Thursday, August 15, 2019


“It's not the icy bike chain rain of Portland, Oregon”

I've been wanting to say something about this line (from All My Happiness is Gone, by Purple Mountains) for a couple of months now.

To talk about how it stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it.

How I needed to go back to the beginning of the verse three straight times in quick succession so it could hit me in something resembling the same way, before the power of the poetry ossified into a more basic form, probably admiration...

I wanted to talk about how David Berman drawls out the word Or-uh-gonnn so it sounds as abstract, sad, and beautiful as an icy bike chain rain.

I wanted to note how the line sounds like a damp collection of consonants and vowels spinning around in a clothes dryer, and how I want to pull them out when they're dry and warm and press them against my face and shut my eyes and just breathe.

Now David Berman is gone, and what I meant to be a celebration risks coming across like an elegy.

But this is not an elegy; this is a celebration.

“It's not the icy bike chain rain of Portland, Oregon”

Monday, May 11, 2015


Went with an old friend and a new friend to see the Replacements at Echostage in DC last week.

The venue more than lived up to its name. There was, um, a stage. And the place was airplane-hangar cavernous enough to accommodate at least several echoes.

We started out upstairs looking for a few spots where we could lean on a railing and do our respective nod-to-the-beat-with-occasional-rhythmic-taps-to-the-chinos dance moves, but we were denied. So we positioned ourselves downstairs at the back of the floor as the opening band plugged away. I think it was Black Oak Arkansas, but I can't say for sure...

There was then a fairly lengthy break as the road crew set up for the Replacements. While we waited, a bank of swirling Close Encounters spotlights revealed what appeared to be a thickish cloud of dry-ice smoke hovering overhead, but more likely it was the vapor of our collective youth rising up to crash in waves against the acoustical tiles.

The vapor heard a decent show from up there. Solidly professional, with very little hint of the Shit Hits the Fans '80s.

The first half seemed kind of tentative, but the tide turned with Kiss Me on the Bus, and the momentum continued through to the end of the set: a nice version of Can't Hardly Wait (minus the obnoxious drum sound that tended to plague the band's major-label releases) that segued into Bastards of Young, the anthem that put the “an' them” in “us an' them” back in the dark days of Reagan.

The six-song encore was hit or miss, starting with a solo Paul not playing Androgynous, and picking up when the full band crashed through Left of the Dial and Alex Chilton.

So, a fun show, but nothing revelatory-- I can see myself reflecting in a couple of years, “Oh yeah, I saw the Replacements. I had almost forgotten about that.”

And if it's any consolation, the vapor had dissipated by the time the house lights came up...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Seb and I went to the movies last night-- a dystopian teen adventure based on a book series that he adores. We had a great time, but what sticks with me the most is our ticket taker.

He was an older man-- probably in his sixties, although his Regal Cinemas hat was pulled down a little too tightly for me to tell for sure. He grabbed both of our tickets simultaneously-- mine is his left hand, Seb's in his right-- and proceeded to tear them each along their perforations with a single hand, before returning the stubs to us with a flourish. “Enjoy the film!” he enthused as we passed through to our theater.

Now, in the loose choreography of our evening-- navigate through traffic to theater, hunt for parking in a crowded lot, purchase tickets, survey the candy counter, etc-- our ticket taker probably had the power to influence our experience positively or negatively by only 2%.

But the small yet profound fact is that he chose by his actions to make our night 2% more positive. He could have been sullen or distracted, and by force of unfortunate experience, I likely would not have even noticed the 2% deficit.

And here's where I get all mawkish and preachy, by suggesting that in the course of our 2% exchanges with our fellow human beings, we should make the effort to cut through the undercurrents of fear, disconnectedness, and anxiety that drive us all, and engage in as many 2% positive exchanges as we can manage.

Hold a door, wave someone ahead of you on the expressway, donate a bag of groceries if you can afford it.

Because the percentages add up...

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Christmas 1981 I hoped Santa would bring me two things: cassette copies of Wild Gift by X and Sandinista! by The Clash.

Starting in the first week of December, I would spend afternoons rooting around my mom's closet, fearless because I was a latchkey kid. One day, I lifted the lid on a hatbox that was pushed to the back behind some heavy wool coats, and there they were-- lovely stacked plastic rectangles, with price tags removed. I retrieved a knife from the kitchen, and slit the brittle wrapping just enough so that I could work open the hinges of the cases and pull out the cassettes.

Each day for the next couple of weeks I would come home from school, pull out the cassettes, listen until 5:30 or so, and then put them back. I made a pantomime of surprise on Christmas morning...

Of course what strikes me now is that my teenage passions had motivated a 48-year-old widow weaned on classical music and WQXR to go into a record store and buy X and Clash cassettes. I am on the edge of tears just considering it.

So thanks for the punk rock, mom! (And, um, sorry again about that Sex Pistols bumper sticker I put on the Maverick...)

Friday, May 24, 2013


Just dropped by to let you know that I haven't gotten any smarter...

Haha Sound by Broadcast was released back in August of 2003. It was one of my favorite albums of that late summer, and remained in heavy rotation through the fall and winter and on into spring.

It has a place to this day in my ever-changing all-time top 10 list, sometimes ranking as high as fourth.

Now here's where the stupid comes in...

All these years, I admit that I've been somewhat baffled by the album's title. The mood-- as with most things Broadcast-- would not typically be qualified as "haha" funny, so I could never quite figure if the title was meant to be ironic.

Well, the other day I was reading an article on the group, which pointed out that "haha" means "mother" in Japanese. Which of course makes "Haha Sound" an absolutely perfect title for the album.

I'm hardly fluent in Japanese, but I know enough about the language to know that "haha" means mother. I just never made the connection.

I told all this to Taeko across the breakfast table the other day, with excitement in my voice and wonder in my eyes. Let's just say that she was filled with a bit less excitement and wonder...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Goddam, I've been going through an extended period where nothing new is clicking for me.

I spent the last six months of 2012 kind of obsessing over the Animal Collective catalog, but that has since abated.

So I've taken the opportunity to go back and visit some of the far corners of my Broadcast and Stereolab collections. A couple of discoveries:

  • Over the years, the two singles from The Noise Made By People (Come On Let's Go and Paper Cuts) have kind of obscured the rest of the album for me, but I'm realizing now just how much I like it.

  • Much to my surprise, I've also discovered that I kind of love Chemical Chords. I think I listened to it for a week or so when it came out back in '08, and my provisional opinion was that Stereolab were running on fumes at that point. The group's subsequent announcement of a "hiatus/sabbatical/pause/intermission/breather" in early '09 seemed to confirm that notion, and was not met by me with any rending of garments. It was time. But when all is said and done, I can see Chemical Chords settling in comfortably near the top of second-tier Lab albums. Valley Hi! indeed...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Trouser Press, August 1983
Insect Surfers, Barricade Beach
The Source, Workin' on a Dream

This is the last of my full-color Trouser Press flexi discs, and we're going out on a somewhat obscure note.

It's a split affair, containing a track each by Insect Surfers and The Source.

The Source were from Akron/Cleveland. Not sure if they knew Pere Ubu or Devo growing up, but they were definitely on a similar post-punk tip.

I can't find a copy of the song featured on this flexi, but see below for a video of the excellent Keypunch Operator. These guys were Gang of Fouring the Gang of Four before Franz Ferdidand ever soiled a nappie.

Insect Surfers started in DC back in the summer of 1979, and are still around today (!)-- they bill themselves now as “Planet Earth's longest running modern surf band.”

Their track on this lemon-yellow disk is called “Barricade Beach” and it's kind of redolent of Blotto. Except for the fact that you don't feel the overwhelming urge to punch Insect Surfers in the head, which was the only sane and reasoned response to Blotto...