January 31, 2005

“The only way to save Western Canada ... is to cut ourselves loose of the gangrene of Canada,” said one speaker, who refused to give his name. “Because that gangrene comes from only one place: it comes straight from the communists.”

January 30, 2005

Sunday night mp3s
I wasn't around in the '60s or early '70s, but I have the feeling that most of the cover tunes recorded back then were done in the spirit of creating/cultivating a new "popular songbook," where the material was seen as a thing greater, more durable, more monolithic than the young and relatively unproven artists trying their hand at it. Funny thing is, a lot of those pop standards and their songwriters (Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro, the very early work of Randy Newman) fell well below the cultural radar after a while, and the once-unproven interpreters are now, by and large, very very famous even today.

One songwriter young people know (young meaning "my age," which I realize isn't that young) is Cat Stevens, either because they've seen Harold and Maude or they're aware that he's a has-been hippie who's now a controversial fundamentalist Muslim. He wasn't known as a hitmaker for other musicians, but he did get covered by a group whose already accomplished frontwoman would go on to become a living freaking legend.

Sixties/seventies pop music wasn't the wonderful rainbow of inclusivity that idealists wish it was (that fantastical world where the Top 40 was colorblind, gender-neutral, and genre-oblivious). Record companies had marketing savvy and wanted to sell product. If black R&B singers wanted to be taken seriously as artists AND put food on the table, they'd have to go after the newly moneyed baby boomers, "sophisticated" college grads eager to consume high culture while remaining socially conscious and all that jazz. Nina Simone cornered this market; Roberta Flack as well. Aretha Franklin recorded one of the definitive versions of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Less famously, a 1972 album by LaBelle kicked off with the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." The LP's title track was a funked-out, slow-burning, poetically licentious nine-and-a-half-minute treatment of Cat Stevens' three-minute folk throwaway "Moonshadow." It wasn't reverent, it didn't cautiously lift the song with chopsticks; it took naff new-age candy floss and turned it into elaborate space-gospel with hot legs and a sense of humor.

The flipside to all this is that later in the '70s, all the old-line respectable rock dudes had to adapt to changing trends so no matter what else they were doing they all made their obligatory disco songs. Cat Stevens too. There was no use for him in the 1977 world -- you couldn't spit without hitting a better and more relevant artist that year -- but somehow, a perky proto-electro rollerskating jam named "Was Dog a Doughnut" found its way onto his Izitso album and became a minor hit. Cratedigger notoriety followed...

January 29, 2005

yo yo yo (please don't fall in love)

January 28, 2005

Michael Stipe just confessed to Carson Daly that he once had to share a dressing room with Cher and Mikhail Gorbachev. Stipe and Daly agreed that this trio should comprise the next season of The Surreal Life. (Poor Gorby.)

Las Vegas is a super-size bowl of suck, but one good thing about it is that you never really run out of things to take pictures of, as long as you know where to look. I had my own set of LV signage pics (currently offline), and with one or two exceptions, they're vastly different from the ones Joey Harrison took. Start here and continue on through the archives for January 2005 (way down at the bottom of the archive links).

January 21, 2005

Dear Jonathan Saunders:

Please make ALL my clothes. The Patrick Nagel-meets-Omni-meets-the-Mummenschanz look (meets the floor tiles in the downstairs passageway of the Clark St. station) needs to come back right now so we can finally shut the coffin on the '80s forever. kthxbye.

Starcastle special coming soon. Meanwhile, here are a couple of mp3 goodies from the collection.

1) The first is Dana and Gene's "Dario, Can You Get Me Into Studio 54?" The Disco Museum page about Dana and Gene supplies a surprising who's-who of '60s and '70s industryfolk: producer/songwriter/music publisher Ritchie Cordell (author of a couple of Tommy James' biggest hits), Kenny Laguna (right-hand man to Joan Jett, accomplished producer, and former keyboardist for Tommy James' Shondells), August Darnell (who wrote "Dario" and later recorded it for Kid Creole and the Coconuts' Off the Coast of Me album), and Ellie Greenwich, who I'm sure needs no intro around here.

Take a song about Studio 54, put some industry muscle behind it, and give it to a cute girl (and some guy) to sing -- lightning in a bottle, right? Nope; one of the key guys involved with working the record left the label, and apparently no one else there could drum up enough promotion or radio play to make "Dario" a hit. Just as well; it doesn't really sound like a smash.

2) Any song that has its own Snopes page is indisputably classic. Here's the Crystals' "The Screw (Let's Dance)", written and produced by Phil Spector.

January 16, 2005

Warning: If you have ANY interest whatsoever in typography or design, you will spend all day reading the biographies at the Linotype Font Lounge's Font Designer Gallery. Just sayin'. I don't want any of you slackers to get fired.

BTW, when I time-travel back to 1955 and write my award-winning book on behavioral psychology, the title font will be Volta Regular.

January 15, 2005

The black-and-white cookie (as such) only exists in New York City, New Jersey, and probably in pockets of Westchester County and Long Island. I'm told that you can find them in Jewish delis in South Florida, in communities where most of the residents have migrated from -- yup -- New York and New Jersey. People from other parts of the world have posted about similar sightings in their home towns/countries. Out there the cookies have names like "half moon" and "half and half," and I say with no authority except raw instinct that I have no doubt they're bogus.

A real black-and-white is made like this:

-a base of spongy-yet-firm yellow cake, rounded into a cookie shape with a diameter of about six inches and a height of about three quarters of an inch (this is standard, but mileage varies)

-a bottom that's buttery and slightly oven-browned, but not at all crunchy

-one half vanilla icing (that's ICING, not frosting; it should be semi-glossy and have a smooth, solid surface, and should be applied conservatively so it just covers the top of the cookie and ends where the chocolate begins)

-one half chocolate frosting (that's FROSTING, the fudgy kind; apply it conservatively so it just covers the top of the cookie and ends where the vanilla begins)

-each flavor should have legs of its own to stand on, yet should be neither too sweet nor too bittersweet. A perfect bite will consist of three distinct tastes: the moistness of the cake, the sugar rush of the vanilla icing, and the richness of the chocolate frosting (which pulls it all together and keeps the sweetness of the vanilla from being cloying).

The best black-and-white I've tried yet is from Ponzio's (an unassuming yet well-regarded diner in Cherry Hill, NJ). We didn't make the trip down there specifically for the cookies -- we were headed to Philly for cheesesteaks -- but the B&W is one of our food obsessions and our never-ending search for the holy grail was encouraged along by a Ponzio's mention in SJ Magazine. Cherry Hill is a suburb of Philly, so even if the detour turned out to be a bust, hey, it's only a half-hour out of our lives. That said... the Ponzio's B&W was SPOT. FUCKING. ON. What made it even better was how good it tasted next to a bottomless cup of strong-ass diner coffee.

The ancient sign outside of Ponzio's:

The mighty Ponzio's B&W itself (worthier of a less-blurry picture, and there's one at Chris' blog):

Ponzio's is at 7 West Rt. 70 in Cherry Hill, NJ. Call 'em at (856) 428-4808.

January 14, 2005

My mp3s for this week are over at Fluxblog. I had a stockpile of tracks I was saving for when I got back into the mp3-blogging game, and these are but a few.

Coming next week here at Freezing to Death: a rough guide to Champaign, Illinois's very own... STARCASTLE.

January 05, 2005

Language has been on my mind a whole lot these past couple of days (I mean, it's always on my mind, to varying degrees, but especially right now). Just yesterday I spent most of the afternoon online, reading about the variations of anglophone dialects across the U.S. and Canada. (See the Philly link below.) I found surprisingly little in-depth work on the topic, just bits and pieces on newsgroups, bulletin boards, and blogs. Until late that evening, I really had no idea that PBS would be airing a special tonight (called Do You Speak American?) dealing with these issues, a kind of state of the union address on American speech.

Of course I watched. I expected to hate it -- I'm a left-leaning person, values-wise, but even I get sickened by the spineless liberal claptrap PBS doles out so its core audience (i.e. "viewers like you") will keep the donations coming. And I did hate it, much more than I anticipated.

The gist, quickly: Robert MacNeil (a transplanted Maritimer who long ago took accent-reduction lessons to further his Stateside career as a theater-actor-cum-broadcast-journalist) travels the United States to find out how people talk. Then he gets some linguistic anthropologists and other language experts to discuss the hows, whens, and whys. The trip begins in Maine and basically does a U-curve along the sides and bottom of the U.S., briefly touching on the Midwest.

MacNeil aims not just to discuss phonetics, but on slang, neologisms, and the ever-increasing cultural influence Latino and black Americans have on "white" culture. He also challenges the idea that Hollywood and the news media (as well as easy access to the outside world via transportation and communication) have diluted people's regional accents. Here's where I start yelling at the TV.

1) The people MacNeil and his experts speak to in rural/non-cosmopolitan areas like Maine and the Louisiana bayou are mostly senior citizens. It's acknowledged that the way they talk is dying out, or is part of a very small, insular enclave. That these dialects still exist is a fun, if oft-flogged, fact of studies like MacNeil's, but Do You Speak American? is supposed to address how America speaks now, not 75 years ago. If a stop in the Carolinas only covers a very distinct pidgin dialect particular to a remote island or two off the coast, where does that leave the thousands upon thousands of Carolinians who don't speak that way? Surely they haven't all leveled off to perfect Standard American English (and especially not if, as MacNeil claims, media has absolutely no influence on us stubborn Amurricans). (To be fair, some modern younguns are interviewed in Nashville, which is apparently the only metropolitan area in the whole South. And one of the guys is from fucking OREGON.) (Hey, what about New Orleans, where French, Creole, Spanish, Portuguese, and arcane Southern Black dialects infiltrate an accent that's startlingly Brooklynese? No mention of this.)

2) If they're not senior citizens, they're agricultural workers and such, blue-collar people who probably haven't been real well educated (I'm not passing judgment on their intelligence, just assuming that they might not spend a lot of time around academics or media-savvy types). Or kids who don't know better. The only intellectuals who are profiled AT ALL in this special are the sociologists and filmmakers and software developers that make up MacNeil's body of language experts. Actually, forget about intellectuals, how about just regular normal people who don't have thick, cartoonish, regional accents -- people who have seemingly standardish accents with a touch of local coloration?

3) So little time is given to each region (or state) (or city) that the issue of multiple/overlapping accents is completely ignored. Interestingly, no one said a peep about New York State, except (a) in an introductory explanation of how Britain's open-jawed "r" sound (ahhhhh) became a mark of aristocracy in early NYC, and (b) in a round of "man on the street"-style interviews where a train full of applepiebaseball Midwesterners decides New Yorkers have one of the ugliest accents in the country. Well, New York State begins about 100 miles west of Buffalo and keeps on going all the way to the far eastern end of Long Island. There are MANY dialects represented: Canadian, German, Polish, Slavic, Scandinavian, Dutch, Italian, and we haven't even reached Binghamton yet, never mind NYC. Whatever MacNeil and his cronies say regarding NYC-speak is based on a perceived assumption that New Yorkers really DO talk that way, toidy-toid and all, and that despite the city being a melting pot for over eight million people from every ethnicity, geographic origin, age, persuasion, lifestyle, occupation, and economic circumstance, EVERYONE HERE TALKS LIKE BUGS FUCKING BUNNY, AND LET'S JUST WASH OVER JERSEY ENTIRELY BECAUSE WE'RE SHORT ON TIME AND TONY SOPRANO BLAH BLAH.

4) These same "man on the street" interviewees all conclude that the Midwest is the national hub of The Right Way To Speak, and once again because this is the received wisdom, it's never really challenged except for a quick aside that The Right Way To Speak is creeping farther west. I think two things are pretty pertinent here, and neither ever comes up: (a) the Midwest is full of transplanted Europeans who still cling to their accents decades later, ja, doncha knaw, (b) this actually does influence the way people there speak, to an alarming degree, (c) the contemporary SAE broadcaster dialect is not only based somewhere in that vague American west, it's actually a product of the speech patterns in southwestern Canada (where, unlike the Canucks back east, very few people say "oat and aboat" or "ewt and abewt," and in fact, Vancouver, B.C. is the second-largest production center for TV and radio advertising in North America, constantly catering to clients from U.S. markets) (also, Peter Jennings and Brian Williams hail from the area, and it hasn't hindered their careers any).

5) California, like New York State, is a big parcel of land with MANY accents. According to Do You Speak American?, the only one of any consequence is the SoCal surfer/skater/valley girl lingo (although technically, MacNeil's vals are at a high school in Irvine) (his expert in this segment is Clueless director Amy Heckerling, who grew up in the Bronx and still talks like she's Amy from da block). Like, rad, dude. There's some talk of Ebonics, but aside from local politics and a smidgen of politically motivated progressive education, it's not an issue that's specific to Californians -- after all, black people don't speak Californian, they speak BLACK!

6) I was amused when MacNeil proposed a hypothetical situation wherein a hip-hopper, any ol' hip-hopper oh i dunno let's pull a name outta thin air, how about PUFF DADDY (sic) goes for a job interview (presumably competing with non- hip-hoppers who've mastered mainstream American bizspeak English). (Cuz it's not like Diddy himself has any business skills or spends any time hobnobbing with successful whitefolk preppy types.)

7) Apparently, the only Hispanics in the U.S. are Mexicans, and they're all illegal aliens with no desire to learn a language other than their own. (Imagine this sentiment translated into pandering-PBS-liberal with the basic crux of it intact.) So, okay, American English has an obvious influence on Chicano-speak and possibly vice versa, but 3,000 miles to the east, there's this thing called a Nuyorican accent. "Nuyorican" refers to first-generation Puerto Rican Americans in New York City. (You might also include Dominicans, the other major Latino population here.) As I hear it, they've adapted certain Brooklyn Italian idiosyncrasies (for which there's actually a pretty clear-cut gender divide; see Saturday Night Fever to watch this in action), added Puerto Rican to the mix, and gave this new hybrid-dialect to New York. Nuyorican is one of the only New York accents -- relative to a community of recent immigrants -- that's unmistakably a New York accent. (Nota bene: The African-American NYC accent isn't too different, esp. among girls. Just take out some of the Latino inflections and idioms.)

8) The only thing I really liked in this doc was some 20-year-old interview footage with the Surf Punks, and MacNeil didn't get it back then, either. Dude.

MP3s, images, and whatnot will be back up pretty soon... I have to re-FTP all my files to the server (ugh), but I'll get the blog stuff uploaded first.

Last night I had a dream that I was sharing a dilapidated Southern California white-elephant mansion with a group of girls, Real World-style. They were utterly filthy and I couldn't stand it. IRL I have a phobia of bugs; in the dream I was so freaked out by the girls' messiness that I started hallucinating bugs of all classifications, shapes, sizes, on the stairs, on the walls, on the furniture, crawling over empty plates. Everyone said I was crazy and I kept waving my arms and going "no! look! don't you see?" Beautiful house though. Right on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the water. Huge bay windows and views from EVERYWHERE.

Then some friends came to rescue me. We tried to sail away in a canoe, but we weren't prepared for how cold the water was (no one had a wet suit). We ditched the canoe, rented a van, and hauled ass to the northeast.

January 04, 2005

the best explanation of the philly accent i've ever read.

Hi. I'm a stupidhead and the domain where I store my files is down right now due to me forgetting to update my credit card information on the webhost's site. E-mailed tech/billing support about it. Thanks for your patience while this gets sorted.