Thursday, April 29, 2010

Recommended Reading: Strange Reaction

When Strange Reaction first appeared on the scene in early 2005, it was just another in what was quickly becoming the overcrowded field of mp3 blogs. Those were heady days when blogging in general was becoming more common, the debate over file sharing was in full swing, and anyone with a music collection and a connection to the Internet began living his or her daydreams of writing for Rolling Stone while showing off a cooler-than-you taste in tunes.

Over the years, the myriad blogs who popped up back then began to steadily thin out. A combination of an over-saturated market, a growing abundance of DMCA Takedown notices, and the rise of MySpace, Facebook and Twitter as the new trend in online communication contributed to the steady disappearance of many mp3 blogs. Those that remain today are those who are in it because of a real love of the music, and those who have the knowledge, the personality, and the writing ability to be entertaining beyond the music they offer. A few abandoned the mp3-blog format in favor of finding their own style - some way that they could share their love of the records they blog about while setting themselves apart from the crowd.

Scott over at Strange Reaction is one of those who found a different approach, along with co-blogger Mike E. who joined along the way to create a double-barreled blast of good old Punk Rock fun. Scott shared a bit of Strange Reaction's history:
"According to I started on February 14th, 2005. Sharing out of print punk and hardcore records was the only goal, and I did that for a couple of years. Lots of other websites that did this much better started springing up more and more, and it just started seeming redundant, so I changed the format. I lost most of my visitors too, but since I don't make money from the site it didn't seem to matter much at the time. Some of the other sites are since long gone, but a few are still posting some great things on a regular basis.

I changed the site into one where I'd review music, along with a couple of irregulars that seem to have disappeared off the planet since. That was fun for a little bit. I also started putting together a 20-30 song mash mp3 for folks to download, a precursor to the current show. I had no microphone, so I just used a digital voice to announce the show and then played the songs straight through.

Picking music was the most fun I'd had with the site in years, so I started focusing on that and changed the format once again, removing the reviews that were pretty blah to begin (mine at least) and simply posting a show once a week. Mike E. contacted me and was interested in posting a weekly column. He seemed like a guy with an interesting history and I liked his writing style. Plus he works for free, can't beat that!"

The "show" that Scott refers to is the Strange Reaction podcast, a weekly supplement to the blog in which Scott presents 30 (give or take) songs, ranging from classic punk to searing hardcore to noisy thrash - all of it good stuff. I find myself listening each week and either smiling at a classic pick, being reminded of a band I hadn't listened to in ages, or discovering a band that somehow flew beneath my radar. Although he now has that microphone, Scott's presentation is still straightforward and unencumbered: here's what you were listening to, and here's what's coming up next. He also helpfully includes the name of the album or ep each song comes from in the show notes on the blog, so if you hear something you really like, you know where to go looking.

As Scott noted, Mike E. handles the record reviews, and does an outstanding job with them. His present-day takes on records that are often 20 years old are informed and on-the-money most of the time, and his reviews of newer product are a reliable buying guide. But he does more than just review records: Mike is a top-notch story-teller, and each review also includes an autobiographical anecdote. The story may or may not directly relate to the record being reviewed, but it does give the reader the unique opportunity to learn something about the reviewer, and therefore perhaps some insight into the state of mind in which the review was written. Many celebrity "rock 'n' roll journalists" would never dare to be so open.

In addition to the podcasts and reviews, other occasional goodies spring up: top ten lists, interviews with cool people (Steve Jones of The Stepmothers fer crissake!), stories from back in the day, the occasional free-and-legal mp3 download from any of various bands or labels - whatever. Strange Reaction has been a regular visit for me not just because of the quality of the writing, but also because of the fearlessness and utter lack of pretension with which both Scott and Mike present themselves.

Scott was good enough to respond to the Five Questions I've asked of each blogger in this series:

What or who inspired you to begin blogging?

S: Large Hearted Boy. This was the first mp3 blog that I started reading on a regular basis. I always like the variety there, and while I may not always dig the music I do always check out what they're offering. At about the same time I was grabbing lots of old punk that was ripped by lots of different folks and shared via a particular P2P app. While I loved that it was being shared there, I thought it would be cool to share with an even larger audience, ones who probably had never heard of the program and would never find the tunes otherwise.

Is there a story or meaning behind your blog or its name?
S: I took the name from the song "Some Strange Reaction" by Firewater. It just seemed to fit.

Which post would you choose from your archives if you had to provide only one that best represents what your blog is all about?

S: The answer to this would probably best be reflected in a post from an old incarnation of the site, back when I posted full EP's and just gave a little back story on the record or the band. Now that I'm down to a podcast and Mike E's weekly column it's harder to choose.

When you first log on to your computer each day, what is the first site you go to? Why?

S: Reddit. It gives me a look at random news, odd videos and a look at what people will be spamming onto Facebook the next day.

What one other blog would YOU recommend that you read regularly, and why?

S: Alice Bag. She's an original, not only because of her history, but just how she writes and the topics she chooses. I never leave her site bored.

Scott also added these comments about his blog and podcast:
With [Mike E.'s] weekly look at an album and a story from his past and my weekly (mostly) podcast/show/mp3 thing, I'm pretty happy where the site is at, even if it's not a daily read for anyone.

I'm currently getting a few thousand downloads/streams of my show every time a new one is posted which always surprises me, and Punk Radiocast streams it first, every Monday night at 11:00pm EST. So if you're looking for a preview, go there. I then throw it on the website, usually by Wednesday. The one thing I would love to see is feedback to the show, I barely hear a word and I know folks are listening. It's weird.

I know of what Scott speaks when he bemoans the lack of feedback. Folks, the best thing you can offer to any blogger whose writing you enjoy is feedback - we thrive on it, yet rarely receive it! I do highly recommend you stop over at Strange Reaction, and subscribe to the podcast as well, and please do let Scott and Mike know what you think.

My sincere thanks to Scott at Strange Reaction for taking part in this series. Keep up the great work!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #63

The RockatsThe Rockats via

I recently picked up a copy Robert Gordon & Link Wray's 1978 album Fresh Fish Special. After falling out of CBGB's mainstays The Tuff Darts, Gordon hooked up with the legendary Wray to do two albums of straightforward by-the-numbers Rockabilly. Special was the second of the two, and is highly recommended.

Listening to that record inspired me to pull out some of the other stuff in my collection that fell under what would come to be known as the Neo-Rockabilly sound. You had The Cramps turning up the crazy and turning the genre into Psychobilly, you had The Blasters and Roy Loney & The Phantom Movers and Tex Rubinowitz putting out records that would have you believe 1960s psychedelia and 1970s disco had never happened, and you had the highly stylized New Wave Rockabilly "cats" (The Stray Cats, The Polecats, The Bopcats) cross-breeding '50s sounds and '80s visuals. And then you had this week's NW4NW featured band, The Rockats, who may have been the unheralded best of the bunch.

They started out as Levi & The Rockats, with frontman Levi Dexter and bassist Smutty Smiff as the heart and soul of the band. Unapologetically worshiping at the shrines of Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, Levi & The Rockats found a surprisingly sympathetic audience in the late-'70s UK Punk scene. Playing a mixture of obscure covers and originals so faithful as to be indistinguishable from the vintage material, and doing so with the high energy buzzsaw sonic attack and callous sneer of the punks around them, the band soon had supporters like Johnny Thunders and Debbie Harry singing their praises. They came to America in 1979 and played shows with The Cramps. They made TV appearances on The Midnight Special and The Merv Griffin Show, even though they not only had no record yet to promote, but they had yet to even be signed by a label. They bopped and honky-tonked and pompadoured their way across the States, and on the night of their last show of the year on December 16th, from the stage of LA's Whisky-A-Go-Go, Levi Dexter announced the band was done. The only vinyl record of the Levi & The Rockats days was At The Louisianna Hayride, a live recording released two years later.

Dexter went off to to form Levi Dexter & The Ripchords, and later LEVI. Smutty Smiff and the rest of The Rockats, however, didn't actually want to break up the band. Guitarist Dibbs Preston took over vocals, and a new guitarist, Tim Scott, joined the band briefly. Scott would go on to have a minor solo hit, "Swear," (later covered by - of all people - Sheena Easton!) and fill in for an injured Charlotte Caffey on one of The Go-Go's final tours - making him the only male Go-Go ever (trivia buffs take note). Scott's stay in The Rockats lasted only through their debut album, Live At The Ritz (1981).

In 1983, The Rockats would have their closest thing to a hit record, the awesome title track to the Make That Move ep. "Make That Move" was the culmination of everything the Neo-Rockabilly scene of the time wanted to be. Simultaneously true to the genre's roots and modern enough for MTV to put the video into rotation, decked out in Brylcreem and twangy guitars and Jerry Lee Lewis piano pounding, "Make That Move" caught everyone's attention for a moment.

It would turn out to be The Rockats' swansong. It's a shame there wasn't more recorded of their six-year journey from the Levi & The Rockats days to "Make That Move," but they always had been a band more focused on live performance. (That two of their three slabs of vinyl were live recordings should not go unnoticed.) Preston continues to lead revived versions of the band on occasional reunion tours, although he is the only original member, and occasional releases appear under The Rockats' name, but the spark of the original band is gone. Happily, the clip for "Make That Move" survives, and is presented here as this week's NW4NW entry. Enjoy!

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recommended Reading: The Canthook

If you pick your way through several blogs a day as I do, you begin to notice two universal truths of blogging: First, people blog mainly because they want the world to hear their opinions on whatever topic they happen to be writing about. I'm just as guilty of this feeling of self-importance and the belief that I am doing all of you a favor by sharing my thoughts as anyone else who has set up shop in a little corner of the Internet and started posting whatever came to mind. As I've often said to folks who have asked me for advice on their own blogs - or their own writing of any kind - you have to develop an ego, or at least play-act the part. You have to make yourself believe that what you've written is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or you're likely never to push the "post" button in the first place!

The second truth, which often wreaks havoc with the first, is that not everything that every blogger has ever written is, in fact, the greatest thing since sliced bread. The quality of blogged material out there varies wildly from blog to blog; it often varies just as greatly from to post to post within the same blog. (Again, count me among the guilty...I go back and reread some of the things I've posted and shake my head wondering what I might have been drinking that day...)

The blogs that I find myself going back to day after day, that I include on that blogroll over on the left-hand side of the screen, and that I have chosen to share with you in this series, are those where the blogger is clearly not shy about voicing opinion, but is also capable of churning out consistently high-quality posts. Most often, that's accomplished by focusing one's writing on a particular area of interest or expertise. The more difficult trick to master is to maintain that quality of writing and strength of opinion over a variety of subjects. Dr. Harl Delos is one of the few I have found who can do exactly that.

In his blog The Canthook, Delos offers us the chance to see the world through his eyes as he goes about his daily routines. His posts might be about anything that catches his eye - or his memory - for a moment or two: people-watching at a restaurant, catching a particularly good program on television, reminiscences from his childhood, a groaner of a joke he recently heard. Other posts tackle current events, be they political, technological, or theological. Often, in fact, Delos meanders down a garden pathway of topics in a single post, each connected, if only by the thinnest of tangential threads - just as our thoughts tend to meander. For that reason, his posts strike a deeper chord than those of many bloggers out there. Even if you don't necessarily agree with Delos' take on things, you understand how he got there. He's shown you his work in reaching his answer.

I go back to The Canthook again and again because Delos challenges his readers to think. Think about the world around you - not just current events or world-affecting things, but think about how waking up to the smell of a freshly-brewed pot of coffee makes you feel. Stop and smell the roses, if I may be so cliched. He is impish and mischievous in the way he challenges, but he's not just stirring up the pot. Retired after a long career that saw him spend time as a newspaper publisher, a magazine editor, an engineer, and an early computer programmer, among other pursuits, Delos has the hands-on experiences that bring substance to his opinions. He knows of what he speaks, hence the quality of the writing. That he does all of this with a healthy spoonful of humor makes The Canthook an extremely entertaining read - and also the kind of blog you go back and re-read.

One of the first questions that comes to most people's minds regarding The Canthook is, well, "What does 'The Canthook' mean?" In his responses to the Five Questions I've asked each blogger in this series, you'll find the answer. You'll also find Harl Delos' wonderfully dry sense of humor:

What or who inspired you to begin blogging?
HD: Doogie Houser inspired me. And Mark Twain.

At the time, I had a discussion list, and I was frustrated because people wanted to read the posts and participate, but they didn't want to publicize their email address. Some discussion lists had you post to a central address, and their address was stripped away by the moderator, but the delay involved in moderation prevented an active exchange of ideas; on the list, we'd sometimes have two people post back and forth 10 times in an hour, and that made it exciting and interesting.

The alternative was to put up a forum, but that meant that vandals could (and did) post ads, etc., all the time, and that was a pain to maintain.

It was the invention of RSS that made it possible to subscribe without opening yourself up to spam - and what *really* makes a blog a blog, is the RSS feed.

Is there a story or meaning behind your blog or its name?
HD: I'm what theologists call a skeptic, what investors call a contrarian. When I was in engineering schools, they taught us to *always* question assumptions - so I question not only mine, but everyone else's as well. I find that taking a look from a different angle often brings out a very interesting story.

A canthook is a tool used by linemen to twist a utility pole into the proper orientation. A peavey is a similar tool used to twist a log. was already in use by the guitar people, so I named my blog The Canthook. I write posts that consider issues from different cants than the same-old same-old.

I used to publish newspapers and a magazine, and I thought the blog should have a name that sounded like the name of a newspaper. I love The Daily Beast but including "daily" in the name commits me to more work than I want to be committed to. I'm retired, after all!

Which post would you choose from your archives if you had to provide only one that best represents what your blog is all about?

HD: It's the one I'm going to write *tomorrow* - whatever day "tomorrow" happens to be when you read this. My blog is so eclectic, it's hard to pick out a post that begins to encompass all that I write about.

Someday, I'm going to write about being raped at the age of four, and if it turns out halfway good, it'll be the post that best represents the blog, because to a large degree, this blog is occupational therapy. Server rent is a LOT cheaper than a therapist. Harlan Ellison wrote a story half a century ago entitled "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and I almost stole the name of that story as a title for my blog, except that it doesn't sound like the title of a newspaper, does it?

I can't come up with a single post that's representative. Here are three that drew a lot of email. The email I get tends to be intensely personal, and I tend to value it more than the impersonal comments made on the blog itself.

Epiphanies: Secrets of Wealth, Sex & Orange Soda

Hair Is, Uh, Magic.
Gobstoppers, and Collateral Damage

When you first log on to your computer each day, what is the first site you go to? Why?
HD: Google Alerts. Instead of signing up for email, you can set Google Alerts as an RSS feed, which means they show up in your RSS reader immediately instead of clogging your mailbox. I have SharpReader checking a number of alerts, the combination of which would be of interest to me, and probably no other person in the entire world.

What one other blog would YOU recommend that you read regularly, and why?

HD: Of late, the blog I go to first is Bats Left/Throws Right. Doghouse Riley offers up insanely great rants, and they're even greater if you have ever lived in or around Indianapolis, but that's not essential.

Delos also offered this comment on his audience-building strategy:
It's a lot easier to *keep* a reader than to *get* a reader. Consequently, I promote SharpReader at my blog, because I don't want to have people stopping by every couple of weeks to see if I've written anything new and interesting, and eventually forgetting to stop by, I want them to see the "teaser" right away when I write a new post.

If they use SharpReader for twenty other blogs, they will keep it running all the time instead of just once in a while. If someone doesn't want to read my posts, that's one thing, but I don't want them drifting away without making a decision to do so. And I know, from the number of blogs that are still in *my* copy of Sharpreader, though they haven't posted in the last couple of months, that people need a good reason to unsubscribe.

That strategy seems to work. I'm experiencing slow, steady growth. My blog is not for everyone. In fact, I suspect it drives some people batty. But the fact that I'm experiencing any growth at all suggests that my audience is finding me.

I certainly hope that, though my recommendation, some of you find yourself part of Dr. Harl Delos' audience. Stop by The Canthook and spend some time there perusing the posts. You'll be glad you did, and I think you'll go back for more.

My great thanks to Dr. Harl Delos for participating in this series and sharing his thoughts!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #62

I'm slowly cleaning out my attic room with the intention of turning it into a hobby room. For the past eight years, it has been the repository for boxes of stuff that I just never got around to unpacking after moving in. So, whenever I have some spare time, I bring a box down from the attic and go through the stuff I find in it to decide what's worth keeping and what can either be tossed or donated to charity. The other day, I found a box filled with yellowing copies of my high school's bi-weekly newspaper.

My first published writings about music were found within the pages of Manheim Township High School's Hi-Lite, and it was a blast to read some of my earliest primitive scribblings again. Many of the bands I wrote about a quarter century ago (yes, my 25th high school reunion is coming up...shudder) remain favorites today, including this week's NW4NW entry. Let's go back in time, shall we?

Right there on page 2 of the February 24, 1984 issue of Hi-Lite was my glowing review of the six-song mini-album Batastrophe, the debut release from Bristol, England's Specimen. Having achieved some notoriety in London as the house band at The Batcave, Specimen finally had their Glam-Goth sound committed to vinyl, and the 17-year-old me was pretty psyched:

First, there was Adam and the Ants with their warrior makeup. They were followed by the irrepressible Boy George. And now, there is the latest in the line of costumed British new-wave bands, Specimen. Specimen (note the lack of a "the") have been entertaining music fans in the UK for about a year and a half now, and they have gained quite a cult following from their numerous appearances at The Batcave...Luckily for us here in the States, Sire Records has signed Specimen to a recording contract, and their first album, Batastrophe, has recently been released.

Specimen are an odd quintet who appear onstage in Bow Wow Wow-inspired hairstyles and vampire makeup...If you are thinking, "Oh another one of those six-song albums that are over in a flash," you are wrong. Put Batastrophe on your turntable and you're in for a half an hour of listening enjoyment. This is a major plus, because you're only paying a mini-album price for an album's worth of music.

Say, nice of me to be looking out for my classmates' record-shopping budgets, but what about the music?

The final cut on side one, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," has an unusual twist to it. Midway through the song, the instruments die out, [lead singer] Ollie's voice whispers harshly, "Kiss kiss bang bang," and there is total silence for almost half a minute until the song suddenly resumes at full tilt, climaxing in a barrage of feedback that fades into the record's lead.

The flip side commences with Specimen's first single, "Returning From A Journey." The guitar intro is almost an exact duplicate of Def Leppard's pathetic "Foolin'," but the tune salvages itself and fills its 5:25 very well. Continuing with the idea of mimicking intros, "Tell Tail" has a beginning that is virtually indistinguishable from that of "Stray Cat Strut."

Well, my phrasing may have been clumsy, but at least I was trying to convey the sound of the band, either through direct description or in comparison to mainstream hits of the day. Of course, listening to the record today, I wonder what in blue hell I was thinking. "Indistinguishable" would be stretching it, to say the least!

You'll also note, via the backhanded shot I took at Def Leppard there, that I was carefully maintaining my Punk Rock anti-mainstream stance. That stance gets more pronounced towards the end of my column:

Bands such as Specimen provide a welcome break from the dull conformity of Air Supply, Journey, and the like, and they serve as reassuring proof that there remain musicians out there who record for the sake of the art involved rather than just for the money; musicians who aren't afraid to be different. The public should take a hint, and dare to accept a band who isn't as well known as Men at Work or Quiet Riot without worrying what others think.

Well, we all had to start somewhere, right? I've spared you most of the of the really bad writing, both in consideration of space and in consideration of my own ego, but I got a good chuckle out of looking back on this and other record reviews I wrote back then.

Over the years, Specimen has remained a favorite band around my household. Batastrophe holds up well all these years later. Its over-the-top T. Rex/Bauhaus hybrid sound is a little bit tougher than most of what you might think of as Goth, and damn if those hooks aren't catchy. Still, Specimen only released one more single, 1986's "Indestructable" [sic], before calling it a day. Their music has popped up on several compilations over the years, and in 2008 the band reunited to record a live album at The Batcave.

I have chosen a favorite clip from the Batastrophe mini-album to be this week's NW4NW entry. Enjoy Specimen's "The Beauty Of Poison":

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Recommended Reading: Punk Turns 30

The history of any pop-culture phenomenon, whether passing fad or enduring style, regularly sees fact and legend become intertwined. The history of Rock and Roll and its assorted and varied subgenres has always been particularly vulnerable to myth overtaking truth (no, really, Alice Cooper did bite the head off of a live chicken and toss the carcass into the far as you know!), and Punk, which was steeped in apocryphal stories designed to generate buzz from its earliest incarnations, is no exception. It's helpful to those of us who weren't actually there in its earliest days that there are at least a few folks who were, and who are willing to be (at times brutally) honest about what really happened, to sort out fact from fiction. And, as the old saying goes, truth often is stranger - or at least as entertaining.

Theresa Kereakes was there to see the earliest days of Punk Rock in LA in the mid-to-late '70s. Working her way up from teenage ticket-booth attendant at the fabled Whisky A-Go-Go to a position as the club's talent coordinator, later landing a position at Island Records, and being the owner of an apartment with a couch that was crashed upon by seemingly just about every musician of the era you can name, Kereakes was in the enviable position to be both participant and observer as the LA Punk Scene came into being. The fact that she has been a talented and prolific photographer since her childhood and, as such, documented most of what she saw and experienced makes her a unique and invaluable historian of that time; her uncanny knack for humorous and no-punches-pulled honest storytelling sets her distinctly apart from the scenesters and hangers-on who are more inclined toward building their own legends than sharing what was really like to be there at the beginning.

In her blog Punk Turns 30, Theresa Kereakes combines samples of her stunning photography with her first-hand accounts of the era, creating a mesmerizing window to the past. Her posts often tie the past to current events: recent entries have included reminiscences of Malcolm McLaren, a 30-year-old snapshot of the New York Dolls in juxtaposition with David Johansen and Syl Sylvain launching a 2010 tour under the Dolls' banner, and some discussion of the notorious Kim Fowley in the wake of the current biopic about The Runaways. The memories she shares are always entertaining, but it is her photography which is, deservedly, the star of the show.

You've undoubtedly seen Kereakes' work, whether or not you identified it as such. Her pictures have graced record sleeves for artists like Stiv Bators, The Pandoras and The Ventures, among numerous others; her work has been featured in the pages of prominent magazines and books over the years; her touring photo exhibition Unguarded Moments: Backstage and Beyond has been welcomed in galleries across the country. Candid as often as posed, her photography reveals the real people behind the personas. Much of her work has been in black and white, and that starkness multiplies the impact of the images she has captured. Whether you are a fan of Punk Rock or not, you will find it difficult not to be affected by her work.

Theresa was kind enough to reply to the Five Questions I have asked of each blogger in this series. Here is a bit about her approach to Punk Turns 30 in her own words:

What or who inspired you to begin blogging?
TK: It wasn't blogging that I set out to do. Back in 2004, I ran into two people I knew from "back in the day" at a Christmas party in our home town of Los Angeles. We had not seen each other in 25 years and discussed the fact that punk rock (which was the phenomenon through which we came to know each other - that and being photographers) was going to have a significant birthday soon and that we should do something about it. We wanted to do a traveling exhibit and have a corresponding website. Obviously, I was the one who stuck with the plan....

Is there a story or meaning behind your blog or its name?

TK: It is self-explanatory. I started posting on it in February 2005, which for me was 30 years after first having seen Patti Smith, who changed my world. From where I stand, 1976 is the birth year of punk rock, so the whole 2005 was the build-up.

Which post would you choose from your archives if you had to provide only one that best represents what your blog is all about?
TK: I am anarchy... therefore, there is honestly no one post that represents what I do, since what I do changes - in its intent and its content with each day.... but the "required reading" posts are the ones that probably help people who want to know more about punk rock, as they offer sources and resources.
Required Reading

On the other hand.... people have also told me that they liked and learned from the "my fave punk singles" series of posts -
Fave Punk Records - Fun at the Beach - B Girls

Personally, like anyone else who has a bully pulpit/website/blog... whatever you want to call it, I like to spout my opinion:
Why Patti Smith Matters

When you first log on to your computer each day, what is the first site you go to? Why?

TK: Because I want to know what's going on in the world.

What one other blog would YOU recommend that you read regularly, and why?

TK: Read the blogs of your favorite artists or your friends! Keep up with them.

I cannot recommend Punk Turns 30 highly enough. Whether you have an interest in the history of Punk Rock or a love for outstanding photography, Theresa Kereakes' images and stories will keep you coming back for more. Visit her blog, sample a few posts, and then share your thoughts in the comments below.

My great thanks - and wishes for a Happy Birthday, one day late - to Theresa Kereakes for being a part of this series!

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #61: Goodbye, Malcolm

Malcolm McLaren in New York City, 1993.Image by via Flickr

Thanks to the neighborhood squirrels deciding my cable was tastier than any other on the block, I have been with only intermittent Internet service this past weekend. This is the first chance I've had to acknowledge the passing of one of the most important and polarizing figures in music over the past few decades, Malcolm McLaren.

Biography is not necessary here. You know who McLaren was. For those who need the details, Google will give you all want and more. Of course, he was most famous (infamous?) for unleashing the Sex Pistols upon the world, but the short list of bands with whom he worked his promotions magic also included The New York Dolls, Adam & the Ants, Bow Wow Wow and Jimmy The Hoover. Always the manipulator, McLaren was also a direct impetus for the implosion of most of those bands (trying to replace Johnny Rotten in the Pistols, stealing the Ants out from under Adam to create Bow Wow Wow, etc.) Whether he was good or bad for those bands or for the music scene in general depends entirely on your perspective; that he knew how to get his charges (and, more often, himself) a ton of press coverage - at least in the UK - is inarguable. Bow Wow Wow's Annabella Lwin shared her memories of McLaren upon his passing with Entertainment

Often people forget that Malcolm attempted a recording career of his own, with mixed results. His 1983 album Duck Rock was an unusual hodge-podge of sampling, scratching and world music that was generally met with confusion, but did garner him a modest club hit with the single "Buffalo Gals."

McLaren passed away on Thursday from mesothelioma. He was 64. In his memory, this week's NW4NW entry is the clip for McLaren's "Buffalo Gals."

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Recommended Reading: Baseball Has Marked The Time

Can you name the pitcher who threw the first curve ball ever? The only player ever killed during the course of a Major League Baseball game? The African-American catcher who suited up and played for a Major League team sixty years before Jackie Robinson? Can you name at least two other Major Leagues besides the American and National Leagues? Can you sing all the verses to "Take Me Out To The Ball Game?" Myka Diller can, and tidbits of baseball's colorful history such as these are the basis of her blog, Baseball Has Marked The Time.

A fan of the Grand Old Game for most of her life, Myka is as knowledgeable when it comes to baseball history and trivia (if not more so) than many of the folks currently sitting behind microphones calling or reporting on the games. She began sharing her love for the game and its history with the launch of her blog this past December. It would have been easy to become just another in the seemingly endless parade of cookie-cutter baseball blogs authored by wanna-be SportsCenter hosts cluttering up the Blogosphere, but Diller quickly carved out her own niche. Focusing almost exclusively on 19th- and early 20th-century baseball, she takes her readers to a time and a game that was simpler, yet no less exciting, dramatic, or fascinating than today.

Diller is fan, trivia buff, historian and teacher all at once. Each post focuses on a specific person or event. She doesn't merely recite the facts; she provides cultural context for the history she discusses, and highlights the parallels between the stories from the diamond and the daily lives we lead. For diehard fans like me who treasure the game's rich past and are already familiar with the names and happenings Myka chooses for her posts, she brings a fresh perspective that breathes new life into those old stories.

Here is Myka Diller discussing her blog in response to the Five Questions I've asked each blogger in this series:

What or who inspired you to begin blogging?

MD: Certainly being on twitter and seeing other people talk about blogging put the idea in my mind, I don’t think I ever would have thought about it before that but what actually gave me the idea for my specific blog was a training that I was doing for work. As referenced in my first post, one of my trainings uses baseball as an example of an industry that uses data well – they collect statistics, analyze them and publicize them and we teach non-profits that they need to do the same. I was wrapping up my training by explaining my love of baseball and sharing a quote from an old book that I had and as I ended I said “I think this is just one of the many life lessons we can learn from baseball!” Later I was thinking about how true that statement was and how much fun I had looking through all my baseball history books looking for a quote to fit my presentation so I thought it would be fun to start a blog about interesting stories from baseball & how they relate to my life.

Is there a story or meaning behind your blog or its name?
MD: The name is from a quote in Field of Dreams, which is my favorite baseball movie. In college I had the quote written in huge letters and posted on my dorm room wall. Most of my friends thought I was weird, but the baseball fans got it. I just think it sums up how I feel about baseball and why it’s so much more than a sport to me!

Which post would you choose from your archives if you had to provide only one that best represents what your blog is all about?

MD: I think A Sickening Thud. The story of Mays-Chapman is interesting but then it also gets you thinking about the importance of facing your fears.

When you first log on to your computer each day, what is the first site you go to?

MD: I typically only use my computer for work – but from my iPhone it’s Twitter, of course. Why? Because I’m addicted! Also, it’s like checking in on your friends in the morning, seeing what kind of mood everyone’s in, finding out if I missed out on any good jokes after I fell asleep. It’s a great way to wake up.

What one other blog would YOU recommend that you read regularly, and why?

MD: I have to find a better system of reading blogs. I generally just read the ones that people tweet. I don’t use a reader or anything – I want to because I think I’m missing lots of good stuff. So I guess the one I read most regularly is Inkling Media’s because he posts pretty much every day. I like the variety of information and the fact that it’s interesting to me even though I’m not in the social media business or marketing world. I love the guest posts and comics. It is very relevant and I do often share the posts with people when we get into conversations about the benefits of social media.

Both the casual fan and the student of the game will enjoy Baseball Has Marked The Time; but I especially recommend the blog to those of you who don't "get" the game or why those of us who love it can be so taken by it - you'll be provided with somewhat different insight into the joys of the game.

My thanks to Myka Diller for taking the time to share her responses as part of this series. She is forgiven for being an Atlanta Braves fan.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #60

PylonPylon via

Anyone who was involved in college or alternative radio in the '80s, or who listened to the music found "left of the dial" in that era, knows that the little college town of Athens, GA was as important to that scene as New York, DC, Minneapolis or LA. With The B-52's and R.E.M. leading the charge, and lesser-known but equally as talented bands like Flat Duo Jets, Love Tractor, Dreams So Real and The Method Actors following close behind, the Athens sound seemed to be everywhere. Yet, much in the way the DC hardcore scene would not have existed without Bad Brains (see NW4NW#58), so too in Athens was there a groundbreaking band who inspired the others to pick up their instruments.

Pylon came together in its earliest incarnation around 1978 at the University of Georgia. Guitarist Randy Bewly and bass player Michael Lachowski formed the nucleus, rehearsing in a space that would soon come to be known as The 40 Watt Club, named in honor of the lone bare bulb that lighted their late night sessions. Curtis Crowe joined on drums, and in February of 1979 Vanessa Briscoe jumped on board as vocalist, completing the band and defining their sharp, jangly, angst-ridden sound.

Pylon's music took the form of simple, straightforward, repetitive lyrics layered over shards of guitar, bass and drums. Briscoe's twangy accent and vocals that fluctuated between sandpaper and syrup helped Pylon's songs stand out among the post-punk crowd. As a result, their first single, 1980's "Cool," was a standard entry on many critics' "Best Of" lists. The band released two outstanding albums, Gyrate and Chomp!, and the singles "Crazy"(later faithfully covered by R.E.M.) and "Beep" before disbanding in 1983.

Legend has it that Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson happened to be in attendance at one of Pylon's earliest performances, and immediately went home and formed the band that would be The B-52's just so they could play on the same bill with Pylon. Perhaps that's stretching things a bit, but not too much: consider that in 1987, when Rolling Stone named R.E.M. "the best band in America," they protested, saying that in fact Pylon was the best band in America. After that remark generated renewed interest in the band, they briefly reformed, recorded another album, and then went their separate ways again. Sadly, Pylon founder Randy Bewly passed away in 2009.

Pylon tends to be one of those bands that many folks have heard of but never actually heard. This week's NW4NW entry helps to rectify that for some of you, I hope. The clip is for the track "Stop It" from the Gyrate lp, one of my favorite Pylon songs. Enjoy!

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

1 Thing Left to Say

Here it is, folks! Opening Day! And to conclude the 12 Days 'til Baseball countdown, only one thing remains to be said:


Saturday, April 3, 2010

2 Phillies Who Performed "2nd Ever" Unassisted Triple Plays

NEW YORK - AUGUST 23:  Eric Bruntlett #4 of th...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

With 2 days left to Opening Day 2010, our 12 Days 'til Baseball Countdown continues with my list of the 2 Philadelphia Phillies who have pulled off the extremely rare feat of completing unassisted triple plays - each of which was the 2nd ever of its kind!

1. Mickey Morandini, 2B, September 10, 1992
In the 6th inning of a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Mickey Morandini achieved the feat courtesy of a line drive off the bat of Jeff Kent. Morandini caught the liner (out #1), and stepped on second base before Andy Van Slyke could get back to the bag (out #2). Barry Bonds has taken off from first base at the crack of the bat, and ran right into Morandini's tag for out #3. This play made Morandini only the second secondbaseman in MLB history to pull off the UTP; the other was Cleveland Indians 2B Bill Wambsganss, who did it on October 10, 1920 in Game 5 of that year's World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers!

2. Eric Bruntlett, 2B, August 23, 2009
By the time Bruntlett achieved his UTP last season, a few other secondbaseman had joined the club. But Bruntlett's play was only the second time in MLB history that a UTP ended a game! In the 9th inning of that day's game against the New York Mets, Jeff Francoeur hit a sharp liner that Bruntlett caught easily as he moved to cover the bag. Stepping on second base to double up Louis Castillo, Bruntlett turned around to find Daniel Murphy trying in vain to reverse momentum and backpedal toward first. It was hard to say who was more surprised when Bruntlett reached out and tagged Murphy for the third out! The only other time a UTP ended a ballgame was May 31, 1927, when Detroit Tiger Johnny Neun became one of the few firstbasemen in history to make the play.

One more day; one more list (can you have a list with one item?) - and then the 2010 Baseball Season is here!

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Friday, April 2, 2010

3 Strikes

A baseball, cropped from :Image:Baseball.Image via Wikipedia

Opening Day is almost here...3 days left! Continuing our countdown, and remembering that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it, we celebrate the fact that we have baseball by looking back on a few times when we didn't: 3 of baseball's official player strikes:

1. April 1, 1972 - April 12, 1972
For the first time in MLB history, the players refused to take the field and it looked as though we might be faced with no MLB season. Thankfully, players and owners came to an agreement fairly quickly, that saw $500,000 increase in MLB pension fund payments and Salary Arbitration added to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. 86 games were lost to the strike, with each team's season shortened by about 5 or 6 games.

2. June 12, 1981 - July 31, 1981
The Players Union would strike again nine years later, this time taking a chunk out of the middle of the season's schedule. This time, the agreement that eventually brought the season back favored the owners: teams that lost a "premier" player to Free Agency would now be able to be compensated by selecting a player from a pool of the unprotected players on all other teams (not just the team that signed that the Free Agent), and Free Agent status would be limited to players with six or more years of Major League service. But 713 games were lost to the strike, and an inelegant split-season format was used for the playoffs which saw the teams with best overall records for the year sitting on the sidelines. Attendance dropped precipitously as the fans indicated their frustration by simply not showing up for much of the second half of the season and into the next.

3. August 12, 1994 - April 2, 1995
The infamous strike of 1994 basically revolved around the idea of a salary cap. The owners wanted one, claiming that otherwise small-market teams could simply no longer compete in the Free Agent Era; the players did not want one, fearing that it would simply be a tool for the owners to artificially manipulate player salaries. between 931 and 948 games were lost to the strike, including the entire 1994 post season (which accounts for the imprecise number of games lost, based on the minimum and maximum number of post-season games that might have been played). It was the first time in 90 years that no World Series was played. The owners threatened to play the 1995 season with replacement players ("scabs"), further infuriating the players union and seemingly bringing all attempts to reach agreement to an end, until then Federal Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a preliminary injunction against the owners, effectively bringing the strike to an end. The players returned to the field on April 2. However, the fans stayed away in droves, to paraphrase Yogi Berra. Plummeting attendance meant plummeting revenues for each team and for the league. Three strikes and you're out, the saying goes - that may well have been the case for the MLB had the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run race of 1998 not brought the fans back.

Here's hoping we never need to live through another strike again!

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

What A Weekend! (Part 3 - Always Room for More Jello!)

(This is the third of a three-part post. Read parts one and two here & here.)

The weekend finished up in Baltimore, MD, at The Ottobar, a venue that has become a regular stop among my show-going friends, to once again catch Jello Biafra &
The Guantanamo School of Medicine
. This was a Sunday night all-ages show, so we had no idea what sort of crowd to expect. About 200 showed up, mostly skewing older, to see Jello and three opening bands.

The first two bands up were local Baltimorians. 4 Footer was about halfway through their set when we got there, so I didn't get to see or hear enough of them to form an opinion, but what I did see was interesting. Their sound was kind of punky southern hard rock, not entirely unlike Nine Pound Hammer to my ears (and that would be a good thing!) But, by the time we had our first round of beers and staked out our space in the club, their set was over.

4 Footer

We had no idea what to expect when The Fishnet Stalkers took the stage, dressed like it was 1979 (the striped shirt/skinny tie look). What a pleasant surprise they turned out to be! Like a slightly harder-edged Chesterfield Kings, or Jagger and Richards filtered through The Dead Boys, they played tough without sacrificing melody. Playing for the hometown crowd helped, but this band is definitely one to watch - they have the chops to be big time if they choose.

The Fishnet Stalkers

Witch Hunt traveled along with Jello Biafra throughout this tour, and seeing them a second time only reinforced for me how good they are. I daresay they sounded better Sunday night than Friday. Their drummer is simply astounding, playing at hyper-thrash speeds and propelling the band through song after song without missing a beat - literally. They seemed to spend a little more time giving their between-song protest speeches on this night as well, but that is forgiven when the music is this good.

Witch Hunt

During Witch Hunt's set, we spotted Jello Biafra walking through the crowd. It was strange - very few people seemed to recognize him. Then again, I have to remember that the Dead Kennedys actually split up before many of the kids in the crowd were even born. Maybe they had never seen him live before? I decided to go over to Jello and shake his hand and thank him for thirty years of great music. In typical Jello fashion, he corrected me: "It's been thirty-two years!" he smiled, "I was 19 when we started Dead Kennedys." We talked a bit about the Philly show, and he mentioned how he is usually completely spent after a performance - which is very believable. I asked if he'd be willing to sign Dead Kennedys records, knowing that the band's split was less than harmonious. He said sure, as long as they were originals on Alternative Tentacles and not the represses through East Bay Ray's label. He directed me over to his roadie to be sure to catch him after the show.

Jello and the band ran through the same set in Baltimore as in Philly, with only minor changes in patter and pacing, and they were every bit as fantastic the second time around. As opposed to The Trocadero, where stage diving was commonplace, The Ottobar was plastered with signs saying "Absolutely No Stage Diving Whatsoever!" As a result, the crowd's energy was different, but no less positive than Philadelphia's. In fact, The Ottobar's set up, with a much lower stage and a loft off to the left, allowed Jello much more freedom to interact directly with the crowd.

Jello Biafra & The Guantanamo School of Medicine

About half an hour after the show, Jello came out to greet the dozen or so fans like us who had stuck around. He couldn't spend a lot of time with us - he desperately wanted to get something to eat and had to get on the road to Washington DC, but he spent about 10 - 15 minutes talking with everyone and signing records, always checking to make sure they were originals. I heard him tell one person who handed him a record, "I can't sign this one, this is a completely illegitimate pressing. East Bay Ray didn't even make any money off of this one!" Wonder what record that was? He wasn't nasty about it, though, and his stance on only signing original material is completely understandable.

As we filed out of the club, we met up with GSM bassist Andrew Weiss, who talked with us for about twenty minutes about his days in Rollins Band. We asked him about the band Scornflakes, which was the New Jersey-based improvisational punk band he had been in before joining Rollins. He seemed surprised that we knew of Scornflakes, since "about 10 of the 12 shows we played live were at City Gardens," a venue in Trenton, NJ, where we had seen many a show in the '80s. He was happy to talk about the old City Garden days, and mentioned that there was a Scornflakes record out there that they had recorded live. By now it was getting to be almost 1:00 AM and there was long drive home ahead of us, so after thanking Andrew for the show, we hit the road.

Amazing postscript: we had all taken Monday off from work, and we wandered into a used record shop Monday afternoon and found - of all things - the Scornflakes record! A buddy of mine took it; maybe he'll eventually get Andrew to sign it!

It was a fantastic weekend all around, filled with great bands, great music, great people and great memories. I was exhausted when it was over, but happily so. So when does the next weekend full of cool bands come around?

(Visit That's What I Was Going To Say's Facebook page for more pics from Sunday night's show.)

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4 of Baseball's Famous Flakes

Babe HermanImage via Wikipedia

The countdown continues...4 days until Opening Day of the 2010 Baseball season! Since today is also April Fool's Day, I thought it appropriate that today's list look at 4 of baseballs daffiest players:

4. Jay Johnstone
Over a 20-year big league career, Johnstone was well known as both a solid utility player and one of baseball's great clowns. Whether it was dressing up as part of the groundskeeping crew and dusting off the infield between innings of a game, or climbing over the top of the dugout and marching through the stands in full dress uniform to go get a hot dog, Johnstone always something mischievous up his sleeve.

3. Babe Herman
Often called "The Daffiest Dodger," Herman was a good player who just seemed to get into odd situations. Decades before it happened to Jose Canseco, reporters insisted a fly ball had bounced off of Herman's head into the stands - not true, Herman insisted! It bounced off his shoulder... Herman is also the only man in history to double into a double play. Trying to stretch a double into a triple, he failed to see that the runner ahead of him was already standing there - or that the runner heading home had turned around and headed back to third, leaving 3 men on one base. Of course, his reputation was made when he was summoned to the phone while chomping on a cigar. Herman put the cigar in his coat pocket and took the call. Afterwards, he pulled the still-lit cigar from his pocket and resumed puffing away as though nothing were amiss...

2. Rube Waddell
In the early part of the 20th century, few pitchers were as accomplished as Waddell. He had pinpoint accuracy and an array pitches that flabbergasted hitters. He also had a bad habit of disappearing from the club, sometimes in the middle of an inning. He was entranced by fires, and if he heard a firetruck pass he drop whatever he was doing and run to chase it. Opposing teams' fans discovered they could easily distract Waddell by holding up small puppies. Waddell was one of a kind.

1. Bill Lee
Any player whose nickname is "The Spaceman" has got to lead this list! Lee earned his nickname basically through his outspoken, offbeat opinions and philosophies about the game and the world, most famously, The Cosmic Snowball Theory: "A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won't matter if I get this guy out."

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