Saturday, February 28, 2009


Llasa de Sela--better known as Llasa--is a Mexican American singer who was raised south of the border and in the US, and is now living in Canada. Her music combines all three countries, and she peppers the pot with the rhythms of Latin folklore, poetry in the Andalusian tradition of Federico Garcia-Lorca, gypsy music, and norteño canciones along with French (and French-Canadian) café styles.

Llasa started singing in bars when she was thirteen and moved to Montreal at nineteen, where she sang in bars for five more years before releasing her first album in 1997, the stunning La Llorona. La Llorona is a figure from Aztec mythology who is known to lure men with Siren songs, then turn them to stone as punishment for their evil ways. Sultry, sexy, melancholy, intoxicating. Listen at your own risk. You will soon be buying copies for everyone you know.

After touring briefly, Lhasa left her singing career in 1999 and moved to France to join her three sisters in a circus/theatre company named Pocheros.

"It's poh-sher-oss, because it's a play on words. Peau, chair, os - skin, flesh and bone. My sisters have been circus performers for a long time, and I always felt that wasn't really my world. I would visit them often in their various circuses, and it's an
amazing world, very different from anything else. When I needed a break from music, it just happened that my sisters were finishing a project and we were all free at the same time. So we put together a show, with a circus tent and bleachers and trailers. I sang mostly, but I also did some theatre and rhythm games and stuff like that...a contempory circus, no animals. Actually there was a singing dog." --Llasa, in the Montreal Mirror

The circus eventually reached Marseilles, and Llasa quit to write some new songs. The songs appeared on her second album, The Living Road, in 2003. Llasa will release a new album this year called "The Rising."

Enjoy her music while you can. She might run off with the circus again.

Listen to Llasa performing "El Desierto" from La Llorona by clicking button:

To visit a Llasa website (in French) click here.
For an in-depth biography from Musicalia, click here.

Friday, February 27, 2009


E. L. Doctorow, author of "Ragtime," "Billy Bathgate," and "The March," discusses "Outlaw writers and the Novel Form." What's the deal with writers? Sure, some are placid tea-drinking creatures who quietly do their work--academics in their cubby holes--but an inordinate number are runaway trains, volatile drunkards, dope addicts, pugilists itching for a fight, misanthropes of various stripes, blowhards with guns, egotists, religious fanatics, trainspotters, and dark, tortured depressives powering through the eternal midnight of the soul. I'm just kidding. That's a myth. Still, there might be something to the myth of the writer in extremis.

The Doctorow interview in its entirety. (For Doctorow's brilliant defense of "the Arts" please read previous post here)

Steve Almond, author of "Candyfreak," "My Life in Heavy Metal" and other dangerous books, speaks at Aquinas College in 2008. He read and taught at a writers' workshop I attended this summer, and was hilarious and strange and unpredictable. Read a Steve Almond essay here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Son House (March 21, 1902– October 19, 1988)

"Death Letter" by Son House

It's slide guitar day. We start with a blues classic performed on a metal-bodied National resonator guitar with a copper slide. "Death Letter," also known as "Death Letter Blues," was the signature song of Delta bluesman Son House. House was an important influence on Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, and he remains influential today, with his music being covered by blues-rock groups such as The White Stripes. Compare and contrast, kids.

The White Stripes cover "Death Letter"

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


And I will stroll the merry way and jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats and they'll get high
On a bluer ocean against tomorrow's sky
And I will never grow so old again

Once in a great while the magic strikes, rivers run backwards, planets line up like billiard balls, and the wind plays strange melodies on empty bottles. Astral Weeks is just such a moment. The album signaled the end of the "Brown-eyed Girl" radio-friendly pop of early Van Morrison and carried us into the mystic. This wasn't top forty music at all, but something luminous, deeper and more personal, new Celtic soul and folk rock with jazzy notes--and enough bizarre lyrics to keep the hopheads up late at night working their decoder rings.

If I ventured in the slipstream Between the viaducts of your dreams Where immobile steel rims crack And the ditch in the back roads stop Could you find me?

Elvis Costello said Astral Weeks is "still the most adventurous record made in the rock medium, and there hasn't been a record with that amount of daring made since."

Van at the Hollywood Bowl, 2008

In 2008, forty years after its release, Van Morrison returned to this cycle of songs with a series of concerts in Los Angeles in which he played the album in its entirety. "Astral Weeks at the Hollywood Bowl" will soon be released on CD and DVD. Before the shows, Morrison offered this explanation:

“Astral Weeks” songs...were from another sort of place—not what is at all obvious. They are poetry and mythical musings channeled from my imagination...[They] are little poetic stories I made up and set to music...The songs were somewhat channeled works—that is why I called it “Astral Weeks.” As my songwriting has gone on I tend to do the same channeling, so it’s sort of like “Astral Decades,” I guess.

And I will raise my hand up
Into the night time sky
And count the stars
That's shining in your eye
Just to dig it all an' not to wonder
That's just fine
And I'll be satisfied
Not to read in between the lines
And I will walk and talk
In gardens all wet with rain
And I will never, ever, ever, ever
Grow so old again.

Lester Bangs wrote a review of the album back in 1979, and he called it "the rock record with the most significance in my life so far." Bangs said this was " a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend." Lester was probably stoned when he wrote that, but even so...the album clearly is shooting for more than your standard rock tropes of girls and cars and the diddy-wah-diddy. Maybe it's worth some late night contemplation.

(You can read the rest of Lester Bang's rambling review by clicking here).

Listen to the title track "Astral Weeks" by clicking the button:

(track removed by request from WEB SHERIFF on behalf of Exile Productions and Exile Publishing. See comments)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


"The History of the Creole Wild West as Told by Themselves." A performance and panel discussion with the Creole Wild West Tribe of the Mardi Gras Indians. Laisses Les bon temps rouler!

Get your Mardi Gras on with the Dixie Cups playing "Iko Iko" --just click the button:

Hear The Wild Tchoupitoulas sing "Big Chief Got A Golden Crown" by clicking button:

Monday, February 23, 2009


Jorma and Jack play "Embryonic Journey" at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, 1996

Jorma Ludwik Kaukonen Jr first came to our attention playing lead guitar with the San Francisco rock band, Jefferson Airplane. Psychedelic acid rock--you know it well. Jorma Kaukonen helped shape the sound. Listen to that weird loping solo on "White Rabbit." Better yet, listen to the electric guitar on the live version of "Plastic Fantastic Lover" from "Bless its Pointed Little Head."

Lead guitar with the Jefferson Airplane, circa 1966

In 1969, Jorma and fellow bandmate Jack Casady formed Hot Tuna. The band began as a side project where they could explore wild heavy blues, both acoustic and electric. Their early repertoire was derived mainly from American country blues artists such as Rev. Gary Davis, and Arthur Blake (Blind Blake).

Before long, Jorma and Jack left the Airplane completely (the rest of the band became Jefferson Starship...) and concentrated on this "new" old sound. When not playing electric, Jorma was playing an intricate fingerstyle on the acoustic guitar. Watch and listen as Jorma accompanies the melodic line with an alternating thumb pattern, then try playing like that on your own guitar. You may want to bash it to bits, but remember that he didn't learn that fancy stuff overnight.

Hot Tuna in 1972, the year they released "Burgers." Jorma (bottom right) with Jack Casady, Papa John Creach, and Sammy Piazza. Rolling down the blues highway...

Jorma plays "Genesis" at D.O.C. Music Club Studio on Italian TV, 1980

"Uncle Sam Blues," Hot Tuna, featuring Papa John Creach. 1971

Jorma was always a hell of a fingerpicker, and continues to play his intricate patterns with Jack in Hot Tuna. He also teaches guitar at Fur Peace Ranch, a guitar camp in the hills of Southeast Ohio. You just grab your guitar and pack in, stay in a cabin, and play guitar all day. Wouldn't that be cool? There's more to it--just click the link below.

Jorma Kaukonen today

Listen to "I Am the Light of This World" (Rev. Gary Davis) performed by Jorma. Click button:

Explore Jorma's Fur Peace Ranch guitar camp here. Hot Tuna's official website here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Today is Academy Awards day, which is basically Super Bowl Sunday for film geeks. There were a few good movies this year, and some real turds. Does it make any difference? Get the guacamole ready, we're coming over for the Oscars!

Another bad movie. Mindless fun or an insult to your imagination?

Have you ever watched a movie? Sure you have. Over the years we've all spent a fortune on films--and for every great cinema experience we've endured a hundred stinkers. Did you see any bad movies this year? Sure you did. Did watching some of that crap make you wonder if you could make a better movie? Could you match wits with "Witless Protection?" How about "The Love Guru?" or "Over Her Dead Body?"

A lot of money is at stake, and even Academy Award nominees for Best Picture can fall prey to a by-the-numbers formula, as shown here with "The Curious Case of Benjamen Button." (By the way, Button leads the Oscar pack with thirteen nominations.)

Benjamen Button vs. Forest Gump

"You paid to see them," the Hollywood schlockmeisters counter. "That's why we make them. The box office justifies everything. Think you could you do any better?"

What condescending horse manure. Just because people want something--entertainment, thrills, a good story--and pay good money for it, are they responsible for what they get? We didn't ask for that. Is water-boarding any better if you're really thirsty? Is drowning any better after eating a can of Pringles?

Michael Killen, professor of screenwriting at Stanford, gives some pointers

So make your own movie. You may not be able to get it made, but by all means use your imagination. The creative part of the brain requires occasional nurturing or it dies like a neglected houseplant. Spritz it from time to time, not like the house sitter who leaves your plants dead but wet the day you return from vacation.

Robert Rodriguez is famous for making a film on an extremely low budget. Here he gives you a film school lesson.

Friday, February 20, 2009


It's Oscar weekend, and may the best movie win. Actually, it's not about the best movie or the best actor (Benicio was brilliant in "Che" but wasn't even nominated) but about backstage politics and take-no-prisoners lobbying. Okay, so no "Che," and no "Dark Knight." "The Visitor" was excluded, and so was "In Bruges," but they basically got it right, didn't they? They generally do, don't they?

Well, no. Not necessarily.

Lost in space? "2001: a Space Odyssey" not even nominated for best pic in 1968

Take 1968, for instance. That year "Oliver!" won best picture against nominees "The Lion in Winter," "Rachel, Rachel," "Funny Girl," and "Romeo and Juliet." "2001: a Space Odyssey" wasn't nominated for best picture that year (it got a director nod) and neither was "Rosemary's Baby," "Battle of Algiers,""Faces," or "The Producers." Neither was "Once Upon a Time in the West," "Planet of the Apes," "Bullitt," or "Night of the Living Dead." The best they could come up with was "Oliver!"


What's the dang deal? The game is rigged. To help clarify the confusing world of the Academy Awards, here's an interview with Harvey Weinstein, master of greasing palms and mercenary awards campaigns. He's one scary dude. Click here to read the Weinstein interview. Click here to read Weinstein's latest press release regarding Best Picture nominee "The Reader."

Tom Cruise hugs movie mogul Harvey Weinstein

If you're like me, you're already going over your tux with a lint brush. This should be fun. See you Sunday...Ciao, baby!

A list of nominees for this years Academy Awards, click here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


The descendants of Geronimo have sued Skull and Bones, Yale's secret society, claiming that members stole the remains of the legendary Apache leader years ago. The secret society, linked to past presidents and the powerful, including both Bush presidents, as well as Senator John Kerry, reportedly dug up Geronimo's grave when a group of Army volunteers from Yale were stationed at the fort during World War I, taking his skull and some of his bones.

"Descendants of the Apache Indian leader Geronimo are suing the government, Yale and a powerful secret society in hopes of returning his remains to New Mexico. Geronimo’s great-grandson Harlyn Geronimo said the descendants believe members of a secretive Yale group, Skull and Bones, took some of the remains from a burial plot in Fort Sill, Okla."
- New York Post, 2/18/09

Harlyn Geronimo

"Geronimo's great-grandson Harlyn Geronimo said his family believes Skull and Bones members took some of the remains in 1918 from a burial plot in Fort Sill, Okla., to keep in its New Haven clubhouse, a crypt. The alleged graverobbing is a longstanding legend that gained some validity in recent years with the discovery of a letter from a club member that described the theft." - The Huffington Post, 2/18/09

"'If remains are not properly buried, the spirit is just wandering, wandering, until a proper burial has been performed,' the 61-year-old great-grandson said, speaking slowly, emotionally. After two tours in Vietnam he became a sculptor and an actor. 'The only way to bring this to a closure is to release the remains and his spirit, so that he can be taken back to his homeland.'"
-The Washington Post, 2/18/09

Geronimo was one of the last Indian leaders to battle the U.S. Army. He outfoxed the Army so often that it put 5,000 soldiers into the hunt for him and his last band of three dozen warriors. He was finally captured, and died while a prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Yesterday was the 100th year anniversary of his death.


Robert Plant and Allison Krauss came together to make a great album of roots blues rock music this year. It was heaped with praise and amply awarded. You remember Plant as the lead singer in the Golden Hindenburg (see clip) and Krauss as a simple washer woman in Dogpatch, USA, but together, well...just listen. Good stuff.

(The video of Plant & Krauss was pulled due to questions of copyright infringement, so here is a replacement clip of Plant's old band from the gloriously excessive '70s)

Hear Plant and Krauss sing "Please Read the Letter" from their album Raising Sand--just click the button:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Brando was the best actor, period, even though they called him Number Four on this list of Greatest Screen Legends from the AFI. Still, they have some good clips.

Bogart is another all-time favorite, and AFI rated him Number One. More good clips:

For the rest of the AFI list, click here.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Did you catch this story? Researchers have shown that playing the harmonica on a regular basis can help people with chronic lung diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema. The good folks at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood told CBS4's Cynthia Demos it really works and it's fun. The hospital is now offering classes in harmonica for its patients.

According to Science Daily, "The repeated pattern of pushing air from the lungs into the instrument, and then sucking air back into the lungs helps patients learn to control and boost their breathing."

It makes sense. So if you're suffering from bronchitis or emphysema or your mojo just ain't working properly grab your blues harp and play along with Sonny Boy Williamson II, joined here by Otis Spann and Muddy Waters. Get well soon.


One of my favorite places to eat is La Medusa, a Sicilian restaurant in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle. This weekend, we ate there with my parents and had a wonderful meal. My father is Sicilian and my mother is Calabrese (from the toe of the boot) and they're both excellent cooks. Not your typical rubes, they won't have the wool pulled over their eyes by a merely trendy eatery, and they will happily let you know if the meal isn't up to par.

For starters, we had bacala--salt cod fritters--and "grandmas's greens" in warm garlic anchovy broth, pine nuts, olives, raisins. Then we ate perciatelli con le sarde, a signature dish of Sicily, pasta with caramelized fennel & onions, sardines, saffron, pine nuts, olives, and raisins. We also had orecchiette ("ears") pasta with brussels sprouts, taleggio fonduta, spicy Italian sausage, and truffle oil. Everything was cooked to perfection and made with fresh, seasonal foods from local markets--just as it would be in Sicily.

Sicilian Street Food

We drank Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo between bites and talked about our trip to Italy in the spring, and my folks gave us plenty of great recommendations of must-eat-at-spots scattered throughout the boot. Do you detect a theme here? In Italy, they take food very seriously. You can eat in ristorantes, osterias, trattorias, caffes, enotecas, paninotecas, pizzerie, bars, and Autogrills. If you don't get good food, you only have yourself to blame. Of course, it's not just food--there is a world of history and art and architecture to attend to--the underpinnings of western civilization--but food and drink is part of that, and more than just fuel.

At La Medusa, the food was excellent. Dad said the pasta con le sarde was better than he had in Sicily. That's high praise indeed. La Medusa is a lively neighborhood spot run by foodies, but if you're looking for a typical checkered tablecloth, spaghetti and meatballs Italian eatery look elsewhere--this is Sicilian soul food. Go there.

La Medusa, 4857 Rainier Avenue South, 206.723. 2192
Check the menu here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


"The Simpsons" has finally revamped its opening title sequence for the first time in twenty years. While some sections remain the same (Bart at the blackboard, for instance) the entire intro has undergone a major overhaul for this evening's brand spanking new HD premier. As America switches to an all-HD format, and the easily bamboozled public scrambles to buy new televisions in a state of near hysteria encouraged by unscrupulous TV salesmen (remember Y2K? Remember Kahoutek? Remember duct tape?) the creators of The Simpsons have once again presented us with ourselves, our fears and our foibles. D'oh!


One of my favorite courses at Yale was "The American Novel Since 1945" taught by Amy Hungerford. The course traced the formal and thematic developments of the novel, fiction's engagement with history, and the changing place of literature in American culture. Professor Hungerford--Amy--was never less than inspiring, and you always felt excited and ill-prepared as you slipped into place before her watchful eye.

1st Class: The American Novel Since 1945, with Amy Hungerford

You probably didn't go to Yale. Odds are you attended a crowded state school where getting a class on Registration Day was like grabbing the last chopper out of Saigon. You probably missed Yale, and never lugged books across its autumn leaf-strewn quad, never screamed your lungs out at the Yale-Harvard game, or burned a hole in its residential college system modeled after Oxford where even the phone booths look like Neo-Gothic confessionals. You probably never studied late at the SML, or took a date to Pepe's on Wooster for the white clam pizza.

More importantly, you probably didn't get a first-rate education from the greatest minds of your time. That would have been Harvard. Even so, you missed Yale. Now you have a chance to breathe that rarefied air, smell the chalkdust, rustle into place with all the other beaming students and listen to Amy--dear Amy, well-scrubbed Amy, radiant Amy, hard-grader Amy, sensibly-dressed Amy--Hungerford, as she walks you through the post-war novels of Richard Wright, Flannery O'Connor, Vladimir Nabokov, Jack Kerouac, J. D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Marilynne Robinson, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth and Edward P. Jones.

Review for the Final Exam: American Novel Since 1945, with Amy Hungerford

Okay, I didn't really go to Yale either. Big deal. I can pretend, and so can you, with the help of this wonderful online lecture series. In fact, we can soak up the same education Yalies paid a fortune for, and more importantly, we can impress our shallow friends with the sheer snob appeal of having attended one of the finest schools in the land. Watch the video. Afterward, puff on your Meerschaum in a darkly wooded study and drift down memory lane through the tables at Mory's to the place where Louis dwells, hoist a frothy pint with the assembled Whiffenpoofs and sing the songs we loved so well: "Shall I, Wasting" and "Mavourneen" and the rest. Raise your glass, old bean, and let us never forget those halcyon hours we spent online at Yale, we poor little lambs who have lost our way.

For the entire wonderful course, please click here.

Friday, February 13, 2009


A good song is a good song.

Just another band from Liverpool, The Zutons. Here they perform "Valerie" on the Jools Holland show in London. They wrote the song.

"Valerie" meets Amy in this clip. Naked and unplugged, badgirl Amy Winehouse really nails it backstage, bringing out the soul of the song. She gets a lot of press for her scandalous behavior, but Miss Trouble can really sing. Now she owns it.

Finally, Mark Ronson, who produced Amy's "Back to Black" album, arranges the full kitchen sink production using Amy Winehouse on vocals and a hot backup band (and in the video, some Winehouse wannabes called "The Winettes"). Ronson brought Valerie to the club.

Did you have to go to jail, put your house on up for sale, did you get a good lawyer?
I hope you didn't catch a tan, I hope you find the right man who'll fix it for you
Are you shopping anywhere, changed the colour of your hair, are you busy?
And did you have to pay the fine you were dodging all the time are you still dizzy?

'Cos since I've come on home, well my body's been a mess
And I've missed your ginger hair and the way you like to dress
Won't you come on over
Stop making a fool out of me
Why won't you come on over Valerie?


Buck up, little buddy. It's a new day! Charlie Chaplin was a genius. Speaking of Joseph Campbell (see post below), Chaplin plays the tramp, the trickster, the vagabond, the romantic, the pauper, the renunciate, the outsider. With just a few gestures we know him well.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


This Dylan guy can sure write songs. This ties in with myths and Joseph Campbell, below.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Charles Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882).

Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, the naturalist who demonstrated "natural selection," the basis of our modern evolutionary theory. Accepted by the scientific community, and rejected by televangelists, uneducated yokels, and the willfully ignorant, Darwin still stirs strong emotions two centuries after his birth. Creationism, under the guise of "intelligent design," still bamboozles the gullible, but Richard Dawkins, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, refutes it's claims quite easily. We'd love to see him debate the proponents of creationism directly, because he'd make mincemeat out of them, but that would be like debating people who believe the world is flat. It would only give them a platform, and it would be beneath Dr. Dawkins. Still, we love a good row.

Richard Dawkins presents Darwin and his masterpiece, "The Origin of Species," in the opening episode of the three part documentary "The Genius of Charles Darwin."

Read "Why Darwin Matters" by Richard Dawkins in the Guardian here.

Read Nicholas Wade's piece in the Science section of the New York Times (2/9/09) here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)

Is there an underlying story that connects all myths, across all cultures? Do we respond to this "monomyth" in modern stories and films? Do we follow "the hero's journey?"

Campbell interviewed by Bill Moyers, "The Power of Myth, Part 1"

Joseph Campbell was a writer and lecturer on comparative religion and mythology. Campbell studied myths and origin stories, and noticed certain characteristics and archetypes that repeated across all cultures. In "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" (1947), Campbell presented an underlying "monomyth" that contained intriguing familiar characters, places and situations. There was the reluctant hero, the call to action, the guardians at the gate, and so on, repeating again and again.

-from the documentary"The Hero's Journey: The World of Joseph Campbell."

Campbell's work has inspired legions of "mythologists" tackling the wide range of stories, and one of my favorites is Christopher Vogler. Vogler wrote "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters" based on the principals of Campbell's work. Here he discusses the elements of the monomyth as shown in the film, "The Matrix."


Today marks 45 years since the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. The Fab Four appeared three consecutive Sundays in February of 1964. According to Beatles News, this first performance was "considered a milestone in American pop culture and the beginning of the British Invasion in music. The broadcast drew an estimated 73 million viewers, at the time a record for an American television program."

Back in those days, there weren't so many channels--and Sunday night in America virtually EVERYONE watched the Ed Sullivan Show, where pop singers vied for your attention with plate spinners and borscht belt comics. The impact of these four longhaired kids from England cannot be overstated, especially to young people who "got it" immediately. Parents were puzzled. "They look like girls," they said. "Every song sounds the same," said others. "Turn that racket off!"

They were wrong, of course. The Beatles were the vanguard of a revolution in pop culture that would change the world. Their music, their hair, their joyous exuberance and wisecracking humor influenced everything and there was no turning back.

Here comes the British Invasion!

"Tell Me Why" by the Beatles. Just click button to listen:

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Buffalo Springfield showcased the prodigious talents of Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay and Jim Messina. With the possible exception of The Byrds, no other band had such an impact on the burgeoning folk rock scene and the California Sound of the 1960s.

"For What It's Worth (excerpt)" and "Mr. Soul" (1967)

In 1966, after witnessing the police riot on the Sunset Strip, Stephen Stills composed "For What It's Worth," and scored a top ten hit for Buffalo Springfield in 1967. The band broke up two years later, and Stills joined former Byrd David Crosby and Graham Nash of the Hollies to form Crosby, Stills, and Nash--soon to be joined by Neil Young.

"Rock and Roll Woman"(1967)

Cute outfits and pop folksiness gave way to heavier sounds in 1969, the year Buffalo Springfield broke up and Crosby, Stills, and Nash released their first album.

"Down by the River." Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at Big Sur (1969). The country folk pop was gone, and now an electric super group soared for the Northern California hippies.

"You Don't Have to Cry," Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on the Tom Jones Show (1970). They could still do wind chimes and beautiful harmonies.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


"Oh, my, my, my, I'm the lone crap shooter, Playin' the field ev'ry night... You got to roll me and call me the tumblin' dice."

-"Tumbling Dice" by the Stones, performed here in Brussels in 1972


In our continuing effort to introduce our readers to bad habits, we continue our series on drinking, drugs and gambling with the game of "craps."

A Little History

Craps first became hugely popular in World War II, when soldiers on both sides rolled dice between fighting, but it was primarily U.S. soldiers who brought the game to the far corners of the earth.

The modern layout of the game was created by John H. Winn, "the father of craps," and it put an end to crooked dice (since the bettor could now bet against the shooter). The game was based on "crabs" played by the French in the 17th and 18th centuries. The name "craps" is a bastardization of the word in English. I know, it seems just as easy to say "crabs," but that's what the scholars tell us.

ancient dice from Egypt

Crabs, in turn, came from the game "Hazard," which was mentioned in 1125 by Sir William of Tyre, a favorite pastime of his knights during the siege of a castle named "Asart" or "Hasarth" and named for it "Hazard." Yeah, I know.

This game, in turn, came from an Arabic dice game called "Al Zar" which means "dice" in Arabic and perhaps the game migrated to Europe with the help of merchants even before the 12th century. Before that, there is evidence of dice games going back to 2600 BC played by the Egyptians.

modern day precision-made dice come within .0005 inch of a perfect cube

The Basics

*Roll the dice. This is the comeout roll. If you get a 7 or 11 you win (and so does everyone betting with you, on the passline).

*If you get a 2, 3, or 12, you "crap out" and lose (and so do passline bettors. Conversely "Don't Pass" bettors, who have bet against you, win on 2 and 3, but not 12).

*If you roll any other number, this is your point--and you must roll it again before you "seven out" and roll a seven. In other words, a 7 on the comeout roll is good news, here it's bad.

(More on craps basics here.)

The video below will takes you through the basics, but some things are worth mentioning here. You can minimize the house advantage by knowing the odds of rolling a certain number and playing accordingly.

There are 36 possible outcomes of rolling dice, and there are six ways of rolling a seven--the easiest number to produce--and conversely only one way to roll a 2, two ways to roll a 3 (1 &2, or 2&1), and three ways to roll a 4 (1&3, 2&2, 3&1), and so on. After 7, with the most possible combinations, the probability goes back down again, so the odds would form a bell curve like this:

(More Craps Betting and Etiquette here.)

The Passline Bet

As you can see, the layout looks a little confusing. There are about 40 different bets that can be made on a craps layout, but most of them are "sucker" bets and should be avoided. A good bet for the beginner is the passline bet.

Sorry if I repeat myself, but a passline bet works like this. You place your bet on the passline before a new shooter begins his roll. If the shooter rolls a 7 or 11 you win. If the shooter rolls a 2, 3 or 12, you lose. If the shooter rolls any other number, that number becomes the shooter's point number. The shooter must roll that number again before a seven is rolled. If that happens, you win even money for your passline bet. If a seven is rolled before the point number is rolled again, you lose. This is when knowing the probabilities come in handy. (Conversely, the no pass bet works the opposite way: you're betting against the shooter winning) Everyone gets to roll the dice, unless a player declines, and the dice travel in a clockwise fashion.

The Odds Bet

This is a smart bet. To reduce the house advantage even more, a smart bettor backs her passline bet with an odds bet. It is the only bet in the casino that does not have a house edge as it is paid off with true odds. Most casinos offer double odds, which means you can make a bet twice the size of your pass line bet. If your passline bet is $5 you are allowed to make an odds bet of $10. You places the odds bet behind (closer to you) the passline bet--and you only make it after the come out roll, when a point is made.

The odds bet is paid as following:
If the point is 4 or 10 it pays 2 to 1
If the point is 5 or 9 it pays 3 to 2
If the point is 6 or 8 it pays 6 to 5.

The Video

This guy is slicker than a frycook's forehead but he has some useful information and it's worth a look.

Remember, don't bet money you don't have. The old gambler was asked how to leave a casino with a million dollars, and he answered: "Start with two million."

There's an even better video on craps here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Past presidential pot preferences? Chris Matthews reviewed transitioning public attitudes towards marijuana by reviewing the statements of past presidential candidates about their own drug use, from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama.

Michael Phelps is no dope-smoking slacker. Phelps has won 14 career Olympic gold medals, the most by any Olympian. By the end of 2008, he held seven world records in swimming. Now he's been "caught" with a bong, and he admits smoking marijuana, and the world is stunned that he would do something so despicable. If the swimmer had had a few beers the world would march on dumbly, but smoking marijuana--even in this day and age--has a terrible stigma. Recent scientific studies dismiss outdated "reefer madness," and bolster arguments calling for decriminalization. It's against the law, critics cry. It's a crime. So was your beloved martini, at one point.

Today, the Associated Press reports that "In the past six months, four [sumo]wrestlers have been kicked out of the ancient sport for allegedly smoking marijuana, creating the biggest drugs-in-sports scandal that Japan has ever seen."

Is the whole world going to pot?

Like many jazz musicians, Cab Calloway was no stranger to the Reefer Man.

Anti-pot propaganda from yesteryear was often tied to racist fears of blacks and Mexicans, in whose communities the use of the weed was more common. Sex was a part of it, too. A puff might result in "drug-crazed abandon," turning a "good" woman into a wanton harlot enslaved to dope, ripe to be sold into "white slavery."

Let's get real. Smoking pot a victimless crime, and according to the scientific research less harmful than alcohol, but it's been lumped with heroin and crack cocaine and other dangerous drugs for so long many people believe it belongs in that deadly category. Of course, others know better. Anyone who has been around isn't startled with the news that someone as successful as Phelps can smoke pot and not be a drooling junkie or lose his mind completely.

The government needs to loosen its grip and allow scientific research to give us the answers--but research is being stifled by our outmoded views, according to the Scientific American. "...Outdated regulations and attitudes thwart legitimate research," say the editors, and the "current restrictions on marijuana research are absurd." (read the rest of the SA article here)

Maybe it's time we looked at the pot laws again. Maybe it's time to examine the evidence with a cool head (no pun intended) like intelligent, scientific people in the modern world.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington has launched a multimedia public-education campaign on the country's marijuana laws and their impact on taxpayers, communities and those arrested.

As part of this effort, travel guru Rick Steves hosts this infomercial-style panel discussion produced by the Washington ACLU. Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation

Marijuana: Time for a Conversation

ACLU Washington
NORML: working to reform marijuana laws


RADIOHEAD at Saitama, October 5th, 2008. The complete concert. What a treat.

Wake from your sleep,
the drying of your tears,
Today we escape, we escape.

visit radiohead here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


It's my girlfriend Wendy's birthday, so we have a couple favorites in her honor. First up, Madonna Louise Ciccone performs her first hit, a song that empowered young girls everywhere to leave pink bedrooms en masse and cross the borderline. Fortune favors the brave.

Second up, a rare rehearsal clip from The Concert for Bangla Desh with old friends George Harrison and Bob Dylan singing "If Not For You." And you know it's true.

Happy birthday, Wendy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Would you buy a used car from this man? How about a #%*&!@! senate seat? By the way, he doesn't know what happened to your kittens.

We always suspected something was wrong with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's hair. We had assumed his toupee was wearing a toupee. We had no idea it was alive. As for the man himself, let's withhold our judgment; under our system of law he is innocent until proven brazenly corrupt--and that shouldn't take too long.

Since his impeachment, Blago has been making the rounds of talk shows, ostensibly to plead his case before the American people but really to remove his last shred of dignity before disappearing forever into the dustbin of history.


Fifty years ago today, on February 3, 1959, the great Buddy Holly died in a plane crash over Clear Lake, Iowa. On the plane with Buddy was J.P. Richardson, aka The Big Bopper,and Ritchie Valens, who fipped a coin with Tommy Allsup for final seat. That day the Beechcraft Bonanza went down in a snowstorm had been called "The Day the Music Died." No one survived the crash.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets

Holly inspired countless musicians. John Lennon told Allison, drummer for the Crickets and Holly's best friend, "There would not even have ever been a Beatles had it not been for the Crickets."

A young Bob Dylan met Buddy Holly when he attended the January 31, 1959 show, two nights before Holly's death. Dylan referred to this in his 1998 Grammy acceptance speech for his 1997 Time Out of Mind winning Album of the Year:

"And I just want to say that when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him...and he LOOKED at me. And I just have some sort of feeling that he was - I don't know how or why - but I know he was with us all the time we were making this record in some kind of way.''

Here is an excellent compilation of Buddy Holly clips:

Monday, February 2, 2009


"I want you to step back from the guacamole dip," Bruce howled. "I want you to put the chicken fingers down and turn your television all the way up. And what I want to know is, is there anybody alive out there?"

So began an electrifying halftime performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The Boss played the Super Bowl for just twelve minutes, but there were no complaints. And no ballads. Just a rocking good time smack dab in the middle of a great Super Bowl.

Did you see the game? What about James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return? What about Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald? What about the calls? Do you think Kurt Warner’s fumble at the end of the game deserved another look? All I can say is, no nachos today.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


A mash-up of inspirational speeches, in and out of the locker room

Part of football mythology is the inspirational locker room speech. You know the one, where the coach rallies the troops at halftime to win the game for God, Country and the Gipper. Here are a few good ones jammed together in two minutes.

The best inspirational speech of all time--at least my favorite--didn't echo in some locker room reeking of sweat and Phiso-Hex--in fact, it wasn't even given by a coach. The best inspirational speech was delivered far from the jockstraps and Jacuzzis and hampers of damp dirty towels in a wild green patch of Northern France just before the Battle of Agincourt, on Saint Crispin's Day in 1415.

Henry V (played by Kenneth Branagh) rouses his exhausted troops with the stirring St. Crispin's Day speech (touched up a bit by William Shakespeare), a speech that changed the course of the Hundred Years War, and successfully destroyed the French home team advantage.