Saturday, February 28, 2009

Broadcasting Legend Paul Harvey Passes Away at 90

Paul HarveyImage via Wikipedia

There have been many great and memorable voices broadcast through the atmosphere since Marconi's wireless radio became a fixture in almost every household, but anyone who ever heard Paul Harvey and his twice-daily editorials would put his name on the short list of the most memorable and the very best.

For over 50+ years, Harvey presented news and commentary (often more commentary then news, but that was part of his charm) with a style that echoed and combined Walter Winchell's stacatto bulletin-reading, Edward R. Murrow's incisive journalistic instincts, and Walter Cronkite's warmth and trustworthiness to create a wholly unique persona that was all of those and none of them at once.

Harvey was as easily identified by his catch-phrases as his voice:

- His famous opening, "Hello Americans, standby for news!"

- After finishing his first story of the day, a pause and then, "....Page two."

- At the end of almost every report: "And now you know the rest of the story."

- And his signature sign-off: "This is Paul Harvey.........good day!"

I once saw an interview with Harvey where he let everyone in on the secret of his sign-off: he would actually use his wristwatch to tick off the 5 seconds between "This is Paul Harvey" and "Good day." In a medium where dead air is the bane of every programmer and formatter who ever lived, Harvey understood how effective silence could be - that people tend to listen more intently when he said nothing for a moment or two than if he ranted and screamed into the microphone.

Paul Harvey passed away today in Arizona. He was 90 years old. Harvey was one of the last of a swiftly disappearing breed of broadcasters, and he will be deeply missed.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mr. Obama's Fuzzy Facts

the 44th President of the United States...Bara...Image by jmtimages via Flickr

So, we're a little over a month into the Presidency of Barack Obama. I wonder how different these past 30+ days have been from what he envisioned. He was all revved up to "hit the ground running," and he started stumbling right out of the gate! Blagojevich-gate cast a pall over the transition period, no less than three of his appointees for major positions within his Team were shown to be tax cheats (causing two of them to "withdraw from consideration"), his half-brother was arrested for drug possession, his efforts to reach across the aisle have been rebuffed at every turn. Surely this wasn't what he thought he was getting himself into!

For as much as he had campaigned on a promise to change Washington, he had better learn to play the Washington game considerably better than he has been playing it if he hopes to survive it. He's going to have to adapt, adopt and adjust quickly, lest he endure four full years of this Washington culture of digging up skeletons and political progress-blocking stalling every effort he makes toward his goals.

Indeed, he's already taken the first tentative steps into par-for-the-course politics-as-usual: in Mr. Obama's first speech as President before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, it seems the old tried-and-true strategy of refusing to let facts get in the way of a good story was his choice of gameplan.

The non-partisan public advocate site (which everyone should bookmark or subscribe to) reviewed the speech, and reports that President Obama sure seemed to get a lot of things wrong:

* He said "we import more oil today than ever before."

* He claimed his mortgage plan would never help those who borrowed beyond their means.

* He claimed health care costs cause bankruptcies in America "every 30 seconds."

* He stated that the automobile was invented in America.

* He said the transcontinental railroad was completed during the Civil War.

* He claimed that his stimulus plan "prevented the layoffs" of 57 Minneapolis police officers.

* He said that the CHIP program only provides health insurance for those children whose parent's work Full-Time.

Every single one of these assertions turns out to be either completely false or, at best, exaggerated and distorted. Yet, these "facts" are among those on which he is basing the defense of his stimulus plan and proposed budget. (Read the article at to get in-depth discussion of each point - what he actually said in the speech and what the real truth is. You can read that article here.)

So, before even half of the high-scrutiny First 100 Days of his Presidency have passed, is President Obama becoming the very type of typical Washington politician he railed so hard against in his campaign? The line between maintaining the support of the idealistic youth vote that helped to sweep him into office (and, indeed, his own optimism) and doing what he will have do to accomplish his goals (get down in the muck with the Washington crowd) is razor thin. How long can he walk that line? How long before the notoriously fickle American public begins to turn?

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

15 Albums That Changed My Life

One of the current memes making the rounds on Facebook is the 15 Songs/Albums/Records meme. Here's how it goes:

Think of 15 songs, CDs, or LPs that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life, dug into your soul; Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the whatchamacallit, socked you in the gut, is what I mean. Then when you finish, tag 15 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill. Get the idea now? Good. Tag, you're it!

Well, given my love and knowledge of music, I was tagged quite often on this one, and it took awhile to put together my response. Today I did, so I thought I might share it here, as well as add some video for each entry:

This was a surprisingly difficult assignment for me, mainly because it was so very, very tough to pare down the list just 15. So, with the caveat that there are indeed many other records that could justifiably be placed right alongside these, and with the knowledge that the particular list of 15 might be very different if you asked me in a month, in a week, or even tomorrow, here's a pretty solid list of 15 records that changed my world (in no particular order):

1. Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes (1982)
This is the album that anyone who knows me must expect to be here. The album is nearly perfect: ten songs without a clinker in the bunch; a sparse acoustic minimalistic sound that manages also to be darkly claustrophobic and sinister; Gordon Gano's Jonathan-Richman-trying-to-be-Lou-Reed vocals; and lyrics that are at once anguished and hysterical (culminating in the plaintive cry of "Why can't I get just one fuck?" in Add It Up). Brilliant.

2. Sparks - A Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing (1972)
Never has any band ever had such a spot-on inherent sense of how a pop song should sound and yet so firmly refuse to write pop songs. Straddling the ground between 60s psychedelia and 70s prog rock (but in truth belonging to neither genre), Woofer was sprung upon an unsuspecting and criminally apathetic public almost 4 decades ago, and the rest of the music world has yet to catch up. Musically, the album dabbles in bubblegum, acid rock, chamber music, and pseudo-opera, often combining styles within the same song; lyrically the album covers subject matter no one else writes songs about, often being wickedly funny in the process: Girl from Germany discusses the concerns of Jewish parents about their son's new love; Here Comes Bob describes a young Lothario who meets women via automobile accidents he causes; Moon Over Kentucky is more unsettlingly beautiful than any song you will ever hear. Perhaps the most creative and unusual album I have ever heard, and I love it!

3. Lloyd Cole & the Commotions - Rattlesnakes (1984)
Nothing beats great lyrics. Even the most mundane melody can be made listenable with lyrics that pull you in and paint pictures that you see with your soul. Of course the line between great lyrics and pretentious twaddle is razor-thin, and most go steamrolling right over it. On this record, Lloyd walked right up to that line on every song, but never crossed: "When she smiles my way/my eyes go out in vain/she's got perfect skin" - hell, who hasn't been there? "She took her keys and left me out in the cold/wearing a plastic coat and the pressures of life/through lack of patience" - has a breakup ever been captured as well?

4. Flying Lizards - Fourth Wall (1981)
The Lizard's hard-to-find second album is treasure to be snapped up if you ever see it. This is not the album with Money on it, nor is it the album with their novelty covers of Sex Machine and Dizzy Miss Lizzie; in fact, it sound nothing like those. It is a gorgeous amalgam of melodies, electronics, audio verite and studio noodling. New York scenestress Patti Palladin took lead vocal chores for this record, King Crimson's Robert Fripp is wandering around the grooves here, and lead Lizard David Cunnigham steers the listener through the aural equivalent of a funhouse hall of mirrors.

5. Bow Wow Wow - See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over Go Ape Crazy! (1981)
The second-longest album title in my 3000+-title collection (Fiona Apple's When the Pawn... takes the prize - look up the full title for yourself), this was one of the earliest "new wave" records I owned. Tribal chanting, Burundi drums, spaghetti-western guitars, Malcolm McLaren's PR manipulations and the stunningly beautiful Annabella out in front, Bow Wow Wow remains my favorite band of all time - actually got to see them live in NYC in2004 and meet them after the show, and what a show they put on! This, their debut vinyl (the cassette-only Your Cassette Pet was their first release), is my favorite of their three albums.

6. The MC5 - Kick Out the Jams (1969)
This is what a live album should sound like, period. Nothing but energy, noise, jubilation, and unsafely loud muthafukkin rock-n-roll. This is the album to have blaring while you're thrashing about your living room in an immature air-guitaring frenzy; this is the album to have blaring when you and your friends have a full car with the top down speeding down the highway in the summer; this is the album to have blaring when you're grilling burgers and dogs and downing the suds in the backyard. Do we want a revolution? Sure, but more than that, we wanna rawk!

7. The Jim Carroll Band - Catholic Boy (1980)
Go read the book "The Basketball Diaries" (no, just seeing the movie doesn't count - read the damn book!) Then go find a copy of Catholic Boy and play it start-to-finish. If you aren't affected by it, you have no soul. From Wicked Gravity to Nothing is True to People Who Died, this is a soul lain bare. It's at once a cry for help and a fuck you for trying. And it is awesome.

8. Dead Kennedys - Plastic Surgery Disasters (1982)

This statement may cause arguments, but I am going to make it anyway and I will stand by it: Plastic Surgery Disasters is the most perfect punk rock record ever made. Jello Biafra is at his sarcastic best skewering everyone and everything from preppies to doctors to California phonies, the band is far tighter here than on the admittedly classic Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, the music is hyper speed but not at the cost of melody. Winnebago Warrior, Buzzbomb, Moon Over Marin, I Am the Owl - all classics. They would later become message-heavy before collapsing altogether, but this album captured the band and the sound at the perfect moment.

9. The Fleshtones - Hexbreaker! (1983)

No better party album exists than this'n. The Fleshtones have always been about fun. They are a band that you really have to see live to fully "get", but Hexbreaker! comes damn close to capturing that excitement on vinyl. Every song is an upbeat hook that will wriggle into your brain and force you to sing or hum along by the second or third listen!

[note - the video title is misspelled - should be "Right Side of a Good Thing"]

10. Ramones - Ramones (1976)
The Ramones have to be here, but deciding which record to include was tough. I'm going with the debut, not only because it blew me away the first time I heard it, but because of its well-documented effect on the music world. The number of bands who started up because of this album is staggering - do some Googling and be amazed. How much different would music be today without this album?

11. The Saints - (I'm) Stranded (1977)
12. Iggy & the Stooges - Raw Power (1973)

I put these two records together because they are both here for essentially the same reason - they freakin' rock from start to finish. A friend I used to work with once said, "you know, I can be having the worst day, everything going wrong, and I put on Raw Power, and everything is cool again..." Yep, and the same can be said of (I'm) Stranded

13. Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs (1970)
A stunning document of one man's descent into acid-drenched insanity. Barrett's first record since leaving Pink Floyd is difficult to listen to at first due to its very spur-of-the-moment nature and Syd's tendency to add or omit beats, or bars, or occasionally choruses. The record sounds incomplete, at times being more reminiscent of a tape recorder candidly catching a child entertaining himself by singing off-key and off-kilter than of a major-label album recorded by a major artist. It's worth the effort to get to know this record, though - there is much joy and beauty to be found in the warped innocence and naiveté of songs like Love You, Octopus and Terrapin.

14. The Residents - The Residents Present the Third Reich 'n' Roll (1976)

This was one of those records that opened me up to the idea that music doesn't have to sound like what the radio tells us music should sound like. Two side-long suites that rip apart the songs that everyone used to hear coming out of tinny AM transistor radios, pulse the pieces through a meat grinder, drag the result through the mud and slap it all back together with spit and spackle, making it at once horrifically alien and oddly familiar. Up through the blurry mush bubble things like the hook from Yummy Yummy Yummy, a strained chorus from The Letter, an angry spitting of Hanky Panky, but these are only fleeting moments of safety before your head is pushed below the surface of the muck again until the nightmare culminates in a bizarre blending of Sunshine of Your Love, Hey Jude and Sympathy for the Devil. It's the only record that I have ever played for people who have asked me to turn it off. How could I not love it?

15. The Suicide Commandos - The Suicide Commandos Make a Record (1978)
One of the most criminally forgotten artifacts of early American DIY punk rock. This isn't punk in the British mohawk sense, the LA hardcore sense, or even the New York art school sense. This is a wholly mid-America product; three guys writing great songs with killer hooks. Hindsight allows a line to be drawn from the Commandos that converges with the line drawn from the Raspberries and Big Star to create early80 s power pop, but this record isn't quite that sound yet (proto-power-pop maybe?) Every song here is a winner, but the star of the show is Match/Mismatch, the story of a dinner date gone horribly wrong (complete with our hero shouting "Waiter! My check!")

So, how telling is it that the most recent record on this list is 25 years old?

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Friday, February 20, 2009

And People Wonder Why I Don't Drive

You have to see this one to believe it, courtesy of OCRegister: the video is from the surveillance camera at a convenience store where a gentleman "parked" his truck while he briefly went inside to get a soda. When he returned to the parking lot, his truck was gone.

Since he left the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked while he went into the store, he assumed the truck had been stolen. After all, it was here a moment ago, right?

He called 911 to report the stolen truck, and the responding officer had the store pull the surveillance tape, which revealed what really happened.

These are the people they give licenses to, folks - and yet people ask me why I don't want to be out on the roads with them...

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Songlist for Every Album Ever Recorded

Saw this on and had to share. Go ahead, pull out any CD from your collection - you'll find this is pretty much on the money! (And the big corporate labels wonder why sales plummet? We're onto the game!)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

So, I'm an Old Facebook Fogie?

Over at Time Magazine's website, Lev Grossman wrote a great article on why Facebook seems to be custom-made for those of us who are - ahem - a little bit older. In Why Facebook Is for Old Fogies, Grossman spells out ten reasons why, when every other social networking website you could name is overrun by high schoolers (or those who never progressed beyond) spewing their L33T-speak, Facebook remains for the most part the realm of the forty-ish.

Gotta say, as one who is dead-smack in the demographic's wheelhouse, Grossman is on the money on 8 of 10 points as far as I can see. I don't have kids, so that point doesn't apply; although those of my friends who do are just as happy to show you their pictures as he describes. OK, Lev, I'll give you that one. 9 of 10. Not a bad average!

The only point I have to take exception with is his declaration that "We don't understand Twitter." On the contrary, Mr. Grossman! I happen to enjoy Twitter very much, and many of my Facebook friends are followers/followees on Twitter as well. They work together surprisingly well: Twitter is the cocktail party where you get to meet new people; Facebook is the neighborhood bar where you all wind up daily to discuss the day.

That point aside, I wanted to share Grossman's piece with my readers, as I know many of you have found this blog through Facebook. The list will make you smile; it's funny because it's true.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

From The "Now I've Seen Everything" Files:

Yep, go ahead and smash my glasses with a hammer. I've seen it all now. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Obama Bar:

Available in 8 varieties, including Sensible Sunflower ("Let Democracy Shine!") and Prickly Pear Progress ("Cleans Lipstick Off a Pig!"), these are, to my knowledge anyway, the first soaps inspired by a President. All 8 are also available in a mini-size, and gift packs are available.

I shake my head in amazement...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Lancaster is Hit with the Ugly Stick...Again

Lancaster City seems bound and determined to repeat history. Certainly, those who run things around here have not learned from it. Three and a half decades after the Brunswick Mall debacle, I watch my beloved hometown rush headlong towards the finish line on the Lancaster County Convention Center, a bloated, hopelessly optimistic, and inherently doomed "city revitalization" project which has been the epicenter of controversy around these parts for nigh on a decade now.

Anyone who has lived in or around Lancaster since 1970 knows the joys of the Brunswick Mall. Conceived as an urban renewal project in 1965, it saw the razing of a full city block of vintage architecture in favor of what has come to be known to locals as "The Concrete Monstrosity." It was envisioned as a hotel and business space with a mall full of shops, two outdoor courtyards for public gathering and a enclosed skywalk bridging North Queen Street so that folks could safely cross; the final result was outdated virtually upon its completion. At first, shops did appear in the storefronts and efforts were made to use the courtyard spaces on a regular basis, but after the novelty wore off, the city was left with a block-long patch of the ugliest concrete construction imaginable, looking like nothing more than an abandoned Stalinist block building, and inspiring just as much cheer. In recent years, renovation has finally begun on the area in an attempt to make the area more attractive, but at this point it is simply putting makeup on a pig.

You would think with such a glaring reminder of misguided "renovation" and poorly spent funds still marring the city, developers would be much more cautious when a similar project came about. Sadly, you would be wrong.

I won't go into the history of the debate over the proposed Lancaster County Convention Center - you can read a nice summary of that history here and here (scroll down to the comment by ArtieSee near the bottom of the page), or do some Googling. I won't waste time talking about the fact that building a convention center on the edge of a rundown and, at times, extremely unsafe part of town with inconvenient parking at best will do no favors towards encouraging repeat business. I won't even go into the fact that, at this point, a project that was sold to the city at a $74 million budget as an "economic boon" is now looking to clock in at just under $200 million (all but $11 million of which is taxpayer funded), and is expected by some estimates to lose $1 million a year.

No, I will instead limit my commentary to this: the thing is frickin' hideous! Once again, Lancaster is trying to "revitalize" via tons and tons of concrete. This time, though, instead of spreading it out, they're piling it high! This will be one of the tallest buildings in the city when it's finished later this year. And rather than completely demolish vintage architecture (in this case, the former Watt & Shand building, which had been on the National Register of Historic Places), they decided the thing to do was to gut it, leaving the facade standing, and plop the tower of concrete inside of it. Oh, and little to no apparent effort was made to match the design (or even color) of the original building, much less the surrounding edifices.

Construction is scheduled to end this spring. I have no doubt that, initially, the Center will see much use, much as the Brunswick Mall did in 1970. But, what happens when the novelty wears off? We're going to left with yet another expensive, hideous reminder of urban renewal gone bad and concrete gone wild.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

RIP Lux Interior

Sad news from Glendale, CA: Lux Interior, lead singer of the legendary psychobilly band the Cramps, has passed away at the very young age of 60.

The Cramps spent the better part of three decades making some of the most crazed, manic, and at times downright hysterical music to ever be committed to vinyl or CD. From the early singles like "Human Fly" and "The Way I Walk" through more recent raveups like "Bikini Girls with Machine Guns" and "Surfin' Dead", the Cramps brought a campy B-movie sensibility to every sound they made, and Lux was the perfect frontman for their off-kilter groove.

Though band members came and went over the years, Interior (born Erick Lee Purkhiser) and his wife/guitar player Poison Ivy Rorschach (Kristy Marlana Wallace) were the core of the band from start to finish.

Reports are that the cause of death was a pre-existing heart condition.

In Lux's memory, here is one of my personal favorite Cramps tunes, "Garbage Man":

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This is the "New Washington"?

So, President Obama has been in office all of 15 days. Wonder how he's liking the job so far?

Today saw two more nominees for important positions on Obama's team bow out due to tax payment issues: Senator Tom Daschle, nominated for Health and Human Services Secretary, and Nancy Killefer, nominated for Chief Performance Officer, both voluntarily removed their names for consideration for those respective positions due to the fact that each has failed to pay taxes in the past. These withdrawals are of course happening shortly after news broke about Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner's extensive unpaid tax debt.

Psst...Mr. may want to amend your vetting process for future appointees to include the question, "Have you paid your taxes?"

Couple these withdrawals with President Obama's half-brother, George Obama, being arrested on drug charges over the weekend, and it's a fair assessment to say that this has not been the best weekend the new Prez could have asked for. (By the way, what is it with Democratic presidents and their siblings? Should George Obama's "incident" be a surprise after the country has been subjected to Roger Clinton and Billy Carter?)

All during his campaign, Obama told us that it would not be business as usual once he got to Washington, that he would hit the ground running and we would start to see immediate change. So, someone wanna explain to me how this is not typical Washington political embarrassment?

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Still Here

Yeah, I know, almost a week since my last post. Patience, friends! I have a few posts in the "almost ready to go" bin. Stay tuned!