Archive for February, 2008

No more weather posts!

February 29, 2008

I swore when I started this blog I wouldn’t discuss the weather–the cliche of bad conversation. But this winter has been nuts! Today warmed up into the mid 30s and I’m always amazed at how warm a sunny 34 feels after a long round of subzero (as in, is this the same temperature that I was freezing in back in late Oct? Now I’m out in t-shirt soaking up the sun). But the real issue right now is the roads. I just drove down to Iowa City (sure, a stop at John’s Grocery was the plan beyond all the other mundane matters I had to take care of–a few new Jolly Pumpkins for me to try this weekend) and the interstate is just crumbling. We’ve had so much ice, so much serious cold followed by thaws, that the edges of the highway are disintegrating and the middle strip is just one long gulch. Really, if you’re not careful when and how you change lanes, your car can get swallowed up and disappear and no one will find you for six more months. I am prone to exaggeration at times (and sometimes just a touch of sarcasm as one commenter hopefully realized concerning my last post) but really I’ve never seen roads this bad. I feel like I’m taking my life in my hands just to get on the highway. And the in-town roads, holy crap, are like four-wheeling. I’m gonna put a fire in the woodstove, open some beers, watch the snow melt, and I’ll see you in June.

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Birthday Poetry

February 28, 2008

So, while I may be the poet in my family, it’s no secret that my brother is really the rhyme master; while he’s out there working on those latitude/attitude, orange/door-hinge rhymes, I’m struggling to find a rhyme for room. He’s never really written full poems, though. He generally throws lines out at me and expects me to do the work. But yesterday, I got this gem in an e-mail:

Another year has past,

Gee that was really fast.

Do you feel like you are really old,

Or that your mind has turned to mold,

Well, no need to get morose,

You can always have a piece of toast.

What’s especially amazing is that he told me this barely took a minute to write! I’m thinking of giving up the business altogether. He also said that I’d be welcome to use this in my second book if I want (see, he’s not only a genius, he’s generous too!). Anyway, I thought I’d share this with this world.

I’ve always wondered if you could tell your fortune through the luminaries you share your birthday with. I happen to share a birthday with John Steinbeck, Lawrence Durrell, and jazz great Dexter Gordon. On the other hand, I also share the date with Liz Taylor, Lee Atwater, and Chelsea Clinton. Maybe it doesn’t work. Maybe I should go with those dates closest to mine that I want to connect with: I’m only a day away from Johnny Cash and Fats Domino, only two away from fellow Piscean George Harrison. This works if I just ignore Michael Bolton in there. The whole thing just makes me want a beer…

Can there be too much snow?

February 21, 2008

It’s been a real “old-fashioned” winter here in Iowa this year (although I’m not sure what the term means–is that, like, pre-global-warming?). 50 some inches with several very serious ice storms thrown in for good measure in mid-december. Temperatures lately have been hovering between 10 below and 10 above. This last snow storm in particular was far too cold for salt on the roads to do anything. We’ve been driving on solid ice rather than road surface. My drive to Mt. Vernon on a nice, scenic rural route has been like Siberian permafrost, drifting shut every night with snow piles higher than my little mazda on both sides of the road. The driving in particular I think is wearing Iowans down.

That said, I’ve really been loving it. It is absolutely beautiful and my drive home at sunset the other night with wispy sundogs flaring through the frozen atmosphere was absolutely transcendental, the fields of drifting snow in the blue twilight like the sea rolling in toward the road. We’ve been out hiking many times in the bitterly cold and really there’s nothing like it. Sounds take on a different texture; the crystalline world reflecting every possible fragment of light. For me, winter is great as long as it stays winter. Once it starts pretending to be spring but really only offering days of damp bone-chilling grayness (I find those damp days in the low 30s much more unbearable than the dry subzero days), then my spirit begins to sag a bit. But that’s march; here in the frozen tundra of February I’m happy. And even in the deepest midwinter, I found myself walking across campus yesterday morning, brilliant sunshine and a balmy 5 below and there they were: the cardinals have started their spring songs and several were belting them out at full volume. Quite surreal and wonderful.

My only complaint then with all this serious weather is I have nowhere left to throw any snow. One more serious snow and I just may lose my back. Here’s a sample:

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Happy Birthday, Bobby!

February 19, 2008

The great songwriter and singer Bobby Charles turns 70 years young on Thur the 21st. And many happy returns!

A Louisiana Cajun (born Robert Charles Guidry), Charles grew up in Cajun country listening to Hank Williams and Fats Domino. Early on, he wrote such classics as “See ya Later, Alligator” (made famous by Bill Haley and the Comets) and “Walkin’ to New Orleans” (written for the great Fats Domino himself) and then went on to help develop the musical style of Swamp Pop. All of which is great, but for me it gets no better than his 1972 self-titled recording with The Band. This album ranks as one of my all-time top ten. Especially noteworthy tracks include “Save Me Jesus” in which he implores Jesus to save him from “this godforsaken place” and “All the whiskey” with its refrain of “He got all the whiskey and he won’t give me none” (and apparently he got all the women, and he got all the money) written for his then-manager Albert Grossman (yes, the same Albert Grossman who managed Bob Dylan). I think you can see what Charles thought of Grossman’s managing style. Obviously, it wasn’t a long-lived collaboration. In fact, it really signaled the end of recording for Charles. After fiascos with Grossman and other music-biz people, he went to Louisiana and settled back into the quiet rural life. He put out a “return” album in 2004 that I was really excited about–including collaborations with Neil Young, Lucinda Williams and others–and while it has some decent cuts, it’s certainly not the Charles of old. But, then again, I don’t hold that against him. Bobby, you’re still one of my favorites. For the rest of you, if you get a chance, give this a listen:

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My New Favorite Thing

February 17, 2008

My favorite thing is a fluid concept, shifting with whatever I’m grooving on at the moment.  So here it is, my favorite thing of the day:

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New Zappa material is always a treat, but this one is just sooooo good, from the orchestrated crowd sounds, to the dissonant jazz, to the brilliant flashes of FZ guitar, to his polling the audience to ask whether a song should end as a ballad, a boogie, a march, a polka, etc (the boogie wins).  We hear FZ riffing on Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention era), Duane Allmann, and Carlos Santana in his inimitable pastiche style that, when the chips are down, turns into pure Zappa.  Good stuff, through and through.

If I knew then, part II…

February 12, 2008

In an earlier post I mused on my early entry into the delights and wonders of good beer. The second phase occurred a few years later when I was working as a cook at Cafe Brenda in downtown Minneapolis. Saturday nights were “beer club.” We rotated whose turn it was to bring the beer and the goal was to stump the others while we worked. We played a game of 20 questions, yes or no only, to see if the others could figure out the beer. “Is it in a brown bottle?” “Is it from Europe?” “Is it a dark beer?” etc. My scope of beers at that point was still fairly limited, but it got my out looking for new, surprising beers. I spent a lot of pleasant time searching through Surdyk’s and Hennepin Liquors and France Ave Wine shop. After a long night, the usual suspects, Bo “Ramekin” Jacobs, Mike “Canola” Gintert, and I would sit back to enjoy a new beer; MB would join us after her own kind of grueling night (ah the joys of retail for her at the time) and we’d watch the Saturday Night downtown craziness go by. They were the best seats in town and some fine beer. Ahhhh…. Of course the beer we brought would disappear quickly so we would keep going with plenty of Summit from the bar, one of my standards. Beer club went for quite a few years and I sampled quite a few beers that way. Yes, Beer Club. I think it’s time for a revival.

Happy Birthday Earl!

February 7, 2008

The Great Earl King!

Today, February 7, is the great Earl King’s birthday. Had he lived, he would be 78 today. As I’ve mentioned before, the name of this blog comes from his 1972 song/album recorded with the Meters.  I was in New Orleans in 2003 on the day that he died. WWOZ (one of the nation’s great radio stations, along with Minneapolis’s KFAI) played an all-day tribute the day before his own second-line new orleans style funeral. There were some fabulous interviews and I remember one interview talking about how Earl wrote his songs. Apparently, he’d spend all day at the corner donut shop (not the well-known cafe du monde with its beignets but a small shop on Rampart) and he’d sit at the counter drinking coffee, and people would come in, buy him donuts, and he’d write, and he’d talk, and he’d write some more. All that great music coming from the donut shop! I love it. As tribute (and coincidentally close to mardi gras this year as well) I recommend Come On: The Complete Imperial Recordings. Classic American R & B, good to the core.

Mardi Gras Blizzard

February 6, 2008

We had a lovely 13 inches or so of snow for Mardi Gras here in Cedar Rapids. So, as the snow dumped outside, the pot of veggie gumbo boiled away (Boca sausages and Qorn chicken tenders if you want to know) with some sourdough bread and Dixie Blackened Voodoo and Abita Turbodog and plenty of Dr. John, Clifton Chenier, Steve Riley, Earl King and others on the stereo. Yes, I know the Dixie is kind of silly, the New Orleans heritage now brewed in Wisconsin, huh? It’s not that great of a beer either but I had to see how it was doing. The Abita, now, that’s another story. I know Abita sometimes gets a bad name, but I actually like their beer–the turbo especially–but maybe it’s just because it really says New Orleans to me and I love the city. Sometimes I guess it’s hard to distinguish taste from emotion.

On other fronts, my new class is up and running and their blog is starting out nicely. It’s a new process for me, but I like the opportunities it offers. It’s a matter of sorting through what I can do with it and then really thinking about the why. Of course, this early in the class, I’ve already realized an added benefit I hadn’t really considered. With this much snow, we’re missing several sessions but I can still hold conversations with them or ask them to have conversations amongst themselves. This is especially important at Cornell where it’s silly block plan (they take, and we teach, one course at a time for 3 1/2 weeks) means that missing a day really means missing a week in semester-time. I know, I know, I can already hear my colleagues saying “it’s not a silly plan” and to some extent I agree. I am constantly amazed at the innovative ways my colleagues design these courses. So, yes, it’s just silly to me. But the blog at least makes me feel less guilty about not driving in the ice and snow. A nice bonus.