Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day!

We're under way, folks! Today opened the 2011 Major League Baseball Season, and all I can say is "Baseball, I sure have missed you!" Never mind the fact that here in PA is rainy and freezing cold, and the forecast over the next day or two says the highest the temperature around here will reach is 51ºF, it's Baseball Season and all is once again right with the world!

The season begins in earnest for me tomorrow at 1:05PM EST.  That's the scheduled start time for my beloved Phillies' opener against Houston.  The 'Stros are schedule to start our old friend Brett Myers, and I'll be overjoyed if the Phils send him packing early.  Never could stand Myers, even when he was here pitching for The Good Guys.  Between his foul-mouthed tirades against reporters and his penchant for domestic abuse, Myers is one of the most unlikeable players in the game from where I sit. Roy Halladay will be on the mound for Philadelphia, ready to begin his second year as the Phils' #1 starter.  So how will he follow up last year's mind-blowing season, including a Perfect Game and a Post-Season No-Hitter?  I cannot wait!

You'll be seeing several baseball-related posts here this season, but if you really want to follow my day-to-day rantings and ravings about MLB in general and the Phils in specific, follow me on Twitter - that's where most of my baseball talk takes place.  I'm @berutt, and I'll be happy to talk baseball with you.

For now, pass me a beer and a dog.  It's just about game time.


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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Today's Anxiety Attack: A Stalemate With The Demons

In previous posts I have talked about the demons I must always fight, OCD and Social Anxiety, and how insidiously spiteful they are.  Forever they watch for the slightest little chink in my armor, or that one part of a moment when I let my guard down every so slightly, and they immediately seize upon the most miniscule opportunities to immobilize and imprison me, to make the world with which I can interact just that much smaller, or to at the very least snatch away a little bit of joy.  Sometimes I win; sometimes the demons win.  Today, a rare third option materialized: we split the difference.

At the end of May, The Go-Go's are kicking off a reunion/farewell tour.  Yeah, that's right, The Go-Go's: Belinda, Charlotte, Jane, Kathy and Gina.  "We Got The Beat" and "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "Vacation."  I was always a huge Go-Go's fan, but I never did get to see them live.  As luck would have it, they are starting the tour in Hershey, PA, just over half an hour from where I am sitting at the moment!  Well, I'm not missing my last chance to say I saw The Go-Go's live when they're practically going to be in my backyard!

Through a series of emails, I invited a friend to come to the show with me, and she and I began making plans.  As I started researching ticket prices, I mentioned that The Go-Go's website was reporting that some of the shows on the tour would also feature The B-52's, but sadly Hershey was not one of those shows.  She came back with a list of the cities where The B-52's were definitely announced.   I joked that the closest was Boston, MA, and "golly, it's only a six and a half-hour drive!"

Little did I suspect she'd actually reply with an offer to go to the Boston show.  Her proposition was that if I would finally agree to get my learner's permit and start learning to drive, she would consider the Boston road trip.  I wouldn't even have to drive on the road trip itself!  She has long been after me to learn to drive, so I took this as a little needling, and said I would get the Hershey tickets tomorrow when they go on sale.
In the meantime, however, she had talked with some other friends who were potentially into the idea of a road trip to Boston, so she wanted me to hold off buying the Hershey tickets until the road trip idea was either confirmed or sacked.  The tickets aren't cheap, and doing both shows would be out of the question.

And then it hit.

The first blow came from the OCD demon.  He usually is the one to strike first.  I could immediately feel my brow knitting in consternation, and my frustration level rising.  No! No! No! This is not what I had planned.  I had planned to go to the Hershey show.  I had invited my friend to the Hershey show.   My OCD, mild as it may be in the grand scheme of things, becomes the screaming child in the restaurant who the parents can't quiet down when plans are suddenly changed on me.  Spontaneity is not a luxury I am overly familiar with.  I need to know what the plan is, and I need to stick to the plan.  I usually do have a "Plan B" and "Plan C," but in this case those alternates were other people I might invite if this friend couldn't make it.  I was utterly unprepared for the idea of changing which show to go to.  That was already decided.  My guard was down, just for that moment, and OCD seized on it: "That's the wrong show.  You're supposed to be going to the Hershey show.  Now everything is ruined.  You don't get to enjoy this!"

Then, the Social Anxiety demon joined the attack.  One of the things this demon has taken from me over the years is the ability to travel freely, especially to places I've never been.  The last real travel excursion I took was a trip to upstate New York to visit another friend who had moved there.  That was in 1996.  Since then, even when I take vacation time from work, I don't go anywhere.  Now, there are some trips that I have made regularly enough over the years that have become immune to this demon's salvos: Spending a few days in Johnstown, PA, where my employer's production division is, for example, or traveling to New Jersey or Baltimore to see a band in the usual haunts.  In each of those cases, though, returning home in the same day is not only possible, it has been done.  Boston and back in the same day is not possible, and anytime I find myself more than a cabride's distance away from home for any length of time, the panic starts to overcome me.

"You can't be away from home that long! What if something happens? What if there is a fire? What if someone breaks into your home while you're gone?  What if you get stranded wherever you're going? What if you get hopelessly lost?"  It's a great example of the thought spirals I've described before wherein there is the rational side of me that is watching this all take place, recognizes what's happening, realizes the insanity and illogic, but is utterly unable to stop it, while the irrational side of me believes and amplifies every thought that goes through my head.  "Plus, you'd be traveling with a bunch of people, some of whom you don't even know!  They're not going to like you; they're going to laugh at you; you're going to be the butt of all the jokes!  You don't get to enjoy this!"

Understand, this all hits me in a split-second's time.  These attacks are not storms that gradually roll in like my bouts of depression; these are sudden explosions that appear seemingly out of the blue.  There is no time to prepare.  I can only respond.  And so I sat there, staring at the email on my screen, feeling that god-awful feeling of my stomach lurching into my throat, feeling the unpleasant tingle of adrenalin rushing through every avenue it can find within my body, feeling my heart pound like it will surely burst from my chest, feeling my breaths grow quicker and more shallow.  And I sat there hating that I was I going through it yet again, over something so innocuous as a possible road trip to Boston with a friend to see a band that I've always wanted to see.  How can my brain be so broken?

The next response I usually have, after the anger at myself, is the embarrassment.  In this case, it came in the form of, "OK, how do I get out of the Boston idea without letting her know that I have fallen to pieces over the past five minutes like a fool?"  This is where the excuses start formulating.  A quick check of the calendar showed me that the Boston show is on a Thursday night- AHA! There's my out!  I dashed off another email to her, this one saying that a weeknight is not good for me for travel because of work.  Of course, she reminded me that I have vacation time I can use.  DAMN!  So, I came clean, and admitted to the anxiety attack I was having.

I forget sometimes that I have a wonderful network of very supportive friends, especially those who have known me for many years and who have seen me at my worst as well as at my best.  After 14 years, this friend has seen me at the farthest ends of either side of that spectrum, and yet remains my friend (though that has no doubt been very trying at times!).  So when I told her of the anxiety, and that I would really be more comfortable with the Hershey show, she simply replied, "No problem. Hershey it is."  And when I then apologized for being so damned goofy about things, her words back to me were, "Never apologize for being yourself.  You're great."   There was no judgment, there was no unsolicited advice on how to handle anxieties, there was no "Oh there, there you poor thing;" there was just a friend being a friend.  It was the perfect tonic.

So this time, instead of the usual all-or-nothing battle I wage with my demons, we can call it something of a draw. Yes, the demons won a little bit - they took the experience of a road trip to Boston away from me.  But I won a little bit, too.  I'm still going to see The Go-Go's, just as I had originally planned, so they didn't take that away, and I was reminded by a good friend that, for as much as these demons try to convince me differently, I'm really pretty OK.


Related posts:

Table For One
Fighting The Demons Again
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Monday, March 28, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #117

So, how far would say the stylistic leap is from straightforward lounge jazz to geeky experimental electronic synthpop?  For Richard James Burgess, Andy Pask, Christopher Heaton, Peter Thomas and John Walters, it was easy.

Those five gentlemen came together in the mid-1970s to form Landscape, originally a typical jazz combo who worked rooms throughout the UK and, in 1977, scraped together enough funds to release two 7-inch EPs of their instrumental jazz sound on their own Event Horizon label.  By the end of the decade, they developed a strong interest in the emerging technology of pre-programmed electronic instruments and computerized rhythms, and had begun involving these futuristic sounds in their compositions.  With the growing popularity of synthesizer-based New Wave, and a noticeably different crowd coming to hear their sets, the transition made perfect sense.  By the time of their debut album in 1979, Landscape was no longer playing smooth jazz.

Their self-titled debut caused minor ripples, but went largely unnoticed despite a minor push behind it's lead single, "Japan."  Where the quintet made its mark was with their second album, 1981's From The Tea Rooms Of Mars...To The Hell-Holes Of Uranus.  Chockablock with clever lyrics, danceable hooks, unexpected cheeps and chirps, and universal cultural references, the songs here are almost too smart for their own good.  The driving "European Man" bemoans the loss of the worker in favor of the machine; "Einstein A-Go-Go" underscores the then-current global fear of nuclear war; "Norman Bates" retells the tales of horror from the Bates Motel with sinister psychological undertones that would make Hitchcock himself proud.  None of it typical dancefloor material, yet this is undeniably a very danceable album - a juxtaposition that itself remains a knowing commentary on the times.

A third album, Manhattan Boogie-Woogie, appeared in 1982, but lacked the punch of its predecessor.  The clever ideas were lacking (save for "It's Not My Real Name") and, aside from the title track, the music was overly produced and heavily slicked down.  Interesting, but not essential.

Shortly thereafter, Heaton and Thomas left the band, leaving Burgess, Pask and Walters to continue on under the revised name Landscape III.  As a trio, they recorded a couple of innocuous dance singles, none of which sold well.  By 1984, Landscape had broken up.  Burgess and Walters each went on to successful careers in music production: Burgess helmed records for Kim Wilde, Adam Ant and King, among others; Walters credits include albums by Kissing The Pink and Twelfth Night.

All three albums can be had on CD in different permutations:  Landscape has been released on two different 2-for-1 CDs, one pairing it with Tea-Rooms of Mars and the other pairing it with Manahttan Boogie-Woogie. Tea Rooms is also available as a stand-alone CD with bonus tracks, including some of the Landscape III material.

For this week's clips, let's enjoy Landscape at their peak.  First up, the clip for their most successful single, "Einstein A-Go-Go," and second, the wonderfully satirical clip for "European Man."  Enjoy!

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Monday, March 21, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #116

Last week's NW4NW entry, The Adicts, were a band that has kept basically the same four-man lineup for the past 30+ years.  This week's band has not been nearly so stable.  In fact, over the past 32 years since their debut gig in 1979, no less than 22 different people have cycled in and out (and, occasionally, back in and back out) of one of Australia's finest musical exports, The Lime Spiders.

The band's founder and mainstay, frontman Mick Blood, created the band originally as a lark, paying tribute both to the acid-dripping psychedelic garage bands of the 1960s, but also to the growing scene of Australian Punk bands including The Saints, Radio Birdman, The Fun Things, et al.  By 1983, The Lime Spiders had broken up and reformed at least twice, and were on their third permutation of musicians.  Nonetheless, they won a record contract at a local "Battle Of The Bands" contest, and released a double-45 featuring covers of two obscure '60s tracks (The Haunted's "1-2-5" and The Liberty Bell's "That's How It Will Be") and two originals that were remarkably accurate renderings of the style, "25th Hour" and "Can't Wait Long."   A follow-up single later that year, "Slave Girl"/"Beyond The Fringe" became an underground hit, and all six tracks were combined into 1984's Slave Girl EP for international release on Australia-based Big Time Records, who had just seen much success exporting another Australian band, The Hoodoo Gurus.

With blazing energy, driving rhythms and Mick Blood's gravelly scream, The Lime Spiders managed to be at once novel and yet very, very retro.  A third single followed in 1985 and paired their own "Out Of Control" with yet another obscure cover, this time shredding Wimple Witch's tempo-shifting acid trip "Save My Soul."   By this point, The Lime Spiders' musical formula was solidified, even if the band itself was not - each single had featured different versions of the band.

Nonetheless, the underground rumble they were creating was loud enough to be heard by the producers of the 1987 movie Young Einstein (anyone outside of Australia actually remember  Yahoo Serious?), who wanted to use "Slave Girl" in the movie's soundtrack.  Licensing issues prevented that, but Mick Blood and his musicians of the month came up with the similar "Weirdo Libido."  That song's appearance in the film brought the band to the attention of Virgin Records (who had released the soundtrack), and by the end of the year Virgin issued the band's first proper LP, The Cave Comes Alive

With it's lead single "My Favourite Room" and another smattering of obscure covers, the album seemed at first blush to be another formula record.  However, bits of personality and creativity shone through, especially in the absolutely stunning "Jessica," which verged nearly into ballad territory!  A simply fantastic record start to finish.  It was followed in 1988 with Volatile!, a record that, while bright in spots, did not quite live up to its title.  The rough edges of the band had worn a bit smooth, and they  sounded tired, especially in comparison to the odds-and-ends collection Headcleaner released around the same time, which recapitulated the first three singles along with assorted tracks from the band's earlier days, both live and in-studio, that were not otherwise readily available.  After a year or two on the shelf, the final Lime Spiders album, Beethoven's Fist appeared in 1990, although the band's moment had passed.

In the ensuing years, Mick Blood has gotten the band back together several times for reunion tours, and interest in the band has been strong enough to see two more recent releases. 2003's Nine Miles High is an excellent career retrospective containing just about everything you need to hear; Live At The Esplanade documents a 2007 reunion gig, with the band charging through many of their best songs.

This week's clips feature The Lime Spiders at their zenith.  First up, the clip for "Weirdo Libido," followed by the video for "My Favourite Room."  Enjoy!

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Monday, March 14, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #115

I hate it when I discover too late that a band I would really love to see live is playing within traveling distance, and I can't go because I already have other commitments.  Such is the case this coming Tuesday night, March 15th, when one of my favorite venues in Baltimore, MD, The Ottobar, will play host to one of the all-time great Punk bands, The Adicts.  It's as close as they'll be to Lancaster, PA, and I'm going to miss them! Gah! Much gnashing of teeth and shaking of my fist at Fate!

If you aren't familiar with The Adicts, let's correct that immediately!  Their brand of Punk Rock was fun and catchy without being too goofy or cartoony.  Their Clockwork Orange Droog look and lead singer Keith "Monkey" Warren's whitefaced joker makeup gave them an instant identity apart from their black-leather-spikes-and-mohawks brethren, and while they certainly were never averse to tackling the same socio-political issues other UK Punks spat their anger towards ("Mary Whitehouse," "Viva La Revolution"), their lyrical themes could at times come out of left field ("Chinese Takeaway," "Joker In The Pack," "Shake Rattle Bang Your Head")

Their 1981 debut album, Songs Of Praise, and its follow-up a year later, Sound Of Music, remain the albums to have, but this is a band who never stopped and are still releasing music 30 years later (2009 saw their 10th album, Life Goes On, hit the shelves - still with essentially the same lineup as that which recorded Songs Of Praise!)  All of their material remains in print and easily available, and there have been innumerable greatest hits and singles collections over the years.  You can jump in just about anywhere without going wrong!

From the start, The Adicts were popular enough to regularly visit the British Indie charts and make numerous television appearances - which caused great consternation for the always stodgy BBC, who did not particularly care for the band's name.  To appease the network, the band briefly adjusted their moniker to "ADX," but by the time their third album, Smart Alex, was released in 1985, they dropped that affectation.  Fifth Overture appeared a year later, and was a somewhat moodier affair than their previous recordings (Goth queen Siouxsie Sioux makes a guest appearance here!), but gloominess aside, it's a great record that had been out of print for many years before seeing CD reissue. 

The Adicts devoted the next few years to touring and recharging their batteries, resurfacing in 1990 with the live Rockers Into Orbit, which saw a nearly full return to form with several classics being energetically played before an enthusiastic crowd.  Another live record followed, 1993's Live And Loud (which was paired with a live album by the band Vice Squad in its CD format).  That same year also saw their first new material in seven years, Twenty-Seven, which calmed any doubters as to whether Monkey and the boys still had it in them.

After taking a few years off, The Adicts were back in 2002 with Rise And Shine, an album that at first caught fans a bit off-guard, but soon grew to become a favorite among the band's catalog. 2004's Rollercoaster followed in suit, and a whole new generation of fans had come to appreciate the band. They continuing touring and recording today, playing to fans both young and old.

If you are in or near Baltimore this Tuesday, do yourself a favor and go see them.  And while you're there, spare a thought for me who wishes he were there as well!  Meantime, here are two classics from The Adicts: "Viva La Revolution" and, after a brief spoken bit at the start of the second clip, the simply outstanding "Joker In The Pack." Enjoy!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #114

While most Punk and New Wave Bands were harking back to the garage bands of the mid-sixties, one of the more interesting groups of the era chose instead to meld the the skinny-tie sound onto a framework of 1950s pop and R&B.  Formed in Vancouver in 1977, Doug & The Slugs created a sound that was unique and quirky, yet undeniably catchy.

Singer/songwriter Doug Bennett quit his day job as a graphic designer and put together a combo of like-minded musicians (guitarists Richard Baker and John Burton, keyboardist Simon Kendall, bassist Steve Bosley and drummer John "Wally" Watson), and began playing the Canadian club scene.  Their shows quickly became popular events, with the band often inviting fans to show up dressed in themed costumes - secret agents one night, clowns the next, etc. - with the band doing the same. With their high-energy good-time sound, the live events were more party than concert, and Canadian record labels began to notice.

The band did not want to lose their creative control, however, and at first opted to form their own label, Ritdong Records.  Ritdong released the first Doug & The Slugs single, "Too Bad," in late 1979.  Containing one of the greatest you-cheated-and-I-found-out choruses of all time ("Too bad that you had to get caught/That's not like you to lose face/So sad that you're not as smart/As you thought you were in the first place") and featuring Bennett's signature everyman vocals, it quickly became a local hit.  Seeing the potential for national and international success, the band cut a deal with RCA to act as the distributor for Ritdong, and quickly issued their debut album, Cognac And Bologna.

With a rerecorded "Too Bad" issued as the lead single and eventually winning a Juno Award as 1981 Single of the Year, Cognac And Bologna swiftly reached the lower rungs of the Canadian Top 40 Albums Chart.  Follow-up singles "Chinatown Calculation" and "Drifting Away" fell a bit short of the success "Too Bad" had seen, but kept the band afloat until 1981's Wrap It.

Wrap It leaned a little more obviously toward the New Wave and showed a band getting better at what they do.  The main single, a surprisingly successful mix of '50s doo-wop and '80s ska/2-tone rhythms called "Real Enough," came close to competing with "Too Bad" as the band's finest moment and kept the party atmosphere rolling, and Wrap It sold even better than Cognac And Bologna across Canada.

1983 saw their best-selling Canadian release, Music For The Hard  Of Thinking, and its concurrent single "Making It Work."  But Doug & The Slugs had yet to break outside of the Great White North, despite receiving rave critical reviews and some MTV airplay.  RCA dropped the band, who were quickly picked up by A&M.  Two more albums followed, Popaganda (1984) and Tomcat Prowl (1988), but neither had the impact of the earlier material.  Their debut single, "Too Bad," would see renewed interest in 1999 when it was used as the theme song for comedian Norm MacDonald's short-lived sitcom The Norm Show.

Doug & The Slugs never really ceased to exist, although Bennett did release some solo material along the way.  While they never did see much success outside of Canadian borders, they continued to be a popular live band with a strong following.  Sadly, Doug Bennett passed away in 2004.  Shortly thereafter, an excellent "greatest hits" package, Slugcology 101: A Decade Of Doug & The Slugs appeared, neatly gathering just about every must-hear track from this wonderful band.  After some consideration, the band decided to continue on under the Doug & The Slugs moniker, bringing on singer Ted Okos not to replace Doug Bennett, but to celebrate their late frontman.  They continue to play live shows today.

Please enjoy the clips for Doug & The Slugs' two most wonderful songs, "Too Bad" and "Real Enough":

Friday, March 4, 2011

As Yet Untitled

Faintly, off in the distance, I hear her voice. Closer now, nearer, louder, her voice is dripping honey sweet melodic; now a breathy whisper, more breeze against my ear than actual sound; now normal, mundane: "How was your day?"

I try to answer her but the words will not come, which is just as well because she isn't there. Defeated, I take a bite of my roast beef sandwich, hot tender juicy wonderful, au jus runs down the side of my chin as the horseradish kicks in blazing hot eye-tearing but delicious as flames lap at the tongue. She's not eating her sandwich - it's too hot for her. She asks the bartender for banana peppers instead, and he produces a bright yellow bunch of bananas from behind his back, which he hands to her amid much applause.

Now he produces a bunch of flowers from behind his back as well, and I can feel the jealousy brewing in the pit of my stomach as she accepts them, the applause growing louder. She gets ready to step into the box to be sawed in half. Knowing that this is not going to be an illusion but an actual dissection, I turn away; I cannot watch. I run toward the door hearing blood-curdling shrieks being drowned out by ever growing applause.

The door is chained shut, heavy metal rusted and unbudgeable. "That door ain't been open in thirty years..." mutters an old timer on a nearby bench. I sigh heavy and turn my collar up against the wind, and head down the street. It's dark, lonely, cold, empty, but ahead there is a light - a house. I know I must get there quickly, but my legs disobey my commands to move faster. They are heavy leaden tired, but I persevere.

As I make my way up the walk, I see a silhouette peer through the blinds. I rush towards the door which swings open by itself. "Took you long enough," she says, laughing. "They're out back prepping the bonfire." As we walk through the house to the back door, the buzzing of a chainsaw gets louder and louder, cacophony, din, until finally I awake with a start, hit the snooze button, and go back to sleep.