Saturday, March 26, 2011


Heraclitus of Ephesus (c.535 BC - 475 BC) famously said "You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." While the Greek may have been correct in the philosophical sense he was wrong when it came to music. Musicians return to the same river all the time, set up camp, and pan for nuggets where once gold was found. The Rolling Stones are a case in point. They stepped into the same river many times and started out covering old Chess records by the likes of Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. Their first single was an old Chuck Berry nugget, "Come on." With all due respect to Heraclitus, they were part of that ever-changing flow of time. "All things flow," he said, "and nothing endures but change."

"Watching the River Flow" might have been written by Heraclitus, but it was actually written by another philosopher knee-deep in the rushing river, Bob Dylan. The Stones recently recorded a bluesy cover of the song for an upcoming tribute to Ian Stewart, one of their original members, and word has it that Bill Wyman, another original, returned from retirement to play bass on the track. It sounds good. Out of time and timeless. Give the song a listen and pay attention to the wind-down at the end.

Note: To some contemporary music fans, Dylan and the Stones may seem irrelevant and outdated, but even if you're spinning hip hop, Deerhoof, or the Glee soundtrack, every so often it's worth going back to learn something new from something old. Pack a lunch and head down to the river. Who knows? You just might bump into Heraclitus.

Friday, March 25, 2011


You are beautiful. But what does that mean? Is beauty entirely relative or are there universal qualities we respond to regardless of culture, race, class, creed and hairstyle? Artists take note. Dave Dutton has a provocative theory, and with the help of swift animator Andrew Park he will rivet your attention for the duration of this video. Afterward, I have some nice hand axes I'd like to show you that I made myself. Hey, I'm serious.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


We try to mix it up around here so after posting Liz Taylor we wanted to visit the other end of the entertainment spectrum--and while Chrissie Hynde, lead singer for The Pretenders, is not exactly the anti-Liz she'll do in a pinch. The Pretenders started back in 1978 and they've been making their own brand of tight punk rock ever since. This goes out to everyone who works for a living.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Elizabeth Taylor was a Hollywood icon. The camera loved her. She first made an impression in National Velvet, dazzled us in Butterfield 8, tore up the scenery in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and roared as a blousy, booze-addled scold in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for which she won an Oscar.

Nowadays we have a glut of celebrities--people famous for being famous (do we even need to see Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan or Charley Sheen ever again?) and we obsess about their every move, scrutinize their love lives and cluck our tongues at their bad behavior--but Taylor was a real "movie star." She gave us plenty to gossip about, but whether she was sending a bowl of chili from Chasen's halfway around the world, or gallivanting in Portofino or Puerto Vallarta with Richard Burton (or some other husband) she was an icon of Old Hollywood. She certainly starred in some stinkers (try sitting through Cleopatra, the story of the Egyptian queen told in real time) but she also gave us some classic performances. End of an era.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Here's the handbill you might have seen back in the magical, mystical days of the early seventies when the Springfield Creamery had a potluck and the Keseys invited good pals The Grateful Dead.

Chuck Kesey (author Ken's brother) and his wife Sue started the creamery in 1960, and, according to the official history, it was "the first fully-cultured probiotic yogurt in the US." The obvious joke (obvious at the time, anyway) was that Kesey put acid in the acidophilus, which wasn't true, of course. Well, okay, he might have. Ken Kesey and the Pranksters were good friends with the Dead, who back in 1966 or so stoked their infamous "acid tests" with live music (and acid, which was legal at the time, supplied by their pal Owsley, the mysterious chemist and sound engineer who died this week in a car crash in Australia. But that's another story.) Anyway, the Dead were back among their friends for a sunny day and the show has since become legendary.

"Jack Straw" performed by the Grateful Dead live at Old Renaissance Faire Grounds August 27th, 1972.

This overgrown potluck was held at Old Renaissance Faire Grounds in Veneta, Oregon, on August 27th, 1972. The Dead played a great show, as you can tell from these clips. It was another time, one filled with hippies and children and scampering dogs, a time when one could almost believe the Age of Aquarius was just around the corner--if you were high, anyway. (Outside this Utopian village the War was grinding on, Nixon was in the White House and the country was fiercely divided between the Hawks and Doves. Sound familiar?) These snippets of archival film are something for the time capsule, so don't judge the scene too harshly. Believe me, the current crop of pop music will look silly thirty-nine years from now. Even so, be forewarned: this is 1972 and there are plenty of longhaired hippies, and some are wearing their birthday suits, and while this may look funny now remember at this point in time the rest of the country would be reelecting Nixon by a landslide in a couple months--and boy does that look dumb in retrospect. Drop your ego and preconceptions, loosen your neck-tie and stop worrying about looking silly. This is a gathering of the tribes at a safe haven in the Oregon countryside, a time to leave the square, straight world behind for one glorious summer afternoon. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Grateful Dead TicketOne more thing. According to the official record, "The Yogurt making times of the 1970’s remained challenging for Springfield Creamery and the Kesey family, to the extent that the Grateful Dead was called upon in 1972 to perform a benefit concert for the Creamery. It was an epic and historical event. More than 20,000 people attended, entering the outdoor summer event in Veneta, Oregon using their tickets, which were printed on Nancy's Yogurt labels. A movie was made of the concert entitled 'Sunshine Daydream’ and the creamery was kept afloat, thanks to the help of the Grateful Dead and 20,000 of their friends on that hot summer day."

"China Cat Sunflower," August 27th, 1972.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Speaking of Tunisia, Dany Brillant is a popular Tunisian-French vocalist. Here he performs Tu Vuo' Fa L'americano, a swinging Italian number by Renato Carosone you may have heard in "The Talented Mr. Ripley." The song has been covered by everyone from Brian Setzer to Sophia Loren, which gives us an excuse to post a picture of Sophia Loren.

"Tu vuò fà l'americano" means, literally, "You pretend to be American", or more idiomatically, "You're an American wannabe." The song is a humorous putdown of an Italian who acts American--drinks whiskey and soda, dances to rock and roll, plays baseball and smokes Camels--yet still relies on his parents for support.

According to Carosone, who wrote the song in collaboration with Nick Salerno in 1956, the lyrics "were deeply based on the American Dream, interpreting jazz and its derivatives as a symbol of an America, lively land of progress and well-being, but always Neapolitan-style, folding that symbol in a sly parody of its customs."

Sophia Loren sang it, too: as if we needed an excuse

Saturday, March 19, 2011


A fiery defense of teachers from Taylor Mali. I guess the guy who asked him “What do you make?” at a dinner party never thought he’d get this answer. In a society that overvalues moneymaking and status, and undervalues critical thinking, teachers may not rank very highly on the social scale. That's a shame. Taylor sets the record straight.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


St. Patrick's Day is coming, and that means a good many people will wear green, pretend to be Irish and consider it their duty--in honor of the saint who chased the snakes out of Ireland--to drink themselves into a coma. What better way to commemorate the life and deeds of this Romano-Briton and Christian missionary who is recognized as the patron saint of Ireland than with a good healthy bout of projectile vomiting? Of course, I'm kidding. I wouldn't poke fun at this beloved celebration--and holy day of obligation for church-goers. Not unless I've had a few drinks, anyway, and then I might let loose a blasphemous string of profanity and curse all that is sacred and solemn--but that would only be the booze talking. And then if I drove home drunk and jumped the curb and ran over a few pedestrians, well, by God, that would only be the booze driving. And then if my poor little overworked liver, which has started to resemble a weatherbeaten football that's been boiled with cabbage for a few goodly hours, starts to fail me and I call for a man of the cloth in my final hour, and he doesn't show up, well, then it's the booze that doesn't show up since the priest will undoubtedly be plastered himself. See how it works? Booze is the excuse that makes the world go round! So grab some green (which was outlawed by the bloody Brits) and sing a few rebel songs and lament about the Troubles and the terrible potato famine and don't get suckered in to some tourist trap sports bar just because they put a shamrock in the window and sell green beer and sodden corned beef--stay home, crack a bottle of Jameson's and a couple Guinnesses and give a nod to St. Pat before you pass out. Erin go Bragh!

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Sunday, March 13, 2011


These delicious dessert pastries are cannoli and they are probably the best known Italian pastry, but the thing is, they're not Italian. They're Sicilian. If you think Italian and Sicilian are one and the same, think again. Sicily has it's own unique culture--and part of that melange is certainly Italian, but parts of it are also Greek, Arabic, African and French--not to mention a few Vandals and Visigoths who showed up around dinnertime. The Mafia--and yes, it exists--is also Sicilian, NOT Italian. The Sopranos--everybody's favorite Mafia family--are not really Mafia, and they're not Sicilian, they're Neapolitan. No big deal, right?

For thousands of years, the area that now comprises Italy was a collection of regions--each with its own food, customs and dialect. The unification of Italy (il Risorgimento, or The Resurgence ) only began in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna (and the end of Napoleonic rule) and became complete around 1871 with the Franco-Prussian War (some parts still didn't join until World War I). For a country--the land and the people--that goes back thousands of years this unification is relatively recent history, and people cling to regional differences to this day. The alpini from the Dolomites are practically German--and many speak it up north--and have little in common with the Venetian shopowner, the Tuscan vintner, the sophisticated Roman, the Calabrese farmer, the Sicilian fisherman. It's kind of confusing.

Even to "Italians."

Americans of Italian descent often don't know what to believe, or what is even Italian. After first and second generation ancestors struggled to assimilate, some of the later generations sought their long-abandoned ethnicity with a vengeance. Mainstream, non-hyphenated Americans could drink a cappucino and eat calamari, and they didn't seem to have this identity crisis, but people who still remembered Grandpa speaking broken English or Grandma making gnocchi di semolina wanted to reconnect with that rich and nearly abandoned heritage. They looked up from the cultural trenches to find popular stereotypes of Jersey Shore loudmouths and their suburban neighbors, The Sopranos, whacking their rivals and figured, hey, that's kind of cool. After all, Italians are entertaining. The folks that brought you opera and the Renaissance know how to please a crowd, but what's the underlying message here? Are these folks any worse than the average Americans idiots on sit-coms? The range may be narrower, certainly, but are these portrayals harmful? Maybe the TV Italians are simply acting out the repressed Ids of uptight puritanical American viewers. For the average non-ethnic American viewer, this amped-up, operatic display of passion and violence and loyalty to the family--yes, the family--might be entertaining. I've got cousins who love Jersey Shore (which is basically Italian American minstrelsy) and The Sopranos (a good show, though hardly filled with role models) and they wouldn't know a "gabagool" if it bit them on the ass. This is part of their "Italian-ness." They're Americans, of course, and maybe, in their way of thinking, they're learning about their cultural roots by watching Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino strut and fret their hour upon the stage.

Maybe these shows are popular simply because lust and violence are always popular, and it shouldn't seem so weird if people in Nebraska get vicarious thrills watching the trials and tribulations of Tony Soprano. I honestly don't know. For me, keeping my cultural background alive isn't a hostile act directed at homogenized America so much as a journey of self-discovery--however corny that may sound--and as I write this I'm cooking a big pot of marinara sauce (please don't pronounce it "Mary-Nayra" if you can help it) from a recipe my Mom gave me that she got from her folks, which they got from their folks, and so on, going back along a line of ancestors as present as tribal totems to an aborigine, and I'm paying my respects. Why lose all that?

These are important questions, especially now, as xenophobia is sweeping the land. Tea Party types fear foreigners won't pledge allegiance to their new home--but should they erase all trace of their old countries? Should they jettison ancestors somewhere in the Middle Passage? Should they develop cultural amnesia and assimilate completely and irreversibly? I hope not.

Which brings us back to cannoli. My father makes cannoli by hand--does yours? I didn't think so. No matter. You can make it yourself. Here is a recipe (click HERE). Make them for St. Joseph's Day, March 19th. Or if you live near an Italian grocery you can pick up a box and bring it home. Just remember not to leave it at the scene of the crime.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Stephen King speaks at the Awake the State rally in Sarasota, Florida, about something really scary: The Tea Party. King, the bestselling author of such popular horror novels as The Shining, Salem's Lot, The Stand, Carrie and stories that were made into the films The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, has spoken frequently against conservative idiocy and the military madness of the Iraq War. His political views are thoughtfully liberal, so naturally he has drawn the ire of the right-wing, but don't worry--this wordsmith can handle himself. When he was attacked in 2005 by a conservative blogger as "another in a long line of liberal media members bashing the military," King responded beautifully.

"That a right-wing-blog would impugn my patriotism because I said children should learn to read, and could get better jobs by doing so, is beneath contempt...I live in a national guard town, and I support our troops, but I don’t support either the war or educational policies that limit the options of young men and women to any one career—military or otherwise."

When King was named Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2007, he had this to say in an interview:

"You know, this morning, the two big stories on CNN are Kanye West's mother, who died, apparently, after having some plastic surgery. The other big thing that's going on is whether or not this cop [Drew Peterson] killed his...wife. And meanwhile, you've got Pakistan in the midst of a real crisis, where these people have nuclear weapons that we helped them develop. You've got a guy in charge, who's basically declared himself the military strongman and is being supported by the Bush administration, whose raison d'etre for going into Iraq was to spread democracy in the world.

"So you've got these things going on, which seem to me to be very substantive, that could affect all of us, and instead, you see a lot of this back-fence gossip. So I said something to the Nightline guy about waterboarding, and if the Bush administration didn't think it was torture, they ought to do some personal investigation. Someone in the Bush family should actually be waterboarded so they could report on it to George. I said, I didn't think he would do it, but I suggested Jenna be waterboarded and then she could talk about whether or not she thought it was torture." Time, Nov 23, 2007

Jack Nicholson in "The Shining." Maybe the next King horror story will star the Tea Party.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Protesters return to the Wisconsin capitol after Republican Governor Scott Walker rammed through his union-busting bill.

After all that talk from Wisconsin Republicans that this WASN'T a union-busting bill at all, just a budget-balancing bill, they turned right around and removed the budget aspects of the bill and left the union-busting section (i.e., the anti-collective bargaining section) and PASSED it in the middle of the night, belying their previous claims. The reasoning? A budget bill requires a quorum (meaning 3/5s of its members present for fiscal statutes) and this way they could pass the bill without any other participation. Scott Walker and his buddies "win," though they may have broken public meeting laws--and certainly they showed they’ve been lying for weeks. It was a tricky play in secret, but these Midwest Machiavellians believe the end justifies the means and the end is busting unions. They've made that clear. This may prove illegal--and certainly immoral, when you figure how many families will be hit for the worse--but sleepy-eyed Walker and his corporate handlers will be drinking champagne tonight. Shame on them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Y'all know Professor Longhair and the Meters--both respected masters of the New Orleans Sound--well, here they are together playing a N'awlins classic, "Tipitina." Since it's Mardi Gras, we're gonna laissez les bon temps rouler and this is definitely the music for it. You've got a Hurricane in one hand and a bowl of chicken and andouille sausage gumbo in the other and this music playing--it doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


"Sunday, February 13, 2011, ICNA Relief (a Muslim American relief organization) held a dinner event in Yorba Linda, CA, to raise money for women's shelters, and to help relieve homelessness and hunger in the U.S."

The local Tea Party crowd showed up to protest. As usual, these self-proclaimed patriots were on the wrong side of the issue. Seething with hatred and xenophobia, they shouted "USA, USA!" apparently referring to a country considerably smaller than the actual nation, a land populated only by Tea Party members. The Tea Bag fear of foreigners (fueled by crazy pundits like Glenn Beck) is emotional and heartfelt but ignorant of history, not to mention any awareness that the Tea Bagger's own ancestors were immigrants. But don't confuse them with history. To them, history is a liberal plot.

Listen to this Orange County hatefest for a couple minutes, and realize--with a sudden shocking chill--where fascism comes from. Do you think Nazis are uniquely German? Of course not. The next Hitler might show up with a deep-dish apple pie and a baseball cap and a large, misspelled sign warning us about the outsiders, the scapegoats, the Arabs and Mexicans, the blacks and Jews, the un-Americans. Wrapped in Old Glory, the intolerant Tea Party bigots are resurrecting that dusty old devil with every venomous insult they hurl.

To contribute to the women's shelter campaign to help relieve homelessness, please clink on this link to Cair California. Or find a similar group in your area. "Doing good" may be unfashionable, but don't be intimidated by Tea Party shocktroops from doing what is right.

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Let's give the final word to Chris Matthews. We're generally not big Chris Matthews fans but we must give credit where credit is due. In this clip, Matthews responds to the xenophobia of right-wing Tea Bag nuts. Maybe Chris was visited by three spirits in the night like Scrooge, but for whatever reason he takes on the idiocracy.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


"You can't write poems about trees when the woods are full of policemen." - Bertolt Brecht

A scene from The Threepenny Opera, a radical musical by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill created in 1931. Since then, the play has been translated into 18 languages and performed more than 10,000 times on European stages. Tonight we see it in Seattle!

So long ago,
her soul and mine entwined.
We shared all things together,

I used my mind
and I protected her.
She used her body
and supported me.

So begins the Ballad of the Pimp in The Threepenny Opera. The play is an anti-opera, a radical work of epic theater that critiques the capitalist system from the vantage point of the working poor and the criminal class. This is not just another musical to lull us to sleep, this play grabs our lapels and sings right into our faces. We smell Polly's cheap perfume, wince at the rage of Pirate Jenny, and dodge the blade of Mack the Knife--whose song became an international hit by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Here, no lounge singer but a violent pimp, Mack struts and frets in all his mad criminal glory. This is not just art for art's sake, or bloated entertainment, but truly dangerous stuff--what Hitler called "degenerate art."

Bertolt Brecht

Historical note: Brecht and Weill were forced to flee Germany in the thirties, and later Brecht was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee under suspicion of being a communist. Kurt Weill also wrote "September Song," a classic.

More about the Threepenny Opera HERE.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I've been enjoying Keith Richard's autobiography, "Life." Candid and articulate, at odds with his image as a drug-binging, riff-slinging guitar player for the notorious Stones, the book begins like a Dickens story in a poor, sooty neighborhood of London--with Keith getting picked on by bullies at school, practicing his guitar, listening to American blues--and it takes us through the early days of the Stones and their worldwide success. Don't get me wrong, the drugs and sex and rock star debauchery are all there, in huge Keith-size portions, but the old pirate tells his story with heart and soul and cool intelligence that might surprise you. He doesn't come on like some celebrity in rehab, an archetype all too familiar in these confessional times, and he doesn't join the parade of morbidly self-involved actors and musicians spilling their guts on talk shows. Nope, Keith doesn't join anyone's parade. Sure, he kicked heroin and he tells the good, the bad and the ugly of this love/hate affair, but there is plenty more to Keith's wild ride. The love of his life is music, and he couldn't kick that if he tried.

Here's a clip of Keith singing "Before They Make Me Run," which is another autobiography, this time in miniature, but it's all there: playing the gigs, getting high, kicking smack and cleaning up his act. Watch those taillights fading...

Worked these bars and sideshows along the twilight zone--only a crowd can make you feel so alone and it really hit home. Booze and pills and powders, you gotta choose your medicine--Well, here's another goodbye to another good friend.

After all is said and done, I gotta move while it's still fun. I'm gonna walk before they make me run.

"Slippin' Away" is a sweet ballad and it reminds me of something Keith once said: "Everyone talks about rock these days; the problem is they forget about the roll."