Saturday, July 27, 2013

Oakland A's 1969 Turn-Back-The-Clock Day Playlist

It was 1969 Day at the Oakland Coliseum. This is a marketing situation where uniforms are authenticated from the by-gone era, making modern-day players look quaint and even more baseball-y than usual. There was no such thing as walk-on music for batters in 1969, but we live in a time in history when music is pumped into our very brain cells whether we want it or not. So the A's roster got to pick their walk-on music from days gone by. The pre-game hosts explained that most of the players were too young to be familiar with the music from 1969, except for James Brown or Creedence Clearwater Revival, but once they heard it, they were quoted thus, "That sounds kind of familiar..." and "Oh, my DAD used to play this!"


Anyway, There was barely any hitting until the A's pulled it out in the bottom of the seventh inning, eventually beating the Angels 3 -1 - HA! And a win for starting pitcher Tommy Milone.

In the meantime, I entertained myself by noting the walk-on music that was hand-picked by the batting order. I figure someone grasping for music from before his time would be letting us into a little window of his mind. Maybe even more so than with modern music picks. What do you like from the distant past that has nothing to do with you personally? It's gotta grab ya. Who picked what? Let's find out!

Lead-off batter, Josh Donaldson, went all hippie-dippie, perhaps knowing that his at-bat would set the tone for 1969 Day. By the way, the franchise encouraged people to dress as if it was 1969, but advised everyone to "go easy on the tie-dye, Moonbeam." Well, guess what? Out of 33,000 fans, approximately two dressed up: Keith wore a paisley shirt that used to be my Dad's (a day of Dad stuff), and I wore a loose, flowing top. Thank God I didn't wear my flower skirt--that would have been really embarrassing. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes...

Josh Donaldson - For What It's Worth by Buffalo Springfield (plus bonus Neil Young doing Mr. Soul, because that's even cooler). Josh Donaldson--next time pick Neil Young and maybe you'll get hot again.

Coco Crisp - It's Your Thing by The Isley Brothers. Coco Crisp is one of the coolest players in the Major League, and this just seals the deal. Everyone loves Coco and everyone loves the Isley Brothers—a great combination.

Eric Sogard - The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens. Eric Sogard's got nerd power and this song just proves it. Every time he came up to bat, we giggled good-naturedly. Good vibes!

Jed Lowrie - Grazing in the Grass by Friends of Distinction. Jed Lowrie's got it going on, choosing this big hit that might be about cows having a good munch, or maybe people smoking their brains out—plus he got a RBI—I can dig it!

Derek Norris - Communication Breakdown by Led Zeppelin. Turns out Zeppelin may have been key to the A's success today. Norris got a pinch-hit two-run homer, giving the A's the lead in the seventh. Because, like Zeppelin, he RAWKS.

As for closing pitcher, Grant Balfour, he seems to have missed the memo on 1969 Day. He'll be sticking to his Metallica, thank you very much. Don't mess with success.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Earn a Degree in Heavy Metal

Last night I had my first dream about blogging (that I can remember). In seven years of blogging, you'd think there would have been more dreaming. I do dream about twitter (sorry, but I do), but not Facebook (thank GOD). But blogging has been so much a part of my life that perhaps my subconscious doesn't need to "go there" to deal with it.

Last night the post I was working on in my dream was "Metal Education," as in heavy-metal education. I was gathering videos and getting my little thoughts in order, just like in real life. When I woke up, I had to plow through all the stupid stuff in my head (like Journey's Don't Stop Believing) to remember this dream. This dream consisted of me sitting here, typing this. Or something like this.

Oh, I'm living the dream all right!

So of course after morning stretches, I went right to Google, looked up "Heavy Metal Education" and guess what? As of this year, you can now get a two-year degree in Heavy Metal at New College Nottingham, offering the UK's (and perhaps the world's) first foundation degree in Heavy Metal. Now YOU can live the dream too!

Find out more about New College Nottingham's foundation degree in Heavy Metal.

Course tutor, Liam Maloy, defends the study of heavy metal to the doubters at BBC News. As with most any college course, there will be essays. There will be presentations.

Maloy's band, Johnny and the Raindrops, sing of drunken little punk-rock fingers in the park:

Caveat: I'm no heavy-metal doubter. Most of my childhood and all of my adolescence was spent in Concord, California—heavy metal capital of the world (next to Helsinki). Proof: my high school is home to radio station KVHS, which played pretty much nonstop metal (except when I showed up and started playing Echo and the Bunnymen, resulting in a death threat over the request line). Concord is also the birthplace of the band Death Angel, whose singer was my brother's high school class president and all-around nice guy.

This heavy-metal moment is dedicated to YOU, metal scholars, in the hopes that a degree in Heavy Metal will help make all your dreams come true.

Friday, July 12, 2013

An Abundance of Led Zeppelin Cover Songs

Did you know that every four-and-a-half minutes, a band covers a Led Zeppelin song? I don't have hard scientific facts to back this up, but as soon as I apply for a grant for funding, I'll be conducting a study and I'll get back to you on that. At this point, it's just my theory. And if you doubt me, just check in with Wikipedia every few minutes and time the updates.

So I can't put down Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World's Greatest Rock Band, by Barney Hoskyns, even though it weighs about three pounds. I never saw Zeppelin in their heyday because I was too young, but then along came adolescence and I was ready for them—and how. Zeppelin in the early 70s was like testosterone turned to a million, and all the kids knew it. Especially the kids across America, living in the suburbs and hanging out at the mall because there was nothing else to do. And they took to the full-frontal assault of Zeppelin like hormone-driven ducks to psychedelic, blues-based, whiskey-laced water. Eventually, I moved away from my suburb, landing in San Francisco in 1982, where the only bands that admitted to liking Zeppelin were extremely ironic about it. It was like liking Elvis. You had to do it on the down-low, until a second revival came along.

Unfortunately, the oral history of Led Zeppelin, has me really disturbed. It's such a dark tale of excess and debauchery, skidding down a twisted mountain road, like a good dream gone bad. Literally mountains of cocaine in hotel rooms full of underage girls getting assaulted with mud sharks. It's just super-over-the-top (that's why I can't put it down). You can definitely see why The Ramones and their ilk came along in the late 70s. Everyone had had just about enough of nine-minute guitar solos and musicians assaulting their drums-techs at that point. It was like rock 'n roll class warfare and the guys living in the castles surrounded by moats full of black swans were on the outs.

But look at all their songs—there's so many of them! When you have four musical geniuses in a band, that will happen. The obvious guitar god and satanic master, Jimmy Page. The jazz-rock-funk stylings of impossible-to-fathom how-he-did-it-night-after-night, John Bonham, And secret-weapon John Paul Jones, arranging compositions behind the scenes, never losing his cool, even among the mud sharks (he was probably out at a movie that night). And of course, the lightness and brightness that is wailing, Tolkien-loving Robert Plant. The refrain heard over and over in the oral history is that everyone in Led Zeppelin, as individuals, were "nice" and "decent" guys. It was when the band, their management, the intrepid groupies, and drug cronies got together that hell was unleashed.

Just a potent, stinking brew of too much of everything bad from that time: sexual exploitation and extreme sexism, nasty and damaging drugs, sycophants as far as the eye could see, managers threatening physical violence, a drummer who actually resorted to physical violence on more than one occasion, car accidents, broken homes, and tragically, lives cut short. All the initial good vibes dissipated. At least there's still the music.

Sandie Shaw - "Your Time is Gonna Come." This came out in 1969, making it probably the first and oldest Led Zeppelin cover. The British didn't immediately take to Zeppelin the way Americans did. But among musicians, there was eventually (grudging) respect. This cover shows nothing but respect. Sandie Shaw has got it going on.

Sly & Robbie - "D'Yer Mak'er," from their sadly out-of-print album, "The Rhythm Remains the Same: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin."

Michael Winslow , the man of 10,000 sound effects, covers "Whole Lotta Love" with only acoustic guitar for accompaniment. The rest of the song in its entirety is from HIS VOICE. I don't know what he's doing. I only know he is a magician. The real kind.

Ween reveals their sensitive side while covering "All of my Love."

Lydia Lunch - "In My Time of Dying." Zeppelin brings out the Gothic blues vibe in the usually very urban-underground Lunch.

Here's a treat. Lady Gaga covering "D'yer Mak'er" in a nondescript cafe from down the street,  Man, she looks...really different. Generally this is the Zeppelin cover for wimps, but she rocks it.

When the world was ready for a cover of "Dazed and Confused" in Chinese, Bongwater was there to answer the call. This was in 1988, when we were all still coming to terms with our Led Zeppelin fixation, and our fading youth.

A Perfect Circle - "When the Levee Breaks." Perhaps the ultimate in wimpy Zeppelin covers, but very lovely and atmospheric. Obviously, the whole deal is to take one of the hardest rocking songs ever, about the possibility of a horrific natural and man-made disaster about to hit the entire Mississippi delta region, and make it sound like something to listen to while sipping fine cognac on your yacht along the French Riviera. Bravo.

Rasputina - "Rock and Roll." Rasputina is a genuinely weird situation. They're not trying to weird you out. They just will weird you out. I admire and respect that in a band.

You didn't think I'd leave out "Stairway to Heaven," did you? Due to overplay and the constant threat of ear-worming, I would have. But then Heart came along in 2012 with Jason Bonham on drums, and covered it so beautifully at the Kennedy Center Honors show. Everyone was there! The Obamas were there! The Foo Fighters were there! Lenny Kravitz was there! Kid Rock—you better believe he was there! And most importantly, the remaining members of Led Zeppelin showed up.

Robert Plant got teary during this cover, and every time I watch this, I can't help but tear up as well. It builds so beautifully, like great opera, but with rock drumming. There's a full choral group, all wearing derby hats. And as far as I'm concerned, Heart is the ultimate Led Zeppelin tribute band. They seemingly cover Zeppelin ALL THE TIME. They have the technical prowess, along with the true love and gut feeling for the music. So, let us not avoid Stairway to Heaven, if it can indeed still move us to some sort of hormone-induced, mysterious rapture.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Elegy for the San Francisco Giants

New low for the Giants — a 16-inning loss to the Mets

Now it’s October and where did it go?
Spring’s expectations so high;  autumn’s reality so low
It was a Summer of failure, of a team’s dysfunctional plight
A summer that turned into “A Long Day’s Journey into Night”
Not even Eugene O’neill could have authored this Giant distortion
Nay, this baseball tragedy is bigger, one of Shakespearean proportion
Now it’s October and we wonder where it went
The season known as “The Summer of our discontent” 

                                                                     -Richard McElroy


My Dad, a true Giants fan since he moved to San Francisco from Detroit, 50 years ago, is really suffering this season. He tends toward optimism when it comes to baseball, but the Giants have fallen so very far since their World Series championship, when was it—a year ago?  

Oh, Giants, do not go gently into the night! Especially when playing a 16-inning heartbreaker with the Mets. And certainly not during a Dodgers series. And definitely not when you fail to score in more than seven innings. Look what you've driven my Dad to do—write an elegy, based in the month of October, and it's only July! Now is the time, Giants. SEIZE YOUR MOMENT on the field of play. Now that people aren't wearing those stupid panda hats so often, NOW IS THE TIME.

At least I have the A's. My Dad, locked into his San Francisco fandom, can't say the same.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Shrinky-dink Self Portrait

It's summer—arts & crafts time! It's either that or my kid watches too many cartoons (in between swim lessons). Today we made many Shrinky Dinks. The joy of watching them curl up and shrivel in the oven, only to flatten out into a colorful trinket—well, it's just a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

"Larger Than Life" - Bedford Gallery, Walnut Creek, CA

Tiny Walnut Creek, California, is a hotbed for contemporary art. Thanks to decades of yuppie funding (soon to dry up as the recession slowly drags on) and an abundance of overly educated retirees, the Bedford Gallery and its curator Carrie Lederer are keeping Walnut Creek artful. Yesterday I dragged Jackson to the "Larger Than Life" exhibit, knowing he would enjoy large-scale sculpture almost as much as I do. And he did.

A large and colorful businessman by Viola Frey

They said I could take photos, so here they are. The Bedford Gallery rules!

The first thing you notice upon entering is Tristin Lowe's inflatable "Dumbo," which Jackson insisted was not art. Then I brought up Andy Warhol, soup cans, objects in galleries, size, scale, absurdity, and a sense of play. He then nodded sagely, humoring me. When I mentioned that an artist made this, his eyes widened. "Oh, I didn't know that," he admitted. He thought Dumbo was from some carnival or something. Kids!

I started messing around with my "fish-eye" lens setting, which on my little digital camera, just messes things up. Here's Dumbo with the "miniature" lens setting. And then I forgot to take a regular photo of Dumbo, so this will have to do.

He's a giant miniature—have I blown your mind?

Look what else—Bigfoot!

Tara Tucker - "Bigfoot Loves Minicorn"
And Bigfoot's hugging a minicorn!

Jackson is also hugging a minicorn
Bigfoot's foot makes my own big foot look dainty.

Thanks, Bigfoot!

Michael Stutz' giant funerary-based head is made from cardboard woven around a wooden base. And interestingly, is named after Wire's 1988 album, A Bell Is a Cup ... Until It Is Struck. Walnut Creek has got it going on!

You can walk inside this giant head through the doorway in the back. Inside you'll find the bell. Ring it.

I spy with my giant eye, Dumbo.

A delightful crow made of junk, by Elisabeth Higgins O'Connor.

More junk art by Robb Putman, "Dunderhead." Inspiration for using all the crap in my garage.

Harry Siter made "Him & Her" from trees and copper. "She" is an elm. "He" is black oak. Chuck Close's "Brad" is in the background--the only piece of non-sculpture in the show.

I love art.