Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Salt (City Rock) gets in your ears

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The kids will never believe it, but mom and dad were hip once, and spent crazy amounts of time around the Syracuse live music scene, which in the late ’70s and early ’80s was happening. Punk had exploded all over, but a strain of power-pop took hold in the Salt City that owed as much to The Raspberries as it did to The Ramones. There was live music all over the place, and bands of such quality that it seemed only a matter of time before somebody broke through and became national stars. That it never happened only increased the legend of some of the bands we followed, and I’ve still got all the vinyl.

Flash forward a mere 30 years or so, to a time when I’m putting these songs I still remember into the hip new digital format all the kids are into these days. One of my favorite bands from way back when, My Sin, never even got to vinyl – their works were recorded in a living room on a tape deck, and were sold on cassette only, a cheaper option for the time but one that certainly guaranteed a sound quality that could only deteriorate. I was wondering if maybe, just maybe, someone else had been as in love with My Sin’s songs as I was, and decided to put the Google to it; lo and behold, not only is there a page dedicated to the band, but they’ve put up a LOT of their work in MP3 format. There’s no email link through which to thank them, so I’ll just thank them here. (If I’m remembering right, My Sin is the band that Buddy Love left the Tearjerkers for, creating an opening in the “Chip ‘n’ Ernie all night” band that was filled by Tom “Someday I’ll Be The Voice of Spongebob” Kenny.)

So that set me to wondering if all those other bands that we used to follow around from venue to venue, from the Jab to the Firebarn to what was that place up in Mattydale, even to the disco-scented Lost Horizon, had a presence on the web. And nearly all of them do. I already knew that the legendary Flashcubes, which spawned Screen Test, The Neverly Brothers and, in a sense, 1.4.5, had a great page with an extensive history of the band that touches on the history of a lot of other bands from that time – well worth the read. To my amazement, 1.4.5 has a Myspace page with streams of their music – if you ever run across a copy of their LP “The Pink Invasion,” I’m the guy to blame for the design. I couldn’t find the music of Dress Code (guys, “Something’s Really Wrong” hasn’t aged a day), but Elliott Mattice has a biography page on which he proclaims that the band members “formed a band before we knew how to play our instruments.” I was there to hear it; he’s not lying. They were great anyway. That’s how things worked back then. Another band whose enthusiasm far outpaced their musical chops, The Trend managed to put out a long-player called “Batman Live At Budokan,” and surprisingly, their single “Band-Aid” can be found on the Youtube.

Completist that I was, there are still some songs I don’t have and wish I did, like the aforementioned Tearjerkers’ “Syracuse Summer” – I can still hear it in my head. And there were many other bands we saw from time to time and liked and supported, like Machine and Hummer (mentioned also on the My Sin page). I can’t remember if Zane Grey or Puss In Boots or the PopTarts ever committed anything to vinyl, but if they did, I never put my hands on it. I don’t think any of us would ever have expected that any of those fleeting moments would still be available 25 or 30 years later on this unimagined medium.

Gimme a Tour, any Tour

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Okay, so it’s not one of the Grand Tours, but the Tour of California (excuse me, the Amgen Tour of California) is pretty darned exciting. For starters, it’s brought the finest field of pro riders ever assembled in North America, mixing it up nicely with some highly skilled domestic teams. Second, it’s set in some of the most scenic country we’ve got on roads I’d give my eyeteeth to have closed for riding (because the PCH is pretty much a deathtrap for cyclists otherwise). Third, there’s what’s-his-name’s comeback, which is welcomed for all the attention it brings to the sport, I suppose, but it still leaves us cycling fans having to explain to those not in the know why Lance isn’t going to win, or try to win, the Tour of California. (And why are bike team dynamics so incomprehensible to fans of other pro sports? Is the idea that the team’s success is what matters completely lost in American pro sports?).

Fourth – it’s bike racing. It’s just the best – a muscle-powered chess game on wheels. One-day classics are fun, but any multi-stage tour is simply the symphony of the sport, the culmination of all its disciplines into a magnificent panorama of human endeavor. Which means, of course, nights spent nailed to the couch watching these guys suffer through cold, heat, and climbing, and beating myself up a little for not doing the same. (On the other hand, it is actively snowing outside, and I’m not getting even a domestique’s pay for getting out there.)

First ride

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I’m not sure if it was the first ride of an early season or just a fluke, but temps pushing 40, a high, warm sun and a bit of burning desire got me out onto the not-too-messy spring roads yesterday. Having kept some form over the winter, I had just enough in me to decide to go too far, 33k, for such an early ride, but it felt so good. Last season ended earlier than usual with some weather and sickness that took me off the bike in early November, and not being able to ski this year has made me ache for some intense exercise. So yesterday as the sun warmed things up and most of the ice had cleared from the shoulders, I decided to double-bag in all that expensive winter bike clothing that I have and get on out there. Can’t say I hammered it but I had a nice spin out to Schodack, around Clarks Chapel Road and back, with minimal splashing in the melt, not too much crap on the shoulders, and no flats, so I was happy. A winter spent on the rollers has me balancing on a knife’s edge on that bike, a reminder that I should be using it more during the season, ’cause one thing you have to be on rollers is upright. My normal first ride is around St. Patrick’s, and we’ve still got plenty of winter to come around here, but if the sun cooperates maybe this will be my earliest start ever.

Redemption Song

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Can’t say how much I’m enjoying Chris Salewicz’s brilliant Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer. When was the last time you read a biography that you wished wouldn’t end? (I think for me it was the unlikely Dean Martin biography “Dino” by Nick Tosches.) Salewicz does the near-impossible as a journalist who was inside – he manages to balance deep research and a journalist’s perspective with having been present at the creation and part of the story, and he makes it work in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

I may be an anomaly in that I never really thought of The Clash as a punk band – though clearly they were – because the music went so far beyond what the paradoxically restrictive edicts of punk would allow. They took sounds that I would never care to listen to in their original form and made them their own in a set of records that blew my mind at the time and continue to amaze me today. I remember the first time I heard a Clash song – “London Calling” over WAER as I was doing some tedious photo work in the Community Darkrooms. I was absolutely amazed. I’d heard of The Clash by then, but radio in Syracuse sucked at the time, and there wasn’t a big punk scene going on there, so I hadn’t actually heard their music before. That led to the discovery of the great double-album and a collection of earlier that was then called “Black Market Clash.” Not long after came the hugely indulgent three-disc “Sandinista!” Widely derided for its lack of editing, there’s hardly a song on there today that I still don’t like to hear. I spent an entire summer listening to almost nothing other than those three albums, totally immersed in a Clash environment. (The other sounds of that summer? Eddie Cochran, Sleepy LaBeef. That was it.)

I never got too into the personalities of the band, preferring to listen to the incredible music, so intelligent, clever, and beyond anything else that was being made at the time, so I didn’t pay much attention to the stories of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones and the others, didn’t know their backgrounds or inclinations or even that Pearl Harbor, whose album I loved, got married to Paul Simonon. When “Combat Rock” came out, I really didn’t like it, and although I have never been one to attack bands for “selling out,” I couldn’t stand to hear drunken frat boys singing along and twisting the lyric to “Fuck the Casbah!” The whole experience was entirely un-Clash to me, uninventive and obviously the end of the band, which came to pass in a fairly short time. So now all these years later it’s fascinating to read the story of this highly conlicted character Joe Strummer and the other boys in the band, how it all came to be and how it all came apart – and in such a shockingly short time. A brilliant book about a time that is widely mythologized and needs some perspective, which it is given in this treatment. Really loving it.


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One thing that amazes me is that in my lifetime we have gone from a world in which every phone call was a simple, perfect thing — you dialed (yes, dialed) the phone, the call went through. If someone was there, they answered and you talked. You didn’t get cut off, voices didn’t fade in and out, calls weren’t lost because you turned your head. If no one was there. you got a busy signal. Not an answering machine, not voice mail, not call waiting. You just had to try again another time. Now I happen to think that answering machines, voicemail and, above all, caller ID are some of the greatest inventions of the last century, because I really don’t love the telephone and the built-in assumption that the telephone is the supreme instrument that must be answered, that I need to drop whatever else I am doing whenever it rings.

But we have traded that old world for one in which no call is clear, you can never be sure if you’re going to be able to finish a conversation, where people’s attention is diverted by the promise (or hope) of a better call on the other line, And for that privilege we’re willing to pay a monthly fee that the old phone companies could only have dreamed of charging.

I remember when I was growing up, it was a Very Big Thing to have a second phone (what was called an “extension” phone) put in the house. For one thing, you had to have the phone company come and do the wiring for you. (Ours was wired by a guy who worked for the phone company and did both phone wiring and household electric wiring on the side – he had also done our house wiring, and the fact that phone work didn’t really translate into the 110 volt world didn’t occur to me until years later.) Your phone, which was owned by the phone company – you rented it – was hard-wired into the jack. No modular units, no changing phones because you wanted a different color, no making the cord longer so you could move it into another room. As a teenager, I could just about pull the upstairs phone across the hall and into my room, and just about close the door so I could idle away the hours on the phone with my girlfriend. And if someone else needed to use the phone, I was out of luck.

Now, as someone who would really prefer never to use a phone, I am of course inundated with them. We still have a landline (and a big thanks to the true genius who connected caller ID to my television), with four phones scattered throughout the house; two of those are cordless. We now have three cellphones, any one of which could be going off at any time for any number of reasons, including the most annoying thing of all: junk text messages. And because that doesn’t produce enough chaos, I’m now involved in using Skype for calls on the computer with a network of business associates. (And even though it’s free, Skype still works better than the cellphone.)

Is this what Bell had in mind? A world in which you absolutely cannot be out of touch with Mr. Watson?

Constants of skating

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Had a delightful afternoon skating with Rebekah at Guptill’s. Despite my love of all forms of skating, I’d never actually skated in Guptill’s before — as a kid, there were other rinks closer to home, and as an adult, batches of pre-teens and teens prefer that Dad not tag along to a Saturday night skating party, and I’m hip to that. But this was just us and an afternoon outing, and Guptill’s lets you use your in-line skates, which I’d never done indoors before. Much fun. Whether you skate quads, in-lines or sharpened steel, there are some constants at every rink: the one guy (or woman) who’s way too skilled for the room, roller-discoing all over the place, backward; the old guy (that’d be me) who’s determined to use those corners and get the biggest lap of the rink possible; the girl who can sort of skate but only knows how to push off with one leg; the gaggle of hockey-trained boys for whom the rink direction is merely a prevailing tendency, not an actual rule; and the hundreds of little kids falling flat on their faces with every third step. Also: the song “YMCA” will be played at some point in your skating session, and this was true even before the song was released, some sort of weird retro space-time loop that makes it mandatory and eternal.

Now my quads will cry a little tomorrow, and I’m going to beg the daughter to let me go back in the rink on Friday night. I promise not to embarrass her. Really.