Friday, August 30, 2013

Tom Petty -- "You Wreck Me" (1994)

Tonight we ride
Right or wrong
Tonight we sail
On a radio song

"You Wreck Me" was released on Tom Petty's 1994 album, Wildflowers.  This post will feature pictures of some of the wildflowers I saw on the walks I took on a recent sojourn in Rochester, Minnesota.  (I was there because my mother was having a shoulder replacement done at the Mayo Clinic.)

That's a pretty thin connection between the subject matter of this post and our featured song, but it will have to do.

In fact, the pictures that appear in this post are all of one wildflower – the Maximilian sunflower, or Helianthus maximiliani, which is a perennial wildflower that is native to the plains states.

Maximilian sunflowers at Silver Lake
(Rochester, MN)
The plant's single stems are three to ten feet high.  Here's a plant that was considerably taller than I am.  (The building in the background to the left is the main Mayo Clinic building, which is about two miles away.)

Rochester has an extensive system of paved hiking-biking trails.  One of the trails nearest our hotel skirted Cascade Lake, and there were plenty of Maximilian plants along that lake.

The Maximilian sunflower is named after Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, a German explorer and naturalist who encountered it when he travelled up the Missouri River in 1833.

Prince Maximilian
Maximilian was accompanied by Karl Bodmer, a Swiss artist.  The drawings and paintings Bodmer created during his time on the Upper Missouri has been called "one of the most perceptive and compelling visual accounts" of the American West.

Especially remarkable are his portraits of native Americans, which were probably the first truly accurate portrayal of plains Indians in their native environment.  Here are Bodmer's portraits of two chiefs:

I like and respect Tom Petty, but I've never bought one of his albums, and I've never bought a ticket to one of his live shows.  

He's just not a guy who really excites me.  I don't think of him as a superstar, even though nine of his singles reached #1 on the Billboard "Mainstream Rock" singles chart, and he's sold roughly 60 million albums.

Tom Petty
Petty is the tortoise, not the hare.  He's like a baseball player who never broke any significant records, and never won the MVP award, but who played at a high level for a long, long time.

Think Roy White, who was one of my favorite Yankees of the post-Mickey Mantle era.  White played 15 years – his entire career – for the Yankees.  He never finished in the top ten in MVP voting, and appeared in just one All-Star game.  (He batted only once, as a pinch hitter.) 

His "Triple Crown" numbers – batting average, home runs, and RBIs – were not impressive.  And he was 5' 10" and weighed 160 pounds – not exactly someone whose physical presence struck fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers.

Roy White
But White was a solid, competent professional you could rely on.  He led the league in games played and plate appearances twice.  He walked a lot – he led the league in walks once, and finished in the top ten six other times – and almost always had fewer strikeouts than walks, which is an uncommon accomplishment.  He finished in the top ten in singles, doubles, triples, hits, total bases, and stolen bases a number of times, but was never #1 in any of those categories.

He was also a very good left fielder.  He got to more fly balls than any other LFer eight of the nine seasons from 1969 to 1977, had the best fielding percentage among LFers five different seasons, and led all AL LFers in assists twice.  But hitting gets a lot more attention than fielding, and LF is not a very glamorous defensive position.

To sum up, White showed up and did a very good job every day.  He rarely missed games, and rarely made a mistake on defense.  He was a patient hitter with an excellent batting eye, who focused on getting on base, not swinging for the fences.

He was arguably the best position player on what were admittedly some bad Yankee teams of the late sixties and early seventies – and a solid contributor to the teams that went to the World Series in three consecutive seasons (1975-77) near the end of his career.  (Oh, yes – his postseason stats were even better than his regular-season numbers.)

Roy White was no Reggie Jackson, George Brett, or Rickey Henderson.  And Tom Petty was no Mick Jagger, Elton John, or Michael Jackson.  But Roy White won a lot of games for the Yankees, and Tom Petty made a lot of very good records.  Their accomplishments should not be lightly dismissed.

Here's the official video for "You Wreck Me":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ice Cube -- "It Was a Good Day" (1993)

I don't know, but today seems kinda odd
No barking from the dogs, no smog
And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog

How can you say "it was a good day" when breakfast came sans pork products?

Iowa is the number one pork-producing state in the U.S., and is responsible for about 30% of the hogs produced in this country.  

Iowa is also the number one exporter of pork -- it exports over $1 billion of pork annually.  (Guess which country is the number one importer of Iowa pork products.  It's Japan -- that surprised me.)

Iowa pork for sale at
Japanese grocery store
Earlier this month I flew to my home town (Joplin, Missouri) to drive my parents to the Mayo Clinic, where my mother was having shoulder replacement surgery.  

Our ride for this journey was my parents' 2012 Chevy Equinox SUV.  They bought it in January 2012 -- 20 months earlier -- but drove it only 848 miles since then.  

Hell, I've walked more than 848 miles in the past 20 months.

This was only the second time in my life that I had been to Iowa.  Back in 1977, I drove down the western edge of Iowa on I-29 on my way to Kansas City at the end of a three-week trip through the American West.  That was it until a couple of weeks ago.

Our route to the Mayo Clinic took us through the heart of Iowa on I-35, a south-to-north interstate that runs for 1568 miles from Laredo, TX, to Duluth, MN.  The portion of I-35 that runs through Iowa is 218 miles long.

Not the most interesting 218 miles you'll ever drive, I must say.  But I made the best of it.

After spending the night in Kansas City, we traversed the Missouri section of I-35 and took our first break at a welcome center just over the Iowa border.  That welcome center was more oriented towards cows than hogs:

The welcome center had a very well-stocked gift shop.  I was tempted to add to my state pillow collection, but decided that I couldn't fit such a bulky item into my carry-on suitcase:

I was amused by this item:

But I found this item somewhat disturbing.  (If I were Melissa's father, I'd keep a very close watch on this Doug fellow.  He seems to be up to no good!)

A couple of hours later, we stopped in the 88th-largest metropolitan area in the United States -- specifically, the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale -- for lunch.

The slogan of the Machine Shed Restaurant in Urbandale is "Dedicated to the American Farmer."  

While you wait for a table, you can take a quick ride around the parking lot behind a John Deere tractor:

The entrance to the Machine Shed features this life-size statue of a Hampshire pig:

The restaurant's extensive gift shop stocks quite a few bacon-related items, including this calendar:

And then there's this T-shirt:

Bacon seems to be the Machine Shed's raison d'être, but non-porcine species were represented as well:

The restaurant got a lot of attention a couple of years ago when it introduced chocolate-covered bacon at the Wisconsin State Fair.  Also available was the absolutely appalling "Krispy Kreme Cheeseburger" -- promoted as "breakfast, lunch, and dessert all in one!"  

Krispy Kreme cheeseburgers?
My parents have modest appetites, but I couldn't resist ordering what appears to be the official sandwich of Iowa, the pork tenderloin sandwich.  (It reminded me of a chicken-fried steak, except it was made with pork instead of beef.)

The Machine Shed's decor featured a number of antique farm signs, including one advertising the hybrid corn of the Dekalb Genetics Corporation (now part of Monsanto):

The next couple of hours passed uneventfully.  We took another break at a rest stop just south of the Minnesota state line.  Unfortunately, the convenience store we visited was flat out of Dr. Pepper, which was an inexcusable failing on its part.  

Ice Cube (real name: O'Shea Jackson) was an original member of N.W.A., the hardest-core gangsta rap group ever.  He is usually ranked as one of the greatest rap MCs of all time, but he's become so mainstream in recent years that I have a hard time taking him very seriously.  He was great in Boyz n the Hood and Three Kings, but then came BarberShop, BarberShop 2, 21 Jump Street, and a bunch of  really lame Coors Light commercials:

"It Was a Good Day" was a #1 hit for Ice Cube in 1993.  The song describes a day in the life of a young African-American in South Central L.A.  

Ice Cube has a busy day -- he heads to the playground for some basketball (scoring a triple double), watches Yo! MTV Raps at a friend's crib, wins at craps and dominos, and then hooks up with a girl he's had on the radar since high school:

Picked up a girl been tryin' to f*** since the 12th grade
It's ironic: I had the brew, she had the chronic
The Lakers beat the Supersonics
I felt on the big fat fanny
Pulled out the jammy, and killed the punani
And my d*** runs deep, so deep
So deep put her ass to sleep
Woke her up around one
She didn't hesitate to call Ice Cube the top gun

Yeah, I'd call that a good day, too.

The most notable thing about the song it what doesn't happen.  For one thing, Ice Cube isn't hassled by the police (although he drives around all day in an outrageous drop-top lowrider).  For another, he doesn't get shot and killed.  

The song ends with Ice Cube seeing the lights of  the Goodyear blimp spelling out "Ice Cube's a Pimp" high in the skies over Los Angeles.  

That indicates to me that this song is about a dream, and not about reality.  For South Central dudes like Ice Cube, being ignored by the cops and escaping violence all day long is just a fantasy.

And so is hooking up with a girl you've had your eye on since 12th grade.  I'm sorry, but if you didn't strike back in 12th grade, it's too late now -- you blew it!

Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day" ride
So what about the lines quoted at the beginning of this post -- how does having breakfast with no bacon or sausage or other pork products make it a good day?  Ice Cube claims to be a Muslim, although he doesn't attend prayer services or follow other Muslim rituals.  

Like Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, and Rastafarians, Muslims consider pork taboo.  I respect that belief, but I certainly don't share it.

After all, as an old musician once said, "You don't have to be poor to play the blues . . . but you have to eat the pork."  Amen, brother.

Here's "It Was a Good Day":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hollies -- "On a Carousel" (1967)

Riding along on a carousel
Will I catch up to you?

There aren't too many classic carousels left in the United States, but I saw one of them when I stopped to ride the East Bay Bike Path in East Providence, Rhode Island, on my way back home from Cape Cod last month.

Perhaps the greatest of all the American carousel builders was Charles I. D. Looff, a Danish immigrant who created over 50 carousels during his lifetime.  

Carousel builder Charles I. D. Looff
Looff was only 24 when he built his first merry-go-round on Coney Island in 1876.  Ten years later, the owner of Crescent Park -- a large amusement park in East Providence, Rhode Island -- hired Looff to build a carousel.  Looff moved his workshop to Crescent Park, and built a second and more elaborate carousel there in 1895.  

That carousel, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987,  is still operating in its original location.

The Crescent Park carousel was essentially Looff's showroom -- prospective merry-go-round buyers would come to Crescent Park to view the various types of hand-carved horses the Looff workshop produced.  

The Crescent Park carousel featured an organ built in Germany by the famed fairground organ maker, A. Ruth & Sohn:

When he was 58, Looff pulled up stakes and moved to California.  He established a factory in Long Beach, and built a number of merry-go-rounds on the west coast, including the famous Santa Monica Pier carousel (which was subsequently replaced with a different carousel).

The Looff carousel in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, was the inspiration for Disneyland.  The park bench where Walt Disney used to sit and dream about a bigger and better amusement park while watching his daughters ride the carousel is on display at Disneyland: 

Here's a closeup of a plaque on that bench:

The East Bay Bike Path begins just south of I-195 in East Providence and runs 14.5 miles south along Narragansett Bay to Bristol, RI.

Here's a view of downtown Providence from the trail:

Here's the Pomham Rocks Light, which was built in 1871:

The East Bay trail has a peculiar traffic etiquette, which is illustrated by this sign:

Normally, bikers and pedestrians keep to the right on a hiker/biker trail -- bikers pass walkers and slower bikers on the left.  On the East Bay trail, walkers keep to the left at all times.

I don't know why the Hollies (whose name paid tribute to the late Buddy Holly) aren't taken as seriously as other great "British Invasion" bands like the Beatles and the Who.

The Hollies
Perhaps it's because the group is viewed primarily as a singles band.  The Hollies released some very interesting albums, but none were big sellers, and none have the critical cachet of albums like Rubber Soul or Revolver or Let it Bleed

Let's compare the singles released by the Hollies between the summer of 1965 and the summer of 1967 -- their peak period -- to the singles released by the Beatles and Rolling Stones during the same time period.

The Beatles released "Help!," "Yesterday," "We Can Work It Out," "Nowhere Man," "Paperback Writer," "Yellow Submarine," "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever," and "All You Need Is Love" during that two-year time span.  Six of those singles hit #1 in the United States, and the others reached either #2 ("Yellow Submarine") or #3 ("Nowhere Man").

The contemporaneous Rolling Stones singles included "Satisfaction," "Get Off of My Cloud," "As Tears Go By," "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Paint It Black," "Mother's Little Helper," "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?, and "Ruby Tuesday" -- all of which made the top ten, and four of which were #1 hits. 

The Hollies released "Look Through Any Window," "I Can't Let Go," "Bus Stop," "Stop Stop Stop," "On a Carousel," "Pay You Back with Interest," "Carrie Anne," and "King Midas in Reverse" during the same time period.  Three of those singles made the top ten, and three others made the top 40, while "I Can't Let Go" reached only #42 and "King Midas in Reverse" -- a song that matches up against anything the Beatles did -- peaked at #51.

The Hollies were one of the most popular singles bands in the U.S. in the mid-1960s, although they were't nearly as popular in America as they were in the UK (where six of those singles cracked the top five).  But their popularity paled in comparison to that of the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

Graham Nash
I don't think you can say that those eight Hollies records are inferior in any way to the eight Beatles or Stones records from the same two-year period.  I would argue that the Hollies songs are more interesting as a group -- they are more complex rhythmically and use more varied instrumentation (including a banjo on "Stop Stop Stop" and steel drums on "Carrie Anne").  Of course, they feature the group's trademark three-part vocal harmonies.

The Hollies were never the same after Graham Nash decamped to Los Angeles and joined Stephen Stills and David Crosby to form Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Nash wanted to record more serious material, but when "King Midas in Reverse" failed to do well, the other two singer/songwriters in the Hollies -- Allan Clarke (who was Nash's childhood friend) and Tony Hicks -- wanted to go back to the pop songs that had been so successful for the band.

The last straw for Nash was when the band rejected one of his compositions, "Marrakesh Express," and decided to record an album of Bob Dylan covers.

Allan Clarke
Ironically, the group's biggest hit single in the United States was "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress," which featured Clarke singing solo -- it had none of the vocal harmonies the group was known for.  "Long Cool Woman" was inspired by Creedence Clearwater Revival, of all people -- Clarke's vocal sounds a lot like John Fogerty on "Green River."

One of my most vivid musical memories from the summer of 1972 was hearing "Long Cool Woman" and Creedence's "Sweet Hitch-Hiker" playing every night on the jukebox at Nina's Green Parrot in Galena, Kansas -- the beer joint I visited six nights a week that summer.  Unfortunately, one of my other vivid musical memories from that summer is hearing Looking Glass's hit single, "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," playing every night on that same jukebox.

Here's "On a Carousel":

Here's a video of the Hollies recording the song at Abbey Road Studios.  The video is a composite of the various band members recording their individual parts.  The final part of the video shows Nash, Clarke, and Hicks recording vocals -- it's quite extraordinary:

Click here to order the song from Amazon:  

Friday, August 23, 2013

American Hi-Fi -- "Flavor of the Weak" (2001)

Her boyfriend
He don't know
Anything about her
He's too stoned

[WARNING:  This is a very high-concept post.  It will probably go right over your head.  Hell, most of it goes right over my head and I wrote it.]

A year or two ago, this post would have been very different.  It would have been seamlessly integrated into a series of related posts, and its contents would have been oh-so-cleverly tied to its featured song.  The result would have been a tiny mirror reflecting the Zeitgeist.

Don't expect any such a thing today, boys and girls.  I'm far too busy living the life of a flâneur these days to put any real thought and effort into 2 or 3 lines.  

And why should I?  Give me one good reason.

The great unwashed masses simply clamor for more, and more, and still more of me, and seem not to care a whit that they are being given watered-down vins de pays instead of the grands crus classés they were once served.

The dazzling style and brilliant substance that were the hallmark of this blog have been sacrificed on the altar of the great god Three-Posts-A-Week.

Everything gets chopped up with an ax and burned as fuel so the 2 or 3 lines train runs on time, arriving at the station at precisely 12:01 AM every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday.

If you really appreciated 2 or 3 lines, you would buy the featured song every so often.  Or if spending 99 cents would break you, you could simply click on an ad or two -- is that too much to ask of you plague of schnorrers who swarm around me like privy flies around an oft-used outhouse?

It seems that it is.  So be prepared for more incoherent rants and narcissism that knows no bounds.  It's the abstract expressionist school of writing -- throw a few bucketsful of words on the page, willy-nilly . . . sprinkle in some random Cape Cod photos to keep the ladies happy . . . and walk away.

Open a bottle of wine and take the rest of the day off, Mr. 2 or 3 lines -- you've earned it!

(Sigh . . . )

It's Friday night as I write these words -- another seemingly endless week is over, and a feeling of Weltschmerz weighs heavily on my soul.  Ennui, too.  (One language isn't sufficient to express my deepest thoughts these days -- I really need two or even three to get the job done.)

That Weltschmerz is first and foremost the result of my own private Vergangenheitsbewältigung.  On the surface, the creator of a wildly popular blog like 2 or 3 lines should be riding high like the Übermensch he is.    

So why do I suddenly feel so hors de combat?  Why does the center not hold?  I seem to have misplaced my Gemütlichkelt -- perhaps never to be found again.

I try to rouse my spirits by repeating the old rallying cry: épater la bourgeoisie!  And I still take great comfort from Schadenfreude, of course.  But I can't deny that something is very, very wrong.  Where, oh where has my joie de vivre gone?  Where, oh where can it be?

("Cherchez la femme," you suggest -- sotto voce -- to your companion.  Indeed, mon ami -- indeed.)

Stacy Jones of American Hi-Fi
"Flavor of the Weak," which was released in 2001 on American Hi-Fi's eponymous debut album, was written by frontman Stacy Jones, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Jones is first and foremost a drummer -- he played drums in his two previous bands (Letters from Cleo and Veruca Salt) and also plays drums for Miley Cyrus when she tours -- but he doesn't play drums for American Hi-Fi.

The song is the last one sampled on the Super Mash Bros track, "I'm An Adler Girl," a mashup that is just under three minutes long and which features samples from an eclectic group of songs -- including songs by Limp Bizkit, Mariah Carey, the Beastie Boys, Tommy Danger, and A-ha. (Don't tell me you've forgotten A-ha's big 1985 hit, "Take on Me"? It was only a #1 or #2 hit in the US and almost every European country worth mentioning -- including A-ha's native country of Norway.)

Anyone out there know what "I'm An Adler Girl" means?

I have no idea, despite an exhaustive research effort -- i.e., I entered "Adler girl" into Google, looked at the first screen of search results, and promptly gave up when I didn't get anything relevant.  (That's pretty much the way I do legal research when a client has a question.)

But it must be something pretty important, because the Super Mash Bros put a track titled "Adler Girl Part II (I Can Change!)" on their next album.

Here's the music video for "Flavor of the Weak."  (This song is really the mirror image of Taylor Swift's "You Belong with Me," which was featured in the previous 2 or 3 lines.  The only difference is that the singer in this song is a boy instead of a girl, and the object of the singer's crush is a girl, not a boy.)

Click below to order the song from Amazon: