Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman

Paul Newman, actor, activist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and race-car driver, passed away Friday at age 83. He had been battling cancer for the last several years.

Paul Leonard Newman was born January 26, 1925, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Too short and skinny for sports as a boy, he took an interest in theatre and appeared in a number of school plays. He briefly attended Ohio University before enlisting in the Navy in World War II. He hoped to become a pilot but was rejected because he was colorblind. Instead, he spent three years as a radio operator aboard bombers in the Pacific.

After the war, he returned to school, graduating from Kenyon College with a degree in English while also acting in a number of school productions. When his father died in 1950, he briefly returned to Shaker Heights to run the family's sporting goods business. The store was sold a year later, and Newman moved on to study acting at Yale University before arriving at New York's famed Actors Studio, where he learned the techniques of Method acting, an edgy, naturalistic style also made famous by Marlon Brando and James Dean.

Newman arrived in Hollywood in 1954. No longer a skinny kid, the handsome, well-chiseled Newman was sought out at first for beefcake roles that he quickly grew tired of. His first starring role, a toga-clad Greek sculptor in The Silver Chalice, was so embarrassing that when it appeared on TV in Los Angeles in 1963, he took out a newspaper ad apologizing for it. Newman spent the rest of the 50's playing in a wide assortment of bit parts in movies and TV. During this period, he met Joanne Woodward, who he married in 1958, creating one of the most enduring Hollywood marriages.

Newman broke through to stardom in the role of Fast Eddie Felson in 1961's The Hustler. Over the next two decades, he perfected the role of the rebellious iconoclast in films such as Hud, Cool Hand Luke, The Towering Inferno, and Slap Shot. He formed a memorable duo with Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and The Sting. He made eleven movies with his wife, Woodward, and directed her in four others. In 1986, he reprised his role as Fast Eddie Felson for The Color Of Money, and won an Academy Award.

While filming Winning in 1969, Newman became drawn to the world of auto racing. He told reporters that he enjoyed racing because unlike in acting, a quality effort in racing was not a matter of opinion. He began professional racing in 1972, and his greatest accomplishment in the sport came in 1979 when he placed second in the 24 Hours of LeMans endurance race. In 1995, at age 70, he became the oldest driver to place in a professionally sanctioned event when his team took third in the 24-hour race at Daytona. He also made a mark as an owner, partnering with Carl Haas in Newman/Haas Racing on the now-defunct Champ Car circuit.

Newman maintained an interest in liberal politics throughout his career. He protested the Vietnam War, actively supported Eugene McCarthy's bid to become President, and gave money to a variety of liberal causes. He invested heavily in the left-leaning The Nation magazine and wrote occasional columns for it. Newman once said that he considered being named to President Nixon's Enemies List as one of his proudest accomplishments.

Newman was as much a perfectionist about cooking as he was about acting. When in restaurants, he would often ask for his own ingredients and make his own salad dressing. Newman's dressings became so popular with his friends that he got the idea to market it nationally, and give the profits to charity. Since 1982, Newman's Own Dressings has donated over $250 million to a variety of charities, including the Hole In The Wall Gang camps. Named after the gang in Butch Cassidy, the Hole In The Wall Gang Camps provide summer camping for seriously ill children.

Paul Newman was one of those rare individuals who was not only exceedingly talented, but also found ways to use those talents to help many people who were not as fortunate. There are far too many great Newman roles to choose only one; let's join Fast Eddie for one last game.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Goodbye, Tara

I came home from work Sunday morning, and found Tara crying in pain on the kitchen floor. She had suffered a stroke. She was unable to move the front half of her body, and she was trying to use her back legs to get up. At her advanced age, all that I could do was take her to the vet to have her put to sleep. She is now with her feline and canine brothers and sisters, and can once again curl up on her mama's lap.

This truly is the end of an era for me. All those that I called my family have gone on now, to whatever it is that lies beyond this place, where they can run and jump and plant trees and flowers, and feel no pain. I am left here to ponder whatever might happen next in this life, and to experience new beginnings.

Here are Desiree, Maltese, and Tara all together, the only picture I have of the three of them in one place as Tara and Desiree rarely could stand each other's company. Maltese sits contentedly between them, surrounded by his women, and keeping the peace.

I wrote more about Tara on her 20th birthday. May we all be together again someday.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Today marks the official second anniversary of Pole Hill Sanitarium. (The page was here long before there were any words on it.) I half-seriously thought this blog would be long gone by now for lack of reader interest, but you guys keep surprising me by continuing to hang around.

There still are times I feel like I haven't quite figured out what this blog is for, but I think overall that it serves its purpose. Although it often seems self-indulgent to me, I've been wanting to put down my impressions of the classic rock years in permanent form for some time now, and through the Album Project (which may or may not ever be completed) and the occasional obituary I hope to achieve that goal. As I look back, I've lived through some interesting times, and though I expect that history to be well-chronicled, I may know a story or two, and may have experienced some things, that would otherwise have been forgotten.

I thought, as did a number of other people, that I'd be writing more on political topics. But I've concluded that although I have an opinion or two I like to share from time to time, I'm not a political blogger. Good political blogging is bloody hard work, and I do enough of that at the treatment plant. Bad political blogging is not worth the reader's time, much less the writer's. The other problem is that I have little optimism about the current political climate. I regard Obama/Biden as bad, McCain/Palin as worse, and Hillary Clinton as just another woman in a pantsuit. We have big problems to deal with in the next four years, and only small people with giant egos to face them. If I wrote down all my political thoughts, this place would become such a bummer no one would come here any more. What I'd like to focus on more is not the politicians, but the regular people who are struggling hard to make things work in these difficult times.

A lot has happened to me personally over the last year, which I'm still doing the best I can to digest. One thing blogging has done is given me an outlet where I can express my feelings, however crudely, and receive feedback from people I've come to trust and regard as friends. The main reason I keep this place up is in order to keep hearing from you and to continue to spark conversation among the diverse assortment of folks who come by here. You have been a big help in getting me through some difficult times these last few months. I sincerely thank each one of you, whether you've been here from the beginning, have only started visiting recently, whether you're lurking (come on out!), bitching, or stalking(!). My hope is that I can keep Pole Hill interesting for all of you for another year.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Today's chuckle

In a recent edition of Rolling Stone, Robin Williams says that this is his most favorite joke. I think it's funny as hell. You probably won't like it.

Guy's having sex with his wife. All of a sudden he looks over, and there in the doorway is his son, about eight years old. Kid looks horrified, and the kid runs away. The guy says to his wife, "Well, I'd better talk to Timmy."

He puts on his clothes and goes to Timmy's room. He opens the door, and there's Timmy nailing Grandma. The father goes "Oh, my God!" And the kid goes, "Not so funny when it's your mom, is it?"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Richard Wright

Longtime Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright passed away Monday at age 65. For over four decades, Wright's keyboard stylings were an integral part of Pink Floyd's signature sound.

A self-taught keyboards player, Wright first met bandmates Roger Waters and Nick Mason when they were students at Regent Street Polytechnic College in London. The three began playing together in various R&B/blues-based combos, as was the fashion in London in those days, but distinguished themselves from the pack with the addition of eccentric guitarist/songwriter Syd Barrett to the mix. Wright in particular thrived as a result of Barrett's unorthodox approach to rock songwriting, as it enabled him to experiment with various psychedelic and jazz styles. His keyboards became an important part of the sound of the early Floyd classic LP The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and he also contributed occasional vocals such as on "Astronomy Domine".

Syd Barrett eventually unraveled due to heavy LSD use, and was replaced by David Gilmour. With Gilmour in the lineup, Pink Floyd shifted away from eccentric pop/rock towards a more improvisational style often resulting in extended suites. Wright mostly left the songwriting duties to Waters and Gilmour, concentrating on developing a unique keyboard style involving elements of jazz, classical, and free-form music. Wright's style particularly came to the fore on mid-period Floyd LP's such as Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. He made significant contributions to the landmark Dark Side Of The Moon, both on keyboards and through composing "The Great Gig In The Sky" and "Us And Them".

Wright's influence in Pink Floyd declined as the group came to be dominated more and more by the dictatorial Roger Waters. Tensions between Waters and Wright came to a head during recording of The Wall, with Waters finally threatening not to release the album's master tapes unless Wright resigned from the band. Wright did so, but was retained by the group as a session musician on salary for the band's upcoming tour to support the LP. Ironically, that worked to Wright's benefit, as he was able to collect his salary while the remaining full-time members of Pink Floyd actually lost money on the tour due to the astronomical expense involved in transporting the grandiose Wall set around the world.

With tensions still high between Waters and the rest of the band, Wright doesn't appear on the followup Floyd LP The Final Cut. But after Waters' departure from the group, remaining members David Gilmour and Nick Mason invited Wright back, and he appears on all subsequent Floyd releases. Wright played a significant role on 1994's The Division Bell, co-writing five songs and singing lead on "Wearing The Inside Out".

Wright also released a number of side projects during his Floyd career; his 1978 solo album Wet Dream is of particular note for Floyd fans. He participated in the Live 8 concert in London in 2005, the first time that Wright, Waters, Gilmour and Mason had appeared on stage together since The Wall tour. Also, he contributed to Gilmour's solo disc On An Island in 2006, and joined the guitarist on his subsequent tour. At the time of his death, he was working on another solo album, said to be composed of a series of instrumental pieces.

"One Of These Days", a succinct example of Pink Floyd's classic sound. Richard Wright sets it up, and David Gilmour drives it home.

David Gilmour: "In my view, all the greatest Pink Floyd moments are the ones where he is in full flow. No-one can replace Richard Wright - he was my musical partner and my friend."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sarah Palin is unfit for public office

"Right", you say, "tell me something I didn't already know."

Well, it's not because Palin has a pregnant teenage daughter, or because she shoots moose out of airplanes, or because she used to hang around with secessionists, or even because she thinks we may have to go to war with Russia. (She's an expert, you know; she lives right next door to them.)

No, it's something far worse:

When asked to reveal something about Palin that no one knows, one woman offered, "She doesn't care for cats very much," and another chimed in, "Oh, yes, she's afraid of my cat."

Check out more of what Sarah Palin's friends think of her at Raw Story.

Oh, for the days of real leadership in the White House.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Album project: Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Brave Belt, Brave Belt II (1972): (Later titled Bachman-Turner-Bachman as Brave Belt.) In 1970, Randy Bachman was riding high as lead guitarist of The Guess Who, Canada's most successful rock group to that point. Several Guess Who albums had become best-sellers, and their "American Woman" topped the US singles charts. Bachman, though, was becoming increasingly uncomfortable within the band. A Mormon, Bachman abstained from alcohol and drugs, while his bandmates heartily participated in the lifestyle of rock superstars. Bachman left The Guess Who in July 1970, at the peak of the band's success.

Bachman then hooked up with original Guess Who vocalist Chad Allan to form Brave Belt. The first Brave Belt album was mostly acoustic, and had little success. For the followup, Bachman filled out the band's sound by recruiting his younger brother Robbie, still in high school, to play drums, and an old friend, Fred Turner, to play guitar and bass. This lineup recorded Brave Belt II. The new members' playing, and particularly Turner's vocals, gave the band a harder-rocking sound, one that Chad Allan didn't care for, and he left the group following the LP's completion. Another Bachman brother, Tim, came in as Allen's replacement.

Brave Belt II fared little better than its predecessor in the marketplace. Of the tracks, "Dunrobin's Gone" became a minor Canadian hit, and "Another Way Out" got some US album rock airplay in the wake of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's later success.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Bachman-Turner Overdrive (1973): With Tim Bachman now in the fold, and Fred Turner in charge of lead vocals, the group's sound became rougher, sort of a louder, heavier take on Creedence Clearwater Revival. Dropped by Reprise Records, they scraped up the funds to travel to Toronto for some recording sessions. The band felt they needed a new name to go with the new sound, and on their way back home to Winnipeg, they pulled in at a truck stop where they spotted the truckers' magazine Overdrive. The proverbial light bulb suddenly clicked on, and the fellows soon had a new name for their group.

They may have had a new name, but the group still lacked a recording deal. As the tapes from the Toronto sessions made the rounds of the recording industry, they were turned down time and again - according to Randy Bachman, 26 rejections in all. Rapidly running out of money, Randy was getting ready to suggest that the band throw in the towel when he heard from an old acquaintance, Charlie Fach, at Mercury Records. Fach had just returned from Europe when he spotted a tape with Bachman's name on it among the piles of correspondence that had built up on his desk while he was away. Fach liked what he heard, and soon arranged a recording deal for Bachman-Turner Overdrive with Mercury.

On that debut LP, the basic ingredients of the BTO formula were already in place: diesel-fueled guitar riffs, Randy Bachman's fiery lead work, and Fred Turner's gruff vocals, delivering lyrics often containing a touch of wit. The hard-charging "Gimme Your Money Please" was the best of this batch, with straight-ahead rockers like "Hold Back The Water", "Gandy Dancer", and "Don't Get Yourself In Trouble" hit like a journeyman boxer delivering one punch to the gut after another. Yet it would be the surprisingly jazzy "Blue Collar" that would give BTO the airplay breakthrough in the States they needed to get the ball rolling.

BTO cemented their rabble-rousing working-class image with their willingness to play anywhere, anytime, sometimes even for free. I recall one such free show at a St. Louis drive-in shortly after the release of the debut LP. In the six months following the release of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the band played 136 dates in the US, opening for the likes of The Doobie Brothers, Joe Walsh, and Edgar Winter, and even including opening one night at The Whiskey in Los Angeles for soul man Edwin Starr. Through months of non-stop touring, BTO laid the foundation for bigger paydays to come.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Bachman-Turner Overdrive II (1973): The second Bachman-Turner Overdrive LP finds their meat-and-potatoes approach honed by months of touring, while the band diversifies its sound by having the other group members take some vocals. "I never considered myself a singer", Fred Turner said. "I got hung with it." Thus the album opens with Tim Bachman singing lead on the riff-happy "Blown". From there, BTO II tightens up the formula of the first LP, with sledgehammer stompers like "Stonegates", "Give It Time" and "I Don't Have To Hide" setting the tone and providing the perfect soundtrack for cruisin' the strip and keg parties in the woods. With a couple of twists, BTO took their sound into the Top 40. The Doobies-inspired "Let It Ride" climbed to #23, followed by the even-bigger hit "Takin' Care Of Business". Randy Bachman sings lead on this track, with its infectious chorus and tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the musician's life. Supported by continuous touring, BTO II established the blue-collar rockers as superstars.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Not Fragile (1974): Not Fragile, the band's biggest seller, extends the BTO approach about as far as possible. Tim Bachman leaves the group; his replacement, Blair Thornton, gave BTO two guitarists capable of lead work as well as strengthening the band' songwriting capabilities.

BTO hit the jackpot with "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet", with Randy Bachman's stuttering vocals and riffs strongly suggesting the influence of The Who. Bachman had originally sung the song as a joke for his brother Gary, with no intention of releasing it as a single. It was only after Charlie Fach told Bachman that the album's other tracks lacked commercial appeal that Randy suggested that he had another song, but it wasn't a serious effort. When Fach heard the tune, though, he insisted that "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" was destined to become a hit. The song was released as a single, and became BTO's only Number One hit. Within a four-year period, Randy Bachman had completed quite a journey, from topping the charts with The Guess Who, to almost quitting the music business in frustration, to riding high once again with Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

"Roll On Down The Highway", another standard Fred Turner bear-growl performance, followed "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" into the singles charts. Blair Thornton contributed the instrumental "Free Wheelin'", and Randy Bachman's "Rock Is My Life, And This Is My Song" provided more witty commentary on the music business. Closer listening to Not Fragile, though, shows the formula was getting some miles on it. A good mechanic would have suggested that the rig was in need of a tune-up, but BTO kept rollin' down the highway.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Gold (2005): The successor to Not Fragile, Four Wheel Drive, showed signs of serious wear. Mercury Records pressured the band for a quick followup, and the pressures of the grind showed up in the music, a repeat of the tried-and-true BTO formula. Turner said, "Four Wheel Drive was the beginning of us being tired, physically, emotionally, musically, being whipped out and starting to repeat things". The single, "Hey You", stalled at #21, and sales fell well short of the standard established by the previous two LP's. The band's fortunes never recovered.

The band slowly wound down over the rest of the 70's. Tensions mounted as Randy Bachman from time to time would try to diversify the group's sound with ideas such as adding horns, but the rest of the group wanted to stick with the old formula. The frustrated Bachman left the group in 1977 to record a solo album. Replaced by journeyman Jim Clench, BTO ground out a couple of more albums before going into hiatus in 1980.

Over the years, Randy Bachman has recorded a number of solo albums, increasingly pursuing his interest in jazz guitar. He has also participated in a couple of Guess Who reunion projects. Bachman agreed to do a BTO reunion in 1988, staying on with the reunited group until 1992. He was replaced by Randy Murray. That lineup of Rob Bachman, Turner, Thornton, and Murray has continued on as Bachman-Turner Overdrive to this day, playing hole-in-the-wall bars, county fairs, and any other venues that would have them. Roll on down the highway.

Tal Bachman, Tal Bachman (1999): Randy Bachman's son Tal scored a big hit with "She's So High" from his debut LP. Tal records in a lighter, more singer-songwriter oriented style, and the disc contains a couple of other strong tracks, most notably "Strong Enough". Pleasant listening, with some good hooks, but a bit lacking in gravity.

In recent years, Tal Bachman, who holds a degree in political science, has become better known in Canada as a political commentator on TV and radio. He also split from his family's Mormon faith, and discussed his experiences on a PBS documentary, The Mormons.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

With supporters like these

Busy week. No time to run a decent blog right now.

The McCain base at work. Watch the video. See ya later.

ADDENDUM: Tom Hull states what would seem to be the obvious:

A persistent theme in Republican attacks against Obama is that you [the voter] don't know what he'll do once he gets into power. All you can tell now is that he says now, but most likely he's just saying that to get you to vote for him, so he can get into power and do whatever it is he really wants to do, whatever that is -- surely something awful bad. Like many effective smears, this is based on a half-truth, which is that nobody ever knows how the future is going to play out. On the other hand, the Republicans have bound themselves together so tightly that their range, for any semi-loyal party guy, looks to be limited to continuing the slow decay as we deny all the problems that are accumulating to driving full-speed into one disaster after another. At least with Obama we have a guy who says he can see potholes and seems to be smart enough and attentive enough to occasionally hit the brakes and/or swerve out of the way (or, as the derogatory term puts it, "change course").

Friday, September 05, 2008


This is where I work. The picture was taken by one of the contractors working on building improvements. The corner of the building where I spend most of my time is visible at right. It was such a neat pic, I thought I'd share it with you today.

I'm not worried so much about people I know in RL figuring out who's writing this stuff anymore. Besides, from what I've left here in recent weeks, anyone with reasonable intelligence can easily put the clues together and figure out my true identity without much difficulty.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Pretty boy no more.

Some folks probably think of Peter Frampton as the old bald guy with the talking guitar on the insurance commercials. But back in the 70's, Frampton was a force to be reckoned with in pop music. He earned a following as a capable songwriter and as a fine guitarist equally adept at melodic phrasing and fiery runs - and of course, that talk box. But it was his mane of curly blond hair and boyish smile that cemented his image as a rock-star icon and propelled him to multi-platinum status in the late 70's.

Frampton, who lived in Nashville for a time, returned not long ago to talk about the days when everybody had hair:

Peter wasn't alone in his choice of hairstyles back in the disco days: The Who's Roger Daltrey and Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant also wore their hair long and curly. "Then one day, Roger, who is a dear friend, told me he was in a bar somewhere. It was 1976, so Comes Alive! had come out. Somebody came up to him and said, 'Could you sign this for me? I'd love your autograph.'

"So (Roger) signed his name. 'No, no, Peter Frampton! Aren't you Peter Frampton?' The next day he cut his hair.

"If you look at the pictures, it's 1976 when he goes from the full mane to barely having any hair."

Uh-huh. Now take a look at the cover of Who Are You, released in 1978. Roger Daltrey is the dude on the far left:

Obviously, Daltrey still had plenty of hair in 1978. Another notable feature of the Who Are You cover much-remarked about at the time was drummer Keith Moon sitting in a chair labeled "Not To Be Taken Away". Moon would die within a month of the release of the LP.

I'm not certain, but I believe Roger Daltrey cut his hair for good while playing the title role in McVicar in 1980. John McVicar was a convicted bank robber who escaped from prison and ultimately earned a sociology degree. It's an excellent film that I recommend if you get the chance to catch it.