Saturday, March 31, 2012


Earl Scruggs, the brilliant bluegrass banjo-player, passed away Wednesday in a Nashville hospital. He was 88. Scruggs left a legacy of amazing work and influence behind. Even if bluegrass isn't your cup of tea, check out this entertaining 90-minute documentary on Scruggs that originally aired on PBS in 1972. Scruggs was known for a unique three-finger picking banjo style that made women swoon and grown men weep. He collaborated with many great musicians throughout his career, and this film features performances with The Byrds, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Doc Watson, The Morris Brothers and, of course, Lester Flatt and Bill Monroe. Tip a jug and listen as Earl and his friends play that oldtime mountain music.

Young Earl Scruggs, born in the mountainous Piedmont region of North Carolina, played the banjo.

Friday, March 30, 2012


Possibly sacrilegious but so funny and true.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band performed a secret show at South by Southwest (SXSW) on March 15, they were missing one critical member of the group: Clarence Clemons, "The Big Man," who passed away this past year. When Bruce wheeled into "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," a crowd favorite that tells the story of the band in its early scuffling days, the part that used to be filled with Clarence's sax solo became a moving tribute. The song goes like this:

When the change was made uptown
And the big man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
I'm gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When scooter and the big man bust this city in half
With a tenth avenue freeze-out...

"Clarence lived a wonderful life," Springsteen said, in a statement issued hours after Clarence's death. "He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band."

Watch the live performance at SXSW that turned into such a moving tribute.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thru' narrow chinks of his cavern." -William Blake

“We owe a huge debt to Galileo for emancipating us all from the stupid belief in an Earth-centered or man-centered (let alone God-centered) system. He quite literally taught us our place and allowed us to go on to make extraordinary advances in knowledge.” -- Christopher Hitchens

"I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown." -Woody Allen

"When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge." -- Tuli Kupferberg

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." -- William Shakespeare

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." -- John Lennon

"If we look deeply into such ways of life as Buddhism and Taoism, Vedanta and Yoga, we do not find either philosophy or religion as these are understood in the West. We find something more nearly resembling psychotherapy. ... The main resemblance between these Eastern ways of life and Western psychotherapy is in the concern of both with bringing about changes of consciousness, changes in our ways of feeling our own existence and our relation to human society and the natural world. The psychotherapist has, for the most part, been interested in changing the consciousness of peculiarly disturbed individuals. The disciplines of Buddhism and Taoism are, however, concerned with changing the consciousness of normal, socially adjusted people." -- Alan Watts, Psychotherapy, East and West

"I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive." --Joseph Campbell

“Beyond work and love, I would add two other ingredients that give meaning to life. First, to fulfill whatever talents we are born with. However blessed we are by fate with different abilities and strengths, we should try to develop them to the fullest, rather than allow them to atrophy and decay. We all know individuals who did not fulfill the promise they showed in childhood. Many of them became haunted by the image of what they might have become. Instead of blaming fate, I think we should accept ourselves as we are and try to fulfill whatever dreams are within our capability.

Second, we should try to leave the world a better place than when we entered it. As individuals, we can make a difference, whether it is to probe the secrets of Nature, to clean up the environment and work for peace and social justice, or to nurture the inquisitive, vibrant spirit of the young by being a mentor and a guide.”
― Michio Kaku

"The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines." -- Anne Lamott

“In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in his cosmic loneliness.

And God said, 'Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.' And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close to mud as man sat, looked around, and spoke. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely.

'Everything must have a purpose?' asked God.

'Certainly,' said man.

'Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,' said God.

And He went away.” --Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

“You have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see.” --Black Elk

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012


Home sick today, my carcass on the couch but my mind somewhere in Brazil floating on the silence that surrounds us. The bossa nova explorations of Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto became a huge hit record album in the early sixties, and with the help of lovely Astrud Gilberto earned a number one hit, "The Girl from Ipanema." That's what I'm listening to today, and while I may be under the weather (and what strange weather to be under) I'm drifting somewhere around Brazil--or maybe visiting this swinging, ultra-cool party and sipping an ice cold martini in an imaginary country of the mind.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Oh, snap! I got 99 problems but a book ain't one. Annabelle Quezada and La Shea Delaney show some attitude as they flip typical hip hop priorities in a bookish parody of Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Ni**as in Paris." These slammin' book nerds don't dumb it down, name-checking everyone from Foucault to Anais Nin, Jeffrey Eugenides to JK Rowling, Shakespeare to Charlotte Bronte--and the lit'ry subculture finally gets a front row seat where the beat meets the street. They show us something we hardly ever see watching mainstream media, where acceptable women's roles exist within narrow parameters of docility and feigned ignorance: that smart is cool, smart is sexy, and serious reading is--in the vernacular of the street--"The shit."

Read so hard, I memorize, The Illiad... I know lines.
Watch me spit, classic lit, epic poems that don’t rhyme.
War and Peace, piece of cake, read Tolstoy in 3 days.
Straight through, no delays.
Didn’t miss a word. Not one phrase.

Nobody can match their swagger as they brag about reading. They rock those books. They have fun with it, mixing it up, tossing off insults like mcs, bopping to the bookstore, and if they intended it or not they make reading cool--and not in some corny, didactic, after school special way--but cool cool, with all the attitude and vitality and serious flow of any song about packing gats and nines and the way we roll. Now get reading, yo.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


After posting such wonderful jazz from the forties and fifties, in black and white, let's jump into an explosion of color for the sixties. More than a measurement of time, what we generally refer to as "The Sixties" didn't really blossom until midway through the decade--some say the first rumblings began with the Kennedy assassination near the end of 1963, Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech (also 1963) and the Beatles first live appearance on Ed Sullivan in early 1964--but the real riot of psychedelic flower power didn't bloom until 1966 or 1967, when the Summer of Love hit the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood like an exploding flower bomb and those black and white days were officially over.

It was a bright, crazy, colorful time. A wind of change swept through music and art, theater and the cinema, fashion and hairstyles, attitudes about war and peace and civil rights, mores regarding sex and drugs, religion and politics. In a creative, colorful way, the counter-culture spit in the eye of convention. As Johnny Rivers put it later that year, "All summer long we spent grooving in the sand, and the jukebox kept on playing 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.'" Well, whether you spent that summer grooving in the sand, working a "straight" job, going to school, wading through a rice paddy, or simply growing up with your eyes wide open like me, it was a magical time. And this decade had an amazing soundtrack. For the most part, I heard "The Sound of the Sixties" through the tiny speakers of a small, Japanese transistor radio (remember those?) which was not really a radio at all, but a door into another world. I carried it on my belt loop through blackberry brambles and Scotch broom, climbing the roof of the goat shed, running secret reconnaissance missions on the deck Dad built overlooking the valley, crossing the overgrown filbert orchards and fields and woods, and certainly into my bedroom hideaway with its tiger skin blanket (Mom had sewn as a birthday present), its Revell monster models, its stack of Mad Magazines, its posters of Marvel comic book heroes and Jack Davis NBC promos for Get Smart and I Spy and Man from UNCLE. That trusty little transistor played a steady stream of Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, Dylan, James Brown, The Animals, The Supremes and more, and the groups seemed got farther out with every new release.

One summer day, I got the mail at the end of our long gravel driveway on Miller Hill Road, and a newsmagazine--Life or Look or Time--flashed what was happening down in San Francisco. Sandwiched between the cigarette and liquor ads and pictures of NASA astronauts walking in space there was a full-color (of course) photo spread of kids in the Haight wearing long hair and striped bell bottoms and peace signs. Standing there on Miller Hill Road, with Cobb Crushed Rock trucks speeding past, I said "Wow!" That would prove to be a common exclamation in those heady days. That summer The Beatles adopted old fashioned disguises as an old fogie dance band, namely "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and the Sixties were in full swing. Wow!

Maynard G. Krebs, the TV beatnik, unveils the first transistor radio in 1961, hinting at the revolution on the horizon. The film clip at the top of the post is a promo for "Yellow Submarine," which recently underwent a successful frame-by-frame scrubbing and restoration in anticipation of it's DVD release on May 28th.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


"Take Five," performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, featuring Paul Desmond on alto sax. This classic never gets old. Recorded in Belgium, 1964.

"The term 'cool jazz' was rarely used by jazz fans until the middle of 20th century. In earlier decades, the phrase itself would have probably struck most listeners as a strange one. Back then, jazz was often simply called 'hot music' by the public, and the idea that it could also be 'cool' went against the grain."
--Ted Goia, from "A History of Cool Jazz in 100 Tracks." Clink on the title to explore Ted's excellent anthology of cool jazz tunes.

Always cool, Nat King Cole performs "Route 66." Recorded March 16, 1946.

"In olden times (pre-Interstates), U.S. Route 66 was the main highway from Chicago to L.A. It was lawful to travel in the opposite direction, but since songwriter Bobby Troup's "Route 66" journeyed from east to west, that's how everyone thought of it. Fortunately, by the 1940s, east-west migration was less desperate than during the Great Depression. Folks were now receptive to the romance of a road with such colorful place names as Joplin, Amarillo, Gallup, Flagstaff, Winona, Kingman and Barstow. A decade before Jack Kerouac's On The Road, Nat King Cole made it cool to get your kicks on Route 66."
- Alan Kurtz

June Christy sings "Something Cool" live in 1959

"In 1953, no longer the '40s flychick scatting 'How High the Moon' with Stan Kenton, June Christy turned to dramatic readings of saloon songs. Bill Barnes's 'Something Cool' is incisive storytelling, as June enacts the first-person narrative of a self-deluding barfly. Think Blanche DuBois as lounge lizard. Ordinarily, she would decline to drink with a stranger, but relents because she's 'so terribly far from home.' Citing past triumphs in a house with countless rooms, 15 different beaus, off to Paris in the fall, this gal fools herself more than she impresses the guy who stops to buy her something cool. A remarkable 4-minute drama."
-Alan Kurtz

Monday, March 19, 2012


Saint Joseph's Day, March 19, celebrates the patron saint of Sicily. Everybody knows St. Patrick with his green beer and shamrocks, but in Italian neighborhoods today is the Feast of St. Joseph. I don't blame you for not knowing, since St. Joseph didn't have a huge advertising budget. Besides, Sicilians tend to keep things on the down-low. If you're lucky enough to be near an Italian neighborhood, you might find a St. Joseph's Day altar where people place offerings of flowers, candles, fruit, vino, fava beans, cakes, breads, cookies and zeppole--a delicious Sicilian pastry. Today, you might eat pasta con le sarde topped with breadcrumbs as a reminder of the less fortunate who can't afford to eat cheese. (Some say the breadcrumbs resemble sawdust from St. Joseph's floor, since St. Joseph was a carpenter, but these traditions go back centuries and nobody really knows.) Ask the oldtimers sitting outside sipping grappa, and they'll tell you today we celebrate all things Italian from the Renaissance to Sophia Loren. They say that Americans are oblivious to their own culture, and certainly don't recognize the myriad cultural contributions of the Italians, even as they sip their espresso and eat their pizza. That might be true. With the exception of recent arrivals, most Americans assimilated a long time ago and lost connection to their own "Old Country" ways. Simply put, they joined the mainstream. That's fine, but kind of boring. We think it's good to remember where we came from--to be full-fledged Americans but also celebrate the victories and struggles of our ancestors and appreciate our past. In the meantime, I'll let you in on something: What's the secret to enjoying life? Be Italian. If you can't do that, you can be an honorary Italian today. This clip from the Broadway play "Nine," explains how.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Bruce Springsteen, old friend and rocker emeritus, performs "Wrecking Ball," a new song about these hard times, and "Badlands," an old favorite, at the SXSW (South by Southwest) music festival in Austin, Texas. Bruce has a new album that hits hard--you might call it his "Occupy Wall Street" album, but he's not just getting on the bandwagon; all along he's been writing and singing songs about people hit hard by Reaganomics, corporate greed, layoffs and outsourcing--but not in a preachy way. He writes personal songs. And he rocks.

Sorry we missed the fest. This week, along with some old geezers like Bruce, plenty of hungry up-and-coming bands, along with some more established acts, will rock stages across Austin. As you may know, Austin is an oasis in the otherwise conservative Lone Star State, an island of alternative culture and enlightened politics with a musical tradition that extends from Willie Nelson to punk bands like the Butthole Surfers. The town is full of great bars and restaurants, with good Mexican food (not just Tex-Mex, which also exists here) and barbecue and deep-fried delicious southern food. A couple of my favorite pots are Threadgill's, where Janis Joplin first sang, and where they still make killer chicken-fried steaks and shrimp etouffee , and, just south of town, in Dripping Springs, Texas, a family-style barbecue joint called The Salt Lick that serves lip-smacking brisket and ribs. It's gotten bigger over the years, but still sticks to the family recipe for out of this world 'cue. (Be sure to bring a rack of Shiner Bock beer because it's smack dab in the middle of a dry county) So get rid of this George Bush, shitkicker Texas cliches out of your mind when you think of Austin. Good food and music? My kind of place!

The "Boss" gives the keynote address, kicking off SXSW

Monday, March 12, 2012


Fifty years ago, we got a glimpse of the future at the Seattle World's Fair. Now we're living in it. No, we're not riding monorails to work or living in domed cities, but we're talking on cell phones, reading eBooks, streaming movies, chatting on Facebook, eating fresh fruit year round, getting flu shots. No, it ain't Utopia. We may have better technology but we're still waiting for the social world to catch up. We're still plagued with racism and war and disease, still hoping for public health care and a more humane society, still dreaming the Age of Aquarius will slap some sentient beings into enlightenment but we're not holding our breath. In the meantime, I'm blogging on a laptop and listening to a Grateful Dead bootleg via my Roku streaming device. The cell phone is ringing with another robocall. My girlfriend is on her way home from that very same Seattle Center on an imperfect public transportation system. Fifty years ago, I was a kid riding on a monorail with my family and gawking at the brand new Space Needle. Just like this rain, I may see the Space Needle every day but none of its magic has worn off. See you in the future.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Originally written about a riot on Sunset Strip, this song came to symbolize the turbulent Sixties in a nation divided by war, civil rights, riots and youth in revolt. There were "battle lines being drawn," and not just in Vietnam, but between liberals and conservatives, young and old, war hawks and peace marchers, rich and poor, the hippies and the pro-Nixon "silent majority." Sound familiar? Things haven't changed all that much. Still timely after all these years, "For What It's Worth" by the Buffalo Springfield.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


There's an old riddle: What's the difference between the Hindenburg and Rush Limbaugh? One is a flaming Nazi gasbag, and the other is a passenger airship. Rush proved it again this week when he called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" because she spoke up about women's health care and access to contraception. Rush went on and on, saying she was a prostitute, insulting her with viciousness of a man who hates women. And now--after an uproar threatens to pull sponsors from his show, something he understands--he has "apologized" to "Ms. Fluke." Well, sort of.

You know how these right-wing reactionaries work: they hurl sewage from positions of power, cause their damage, and then cry when people challenge their behavior, accusing their critics of being so "PC" that their freedom is threatened. Or something like that. These Republicans are always lamenting about the loss of decent behavior and manners and morals in society, yet they want to holler "slut!" when a woman speaks up or leaves her narrowly-defined social role as a docile, submissive ornament on a man's arm. I call bullshit on that. Rush--for your information, any return to civil society would exclude your fat, ugly, intolerant, pill-popping ass.

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Maybe you wonder what the fuss is all about. This is Limbaugh's shtick, after all, being politically incorrect and outrageous for large sums of money, kind of like the kid in high school who would eat anything for a sum (yes, we had a guy...long story), but I don't think people are being thin-skinned to object to his virulently misogynistic personal insults. He should have to be civil like the rest of us. He's a rich, powerful man with a bully pulpit who slings mud at people he disagrees with, especially women, and he has a rowdy following of mostly powerless men who egg him on, give him money, and "ditto" his very thoughts--dupes to be sure--and yes, they will scream that calling your sister or mother a whore and a slut is a freedom of speech issue, and that the liberals are forcing them to act decently and "PC," but this isn't a barn full of farms animals but a modern society--and even barn animals would behave better, I should think. Sure, he might have to peel off a few bills to pay for this infraction, which would be easy for him, but maybe the best thing is for people to pull their advertisements from his show, and stop supporting his sorry ass.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


In this scene from the Godfather II, we meet a Senator from the red state of Nevada who would fit right in with the Republican presidential candidates, a man who would probably get a lot of votes for his all-American, anti-immigrant, tough-on-crime, clean-cut facade, but like those other spoiled sports crowding the trough, this all-American act masks his greed and corruption and sense of entitlement, his insistence that he's more American than everyone else and deserves to skim the cream of the crop, and influence-peddling that would make even Newt Gingrich proud. Or Santorum, or Romney. While we don't condone Mafia tactics, it's nice to see Michael Corleone set him straight. Sometimes you need a Godfather.