Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Curriculum Coincidence

I spent a few hours today taking an online course that is mandated by the program I coach for, a training module about sexual abuse, bullying, harassment, hazing, and inappropriate physical and emotional conduct. The curriculum featured videos with social workers and a forensic investigator who specializes in abuse cases. Needless to say, there were several trigger warnings throughout the course due to the nature of the subjects. After taking the tests after the various units and receiving my certification, I decided to do some web surfing.

There was a timely post at LGM about Joe Paterno, and the various apologists (appallogists?) who downplay his agency in the Penn State sexual abuse scandal... in this case, professional contrarian Malcolm Gladwell. There seems to be a cottage industry which seeks to rehabilitate Joe Paterno, typically by claiming he knew nothing of the serial sexual abuse perpetrated by his subordinate, Jerry Sandusky. Even when Paterno was informed that Sandusky was sodomizing children in Penn State facilities, these apologists like to portray him as a naïf who was too consumed by football to understand what 'raping children in the shower' meant.

The Penn State scandal, amplified by the subsequent serial sexual abuse perpetrated by Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, spawned an entire industry to combat the sexual and other abuse of young athletes. Before the Sandusky scandal, I never had to undergo a criminal background check and drug testing in order to coach. There weren't courses about mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to the authorities. There just weren't protocols put in place to guide respondents, we just had to rely on our moral judgment, which is where Paterno failed. Thankfully, I have never had to personally deal with a horrific situation like this, but I look at the Penn State and MSU horrors and I wonder why these institutions weren't razed to the ground.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

This Salsa is too Spicy for Me

Ugh, it seems like Dancing with the Stars is the go-to show for washed up right-wingers to embarrass themselves on National TV, though this sentiment hits the nail on the head... better to be seen as a clown than a monster. I find Sean Spicer's appearance on the show particularly disgusting, as this spokesman for an administration which is virulently anti-Latin plays the congas and dances in a Latin-inspired fashion. It's a gross example of cultural appropriation- a guy who made excuses for a president who abandoned Puerto Rico coopting a Puerto Rican artform. It's too bad that the late, great Tito Puente isn't around to set his soul afire with a slanderous mambo:

I'm headed out to bar trivia, but I figure I should post an actual Tito Puente song:


Now, THAT is a mambo to set your soul afire, in a good way. Spicy Spicer just gives me heartburn.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Since You're Gone...

Last night's Total Bummer News was the passing of Ric Ocasek, who loomed large over the soundscape of my youth. Reading the obituaries written for him, I am struck by how he was much older than I expected (he wasn't a kid when he formed the Cars) and that he had been in a couple of folksy bands in the 60s.

My introduction to the Cars (most people's introduction) was the second single from their debut album, My Best Friend's Girl. a pretty straightforward rocker, though one punctuated with synth-pop flourishes and a rockabilly riff. It's the lyrics which make this otherwise cliche story about lost love into something off-kilter, with slightly subversive references to 'suede-blue eyes' and 'nuclear boots'. Here's a wonderful live version of this immensely appealing singalong:

The band's first, eponymous album has often been described as a 'debut greatest hits compilation', as the saying goes, it's 'all killer, no filler', and it encompasses a range of styles, with I'm in Touch with Your World being particularly surreal. This video comically conveys keyboardist Greg Hawkes' talent with all sorts of musical geegaws:

The album ended on the glorious Moving in Stereo/All Mixed Up combo, which combined the vocals of second frontman Benjamin Orr (who we lost to cancer in 2000) with heavy guitar riffs, swooping synthpop flourishes, and melodic backing vocals. It's the sort of musical epic which must have driven headphone sales back in the late 70s:

To me, the Cars' second album, 1979's Candy-O had a slightly harder sound. The debut single, Let's Go, another Orr-fronted song, had a more upfront synthesizer sound than most of the songs from the prior album:

Perhaps the quirkiest number of the album is the The Dangerous Type, a closer which opens with the double query: "Can I touch you? Are you out of touch?"

The Cars' third album, 1980's Panorama didn't sell as many units as the previous two albums, but it might be my favorite. The sing;e Touch and Go is a lush soundscape with two different time signatures, punctuated by a blistering guitar solo by Elliot Easton:

I also think the album features Ric Ocasek at his funniest:

The Cars released their fourth album in four years, Shake it Up, in 1981. It was a return to the winning formula of the band's two albums, less experimental than Panorama. Here's the late, great Valerie Harper introducing a television segment with the band playing the album's title track:

I think my favorite track on the album is Since You're Gone (from which I derived the post title), in which a breakup song, one of the most tried-and-true tropes of popular music, gets that off-kilter Ric Ocasek treatment:

If I recall correctly, Ric's line 'I took the Big Vacation' was the first veiled drug reference that I understood in a song.

The band took a hiatus from recording, with their fifth album, Heartbeat City, coming out in 1984. It spawned the top ten hit You Might Think:

The plaintive Drive hit number three on the US charts, and was promoted with a video starring the future Mrs Ocasek, Paulina Porizkova. It's definitely the band at its most earnest:

1985 saw the release of a greatest hits album (one that isn't the band's debut. that is) and the previously unreleased Tonight She Comes (no embed code), which was originally intended for a Ric Ocasek solo project.

The band's final album before they broke up was 1987's Door to Door:

Ric Ocasek also released a bunch of solo albums, starting with 1982's Beatitude, which spawned the single Something to Grab For:

That's quite a stellar career as a performer, but I believe that Ric Ocasek will be remembered as much for his production credits as for his own career as a performer. He produced albums for a bewildering diversity of bands, including Bad Brains, Romeo Void, Suicide, Nada Surf, Weezer, No Doubt, Bad Religion, Black 47, and a whole lot of other artists.

He was also a quintessential New Yorker in his later days, and there are plenty of funny stories about people walking into obstructions because they couldn't stop staring at him and his supermodel wife. The general gist of the stories is that he was a nice guy, the sort of guy who wouldn't look askance at starstruck fans. The outpouring of love from musicians who worked with him is also a testimony to his decency. For instance, Larry Kirwan wrote a lovely tribute to the man.

The best way to memorialize the man is to listen to his music, and composing this post was sad, but also a pleasure... it's tough to write about the death of a favorite musician, but the memories brought back by compiling a partial discography are sweet. It's time to finish listening to his catalog now.

ADDENDUM: Of course, I WOULD have to find this after publishing this post. I also figured I'd link the Cars' 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Are You Going to Finish That?

For today, a flawless sunny day, how about a slightly macabre touch? Being close to the mighty Hudson, we have osprey living on or adjacent to most of our sites. Every once in a while, they leave remnants of their meals for us to stumble upon, as if they took pity on us land-bound schmoes and wanted to throw us a bone... literally:

It's not very often that one finds a fish carcass away from the shoreline... this is what first tipped me off to our local osprey population a few years back. I imagine the local raccoons are nice to receive an occasional gift from above now and then.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Half-Century of Derring-Doo (sic)

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the first episode of the classic cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (sic). In my internet recommendations, I found a great essay about the cartoon by a Columbia University PhD. I am in agreement with the themes of this essay... I have been a fan of the show since first watching it.

The original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (sic) championed skepticism and inquiry... the protagonists, those groovy 'meddling kids' used their senses and their intellects to pierce through the veil of superstition and fear that the villains employed to deceive the public in order to pursue their larcenous aims. The true monsters were invariably human (the most dangerous monsters of all), and careful observation, the amassing of clues, was the trick to beating them. The one show I can think of which comes closest to this theme is Mythbusters, and Jamie and Adam would have comported themselves well in that flowered van.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! was also unabashedly pro-teenager- it was a good antidote to the 'wild in the streets' junior delinquent movies that the film studios churned out. These kids were smart (even if Shaggy came across as a stoner) and good judgment and ethics superior to those of the adults around them. The show conveyed a message that the kids were right to have a healthy skepticism of authority... if you have a sense that the adults around you aren't on the up-and-up, trust your assessment rather than their appeals to authority. Old Man Higgins could easily stand in for Coach Higgins, Reverend Higgins, or even Major Higgins, and a questioning attitude could save a kid a lot of pain.

The franchise took a turn for the worse when a later iteration when the monsters were real. It blew the original theme of the series out of the water, which is a shame.

Friday, September 13, 2019

One Ticket to Paradise

I pretty much gave up on 'Classic Radio' when I was eleven years old, when I found the storied WLIR on the left side of the dial, and then discovered college radio, in all of its glorious anarchy. That didn't mean that I didn't get an earful of 'Classic Rock'. One of the rock-and-roll 'journeymen' who played the sort of reliable background music for a kegger was Eddie Money, nee Mahoney, who succumbed to esophageal cancer and heart disease at the age of 70. I didn't know that he was a Brooklyn buy, but as Tengrain relates, he kicked off his rock career in the SF Bay Area.

My introduction to Eddie Money's music was Two Tickets to Paradise, a working class kid's plea to a girl that he can't afford to take on an exotic vacation:

“Well, I was going with a girl at the time. She was in college and I was in college and her mother wanted her to meet somebody that was actually making a living,” Money told Rolling Stone of the song’s inspiration in 2018. “She had been dating the mayor’s son and I didn’t have any money to take her to Bermuda or Hawaii or anything else like that. So I wanted to take her on a Greyhound bus ride to the California Redwoods. It would only cost maybe 62 dollars for the both of us. But she dumped me and it never happened, so who knows?”

Like a lot of rock stars, he had his problems with substance abuse, but he survived and recovered, and was upfront about this unfortunate phase of his life. In the mid-80s, his career had stalled, but he pulled himself out of his slump with a simple song about romantic, by which I mean erotic, yearning... in a genius move, his lyrics incorporated a reference to 60s girl group icon Ronnie Spector, who had been hounded out of the music industry by her abusive, powerful husband... and he invited her to accompany him on the song. The story of the collaboration is quite remarkable:

“I could hear clinking and clanking in the background,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Ronnie, what are you doing?’ She said, ‘I’m doing the dishes, and I gotta change the kids’ bedding. … I’m not really in the business anymore, Eddie. Phil Spector and all that, it was a nightmare.”

The resultant song, Take Me Home Tonight served its purpose, hitting number four on the Billboard top 100, thereby reviving Money's career and bringing Ronnie Spector back from exile and putting her back where she always belonged, at the top of the charts:

A simple song about wanting to bone became a transcendent comeback narrative for both artists, and led to a Ronaissance, as Ronnie headlined a Christmas concert series and collaborated with unabashed girl group fan Joey Ramone. Besides his own considerable body of work, I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to Eddie Money for coaxing Ronnie back into the studio.

He also came across as a decent guy, married to the same woman for thirty years, father to five kids. He owned up to his mistakes, overcame them and maintained a good sense of humor about his life and career, with a knack for self-deprecation:

For the record, I think my favorite song by the guy was I Think I'm in Love, the video for which showcases a goofy sense of humor, which is refreshing for a RAWK GAWD:

I think he earned that ticket to paradise.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Arachnaphobia Test for a Repentant Homewrecker

It wasn't the sort of sight that bothers me, but I imagine it would make an arachnaphobe blanch... a fat Araneus, with an abdomen the size of a fingernail, sitting near a padlock I needed to get to in order to lock up one of the gates at work:

I'm pretty comfortable around spiders, even big ones, but spiders aren't that comfortable around humans who need to break up their homes in order to accomplish a task. The chain shifted, the web sundered, the poor spider beat a hasty abseil to the ground. Late summer and early fall are the peak of Araneus activity, and I have to confess that I have destroyed many a web while walking the site and performing my routine duties. I feel somewhat bad about this, because these critters must be doing a number on the local mosquito population... it's just that they often build their homes in inconveniently situated, by which I mean heavily trafficked, areas.