and produce a character that makes us all proud!

Yes, the new mascot should encompass:
West Coast Indian art,
Indian spirituality ('cause you just have to),
Japanese "anime" characters,
an Indian (from India) God or two,
some sort of Chinese letters,
a cutesy bit of West Coast pagan folklore (Sasquatch is good, Ogopogo would have done, too),
an Orca (what could be more West Coast, maybe a whale with eagle's wings?),
and most importantly we should stuff a joint in it's mouth to represent the true spirit of West Coast winter sports!

Now wouldn't that be much more applicable and child friendly?

And finally, maybe we could name our little beast something like, oh I don't know, how about Dave?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Who lives longer and why?

Discussion Topic Number 2: Article in the Economist claims that females live longer than males because males use up all their energy attracting, competing for, and hanging onto their women. That's the way it is in the animal kingdom, the article suggests, so that's gotta be the reason for the same in the human race. My response to a friend who sent me the article follows. Anyone else have anything to add?

So, the point is that women live longer than men because men use up all their energy chasing, and keeping, their women?!?
Apparently that's what we have learned by studying the animal kingdom, although for this specific subject animals represent an imperfect test group. Thus, the leaders of the study discussed in the economist feel that to prove the hypothesis they need to take those lessons learned from the animal kingdom and apply them to a test group that generally dies of old age, namely us. If humans show a trend whereby women outlive men, then it is somehow inverse proof that this is a relic of our animal ancestry.
Hmmm...
To prove their hypothesis scientifically, the next step should be to look at specific subsets of our human test group. We should compare generations of men who have married early and lived family life without much challenge (with respect to "defending" their women) from society, to generations of men who remained single longer, competed for a fair number of partners and so on. If there is a definitive age discrepancy between these subsets, then we may have something to help support their hypothesis.
Still, my guess is that in both groups men would still die younger, and at about the same average age. Why? Well if it's strictly a matter of we humans being animals, as put forward by the study, then it's simply "built in" and has nothing to do with our day to day lives as human beings.
I think that's bollocks. In my opinion there are two major factors as to why women outlive men:
1) physiology - Women's bodies are built to last longer than men's. Call it the child rearing factor.
2) life style - Men are dumb testosterone filled pigs. Many more of us are killed off in our teens trying to ride our bikes or cars over canyons. How many Darwin awards have you read that were about women? If we live through our teens, men tend to drink, eat poorly and generally take part in unhealthy activities to a much higher degree than our female counterparts, and we do it for many, many years. Just compare how long men spend on the toilet on a Sunday morning compared to women (and the lingering odors that follow) and you'll "catch my drift". Add up all that abuse on the male body and later in life it spells heart attack, stroke or whatever other ailment that finally does him in.
If there is any difference between the two male groups discussed earlier, it is probably that the longer one remains single, the more opportunity he has to do irreparable harm to his body, and perhaps that could lead to a slightly lower life expectancy. Now that's worth studying, although I suspect slinking out to the shed to avoid yet another badgering barrage from the spouse probably leads to some harmful habits as well, which would tend to even things out.
Either way, when it comes to the life expectancy competition, men don't stand a chance. Whether or not males in the animal kingdom exhibit the same pattern, perhaps due to competition for mates, really has no bearing. However, if we change the rules a little in our human test group, and call it a FUN competition, we men may actually come out ahead...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Where Will The Water Come From?

Hi all!
I've been having some interesting email discussions with friends over the last few days, and figured I'd share them with the Digglings in hopes of starting some virtual conversations.

The first topic results from the "state of emergency" declared by Georgia's governor with respect to water supply issues. I hold this topic close to my heart as it is a large part of what I have done in my career over the years.
So here goes, discussion topic number 1:

The US is literally f*cked when it comes to water supply issues.

The SW has been in trouble for years (too many people living in the desert for crying out loud!!!), Florida's problems have been well documented (as the Everglades rapidly dry up and what used to be Lake Okeechobee is presently on fire), and now places where water seemed plentiful are being affected, like Georgia. It should really come as no surprise because part of Florida's woes result from increased usage by those ahead of them, namely Georgia! The problem is simply moving upstream.

Now, I apologize for going all Naomi Klein on you here, but it is very much related to the "disaster politics" she refers to in her Harper's article last month. She describes the dismantling of public agencies and utilities that are in charge of basic infrastructure, things like highways, bridges and levees, and how private companies are now profiting from the resulting catastrophes. Consider the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - the US contracted out even the most basic aspects of emergency recovery in New Orleans (they actually contracted the very contracting!) because the Federal Agencies are no longer equipped to do so.

Now some may suggest this is a good thing (profit and all that, I get it), however the well being of our precious natural resources, the ones that humankind relies upon for our survival, can not be left up to private enterprise. Corporate mandates do not include exemptions for the folks downstream. They don't involve putting a little something aside for a rainy day, or in this case for a day when the rains don't come.

The purpose of Federal and State water agencies is to oversee the use of water, and protect the resource. Unfortunately, they no longer have the money (which inevitably restricts their power) to do the job. The result is we see PGA golf courses being built in areas suffering from ten year droughts, and huge housing developments in similarly sensitive locations. Do this enough times and the result is the governor declaring a national water emergency for a state once famous for it's heavy rains.

Go figure.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

9/11/07?!?

It's been a while since the Digglings had a political post, but for those of you who thrive on that sort of thing, the wait is over.

What follows is a short thread of correspondence resulting from a friend sending me one of those "In memory of all those slain in the twin towers on 9/11, pass this on to everyone you know, but if you don't care and don't stand for freedom, go ahead and delete it" emails. She sent the email asking "What do you think?" I responded to her, then got another friend to comment as well.
The exchanges are as follows. You'll note that my other friend is obviously much more level headed than me.

But first, the original message:

Thought you might be interested in this forgotten bit of information..........

It was 1987! At a lecture the other day they were playing an old news video of Lt.Col. Oliver North testifying at the Iran-Contra hearings during the Reagan Administration. There was Ollie in front of God and country getting the third degree, but what he said was stunning! He was being drilled by a senator; "Did you not recently spend close to $60,000 for a home security system?" Ollie replied, "Yes, I did, Sir." The senator continued, trying to get a laugh out of the audience, "Isn't that just a little excessive?" "No, sir," continued Ollie. "No? And why not?" the senator asked. "Because the lives of my family and I were threatened, sir." "Threatened? By whom?" the senator questioned. "By a terrorist, sir" Ollie answered. "Terrorist? What terrorist could possibly scare you that much?"
"His name is Osama bin Laden, sir" Ollie replied.
At this point the senator tried to repeat the name, but couldn't pronounce it, which most people back then probably couldn't. A couple of people laughed at the attempt. Then the senator continued. Why are you so afraid of this man?" the senator asked. "Because, sir, he is the most evil person alive that I know of", Ollie answered.
"And what do you recommend we do about him?" asked the senator. "Well, sir, if it was up to me, I would recommend that an assassin team be formed to eliminate him and his men from the face of the earth." The senator disagreed with this approach, and that was all that was shown of the clip.

By the way, that senator was Al Gore!

Also: Terrorist pilot Mohammed Atta blew up a bus in Israel in 1986. The Israelis captured, tried and imprisoned him. As part of the Oslo agreement with the Palestinians in 1993, Israel had to agree to release so-called "political prisoners." However, the Israelis would not release any with blood on their hands. The American President at the time, Bill Clinton, and his Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, "insisted" that all prisoners be released. Thus Mohammed Atta was freed and eventually thanked the US by flying an airplane into Tower One of the World Trade Center. This was reported by many of the American TV networks at the time that the terrorists were first identified. It was censored in the US from all later reports.


If you agree that the American public should be made aware of this fact, pass this on.

Subject: 9/11 Do Not Break - it is 3 years strong
This has not been broken since 9/11/01, please keep it going...This has been kept alive and moving since 9/11. In memory of all those who perished this morning; the passengers and the pilots on the United Air and AA flights, the workers in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and all the innocent bystanders. Our prayers go out to the friends and families of the deceased.
Send this to at least 10 people to show your support.
PLEASE DON'T BREAK IT!!!!!!

OK! OK! I get it. Pass it on already.

Oops. Sorry. Didn't mean to be so opinionated in my introduction. Still, couldn't help it.
Regardless, here's my response to my friend's question asking "What do you think?":

Hmmm...
What do I think of that?

Well, here goes:

I think that the Republicans should get it through their heads that 9/11 is over. Americans, and the rest of the world with them, will never forget the terrible events of that day. However, American political policies need to be based on something other than fear related to the twin towers.

I think that finding a way to somehow blame 9/11 on the Democrats is idiotic. Bill Clinton's sternest warning to George W when handing over the White House was to be wary of Osama Bin Laden. George went on record saying he was more concerned with Iraq.

I think the debacle of Iraq, and the blood of each dead or maimed soldier, should be slung like a noose around every Republican's neck. Marching into Afghanistan to depose a Taliban regime that was harboring Bin Laden and was in support of the 9/11 attacks? Yes, and that's why the international community supported those efforts. But, to deflect money, resources and lives into a misguided grab for oil in Iraq? That's abhorrent, and those behind it should be held accountable. Instead, they are all making big bucks off their stocks and royalties as the war machine profits the likes of Halliburton and Lockheed Martin. (Dick Cheney really is the Anti-Christ)

I think any senator who goes on record suggesting that we send an assassination team after a suspected terrorist is nuts. That's against international law, and can be prosecuted as such. Al Gore is no idiot. Poor little Ollie North IS AN IDIOT! Watch the entire hearings and tell me that he was intelligent or trustworthy. True, he was the fall guy for those who told him what to do, and that is unfortunate. But he's no saint or martyr, either.

I think the Israelis have an effective way of sneaking into "enemy" territory and killing individuals as they see fit. Perhaps that would have been an equally effective means of eliminating Bin Laden, but I doubt if that would have prevented 9/11. Besides, somehow justifying the bloodshed done in the name of Israeli "self defense" in order to defend current US efforts in the Middle East is naive and misguided.

And finally, I think that email propaganda such as this, much like the supposed boat brigade email claiming that John Kerry was practically a terrorist himself, is propagating hate and misconceptions to the minds of the gullible and moronic. Unfortunately, just such a message, one that continues to promote the concept of fear to the American people, can be surprisingly effective.

So, as you can see, I really don't have much of an opinion...


And finally, the much more appropriate and human response of a very good friend from the States:

I read the Osama bin Laden related message and reply. What a wonderful world this would be if there were only a handful of “bad guys” (as Republicans call them) and their motives and guilt were obvious and beyond question. But, of course, it is a dangerous oversimplification to think that, Wow, if somebody had followed Ollie’s advice then the world today would be shining and safe. BS. Oliver North was a criminal and an idiot. Should he have been “rubbed out” by people opposing his views? No.

My stand is that there are bad people in this world, evil ideas, dangerous cults, and destructive philosophies. There are also good people, positive ideas, productive groups, and constructive philosophies. There is also the gray area in between, where we have all ventured and where we continue to stumble into every now and again no matter how much we don’t want to. Assassination squads are evil, no matter who they target. Torture is evil, for whatever purpose. Killing and destruction in the name of promoting peace or in God’s name does not ring true. Yes, I believe in self defense and in people defending their values, but I also believe that people should lead by example and take care of each other. Take the high road, or at least strive to do so. Terrible situations and destructive people are always around us. They always will be. Sometimes they are us. Strive to be on the side that promotes kindness, not pain. But, be prepared to endure pain. It is part of life. That is my stand.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Left Foot: Hobbling Through the ACL Festival

Fire Ants. I hate them.
Two weeks ago I didn’t even know what a fire ant was, but today, they’re at the top of my most hated list. Sure, there are other unpleasantries in life, like rope burn and slow drivers in the passing lane, but they don’t even come close.
Yup, fire ants. I hate them.

My first encounter with these nasty insects occurred several weeks ago while in Texas for the Austin City Limits (ACL) Festival. ACL is a huge music event hosted every year by the organizers of the TV show of the same name. The festivities are held in Zilker Park, a beautiful 15 acre green space located in central Austin, and include over 130 bands on seven stages in a three day weekend. I’ve been to the festival four years in a row and have seen some amazing bands. This year’s lineup promised to be equally impressive. For a music fan like me this is as good as it gets.
I love this festival.
I hate fire ants.

First on the agenda in Austin was to hook up with my buddy Scott and play a round of disc golf. Disc golf is an addictive activity (I can’t bring myself to call it a sport) that attracts primarily males in their 30s and 40s. Most of them are retired ultimate players whose bodies have finally cratered after years of hurling themselves about a field chasing Frisbees. Ultimate is a real sport, disc golf is kinda like shuffle board in comparison.

I met Scott and his friend Ken at the disc golf course on Wednesday evening. We stuffed the obligatory 12 or so beers into a cooler and teed off. The game of disc golf is similar to standard golf in that you direct an object, in this case a specialized Frisbee, towards a target some distance away. In golf the object is to get your ball into a hole. In disc golf, the target is a metal basket. The player has a specified number of throws to land the disc in the basket in order to make par.

About half way through the round of 18 holes my tee shot landed in some tall grass. The rule is that you play your next shot where the disc lands, so I stood in the grass, lined up my next throw and let it go. No sooner had I begun to stroll towards where the disc had landed than I found myself leaping about with sharp stings on my left feet. I looked down to see a bunch of little black ants feasting on my foot and ankle.

They were fire ants! One moment I had been blissfully strolling through the park, the next I launched my beer into the air and shrieked as a troop of these insidious little buggers attacked me in unison. Fire ants don’t bite randomly. That would give their victims a fighting chance. Instead, they have a remarkable ability to get in position and assault their victim at precisely the same instant.
It’s true. I looked it up on the Internet.

Fire ants also possess particularly odious venom that they inject into their prey. I looked that up, too. It’s a heinous toxin called alkaloid venom (piperidine). According to wikipedia “For humans, it produces a painful sting, which leaves a sensation similar to what one feels when he gets burned by fire — hence the name fire ant — and the aftereffects of the sting can be deadly to sensitive individuals.”

Are you ready for some foreshadowing? I’m a very sensitive guy.

None of that mattered to me Wednesday night on the golf course. I was a few beers into the round and intent on not completely embarrassing myself in front of my buddies. A few ant bites weren’t going to ruin my first evening in Austin. I hastily crushed all the ants I could see and stormed off after my disc.
At this stage I did not hate fire ants. I merely disliked them.

Thursday was a new day and with it came an opportunity to participate in a grand ole Texas tradition. Scott and some of his cohorts had scheduled a float on inner tubes down the “mighty” Guadalupe River, and they had invited some friends and me to join in the fun. I met up with Alec and Katherine, two other pals from Vancouver who were in town for ACL, and we went about getting geared up. (Of course in Texas “gearing up” means filling the car with beers.) The trauma of the fire ants and humiliation of being trounced on the disc golf course were already a distant memory.

Our drive to the Guadalupe wound through some beautiful Texas hill country between Austin and San Antonio. This year the region had been unseasonably rainy, so the shrubs and grass were as green as in springtime. As it turned out, the extra precipitation also resulted in spring water conditions for the Guadalupe. It was considerably higher than its usual September trickle. We were in for a fast, fun float.

We spent several idyllic hours drifting along the river bathed in hot sun, watching the beautiful limestone riverbanks go by, spotting turtles and, of course, swilling beer. Each of us (ten in total) had our own tube, and as a group we had two extra tubes with special bottoms on them for holding our beer coolers. These cooler tubes served as the center around which we tethered our individual tubes. We even had a mascot, as Kyle brought along his dachshund, stylishly outfitted in a wiener dog life preserver. These Texans certainly know how to float in style.
Time was of the essence for the drive back to Austin. After all, I had four tickets to see Spoon play a sold out show in a small club Thursday night. That’s right, I was about to embark on a three day, full-on music festival and was spending the night before it began by watching a live band!

Each year ACL gets under way at noon on Friday, and I’m there to welcome it like the old friend it has become. At least that’s normally where I am at noon on the opening Friday of ACL. This year there were slight complications, complications involving some rather irritated looking bites on my left foot. The bites had been uncomfortable on Thursday, but nothing that worried me. By Friday morning, however, the bites were worsening and my left foot was beginning to swell. So, instead of greeting the festival with my usual fervor, I spent the morning at a pharmacy getting antibiotic ointment and Band-Aids. This year I met ACL in a somewhat aggravated fashion at around 1 PM.
Most of my friends were already there, however, and I soon forgot about my increasing disdain for fire ants as we raised a round of Heinekens and headed off to see the first of many bands.

It’s one of things that make ACL so great; not only are there lots of bands to see and discover, but the outdoor stages are all easily accessible so you can see as many of the artists as you desire. Other festivals have long lines to get into venues, or are so crowded that it’s a hassle to move around. ACL overcomes this by limiting the total number of tickets to a manageable number, thus providing festival goers with the ability to run back and forth between stages to catch glimpses of different shows, even if they happen to be on simultaneously.
Friday’s musical line-up was full of old favorites as well as opportunities to see new bands. I managed to catch (in this order) Joseph Arthur, The Heartless Bastards, The Del McCoury Band (the king of Bluegrass with his band, all dressed in full suits despite the sweltering heat!), Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Peter, Bjorn and John, Blonde Redhead, Crowded House (you’d have been singing along, too), LCD Soundsystem, Queens of the Stone Age and The Reverend Horton Heat. Despite all that coverage, I still missed some notables, including M.I.A., The Killers and Bjork.
The hi-light was certainly LCD Soundsystem. Their albums are primarily the heavy electronic musings of DJ/producer James Murphy, but their shows are 100% live interpretations played by a full band. The crowd bounced, danced and pumped the air through the entire set. Also of note was the Reverend, who seems to have found some new inspiration since the last few less spirited shows I’ve attended. The musical history that he and his band mates put together, including covers of Greensleeves, Bill Haley and Black Sabbath, was truly memorable.

It was dark and had been a long day. The festival was winding down, so we did what any sane group of exhausted concert goers who had just spent 8 hours in 100 degree heat would do – we hopped in a taxi and headed downtown to see another show. We were treated to a noisy, countrified set by Brooklyn’s Oakley Hall.

By Saturday morning, things were getting serious with my left foot. The throbbing had kept me awake throughout the night, and it was now noticeably larger and redder than its counterpart. I overheard some kids calling me “elephant man”. Several adults were somewhat more constructive, suggesting I should “get it looked at”. Well, the festival had hardly started and I was not going to be slowed by some stupid ant bites, so I iced my foot for a few hours by the hotel pool, and was back in Zilker Park by 3:00 to see Steve Earle.

Steve has become somewhat of a protesting troubadour these days, and his acoustic set was not lacking for anti-Bush sentiments. The line “Just another poor kid fightin’ in a rich man’s war” pretty well sums up his attitude. St. Vincent, a solo female artist who also plays in the Polyphonic Spree, came on next and had probably the best song title of any artist at the festival with “Jesus Saves, I Spend”. The only other notable for me from Saturday was Brooklyn’s Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah. Preferring more devilish topics, they had the crowd singing along and boogieing to such indie pop tunes as “Satan Said Dance”.

The reason for my somewhat limited music exposure on Saturday was that I was no longer running, or even briskly walking for that matter, between the stages. I had been reduced to a rather awkward looking hobble, which when paired with the bright red tree trunk that had replaced my left foot, really impressed the ladies. A visit to the festival medical tent had merely resulted in a few Benadryl tablets and a suggestion to lay down for a few hours with my foot elevated.

I took that advice (and the drugs) and headed into town that evening to see Queens of the Stone Age play an incredible gig at another intimate Austin club. It was a show I had been looking forward to for a long time and had bought the tickets months previously. Those nasty ant bites weren’t getting in the way of this one. My sister Beth chose not to go as she figured it would be a testosterone fest. She was right. As my buddy Dave put it, it was the first show he had attended where he felt small. He and I are both six feet tall and have seen countless shows, yet it was the first time either of us had struggled to see over the mass of bulky figures that pressed towards the stage in front of us. Still, it was a magnificent wall of sound produced by QOTSA that did not disappoint. The pharmaceuticals, the beers and the band had me completely oblivious to the state of my foot, at least until on the way out when one of the testosterone crowd lost his balance and stepped back onto it with his shit kickin’ cowboy boot. I literally cried my way home in the taxi.

Sunday promised probably the best line-up of any day at the festival, and everyone was ready for a full on ACL experience, everyone that is except for me. If my foot had looked gnarly on Saturday, Sunday morning it was, well, gross. We hummed and hawed about what to do about it until I insisted that the show must go on. So, we headed back to the park just in time to catch Yo La Tengo assaulting the crowd with a 13 minute guitar based dirge from their latest album “I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass”. They are without question one of my favorite bands, partly because of how they effortlessly shift from this kind of noisy affront to silly pop tunes and even beautiful love songs. Their back catalogue is packed with more gems than Sonic Youth.

We took a quick peek at a thoughtful Irish singer songwriter named Fionn Regan before checking out another Brooklyn band, The National. For a band whose albums are characterized by slow, sometimes folky yet tortured songs about loss and struggle, their live show is surprisingly loud and powerful. The torment and angst are accompanied by frantic electric violin and heavy rhythm guitars. All of it is there to support a lead singer who literally leaves himself, body and soul, on stage. He was so exhausted after their set had finished we couldn’t imagine him performing another song.

Unfortunately, once The National was finished, so was I. As they had worked their way through the set, some tell-tale redness had started to work its way up my ankle. My sister had seen enough. She grabbed me by the ear and pulled me off to an emergency medical clinic. It was quite a heart warming show of concern for her brother (or complete exasperation with his stubbornness, I couldn’t tell) that she was prepared to give up her afternoon to accompany me to the emergency ward. She had only one stipulation – she had to be back to the festival in time to see Bloc Party at 4:30. Brotherly love has its bounds, after all.

There’s not much to report from the hospital visit, other than that the doctor’s first words when he saw my foot were “Ew! That’s pretty disgusting!” He diagnosed it as an allergic reaction to the bites that had turned into an infection from all the dirt and sweat encountered at the festival (and possibly from the Guadalupe River float). His recommendation was some heavy antibiotics and bed rest. He was not impressed when I asked him if it was a problem to get dirt in the dressing and bandages he had carefully applied. He knew where I was going with that, and replied “I guess that’s a choice you’ll have to make; it’s either your foot or your festival!”

Almost as if to spite me, he called the nurse and got her to stick a great big needle in my butt for a tetanus shot.

Solely to appease my sister, I agreed to accompany her back to the festival so that she’d arrive in time for Bloc Party. The sacrifices I have to make to preserve family ties – truly remarkable! We paid our cabbie an extra big tip and got to the park in record time. Sure enough, we had just found a good spot near the front as the band came on stage. Beth danced her face off and sang almost every word as I sort of swayed about and sweated.

Their performance was energetic as always, but I was tapped out. The rest of the evening is more or less a blur to me now. I seem to recall seeing some combination of Wilco, Regina Spektor and Ghostland Observatory, all from afar sitting in whatever reasonable facsimile to a chair that I could locate. With huge regrets and in a lot of pain, I hobbled out of ACL before the headliner, Bob Dylan and his band, had played a single note.

To add insult to injury (literally), that night a wonderful Austin artist named Alejandro Escovedo was performing a midnight set at the legendary "Continental Club" across the street from our hotel. The rest of the gang had a few more beers and went to see the show while I lay in my hotel room - mumbling, sweating and feeling much like Marlon Brando at the end of Apocalypse Now.

It was a memorable ACL, but not necessarily for all the right reasons. Monday morning found me in the airport on my way to San Diego, bandaged foot elevated for all to see and smell. I had begun to murmur in a slightly delirious fashion and would not have looked out of place with all the homeless folks in downtown Austin. The murmuring took on a regular pattern, almost mantra-like. If anyone had come close enough, they would have been able to make out the words as I repeated them over and over:
“Fire Ants. I hate them.”

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Blinky Swims Among Us!

WEST GLACIER - For five miles downstream of the Boulder, Colo., sewage treatment plant there are no male fish. In Pacific currents off the Los Angeles coastline, fish are too lazy to hunt, too laid back to bother with breeding. In south-central Asia, vultures are dying of drug overdoses. All because what goes in must come out.
“All domestic sewage, regardless of your location on the globe, will contain pharmaceuticals,” said Kate Miller. “If you can find a human being, you'll probably find pharmaceuticals in the environment.”
Miller works for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality as an engineer and a hydrologist, but she sounds more like a chemist - what with all those crazy long compound names in the parts per billion. Recently, Miller was asked to go on a hunt for fecal contamination - sewage, basically - in Helena Valley groundwater. She was to use certain microbial markers, such as E. coli and coliphage, to sniff out the presence or absence of fecal taint.
But the more she read about sewage-borne contaminants, the more she became convinced that more modern markers would make for a more interesting study. And so Miller added 28 man-made chemicals to her search target, including pharmaceuticals, endocrine disrupters and personal care products. On Wednesday, she presented her findings to the Flathead Basin Commission, a multi-agency commission charged with protecting water quality in the Flathead River drainage and Flathead Lake.
Miller's is a compelling story - 32 of 35 drinking water wells tested positive for the chemicals, and of the 28 compounds she chose to look for a whopping 22 were found. Some were 425 feet down, in rock from the Paleozoic Era, a time when Miller is fairly certain there were no pharmaceuticals. Conclusion: It must be long-term contamination from the surface. “They act like pesticides,” Miller said of the contaminants. “They're big, long-chain molecules.” Which means they're persistent and tend to stick around for a while.
“If a cancer patient lives above you and is on chemotherapy drugs, and your neighborhood is on septic, then there's a good chance you're on chemo drugs, too,” she said. Albeit at very, very low doses. Doses, in fact, that probably don't pose much of a health risk. Probably. “The fact is,” Miller said, “no one knows.”
Neither does anyone know how low-dose drugs might affect fish and wildlife, or how a cocktail of drugs, even at low doses, might combine to cause some surprising cumulative effects. The pharmaceuticals - both over-the-counter and prescription drugs - make their way into water systems because they are flushed (think leftover or out-of-date prescriptions) or because they pass through us and then are flushed. The endocrine disrupters - mostly hormones and birth-control drugs - pass the same way, and are known to disrupt endocrine systems in fish and birds, just as they do in humans.
(That's why there are no male fish in the waters below Boulder's sewage treatment plant. They've all been feminized by estrogen, Miller said. The laid-back Pacific fish are happy on Prozac, and the Asian vultures are overdosed on anti-inflammatory drugs, pumped by local farmers into their water buffalo herds before those animals die and become vulture food.) The personal care products - musks and perfumes and sunblock - enter the system through shower drains, then continue on through septic systems or municipal treatment plants.
“None of these systems have been designed to remove these things,” Miller said. “The possible impacts are very poorly understood.” What will a trace of steroid do to an insect, or to a fish? What will traces of many drugs combined do to those same animals? “We don't have a lot of answers yet,” Miller said.
What she does know is that the combined action of several compounds can exceed the sum of the individual parts. And the longer an organism is exposed, the more sensitive it can become to the contaminant. And some compounds - think antibiotics - definitely overlap between species. And most drugs have multiple side effects, both known and unknown.
Fish, Miller said, are especially vulnerable because they swim steeped in the stew 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “That's key, because they can't get up out of the river and walk to a new spot,” Miller said. “They're captive.” There's no escape. Even if the compound has a short half-life, it's constantly being replenished into the system, offering no relief. The questions are so far beyond the answers, Miller said, that science often doesn't even know what to ask. She tested just 28 of the 800,000 or so known chemicals that could pass through our systems into ground - and later surface - waters.
Antidepressants are affecting shellfish reproduction, she said. Blood-pressure drugs are reducing sperm counts in aquatic organisms. Anti-seizure drugs cause neurodegeneration in fish. Arthritis medicines affect fin growth. “This is something that's only been recently uncovered in the United States,” Miller said, “and as a body of scientists we're still trying to get our arms around it. We may have to start regulating the way our wastewater is treated.”
And not just in the Helena Valley, where her study was centered. According to Miller, Missoula-based researcher Bill Woessner found acetaminophen, caffeine, nicotine, codeine and antibiotics in his backyard groundwater. Others have repeated the results around the globe. Miller stresses that the amounts found are astoundingly small - measured in half-parts per billion - and that the effects to human health, if any, are by no means clear.
But she also notes that antibiotics were found in 80 percent of her test sites, “and I do worry about antibiotic resistance when I see something like this.” She also worries that breast cancer and prostate cancer could be on the rise in part due to hormones leaching into drinking water. It's just a hunch, but she's not alone. Her immediate prescription is to stop flushing unused drugs, and to stop overusing drugs in general. Miller recommends taking those unused medicines - be careful, though, with narcotics - and zipping them in a plastic baggie with a handful of kitty litter. Then drop it in the local landfill, which is lined to contain contaminants.
Canada has an even better solution, requiring drug distributors to collect any unused pharmaceuticals and dispose of them properly, at a facility designed to filter out the contaminants. Another answer might simply be better sewage treatment plants, “but we're still trying to figure out how to do that,” Miller said. That would, she admits, be expensive. “We're very early in the research here,” Miller said, “and there are so many things we still don't know. But we've begun looking, and that's an important start.” http://www.missoulian.com/

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Potting Harry Potter

Warning: Do not read this entry if you are a Harry Potter fan and have not yet read the latest book "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows".

Unfortunately, Harper's Weekly did not provide such a warning before they gave away one of the book's big surprises. Apparently, reader response has been overwhelming. Here's a sampling of what some of them had to say.

FROM JOSH RICHARDS: Shame on you for giving away even a
small detail of the new Harry Potter book, buried mid-paragraph, with no warning. Shame.
FROM KEN KOONTZ: It's the totally gratuitous nature of the Harry Potter spoiler that bugs me. How lame.
FROM KATIE BOMBICO: Thanks for ruining the book for me.
FROM D.H. PRESCOTT: I found your action to be indicative of a flippant and condescending attitude.
FROM REBECCA EWING: How mean-spirited of you.
FROM PAUL LARSON: Bad form.
FROM JOE WINTER: That's just rude.
FROM PATRICK DEVITT: I would think that a magazine published since June of 1850, as you advertise, WOULD UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF A "SPOILER"!!!
FROM BARBARA CORNETT: Paul Ford is an asshole for telling that Hedwig dies in the Harry Potter book. Nobody does that sort of thing. Who does he think he is. What makes him above everyone else so that he does not have to abide by the rules and at least warn people if he is going to spoil a book or movie by telling things about it that the writers intended for readers and movie goers to experience and not some asshole like Ford to spoil for them. I hope a wizard puts a hex on him and his dick falls off.
FROM LEVI FULLER: Fuck you very much, assholes.
FROM: CYNTHIA PATRICIA: I am writing because I am extremely upset by Paul Ford's Harper's Weekly, in which he blatantly gives away a spoiler in the final Harry Potter book. I'm not sure how dorky I sound here, but it's the kind of thing that you just don't do. It had no relevance to the sentence whatsoever, and I find it in poor taste to send it out to all the subscribers who generally enjoy reading the review but who haven't gotten around to getting a copy of the book yet, even if it's been over 48 hours and 8.3 million people know what happened already. Let's hope Harper's wont make it a habit to follow the poor judgement and standard of the Times.
FROM HENRY ROLLINS: Good on ya, Harper's!

(OK - I admit, I made the last one up. Sorry. Couldn't resist. If you have ever listened to any of Henry's spoken word, you probably know that he has thrown dates out of his car when he learns that they're reading Harry Potter. He likens it to listening to Nickleback. Now, I'm not much of a HP fan myself, but I wouldn't necessarily go THAT far. Still, a word of advice: put down the damn book and go outside. It's summer for crying out loud!)

Friday, July 27, 2007

And Jesus Wept...

Hey, has anyone been following the ongoing Catholic church scandal in LA? The church is being forced to sell off property and possessions to pay out the portion of the court settlement from events that occurred before they had sexual abuse insurance.
Sexual abuse insurance?!?
Who knew there was such a thing?
How about they jail any priest found to be a molester, just like they would a layperson?
How about yanking tax-exempt status from any church whose leaders molest children?
"Sexual-abuse insurance".
And Jesus wept...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Aborted Occupations

More from NYC still to come, but for now...
This just in (from Harper's Weekly):
Former congressman Tom DeLay gave a speech about abortion to a gathering of college Republicans in Washington, D.C. "If we had those 40 million children that were killed over the last 30 years," said DeLay, "we wouldn't need the illegal immigrants to fill the jobs that they are doing today."

I suppose the aborted babies could either have done as Tom suggests, and grown up to be out there earning minimum wage with leaf blowers and kitchen hair nets, or they could have been added to the US armed forces so we could properly occupy both Iraq and Afghanistan and still have bodies left over with which to seriously threaten Iran, Syria and North Korea...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Yankees Go Home!

Pabst Blue Ribbon really is awful stuff. You don’t tend to notice this when you’re actually drinking it, because the fact that you are indicates that you’re already inebriated to the point where you think drinking cheap swill is a good idea. No, the moment you realize that Pabst Blue Ribbon is awful stuff is the moment you open your eyes the following morning. Trust me.

Our Saturday thus started rather slowly. It was to be another day packed with discovery, yet I was having trouble getting past exploring the inside of my eyelids. Beth managed to get me up with the promise of good coffee, and a reminder that our day’s agenda was to start off with a true New York experience – an afternoon matinee game at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

When we started planning this trip, a Yankee game was high on my to-do list. Once we decided on the weekend, I immediately checked out the schedule and was thrilled to find that Major League Baseball would be in the middle of inter-league play. Not only that, the American League Yankees would be playing their arch cross-town rivals, the National League’s New York Mets! It was being billed as the Subway Series 2007.
OK, my apologies to the non-sports oriented reader. Please feel free to ignore the previous description full of nonsensical sports jargon. All you need to know is that to a sports fan, this was a big deal. Unfortunately for me, the world is full of sports fans and that game had been sold out since the season began. In the weeks leading up to our trip, tickets were going on eBay for hundreds of dollars apiece. Beth and I had decided to save the cash and try our luck at buying scalper tickets the day of the game.

In keeping with the series name, we headed to the subway to get to Yankee Stadium. The subways were under construction and over the weekend it had sometimes been hard to figure out which train was going where from what track. For this day’s destination, however, there was no question. The station was full of Yankee pinstripe jerseys. We just had to follow the masses.

The streets around Yankee stadium were alive with activity. Hoards of fans, even an occasional thick skinned Mets fan, filled the streets and local bars. Booths and street touts were on each corner selling everything imaginable to do with baseball. Everything, that is, except tickets. There were no scalpers in sight. We circled the entire stadium in search of someone selling tickets, and never saw a soul.

Our first stop once out of the subway had been the Yankee Stadium ticket office, but all they had to offer were some box seats for $280 a piece. Not even I am crazy enough to pay that kind of money for a baseball game. It was close to time for the game to begin and I had pretty well given up when Beth suggested we try the ticket office again. I rolled my eyes at such a ridiculously futile idea, but accompanied her to the window just the same. Sure enough, the agent clacked away on her computer for a moment, then announced that they had just released some tickets down the left field line for $55. We couldn’t hand over our cash fast enough. In no time we were at our seats, beer in hand.

Yankee Stadium is more than a sports venue; it’s a shrine to baseball fans not only in the Bronx and New York, but all across America. It’s the last of the remaining old ballparks. While all the other teams have built mega stadiums with corporate names, vast concourses and midway like gaming areas, Yankee Stadium goes on as a comparatively cramped has-been. Still, it’s the past that earns the stadium its place in history today. It is home to the most storied, and valuable, sports franchise in history. From “The Babe” to Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio, they all played and won here. It has also almost single handedly kept the Bronx from turning into a third world slum. As a destination for people from all walks of life around the greater New York City area, Yankee Stadium has focused attention on the Bronx, and brought in much needed dollars, since 1923.

Sitting in our seats waiting for the first pitch, I took a deep breath to fill myself with the aura of Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, I was greeted with sensations not exactly commensurate with the reverence that these hallowed halls deserve. First off, Yankee fans are not ones to dress up for a game, or bathe, for that matter. It was a hot and humid day in The Bronx, and the majority of the fans were, for lack of a better term, ripe. Secondly, since the stadium has been around since the 1920’s, that means Yankee fans have been spilling beer all over the place for more than 80 years. This day was no exception. They don’t give lids at the concession stands, so you’re lucky if you’ve still got half your beer by the time you make it through the crowded corridors and back to your seat.

The “House that Ruth Built” is being replaced in 2009. Construction of the replacement is already underway in an adjacent lot. The Bronx will still be home to the New York Yankees, but Yankee Stadium will not. Like Astroland on Coney Island, another New York area icon is about to fade into memory. My nose was telling me that for Yankee Stadium, it’s about time.

So there we were, in our left field seats, about to witness our last game in Yankee Stadium, and likewise probably the last “Subway Series” to be held there as well. Our surroundings weren’t so pleasant, but the significance of the event was not lost on us. It was only then that we first heard it. “Deh-wick! Deh-wick!”

I couldn’t believe it. By some cruel twist of fate, we had been seated in front of the loudest mouth in all of The Bronx. Not only that, but his Bronx accent was so thick, and his voice so squeaky, that he sounded just like a young Elmer Fudd!

“Aw c’mon Deh-wick Jetah! Hit a home wun fer yer goilfwend!”

I kid you not. Beth and I both had to turn around to be sure that he wasn’t packin’ and out to hunt wabbits. No, instead we were confronted with a very fat, very red faced fellow in his mid-thirties, completely decked out in Yankee’s gear.

We consoled each other with the hope that he couldn’t possibly keep up that volume for an entire game. We were certain that he’d run out of things to say, or his vocal chords would finally give out. We were wrong. I had to hand it to the guy, for what he lacked in intelligence and originality, he made up for in stamina. So, other than a short distraction from a group of large black gang bangers trying to pick a fight with a frat boy Mets fan, our game was overshadowed by young Elmer and his never ending babble-train of consciousness.

He would yell “SUEY!! SQUEAL LIKE A PIG!!” every time Hideki Matsui came up to bat or touched a ball. Apparently, “Awex Wadweegez” kissed his cousin one day. Or was it Jason Giambi? He couldn’t really remember, so that story was repeated over and over with the name of whatever Yankee happened to be at bat. The barrage went on, but the crescendo had to be when the field crew came on and “YMCA” was blared all over the stadium. That was his signal to leap to his feet and run down the aisle (ok, waddle quickly) and lead our section in the hand motions to the song. Unfortunately, young Elmer wasn’t a very good speller, so his routine amounted to a series of whoops and yips while frantically waving his hands in the air.

Thankfully, there was a rain delay in the seventh inning, and Beth and I were in need of a good hosing off before heading to a Broadway play that evening. As we headed to the exits we noticed that pretty well every other person from our section out in left field was doing the same thing, except for young Elmer, of course. I’m sure he was there until long after the game was over.

Oh, I almost forgot. There was a ball game that day. It was actually quite entertaining. The Yankees won 11 to 8. Both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez hit home runs, apparently for their “goilfwends”.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Long, Long Weekend in NYC (Pt 1)

There is no place on earth quite like New York City. It possesses an indescribable energy that derives from a unique mish-mash of concentrated humanity and vibrant history.

To truly get to know New York City would require a lifetime of experience. Even then it would still be impossible to eat at every restaurant, see all the shows and take in the incredible diversity of culture, not only in Manhattan, but in all the boroughs, too. Regardless of that fact, I wanted to do it all and I only had one weekend. I’d apparently have to hurry.

To help me with the Herculean task of fitting as much of New York as humanly possible into a single weekend, I drew on the services of a few special individuals. My sister Beth is a regular visitor to NYC. She volunteered to be my primary guide. Her friend Allison, an actor who has written her own guide to the city that is almost as widely used as the Zagat, was flying in for a day and agreed to join us. And, Beth’s friend Todd, who was living in New York at the time, felt he was up to it as well.

The plan had been to arrive at La Guardia at 4 PM Wednesday and start off with a big dinner in the city. Unfortunately, the friendly skies weren’t, so instead we arrived at our rental apartment somewhat haggard around 11 PM. Luckily, Beth had chosen our base camp carefully. It was a funky little 5th floor apartment on 4th between Bowery and Lafayette, straddling Greenwich Village and the East Village. That meant we were close to all the hipster action, but also happened to put us directly above the Bowery Bistro where that night I devoured a double cut pork chop the size of New York State. Add in a few cocktails and some red wine and our trip had officially begun.

We started off Thursday at a café in Greenwich that has no name (how NY is that?). All I can tell you is that it has yellow awnings and is located at the corner of Bleeker and MacDougal. Oh, it also happens to be one of the few places around that sells Intelligentsia coffee. Absolutely brilliant! I started each day with two of their large lattes. Hey, if you’re not going to sleep, you’ve got to have a contingency plan.

Allison met us at the café and led our group out to Brooklyn where we spent the afternoon haunting old foundries and antique shops. We followed our day of wacko discovery with dinner at an equally eclectic restaurant called Freeman’s, nestled away at the end of Freeman’s Alley on the Lower East Side. It’s an exceedingly low-profile restaurant that boasts a taxidermist's dream of a dining room. The food and atmosphere were fantastic, but the true highlight was the “devils on horseback”, or as I call them “heaven on a toothpick”. Imagine prunes stuffed with Stilton cheese wrapped in bacon and grilled until crispy and drizzled with some sort of wine reduction. Sounds bizarre, but tastes magnificent.

With bellies full of fun, we bode adieu to Allison, and went for a wander through the stores and bars of Greenwich. The standout for me was a place called “Cake Shop”. It’s a cool record store in the back, with a full cake shop in the front, and a bar in the basement. How perfect is that? I mean, I can’t count how many times I’ve been in a record store, flipping through the vinyl, when I get a hankerin’ for a big piece of cake. And, no sooner have I finished the cake when I get a crave on for some live music and a few drinks. How did they know?

Our next stop was the Bowery Ballroom, recently voted one of the top 40 live music venues in the country by PASTE magazine. It’s one of my favorite venues because of the incredible sound and great sight lines, a perfect combination for this evening’s show which featured Earl Greyhound. The Earls are a three piece from Brooklyn formed out of a musical collective. Their album “Soft Targets” was on my best of 2006 list. Based on their show at the Bowery, I’d say they’re better live than on record. I bounced about and pumped my fists in the air (they have Sierra Nevada on tap, what more can I say?) as their wall of sound blew away the audience.

It was now 2 AM, but our night was hardly over. As we polished off our last drinks in the Bowery Lounge, I was approached by some NY music scenester who wanted to know how I pulled off not dying my hair. He was so relieved to hear that there's still life after letting your hair turn gray naturally, that when we were finished chatting, he invited us to the band’s private aftershow. That’s right; my gray hair actually got me into a rock n roll after party! Take that all you young dudes!

So, our Thursday was topped off downing cocktails with the Earl Greyhound entourage in a sweltering private club just off Houston. When Todd and I were almost busted for peeing in a doorway down the road (there were huge line-ups for the only toilet in the club), we knew it was time to call it a night.

Thursday had taken a lot out of me, but it was now Friday AM and officially the weekend, so we had to get motivated. That’s where the two lattes came in handy. From a rather extensive list of possible activities to choose from, we decided to spend the day at Coney Island. It was an admittedly odd choice, but then again, 2007 is the last year of operation for Astroland, the amusement park portion of this icon of Americana. It would be my last chance to sneak about the rows of tattered sideshow games, calling “Warriors… Warriors… Come out and play!”


Coney Island today is almost an insult to its former glory. What was once a proud example of what America could accomplish has become an eyesore representing in some ways what America has become. The world famous “Wonder Wheel” and “Cyclone” roller coaster are looking worse for wear, and are dwarfed by a back drop of tall brick projects. The amusement parks, at least those that remain open, are home to as many gang bangers as they are to families.

We took it all in from the top of the Wonder Wheel, before risking our lives on the rickety, bone jarring tracks of the Cyclone and finished up by strolling along the boardwalk. It was quite a smorgasbord of sights, sounds and smells. There’s supposed to be a huge 1.5 billion dollar facelift planned for the park, including new condos, hotels and rides. I wonder if these will do a better job of obscuring the projects from the view of tourists?

From Coney Island we headed to a more modern freak show, that of Washington Square Park back in the Village. We grabbed falafels from Mamoun’s world famous shop (the best two dollars I have ever spent!) and lounged for an hour or two watching the jazz performers and all the crazy spectators who were hanging around the fountain in the sunshine.

Flipping through a copy of Time Out NY, we spotted a free jazz concert that evening at the summer soundstage in Central Park, featuring Cassandra Wilson. New York is a very expensive place to live or visit, but it also has plenty of free stuff to help you stretch out your hard earned dollars. We made it to the venue just in time to catch the sunset, while grooving to Cassandra's soulful stylings.


We had a late dinner that night at Peep, a marvelous Thai-fusion restaurant in Soho regularly frequented by Todd. Walking in the door it's immediately obvious that you've entered a hot spot for hip scenesters and foodies alike. The look is sleek and modern, which fits the patrons, while the food is relatively cheap and extremely yummy, which suits me just fine.

However, there was one niggling detail that had to be solved before we left. Why in the world do they call a Thai fusion restaurant Peep? The answer was provided by, of all places, the bathroom. The entire wall of one length of the restaurant was done in mirrors. That's not a bad design idea because all of the rather good looking crowd of primarily female patrons could catch glimpses of themselves. The doors to the two bathrooms, also mirrors, were set flush along the mirrored wall. Women in line were thus able to give a fair amount of attention to themselves while they waited. The trick was that the main wall of the bathroom, including the door, was made from two-way mirrors. As a result, the bathroom occupant was able to observe the entire restaurant while sitting on the throne doing his or her business! A much different sort of "Peep-show" than those offered at Coney Island.

It was getting late, but our bellies were so extended from dinner that we needed to work off the calories before calling it a night. So we wandered through Soho for a few hours, finally ending up at another of Todd’s faves - a downstairs hovel called Fat Cat’s Pub. This place is a basement’s wet dream; a never ending supply of pool tables, foosball, and most importantly, ping pong tables. The style is 70’s family den, complete with old couches and chairs, only they up the ante with live jazz bands to entertain the patrons. And, as I found out, the cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon were disgustingly cheap. Thanks to Todd, I always had one in hand as I challenged the local kids to foosball and embarrassed myself on the pool table.

After getting our fill of heaven’s basement, we stumbled out into the night. Two days down, two to go, and I was still alive. Saturday and Sunday would be no problem, right?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

NYC Here I Come!

OK, it's now official - Facebook is more addictive than sex. I know, I know, it's hard to believe that anything can beat a little of the old "in 'n out", but I tell ya, if I had as much sex as I spend time "facebook-ing", I'd be rawer than an oyster at Rodney's.

It's not all necessarily a waste of time. I've been carrying on discussions about global warming with a number of different people, whose opinions range from "Kyoto is attainable and affordable", to "The Great Global Warming Swindle". That's certainly a topic worth some of my time, yes?

I also rather innocently started an argument over a recent picture of the Beastie Boys, which showed the middle aged rappers striking the tried and true (cliched?) rapper poses. I'm sure you see where this one is going. I mentioned that, despite their constant innovation, the Beastie Boys risk becoming parodies of themselves by not moving beyond those silly hand gestures. Someone took exception to my words, and amongst a plethora of F-bombs, asked if "The Boys" should instead give up and start listening to Glenn Miller. I responded that this person should actually listen to what I was saying, which resulted in a reply laced with even more expletives, and so on, until luckily someone interceded before the gloves came off.

(I still think Madonna would have gotten nowhere if she insisted on continuing to wear her "like a virgin" era outfits, and feel that that description does in fact have relevance in a discussion concerning the future longevity of the Beastie Boys. However, I'm willing to give it up for the sake of maintaining peace in the hallowed halls of Facebook. For now...)

It is also striking to encounter all the new uses for the term Facebook, such as a verb as in "While I was Facebooking...". It is rapidly becoming as adaptable as another oft used "f" word.

But alas, I am putting all that behind me (for at least five days) as my sister and I are about to embark on a trip to NYC.
We've got quite an itinerary planned, including:
- a Broadway play called The Drowsy Chaperon (with backstage passes) written by Don McKellar,
- a Yankees vs Mets game at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx,
- an Earl Greyhound gig (Brooklyn band that was in my top ten list for 2006) at the Bowery Ballroom, and
- eat and drink to excess (of course)!

Not bad for a long weekend, and certainly bloggable. So, even though my life seems to be at risk of giving itself over to the evils of some insidious Internet social program, there may still be hope for Dave's Digglings.

Yeah, right.

Friday, May 18, 2007

They Should Call It CRACKBOOK

So, are you on Facebook yet? Everybody's doing it. In fact, they say there are over 2 million Canadians with profiles on Facebook. Considering that Canada only has about 30 million people, that's a significant percentage of the total population.

What is Facebook? According to their website Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you. It is made up of many networks, each based around a workplace, region, high school or college.
You can use Facebook to:
- Share information with people you know.
- See what's going on with your friends.
- Look up people around you.

However, according to me, Facebook would more appropriately be called "Crackbook". It's that addictive.

Start setting up your personal profile, and you're hooked. You forget about eating or sleeping you're so fixated on describing yourself. It's a clever approach. What better way to get people interested than to get them obsessing over their favorite topic - themselves? And, for those who get really hooked, a profile is never stagnant. Ignore that business deadline, you're too busy revising the section where you listed your favorite quotes. How could you have overlooked that brilliant Kurt Vonnegut quip in the first place?

You see, Facebook draws you in by getting you to best describe yourself so you'll appear clever and hip to others on the network. It's a social thing, after all. Almost more time consuming is deciding what picture to use for your profile. That picture accompanies anything you send to another person, be it a message, a poke or whatever. It better be good!

Once you graduate from the narcissistic world of "me", you suddenly become aware of the even bigger world of "everyone else". At this point, you may as well forget about any real social life. Your world is now online. Your world has become Facebook.

Before you know it, your inbox is flooded with requests from people claiming to be your friend. Want lots of friends? It's that easy. Just keep saying yes. But be careful. Addicts can be very unpredictable, and that's what all your fellow Facebookers are - addicts.

I recommend ignoring "friends" that you've never heard of, or who suddenly reappear in your life after many years of separation. Chances are you weren't communicating with that "old friend" for good reason. Like with a jilted ex-lover, best to keep your distance. An acquaintance of mine is now being "stalked" by an old boyfriend - Facebook style. She accepted his friend request thinking it would be harmless. She is now being inundated with pleas for her to take him back. It didn't work then, it won't work now. Not even in the social world of Facebook.

But it's not just about finding and making friends. There's a whole voyeuristic side to Facebook, as well. You're free to lurk about, sneaking peaks at other people's private lives; their conversations, photos and social networks. It's not only possible, it's downright encouraged. Everything's there - who's dated who, how people met, who's hot, who's not... And, you can do it completely anonymously. Or, if you'd rather, you can march right on in and brazenly announce to the world, the Facebook world that is, that you have arrived!

Now, having read all this you'd think that I've resisted the Facebook urge and remain a distant observer. Ha! Nothing could be further from the truth. Recently I was late for Friday afternoon cocktails with real in-the-flesh people because I was busy chatting with some online pals. Even worse, my blog entries have suffered because I'm spending all my free time snooping around in the dirty laundry of people I don't even know. Pathetically, I haven't even posted a blog entry about my trip to Venezuela!

But all hope is not lost. I'm sure the addiction will soon subside and in no time I'll be writing about the chicas and the beaches. Not yet, however. In the meantime, I do have some photos I'd like to share with you. Wanna see them? No problem. Just check out the photo album I posted on Facebook. Here's the link: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=618406717

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Venezuela Bound

My apologies for the lack of new content around here this month. No excuses, really, but I'm going to make some just the same.


First off, I had a birthday on April 10 that became more like a birthweek! People came out of the woodwork to make big birthday wishes, complete with all the associated goodies and libations. Thanks to everyone for ensuring that I was not in bed before 1 AM on any night between April 6 and April 13. You know who you are, and these massive dark circles now permanently entrenched under my eyes are for you!

Secondly, I have taken up downhill skiing (admittedly rather late in life), and spent last weekend graduating from the bunny hill to intermediate bumps. Having spent many winter days down in river valleys waist deep in water, it was quite a change to spend some time up on the mountain peaks I was previously gazing upon. Here's some proof that I was there:




And last but most certainly not least, I'm about to head off on a Fly Fishing adventure to Venezuela. That's right, starting this Sunday, my buddy Dustin and I will be swilling rum while we wander the massive flats of Los Roques in search of bonefish and tarpon. Sound kinda weird? Well, have a look at this photo and tell me if it still seems weird.



To me it looks like paradise! I'll be sure to provide some updates from paradise upon my return!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The 2000 Club

Big news here at the Digglings today – an accomplishment of sorts. According to my site counter report (which comes out on Mondays), the Digglings had its 2000th visitor sometime last week.

(In reality, the 2000th visit was probably some time ago, as I didn’t install the counter right away, and I’ve been known to inadvertently turn it off from time to time. Still, I have it set to ignore visits from me, so I avoid the temptation to constantly return to the site just to pad the numbers. The counter also distinguishes between unique visits and page views, so if you jump to another page in the site, it doesn’t get added as an extra visit. The 2000th page view was about a year ago. I chose not to celebrate.)

Now, 2000 visitors isn’t much for some sites (most sites, really), but for me it’s an accomplishment that I take pride in. It means that at least a few people are entertained by what appears here, and value it enough to return from time to time. I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel, other than to say “Hey, that makes me feel really, really good!”

In honor of the occasion, I went back and had a look at my very first entry, written on August 24, 2005. In that entry I defined diggling as “random minings of the mind, my mind, in particular”. Since that time, there have been lots of entries (73 in fact!). Admittedly, they have been hit and miss; occasionally over self-indulgent, often riddled with poor grammar (I never did know what a dangling participle was…), sometimes more ranting than necessary. But in the end, each entry represents thoughts and experiences that I felt were worth sharing, and the fact that so many people have dropped by since that first entry means that in many cases, I was on the right track.

So, this entry really isn’t about bragging rights. Instead, it’s a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you who feels inclined to visit the Digglings - my Digglings.

I tell people that I write for myself. In a way, I’m a big fat liar. I write to communicate, to share. It takes more than one to share, and I thank each of you for sharing with me.

Here’s to our next 2000 visits!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Perfect Cassette

I sold my Explorer the other day and while cleaning it out found an old cassette tape I had made for a girlfriend something like 12 years ago (1994?).
Yes, for many years I was obsessed with creating the perfect mix tape, just like the guy in High Fidelity. It was an art that I took very seriously, perhaps a little too seriously.
Besides trying to manage recording levels, I'd be fixated on choosing just the right song order. The opening song was crucial, it had to be engaging but couldn't give away too much. From there, the songs had to progressively build until really letting loose around track 3 or 4. But, I had to be careful not to completely blow my whole wad so early. The tape still had to ebb and flow cohesively, involving just the right combination of bands that no one had ever heard before (to show how cool I was) along with more familiar songs (to show I wasn't a total music snob).
The cassette tape format, being two sided, provided additional options for creativity. Side one could consist primarily of quieter "singer/songwriter" or "emo" tracks, while side two would be chockablock full of "ear bleeders". Or, once the first side was completed, the challenge would be to mimic the same progression of music on the second side, repeating the rise and fall of the songs and creating the same changes in emotion, only doing it even better.
The final song on each side was arguably as important as the opening track. It had to be an epic, preferably one of those long songs that started very softly and passed through a series of peaks and valleys before finally blowing the speakers off your stereo. Either that, or it would be a long slow dirge that would dig down to your soul, leaving you hopelessly exposed by the time the tape machine clicked off.
So, I spent the other night listening to that tape for the first time in at least 10 years. What a treat, and what a walk down a musical memory lane! Ultra Vivid Scene, Pavement (Cut Your Hair), Sebadoh (Brand New Love), The Fluid (Tip Top Toy), Low Pop Suicide, The Big F, Blind Melon, The Pixies, New Order, firehose (Losers, Boozers and Heroes), etc, etc, etc. But even more so, it brought back a connection to that passion for pop music that drove so many of us back then, and still drives a few of us today.
Let's see now, I'm planning to attend four concerts in local clubs in the next two weeks. I'd say the passion's still there...