Monday, January 26, 2009

Take a picture here. Take a souvenir

Here is a picture of me and my friend Patrick from 1985 or 1986. I'm on the right. Not sure of the year but I believe it was January 2nd. I was visiting Patrick in New Jersey. I was living in Minnesota at the time. It’s clearly winter (snow on the ground). If it was January 2nd, then I do believe it was one of the happiest days of my life. Note the fence behind us. If my memory is correct, that was the fence adjacent to the famed public basketball court (vacant on that cold wet day) on 4th St. in Greenwich Village. Basketball was important to me then.

Still I don’t remember much of that day. I remember much more clearly another trip to a faraway place the following year. 1986. I was on a summer vacation trip to L.A. with Patrick. We had flown in on separate flights, from the east, arriving at LAX 20 minutes apart. I was coming from Minnesota, Patrick from New Jersey. We rented a car from an out-of-the-way off-airport car rental place that I know for a fact stopped existing long ago. We were staying at my aunt's house in the city of Orange. Later in the trip we took a trip down to San Diego and then Tijuana. We went to Sea World and Disneyland. At Sea World we connected with a couple of my friends from Minnesota who were also vacationing in California at the time - Annie and Xan, neither of whom I have spoken to in years.

But I won't speak of theme parks today. I'm remembering one particular night of the trip. On this night we would be getting together with another old friend of mine, also from Minnesota. Chirstopher had moved to Orange Drive in Hollywood the year before. We had worked together at a movie theater. It was my second job ever. It was where I had found most of the friends I had then. Today if you look at my “friends” list on Facebook, you'll only see one of these people (John). Patrick’s on the list of course.

Christopher had agreed to meet us at Carl’s Jr. on Western, just south of our hotel, down the street from a classic porno theater that’s now a shoe store. Christopher said he would bike over from Orange Drive and we would drive down from the motel though we could have easily walked. From there, it would be off to a movie or dinner or both, three old friends (two of whom - Patrick and Chris - didn’t know each other) catching up, just like the adults we barely were.

Chris didn’t show up at the Carl’s Jr., though. We waited an hour and by the time we had finished our charbroiled burgers and onion rings and Cokes and shakes, we pretty much gave up. But the time we spent there was memorable for two reasons:

One, it was the first place either Patrick or I had experienced free refills (a primary reason for my late 80s/early 90s weight gain, I believe).

Two, the only other people in the place seemed to be part of a slightly different race of humans – i.e., they were old, shabbily dressed, down-on-their-luck former movie stars. At least that’s what I imagined in my tourist’s mind. The men all had perfect hair and mottled skin. The woman smelled like ladies room flowers, infused with medicine and bread. I imagined they all had reached their peak as movie stars in the late 50s and early 60s, that they continued to have sporadic work on hour-long TV series through the 70s and early 80s. But now, in 1986, they were living on fixed incomes in a nearby retirement home (years later, I discovered that there were/are several such homes). Yes, I imagined them all being from the same home.

I took a picture of Patrick back then, a photo I can’t seem to find now but I wish I could. There were four of the fixed income ex-movie stars in the background as Patrick held up his vanilla shake to the disposable camera. Though I don’t have the photo, I can still picture them all. I can give them names. And backstories.
Lloyd. Worked in westerns in the fifties and sixties, still owns a gun and a horse though they’re both tended to by his son Bart up in Ojai, was briefly blacklisted because he worked in a non-union film in ’73, was un-blacklisted when it was clear that he meant no harm (I had a son to feed!), lives on social security and a meager SAG pension, eats a Big Star and large fries, drinks a big ass Coke (despite the free refills). Lloyd.

Brenda. Worked her way up from occasional extra work in low- to mid-budget films to some guest work on sixties and seventies TV, has a slight overbite that worked in her favor during the “New Sincerity” phase of early seventies television, once had a lover named Melle, now has a dog named Melle, lives on social security and an even more meager SAG pension, eats a Big Star and small fries, drinks a small Diet Coke. Brenda.

The Doctor. Played a doctor on a (very) short-lived sixties TV series, worked in commercials for the most part, loves his dead wife dearly though he cheated on her on an almost-weekly basis during ’72 and ’73, has a mole above his lip, owns three VCRs, fathered an orphan, is usually called Doc, eats a salad with grilled chicken, drinks a Sprite (can’t remember the size). The Doctor.

Sunny. Was a child star after the war (WW2), eats fig newtons daily, worked for the most part as a film extra and a little bit in TV guest spots, just played somebody’s grandmother on “one of them shows on that new Fox network,” has a sunny disposition, eats a grilled chicken sandwich, a fig newton, and onion rings, drinks a small coke (Sunny is the only one who fully grasps the then-new concept of free refills. Maybe it’s her quick-on-the-fly intelligence that keeps her working).

(Full disclosure: I made up those stories about Lloyd, Brenda, The Doctor, and Sunny years ago, for a short story that never went anywhere. I should acknowledge the historical inaccuracy that’s hanging like an icicle on the warming eaves: the Fox network did not yet exist in 1986.)

Patrick and I left Carl’s Jr. (which remained open for another 22 years, closing just last summer, its shell still a decaying fixture next to the CVS where I used to get my prescriptions until I couldn’t take it anymore.) We drove up Western and turned left on Hollywood and headed west to Orange Drive. We would knock on Christopher’s door. We past a street called Cahuenga, which we serenaded with R.E.M.’s then-new song Cuyahoga (they sounded similar to our young minds.) The title of this post comes from that song.

Christopher did not answer the door. Though he was obviously home. His white bicycle (he did not own a car) was locked on the porch. His lights were on.

I realized at that moment that I had lost a friend. I had eight friends, not nine.

Patrick and I decided to forget about Christopher and go see Stand By Me at a big majestic movie theater down the street. I was angry and a little sad at a friend not showing up for a planned event. I had flown 2000 miles and driven another 47 to see Christopher. And his decision to not show up and not answer the door irked me.

As we stood in front of the theater, waiting on a long slow ticket line, taking in the ugly part of the beautiful city, I saw Christopher speeding by on his white bicycle. Another guy was speeding behind him. They were heading east (towards the Carl’s Jr.) but Patrick and I instinctively knew they were going somewhere else entirely. Because I think Christopher saw us. And I think he looked away, panicked. I would never see him again. I heard later - through his friend Ann - that Christopher was experiencing a big personal problem that day and was sorry he missed us.

We saw Stand By Me and enjoyed it, more than we should have in retrospect. Later on that trip we bought Paul Simon’s Graceland on cassette, drove to Mexico in a rental car that was not insured out of the country. We went to an Angels game in which they scored 8 runs in the ninth inning to beat the Tigers (the last 4 runs coming from Dick Scofield’s grand slam). We went to the aforementioned theme parks. We had a great time.

Eventually, Patrick and I flew to Minnesota. He would stay there a few days longer before heading back to New Jersey. We went to the Minnesota State Fair where saw the Bangles in concert. Great show. It was my frist time at the fair but I would return several memorable times in the late 90s and early 00s.

It's odd that those long rambling vacations seem a thing of my past. These days I tend to cut short my trips. Everything seems more planned, more tightly wound. It could be that the great California vacation of the summer of '86 wasn't as free and delightfully unwieldy as I remember. Still, I wish I could experience some of those feelings again.

Two years later I moved to California. I'm still here. The trip made an impression on me. Yes, there were seven years or so when I left the state. But I keep coming back.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Just past the 10 minute mark of this video of the most recent episode of Psych, there's an inconsequential moment that made me laugh so hard I nearly fell off the couch, which is not that unlikely because the couch is leather and slippery. You might have to sit through a short commercial. But you don't need to watch all 10 minutes, although they're very entertaining. No context is necessary. Just watch from 10:00 to 10:15. Comedy gold. Perfect timing. Masterful editing.

And yeah that's the kind of thing I laugh at.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Next Moment

First, a correction:

In last week's Top 11 Chorus-less Songs, I included a song that doesn't quite meet the definition. Raining In Darling by Bonnie "Prince Billy does indeed have a chorus. Sure, it's an abbreviated one, a chorus that ends abruptly. But it's there. Please replace it on the list in your head with Two-Headed Boy by Neutral Milk Hotel which should have been there along.

Next, a clarification: In my recent post about songs about women in the seventies, I should point out that I don't actually agree with any of the sentiments in any of the songs I discuss. In fact, I don't completely agree with any song that's ever been recorded except maybe for For Reverend Green by Animal Collective but that may be because I can't understand half the lyrics and have never bothered to look them up.

Long-time readers of BpB might have noticed my relative silence concerning the recent stellar play of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Am I afraid to jinx things? No. Jinxes aren't real. Am I skeptical because of their weak schedule and the fact that their early season poor play may have partially been the result of bad luck? No. Have I just been a lazy blogger? Yeah. But how about those Wolves? Kevin Love may actually turn out to be better than O.J. Mayo. (Okay, that won't happen.) But how about Randy Foye? And Smith and Carney and everyone else? That Kevin McHale - he can't draft or trade but he sure can coach.

Speaking of Animal Collective, the new album is amazing.

I'm wearing a red dress shirt with a purple tie. Never done that before.

I told everyone I knew I wanted a calendar for Christmas. The space on my office wall where a calendar should appear is an empty space. It's only January. It's not too late. I guess I need to buy one myself.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Remaking America

Two entries in one day? Wow, that's only happened like 6 times ever. Still, I didn't want the Obama inauguration to pass without a mention.

Due to time zone differences and work-related tasks, I had just barely enough time to head over to the temporary food "tent" at USC to watch the inauguration, roughly from Aretha Franklin's performance (kind of hoping she'd do Freeway of Love) to the Obamas and Bidens walking away from the stage. I chose this venue because of the presence of several big TVs and because I thought I might experience something unique by watching the event with college students and staff, as opposed to watching it alone at my desk.

I was touched by the sincere hopeful applause from the students and the sometimes teary-eyed joy in the eyes of the staff, mostly older adults with long enough memories that made today's event an impossibly huge one. I was impressed with Obama's speech. If the man can deliver on his plans, intentions, and hopes as well as he delivered his words today, then all will be better in America.

I was moved by the inclusion of his middle name "Hussein" during the actual oath. I'm sure this was his decision, one that went against the expectations on NPR this morning that he would be sworn in as Barack H. Obama. Who cares if anyone feels discomfort at his "scary" sounding middle name? It's his name and it's part of who he is. I have relatives with the same middle name and I wouldn't want them to have to initialize, just to make others feel more comfortable.

I was impressed with the crowds - both those on the mall in Washington, at least one of whom was a Facebook friend (Hi Keesha) and those in the food tent, most of whom were attentive, reflective college students with faces that projected sheer hope and joy. Yes my place of employment has a (mostly false) reputation for being full of rich conservative kids of privilege. But I've truly never noticed that.

I agree with our new president that America needs to be remade, can be remade, and will be remade. These last eight years have pretty much sucked and the eight years before that weren't as great as people remember. We need to remake ourselves in the world, yes. But we need to remake ourselves right here, to create a new energy-based economy that creates jobs and saves a planet in need of saving, and to build a society where public service provides inspiration and equality for all (including people with middle names like our president's) is an expectation. Regarding public service, maybe previous presidents painted homeless shelters in D.C. the day before their inaugurations but I think it meant more yesterday than ever before.

Compared to earlier times, it's a scary time to live in America. It's scary to live in a time of debt and foreclosure (I can attest to the debt part.) It's scary to live in a world where hate is alive and nuclear weapons are not as unattainable as they used to be. But it's so much less scary to have Barack Obama as president than the last guy so there's some hope.

Evil Devil Witchy Women and Their Evil Ways: An Odd Musical Trend of the Early Seventies

Back in the 1970s, there was a preponderance of songs depicting woman as evil, as deliverers of sin and temptation. I listened to the radio a lot back then and even as a little boy I noticed this trend. Some examples:

Witchy Woman - The Eagles
Reached #9 on the U.S. charts in 1972
Sample lyric: "She's been sleeping in the devil's bed."

I have no complaints about the Eagles. I think they were unfairly treated in The Big Lebowski. Still, this terrible song may have started an unfortunate trend.

Evil Woman
- Electric Light Orchestra

Reached #10 in 1975
"You destroyed all the virtues that the lord gave you."

Unlike most of E.L.O.'s later songs, packed with lyrical economy and benign subject matter, this song was filled with long clumsy lines about why this particular woman was so evil. Catchy though.

Devil Woman - Cliff Richard
Reached #6 in 1976
"She's just a devil woman with evil on her mind / Beware the devil woman, she's gonna get you from behind."

You never hear this song anymore but god I heard it everywhere for a few months back in the bicentennial year. The fact that the song is so lyrically awful quells some of the evil-she-devilness.

She's Always A Woman - Billy Joel
Reached #17 in 1977
"She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes / She can ruin your faith with her casual lies / And she only reveals what she wants you to see / She hides like a child but she's always a woman to me."

This song, arguably one of the greatest songs ever put to music, has a seemingly innocuous title. But of all the songs on this list, it has the most spiteful, hateful lyrics. Now, Mr. William Joel had his problems with the ladies (Big Shot, You May Be Right, and the don't-go-changing whininess that is Just the Way You Are) but this song was the most extreme example of his discomfort with the "casual" killing ways of those childish people called women.

In the same era, both Black Sabbath (1970) and the Doobie Brothers (1973) released completely different songs called Evil Woman. Ringo Starr released a completely different Devil Woman in 1974 ("You're like the devil with horns in your head / The only way I'll get you is to get you in bed"). In the same year, Kevin Coyne recorded Witch whose lyrics just might have epitomized the trend. Also, in 1974 (most evil year for women ever?), Ricky Nelson released something called Evil Woman Child in which the soon-to-die-in-fiery-plane-crash former child star simply couldn't resist the lure of the lady: "Wicked lady, soft and shady girl, I'm all on fire / Sweet temptation got my soul and filled me with desire."

There are songs of this era that come close to making the list but aren't quite spiteful enough (Rich Girl by Hall and Oates; much of the Rolling Stones' output). Also, there are some older songs that fit the same pattern. From the '60's and earlier, there's Evil Ways by Santana, Devil with the Blue Dress by Mitch Ryder, Devil Got My Woman by Skip James, and a surprisingly high number of late 60s San Francisco-centered psychedelia.

But there haven't been many examples of this type of song recently. Now, there's always been plenty of misogyny in music - the occasional hip-hop song, that one song by The Prodigy, the bridge in Sublime's Summer Time, several passive-aggressive emo songs, and most Britpop hits circa 1994-1996. But that persistent image of woman-as-evil, woman-as-the-devil-who-has-brought-man-into-sin pretty much disappeared in the late seventies.

I'm not sure why it disappeared. I'm more curious about why it happened in the first place. Why, in the years roughly spanning from 1970 to 1976, were women seen as satanic evildoers that meant nothing but harm?

One theory is that it was all a reaction to the women's movement. Some male songwriters of this era were confused by the drive for equal rights for all. At the same time, the men saw a world (in the seventies) torn by dischord, rioting, Manson/Altamont/Watergate, and the rest. The ideals of the sixties had turned into something far darker. Someone had to take the blame and those newly-pining-for-equality females were a convenient target.

Another theory is that the "woman" in these songs is simply a substitute for drugs. Ostensibly, known freebaser Ricky Nelson couldn't sing of the "sweet temptation" of cocaine, so he substituted the phrase "evil woman child." But I think this explanation is more an exception than the rule.

Interestingly, following the era I speak about above, there was a meteoric rise in sappy sentimental songs praising woman as god-sent angels capable of only good. So, another question would be: what exactly changed in the middle of 1978, causing male American and British songwriters to suddenly place females on impossible-to-reach pedestals? Some examples:

You're In My Heart - Rod Stewart
Reached #4 in 1977
"My love for you is immeasurable, my respect for you immense / You’re ageless, timeless, lace and fineness, you're beauty and elegance."

This song is a mixed bag. Some of the lines are clearly written about his love for soccer/football. Others are written to reflect his admiration for hotel maids in particular. But enough lines are written about his general worshipful love for women that I'm including it here.

Wonderful Tonight
- Eric Clapton
Reached #16 in 1978
"I feel wonderful because I see the love light in your eyes."

Clearly the worst song ever written (really - this is the same guy who did Layla?), I have nothing to add here; rely on your own memories for the pedestal on which Eric put Woman.

- John Lennon
Reached #1 in 1981

I will not speak ill of the dead. I will not speak ill of the tragically murdered. I will not speak flippantly of how truly awful this song is. Moving on...

Lady In Red
- Chris DeBurgh
Reached #3 in 1986
"I've never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight."

Yes it comes far later than the others but it bears special mention for its over-the-topness.

Finally, the exception to the rule from the later years is Maneater by Hall and Oates, which reached #1 in the U.S. in 1983: "She's deadly man, she could really rip your world apart / Mind over matter / Ooh the beauty is there but a beast is in her heart." But H&O are trendsetters, not trend followers. They exist in a separate plane of being. Besides, my guess is that Hall wrote the song back in 1975 but Oates held the song back from seeing the light of day. Oates believed that the duo should project a more positive, sunny, flowery vibe to the public (see <----). By '83, the bills for the drugs and the hair transplants got too high so they finally released Maneater. And yes that was all an excuse for me to post the Oates picture.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Top 11 Chorus-less Songs of All-Time

Listening to the Fleet Foxes song White Winter Hymnal the other night in my car on the 10 freeway, I had a realization. Well first I had the continued realization that it's an awesome song. Then, I realized that this song has no chorus. Now this may not mean much to you but if you're as obsessed about music and song structure as I am, you'll notice that almost all songs have choruses.

The verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure is such a staple of all forms of popular music that some artists will NEVER budge from it. Listen to every Steely Dan song (as I did one weekend in 1996) and you will notice that they all have choruses. Yes, even Through With Buzz! More recent favorites of mine from Andrew Bird to M.I.A. to The Hold Steady to Vampire Weekend to Jenny Lewis stick with the structure. Yes, there are variations: sometimes they'll start with the chorus, sometimes they'll throw away the bridge, sometimes the chorus will consist of one line or one word or no words (the rare instrumental chorus). But for the vast majority of songs, the chorus stays.

But there are a few exceptions. And some of these are among my favorite songs. And for the past few days I've been obsessed with getting to 10 good ones. I think I'm there. I think I'm at 11 actually. Let's start the list.

11. Gold Soundz - Pavement (1994)
Yes, this is a controversial one. The second best song from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, the fourth best album of the 1990s is one I will never stop listening to. But...doesn't that line "We need secrets-crets-crets-crets-crets-crets back right now" count as a chorus? No it's fully part of the melodic structure of everything in the verse that precedes (and includes) it. There's no natural break or thrust from verse to chorus. Besides, I'll stop at nothing to include in this list a song that has the line "they're coming to the chorus now" right before you expect the chorus. But it doesn't come.

10. Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School - Warren Zevon (1980)
When I was a boy in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, I played the album of the same name on my bedroom record player. I was always obsessed with the title track, with Warren repeating the same verse three times, punctuated by non-chorus overly aggressive guitar solos and preceded by an odd classical music intro. Then it fades out. It's interesting though: no pubescent immigrant boy should be that obsessed with a drug addict's sad lament of drug addiction. Sure, I should have been into the goofy Zevon songs with the gorillas and the werewolves but this song? Hmm. Interestingly, I was listening to this at about the same time, in the same bedroom.

9. Chopsticks - Liz Phair (1994)
Of all my favorite artists, Liz has probably written the most chorus-less songs. Most of them were the one verse sexual manifestoes from her first album. This one is the first song on Whip-Smart, the follow-up album (and my favorite album of all time). You could make the case that Chopsticks transitions so well into the song that follows it, Supernova, that Supernova acts as the chorus for Chopsticks. But no. I like to listen to this album on shuffle and I hear the two as separate songs; this songs stands well enough on its own. It's evil and mysterious. It mentions summer camp and sex, two things that will go together until the end of time. (Note: I never attended summer camp.) So many amazing lines in 2 minutes and 6 seconds but my two favorites are the classic "we can fuck and watch TV" line and the one where she says "'Cause secretly I'm timid." The latter is when I fell in love with her just a little. MP3 link here.

8. Alexandra Leaving - Leonard Cohen (2001)
Being a poet as well as a singer, Leonard knows structure. And he's a stickler to it, preferring rhymes to the lack of them, preferring air-tight themes to rambling free verse. But twice in his career - this song and the much earlier Who By Fire- he throws structure into the wind and performs just one song-length verse. Interestingly, both of these songs were adaptations/translations of other people's poems. This is one of my favorite songs by Cohen (someone I admire so much I wrote an ill-received screenplay that was loosely based on his early-90s life as a reclusive monk). It may be his most beautiful melody. And when he sings "Do not say the moment was imagined / Do not stoop to strategies like this" I get shivers.

(Brief aside: Since we used to listen to this album when we played Scrabble back on Longfellow Ave., this is as good a place as any to say Happy Birthday Laurel)

7. Lake Street Is For Lovers - Lifter Puller (2000) Before Craig Finn created the world's greatest rock and roll band, The Hold Steady, he fronted the Twin Cities' seventh best ever rock and roll band, Lifter Puller. And in the middle of the impeccably/deceptively structured chorus-filled anthems that dotted their albums (only one of which I've actually listened to), there's this song. I know Lake Street well. It goes from the beautiful lakes of Minneapolis to the majestic river that borders St. Paul. In the middle (basically between Garfield and Hiawatha), there is the vast swath of Lake Street that this song is really about: the dealers (of drugs and pagers), the sticky-slow crowded bus stops, and the beautiful messy city. It's another short song (1:07) but it's got enough greatness to make the list. Spend 99 cents on it here.

6. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes (2008)
It's difficult to resist playing this song over and over again and ignoring the rest of this fine album. But that's whats been happening to me lately. I can't get past it. I spent six listens trying to figure out the exact lyrics, of which there are very few. And the first time I deciphered "strawberries in the summertime" in a song about the joy of winter, I got real happy. One of my favorite songs of this decade.

5. Another Morning - American Music Club
American Music Club disappeared for 10 years before resurfacing in 2004 with the Love Songs for Patriots album from which song originates. In the intervening years there were a whole bunch of great Mark Eitzel (AMC lead singer/songwriter) solo albums that helped pass the time. Anyway this isn't a history lesson. I'm here to write about the lack of choruses. This song doesn't have one. It's a sad song (not rare for Eitzel), one of many where he sings about a real/mythical creature named Kathleen. In real life, Mark Eitzel loved Kathleen and Kathleen may have killed herself. In this song, I think Eitzel skips the chorus because he has so much to get out and he can't stop because it's too important not to go on. Still, he acknowledges the (possible) joy: "There must have been a short five minutes in your youth when you laughed like water breaking over the broken land." That line is like sugary lemonade for a sentimentalist like me. Everyone has laughed at least once, right? Free download here.

(When I saw AMC at the Echo in Echo Park last year, Eitzel dedicated Another Morning to this woman:

which pretty much blew my mind. And there she was standing next to me. (Related note: New season of Big Love on Sunday!)

One more note: I once knew a Kathleen who loved the Kathleen songs. I may still know her. She may still love them. Don't know)

4. Raining in Darling - Bonnie "Prince" Billy (1999)
I debated including this song on the list because for a while I thought that it was criminal that this song builds and BUILDS to a chorus and just ends. It just dies. It's the last song on the desperately sad album (I See a Darkness), the title track of which Johnny Cash so memorably covered. But I think that the energy Johnny put into that song may have contributed to him dying a month or so before he otherwise would have died. Anyway, as I listen to this song at this very moment, I realize it belongs on this list and it belongs high on this list. It's his most Springsteen-esque song (and the two have more in common than you think). You want the chorus. You imagine the chorus. You thirst for the chorus but it's not there and it never will be and when he says "I know you do" the song just ends. MP3 link here. That's really the whole song.

3. You Were Right - Badly Drawn Boy (2002)
Okay I like Damon Gough aka Badly Drawn Boy well enough but how much better is this song than everything else he's put out? Hugely better. I've written about this song before but two things jump out: One, he gives you that one extra verse at the end, possibly to make up for the lack of a chorus. Two, it's a song about choosing music over love and though I've never actually made that mistake, I sometimes I wish I would have.

2. Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
I've also written about this song pretty extensively before. I'm shocked that it isn't number one. Because for a while this was my favorite song ever - chorused or otherwise - up until about 1994. And it's always been in my top 10. But I made the decision and must stick with it.

I love escape songs and this is the greatest escape song ever. I love screen door songs and this is the greatest screen door song ever. And yeah I may be cheating because the explosion of guitars and multiple keyboards and drums and the saxophone at the end could be considered a chorus to some. Or maybe when he repeats "Thunder Road" you could call that a chorus. But considering the clear v/c/v/c/b/v structure Springsteen employs in every other song he's written, I'll say this is chorusless. Besides, if this song had a chorus, I would imagine something else entirely being the chorus. A new set of words. Words we've never heard. A higher level of longing (if that could be possible). A torn screen door on the hood of a speeding car, heading south and west from the town full of losers, toward that beach Patrick and I went to in '82.

Oh and this live performance from 1975 might be the greatest thing ever, despite the darkness:

1. Maggie May - Rod Stewart (1971)

One-hit wonder Rod Stewart was a hack British rocker from the 1960s through the 1980s. He is currently a tired old singer of tired old "standards." He's responsible for some of the very worst songs of my childhood and adolescence. Revisionists have tried to paint some of his older songs as "classics" worthy of acclaim. They are wrong. But then there's Maggie May. What a fucking amazing song. And if you listen closely you will discover that there is no chorus. Nothing even close. I remember discovering this lack of a chorus about 10 years ago and nearly jumping out of my car seat with clever joy. And no song better uses the lack of chorus to its own benefit than this one: Chord changes that match the heightened anxiety in Stewart's (perfect for this one song) voice; mandolin and piano fills that fit better than chocolate and more chocolate. And those words. Wake up - the kid's got something to say, he thinks. His heart was stolen by a head-kicker whose age is shown by the morning sun. Yeah. If it wasn't for the horrible jokes/coax rhyme, this might be my favorite song ever. Instead, it's merely my favorite chorus-less song ever. Here's a link for you - no video and a mismatched photo from long after the song was released but that's for the best because who wants to look at Rod Stewart in motion?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bachelor Loaf

Last night I went to the Whole Foods on 3rd Street in Los Angeles, across from the Farmer's Market. My intention was to buy a new batch of new food for the new year. I wanted a fresh start. Not because of any resolution but because a certain sameness had infiltrated the meager single-man selection of foods in my refrigerator and pantry.

My first stop was the bread aisle. I recently had the idea that I needed more good bread and good cheese in my life. Good bread and good cheese have never let me down before. Good bread and good cheese provide a satisfying, economical, and healthy (in moderation) steady diet. I knew that I had an unopened, fresh triangle of brie at home. I was eager to find it a partner.

For the past seven years or so, my bread of choice at Whole Foods was the French Meadow "Men's Bread," a ridiculously named sesame-seeded, nut-rich loaf that I would normally find in the refrigerated or frozen bread sections. Men's Bread and its sister brand Women's Bread were first sold at the actual French Meadow Bakery in Minneapolis, a place where I've many relatively disappointing breakfasts and lunches. They decided to market the bread nationally and I remained loyal to my gender specific version. (Note: I've tasted Women's Bread. It's not nearly as good.) But, like I said, I wanted change and Men's Bread did not represent change. In fact, it was a staple of my former marriage. I think I kept buying it after the divorce to prove that those years weren't wasted. They weren't wasted, of course, but we do funny things in difficult times.

Then I saw something I had never seen before in the fresh bread aisle: A new line of breads packaged in loaves that were half the size of traditional loaves. As someone who throws away stale slices of unfinished bread far too often, the smaller loaf was a godsend. They had several versions of it, one of which sounded perfect. I grabbed the Organic Raisin and Walnut Bread, made by Oliver's Artisan's Breads, satisfied that the new year might just be a good one after all.

When I got home and unloaded my groceries, I saw it a little yellow circle just to the right of the word "Organic." In the circle were the following words: "The Bachelor Loaf."

Okay, I'm past 40. And I live alone. I'm a bachelor. A divorced bachelor. Why the fuck would Oliver's Artisan Breads want to remind me of this fact? This may be the single most misguided marketing move in high-end grocery history. "The Bachelor Loaf?" Why not the "I Live Alone and Thus Can Only Eat Half As Much Bread As a Happy Couple Loaf"? Or the "Eats His Bread Alone While Watching Kath and Kim Loaf?"

And get this! Next to the words "The Bachelor Loaf" was a little trademark (TM) symbol! Great, Oliver, you get to keep this marketing blunder all to yourself. Now, why don't you and your little artisans (who are likely dwarves) figure out a way for me to keep a girlfriend?

If I had seen those words before paying for the bread, I would have put it back on the shelf. Or maybe stomped on it, quietly, in the always unoccupied Bob's Red Mill aisle. But no I took that bachelor loaf home. And today when I got home from work I toasted two slices and put a healthy slab of brie on each. I ate that bachelor bread with a sense of purpose and dash of forced bitterness. You know what? Best bread I've ever had.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Near Death Experience

I woke up late this morning. That's not unusual these days. The temptation to sleep late on cold mornings with a 21-pound cat on one's leg is a strong one. Other than that, I achieved what I wanted to achieve in the morning before leaving for work: Shower, put on clothes, feed cats.

I made it to my car by 8:29. I'm supposed to be at work at 8:30. It takes at least 25 minutes to get to work. I would be late. I decided to skip my morning coffee at Peet's and just drive straight to work. I took the "back way" toward Melrose and the entrance ramp of the 101 south. As I drove south on Ardmore, I noticed a miracle. The light at Ardmore and Melrose was green. The ratio of Melrose time to Ardmore time on that traffic signal is something like 5 to 1. There's usually a line of cars waiting to turn left in the morning. The situation today was truly something I had never seen before: I would not have to stop at the light. No need to even slow down. I was cruising down Ardmore with its 25mph speed limit at about 50.

My intention was to turn left on Melrose, drive a couple of blocks and enter the freeway. But when I was about four cars' lengths from the intersection, with its still-green miracle light, I noticed that I was nearly out of gas. So rather than slow down for the left turn that I was about to make, I instead kept up my high speed, intending to cruise across Melrose before the miracle light stopped being green.

Before I say what happened next, at least one of my readers will likely be thinking "Ali, aren't there three gas stations on Melrose between Ardmore and the freeway? If you needed gas, why would you not turn left?" Good point. But I was so groggy from lack of coffee and desire for more sleep that the presence of those gas stations did not enter my thinking; no, my only thought was that it's better to run out of gas on surface streets than on the freeway. I was running late and I had no time for gas, even if it is an essential part of automobile's functioning. Gas would wait until after work.

Back to my intention to speedily cross Melrose. When I was two car lengths from the intersection, I saw something in the corner of my eye, through my driver's side window. It was a big white car. Driving west (from my left) on Melrose. With no intention of stopping at the red light. Driving fast, really fast - at least 60. If I continued my path, the car would hit me, on the driver's side, with a death-causing or at least serious-injury-causing impact. But I saw the car and I hit the brakes hard, coming to a complete stop just beyond the crosswalk, inches from the speeding car. Addled, I paused to look at the light and saw that it was indeed green for me still. And the presence of many stopped cars on Melrose, in the eastbound direction, confirmed that it had been green for a while. I caught my breath and drove on, getting to work with no further adventure.

But what turns this incident into something worthy of public telling are the other circumstances. As in most mornings this time of year, my car's windows were fogged over when I first entered it. Today, as usual, my method of opening and closing all the power windows to wipe away the condensation only works halfway: the window fog is replaced with a misty cloudy filter. Also, the sun was particularly bright on this clear L.A. morning and was assaulting my eyes from the east. And I had forgotten to put on my sunglasses. So, just seeing the speeding car through my filtered, sun-assaulted window was a miracle. (The big white car that nearly murdered me was driving away from the sun, from the east, and thus had no such excuse.)

Finally, back to my gasoline logic. I have no way to confirm this without a carefully constructed scientific experiment but: If I wasn't so groggy and uncaffeinated, I might have logically decided to turn left. With no other traffic on my street in either direction, I would not have slowed down, but I would have had my car positioned more to the left. The tiny little mist-shrouded window of clarity through which I saw the big white car would have framed something else, perhaps a westbound seagull or a street fruit vendor starting out his day with the newest mangoes. If I had fallen asleep earlier, if I hadn't watched another episode of Psych on Hulu, if I hadn't woke up in the middle of the night to hydrate with sparkling raspberry water and clean up Seymour's floor vomit, then I would have been well rested. I would have turned left. Near death would have become a funeral and all of my Facebook friends would have had to come, because that's what you're supposed to do.

(Yes, I know that if I had slept well, I would have been somewhere entirely different at 8:31 but just let me have this one.)

Monday, January 05, 2009

We Used To Go Driving Down Paved Roads

I still have my 2008 calendar up on my office wall. December's photo is of a pre-war Los Angeles street (Broadway between 3rd and Olympic to be exact). I've been on that stretch maybe a half-dozen times in my dozen years here. I can't remember the last time... it was when Alex and I drove around downtown looking for toys for her art project. Today the project sits on my bookcase and I like it there. I won't take the calendar down because 2008 doesn't seem quite finished. There is unfinished business. There are decisions. There are songs I haven't listened to yet. I've been inattentive. I've skipped weeks and months.

I want to leave work early but I won't. When I leave it will be cold enough to wear my new black coat. It took two days and three stores to find it but I'm happy with it. When I get home - after buying a bag of dry cat food, yet again (why don't I just get the big bag?) - it will be dark and the laundry piles will still be inexplicable. I will attempt to make sense of them. I will try to finish something.