Saturday, December 29, 2007

The end of 2007

Hope everybody had a good Christmas, and that Santa brought you everything you wanted. I was hoping to have some time to relax after working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but instead wound up starting the next work week early. Sometimes I feel like I should set up a cot in the breakroom and move out here.

While you're tooling around the web looking for fun stuff to occupy you next week, be sure to take part in the Old Farmer's Almanac Presidential Straw Poll. The cool thing about this poll is that the Almanac will donate in the name of the winning candidates from each party a day's worth of food for an animal at the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in California and The Elephant Sanctuary right down the road in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Both of these organizations do excellent work in rescuing these animals and providing them with a place they can call home. They certainly appreciate the support.

My New Year's resolutions are the same as always: exercise more, eat better, become more organized, and read more educational stuff and less junk. Most of these resolutions will be broken by mid-January. Use the comment box below to share any neat Christmas presents you received, any resolutions of your own, or just to say hi. I'll see you in 2008.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Holidays from The Hill

The blog's taking a break for a few days, not that I need a holiday to do that. Have a safe and merry Christmas, and watch it with the eggnog.

Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", arguably the best contemporary Christmas song. At least it's my favorite.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My place in the dictionary

Some more blog filler for ya, courtesy of Mixter.

dr sardonicus --

A person who has the ability to be invisible
'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at

That's the beauty of the internets, my friends.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dan Fogelberg

It's been tough finding time to post the last couple of days, but I do need to say something on Dan Fogelberg, who passed away Sunday at age 56 after battling prostate cancer for the last several years.

To me, Fogelberg was a middling talent at best - sappy love songs like "Longer" undermined his more substantial rock, folk, and bluegrass efforts. Despite the saccharine balladry of his commercial peak, I hold several of his albums in high regard. The Joe Walsh-produced Souvenirs was his first successful album and a favorite of my high school years. The disc includes his first hit, "Part Of The Plan", the up-tempo, folkish "Morning Sky", and the tough-rocking "The Raven" (featuring Walsh on lead guitar). Also included is one of Fogelberg's best ballads, "Illinois", about a young man's longing to return to his roots (Fogelberg was born and raised in Peoria, and attended the University of Illinois).

The lushly-orchestrated Nether Lands spent a lot of time on my turntable in my dorm room my freshman year of college. The title track is a lovely evocation of the beauty of the high country, while "Love Gone By" is another fine up-tempo rocker. Twin Sons Of Different Mothers, his collaboration with Tim Weisberg, is perhaps his most interesting album of the period. An adept fusion of folk and jazz, the disc features the hit "The Power Of Gold". Phoenix hasn't held up so well over the years, but it contains my favorite Fogelberg song, the anti-nuke "Face The Fire". The LP also features the aforementioned "Longer", the first in a string of hit ballads including "Same Old Lang Syne" (about a chance encounter with an ex-girlfriend in a convenience store) and "Leader Of The Band", a song about his father, a musician and high school band teacher. After the hits dried up, he continued to release well-regarded albums like the bluegrass-oriented High Country Snows up until the time of his cancer diagnosis. Above all, Fogelberg was well-liked and respected by his peers, and held his fans in high regard. Dan Fogelberg seems to have been one of the genuinely nice guys in the music field.

Neither "Face The Fire" nor "Morning Sky" is readily available on the internets, so I'll give you "These Days", a strong track from his Captured Angel LP that got a lot of FM airplay at the time, but today is almost forgotten.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Baseball on steroids

The Tennessean put together an all-star team of players implicated in the Mitchell Report of steroid use. It's a lineup that could have won a championship or two:

C: Benito Santiago
1B: Mark McGwire
2B: Chuck Knoblauch
SS: Miguel Tejada
3B: Ken Caminiti
LF: Gary Sheffield
CF: Lenny Dykstra
RF: Barry Bonds
DH: Rafael Palmiero
RHP: Roger Clemens
LHP: Andy Pettite
RP: Eric Gagne


Surprisingly little has been said about George Mitchell's ties to major league baseball in general, and the Boston Red Sox in particular. Dave Zirin has a scathing article up at Counterpunch describing those ties, as well as how the Mitchell Report lets the owners off the hook.


I also like what Alxfritz has to say at Viva El Birdos:

(A)s for the players: i’m not asking any of them to apologize. but i am asking them to be honest. if a guy juiced, then let’s out with it. “there was a widespread steroid culture in the game, and i was one of the many who participated in it.” is that so hard to say? the steroid cheats who’ve been honest about their use --- ryan franklin, for example --- aren’t dogged by it; they tell the truth, submit to the corresponding penalty (if any), and move on with their careers, without condemnation. it’s the liars who draw all the grief, and deservedly so.

That post also has a link to the complete Mitchell Report for anyone with the patience to wade through it.


One of the striking things about the report is that it names a number of players who used growth hormones and related substances in order to reduce the time needed to recover from injuries. Once again, it all goes back to the owners pressuring players to get back in the lineup so the players can keep their jobs and so everyone involved could keep making the big money.

The Mitchell Report took so long to come out that baseball has more-or-less dealt with the problem by now in their own unique fashion. They basically let the old juicers retire while threatening the current generation of ballplayers with serious trouble if they get caught using steroids. Barry Bonds has effectively been blackballed - wonder if they'll do the same with Roger Clemens? (I wouldn't bet on it.) If they're going to be fair, it looks like there's going to be a lot of asterisks headed to Cooperstown in the next several years, as I can't see the Hall Of Fame freezing out an entire generation of ballplayers.

Once again, the Mitchell Report makes apparent the hypocrisy of making the players responsible for a practice that was legal at the time while dealing baseball ownership and Commissioner Bud Selig a slap on the wrist at best.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ike Turner

Ike Turner, the legendary R&B and rock musician, performer, talent scout and producer, passed away Wednesday at age 76. Despite his numerous musical accomplishments, Turner's career will forever be overshadowed by his abusive treatment of his ex-wife, Tina, who was also Ike's performing partner for nearly 20 years before going on to her hugely successful solo career.

Ike Turner was right there at the beginning of rock 'n' roll. In the late 40's he put together a group, The Kings Of Rhythm, that specialized in the jump blues and hard R&B sounds that were emerging in the postwar years. In 1951, Ike and his band, featuring Jackie Brenston on lead vocals and saxophone, came to Sam Phillips' Sun Recording Studios in Memphis to record a fresh batch of songs. One of the tunes Ike Turner wrote for those sessions was "Rocket 88", on which Turner played piano while Brenston sang lead. Nick Tosches described the glory of this early rock classic:

While the song itself may or may not have been original, its performance surely was. The overcharged amplification of Willie Kizart's electric guitar, the careening glissandi and manic triplets issuing from Ike Turner's piano (it is not improbable that six years later, when he came upon Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Phillips, whose Christian capitalist eyes had seen in Elvis a white boy who sang like a black, saw in Jerry Lee a white boy who played piano like the odd, intense colored fellow, Ike Turner, whom he had witnessed this cold March day), Raymond Hill's post-melodic saxophone shriekings, Willie Sims's trash-can drumming, and the raw, heartfelt degeneracy of Jackie Brenston's singing, shouting, and yelping - the whole of these parts was a sound so loudly and luridly shocking, so preposterous in its celebration of booze, broads, and repossessed cars, that it was difficult to perceive where its brilliance ended and its lunacy began.

All you youngsters out there need to click the link and listen to "Rocket 88", and perhaps even bookmark it so you have something to refer to whenever I show indifference to whatever modern acts you're knocked out by at the moment.

Sam Phillips sold the recordings to Chess Records in Chicago. While the sides Turner sang lead on were credited to Ike Turner And His Rhythm Kings, Chess credited "Rocket 88" to Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats, one of the many perceived career slights that made Turner furious. Ike's anger only rose further when audiences and radio favored "Rocket 88" over his own vocal performances. As the song rose to #1 in the R&B charts, tensions grew between Turner and Brenston to the point that Brenston eventually left the group. Turner would end up re-hiring a down-on-his-luck Brenston a few years later, under the condition that Brenston was forbidden from performing "Rocket 88".

Ike Turner moved his base of operations to St. Louis in the mid-50's, and began concentrating more on his electric guitar playing as amplified blues and R&B became more popular. Turner contributed his guitar work to blues classics such as Howlin' Wolf's "How Many More Times" and Otis Rush's "Double Trouble". But Turner's career really began to soar after Annie Mae Bullock, a teenager recently arrived from the West Tennessee cotton fields, got up on stage with Ike during an East St. Louis nightclub gig and started belting out the blues in a unique raspy style. Ike gave her a job with his band, changed her name to Tina, and together they began one of the most tempestuous partnerships in entertainment history.

Ike was still married to his first wife when he began his relationship with Tina. She would quickly learn that she was not the only woman in Ike's life; it seemed as though Ike had girlfriends in nearly every town they played, and he would often flaunt these women in front of Tina. Tina was also often subject to physical abuse, dramatized years later in the biopic What's Love Got To Do With It. Ike's anger problems were increasingly fueled by cocaine abuse, which by the end of the 60's was spiraling out of control. For his part, Ike always claimed that he was unfairly portrayed in the movie, yet in his autobiography offered this admission of guilt: "Sure, I've slapped Tina. We had fights and there have been times when I punched her without thinking," he wrote. "But I never beat her. ... I did no more to Tina than I would mind somebody doing to my mother in the same circumstances." Ike says the producers of What's Love Got To Do With It offered him $40,000 not to sue, which he accepted in order to pay some of his cocaine debts.

Despite their now-legendary status, the recording career of Ike & Tina Turner was for the most part hit-and-miss. Ike's approach to recording was mostly slapdash, as he was unwilling to spend a penny more than absolutely necessary in the studio. Tina wouldn't realize her full potential as a vocalist until the 80's, when she was out from under Ike. After a couple of early hits, "A Fool In Love" and "It's Gonna Work Out Fine", the duo's chart success would be sporadic. They paid the bills with grueling tours on the southern R&B circuit. By the end of the decade, their live reputation had grown to where they earned a slot opening for the Rolling Stones. With that momentum driving their career, their cover of "Proud Mary" became their biggest hit. But as the 70's wore on, Ike's drug use, womanizing, and abuse of Tina only became worse, and after one last hit, "Nutbush City Limits", the pair split up for good.

Ike Turner would spend the rest of his life chasing the limelight he enjoyed in the 60's and early 70's. His reputation now damaged, he stayed on the road, married a couple of more times (in an interview he claimed to have been married 14 times, but this has never been substantiated), and continued to do coke. I seem to recall him returning to St. Louis a few times during the 80's, where he would give interviews boasting that he was coming back bigger than ever. One time he announced plans to build a luxury hotel and casino along the depressed East St. Louis riverfront, bigger and better than anything in Las Vegas. Always there were big plans, and always there was something keeping Ike Turner from realizing his dreams, always someone blocking Ike Turner from taking his rightful place next to Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and the rest of the great 50's rockers. He seemed incapable of accepting the possibility that many of the problems he faced could have been caused by himself.

Eventually Turner's drug problems caught up with him, as he found himself convicted in 1989 of drug and weapons charges. Inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame in 1991, he was unable to attend due to his imprisonment. Released in 1993, he returned to recording, performing, and boasting. He recorded a string of well-regarded blues albums, culminating in the Grammy-winning Risin' With The Blues early in 2007. Yet his reputation continued to dog him to the end. In September, St. Louis musicians wanted to honor him with an "Ike Turner Day", but the mayor turned down their request.

Ike Turner leaves behind a string of accomplishments matched by few in the music field. Yet above all, Turner's life stands as a lesson in how one should be careful in how they treat others, for you never know how it will come back to haunt you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bad DJ

I've seen and heard enough tales of scams in my lifetime that I've become almost numb to them. But to me, this story rates up there with the televangelists who bilk senior citizens out of their retirement savings:

Their voices choked by anger and tears, victims of radio personality Todd Kelly yesterday accused him of betraying them and the community by faking Lou Gehrig's disease and spending more than $120,000 raised for research on himself.

"Todd didn't kill anyone -- what he did was worse," one of his friends and former colleagues, Chrissie Sizemore, said before U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley Jr. sentenced Todd Edward Smith to seven years in prison.

"He used his friends and the community like suckers to fund his own rock-star lifestyle," Sizemore said, "to pay for trips and drinking and partying."


Smith duped friends, fellow church members and the media when he announced that he had ALS, a progressive and incurable neuromuscular disease that eventually paralyzes those it afflicts, leaving them unable to eat or breathe.

"I'm not going to lie -- it's pretty rough," he told The Courier-Journal for a story about his "wonderful life all but doomed to a premature end."

On the Web site for his foundation, he promised that "over 80 cents of every dollar you give goes straight to scientific research."

Ramping up the sympathy, he later announced he had cancer in both legs and that eventually he would have to have them amputated.

But ALS patients and their families started to notice that Smith's illness didn't seem to be progressing, and media began to raise questions about whether Smith was really ill.

There was a time in my life that I considered a career in radio, which is what I suppose caused this story to have an impact with me. All media personalities are in a sense keepers of the public trust. But the one-to-one aspect of radio listening makes for a special bond between the DJ and his or her audience. The best disc jockeys understand this well; nearly all of them can recall listening to a particular DJ growing up whose impact was so powerful that it inspired them to make radio their career. A master radio personality can truly make you feel as though they are having a conversation directly with you, and that you and the DJ are the only ones involved. Todd Smith betrayed that trust, that special bond his listeners shared with him, which is what makes his actions especially heinous.

In addition, frauds such as Smith make it that much harder for organizations who are genuinely involved in research and treatment of debilitating diseases such as ALS to raise money. Smith's actions may cost someone actually suffering from ALS needed care and treatment. The judge could have sentenced Todd Smith to 80 years in prison; as it stands, the seven-year sentence Smith received seems a bit too light.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I'm Going Home

Bear with me for another couple of days of lazy blogging. I can't believe I forgot this one when I did my last adrenaline rush a few months back. Ten Years After's "I'm Going Home" is one of the high points from Woodstock, and explains how Alvin Lee came to be known as "The Fastest Guitar In The West". Make yourself a good strong pot of coffee and get amped up for work or Christmas shopping.

"Woodstock was an accident," says Alvin. "It was disorganised and that's what was great about it. It was never meant to be that big of a deal. It was declared a National Disaster Area wasn't it?" he laughs. "To me the star of Woodstock was the audience. "I've got a jumble of memories. The most vivid is the journey in, because we could only get within about ten miles of the site and no nearer, the roads were all jammed. So we bundled into an army helicopter with an open side and I had a safety harness on. I was dangling out of the helicopter over half-a-million people.
"Backstage, there was a lot of politics and bartering over who was going on before who. I didn't get involved in it. I went for a walk around the lake and joined in with the audience and saw it from the other side of the stage. It was great. No-one knew who I was, but people were offering me food and drink being really friendly. There wasn't so much camaraderie backstage. There's been a "Maybe it was the age we all were, but there seemed a lot more ego problems in the '60s".

-Alvin Lee on Woodstock

Friday, December 07, 2007

Return of the randomizer

I last did one of these random music memes a few months back. I figure it's a good way to show off what's in the CD changer. The randomizer is capable of providing anything from the deeply profound to the incredibly silly, which makes it perfect for busy weeks like this one.

The current version of randomness comes from a place called Kate's World. Kate tagged 24 Crayons, but she doesn't have anything with random play capabilities. Therefore, looking for something relatively easy to fill space this week, I volunteered to take this meme off her hands.

The rules, as handed down by Kate:

1. Put your music player on Shuffle
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER WHAT(this is in capital letters, so it is very serious.)

It's kinda like the magic 8-ball. Feed the 200-disc CD changer some questions, and it will spit out the answers. Some of its insights are quite surprising. For our questions, we will use boldface, because it's impolite to shout on the internets.

1. If someone says "Is this OK", you say:
"Trilogy" (Emerson Lake and Palmer)

2. What would best describe your personality?
"SWLABR" (Cream)

3. What do you like in a guy/girl?
"I'll Go Crazy" (James Brown)

4. How do you feel today?
“The Night Inside Me" (Jackson Browne)

5. What is your life's purpose?
"How Can I Refuse" (Heart)

6. What is your motto?
"Territorial Pissings" (Nirvana)

7. What do your friends think of you?
“Into The Great Wide Open" (Tom Petty)

8. What do you think of your parents?
“Darker Light" (Nadine)

9. What do you think about very often?
“Is She Really Going Out With Him?" (Joe Jackson)

10. What is 2+2?
“Rock 'n' Roll High School" (Ramones)

11. What do you think of your best friend?
"Nowhere To Run" (Santana)

12. What do you think of the person you like?
“Four Sticks" (Led Zeppelin)

13. What is your life story?
“Thirty And Confused" (Ezio)

14. What do you want to be when you grow up?
“Bodhisattva" (Steely Dan)

15. What do you think whan you see the person you like?
“Let Me Take You Home Tonight" (Boston)

16. What do your parents think of you?
“China" (Tori Amos)

17. What will you dance to at your wedding?
"Suitcase" (Badfinger)

18. What will they play at your funeral?
“Anyday" (Derek and the Dominoes)

19. What is your hobby/interest?
“Twilight" (U2)

20. What is your biggest secret?
“President Garfield" (Juliana Hatfield)

21. What do you think of your friends?
“For The Want Of A Nail" (Todd Rundgren)

22. What should you post this as?
“Warfare" (Uncle Tupelo)

Due to the circumstances, anyone who has random play capabilities is welcome to try this out.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Day shift

My employers have re-assigned me to the day shift after seven years of the night life. At this point I have no idea if it's a permanent move or not. I have learned that one cannot take anything pertaining to employment with this outfit for granted. I do appreciate not feeling tired all the time, and actually having energy to do things on my days off. The only drawback to this shift is not being able to attend church on Sunday, but the days I went I was sleeping through most of the service anyway.

One thing being affected by the new work schedule is this here blog. On the night shift there was ample down time for web surfing that doesn't exist in the daytime. Basically there's just too much going on to devote much time to extracurricular activities. Even during the weekend, it seems you never know who's going to pop up. Until I can get a new routine worked out, I may be slow in posting and getting around the neighborhood to visit you folks.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel, the daredevil motocyclist who became a pop-culture icon in the 70's and a hero to millions of kids, passed away Friday at age 69.

At his peak, Knievel's daring stunts and brushes with death made him a household name. Growing up in the 70's, Knievel inspired countless kids to soup up their bicycles, buy motocross bikes, and do many ill-advised things on bikes and motorcycles. In our neighborhood, the track circling a telephone switching station served as the scene for daily bicycle races, while the drop-off behind the station was ideal for bike and motorbike jumping, often accompanied by shouts of "I'm Evel Knievel!" from us kids.

Robert Craig Knievel was a fine athlete in high school, excelling at ski-jumping, hockey, and track. Always possessed with a restless spirit, Knievel found life in his hometown of Butte, Montana boring. He dropped out of school, had trouble holding a job, and drifted into petty theft, which resulted in several run-ins with the law. Knievel found himself in the Butte jail one night in a cell next to that of one of the local hoodlums, known as "Awful" Knofel. The night jailer remarked that "Awful" Knofel was staying next to "Evil" Knievel. The nickname stuck, although Knievel would change the spelling since he didn't want his name associated with anything truly despicable.

Deciding to straighten his life out, Knievel joined the Army and made 30 jumps as a paratrooper. After his discharge, he tried his hand at semi-pro hockey, and then turned to motorcycle racing. After falling in a race and breaking some bones, he gave that up and became co-owner of a motorcycle shop. As a publicity stunt, he agreed to jump his motorcycle over 40 feet of parked cars, a box of rattlesnakes, and past a tethered mountain lion. Setting the tone for much of Knievel's career, the jump didn't go as planned - Knievel landed on the rattlesnakes. Nevertheless, Evel Knievel had finally found his true calling.

He put together a group, Evel Knievel And His Motorcycle Daredevils, which lasted a short time before he went solo. Motorcycle stuntmen were a dime a dozen in the 60's working county fairs and car shows from coast to coast. Knievel decided to distinguish himself by undertaking longer, higher, and more dangerous jumps than anybody - the American way. He made his rep on New Years Day 1968 by jumping the fountain at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. He cleared the fountain but crash-landed, leaving him with a fractured skull, broken pelvis, hips and ribs. Knievel was unconscious for a month. When he came to, he found himself a star.

Over the next decade, he became the stuff of legend with his Captain America image, Harley motorcycles, and his increasingly daring stunts. He became a fixture of programs such as ABC's Wide World Of Sports. His jumps frequently ended in disaster, resulting in numerous broken bones and concussions. Knievel claimed to had broken every bone in his body at one time or another. His most famous act was his attempted jump of the Snake River Canyon, which Knievel decided upon after the Department of the Interior refused his request to jump the Grand Canyon. The chute on Knievel's rocket cycle deployed early, and he fell to a landing on the bank of the Snake River. Knievel still made $6 million for his attempt.

Knievel retired from bike-jumping in 1981, and spent the rest of his life dealing with legal, financial, domestic, and health problems. The IRS came after him for over $4 million in back taxes. His first wife left him after he was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer. He was pulled over for a traffic stop, and his car was full of unregistered firearms. Throughout all this, his health slowly deteriorated. The broken bones gave Knievel constant mobility problems. He was diabetic, and suffered pulmonary fibrosis. He contracted hepatitis C as a result of one of his surgeries, and required a liver transplant in 1999. The combination of factors led to Knievel's death.

Throughtout Knievel's last years, though, the legend continued to grow. He signed marketing deals with Harley-Davidson and Little Caesar's Pizza, and bolstered his hard-living rebel image in a series of cantankerous interviews. By the time of his death, Knievel had truly become a larger-than-life anti-hero.

If you're too young to remember, here's the Caesar's Palace jump that made Evel Knievel famous. With almost 40 years hindsight, we can wonder whether this was an act of incredible daring, or one of monumental stupidity.