Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Happy 20th birthday, Tara

Since I am apparently the last person on the internets without a camera, I haven't participated in the fine activity of catblogging. Today is a special day, though, because Tara (pronounced tar-ra) turns 20 years old. We don't have many good pictures of Tara - this one is from a few Christmases back.

We have been fortunate to have had two cats reach the 20-year milestone. Maltese, our male, turned 20 in 2005, and was only five weeks short of his 21st birthday when he passed away. Now we have Tara celebrating 20 years.

Tara was only six weeks old when her litter appeared in an ad for "Free Kittens". The kittens were out in the garage where their mother had given birth to them. Five kittens were desperately trying to get our attention, all looking super cute, as if they were saying "Pick me! Pick me!" Then, from underneath a motorcycle comes a tiny, squalling, greasy furball. She walked up to Mrs. S., then looked her squarely in the eye and hissed at her. My wife then said, "I like her attitude. I want her." Of course, Tara believes she is of royal parentage and refuses to acknowledge such humble beginnings.

As it turned out, Tara would need that attitude in our house. She grew up to be mostly hair, and she never weighed more than six pounds. Our other two cats, Maltese and Desiree, grew to be 15 pounds apiece, and after we moved into a house, Tara also had to contend with two German Shepherds and two Rottweilers. Tara compensated by developing the loudest, most insistent mouth in the family. Early on, she figured out to sharply meow constantly until her needs were met.

Tara also became the quickest and most agile of the family. One of her favorite pastimes as a youngster was climbing up and walking on the curtain rods like a high wire. For years, she would like to ride on my shoulders, looking down upon the rest to remind them that they couldn't do that. She could outrun anyone in the house, though the dogs never bothered the cats much. Her biggest troubles would come from Desiree. They would engage in noisy catfights at all hours, frequently ending with Tara scampering away at top speed, and Desiree emerging with a mouthful of Tara's hair.

Tara's old mates are all gone now, and her only companionship besides us is a six-month old cockatiel named Thalia, who Tara looks down upon with exasperation and bemusement. She looks at Thalia as though she can't quite figure out the alien ways of a bird, and at this point in her life she has no particular desire to learn. Tara's curtain rod days are over as well. She spends most of her time nowadays sunning herself on her perch in the dining room window, where she has a panoramic view of Pole Hill, with the flowers, birds, and other critters. The rest of the time she spends napping on the couch, where she is disappointed if her Mom doesn't join her. When Mrs. S. is up and about in the house, Tara frequently chases after her, smacking my wife's ankles with her paws to try to get her to lay down so they can cuddle.

We plan a day of many ear scratches and chin rubs, and many reminders of how beautiful she is. Being told that she's beautiful is Tara's favorite compliment. For supper tonight, we'll have Tara's favorite meal, Kentucky Fried Chicken, before eventually laying down for more cuddling.

Happy birthday, Tara!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day

As of Sunday, May 25, 2008, at least 4,081 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

'Nuff said.

Utah Phillips

Folksinger, storyteller, poet and activist Utah Phillips passed away Friday. He was 73 years old.

Born Bruce Phillips in Cleveland, Ohio, he ran away from home as a teenager to ride the rails, adopting the hobo lifestyle and learning folk songs. He joined the Army in 1956 and was stationed in postwar Korea; the devastation of war that he witnessed in that country influenced his future views. After leaving the Army, Phillips settled in Salt Lake City and began working with Ammon Hennacy of the Catholic Worker Movement. Together they established the Joe Hill House, a homeless shelter named after the famous labor activist. He spent eight years working with Hennacy, and in 1968 ran for the US Senate on the Utah Peace And Freedom Party ticket.

During this period he also met folksinger Rosalie Sorrels, who began singing his songs and encouraging Phillips to perform as well. He adopted the name U. Utah Phillips after that of a singer he admired, T. Texas Tyler, and over the years became a fixture on the folk circuit.

He was not exactly a household name. Most likely, if you're not familiar with folk music or active in progressive politics or the labor movement, you probably never heard of Utah Phillips. Over the years, though, Phillips has been important in keeping American folk music traditions alive. He maintained his love of the railroads and had an impressive repertoire of rail and hobo songs. Possessing a wry sense of humor, he recorded songs like "Moose Turd Pie", a tall tale about repairing track in the southwestern desert. He also recorded and performed a number of labor and antiwar songs. Among his fans was Ani DiFranco, who recorded with Phillips and signed him to her Righteous Babe label. Without Phillips and other performers like him, many of America's great musical traditions might be lost.

An excellent interview with Phillips appeared in the Progressive magazine a few years ago. Also, here's Phillips performing at the Strawberry Music Festival in California in 2007:

I spent a long time finding my way—couches, floors, big towns, small towns, marginal pay (folk wages). But I found that people seemed to like what I was doing. The folk music family took me in, carried me along, and taught me the value of song far beyond making a living. It taught me that I don't need wealth, I don't need power, and I don't need fame. What I need is friends, and that's what I found—everywhere—and not just among those on the stage, but among those in front of the stage as well. . . . The future? I don't know. But I have songs in a folder I've never paid attention to, and songs inside me waiting for me to bring them out. Through all of it, up and down, it's the song. It's always been the song.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Just thought I'd ask

It's probably a foregone conclusion, but I'm in the middle of working 60 hours this week and have nothing better to put up here right now. Besides, you may surprise me...

The inevitability of the whole thing is starting to bug me a bit; we'd be advised to heed the wise words of Mario Cuomo:

But the Democratic process has been very, very flawed. In its design, it’s supposed to go through to the end to a convention, and at the convention is the only place where the votes count. Most people don’t understand that all the counts that have already been— all the contests that have already been held did not produce votes. They produced pledges, which probably would be lived up to at the convention.

Once upon a time, the conventions meant something. They may again this year.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Today's chuckle

Father-in-law strikes again:

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Mc Cain were flying to a debate.

Barack looked at Hillary, chuckled and said, 'You know I could throw a $1,000 bill out of the window right now and make somebody very happy.'

Hillary shrugged her shoulders and replied, 'I could throw ten $100 bills out of the window and make ten people very happy.'

John added, 'That being the case, I could throw one hundred $10 bills out of the window and make a hundred people very happy.'

Hearing their exchange, the pilot rolled his eyes and said to his copilot, 'Such big-shots back there. I could throw all three of them out of the window and make 156 million people very happy.'

My father-in-law still keeps up. He spent his career active in the Steelworker's Union; at one time he was a state officer. He also served 12 years as an alderman in his town. I've been scared to bring up the election with him, though, especially since the three remaining candidates are members of groups (blacks, women, Republicans) that he feels are unqualified to serve as occupants of the White House.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Album project: A's end

April Wine, The Whole World's Goin' Crazy (1976): Canadian rockers April Wine have been slugging it out since the late 60's. During the 70's, lead vocalist/guitarist/chief songwriter Myles Goodwin led the band to superstar status in their home country, and by the end of the decade, April Wine was starting to make inroads into the American market. They scored an early Top 40 hit in the States in 1972 with "You Could Have Been A Lady", but as their status grew in Canada, consistent success south of the border continued to elude them. Occasionally a track or two would sneak onto American album rock stations near the border, an example being "Oowatanite" from their Stand Back LP.

The Whole World's Goin' Crazy, their fifth release, went platinum in Canada on advance sales alone. By this time April Wine's signature style of hard-edged rockers mixed with romantic balladry was well established. The energetic "Shot Down" earned the group scattered airplay on American FM radio, again mostly in the upper Midwest. The high points, though, are the Canadian hit "Like A Lover, Like A Song" and "Wings of Love", two fine Goodwin ballads showcasing a softer side that was about to pay big dividends for the group.

The raucous "Roller" from First Glance finally gave April Wine their American breakthrough and ushered in the group's period of greatest success. From 1978-82, April Wine was a top concert draw while releasing albums like Harder Faster and The Nature Of The Beast that proved the band had their formula down cold. Energy-charged tunes like "I Like To Rock" and "Sign Of The Gypsy Queen" rocked arenas, while ballads like "Say Hello" and "Just Between You And Me", their biggest hit, provided a nice change of pace. In 1983, an exhausted Goodwin moved to the Bahamas and the band went into hiatus. Goodwin returned to Canada in 1988 and the group resumed touring and recording. April Wine continues to go at it to this day, remaining a top concert draw in Canada.

Kevin Ayers, The Confessions Of Dr. Dream And Other Stories (1974): The eccentric Ayers first came to attention as a member of British psychedelic group Soft Machine. In that group, Ayers' mellifluous baritone provided the compliment to Robert Wyatt's reedy tenor. Following Soft Machine's first American tour, Ayers abruptly quit the band and retreated to the beaches of Ibiza to write songs and lounge in the sun. This established a career pattern of periods of prolific work followed by extended tropical vacations.

Ayers hit a career peak of sorts in the early 70's with his trilogy Whatevershebringswesing, Bananamour, and The Confessions of Dr. Dream and Other Stories. These albums feature a whimsical mix of folk, psychedelia, and the avant-garde, and Ayers' unique voice. The discs were well-received in the UK, placing him on the fringes of Britain's progressive scene. Partly due to Ayers' reluctance to tour here, they are barely known in the States, where he's regarded as a curiosity at best.

Dr. Dream was a decent seller in the UK and remains Kevin Ayers' biggest commercial success. The LP marks the beginning of Ayers' partnership with guitarist Ollie Halsall which continued until the latter's death in 1992. Once again, Ayers mixes rock, blues, psychedelia, and the just plain weird. Side one is Ayers at his best, with the upbeat "Day By Day", the soulful shoulda-been-a-hit "Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought Of You", and the melancholy "Everybody's Sometime And Some People's All The Time Blues". There's also the somnambulent, eight-minute "It Begins With A Blessing But It Ends With A Curse", a reworking of Soft Machine's "Why Are We Sleeping?" The second half consists mostly of the suite, "The Confessions Of Dr. Dream", where Ayers puts all his goofy weirdness on display for close to 19 minutes.

"Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought Of You", from a 1981 Spanish TV performance, gives you a feel for Ayers' unique talents:

Following the release of one more album in 1976, Yes We Have No Mañanas, Ayers once again withdrew to the tropics for a lengthy vacation. During the 80's and 90's, he recorded sporadically while battling some nasty drug addictions. In recent years Ayers has gotten back on his feet and started recording again, including the recent The Unfairground. Fans of the eccentric will enjoy checking out his website. I love this message: "Kevin is aware of the internet, but he doesn't have a computer let alone an internet connection. He wishes people still sent telegrams." My kind of guy.

Aztec Camera, High Land, Hard Rain (1983): Fans of early 80's Brit-pop like Culture Club and Haircut 100 will enjoy Aztec Camera. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Roddy Frame was the main creative force behind the Scottish-based group that enjoyed a run of British success in the mid-80's. High Land, Hard Rain was the group's debut; a collection of pleasant enough guitar-pop that lacks punch, and Frame isn't a strong enough singer to put the songs across. Apart from an acoustic cover of Van Halen's "Jump", the single "Oblivious" was the only Aztec Camera track to get much attention in the US. "Oblivious" was an MTV hit of sorts, and may bring back memories for some of you 80's heads:

Shit, if I'd have known the A's were going to take five months, I would never have started this. The B's will probably take the rest of this year if I don't step it up...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Mo' filler fo' ya. Mrs. S. is unhappy with the color of the kitchen, for the second time in three years.

"Intellectually" Intelligent

You're 'Intellectually Intelligent.' That pretty much means that you're good with theoretical ideas and concepts - but this comes to you naturally. More or less, you're a natural brainiac. Good for you.

80% theoretical intelligence
60% natural intelligence

Take this quiz at

Now, if I were only smart enough to figure out the diagram...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

While killing time on the internets, I discovered that today is the 100th anniversary of Mother's Day. The idea for Mother's Day came from a woman named Anna Jarvis, whose mother remarked to her that somebody should create a memorial to mothers. In 1908, Jarvis organized the first Mother's Day service at her church, where her mother had taught Sunday school for over 20 years. President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution in 1914 that officially made Mother's Day the second Sunday in May.

Ironically, Jarvis came to despise the commerciality that sprang up around the holiday she created. She was even arrested for disturbing the peace when she protested at a Mother's Day celebration held in New York some years later. Jarvis was unhappy that the day had turned into an excuse to sell candy and greeting cards. She had intended for it to be a celebration of old-fashioned motherhood, and thought the ideal Mother's Day gift was a white carnation, signifying the purity of motherhood.

Most women today, though, wouldn't care for many facets of old-fashioned motherhood, as this Christian Science Monitor article suggests:

"It's not a time to be romanticized," says Stephanie Coontz, a historian and author of "Marriage: A History." "Mothers in 1908 spent less time mothering than they do today. Even in the middle classes, they spent much less time with their kids than we would have imagined."

One reason for this time deficit involves work. "Most families needed several wage earners," Ms. Coontz says. "Women took in boarders, did sewing at home, cleaning, and all sorts of jobs that weren't counted as jobs on the Census but were time-consuming."

A photo from that era shows a mother balancing a baby on her lap while she assembles cigarettes at her kitchen table. Two other children stand nearby.

Even mothers without paid employment labored endlessly doing housework. In 1908, a New York settlement worker estimated that the average woman, even in middle-class families, spent 40 hours a week just cleaning and shopping. Laundry was an arduous, two-day task, washing one day and ironing the next. Wood and coal stoves required tending and cleaning.

Like my grandpa used to say, the "good ol' days" weren't necessarily so good.

And then we have Kansas Congressman Todd Tiahrt:

Immediately after Congress agreed, unanimously, to "celebrate the role of Mothers in the United States" and support Mother's Day, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, stood and called for a second vote. He then joined 177 other GOP Congressmen in voting to re-think the matter.

Tiahrt did this because Republicans were angry that the Democrats had shut them out of the debate on funding of troops in a supplemental spending bill. The idea was that the Republicans would retaliate by slowing down business in the House by requiring that everything be voted upon twice. Even motherhood. Not to worry, though: Tiahrt wants us to know that he still supports Mother's Day, and Father's Day too.

Hope your Mother's Day is a good one!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Eddy Arnold

Seminal country music artist Eddy Arnold passed away this morning at age 89. One of the most successful country singers of all time, Arnold perhaps more than anyone was responsible for expanding the scope of the genre from its rural "hillbilly" roots to its acceptance by the wider, more urban pop music audience.

He was born Richard Edward Arnold on a farm near Henderson, Tennessee in 1918. His father died when Eddy was 11, and when the Great Depression hit, the financial pressures became too much, and the Arnolds lost the family farm. Young Eddy saw singing as the only way to escape a life of poverty. While still a teenager, Arnold began singing on local radio stations. In 1938 he moved to St. Louis with a friend and together they found gigs in local clubs and on the radio.

Returning to Tennessee, he quickly caught on as a vocalist with Grand Ole Opry fixture Pee Wee King's band, which gave him the exposure he needed to start a solo career. In 1943, he formed his own band, the Tennessee Plowboys, and gained a manager, the infamous Col. Tom Parker, who would later become a household name for his association with Elvis Presley. The next year, he had a contract with RCA Victor, and in December 1944 cut four songs in the first recording sessions ever produced by a major label in Nashville. One of those songs, "Cattle Call", launched one of the most successful careers in popular music history.

His career reached a peak in 1947 with the release of "I'll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms)". That song was his first major pop crossover hit, as well as topping the country charts for 21 weeks, beginning an incredible string of 53 consecutive weeks that an Eddy Arnold song was #1 on the C&W chart. Arnold was one of the first country stars to make regular TV appearances. Even more than innovators like Hank Williams, Arnold was the face of country music in the late 40's and early 50's. His smooth baritone crooning style, not unlike that of Bing Crosby, attracted millions of listeners who ordinarily thought of country as "hillbilly music".

Arnold's career went into a temporary lull in the late 50's and early 60's, as young Southern whites like Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis appropriated black music to create a more boisterous style attractive to a new generation of listeners. Arnold responded by creating songs with a more sophisticated, "uptown" sound, awash in strings and heavy orchestration, helping to pioneer a style that came to be known as "countrypolitan". By 1965, he was atop the charts again with songs like "Make The World Go Away" and "What's He Doing In My World", beginning a second run of chart hits that would carry him into the 70's. In all, Arnold would go on to sell over 85 million records, placing 145 singles onto the country charts. 28 of those would reach #1, and 37 of his country hits crossed over to pop. By Billboard chart standards, Arnold is the most successful country artist of all time.

Recalling his childhood poverty, Arnold was noted for being a wise investor, especially in real estate. His holdings included thousands of acres in the fast-growing upscale suburbs south of Nashville. Yet for all his wealth, Arnold remained a man of simple tastes. He didn't drive flashy cars, and often ate his meals at a nondescript Southern diner just south of downtown Nashville.

In March Arnold lost his wife Sally, to whom he had been married for 66 years. Later that month, he fell and injured his hip. He was never able to recover from those twin blows. Arnold will be remembered a a giant of country music, one of those rare artists whose influence shaped an entire genre.

Make the world go away.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Midweek interlude: "Scare Easy"

I love the guitars on this one:

For those unfamiliar with the backstory, Mudcrutch was a band formed by Tom Petty with some of his buddies from Gainesville, Florida in the early 70's: guitarists Tom Leadon and Mike Campbell, and drummer Randall Marsh. Tom Petty sang lead vocals and played bass. Leadon would leave the group and be replaced by keyboards player Benmont Tench. Mudcrutch would break up after releasing a couple of singles. Randall Marsh went on to form Code Blue in the early 80's and do some sessions. Tom Leadon wound up in Nashville, where he's been a guitar teacher for the last 20 years. Campbell and Tench would follow Petty into his new band, the Heartbreakers.

Last year, Petty called up his old friends and asked them if they would like to get together again and make some music, and this is the result. I haven't liked a Tom Petty song this much in years. Sit back and take a trip back to 1974.

They need the Whore of Babylon

With the Whore of Babylon under contract to John Hagee for the time being, the Chicago White Sox were forced to turn to an inferior substitute:

Coming off an 0-6 road trip when they managed just nine runs, the Chicago White Sox returned home Tuesday and were confronted with more questions about two female blowup dolls than they were about their shaky offense.

Before Sunday's game in Toronto, an unnamed player positioned two nude blowup dolls in the clubhouse with bats of the players fanning out around them - a ritual of sorts to try and get the team out of its slump.

Guys, you can't find serious mojo in an adult bookstore. Hagee may just have one of those used dioramas you can buy cheap...

Monday, May 05, 2008

Signs of the apocalypse (continued)

Having namechecked the Antichrist and John Hagee in my last post (although it probably all started with Aphrodite's Child) it seemed inevitable that we would encounter the Whore of Babylon eventually:

What you’ll find is a white televangelist, the Rev. John Hagee, lecturing in front of an enormous diorama. Wielding a pointer, he pokes at the image of a woman with Pamela Anderson-sized breasts, her hand raising a golden chalice. The woman is “the Great Whore,” Mr. Hagee explains, and she is drinking “the blood of the Jewish people.”

No, he's not talking about Hillary Clinton. He's referring to the Roman Catholic Church.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Beware the Antichrist

I had a feeling something like this was going to happen. Maybe it was the black cat running across the road this morning; maybe it was the horoscope printed upside-down in the newspaper. Or perhaps this is what happens when a blogger conjures the evil spirits. It was just a matter of time before something like this hit my inbox...

God help us if this man is elected!! But it is all stated
in the Bible and it will happen sooner or later.

This is from Darlene Millican, wife of the pastor
of Trinity Bapt. Church here in Sun City .

I have felt for sometime now that Obama is the
one person that 'Frightens Me'. I believe the Bible has
warned us that 'A man will come from the East that will be
charismatic in nature and have proposed solutions for all our
problems and his rhetoric will attract many supporters!'

When will our pathetic Nation quit turning their back on God and understand that
this man is 'A Muslim'....First, Last and always....and we are AT WAR with
the Muslim Nation, whether our bleeding-heart, secular,
Liberal friends believe it or not. This man fits every description from the Bible
of the 'Anti-Christ'!

I don't care what John Hagee has to say; the wife of a Baptist minister is authority enough for me. Barack Obama is the Antichrist!!! It's OK to vote for him now...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Album project: Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple, Tidal (1996): Fiona Apple's debut effort shows surprising power and maturity for an 18-year-old singer-songwriter. On Tidal, Apple shows off her rich, dusky voice and a competent, jazz-inflected piano style suggestive of an older, more experienced performer. As a songwriter here, Apple is still a work in progress. For her debut, she drew upon the experiences of her troubled childhood, including a rape when she was 12, adding an edge to angst-ridden performances such as "Sleep To Dream" and "Sullen Girl". At times, Apple succumbs to the occasional high school poetry class cliche, but Tidal's best tracks, such as "Shadowboxer" (embedding not permitted) have a sultry sophistication revealing an artist of great promise.

Apple shot to fame with the video to "Criminal", featuring the singer in skimpy lingerie in a series of suggestive poses. Why would Apple, seemingly desiring to join the ranks of more serious singer-songwriters, have consented to such a move? She told Spin magazine, "I decided if I was going to be exploited, then I would do the exploiting myself". Indeed, the first shot from the "Criminal" video, where Apple points a camera at the viewers, suggests that she knows full well of her audience's voyeuristic urges. (Mark Zeltner has written a fine analysis of the "Criminal" video.) Naturally, "Criminal" remains Apple's biggest pop hit to date.

Apple won the 1997 MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist, where she stirred more controversy during her acceptance speech with her scathing criticism of the recording industry, proclaiming "This world is bullshit, and you shouldn't model your life on what you think that we think is cool, and what we're wearing and what we're saying". Actually, Apple was doing no more than suggesting that her fans live their own lives instead of being swayed by the glamorous (and often fake) images sold to them by the entertainment industry. Offended media types, though, questioned the wisdom of Apple's biting the hand that was feeding her, especially during an awards show. Combined with Apple's growing reputation for erratic stage performances, many began to speculate that her career may be short-lived.

Fiona Apple, When The Pawn... (1999): The full title of Fiona Apple's sophomore effort at one time held the record for longest LP title - believe it or not, at least one still-longer title has been released since then. When The Pawn sees Apple still maturing as an artist, as her lyric writing has improved, and the music more adventurous than on the debut. Standouts include the up-tempo and musically intricate "Fast As You Can", the smooth jazz of "Paper Bag", and "Limp" (again, no embedding permitted), a kiss-off to a former boyfriend featuring the assertiveness of Apple's best work. When The Pawn is a solid follow-up effort.

Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine (2005): Apple began work with producer Jon Brion on her third disc in 2002. Scheduled for 2003 release, Epic Record pushed back the release date several times, supposedly because the label felt the record lacked commercial appeal. When it began to appear that Epic was uninterested in releasing the disc at all, tracks began to leak onto the Internet, with rumors starting that Brion was the source of the leaks. Apple's fans began petitioning Epic to release the full disc; they also started a website, Free Fiona, to keep pressure on the label. Apple and Brion went back to the studio with producers Brian Kehew and Mike Elizondo to rework some of the tracks, and Extraordinary Machine was finally released in October 2005.

For all the trouble, Extraordinary Machine is a disappointing effort. It's mostly a rehash of ground covered on When The Pawn, lacking the accessibility of that disc while covering little new ground. Despite the effort put into the record, much of it sounds unfocused, perhaps the result of all the re-recording. Although Extraordinary Machine received good reviews and won favor with Apple's fan base, little of this record caught hold with me.

Where Fiona Apple goes from here is anyone's guess. She remains an enigmatic figure, still uneasy with her fan base and the trappings of the recording business in general. Apple is supposedly at work on her next LP at this time; I expect her continual disappearances and reappearances to become her standard operating procedure. Perhaps one day we'll see Apple release a record that finally fulfills her vast potential.