Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Best Thing About True Blood

HBO's True Blood, which is about vampires, or Anna Paquin's breasts or whatever, often plays covers of classic pop songs over its final credits. Some of those covers are performed by really interesting combinations of musicians. The first episode of the show's fourth season had two CSD favorites, alt-country songbird Neko Case and bad-ass Australian rocker Nick Cave, singing a duet on The Zombies' "She's Not There." The song is both pretty and creepy (a lot of mid-60's pop songs were like that, when you think about it) and Case and Cave's voices cover the pretty partsa and the creepy parts with equal conviction. Its such an unorthodox pairing that, in a way, I'm surprised somebody hadn't gotten them together before now. In any event, here's the song. Its also available on iTunes.

Here is The Zombies' original:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Very Deep In America

The author Lorrie Moore (who's short story collection Like Life is currently making its way around CSD headquaters) reviews Friday Night Lights in her essay, "Very Deep in America," published in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. It is the best review of the series (and the movie adaptation of Buzz Bissinger's book that preceded it) that I've read.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cut Copy Breaks Through at the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival

According to just about every music writer in North America, the big surprise at last week's Pitchfork Music Festival was the Australian electronic pop band Cut Copy. Cut Copy, which is squarely in the tradition of imported techno groups like Daft Punk and Air, has been around for almost a decade, but they've really only gained popularity in the United States over the past couple of years. Since their 2008 album In Ghost Colours, they've been building gaining popularity as one of those bands that critics love, and casual fans either enjoy or haven't heard of. Hopefully, between the popularity of their tour and the success of their recent album Zonoscope, Cut Copy may have broken down the door on which they've been knocking for years. I, for one, hope so - I am almost physically unable to keep my feet from tapping while I listen to this song:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

This Is How You Do Street Art

Its true. Big thanks to Ellen Wernecke at Wormbook for, somehow, finding this image in the far recesses of the internet.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

This Is Outstanding

I don't know what's more amazing - that Steve Johnson had this idea for a birthday cake, that his wife apparently bought it for him, or that she was able to find a bakery in predominantly-Roman Catholic Buffalo, NY to bake it for him. In any event, this is so outre that I have no choice but to tip my hat and say "well played, sir."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Sleep All Summer," Live from the Tribune Building

Long-time readers of this blog know that four of our favorite things are the AV Club, Merge Records, coffee shop-style love songs, and the city of Chicago in summertime. As part of the AV Club's "Summer Undercover" series, indie-rock veterans Crooked Fingers (who covered other songs earlier in the series) played their song "Sleep All Summer" on the roof deck of the Tribune Tower, in downtown Chicago. The song, from their 2005 album Dignity and Shame, is a beautiful, summer-specific love song that just kills me every time I listen to it.

Bonus Track: Crooked Fingers plays "Sleep All Summer"
As a side note, how great are Crooked Fingers? They've made several contributions to the indie rock canon, and yet they aren't very well known outside of indie rock circles and college towns. I had even forgotten that they were on Merge Records. It says a lot about that excellent record label that a band like Crooked Fingers is probably not among their ten most-influential contributions to the music scene.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Feel the Goosebumps

Megan Rapinoe to Abby Wambach in the 122nd minute of the 2011 World Cup is going to be remembered alongside Montana-to-Clark, Kirk Gibson's home run in the 9th inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, and the other heroic last-second turn-abouts in sports history. I do not believe that this is an overstatement. It was the latest goal ever scored in the history of the World Cup, it came after the United States had been playing ten-against-eleven for fifty-seven minutes, and the pass was, as they say in soccer, centimeter-perfect. I've probably watched it twenty-five times since Sunday, and I'm not done with it yet. A total goosebumps moment.

Monday, July 11, 2011


This past weekend, I went to Mysitc, Connecticut, to attend the wedding of an old friend of mine from college. The ceremony was beautiful, the bride was gorgeous, the groom had an ear-to-ear smile the entire night, and the weather was 90 degrees with cloudless skies. It was one of the coolest weddings I've ever attended.

Unfortunately, its hard to really share any of those great wedding experiences with you. The one thing about the wedding that I can share is the procession music, which was by a group called the Vitamin String Quartet (VSQ for short), of whom I had never previously heard. They have made almost forty tribute albums, in which they play pop and rock songs arranged for the string quartet. This sort of thing has been done before, usually with a smirk and a heaping dose of irony. The Vitamin String Quartet's songs, by comparison, are performed with enthusiasm and sincerity that is impossible to mistake. Their albums can be sampled, and are available for purchase, at their website. These are two of my favorites (though they're all good):

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Pleasant Surprise

In the town of North Tonawanda, New York, in suburban Buffalo, there is an excellent bookstore that is simply called Book Outlet. Located in the former headquarters of the Wurlitzer pipe organ company, the Book Outlet is an enormous space (roughly the size of a suburban big box store like Best Buy or Barnes & Noble). Its barely-organized shelves contain books that other stores have remaindered, and of the inventories of bookstores that have gone out of business. Because they only stock what other bookstores are ridding themselves of, there is no predicting what they will stock from week to week. On one visit, they may have the entire bibliography of your favorite author, but come back a week later and they may have none of her books at all. The upside is that every book in stock is at least 70% off, and many are priced at $0.99.

On Wednesday, I bought seven paperbacks for $0.99 each, including books by Colum McCann, Colm Toibin, Shirley Hazzard, Nadine Gordimer, Ann Beattie, and Charles Baxter. Much to my surprise, one of the books I purchased, Emerald City and Other Stories, by new CSD-favorite Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit From the Goon Squad, was signed by the author. There was no indication that the book had been signed; it was for sale for ninety-nine cents just like every other book on its table. I have no idea what its worth, and I'll never sell it, but, as a diamond-in-the-rough among a whole pile of diamonds-in-the-rough, it reminded me of why I love outlets, used book and record stores, and vintage shops so much. Finding a little treasure in the midst of a pile of rubbish is infinitely more rewarding than ordering from eBay the exact item for which you are looking. If for no other reason, sometimes you don't know what you're looking for until its right in front of your face.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Jim Bouton's Ball Four

At the end of Ball Four, Bouton writes: "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out it was the other way around all the time." This book caused a lot of controversy when it was first published, because Bouton shared with the world the details of clubhouse grab-ass, pranks, and dirty jokes, the life of a professional athlete on the road, and the Catch-22-like absurdity of coaches and general managers. He revealed that Mickey Mantle was a heavy drinker, that Whitey Ford and Elston Howard cheated by doctoring baseballs, front offices took advantage of poorly-educated players, and how any number of other baseball figures from the 60's and 70's weren't the milk-drinking, apple pie-eating heroes that the media had made them out to be. Bouton was ostracized for writing this book, even years later, when Mantle's drinking, Ford's cheating, and the unsavory business practices of team owners had become common knowledge. In spite of all of that, Bouton's love of the game is so genuine that the beautiful epigraph with which he closes the book feels completely earned. If anything, Bouton was trying to rescue the game he loved from the way it was exploited by its management and taken for granted by the vast majority of its players. Bouton's complaints about the life of a major league ballplayer are legitimate - Bouton does an excellent job of making us feel the day-to-day anxiety of knowing that you could be traded, or sent to the minors, and have to uproot your entire family and relocate to a strange city on short notice, through no fault of your own. Also, before free agency, players rarely earned more than twenty-five thousand dollars a year, good money for seven months' work, but not enough that players didn't have to work jobs in the off-season to make ends meet. To Bouton's credit, he always makes those complaints with a grain of salt, because he recognizes that he would rather have his complaints over those of another person almost any day of the week.

Ball Four is organized as a season-long diary, dictated by Bouton as he went from hotel to hotel throughout the course of the season. For much of its first half, Bouton uses the events of his life as jumping-off points to tell anecdotes collected throughout the course of his nine-year career. In the second half of the book, minor characters from the first half reappear in new contexts, there are callbacks to some great jokes, and the book begins to seem like more of a thematic whole, instead of "just" a diary. People familiar with the baseball movies of the 80's and 90's - Bull Durham, Major League, Eight Men Out, etc. - will recognize a lot of types in this book. In some ways, Jim Bouton has a lot of the same attributes of Bull Durham's Crash Davis - he has spent a lifetime in the game, learned its lessons, and wants one more shot at glory before calling it a career and finding a 'real' job. Bouton had an enormous amount of success early in his career, having 20-win seasons and going to the World Series several times with the Yankees, only to injure his arm at age 26 (most likely because the Yankees overused him) and spent the next five years scraping by as a marginal player, eventually getting released by the Yankees and signing on with the Seattle Pilots (later the Milwaukee Brewers) and the Houston Astros. Few players have seen as many different sides of the game of baseball as Jim Bouton, and, in Ball Four, he shows all of them to us.

A lot of the book's negative attention was due to the fact that he pulled back the curtain on the New York Yankees, who, in 1970, were still seen as America's team, a collection of clean-shaven, brush-cutted types who had mainstream-to-conservative politics and represented a simpler, pre-counter-cultural era. There's a reason that Paul Simon chose to reference a Yankee, Joe DiMaggio, in "Mrs. Robinson." In Bouton's telling, the Yankees drank just as much, if not more, than other teams, caroused on the road just as much, if not more, than other teams, and "shot beaver" - the 1960's baseball term for scoping out beautiful women and trying to look up their skirts (if they're at the ballpark) or peek through their hotel windows to catch them having sex (when they're in hotels on the road). With even a few years' hindsight, it seems obvious that the Yankees were doing all of those things, but it was shocking at the time. From the distance of forty years, the take-away is that even the most buttoned-down teams in baseball are still big collections of young men - some barely older than boys - who get paid to do their absolute favorite thing in the world. That, as much as the game itself, is the reason we watch. Who among us wouldn't want to have that much fun?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

They Might Be Giants cover "Tub Thumping"

The AV Club's "Undercover" series is one of our favorite things on the internet, and this week's installment, They Might Be Giants' cover of Chumbawamba's "Tub Thumping," is one of the best yet. "Tub Thumping" became ubiquitous in the summer of 1997 and a punchline shortly thereafter, and forevermore. They Might Be Giants' cover emphasizes fun, and audience participation -- there's no point in trying to be be "edgy" on a cover like this, or in stripping it down -- and reminds us that everybody, even writers who critique music for a living, like to put their hands up and shout every once in a while. If this doesn't put a smile on your face then . . . you probably spend a lot of time reading Pitchfork.

They Might Be Giants covers Chumbawamba

I spent the summer of 1997 rowing at different iterations of the United States' junior national rowing team's development camp, primarily in and around Cincinnati, Ohio and Victoria, British Columbia. Clear Channel must have given its stations particularly short playlists that summer, because Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life," Verve Pipe's "The Freshmen," Meredith Brooks' "Bitch," Sister Hazel's "All For You," and OMC's "How Bizarre," are still burned into my brain, fourteen years later. What summers' songs are still stuck in your head, for better or worse?

The Last Fine Time, by Verlyn Klinkenborg

The Last Fine Time is about a bar called George & Eddie's, which was an institution on the east side of Buffalo for 23 years, from 1947-1970. My grandparents on my father's side were regular customers, and good friends with the owner, Eddie Wenzek (they are twice mentioned by name in the book). As a child, my father spent a lot of time playing the bar's back room while his parents and their friends caught up and played pool in the main room.

As a work of social history, The Last Fine Time is more substantial than its200-page length would suggest. Blue collar neighborhoods in the rust belt accounted for a significant percentage of America's population (particularly its "white ethnics") in the years after World War II, before white flight, a changing economy, and the migration to the sun belt contributed to the decline of the great industrial cities of the north. Unfortunately, Klinkenborg's contributions as a social history are undermined by the book's schmaltzy tone, which sentimentalizs seemingly every single aspect of blue-collar life in the 1950's Rust Belt. Furthermore, its arch prose style is off-putting; one adjective rarely suffices when three could be used; the occasionally-arch tone gets wearisome at times, and snow doesn't just fall, it falls on the rooftops, well-kept yards, brims of fedora hats, the dye and coke and steel factories, the freight train cars carrying pig iron up from Pittsburgh . . . and on and on. The East Side wasn't full of Polish-American families -- oh no, that would be too simple. Instead, it was inhabitted by families with names like Chlebowy, Switula, Oleksiak, Kuzniarck, Weclowski, Zajak, Kiffman, Augustyniak, Kuberacka, Wojtowicz . . . and on like that for seven - SEVEN!! - lines of text. He does the same thing for other . . . categories of stuff, including neighborhood business, regular customers, etc. It is tiring. Stop writing, Verlyn. Just stop. We get it.

The book interested me, because it was about my grandparents's close friends, and, in equal measure, about my city, when it was still in its prime, and one of the largest and most important cities in the country. But I don't see much reason why anybody who doesn't have a deep connection to the City of Buffalo would want to read it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Video I Should Have Posted Weeks Ago #27 - Neil Patrick Harris's Opening Number at the Tony's

The 2011 Tony Awards were held three weeks ago, on June 12th. I don't get to many Broadway shows, but this year's Tony's, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris with an assist from Hugh Jackman, were a lot of fun, which makes sense, because its the one awards show that features people who make a living entertaining live audiences. The opening musical number was particularly charming, and informed us -- in case we didn't know -- that Broadway shows aren't just for gays and Jews and out-of-town visitors we have to amuse anymore. Or, I should say, anymorrrrrrrrrre!

Adventures in Un-bookening: June 2011 Edition

This was a really bad month. In my half-hearted defense, both the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library had really great used book sales, at which all books were $1, and whose proceeds went to benefit AIDS-afflicted homeless people at the Brooklyn Public Library, respectively, so I . . . (enormous rationalization) bought generously?? Book austerity begins again in earnest this month.

Borrowed from library
Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman
Purchased (used)
The Princess Bride, but William Goldman
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal, by Zoe Heller
The Way Home, by George Pelancos
Palace Walk, by Naguib Mafouz
The Master, by Colm Toibin
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln's Killer, by James L. Swanson
The Children of Men, by P.D. James
Spooner, by Pete Dexter
Falling in Place, by Ann Beattie
Secrets and Surprises, by Ann Beattie
Follies, by Ann Beattie
A Sport of Nature, by Nadine Gordimer
The Last Thing He Wanted, by Joan Didion
Ripley Under Water, by Patricia Highsmith
The Book of Evidence, by John Banville
Purchased (new)2666, by Roberto Bolano
My Year With Eleanor, by Noelle Hancock
Players, by Don DeLillo

Out: 7
Returned to library:The Moment, by Douglas Kennedy
Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
Given away:Basil and Josephine Stories, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pat Hobby Stories, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Earthly Possessions, by Anne Tyler
Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, by John LeCarre

Thanks to blogmigo Ellen Wernecke for the idea.