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Saturday, December 31, 2011

If nothing else 2011 had some fine music...

Now on to 2012 please.

Good bye Kardashians and Katy Perry/Russell Brand.  Be gone Casey Anthony and Amanda Knox.  Enough with the Republican debates and candidates for that matter.  

Good night Mel Gibson.  Good night Regis.  Good night Lexus ads and their jingles contagious.  

Good night Iraq.  Good night Kim Jong Il.  Good night Berlusconi and his mistress times a mill.

A time to move forward and progress.  No more double lives and money troubles.  No more ill health and second guessing.  Gone with gray hairs and stress.  Truth.  Honesty.  Fun.  

I embark on the last year of my 30s with a steady brain and beating heart.  May the struggle to keep that all together become less difficult.  May my ability to learn and grow far surpass any weakness and doubt. May others look to me as an example and not as sad cliche.  

May you all find strength, joy, good health and prosperity in 2012 and beyond.     Join me some more as this humble blog looks for clarity, release and goofy fun.  If nothing else, come here for some diversion and art.  

Carson Daly and Ryan Seacrest are going to be showcasing some music in hours.  Lady Gaga and Bieber are just fine and go ahead and join the countless Little Monsters and your kids friends as they eat it up like Marcia Brady to Davy Jones.  Pop music is very much in our collective frontal lobes.  It's cool...  I have drank the Rhianna "We Found Love" Kool-Aid for the better part of a month so I get it!!!

The good thing is there is far out there than meets the ear.

In no particular order I give you 20 tracks that stood out for the year that was.  Enjoy and please join the discussion.  Happy New Year everyone!!!  

Real Estate:  "It's Real"  NJ suburban kids bringing the fellow vibe.  How can I not like, er, love it.  Playing the NYC area in 2 weeks.  Get on it!!!
Not sure what to make of the MySpace account being their primary contact...  but we can all help change that with some downloads.  

Lykke Li:  "Get Some"  Sultry, somber, sexy, Swedish...  super cool groove with the perfect amount of percussion and attitude.  Although I must confess it is very distubing hearing your 9 year old daughter singing "I'm your prostitute/you gonna get some."  Would be worse if she knew what it meant.  Or is she was actually telling a client that!!!

AWOLNation:  "Not Your Fault"  Easily one of the finest live shows I witnessed this year.  Frontman Aaron Bruno is a force of charisma and bravado.  He can sing as well as he brings all that.  Looking forward to much, much more.

Decemberists: "Rise to Me"  Colin Meloy's writing is always a pleasure.  This tune, from the wonderful LP The King is Dead, hits you like a a warm fire on a cold winter's night.  Pedal steel and soft acoustic guitars marry themselves nicely to Meloy's voice, hear live and at its finest.   Need a do over since their Prospect Park show was a rainy mess.  But this is American songwriting at its apex.

Ryan Adams:  "Do I Wait?"  Happily married, drug free, and content are not something you usually associate with Mr Adams.  If it produces songs like this sign me up.  A man and his guitar can be quite rewarding.

Dawes:  "A Little Bit of Everything"  Another fantastic live version from another fantastic act from 2011.  Dare you to find a more polished effort than this one.  Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon are very good mentors/influences.  Now, they need to not beat up Darryl Hannah or die too young.

M83:  "Midnight City"   This track, and the album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, has appeared on several alt blog top 10, top 5 , top 1 lists.  Hard to argue.   HBO's terrific series 24/7 featured it last week and it gave me goosebumps.  The show is powerful, but this song has a toe tapping, get up and do something feel that is palpable.  Love, love, love it!!!

Cut Copy: "Need You Now"  Australia and Synth haven't been this good since Men At Work.  The campy and downright silly video still puts a smile on my face.

Foster the People: "Houdini"  They might very well be the breakout band of the year.  While "Pumped Up Kicks" got all the love the rest of the album, Torches, has plenty of better moments.  This track for instance has a great 80s reminiscent of, say Wham meets Darryl Hall.  They have been overplayed and run the risk of flame out.  But you cannot discount what a fine debut album this is.  Oh, and Kenny G guests on this spot from Saturday Night Live...  and there is indeed more cowbell!!!

Deerhunter:  "Desire Lines"  Not sure what to say about Bradford Cox and his many bands, many talents, many moods.  It can be said this song is rock personified.  A live performance here that can be best described as, um, awesome!!  Hate to give props to someone from the comments section but, if the shoe fits...  From 3:07 on "Desire Lines"  is simply absolute joy. Completely, utterly wonderful.

White Denim:  "Street Joy"  Eerie and effective.  Moody and soulful.  Worthy.

Wilco:  "Born Alone"  Jeff Tweedy has battled his own demons and lives to tell, er, sing about it.  One can't help compare his quest for clarity to the aforementioned Ryan Adams.  Tweedy's still very much pessimistic.  These days who could blame him.  To wit:  "The kids are unabashed /Loneliness postponed/My eyes deceiving glory/I was born to die alone."!/

Givers:  "Up,Up, Up"  Whereas Tweedy can be Flatland down-ness, these Louisiana youngsters are just out for a good time.  Or, at the very least, a good beat.  Rhythm and bayou with a hint of pop.

Joy Formidable:  "Whirring"  More Nordic songstresses bringing some heat, here the blonde pixie Ritzy Bryan.  An absolutely fantastic rock star name and a performer more than up to the name.

Young the Giant:  "My Body"  A little bit of high school locker room pent up energy with a dash of John Hughes chase scene.  Exciting and bold without the pretension.

The Naked and the Famous:  "Young Blood"  I thought the musical giants out of New Zealand had come and gone (apologies The Flight of the Conchords.)  This album was an indie darling and it's easy to see why.  Keyboards and melodies are still very comforting.

Foo Fighters:  "These Days"  Dave Grohl is a freaking beast.  He says this track is his finest moment.  Not gonna argue with him...  let's let Courtney Love handle that.

Adele: "Someone Like You"  You're a giant tool if you fail to realize the brilliance behind this record.  Get well soon you velvet voiced prodigy.

Amos Lee:  "Windows are Rolled Down"  Much love to Philly and its new favorite son.  Kids might not know what it means to roll a window down...  but who cares?  Lee's got a nice little thing going for him.  Hard not to root for the troubadour with a 6 string.  Love the lyric "I'm fixin to die."  Who talks like that????

Caveman:  "Old Friend"  Without question my favorite find of 2011.  Moody, tribal, percussion filled ambience and jam is but one way you can describe these guys from NYC (with one southern transplant.)  They are mere weeks away from their first headlining gig at Bowery.  That gives you plenty of time to jump on board.

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Honorable Mention...


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Our Civilization is Going to (the) Pot...

As a result of my news media fast (hereinafter, “The Fast”)I talked about in an earlier blog, I have found myself focusing on my immediate surroundings  and being more mindful of what my day to day experience tells me, rather than theories.

But old habits die hard. Every pseudo-intellectual has their theory about the decline of civilization in general, and ours in particular. Prior to “The Fast”,  I would have knocked out a blog that talked about  how our  civilization’s decline is exemplified by our crumbling infrastructure,  growing disparity of rich and poor, and the concentration of power within the executive branch to curtail our civil liberties. I would have referenced or borrowed from articles in Salon, Slate, The New Republic,  The Nation,  The Atlantic, The New York Times,  The Washington Post, and, if I was feeling particularly pseudo-intellectuallish,  Foreign Affairs.

Instead, based on my recent immediate experience, I think there is one public institution whose degradation is so widespread that it is, I submit, a clear indicator of the decline of our civilization – The Public Restroom.

Using the restroom is the great democratic equalizer of status. No matter your race, color or creed; regardless of your accomplishments, education, or wealth, you are obliged to follow the same five steps:

1)      drop your drawers

2)      release waste into the bowl

3)      wipe

4)      flush, and

5)      (hopefully) wash hands.  

The practice of making doo-doo in a place far, far away from where you eat and drink was one of the key innovations in human history for the prevention of disease.  Therefore, proper toileting is, arguably, one of the most basic duties (pardon the pun) of a citizen of a democracy.  Even before paying taxes and voting.

So what does it say that in almost every public place, in almost every restaurant or store, the restroom looks like the inside of a chimpanzee’s cage?  We see discolored wads of wet toilet paper on the floor. And streamers of toilet paper draped across the stall like crime scene tape. This can’t all be the result of people who are disabled or infirm.

Most telling, however, are the examples of failure to meet one’s civic obligations listed above, which include:

-Missing the bowl (Step #2)

-Failure to flush (Step #4),

-Most disturbingly, failure to flush with absolutely no evidence of paper in the bowl, compounding a violation of Step #4 with a disregard of Step #3.

However, there is a ray of hope for us all in that the wet, sloppy mess at the sink indicates some attempt at Step #5.  

In short, the breakdown of civilization seems to start around Step #2 (after our immediate needs are satisfied). Perhaps it’s not failure of public investment, the greedy “one-percent”, or government corruption that leads to the decline of civilization. Rather, it may be the simple disregard of manners and courtesy and shallow thoughtlessness about how our actions impact those of our fellow citizens.  If we all rededicate ourselves to this basic level of citizenship, our country, and all of Western civilization, could be saved.

And let’s not forget the courtesy flush.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Movie Review:- Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

“Chipwrecked” -- the third installment of the miraculous spinning
of a 1958 novelty record into Hollywood gold–can most closely compared to D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) in that:
1) it utilizes cutting edge cinematic effects and techniques
2) it is (or is experienced as) as over three hours long, and
3) it glorifies a dark and odious part of human nature…

Birth of a Nation remains morally superior only because, due to the accident of the technical limitations of its time, it is a silent film…

Okay, Okay. I composed the opening lines above in my head while “attending” this movie with my wife and kids. I know that its pretty much a movie snob cliché to give a movie that aspires to be nothing more than a highly profitable diversion for 7 year olds a full-metal snark review. Our experience follows:

We arrived at our local megaplex, my wife having carefully smuggled in the snacks of our choice rather than our paying $50 for a bushel of tub o’ lard popcorn. I sat next to my wife, raised the armrest to convert the seats into “loveseat” mode, and whispered my usual joke about the rascally possibilities of same if we were sans kids. My wife gave her usual response- weary
eye roll, heavy sigh and slow head shake – the same response I get if, in fact, we are at the movies sans kids…

In the coming attractions, the most intriguing was a trailer for the upcoming Three Stooges movie, which showed Moe giving Snooki his famous double-eye poke. (You may insert your own Snooki joke here)

Anyway, the helium pitched voices kicked in over the opening credits. In the closing credits, I was astounded to learn the various Chipmunks were voiced by such comedic talents as Christina Applegate, Justin Long and – amazingly, Anna Faris, one of the best film comediennes working today. I would have thought you could get struggling actors at SAG scale to perform these roles, but what do I know…

Apparently, a guy named Dave is the (adoptive?) father of the famous Alvin (the schemer) Theodore (the simpleton) and Simon (The responsible brainy one, as indicated by his wearing glasses), as well as three female chipmunks known as “The Chipettes”. (Note: I was spared the first movie because the kids went with their grandfather, and I read a book while my kids watched #2 “The Squeakquel” on cable). Dave is played by either Jason Lee or Justin Theroux, I am not sure which.

They go on cruise, a hang gliding mishap lands the Chipmunks and Chipettes on a tropical island, and… not sure what happens after that. Other than watching the fetching Jenny Slate (Late of SNL, in her first feature role) prance around the jungle in short-shorts, I kept checking Facebook on my phone under my coat. So I’ll rely on the reactions from my family:

My wife: “When I checked the time and saw only 40 minutes had passed, I thought I was going to cry.”
My 7 year old: “It was great!”
My 10 year old: “It was fine for the type of movie it

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Taking a Slice from the Amish

On the first day of my end-of-the-year vacation, I joined my wife for final holiday shopping errands. To fortify ourselves before wading into the fray, we had a hearty breakfast at the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish Farmer's Market on Route 27 in Princeton. The small counter service café serves simple comfort food with fresh ingredients. Surrounding the café and offered for sale is a bountiful mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry (even goose!) and fish, baked goods still warm from the oven, as well as jarred traditional favorites like apple butter and beet eggs.

As I was waiting for our food to be ready, I gawked tourist-like at the always-exotic Amish, with the women all wearing the same plain dresses and headpieces, the men in the simple solid shirts, suspenders and Abe Lincoln beards. I marveled at their industry, efficiency and sincere friendliness. And also reflexively judged their obvious sexism, lock-step conformity, and outdated worldview.

After my wife finished her excellent breakfast sandwich and I had devoured my "meat lover's omelet" ( Bacon, ham, sausage and cheese wrapped in three fresh eggs) ----and contemplated that, like a boa constrictor that had just swallowed a wild boar piglet, I would be digesting it for months--- the only thing that ruined our contentment was the loud, in-your-face preaching by some Amish minister about the following:

That same-sex marriage is destroying the traditional family and undermines traditional marriage

That abortion should be a felony enforced by prosecution of the doctor, the pregnant woman, and the guy who drove the cab that brought the woman to the clinic (but not the father)

That a moment of Amish prayer, accompanied by a slice of shoo-fly pie, should be mandatory in public schools

Yes, of course I'm joking.

What I admire most about the Amish is that, despite living a lifestyle that makes the average middle-class suburbanite look like Caligula, and while likely somewhat agreeing with the moral principles encompassed in the above "preaching", you would never know directly from them. They live their life as they choose ("choose" being key -- the fascinating tradition of rumspringa, in which on their 18th birthday Amish youth are permitted to leave the community and sample the outside world e.g. booze, drugs, sex so that, when they take their vows to the community, they know what they are giving up, and my understanding is most of them choose to come back) and don't seek to convert the world to their point of view. They come to the farmer’s market, engage in friendly commerce with outsiders, and at the end of the day return to their private, simple, freely chosen lives.

To me, this is the most American way to live.

Happy Holidays

Please check out the Farmer's Market

blog by David Snyder

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Does Altruism exist?

Having double majored in the equally unmarketable English and Sociology I at least became well versed(pun intended) in writing and debate.  Today I remembered a debate quite vividly.  The class was Social Theory or Modes of Social Interaction or whatever.  A few things...  it is hard to believe I am still paying for this education 15 years after I graduated.  Second, there are times I would like nothing more than sitting in a lecture hall discussing Positivism, or Game Theory, or any of the wonderful classes I took.

Hell I had a 3 credit seminar on the films of Martin Scorsese!!  Just me and his films for 3 months.  Amazing.

But I digress.  Today, last minute shopping at my local CVS, I came upon a bank envelope full of cash.  No name was attached.  No receipt indicating it belonged to anyone.  It was fat, but the biggest bill in it was a $50.  Probably had about $500 in it.

That's some serious scratch no matter how you look at it.  And living in Morris County NJ the person that left it behind more than likely would not miss it more than I would welcome it.

It took about 5 seconds to size up the situation and hand the envelope to the aged pharmacist telling him "I found this at your register sir, can you hold it because I am sure someone will come looking."

How am I sure?  Whatever.  It was the right thing to do.  And I felt good doing it.

Which brings me to the title of this humble piece.

If I handed the money back and felt GOOD doing it does that constitute a selfless act?  If the act creates any positive feelings it can, and my Sociology prof argued MUST be defined as selfish.

By his definition there are no selfless acts.  We act to make ourselves feel better...  to look better in society.

Imagine what he would suggest about writing about it???!!!  Clearly this is the biggest act of selfishness. Shouldn't I just shut up about it and move along?  Nothing to see here folks.  It is what you all would have done too right??  Why even bring it up???

Another teaching moment I thought as I picked up my daughter from school.  She was intrigued by her father's tales of college and wondered aloud whether the owner would somehow get his or her money.  And if so do you think he or she would send a gift basket??

Perhaps the good feeling that spilled over from last night's dazzling performance of "A Christmas Carol" made the act a no brainer.  Brief side note:  Shakespeare Theatre's re-telling in Madison, NJ was so, so good!!!  If you are local and have 2 hours...

Tis the season, right?

If this is the feeling of selfishness so be it.

Anyway, the karma has to work both ways, right???

Another County Heard From

At last someone took me up on the offer to write a guest blog.  I am hopeful several others will follow suit.  Let this be a forum for any and all men/women to express what is going on out there.  Think of this as your blank canvas.  From my new Central NJ correspondant "Mike Taylor"...

I was flattered to be asked to write a guest post by the author.

When they ask Nobel prize winning writers what their advice is, they always say "write what you know".

However, my challenge is that, of late I have come to realize that I don't know all that much. And while Socrates was considered wise because he knew that he "knew nothing", I don't feel very wise.

I have always been a voracious reader, and not being a sports fan, spend the time on the weekends that would otherwise be spend cheering on some team or another with my nose would be in a book, a magazine, a newspaper, etc. If some item or topic caught my interest, I would spend hours Googling it so I could know all about it. Particularly politics. Especially politics. So, for a long time, I thought that I knew a lot. And I would argue and debate, not just to put my point across, but to destroy the other person’s point as well.

I came to realize that I "know nothing" when on Thanksgiving I decided to go on a news media fast -- no magazines, no newspapers, no websites -- I would only rely on what I could learn from talking with my friends. On Facebook, I limited myself to my friends’ postings and comments, and did not click any attached news links.

This was prompted by my having a political argument about some current event or another with a longtime friend who, in the aftermath, stopped speaking with me. I started to think about what, if anything, I had "won"….

So for about a month now, I have had no articles to fuel my debate, no matters of public interest to comment on, and no political fights to weigh in on, other that what I got from listening to other people.  And once this cheap junk food energy meal of constant input was removed,  I realized that the Hitchens-wannabe debate style I prided myself on had nothing to do with the passion of my beliefs, or my concern over matters of public interest, or nobly soldiering in support of the "good" fights. I realized that it gave me a thrill and a charge to argue, debate and destroy the other person's point of view. And it caused me actual stress and discomfort NOT to argue with someone. Like an addict in need of a fix.

So I realized that all of that stuff I was reading was not really informing me, or enlightening me, or expanding my knowledge. It was feeding something else.

What its feeding I don't know yet, but that's a start….

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Parenting 101

Although I was raised by two loving and caring parents, some might even say an idyllic childhood, I was FAR from prepared to be a father.  You can never really be.  Certainly when children are growing up so darn fast these days and the technology (read:dangers) moving faster still.

So, after a dreary Monday which saw my wife and I battling the cold/flu that has made its way around our incubation tank of an office you will excuse us for getting sucked into an episode of A&E's celebration of schadenfreude Hoarders.  Our daughter was not in the room when it began.   She was off being creative somewhere.  She was however, there for the conclusion.  I mean, you have to see how it ends, right?  And isn't this a teaching moment?

Wilma and Nora, the principals in last night's episode, were both bat shit crazy.  They both alienated their children, denied a problem existed, and otherwise fell off the freaking deep end.  Change the names and rural towns and the show is the same every week.  Same goes with Intervention.   That speaks to several points.  First, we are a society filled with raving lunatics and addicts.  Second, if you filmed just about everybody in America (with the right producers) it promises to be interesting and entertaining.  We all love a good train wreck.  Fortunately, we are all separated by one degree(if that.)

The little one grabbed some dessert and wondered in to see what kept mom and dad quiet for so long.

"What is this show?  What are you watching?  Who are these people?  Why so many things on the floor?  Did she really just say she resented having children?  To her children???? "

Oh, there were teaching moments.  And tears.  And for a minute, there was a realization that maybe her parents weren't as bad as she thinks.  We may not have the biggest house or the baddest SUV.  But we have some empathy.  We want her to have everything on Earth and experience all life has to offer.   OK, at the very least we want her to have a better opportunity than we had and smile while going after it.

And like any good parent who makes his child cry...  you make it up to them.

She happened to write to her Christmas Elf, Alex, last night.  Apparently the kids at school have been getting letters from their magical little friend.  I typed away on her KidPix Mac application using a Christmas Hearth background and composed a letter to Alex's favorite 9 year old.

When she saw it on her desk first thing this morning her eyes lit up.  Magic in the modest little house that has seen its share of grief and heartbreak over the past several years.

Another positive sign that transcends the fear, and confusion, and anger that can interrupt a family during the day to day grind.

It is why we agree to celebrate her 1/2 birthday at school today (during Christmas week!!)

It is why we head to the mall and brave belligerent crowds to get the perfect gift.

It is why several loaves of banana bread will be made for the school party.

The constant reinforcement and reminder that we are not Wilma.   This house can be steady.  She can be confident and secure thinking her folks have her back.  After all, isn't home where the heart is?  Provided you have one.  Turns out I might.

Some quick hits...

A Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friend out there.  No idea what the Holiday means or what the 8 lights represent.  They changed the mass for Catholics recently and that will take about 30 years to figure out so don't even bother explaining it.  Saturday Night Live usually provides my post graduate religious education.  So with that...

"Christmas Time for the Jews"  Robert Smigel is too good.
"Hanukkah Song"  Adam Sandler.

And for the non-comedic...  some Yo La Tengo as they get ready for their 8 gig stand at Maxwell's in Hoboken.

"Autumn Sweater"  Performed live on a short lived MSNBC show circa 1997.

"You Can Have it All"  From a 2000 Conan O Brien episode.

"And The Glitter is Gone"  Good old fashioned rock and roll.  Here filmed for Pitchfork TV (2009) atop a roof...  Brooklyn probably.

For more Yo La Tengo:

Curious if anyone has seen the new Rhianna video for "We Found Love?"
Forget the song, it's terrific and once again displays abilities.  The video is a bit disturbing though.  This ties back to the parenting issues faced with Hoarders viewing.   As a woman who suffered domestic abuse should she be shying away with this content or embracing it?   What exactly is the message her for today's youth, and in particular today's young girls?  The car scene is so darn creepy (one cannot help think of Chris Brown assaulting her.)  And I haven't even mentioned the substance abuse.  I understand the need for artistic expression.  Rhianna can do whatever the hell she wants to and that is great.

This is adult material however, and should not be played for the countless young kids one bad grade or Facebook post away from self cutting or over-eating.

Finally, a moment for dearly departed North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il.

Who am I kidding?  South Park has said it best so without further adieu:

"So Ronery"  Some explicit language here folks...  but satire at its finest.

Here he is killing Alec Baldwin:

And a wonderful scene feeding Hans Blix to sharks:

PS...  I am very much buying what M83 is selling.  After watching a few live clips from their NYC show last month it is apparent they are the real deal.  Real Estate, White Denim and these guys are on the top of the 2012 live wishlist.  Who is on yours???  Join the conversation!  Thanks.

M83 "Midnight City" This song has become a part of my DNA.  One of the years best for sure.

M83 "We Own the Sky"

M83 "Wait" from 11.22 Webster Hall, NYC show.   Trippy goodness with a big finish...  wait for it.  Reminiscent of Dresden Girls "Sing" from a few years back.  Love the slow ballad building into epic crescendo.  You?

And here is the aforementioned "Sing"

For more:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Evening in Montclair, From Good Homes Edition

The power of music, and art in general, is an open mind and sense of adventure can take you away from the mundane and into another world altogether.  And no, that doesn't mean LSD or mushrooms have to be involved.  

2011, for me, will always be remembered as the year I rediscovered newer alternative bands. 

Last night, in front of nearly 1300 people at Montclair's wonderful Wellmont Theatre, roots rock North Jersey veterans From Good Homes reminded me that sometimes it's good to remember and appreciate the familiar and comfortable too. 

Oh, and before their nearly 3 hour show last night, I had not heard one song from them.  

Music should have no preconceived ideas.  Meaning, where is the harm in dropping some time and money in the unknown?  A friend gives you a date for a band he or she loves/admires.  You check the date and see it is feasible.  You give it a whirl.

From Good Homes is a roots rock, plugged in acoustic outfit somewhere between Widespread Panic, David Sanborn, Dave Matthews, and every polished cover band that plays in rural bars on weekends.  Story songs are mixed with cautionary tales all while  blended nicely with fiddle and melodica solos.  Improvisational guitar and piano fills meshed  with audience sing a longs.  Good.  Clean.  Fun.

The band is made up of three high school classmates (circa mid 80s) Todd Sheaffer(lead vocals/acoustic guitar), Brady Rymer (bass/vocals) and Patrick Fitzsimmons (drums.)  They are joined by Dan Myers (horns) and Jamie Coan (everything but the kitchen sink.)  Easy to tell these men have been together for a while, albeit with a long period apart.  They came back together in 2009 after about a decade layoff.  Each man had and has kept busy with side projects, notably Sheaffer's involvement with the popular and successful Railroad Earth.

Their ease of demeanor and chemistry made it easy for them to cover (and nail!) Bruce Springsteen's "10th Ave Freeze-out" as well as Lou Reed's "Rock N Roll."  The Springsteen cover was dedicated simply to the "Big Man."  You don't have to be from Jersey to understand what that means.  But it helps and the NJ crowd ate it up.  

As they ate just about everything up.  Since they tour/gig so infrequently these days just about every song felt like a hit from their cd collection (they have 5 records.)  Some were slow.  Some were of the "hick-pop" style they claim to be a part of.  Some had jazz.  Some had blues.  Mandolins and saxes were interchanged with slide guitar and clarinets.   The open mind was filled last night.  Rewarded might even be a better word.  Good indeed to see folks moved by the music.  Better still looking in the mirror and not being the oldest one in attendance.  

The Wellmont smelled of Ben Gay and cheap beer.  Peanuts on the floor would not have been a stretch.  And most surprisingly smart phones were only used during intermission.  Yes, an intermission!  Remember them?? 

There was an almost silent reverence when FGH performed.  Save for some unobtrusive dancing and drunken post song cheering.  

Music as inspiration.  Music as backdrop for jovial, Holiday merriment.  Music as art.  

So much of it out there and never enough time to get to it all.

Less than 10 hours after coming home we learned about Canadian singer Justin Hines on the vastly under appreciated CBS Sunday Morning

Hines was born with a rare condition that limits him to a wheelchair.  Meanwhile he does what he loves (sings), has found international success, married, and continues to inspire thousands of fans.  I had never heard of him.  His story is compelling (brought my wife and me to tears- probably just weak and hungover) .  Take a look and then put it all in perspective.

We are all lucky to be alive and be able to appreciate all the creativity that exists these days, as well as the days that preceded us.  During this Holiday season and as we head into another year please map out your cultural schedule.  Get some art in your life...  then smile accordingly.

From Good Homes 12/17/11 Wellmont Theatre- Montclair, NJ
Set 1: Drums, Head, Suzanna Walker, Butterfly & The Tree, Old Man & The Land, Where Songs Begin, Charlie Hogan, There She Goes, Mess>Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Comin' On Home

Set 2: If The Wind Blows, Relationships Are Strange, It's Gettin Dirty, Let Go, I Only Want, Blues, Ride All Night, Way To Go Pam, All I Can Do, Raindance, 2nd Red Barn On The Right, Rock & Roll

E: Decision Song, Fruitful Acre, The Ballad of Todd & Tracy
E2: Drift Away, Maybe We Will

For more:
great Star Ledger piece which details the history of the band and their current reincarnation:

Music selections:  "Rock N Roll" from DMB Caravan at Randalls Island in September of this year.  Play a cover version and make it your own and I am impressed.  This take on a Lou Reed classic is well done.

"10th Ave Freeze Out"   Not a great video due to quality...  played live in Blairstown, NJ in June of this year.  

Jefferson Township (FGH alias) "Butterly and the Bee"  There is a zydeco and smooth jazz thing at work here that is jubilant.

"Comin on Home"  From Wellmont 2009 shows.  Fiddle= awesome.  Bluegrass in NJ.  People forget how rural NJ can be.  

One more Springsteen cover...  "Atlantic City"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Making the Adult Decision

Months ago tickets were purchased for last nights The National concert at the Beacon.  Two problems.  First we thought we were buying the last night of 4 performances.  They consequently added 2 more shows which will conclude tomorrow.  The bigger issue was the conflict last night that arose with our daughter's Christmas concert.  And yes, I said it, CHRISTMAS concert.  Catholic school folks.  They go old school on you in a hurry.  From our kindly Sister N's irish accent (she's the principal) to the singing of "O Holy Night" as the encore this event was emphatically Catholic.  You almost get the sense Jesus himself wrote the playlist, mixing campy with traditional.   No Happy Holidays here folks.  Christ is very much involved.

What right minded parent would want to miss that?  How many 4th grade concerts am I going to attend???
The National would have to wait.

The event was a success and the kids really did a nice job.  It was the kind of evening where everything felt ok for a moment.  And take the religious overtones out of the equation please.  Believe what you believe and have fun doing it.

The event is more about community.  A civilized gathering when family can pay attention, and acknowledge the achievements of our system of education and more importantly our children.  Boys in suits and girls in dresses singing songs to admiring kin.  An hour and a half away from Iphones and spreadsheets.  And even though the seemingly easy task of outfitting a 9 year old girl entails:
emails to school administrators, countless hundred dollar shopping excursions, complaining, crying and yelling, I still call it triumphant.  I will see The National perform "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "Mr November" again.  The same cannot be said with confidence for "I Wanna Hippopotamus For Christmas."  Hell, maybe I will watch "It's A Wonderful Life" in its entirety this year.  There is talk of "A Christmas Carol" at the Shakespeare Theatre next week.  What on Earth is happening to me???  I need a shot of Michael Bay movie meets Monster of Metal concert.

Some quick items:

At first one can look at the "new" flavors of Hershey's Kisses as cheap gimic.  How many different types do you need?  Same with Cheez-It, or Doritos, or Cheerios.  You have done great work...  step back...  enjoy.

Fact is, both the peppermint bark and cherry cordial Kiss rock.  Make whatever the hell you want if it makes you happy.  I'm converted.  Now where did I put those Taco Bell Flavored Pringles??

A big UGH!!!  goes to the need for leaf blowers on December 16th!!!  Cause there isn't one!!!  Not in the Northeast anyway.

The leaves have all fallen.  It's over.  Stick with your hand and see you next spring!!

Probably bitter because it overwhelmed my music while I had a free hour to write.  But the sound is so blatantly loud and aggressive.  It is bad enough to tolerate when it is 70 and sunny.  At 30 and gray...  enough already.

Finally, thinking of an internet tv post Christmas.  Since I am not a techie or audiophile may I ask for some advice?

Thinking 42" HD with Wifi capability and perhaps the best sound system out of the box.  Pie in the sky?

Help a brother out.

You guys have a great weekend!!!

Maybe a music post or thoughts on when Santa gets told she doesn't want that gift anymore later on.

In the meantime...  some stuff that should be on your radar.

White Denim "Anvil Everything"

Girls "Honey Bunny"

M83 "Midnight City"  I may believe all the hype here.  A terrific album.

Lana Del Rey "Born to Die"
"Video Games"  Hype and buzz is HUGE here!!!  Your thoughts??  Read her Bowery show was erratic too.  Take a look:

You cannot discount the voice however.  It's big.  She is bringing the sexuality card too.  Not subtly either.  Wonder who will view the clips more...  men or women??

Speaking of sexuality and singing...  with a hint of 50s/60s throwback...  take a look at the Dum Dum Girls.
"Bedroom Eyes"
Love that my daughter HATES their lipstick.  "Gross" she says.

Fleet Foxes "Helplessness Blues"  Either you love pastoral rock or you don't.   Also regarded as one of the finest records of the year.

So too was Bon Iver's Holocene.  Here is "Perth"

Finally, since it is December, and snowy in many parts, a moment from Kate Bush's latest record 50 Words for Snow.  So freaking creepy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Have You Heard the News?

Admittedly most of my current event knowledge is from the interweb and Howard Stern so please don't come here for anything but fluff.  But boy what fluff there is!!!

The US government has made some news recently.  First, there is the looming threat of a Nationwide Post Office and/or mail closures/stoppages.  Story here:

This morning I stepped into my local branch for my annual gift shipment/Christmas card blitz.  I rarely need to go there during the year.  You?


So it comes as no surprise this antiquated part of American culture is once again on the brink of extinction. UPS stores and FedEX Kinko's are on far more corners in Anytown, USA.  Often times those companies are cheaper, more customer friendly and efficient than the halls of the USPS.  Most of us do out correspondence through email.  There are some states that are finally looking into getting rid of cursive handwriting in their schools.

Paper ain't long for this less intimate and socially challenged computer world it now finds itself in.  How many of us have texted someone as they sit in the same room?  How long before we are all programmed to know what each other is thinking thus eliminating the need for human interaction at all?

We are not gonna be sending letters to mom if that's the case.  And that's gonna be a little sad.

There is a warm nostalgia waiting in line with flu infected old folks for Holiday stamps that sold out weeks ago.  Seriously, this is the firms biggest time of the year and they did NOT have Holiday Stamps!!???  Is it any wonder they are going away?

The tradition of sending Holiday cards is quite special though.  Years go by without having real conversations or correspondence with friends and family that have defined us.  So when we see return addresses from the past it should mean a little something.  We hope all the kids look well and healthy.  We trust the marriages are intact and mortgage payment secured.  We have a little hope.

Will it mean the same over an email attachment?

Don't think so.  Hard to imagine sitting in my hospice bed and getting a text from my daughter wishing me Happy Christmas.  The dream is:  sitting on an easy chair, near the fire, opening an envelope mailed 3 weeks prior.  "Love you Mom and Dad.  See you soon!!"

The US Mint yesterday too called for the elimination of the gold dollar coin.  Good.  And the penny is long overdue to go away too.  Why do these decisions take so long to make???

When it costs more to make the currency STOP making the currency.  Story here:  Wampum is more effective.  In fact, you could really make the case of the barter system these days.  I will trade copy editing for a good electrician/mason/carpenter any day of the week.

Speaking of money...  apparently the other day a cat became the 3rd richest animal when she inherited $13 million from her owner.

Yes, the 3rd richest!!!

This kind of selfishness and lunacy must be stopped.  If only there was away you could punish the dead!!  There are real human beings in dire need of meals and clothing.  Don't these people, most who have done all the right things and worked hard for little socioeconomic gain,  deserve more than a housecat??

And I hate people.  And I love animals!!!    For more:

That is all...

Best of 2011 Live:

There may come a time when this old man gets to 3, 4 shows a week.  That time ain't now.  But over the past 12 months I was witness to electrifying live shows.  From Tori Amos to Foo Fighters and many more in between, there were some brilliant performances on stage in 2011.

Joy Formidable and A Civil Twilight were power trios that have potential for greatness.

The National, who are in the midst of a 6 day run at NYC's "Beacon Theatre", are true pros.

Lykke Li, Foster the People, Cut/Copy, White Rabbits, The Decemberists, Psychedelic Furs, Eels, Washed Out, The Sounds, and Givers are also acts that stood out and/or gained my attention.  Some tried and true, some very much new to me.

But as I look back on the year that was 2 shows/acts head to the top of the class.

NYC band Caveman, an in particular their Mercury Lounge record release party, were so bombastic and joyful on stage it is near impossible to look away.  My review here:

There are still tickets available for their first headline tour 1.20.11 at the wonderful Bowery Ballroom.  I urge you to take a chance.   You will spend $13 on far, far worse in the next 2 hours.  For tickets:  Let's sell this thing out!!!

Required Listening:  "Old Friend"  Always the highlight of their live set and the song that captured my attention/inspired awe.  Rhythmic walls of sound and elegant harmonies.  "Thankful"  "My Time"  Live from SXSW

Info from the band:

The other album on replay overload is AWOLNation's debut Megalithic Symphony.  Their November Webster Hall show was an eye opening mix of club music and rock and roll.  My review can be read here:

Now that I know the catalog it will be a real treat to see them again.  Consider yourself fortunate if a band can move you after initial contact.

Better still if several bands can do it.  Plenty more shows ahead folks.  Go find your next band.

For more AWOLNation look here:  "Sail"  "Not Your Fault"  Nice little Rudolph parody just in time for the season.  "Filthy, Guilty Soul" Just one groovy song.  "Soul Wars"  Here performed from Austin City Limits a few months ago.  Crowd of young men clearly digging it.  "Jump on My Shoulders"

Info from the band:

Talk Friday...  with what hopefully will be a glowing review of The National.

Monday, December 12, 2011

12 Shopping Days left...

Having successfully hid an elf for two weeks, and realizing our adorable daughter still very much believes in the magic of Santa/Christmas it might be time to grant some wishes.  She has even sat on a few laps over the past few days!!!  Although she was pretty cross with the first Santa visit.  Apparently he was a bit belligerent and short with her.  Wouldn't you be if dozens of kids sat their germ infested bodies on you all day???  We caught him at the end of a weeknight rather than the absurd weekend visit.  There must have been an hour line at 10am yesterday for the Santa photo op yesterday.   Isn't that some sort of child abuse to have your kid wait that long???  Not like they get a payoff either?  The "toy" he handed out was some cheesy paperback Christmas bike.  Yawn.  Some malls, namely Short Hills in Millburn, NJ, should employ the 2nd Santa for weekends.   Kids don't need to be subjected to the perfume smell from Abercrombie for more than 10 minutes.  In fact no one should.  Where is this legislation???

Anyway, back to the Christmas list.  The problem is my daughter keeps asking Santa for a motorized dirt bike.  Naturally the one she wants is a Toys R Us exclusive.  There was a glimmer of hope this was the Christmas that Toys R Us was going to be avoided.  Not so.

Is it wrong I would rather her be asking for a cell phone or clothes?  She wanted a computer a few years back.  It's what I am writing on now.  How am I gonna benefit from this damn bike???

She has grown significantly over the past year to the point she NEEDS clothes.  A cell phone at age 9/10 is probably a great idea too.  Although the prospect of her texting and surfing the web unsupervised is a concern.  You take the good with the bad.

Time to not be selfish though, right?  So what if the motorized bike will lose its appeal after a few months, or less?  The over/under on it joining our basement of misfit toys is roughly 7 months.  If I had the time or inclination to use Ebay we might be able to pay off some debt.  American Girl and Pottery Barn Kids could open up an outlet store right downstairs should they desire.   Maybe they could refinish it while they are there!!

So what if we just tuned up her ACTUAL bike just last week?  She works out plenty with hoops, soccer, and softball.  She can have a toy that requires zero physical activity all the while presenting greater dangers, right?  Gonna have to buy a better helmet too Santa!!!

Again, the perils of parenting once again put to the test.  You desperately want them to grow up and be independent.  At the same time you long for their excitement in elf hunting and genuine surprise and joy when they discover what was left under the tree.

Hence, the trip to Toys R Us is inevitable.  On one hand I root for her to hate how the bike feels.  On the other, I hope it is everything she could imagine, and Santa can somehow manage to make her dreams come true.

Soon enough she will understand and appreciate the stresses and angst that accompany the Holidays.  No need for that to be 2011.

Speaking of 2011...  a few more notes on the year in music.

Swedish acts The Sounds and Lykke LI both had a sweet and succesful 2011(and got some ink in this humble column.)  Let's take a  moment please for their Swedish peer Robyn.  Fresh off a nice spot on last weeks Saturday Night Live, she continues to impress as a pop treat.  Her last album, Body Talk, was released last year.  But the tracks have been slow to arrive stateside.  Her "Call Your Girlfriend" is catchy, as is "Stars 4 Ever", which I heard shopping in Juicy Couture and using Shazam.  Scary right???

"Stars 4 Ever"

"Call Your Girlfriend"  This is 1980s goodness.  Her dancing is unbridled exuberance and a touch scary.  Love it.  And what's with the shoes???  She wore a similar pair on SNL.  So damn kooky.

New York indie duo Cults (Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion) had a big year too.  Their debut album latched onto the retro lounge movement with good melody and clean beats.  "Go Outside" is their calling card, but their entire album is pretty solid.

"Bumper"  Very good live clip for an NYC Mercury Lounger gig earlier in the year.  I'm told from good authority that their live act needs some maturing, but this is pretty good stuff.

"Go Outside"

Quick Hits:

Shiny Toy Guns:  "Rainy Monday"  Always a fan of a song that marries itself nicely to a John Hughes montage scene.  Exhibit A

Viva Brother: "Darling Buds of May"  Exhibit B

Vaccines "If U Wanna"  C

Airbone Toxic Event:  "Wishing Well" D  you get the drift...

Dom:  "Living in America"

And perhaps 5 that make the Grey's Anatomy" and/or "Parenthood" fans happy...

Head and the Heart:  "Lost in My Mind"

Real Estate "Green Aisles"

Fleet Foxes:  "Grown Ocean"

Ryan Adams:  "Do I Wait"  At last a live version on the web!!!  Here he is armed with an acoustic and that wonderful voice.  Amazing.  This just in...  the long running show Morning becomes Eclectic deserves some love.  They continue to push the envelope and provide an outlet for under appreciated artists.  Thank you KCRW.  Takes a lot to make FM radio relevant these days.

Florence and the Machine:  "Shake it Out"    With Adele resting her voice and Amy Winehouse dead Ms Florence Welch is the Brit voice of the moment.  She has the help of an enormous hype machine...  but you cannot discount her lungs.  Impressive and foot tapping stuff for sure.

Happy Monday folks...  have a great week!!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

New Curriculum

On the way to school today a trivia question came on Hits .  "Who was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic ocean solo?" the Morning mash up dj asked.

Without missing a beat my 9 year old declared "Amy Adams."

Impressive I thought.  Never mind the answer was beyond incorrect.  She will know Amelia Earhart when she is my age.  Not that possessing that information has given me a leg up in society.  We probably shouldn't even be teaching that kind of stuff school anyway?

We seem hell bent on repeating history's greatest mistakes:  war, classism, racism.  Might be easier having our kids Wikipedia all the history the need as it comes up in their everyday lives.  Save that 45 minutes and add another math or science class.

How about this for a 4th grade curriculum?

Social Media
Applied Physics
Modes of Alternate Energy
Lunch (optional)
Free Monitored Internet

Get there at 7:30 and last bell somewhere around 4.  Devices are permitted but forbidden during lecture/lessons.  Absolutely no gaming!!

Every kid HAS to be involved in an extra curricular too.  If not athletics... than art club, online newspaper, yearbook, web design club, barista training, lessons in Wal-Mart greeting, etc...

There should be an adjacent tech school offering trade opportunities and studies.

That school will focus primarily on infrastructure rebuilding and general labor practices.  Here the students will learn the basics, plumbing, electrical and general contracting.  There will also be advanced methods of engineering and green technology preparedness courses.  Electives might include hair dressing/coloring, spa management and mortuary studies.  We all like to be pampered and well groomed.  And we are all gonna die.

Hope it's far off for all of us, well most of us.  Maybe some of these simple changes can be implemented.  I love New Jersey but am unsure how learning about the Lenape Indians is really helping my daughter?  And don't get me started about Religion class...  I know, I know...  I send her there willingly so I can't complain about the Advent quiz next week.

Do they teach Buddhism during school days in China?  Hmm.

For now I take a little pride in the recall it takes to answer "Amy Adams" to the Earhart question.

Adams played Earhart in the underwhelming Ben Stiller vanity piece "Night in the Museum 2."  Recall the movie.  Recall the actress.  Recall who the actress was portraying.  Recall what the portrayed historical figure was famous for.  To be able to process all that nonsense in a second is pretty impressive.  And funny.  That and a phone call can win you tickets to a big concert.

Good stuff if you ask me.

Please keep the Alec Baldwin story going.  This is a man with a history of verbal abuse so don't act surprised.  Lest we forget his voicemail to his daughter:   All the press is sure to bring the ratings up for 30 Rock next month.  And don't think for a second he doesn't know that.  So he blows up at a (probably grumpy) flight attendant??  Who cares?  The bigger story is he flies commercial.  His Capital One commercials (like the one when he is in the cockpit-hehe) have not allowed him to fly his own plane???  Weird.

And I hear the Duggar mother miscarried what would have been her/their 20th child.  She is going to name the unborn baby too.  And maybe TLC will broadcast the "very special" television event.

Enough is enough.

When does parenting end and spectacle begin?  There are plenty of single moms and ordinary mothers who are superstars far beyond this freakish midwestern clan.  How about a little love their way TLC?  Leave the Mary Kate plus 8 type to the sideshows and leave us out of it.  We have our own problems (and about 18 less kids.)

5 zen tracks for your weekend:

AWOLNation:  "Jump On My Shoulders"  The entire album, like their live show, is full of energy and exhuberance.  They opened with this infectious diddy about stage diving and Robin Hood.  I'm paraphrasing.  For more:

The National:  "Terrible Love"  As they prep for a 6 night stop at the Beacon next week it is fair to say they have arrived.  This is the place usually reserved for the  a week with the Allman Brothers Band.  High Violet came out in 2010 and these guys have been touring ever since.   Get the hell on board and become a loyal follower.  You will be rewarded.  For more info:

Breaking NEWS:  2 new National songs played during a Toronto radio appearence earlier today.  Take a listen:

Gomez:  "How We Operate"   After canceling some shows last year due to illness the Brit rockers are marking their 15th year touring with a Winter/Spring tour next year.  Get your tix for Bowery and join us there!!!  Save your Oasis, and Coldplay, and Travis...  Gomez has never gone away or had sibling rivalries like most 90s angst brits.  For more:

Caveman:  "My Time"  Not appearing on many, if any top albums of 2011 charts but CoCo Beware is the perfect winter's album.  Vibe filled goodness in a time of auto tune drivel.  They too can be seen (in their first headlining show!!) at Bowery Ballroom next month.  Sure to be a raucous and great time.  For more:  and

Finally, to show my heart is capable of growth during the Holidays, one of my favorite Christmas songs.

"Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues.  Hard to believe Shane MacGowan outlived the wonderful Kirsty MacCool.  Her voice is missed far more than MacGowan's teeth.

This song has it all...  melody, incoherence, name calling, muttering, joy, hope, wonder, anger, resentment, lost expectations and bells.  Sounds like the Holidays.

Oh, did I mention the flute and pipes?  And the drunkeness??

Have a great weekend!!!

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