Friday, December 30, 2011

Hail Dropped Like Bullets Through the Air

Cold night air everywhere...

Carrie had a boyfriend. Someone she knew from High School.

We never saw him, but we heard all about him.

Then, one night, she showed up crying. He'd dumped her by letter. Couldn't even wait until they saw each other. Couldn't call her (although it was before cell phones, back when long distance still meant anything).

She waved the letter and we looked at it. It was filled with typos and grammatical mistakes. Someone said "he's an illiterate dope, you're better off without him." This made Carrie cry even more.

I took her for a walk. We went down the hill. To the statehouse with the big fluffy lawn.

I made her roll downhill on the lawn. This momentarily made her feel better.

And we walked back up the hill.

"I never thought we'd be together forever," she said. "But I thought we'd make it to New Year's Eve."

And she started to cry again.

I wanted to hug her, but I didn't. Instead I distracted her with a story about a girl I knew in High School.

It was a funny story. And it made her laugh.

But she would have rather had the hug.

When we got back to the dorms, she thanked me for the walk. Then she hugged me.

"Maybe you and I should hang out later," Carrie said.

And I nodded. I wanted that too.

But I didn't want to swoop in after she'd been dumped.

And it was right before finals.

So I didn't do anything about it.

And then Carrie started dating this guy named Marc. And whenever she saw me, she'd give me a sad smile.

A smile that seemed to say "you should've hugged me."

And I nodded. Because I should have.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Listen (the Snow is Falling)

Between your head and my mind...

This story starts with a girl.

A girl who lived in the Rockies and hated the lack of snow in New England my freshman year of college.

But then it snowed overnight. And that made her happier than I'd ever seen her.

"We should go sledding. Down that big hill near the sports center," she said.

But we were college freshmen and we didn't have sleds. Or anything that could pass for sleds.

Still, I wasn't about to let her go without sledding, especially since the idea made her light up so much (and since her lighting up made everyone we knew happy as well).

So I hatched a plan. (Okay, more of a scheme than a plan.)

We'd sneak hard-plastic cafeteria trays from the dining hall, use them as sleds, and return them later.

But it turns out the workers didn't want us taking the trays out of the dining hall.

So elaborate plans were drawn up.

Diversions were planned and executed.

Trays were tucked into backpacks and under shirts.

And our small group, 11 guilty-looking nerds and the girl who grew up in the Rockies, tried to hurry through the door and out into the fresh snow.

But just before we made it to freedom, the seemingly ancient woman who guarded the door called out: "Stop."

And we all stopped. We sheepishly turned back, prepared to give up the trays.

The girl from the Rockies stepped forward. She started to speak. I knew she'd take the blame for all of us.

But the seemingly ancient woman waved her off with one wrinkled hand. "Do you think I'm stupid?" she asked.

We shook our heads and shuffled our feet.

"Good," she said. "When you remember this, remember that I was nice to you."

We stood there, unsure what she meant until she added "You better bring all those trays back this evening."

And we did.

Years later, I remember the snowfall and the act of sneaking the trays out of the dining hall. I remember the girl from the Rockies. But as much as I search my memory, I can't recall the actual sledding.

But maybe that's okay.

Because right before we brought the trays back, she took me aside, and she kissed me and she thanked me for being the only one who understood what the snow meant to her.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Another Grey Area: I Used Graham Parker for Evil

Not Your Usual Xmas Present, part 1

(Recorded from the audience, so forgive the bit of crowd noise...)

I Used Graham Parker for Evil by Alex M. Stein

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Clothes, My Hair, My Face

Nothing But Tired, part 2

She lived on a mountain.

Her house was built at an angle, so it became part of the rock of the mountain. And her soul also was tilted, also attached to the mountain.

She thought nothing of living at an angle, thought everyone did the same thing.

Until one day when she followed a goat down the mountain. And wandered into a village.

It wasn't even big enough to be a town... and certainly wasn't big enough to be a city.

But there were people there.

And music.

And exotic foods and drinks.

For a girl who lived on a mountain and was used to adjusting everything so it would work at an angle, this was a revelation.

And even after she returned to the mountain, she thought often of the village.

And of changing her life.

By going down the mountain. And dancing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Won't Find It Fantastic or Think It Absurd

When the gun in the first act goes off in the third...

There's a place.

It's far away. And probably long ago, if we're being literal.

And in this place, there are people who look like you.

There's a library there. Go too deep into the stacks and you'll find anything you're looking for.

But you can't check any of the books out.

You have to stay there and read them.

And you might think this is less than helpful. And you'd be right.

But since the last time you were there, you notice that the library has burned to the ground. And all the people who live nearby refuse to admit there was ever a library there.

Even though there are ashes on the ground. And embers that threaten another conflagration.

And when you pick through the ruins, you wonder what happened to the people who used to go there. The people who look like you.
Frankenstein by Aimee Mann on Grooveshark

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What is it with the 80s and Paint?


Was there some kind of massive surplus of paint that history has failed to record?

And I know Brazil has different environmental regulations, but is it ever a good idea to pour paint on a beach?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nothing But Tired

Wanna Change My Clothes, My Hair, My Face

The quality of the light, you say.

The quality. Of the light.

But the light is long gone. It's the middle of the night, the middle of the winter.

And you're walking, alone in a group. In a city far away.

Looking for something.

Food. Drinks. Companionship.


But the wind starts to blow and you put on your hat and can't hear much of the conversation anymore.

The conversation about the quality of the light.

You won't sing karaoke tonight. Even if your throat didn't feel like razorblades you wouldn't want to sing.

But you might. You might sing.

Thinking, hoping, that might provide some small warm light in the dark, cold, night.

You let your thoughts wander, figuring out the perfect song -- one you could sing reasonably well, but still one that would sustain your ironic detachment from irony.

But there is no karaoke. Not that night.

And the three hours of sleep don't help your throat and barely help your mood.

You're still starving, looking for something that will satisfy you, not willing to take in the empty calories held out for you.

Still, today is another day.

Filled with quality. The quality of the light.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Across the dial from Moscow to Cologne

This story starts with a girl.

Now, arguably, all stories start with a girl.

But especially this one.

A girl. In knee-high boots.

Standing in the corner at a party.

And talking about poetry. The lines of a haiku. The imagery of the Beats. The way a stanza stretches and curves to accommodate the listener. The fragrant sultry popping of P words and the lush liquid sound of the Ls.

Long after she's gone, the conversation lingers.

And you sit in bed at night, listening to the world. Wondering if she's listening to or if she's at another party. Enchanting the guests with her talk of poetry, her poetry of talk.

Or is she obvlivious? Spreading her gospel of poetry, then moving on to the cool ascetic prose of a monastic life?

It's hard to know.

But not impossible.

Years later, I saw her at another party.

Talking sonnets to the hostess.

So I asked her about the poetry, about the effects on the other guests, about the ascetic prose.

And she swept up her hair, curled a long length behind her ear, and looked at me quizzically. "I just like poetry," she said. "There's nothing magical or amazing about it, I just like poetry."

And she turned back to the hostess. And I saw she was still wearing the knee-high boots.

And I knew she was wrong.

Which somehow, at that moment, was the most beautiful and sad poetry of all.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We Are All Our Own Messengers

Late November Re-Run Edition, Originally from Last March

They arose, like a cold northern wind, chilling and overpowering.

Clearly, they were of the land - that isolated rock near the Arctic Circle -- but kept warm by the prevailing winds and waters.

A land dragged out of the agrarian age one short generation ago.

A place the size of England. But where England is home to nearly 50 million people, this place is home to about 300,000. And most of them live in the capital city... so when you venture outside, the country is nearly empty.

While... not quite empty. There's unspeakable beauty there. Beliefs as old as the ancient Gods. A place where you an literally go to the spot where America and Europe are pulling apart.

A place that looks like this:

A country that still reveres poets. And still eats hakarl (a dish of shark's head that's buried in sand for six months until it ferments and putrefies). And still believes in elves (even if they claim they only play that up for the tourists).

A country that puts on a massive music festival every October that culminates in a hangover party at the Blue Lagoon.

Four years ago, I discovered an Icelandic band called Soundspell. They were young (17 and 18) and had just won an Icelandic songwriting contest. It was clear that they'd listened to a lot of Sigur Ros and wore that influence on their sleeves.

They were so clearly Icelandic -- you could hear the strange wonders of the country in their songs and feel it in their performances.

But they were more rock-oriented than Sigur Ros... and sang in English.

So I made it my mission to talk them up to everyone I met for the better part of a year.

Soundspell made an album called An Ode to the Umbrella. It wasn't available in the U.S. and I couldn't find anywhere to buy it on the internet. On a whim, I found the email address of the (American) producer and wrote to him. Amazingly, he wrote back almost immediately.

I'd heard most of the songs on their MySpace page (yeah, I know, it was a long time ago). If Sigur Ros could break through, surely Soundspell would be the next big thing.

I wanted the album, but I couldn't find it anywhere. When I went back to Iceland the next year, I thought I could be it there.

The band said on their website that the CD was available at a chain record shop on the main shopping street. It wasn't in the racks, so I asked. And a typically gorgeous Icelandic woman went into the back and dug one out. The dollar was not doing well at the time and I mentally calculated how much I could afford to spend... then added 20%. But the actual price was 50% more than that.

So... reluctantly, I did not buy it.

It was cold in Iceland that Spring. There was snow. And wind.

And a car that was stuck in the snow for hours until someone came along and helped us push it to safety.

Over the next couple of years, the guys in Soundspell played a bunch of shows. The album never came out in the U.S. A few new songs snuck onto their MySpace page. Then their website disappeared. And they stopped updating their MySpace.

I wish I knew what happened. Maybe they're working on new material. Maybe they're in the studio. Or they broke up. Or they've just been busy studying, surviving, trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

I mean, they wouldn't have gone silent just because I didn't buy their album when I was in Iceland.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

One in a Million

How Do I Explain

"There's a fine line," she told me, "between wistful and melancholy."

And I agreed. A fine line.

"You're crossing it again."

Maybe. Maybe so.

"It worries me."

It shouldn't. I know what side of the line I'm on.

"Do you?"



Sure. Well, mostly.

"Right. That's where the worry comes in."

It's fine. There's nothing wrong. It's fine.

"Right. Fine. Like the line."

There's nothing to worry about.

"And yet. I worry."


Then we sit in silence for a while.

"Are you sure?"

And I pause. Because you can't really be sure at the time. Only when you're looking back.

I'm sure.

And she looks satisfied. For the moment. As I stare into the middle distance, blurring the line between wistful and melancholy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's Somewhat Insane That It's Sort of This Way

I Don't Know How This Plays

So here's something.

Hearing. Seeing. Knowing.

It alternates between seeming like the most natural thing in the world and seeming insane.

At this point, I have nothing.

This, friends tell me, means I have nothing to lose.

They're wrong.

There's always something to lose.

Hope. Dreams. Ambitions.

But isn't it better to know than to live with the fantasy?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The fantasy has been around for a while. It knows how I like my food cooked and knows where I keep the booze.

Maybe, you say. Maybe not.

And when the cold rains move through like an angry bull, the fantasy takes its leave.

Leaving behind a stream, a trail, a sign that it's been there.

Is there a chance or not?

I don't know.

I may never know.

But I want to know.


I pick up

the phone.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

To a Distant Constellation

Storms inside your head can amplify the plight...

The windstorm whispers through the trees: "You'll be there. You'll be there soon."

I dream of neighborhoods in a city I've never lived in. A city I've spent about three weeks in -- spread out over 15 years.

Its tortured curving streets appear to me sometimes at night. And the animals who wander the backyards find their way into my dreams.

When did the details of this city cross over into my dreams?

And why do the animals look up at me and not run away?

In another dream, I'm on the patio. Looking down on the city. Watching the sun set.

I said something then. This was a real conversation.

But what I said has faded in time. Faded with the fabric covering the furniture in that backyard, which has now seen hundreds of additional sunsets.

All that remains of that conversation is the memory of the feelings. Still awake, still alive.

Interrupted by dream-like visions of the other city, the city I have never lived in.

And the animals who wander the backyards of my memory, crossing over from the real city.

Now the wind has died down. Now the rain has stopped.

And I stare at the clouds, which seem like they belong in that other city.

I see an animal cross the street -- but it's not an animal from here. It's an animal from that other city.

The clouds say nothing, give me no clue.

As the animal that shouldn't be here darts out of sight, I wonder what else has crossed over in the moment when worlds and cities briefly overlap, overlay, and open themselves to my heart.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Re-run of Jack O'Lantern Proportions

Beyond the pale [originally published in 2010]

You saw something.

You can't explain it.

So your mind works overtime. And you cling to something, anything.

Because you can't have it unexplained.

That way is madness. That way is horror. That way is terrifying.

Hundreds of years ago, this wouldn't have been a problem.

We knew there were a lot of things we didn't know. And yet our minds still spun in circles.

It's the explanations that were different. Otherworldly. Relying on magic and the supernatural to explain the most sublime of pleasures and the most terrifying of horrors.

We've turned away from that now.

Well, mostly.

Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Kind of Murder That's Not a Crime

They Say It's Better to Be Traveling Than To Arrive

Shadows lengthen. Days shorten.

The wet sidewalks groan under the weight of the trucks.

And traffic slows on the overpass. As it always has. Maybe as it always will.

The tree that once was sick got better, grew taller, then died from root rot.

These things happened.

She almost always had a camera strapped around her neck.

Back before digital, back when there was film. And shutter speed, lens opening, and developing labs.

When it took days or a week to see the finished photos. Not 60 minutes or less.

She saw moments. Saw actions and stories. When we all just saw a blurry mass of life.

She'd come in with the camera, snap pictures quickly, then slip out the back.

But when we saw the photos, we were amazed.

They showed things we hadn't noticed. Or hadn't looked at carefully enough.

We almost never recognized the moment, but we always recognized the feeling.

And the feeling was always perfect.

Until Senior Year, when she stopped photographing anything for a month.

And then would only photograph this one guy. In a band. He played guitar. Horribly.

And the photos that had once seemed so truthful and real now were obvious, staged, and devoid of feeling.

But she wasn't. She was suddenly happy. Madly in love.

They went everywhere together. And she stopped obsessively carrying the camera.

She thought she'd die when he went to Europe for a few months.

She started carrying the camera again. But couldn't bring herself to take any more photos.

Except one.

A self-portrait. (It won an award. You've probably seen it.)

She set the camera on a tripod. Looked once through the viewfinder.

That was enough. She knew what she wanted. Knew what it was she needed to capture.

And she pressed the button.

Walked without hurry into the shot.

Her arm stretched north. Up. Towards... something.

Her legs stretched south. Down. As if readying.

It was perfect. A moment. Frozen in the lens. Framed and frozen on the wall.

Frozen for us. By her.

She wound the film up. Took it out of the camera. Left both camera and film for the yearbook staff.

And walked out to catch a plane to Madrid and start the rest of her life.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kimberley's Back in Denial Again

Frances is Coming Apart at the Seams

There's something going on.

A street closure.

A ferris wheel.

People gathering.

Nothing is quite what it seems.

The girl who lived in the area is gone.

But the shopkeepers miss her still.

They speak her name in low tones.

The vendors at the fair tell stories of how she won the stuffed bear last year. And how they found the bear in a dumpster a few days later.

They talk of the rides she loved. The boyfriends she brought to the fair over the years.

They talk of her. And nothing but her.

Because they all miss her. They all wonder what happened to her.

And they know they'll never, ever see her again.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

And When the Cat's Head Grins

You've heard it a million times before.

He likes her. But she likes someone else. And that someone else? Doesn't know what's going on.

This shouldn't come as a surprise.

But it does.

Every time.

And you hope when you're a kid to grow out of it so that you'll all just be able to say what's going on. And who likes whom.

And sometimes it does get easier. Sometimes people just say "hey, I like you."


And sometimes everything feels like you're still back in High School. There's too much darkness.

And all you want is light.


You want to reach up and out. Become your better self. Feel what you were put on this earth to feel.

You'd think it would get clearer. You'd imagine it gets easier.

But maybe the problem isn't that everything else hasn't changed.

Maybe, just maybe.

The problem is that you still want to burrow into the ground when you should be reaching for the stars.

And when you see the girl with her face tilted up, drinking up the sunlight, it just reminds you that winter's coming.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Falling Like a Stone


The fog blankets my neighborhood.

Thick grey walls wash in from the sea.

Coating everything. Moving inwards.

Outside, the wind is crisp.

The water is vapid, vaporized, and omnipresent.

It slips through our molecules, sliding forward to wherever it's going.

The transition between worlds, some say.

But it's not the twilight that makes the transition, it's the fog.

Not quite water. Not quite air. Not quite earth. And definitely not fire.

Walking through the fog, anything seems possible. You could slip between worlds here, get marooned and never find your way back.

And who's to say that's not what happened to you? Who's to say this is the world you started in and not some shimmering past or long-dreamed-of future.

Who's to say?

And with that, you pull up your coat, take a step forward and immerse yourself in the fog, outside the familiar, finally in the realm of the possible.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Last 30 Seconds

I was sick as a dog yesterday -- fever, aches, no energy to change the channel when Adam Sandler movies came on cable -- the whole bit.

Today's a lot better, but I'm not 100%.

Click here
to listen.

So instead of a story and complete write-up, I'll just offer the top ten reasons why the last 30 seconds of "Radio Bar" by Fountains of Wayne capture everything that's good and smart and hopeful about pop music:

10. "One night there was a girl there."
Probably there were girls there before that night. Maybe that girl was there on some previous night. But all good pop songs begin with a girl (and in the logic of the pop song, time begins anew when a girl appears).

9. "For some reason, she..."
Girls are strange and wondrous creatures. Men and boys will never understand them... We know that they have reasons for what they do, even if we'll never know or fully comprehend those reasons.

8. The way the horn parts echo and complement the vocals in the last verse.
Yeah, this technically starts before the last 30 seconds, but it continues and intensifies as the song draws to a close.

7. Stretching out the first syllable of "somewhere" in the line "She said 'why don't we go somewhere?'"
It would scan better not to stretch the syllable. It would match what went before. But when your entire life changes, everything suddenly seems different and when you look back, the moment of change elongates in your memory.

6. The internal rhyme of "So I passed her her coat, that was all that she wrote."
Again, when your entire life changes, the rhymes can quicken. And once your life changes completely, what's the harm of adding an extra line or two to the verse?

5. "That was it for the radio bar."
Because when your life suddenly changes and you have purpose, you no longer need to waste time childishly like you did before.

4. The false ending.
Is there anything sweeter than a fake ending in a power pop song? (Please reference "No Matter What" in your answer.) The only thing that would have made this better would be a split-second of complete silence before the drums kick back in.

3. The joyful continuation of the song.
Because even though the days of the Radio Bar are over, that doesn't mean you can't slam into the chorus one more time with all the gusto that encompassed every second you'd spent there over the years.

2. The percussion in the last chorus.
Similar, but much more pronounced than what went before. Listen carefully and you can hear a prominent triangle.

1. A slight stretching of the last word.
Not as big a stretch as "somewhere," but still enough to add another half- or three-quarters of a syllable to the word "bar." Because clearly, this is a place that was important -- not as important as the girl, of course, but important nonetheless.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Give You Something To Go On

Back to the middle of nowhere...

Sweltering. Smouldering. Sweltering.

Slick. Stark. Sweat.

(Connecting the dots, as they say in bad textbooks, is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

You Say It's Your Birthday

Today is John Lennon's birthday.

He would have been 71.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Spoken in Dreams

We communicate now through dreams.

It's not an efficient way to talk.

You dream of something. If I'm asleep, I'll sense it.

Later, I dream of something. If you're asleep and you're aware, you know it.

It's inefficient because you haven't been aware for a long time.

But something's changed.

Maybe it's the cool winds signaling a gradual descent into winter.

Maybe it's something else.

The dreams were important once.

From a time when we were younger. And the world felt new.

And then the dreams vanished.

Or we ignored them.

Minds and hearts closed.

But lately... lately.

Something has changed. There's an abyss. And a bridge.

Ironically, I can't remember any of the dreams.

But I remember having them.

Hearts opening. Eyes opening. Mind opening.

And the contentment is inspirational.

But not without risk.

I'd expect nothing more... from a dream.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I Tried to Make it Sunday

We're Still in Wisconsin as far as I know...

25 years after their heyday was over (and 30 years after their third member left for a career making explicitly Christian music), America found an unlikely ally in Adam Schlessinger from Fountains of Wayne.

Schlessinger recorded some demos with Gerry Beckley and Sony signed America. Schlessinger and James Iha (from Smashing Pumpkins) produced America's underrated (and underheard) 2007 album Here and Now. To assure the interest of old-time America fans, the album came with a bonus live record consisting of live versions of every song from 1975's History: America's Greatest Hits.

So it seems oddly appropriate to hear America covering "A Road Song" (from the new Fountains of Wayne album) -- with a side-dish of "Sister Goldenhair":

Friday, September 30, 2011

Looking 4 Luv

Julian Lennon is now 8 years older than his dad was when he died.

So... there's that.

And here's this:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Broken-Hearted Toy You Play With

I tried and I tried...

I wanted to know why she called.

I wanted to ask if she was worried that there might have been a tiny part of my heart she hadn't smashed into tiny bits.

But I didn't say those things.

I didn't say how hurt I was by the way she acted.

She said she thought she saw me.

She hadn't. I was nowhere near there.

In fact, I won't go back there. That place is haunted -- by memories of her.

So, no, I wasn't there. I was hundreds of miles away.

Doing something else. (And if I thought of her that night, well, I wasn't going to admit it. Not then and not now.)

The next night I dreamed about her. And the dream was so vivid, so real, that I knew some of the details about her in the dream were true.

And I wish that I'd never had the dream. Maybe then she wouldn't have called.

And then I wouldn't feel like my heart was being broken into tiny pieces all over again.

And how the hell did she know?

How did she always seem to know?

And why can't I ever seem to get back there?

Monday, September 26, 2011

God, It's Such A Drag When You're Living in the Past

Maybe You Can Find Anything on the Interwebz

From 1987 (and arguably better than anything he released in the late 80s) comes an unreleased gem from Sir Paul McCartney:

I wonder what made him shelve this? Fear that he'd be seen as dwelling on the past (or condemning the past)? A gut feeling that the lyrics weren't up to snuff? A deep-seated fear that the Blue Meanies know where he lives?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sometimes I Get This Crazy Dream

And the fog's in barrels on Totten Pond Road...

The new Fountains of Wayne album Sky Full of Holes is fantastic.

And there, buried in the second-to-last song (where it slid by unnoticed during my first few listens), is a reference to Totten Pond Road in Waltham, Mass.

The exact place where, more years ago than I care to admit, just off the highway and a short walk from the reservoir, I had my first job out of college.

The company's gone now -- after betting too much on government contracts that fundamentally made no sense, they pivoted ten years ago and tried to make consumer products. This required getting rid of almost all the people who worked on the government jobs -- because people will never tolerate in a consumer product the nonsense the government puts up with.

I don't remember what I worked on there and I only lasted a year before I moved on -- to a company where I worked on something else I can't remember.

But at Totten Pond Road there was a guy I'll call David (which I think was even his name) -- he seemed impossibly old at the time, but probably was only in his 50s.

I can't remember the organizational structure, but David was in charge of a significant part of our project. He had several people working for him and had a wry sense of humor.

He kept to himself, but so did a lot of people there.

Then, one Monday, he was gone.

The direct-deposit of his paycheck hit Saturday at 12:01 am. He emptied his bank account, left his wife, kids, house, and credit cards and took his car.

His wife was panicked, the cops were called, and everyone was hauled into a conference room to answer questions about whether he said anything that indicated he might do something like this.

No one had heard anything and David had been careful not to leave any hints about what he clearly had planned for some time.

A few months later, he called one of his colleagues. He'd moved halfway across the country, taken another job, and decided he needed to start again.

But the weird thing was that he'd done this exact thing before.

David had cleaned out his bank account and left a house and first wife in California to come to Totten Pond Road.

We all sometimes get that crazy dream that we just take off in the car. David did it -- at least twice.

And this morning, with fog rolling in from the coast in Los Angeles, I wondered where David wound up -- and whether he vanished a third time. (I hope he's still around, even though he'd certainly be a lot older now...)

Or just thought about it, then turned his car around and went home.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Craigslist Ads and the New Wave Songs That Love Them #10

Beware of the Pool

You were in a toy store in on the Third Street Promenade. I followed you in, drinking a latte.

You bought a Mister Potato Head and I told you I had a tub full of sour cream and would love to dip you in it.

You told me you admired men who like spuds and promised to return in 20 minutes.

I waited as long as I could, but after 4 hours, I had to go.

You looked too honest to tell me you'd be back when you wouldn't. So I'm pretty sure something must have happened and you then realized you didn't have my number.

I've restocked the tub with sour cream, so just reply to this post and let me know when you can come over!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sweet 16's Turned 31

All of Chuck's Children Are Out There Playing His Licks

She said she was tired.

It was understandable. Between the job that stretched into the evenings and the kid who wouldn't sleep through the night, she had a lot going on.

Even when she could sleep, she'd find herself tossing and turning, wondering where all her energy had gone.

So when she complained over Facebook that she needed something to rejuvenate her, her friends all weighed in -- with most people urging her to take a long tropical vacation.

That wasn't in the cards.

But then her girlfriends urged her to go out with them one night. Like they used to.

To a club, where a band that the hipsters fawn over would play. A band they claimed would be household names within a few months. And here's a chance to hear them in a small club with a few dozen other people.

So she got a babysitter.

And she dressed up in the clothes she used to wear 15 pounds and 5 years earlier.

And she met her (still-single) friends. They refused to take her "Mom-car" and piled into the trendy sports car owned by her trendiest, hippest girlfriend.

And they paid $15 to park.

And $11 each to get into the show. And $17 for drinks. (Until some guys showed up and bought them a couple rounds.)

The next day, she took to Facebook to report on what happened.

The music was a lot louder than she remembered. And she forgot to bring earplugs.

The drinks were a lot more watered-down than they used to be. And the band was sloppier (or maybe the bands were always sloppy but she hadn't noticed when the drinks were stronger).

And at the end of the night, she was happy. But even more tired than she used to be.

While it may be true that Rock & Roll Never Forgets, I wouldn't necessarily trust its memory either.

Friday, September 9, 2011

If Words Could Make Wishes Come True every day like a treasure and then, again...

"It used to be better," she said.

I nodded. "Much better."

"I mean, they had to change the packaging and I really liked the old package."

"And the flavor. It tastes different now."

"Not as good."

I nodded again.

We were silent for a long time. Sitting on the big rock that balanced at the edge of the waterfall near the state park that we'd agreed had to be the most beautiful state park in the entire world.

"A lot of things used to be better," she said. "Not just the food."

And I looked around and thought of the many things in our hometown that used to be better and had changed. And the many things in art and music and movies and literature that were so much worse than what had come before.

And I had to agree with her.

We smiled, confident and comfortable in the fact that we alone had a handle on what was right and what had gone wrong.

It was that brief moment when we knew literally everything there was to know. When we had discovered the absolute and total truth.

We were 14 years old.

Soon, we'd be smart enough to realize how much we didn't know. But that one cloudy afternoon, we knew it all.

Even if no one would listen.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Labor Day Weekend (part 1)

Because there's more to it than just a meaningless day off with barbecues.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sadly Ecstatic

It's a million degrees in L.A. today.

Guess that's as good a time as ever to dust off old records...

Q: Are you a Mod or a Rocker?
A: I'm a Mocker.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Calm in Your Eyes

Late August, Grasping Onto the Last Vestiges of Summer

And sending out best wishes to everyone on the East Coast.

BTW, I've written about Neil Young and this song once before... check it out.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Whenever You're In Trouble

If the sky that we look upon...

In the early 1970s, Paul McCartney was vilified for recording and releasing a series of wimpy songs (and insanely uneven albums).

During that same period, John Lennon struggled to find his own voice, careening from the stark primal scream of Plastic Ono Band to hopeful hippie anthems ("Happy Xmas"), unashamed rockers ("Instant Karma"), odd anthems ("Imagine"), and sappy mystic anthems ("#9 Dream"). Not to mention Sometime in New York City, about which the less said the better.

When the Beatles broke up, Lennon was freed from the need to compete with Paul McCartney for leadership of the biggest band in history. But he drifted, trying to find his voice (which, he famously tried to disguise in whatever way he could because he didn't like the sound of it).

So tonight, with wispy clouds passing overhead and a cool breeze blowing in off the water, I find myself thinking about a John Lennon song. It's not his best song, not his biggest hit, and not even a song he wrote.

But, somehow, while recording an album of oldies with Phil Spector, Lennon was able to shrug off the need to be the voice of his generation long enough to deliver his most relaxed and confident vocal performance since the Beatles broke up.

RIP Jerry Leiber, who wrote (with Mike Stoller) classic songs like "Kansas City," "Charlie Brown," "Ruby Baby," "Jailhouse Rock," "Searchin," "Love Potion #9," and of course "Stand By Me."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Used A Little Too Much Force

Right outside of Delacroix

There's a bar outside of Boston I went to a few times.

They had a crappy beer selection, floors that hadn't been washed in decades, and three-dollar cheeseburgers that weren't so horrible if you had enough crappy beer.

And they had a jukebox.

Where every single record was by Bob Dylan.

"You wanna hear Hendrix do 'All Along the Watchtower' you go somewhere else," the bartender explained. "You wanna hear the Byrds sing Dylan? You go to Cambridge and go to one of them bars there. You wanna hear the classics -- this is your home."

His dad started the bar in the 50s, and he took over in the early 70s. "First thing I got was the jukebox," he said. "Some of the regulars moved on, but we got new regulars who kept coming back."

The bartender held court some nights at the bar. Entertaining us with stories of his travels, the women he'd met, and the jealous men who'd chased him out of more than a few towns.

One night, the bartender said, Dylan himself showed up. There's a photo of Dylan by the jukebox, he told me. But he never put the photo up.

As the years went by, the regulars got older. The late-night stories grew more infrequent. And the jukebox (still stocked with Dylan) was silent more often than not.

For years, I'd drop into the bar whenever I was in town just to see that nothing had changed (except the price for the cheeseburgers, which started to creep up).

Last time, I was there, the bar was gone. It was an Applebees now.

No jukebox, no stories.

And while there are Applebees all over the place, there's no Dylan in Applebees.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Some Kind of Happiness is Measured Out in Miles

Don't look at me, man. I've already got grandchildren!

The PowerPop blog recently lamented that there haven't been more cover versions of the Beatles' "Hey Bulldog."

Just to remind you, that's the one that goes like this:

So in the interest of not wanting the week to actually start yet, here's a few cover versions.

Ween live in 2006:

The French band Les Shattels:

Cyndi Lauper (she's still so unusual) at a John Lennon tribute concert in 1990:

Dave Matthews:

Toad the Wet Sprocket (listen to the intro on headphones):

The Crash Kings:

Miles Kane:

And Elvis Costello with the Fab Faux -- embedding's disabled on this one, so you have to click here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

To the Nines

Left my wife and my kids and land, so the story goes...

The future slid in from the mountains like a vaguely threatening fog.

Nothing to see here. Just water particles gathering slowly in the atmosphere.

SUVs, station wagons, compact cars. All packed with the teen ideas of what you'll need in a new life.

All missing the most important thing.

The music then was heavier. Literally. Packed on big heavy discs (and then smaller lighter disks).

Now all virtual. On a hard drive that could crash and vanish in an instant.

The cars slice through the fog, parting curtains of humidity and rainstorms.

Drivers and passengers in the same place -- one only looking forward, one only looking back.

It happens every year around this time... so maybe someday it will be less of a surprise.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Red Hot

You ever wake up from a dream where multiple versions of the same song are dueling for your attention?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

And Yet There's No Good Reason Not To...

If You Don't Know the Story, You Should

(Major h/t to Peter's Power Pop, which everyone should read every day.)

The Zombies were a great English band in the early to mid-60s. They had a couple of huge hit singles ("She's Not There" and "Tell Her No") and were pushed heavily as a singles band by their label Decca. But when other singles failed to perform, the record company lost interest.

Meanwhile, the band wrote and recorded an entire album that Decca rejected because they couldn't hear a single.

Eventually Decca let them go and they signed to Columbia, where they recorded Odessey and Oracle, then broke up before it could be released. The record was a baroque masterpiece anchored by "Time of the Season," a song so amazing it seems like it must have always existed (perhaps buried deep in the earth's magma and waiting for the right tool to free it and allow it to travel over the world).

Despite the record's success, the band had no interest in regrouping, so several different groups of Zombies were recruited to tour the U.S. and Europe.

Fast-forward 43 years and Melbourne-based singer/songwriter Ben Mason has recorded covers of every song on that record (calling his work The Odessey Odyssey). Mason says he did it to improve his recording techniques and teach himself to play piano.

And while there's no good reason for anyone to re-record a classic album (even as a one-man band exercise)... there's no good reason not to either.

Mason's versions are faithful to the originals, but not so slavish that his personality gets lost.

You can read Ben's notes about the process of making this record.

Take a listen here:

I don't know much about Ben Mason, but I know if I ever make it out to Melbourne I wanna buy him a beer!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fate Up Against a Whale

Too Late To Beg You or Cancel It

Sun shines in like a crack through the fog.

And the gentle sound of trees swaying in the wind carries over the rooftops.

You look up, mesmerized. This could be a perfect moment.

Struggle to remember it. You'll need the perfection later. When all the flaws return.

And you go to the tree, press your palm against it. Somehow the atoms shift and the memories from the tree and the molecules that have touched it enter your body.

She'd hug the tree. But not you. You just press your palm onto its bark.

Hoping for wisdom. Searching for the sun as it disappears again.

In the fog.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

With a Neon Light for a Visa

This post was written in black & white... for artistic reasons

Delia worked at the small convenience store on the corner. They sold milk and stale sandwiches and overpriced deodorant sticks and razor blades. And troll dolls at the register.

Steve worked for an industry that would all but disappear in a few years, but he didn't know that. He knew that Delia worked at the store and that was enough for him.

Steve took to coming in several nights a week, making excuses to buy stuff he didn't really need and work up the courage to talk to Delia.

She'd sit behind the counter, reading the tabloids, glancing at her watch, counting the minutes until she'd get off work, get high, and go out dancing.

Steve didn't think she should go out dancing. He wanted to take her for long walks by the ocean. Even though the ocean was hundreds of miles away.

Delia noticed Steve, but didn't think much about him. She thought he dressed funny, not realizing that he would try on 6 or 7 shirts before deciding what he'd wear to go to the convenience store.

Delia would throw on whatever she touched first when she reached into her closet with her eyes closed.

One night, Steve had a few drinks before he went to the convenience store. He walked around the small space, gathering cans of whipped cream and packages of Polaroid film. He plunked them down on the counter and smiled.

"Big plans for the night?" Delia asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Yeah. With you," Steve blurted out before the thought was even fully formed.

"Thanks," Delia said. "But I'm busy."

Steve paid quickly and left. Embarrassed, he stayed away for weeks.

Finally, he found his way back to the convenience store. Delia was smiling and flirting with a customer. Steve watched her for a moment, then turned and walked away.

He stopped halfway down the block and turned back. He could do this. He could walk in and say something and make her love him. He could do it.

He took a few more steps, saw Delia look both ways, lean across the counter and give the customer a quick kiss.

And he stood on the sidewalk for a very long time.

Balancing his knowledge that surely Delia would be his if he said the right thing with the intense desire to slink down between cracks in the sidewalk and melt into the earth and down to the magma deep at its core.

Eventually a woman walking a small dog approached. The dog yapped and jumped up on Steve, bringing him back to reality. "Sorry," said the woman, pulling her dog away from Steve. Humiliated, Steve walked away and avoided going near the convenience store until he moved away.

Because of this, he never talked with the woman who was walking the dog... even though she was so taken with him that she returned, night after night for months, tying the dog up so she could go into the convenience store to buy whipped cream and Polaroid film from Delia, hoping she'd catch a glimpse of Steve and sure that he'd fall madly in love with her if she could just think of the right thing to say.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Coolest Video of the Year

Now if only MTV still showed videos

Please enjoy Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Wyatt Cynak, Ted Leo, Kevin Corrigan, John Hodgeman, Jon Oliver, Donald Glover, Horatio Sanz, and tons of others in this video for "Moves" by the New Pornographers.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Craigslist Ads and the New Wave Songs That Love Them #9

Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine

You sat in the front row, texting.

I'm pretty sure your SmartPhone is smarter than your dumb ass.

I was there to see the comedian, not watch your phone light up and buzz when your idiotic friends sent you texts. (And even though I can't imagine what inane crap you were discussing, I couldn't be bothered to lean over and try to read it because I couldn't look past your insanely hyperinflated sense of entitlement.)

You wanna send texts during a performance? Save it for the Harry Potter movie, shithead.

When you're in a comedy club, shut the fuck up and listen.

I don't even care that you were hot. I won't fuck people who are so disrespectful.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Details of Your Days and Nights and Your Thoughts and Dreams

Do You Know What I Mean?

The world is a better place with Fountains of Wayne in it...

And their new album Sky Full of Holes comes out next week.

You can stream the whole thing on their Facebook page... or get a little taste right here:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Time Goes By in Instants

It's Some Golden Age I'm Still Afraid to Touch

The long winding street.

The slow descent of the clouds.

The soft sway of the trees.

The heat of the nights in the summer.

The scent of tea seeping in the mug.

The smile -- soft, inviting.

The screen door that leads into the yard that leads into the shed that leads into the path that leads back to the screen door that leads through the living room and back to the screen door.

Shuffled, mixed up, put back together.

Thrown into the air in an instant as a smell returns you to that time. That place. That warm lost instant.

Like a million others.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Wheat's Growing Thin

Some of it Was True...

Welcome Clashblog readers! Hang out a bit and let me know what you think...

Two bizarre covers and a summer rerun:

The following was originally published in January 2009:

My friend Julie loved the Clash.

When Joe Strummer was buried, his friends put two bumper stickers on his coffin. One said "Vinyl Rules" and the other said "Question Authority."

Julie was cool. She had the first Clash album (the UK import, not the American version, which she said was inferior, thus winning instant punk cred with everyone she knew). She bought London Calling on the day it was released and is one of the only people I've ever known who owned Sandinista on vinyl (and regularly listened to all six sides). She saw the Clash live once and proudly argued with anyone who'd listen that they really were "the only band that matters." The politics went right over her head, but she tapped directly into the passion that exploded out of her speakers when she played their records and that was really all that mattered. (And she was so committed that you could overlook the absurdity of a suburban American blonde girl singing along to quintessentially English punk songs.)

Every March, Julie would celebrate the release of the Clash's first single ("White Riot") by skipping school (or later calling in sick to work) and watching her old VHS tape of the movie Rude Boy and listening to her old records (vinyl only, no CDs) for hours. That's what she did in March 1987, on the tenth anniversary of the Clash's first record being released. Then she went out driving in her beat-up (but still gorgeous) white convertible, top down despite the winter weather, her long hair buffeted by a cold wind, listening to this song, written and first recorded by Sonny Curtis -- now better known for writing "Love is All Around," the theme song for the Mary Tyler Moore Show (link for Gmail subscribers):

Now I'm not a physicist, but I'm pretty sure Sir Isaac Newton said something about how impossible it is to drive slowly when you hear songs like this. And Julie was flying. A State Trooper pulled her over and said he'd clocked her going 86 in a 60 zone. He asked why she was speeding. She's pretty enough to have gotten out of the ticket by flirting, but instead she explained she'd been listening to the Clash because it was the tenth anniversary of their first record coming out. The Trooper then told her about how he had discovered the Clash and how he'd seen them exactly once. As it turned out, they went to the same show. So he let her off with a warning.

Joe Strummer died before the Clash were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Later that year, there was a Clash tribute at the Grammy awards. It took Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Steve Van Zandt, and Elvis Costello to take Joe Strummer's place (link for Gmail subscribers):

Julie reminded me recently that, when Joe Strummer died (a few days before Christmas in 2002), she went driving again. Different car, this one not a convertible, her hair a little shorter and the heater blasting. Also blasting was "London Calling."

Again, impossible to drive slowly with a song like that.

So Julie was pulled over; this time clocked at 70 in a 55. When the cop asked why she was speeding, Julie explained that Joe Strummer of the Clash had died. She talked about the band, she talked about the show she'd seen, and she even mentioned that she had just listened to Sandinista on vinyl. All six sides.

The cop patiently listened to Julie's story, eyes hidden behind mirror sunglasses, face stripped of emotion. Finally Julie asked him what type of music he liked.

The cop thought for a minute, then said "Britney Spears."

And wrote her a ticket for $78.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hard Not to Love This

Today in Rock History

Rolling Stones Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, and Bill Wyman are fined 5 pounds each for urinating against the wall of a gas station in 1965.

Thirteen years later, Elvis Costello releases his debut album My Aim Is True, backed by the band Clover (which would later form the nucleus of Huey Lewis's backing band the News).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Call Out the Instigators

We're Gonna Blast Our Way Through Here

The palm trees sway gently in the wind.

By the highway.

The pictures are still on the wall. Taped. No one seemed to mind.

The postcards are all in a row. Also taped. Above the photos.

The window is open and the cleaning crew has come through.

Everything will be boxed and someone will come pick it up.

The word will spread out from this spot.

And the awareness floats upward. Freely.

The nurses talked for a few days. Then they moved on.

There were other people, other problems.

One of them wondered about the strange visitors, the phone calls, the people with accents.

But she didn't say anything. She just wondered.

Some immediately forgot how cranky he could be, how difficult. They only wanted to remember the positive. Which is nice, but it's not real life. In trying to be nice, they unwittingly diminish the humanity.

Meanwhile, doctors and administrators talked about the family and speculated why so few of them had come.

Many questions remained. Questions that would never be answered.

Still the palm trees waved in the gentle ocean breeze.

They know the answers -- but more than that, they know when it's time.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Few Things to Listen To (and One to Read)

Live From the Interwebs

Thanks to the reader who pointed out that I had the old, wrong, dead link for Peter's Power Pop over there on the side -- it's fixed now. But speaking of which, go here and listen to Brian Hoffer, who humbly suggests maybe you just need psychoanalysis.

Hat tip to Whiteray over at Echoes in the Wind, who pointed me to The Goat 540, an album-rock Am station that streams on the web -- and might just represent the finest ideals of album rock, which I thought had died decades ago.

And finally, (with a hat tip to JB at The Hits Just Keep on Coming'), the Washington Post presents a history of the Cheesetastic "Afternoon Delight."


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Justin Has None

Last Night One Tried To Kill Me -- I'm Sure

"Meet me at that place. Down the block. The one that shouldn't be open but is."

So I did. I drove there.

New to Los Angeles, not caring that no one thought my crappy French car was cool, not caring what trendy cars the bottled blondes drove.

On the street were six Suzuki Samurais, all driven by newly blonde actress wannabes carrying plastic water bottles and yoga mats.

Five years later, they'd be driving some other trendy car. Then another one. Then New Beetles and Mini Coopers.

At the place where we met, she ate something organic. I tried a bite. It was disgusting.

"Why aren't the streets glistening?" she asked. "They always glisten in the movies."

I looked down the hallway, which was painted to look like a Japanese Pagoda. Now it looked like a hallway with peeling Pagoda paint. The bored vaguely Asian waitstaff scurried about, heating sake for the exclusively White patrons.

"I don't know that they're always glistening," I said.

She smiled. "Always. There's never been a movie where it's not raining in Los Angeles."

She wanted me to argue, to be logical. But I didn't want to. I was tired.

"It's like someone waved a magic wand at Los Angeles and made it rain. But only in the movies." She looked far off into the distance. "I wish I could make it rain here."

She finished her meal. I couldn't stomach mine.

Then she asked if I wanted any gluten-free chocolate cake. I didn't. I was tired of trendy food. "I've got an idea," I said. "Let's go somewhere and have real chocolate cake. Made with sugar and flour and eggs and chocolate."

She scowled at me. "That's disgusting."

I shrugged as she poured water from the bottle into her glass.

"I just wanted something real."

She stared around the room at all the women with fake breasts and said nothing.

"You know," I said, "Evian spelled backwards is 'naive.'"

She shook her head, looked at me across the table, and said the words every man in Los Angeles hates to hear: "I signed up for an acting class."

We said nothing for a very long time.

The French car outlived the relationship, but not by much. I got an equally untrendy but more reliable car.

In the restaurant, the paint continued to peel. The fake breasted women pushed food around their plates and eventually left. The newly arrived blondes went off to yoga in their cute cars.

Some of the details changed (the make of the cute car, the container used for designer water, the hairstyle), but the essence was the same. The same old thing that you saw 12 seconds ago.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Let's Live For Today

Guilty? Maybe. Pleasure? Definitely.

RIP Rob Grill, bass player, lead singer, and sometime songwriter for the Grass Roots.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

It's All Been A Gorgeous Mistake

Down by the Statue

There's a statue in the middle of the lawn.

No one remembers who it is. Or what he did.

And certainly no one remembers why he's on horseback.

But late one night, Gina and I were walking on the lawn.

And we were talking about her problems. (She had a lot of problems, so this was not the first or the last time we talked about them.)

We stopped by the statue and I could sense that her personal cosmology and belief systems, which ebbed and flowed like mountain springs, were due for another radical change of course. "I'd die for you, you know," she said.

And I said something about how that would not be necessary. Because I didn't want the responsibility. Didn't want her even thinking that way.

And she bent down, picked up an empty bottle of beer someone had thrown onto the lawn.

She smiled. "It's not that big a deal. I've died a thousand times before. I've got a few thousand times to go still."

And she broke the bottle against the base of the statue.

I spun around, thinking someone would have heard us, somewhere security or the police, or a neighbor would come running out and we'd get in trouble.

But no one came.

"It's 3 am," Gina said as I turned back to face her. "No one cares. This is the one time of day when we can be honest with each other."

And she ran her finger across the jagged edges of the broken glass before continuing. "And I'm sure you'd die for me, too."

I looked deep into her eyes and realized this was no small request. She may not have wanted me to die right then and there, but she wanted to know that she could call on me to die whenever she chose.

I knew I wouldn't do that. Much as I cared for her, I wasn't going there. Not that night and not in the future.

I took the broken glass from her hand. And she must have seen the deep-seated fear in me, because she quickly backtracked, claiming she'd never hurt herself for anyone and would never want anyone else to die for her.

She laughed, insisted I'd misunderstood, and tried to play the whole thing off as a joke.

But I knew better.

And anyone else who'd been there knew better too.

But I had no one to share this insight with -- except for the statue. And he (like Gina) wasn't in the mood to listen.

Longtime readers may be interested to know that this song was always targeted for inclusion on my never-went-anywhere Codependency's Greatest Hits collection.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Two (of One) from the Other Two

Hari Krishna to You

Interrupting the summer doldrums for two versions of a song I've always loved (which seems appropriate since today is Ringo Starr's birthday).

Come for the great horn arrangements (and instrumental tracks played by most of Badfinger), stay for the goofy scenes of pianos in the snow, Ringo skiing poorly, and several snowmachine accidents waiting to happen.

There were rumors from the beginning that Ringo could not have possibly written this song (a huge step up from his previous ditties like "Octopus's Garden"). Decades later, a demo version surfaced with a George Harrison guide vocal (as well as a few extraneous "Hari Krishnas" that were buried in the final mix), raising questions about exactly how much of the song Harrison had written himself.

But as cool as the Harrison version is, there's something I've always loved about Ringo's vocal that Harrison didn't quite match.

Compare and contrast amongst yourselves:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Sweet to Be A Summer Rerun

Note: I'm reasonably sure it's a coincidence that I kept thinking of the last song in this post after watching cable news coverage of politicians and political pundits...

Originally Published May 2009

After the Rutles album came out, there was a lot of talk about how similar the songs were to Beatles songs (including this article, which proves that scholarly study of humor will almost immediately spiral into self-parody).

Unfortunately, the owners of the Beatles publishing (but not the Beatles themselves) decided that the Rutle songs were too close to Beatle songs and sued. In the process, Innes lost all the publishing and songwriting royalties for all the songs from the first Rutles album (and was so disgusted with the music business that he dropped out of music for several years). Add in legal squabbling with Eric Idle about legal ownership of the idea of the Rutles, and you've got enough to make you want to smash everything in sight. (And blame it on society.)

But the universe does have a way of showing that there is such thing as Karma, even if it takes longer than we want. In the mid-1990s, Oasis, a band whose music is often ignored while people focus on their influences and frequent fistfights, released a song called "Whatever" which -- and I'm not sure how to put this delicately -- sounds exactly like the Neil Innes song "How Sweet to Be an Idiot."

And, perhaps in part to make up for mistreating him financially with the Rutles, the universe awarded Innes royalties and co-writing credit on "Whatever."


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hot Hot Heat

Even the Stars Sometimes Fade to Grey

I got a call from a friend back East. He was baking. It was a million degrees. He wanted to hear about the lack of humidity. About the cool ocean breezes. About the way the sun didn't bake us here the same way it was baking them there.

So we talked about snow.

About ice.

About the bone-chilling feeling of cold wet wind when the snow wouldn't stop falling.

About the feeling of wind chill on exposed skin, how it flowed through your core.

And about the feeling of shaking from the cold.

At the end of the call, I asked if it helped.

"Not really," he said. "But I'm going to go lie down in the bathtub for a while... and see if that helps."

The Weepies are two married singer/songwriters who had separate careers and met one night at a folk club in Cambridge, Mass.

They've had hundreds of songs placed in TV shows and movies, hitting the twee bullseye nearly every time.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Great Big Problem Stop Me In My Tracks

I Can't Stand Up and I Can't Sit Down

"You know the problem."

I know of the problem.

"That's not the same. But I know you know."

I don't know about that.

"You're talking in circles. Sometimes I think you like talking in circles."


"No you're not talking in circles? Or no you don't like it?"


"That doesn't answer my question."

No. No it doesn't.

"You circle around the point without getting there."

Maybe that's the only way to get there.

"Another riddle. I'm tired of riddles."

And I'm just tired. Because the whole point isn't the answer to the riddles or the answer to the questions, but the space between the riddles. The space between that defines what we can't define in the circles. Or the riddles. Or the words.

"I almost understand that."

Yeah. Me too.

Happy Independence Day.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hit the City and I Lost My Band

For long lost late-night friends

The wind never picked up all summer.

But it cooled down.

Late at night, in a city that had gone downhill for decades. A city that would come back, but not until we were all long gone.

Down the hill to a deserted downtown area filled with bars we never went to and a couple of rock clubs we did.

Somersaulting on the lawn in front of the State House at 2 in the morning -- grass freshly mowed, security guards safely asleep inside the building.

Past buildings soon to be torched for insurance money -- allegedly, because nothing was ever proven.

Walking in packs, thinking we were safe from anything that could be thrown our way.

Ignoring each other's foibles, as if talking about what was wrong would make things worse.

Working during the day in jobs that would expire in a couple months. Saving a tiny bit of money so the ones who had cars could drive us to the Beach every other weekend.

When the news came years later, it seemed inevitable to everyone.

The sadness was not a relief. The sense of loss may have been more for ourselves than the ones who were finally, definitely gone.

The question about why we hadn't done more lingered in the air that day like the heat that still rises from the sidewalks in the summer. We appeared dressed in black suits and black dresses, older if not wiser. And we talked into the night, ties loosened, the good times seeping through holes in our memories while the ghosts of our younger selves passed by the outdoor cafes downtown searching for the dingy bars and rock clubs that closed up shop long ago.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Under Them Skies So Blue

With Added Dreams

Southern California is big.

Gigantic even.

I was out in the desert this weekend. In the middle of nowhere.

With a bunch of dreamers. All following their own paths. All brought together by a mutual love of something obscure and amazing.

And it was more than 100 degrees out -- sun beating down on us with no humidity.

From the top of a mountain, we barbecued. Talked. Drank. Laughed.

Shared stories.

Hundreds of miles from anywhere.

I remembered other summers. Other hot days. Other people.

And when I came back closer to the ocean yesterday, there was a street fair. Within a mile there were about a half-dozen great tribute bands.

There was a Steely Dan tribute band that rocked out next to the Ben & Jerry's.

There was a Tom Petty tribute band playing a few yards away from Davy Jones' Liquor Locker. Playing song after song everyone knew.

Not always playing the right chords. Not always hitting the right notes.

But the crowd sang along with everything.

Like every word they sang was meant to be.

Friday, June 24, 2011

All He Touches Turns To Dust

Before I Lose My Reason... and My Soul

I've got a great idea. Let's solve the problem of people not having jobs by cutting government programs, getting rid of pensions, destroying unions, and raising taxes and fees on people who can barely afford to live.

Oh, and let's let the insurance companies rack up record profits while we cut benefits to people who need them so that people who are unemployed literally cannot afford health care and decide that robbing a bank is a great way to get coverage since our society has ruled that depriving prison inmates of health care is cruel and unusual punishment (but depriving the poor is just the American way).

And then let's give tax breaks to people who don't need it and companies that already pay little or no tax.

Because, if you listen to anyone on the Sunday Morning Talk Shows, that's the only way to get ourselves out of this economic mess.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It Must Be Summer Cause I'm Falling Apart

For the longest day of the year

In a more just world, Fountains of Wayne would be bigger than U2 and not just a band known for an incredibly well-crafted and amazing novelty song.

But in the meantime, enjoy Summer Solstice with this white light of pure pop happiness:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Everybody's Free to Work on Their Act

Once he was the grinder, now he has to work for hire

"Your passive-aggressive mastery of the art of stealing office supplies does not make you James Bond," she said.

"Maybe not," he answered. "But I could kill you 16 different ways with a paper clip."

She nodded. "Fine talk from someone who doesn't even realize I've got your stapler."

He glanced down at her hands, distracted by the silver flash of the stapler, clearly marked "Property of Engineering Department - Do Not Remove." But here it was... in his apartment.

He began to sweat, wishing he'd worn something other than a white tuxedo.

"Do you expect me to talk?" he asked. "Do you want the launch codes? My secrets about the location of assets?"

She smiled and dropped the stapler. "No, Mr. Bond. I expect for you to go down to the casino, win thousands at baccarat, foil an evil scheme or two, and return to me."

He nodded. "I can do that."

But she was gone. Because he couldn't do that. Not in a hastily constructed cookie-cutter room above an Indian casino in the Midwest. Not when he was wearing a t-shirt and jeans instead of a tux and drinking vodka straight from the bottle.

And probably not even if he'd been in Monte Carlo and wasn't afraid to go into the casino.

Looking into the mirror, he realized that the dream he'd clung to since he was 8 in a darkened movie theater was slipping away.

Because he'd never be James Bond. No matter how many Uniball pens and sealed packets of Post-It notes he had hidden away in his closet at home.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Don't Want a Nation Under the New Media

Calling Out to Idiot America

I honestly don't know what's stupider -- the way Anthony Weiner acted or the fact that the Democrats allowed themselves to be bullied into demanding his resignation.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

For Elizabeth

With apologies to Dr. Seuss

Liz is Betsy and Betsy is Liz and that’s the first thing you should know.
They grew up together (’cause they are the same person) near a mountain that’s covered with snow.

One wants the other (and she wants the first) as they visualize what they can’t do
I offer this up as a warning because – this could all happen to you.

It can be rough growing up in a small town where there are limited roles
And that’s doubly true for Betsy (and Liz) – in a village of 2 dozen souls.

Throughout the county, each person loved Betsy – and treated her like she was four.
This caused upset and much consternation – Betsy was hoping for more.

So Betsy went steady with some local boy who asked her Dad if they could wed
But Liz said no, she won’t settle down with a boy she hadn’t taken to bed.

Now Liz hates Betsy but Betsy loved Liz – and literally wanted to be her.
Each night she would dream of her future as Liz – happier, hipper, and free-er.

Town gossip was flying about the refusal of Betsy (and Liz) to get hitched
While Liz (and Betsy) yearned for escape and they couldn’t wait to get switched.

So when it came time to head off to college, Betsy packed up all her stuff.
But it was Liz who arrived at their dorm room, sexy and silky and tough.

Betsy at home was always the good girl, despite all she wanted to try
But Liz at school was always the bad girl, frequently – no, always – high.

Liz thought she’d get A’s without any effort – but that thought was far from the truth.
So she settled for C’s and the pills she was buying – washed down with the cheapest vermouth.

Liz dated jocks and Liz slept with teachers and did all the things she was able
And every one of the Sigma Chi pledges thought Liz looked hot on their pool table.

Liz did things that Betsy just dreamed of – drinking and smoking and sex
And Liz ate stuff that Betsy was scared of – pussies and cocks and Tex-Mex.

Then Liz got a tattoo and Liz did a three-way and late one night Liz pulled a train
While Betsy skulked 'round, witnessing Liz's common sense swirl down the drain.

As dawn was breaking, Lizzie would wake up, covered in cocaine and jizz
This would have never happened to Betsy, but it happened quite often to Liz.

Four years of debauchery flew by in a flash (another thing Liz loved to do)
For graduation, she smoked tons of hash (and stripped to show off her tattoo).

Then Liz got a job and Betsy took over and they moved in with some guy named Max
Now Liz and Betsy are both gulping Prozac to stave off their panic attacks.

In the corporate world, there’s no place for Liz, and Betsy’s again number one.
Which brings poor Liz much pain and frustration (plus the vague memory she had fun).

When the name’s what determines your baseline behavior, sanity’s not what it seems
For Liz and Betsy (and Betsy and Liz), it’s all about managing dreams.

So Max loves Betsy but lusts after Liz, which all works out perfect for him
But she’s still trying to figure it out – where does Betsy end and Liz begin?

In life we have chances to change and adapt – and it’s always a good thing to grow.
Still Liz is Betsy and Betsy is Liz and that’s the one thing that I know.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Moving Ahead So Life Won't Pass Me By

Sometimes there are benefits (pun intended) to living in Los Angeles.

Last night I went to a benefit concert put on by Charles Fox for the Fulfillment Fund (a mentoring group for at-risk High School students).

The concert featured Jeff Barry (who wrote so many great songs with Ellie Greenwich), David Pack (from the band Ambrosia), Richard Marx, Felix Cavaliere (from the Rascals), Norman Gimbel (Fox's longtime songwriting partner), songwriter Allee Willis, and many others.

Fox has written a ton of songs you know (including lots of 70s TV theme songs -- "Love American Style," "Happy Days," etc., etc.), but my favorite song that he wrote was "I Got a Name," recorded by Jim Croce in the early 1970s.

Yeah, it's got the requisite cheesy 70s strings, but I keep thinking the time is right for a great indie-rock remake of this song.

And in the meantime... enjoy Jim Croce singing a classic song written by Gimbel & Fox: