Tuesday, August 31, 2010

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1975

In 1975 rock finally reached critical mass. After some lost years following the breakup of the Beatles, a whole genre that was once written off as the noisy noodlings of long-haired hippies by Middle America finally garnered some mainstream respect. Leading the charge was Bruce Springsteen, who followed two well-received but poor-selling albums with an almost flawless, commercially successful masterpiece (see below). Springsteen's third album generated enough buzz that in late October he became the first non-politician to appear on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week, no small feat for a guy who was barely holding onto his record contract just months earlier.

Bruce dominated the headlines, but he wasn't the only story in '75. It was the last big year for glam rock before it disintegrated and metamorphized into punk. Citing modal jazz and Kraut-rock as a mutual influence, artists like Brian Eno and Pink Floyd proved that rock can have a calming, ethereal effect, finding a spacey, melodic center without dabbling into passé psychedelia. This was the unofficial midway point of what radio programmers will call the "classic rock" era, with relative newcomers Queen and Aerosmith joining veterans like Led Zeppelin and The Who in packing arenas worldwide, stirring the masses with charging, power-chord driven sermons. Other subgenres that defined popular music in the 1970s were loud, clear, and present at mid-decade: metal, jazz fusion, funk, R&B, you name it.


1. Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen. Is this the apex of American rock? If not, it's hard to fuse the two major elements of The Boss' third album --a wistful look back at teenage street life, augmented with Spector-esque bombast-- into anything more luscious and perfect than this. "Thunder Road" sounds and feels like the first chapter of an epic novel, while the heavenly sax solo that bridges "Jungleland" brings everything full circle. The title track alone took six months to sculpt, and worth every second of tinkering. All in all, the defining album of a generation-defining artist.
2. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin. Dubbed by Rolling Stone critic Jim Miller as a bid for artistic respectability, this sprawling double-LP is potpourri of musical styles and the near-seemless fusion of five years' worth of sessions and outtakes. Where the first disc is topheavy on heavy rockers like "Custard Pie" and "The Rover," disc two displays Jimmy Page et al. at its quirkiest, as demonstrated by the psuedo-country "Down By The Seaside" and the acoustic noodlings of "Bron-Yr-Aur" and "Boogie With Stu." This may not be the first album that I'd suggest to a Zeppelin neophyte, but it does a better job of covering the band's various personalities than any of the single-disc albums could.
3. Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan. In the early '70s, the unrequited king of the '60s counterculture was in a slump of sorts. Dylan had become self-indulgent, weird and oblique, and if he was releasing music for his own personal amusement. When his first marriage slowly crumbled, however Dylan refound his focus. Though he has repeatedly claimed that he doesn't write confessional music, the ten songs that comprise Blood on the Tracks revolve around the heartache, anger, and loneliness of a failed romance. Through it all Dylan still sounds like an iconoclast, defiantly indifferent to what others think of him and what they project him to be.
4. A Night At The Opera, Queen
5. Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd
6. Horses, Patti Smith
7. Toys In The Attic, Aerosmith
8. Tonight's The Night, Neil Young
9. Katy Lied, Steely Dan
10. The Koln Concert, Keith Jarrett. What are the ingredients of the best-selling solo jazz album in history? Apparently, all you need is one man, one piano, and 1,300 enraptured Germans. Unplanned and entirely improvised, every gesture and flourish in this 66-minute live set is spontaneous. This album is not so much about Jarrett's ability to improvise on the piano as it is a mediation on the instrument itself and the nature of sound. A marvelous composition, and the paramount live jazz recording of the decade.

Honorable Mentions: Another Green World, Brian Eno;
The Basement Tapes, Bob Dylan & The Band; Captain Fantastic and the
Brown Dirt Cowboy
, Elton John; Still Crazy After All These Years,
Paul Simon; Gnu High, Kenny Wheeler; Nighthawks at the Diner,
Tom Waits.


"Ballroom Blitz," Sweet
"Fly By Night," Rush
"Welcome To My Nightmare," Alice Cooper
"Bungle in the Jungle," Jethro Tull
"Slip Kid," The Who
"Teenage Letter," Count Bishops
"Sound Track," Be-Bop Deluxe
"Motorhead," Hawkwind
"To The Last Whale (Medley)," David Crosby and Graham Nash

"Lady Marmalade," Labelle
"You're The First, My Last, My Everything," Barry White
"One of These Nights," The Eagles
"At Seventeen," Janis Ian
"Laughter in the Rain," Neil Sedaka
"Sky High," Jigsaw
"Why Can't We Be Friends," War
"Miracles," Jefferson Starship
"Letting Go," Paul McCartney & Wings
"Magic," Pilot

I wish I had more funk/disco/R&B on the singles list, but it's hard to ignore all the great bubblegum in the Top 40 that year. Regardless, I'd love to hear what you think.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

She Got Game?

Last weekend, I attended my very first WNBA game. (I can already tell that you're enthralled.) My dad won free Chicago Sky tickets, and we caught their last home game of the season against Connecticut. If this was an average professional women's basketball game, my initial presumptions blended well with other aspects that I didn't expect. For starters, while I expected a fundamentally sound, slightly slower-paced ballgame --which I assumed correctly-- it wasn't as low-scoring as the typical college game. On top of that, scoring tends to be quite streaky; after only dropping 14 in the second quarter, Connecticut scored 30 answered points in the third to beat the Sky 78-71.

My overall experience was adequate. It was a low-key, family-friendly event, not unlike going to a minor league baseball game. At worst, it was an amusing novelty. The Sky doesn't have a local TV contract, and the team usually merits one-paragraph mentions in the Tribune sports section, so the only media in attendence --as far as I could see, anyway-- flew in from Hartford. The question I pose to myself is, would I want to see another WNBA game? Granted, this was only the second professional basketball game I've ever attended (the other was Bulls-Hornets at the United Center, April 1995). To be honest, I'd like to attend another NBA game before seeing the ladies play again, mostly for compare/contrast. Plus, neither the Sky nor the Sun made the playoffs, so I wouldn't see another game until 2011 anyway.

To anyone else here who might've attended a pro women's hoops game, did you have a similar experience? I still feel oddly bemused.

Other notes:

+ My quasi-political link of the week is an article from the Wall Street Journal. With the GOP likely to gain seats in November's midterm elections, will they avoid the same mistakes that cost them both houses four years ago? With an influx of new faces on both sides of the aisle, regardless of what happens in 2 1/2 months, I'm not so sure myself.

+ Mom Update: As I alluded to in WU #269, physical and occupational therapy started last week. She was also put on a strict, low-sodium diet that she is mostly adhering to so far. Prior to the stroke, she was sleeping 12-13 hours a day, usually going to bed around 11p and not waking up until noonish. At the suggestion of one of her nurses, she is now hitting the hay around 9:30-10 at night and waking up around 9a. Thank you so much for the kind words and positive encouragement, and I'll post more news as it develops.

+ Improv Update: On Sunday I started Improv Level 3 (the first class to conclude with a performance) at IO. I was supposed to start my first comedy writing class at IO yesterday, but it was pushed back to the 30th. Though I had to pay extra money for a second course, I eagerly anticipate honing my craft; the "professor" of the writing class is Nate Herman, a semi-retired TV scribe who wrote for SNL during the Dick Ebersol era. Though I did not make the Second City conservatory on my second try, I will audition again on October 1st.

+ Fantasy Update: At last, some upward mobility. Both of my teams defeated their opponents in the same week for the first time in two months. My TV.com team went 6-3-1; though they're in still in last place out of eight teams, I'm slowly closing the gap with the fellow in seventh. I finally dropped James Shields --picking up Bronson Arroyo in his place-- though dumping Jaime Garcia for Chad Billingsley hasn't paid off yet. My "other" team spanked that league's celler dweller 11-2-2 to stand 9 1/2 games out of first. I dropped Jonathan Broxton for Michael Wuertz after J-Bro was demoted from closer to set-up, but Wuertzie hasn't picked up a save in over a week.

Next week: the year in music, 1975.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Smashing Stroke

Last week, what has been a trying summer for me hit rock bottom. I was at last Tuesday's White Sox-Twinkies game when I received a phone call from my sister. She had just driven my mother to the hospital after she complained of stroke-like symptoms. When we arrived, my mom was lying on a gurney, looking dazed and incapable of uttering more than one word at a time. My sister had done the right thing by taking my mother to the ER immediately after showing symptoms; however, our local hospital doesn't specialize in stroke treatments, so she was shipped off to Central DuPage Hospital. Upon driving 45 minutes to said hospital, I watched what seemed like regressing before my very eyes; she was now strapped to her hospital bed, gurgling from the side of her mouth and flailing her limbs as four nurses tried to pin her down. For as long as I can remember my mother has been the control center of our household, raising two children while my father worked long hours at O'Hare Airport, so observing her in a borderline vegetative state made me tremedously scared about the future of my family.

Before going further with my mom's condition, I should probably explain what she's gone through these past four months. Sometime in the late 1980s my mother contracted Hepatitis C. Though she was first diagnosed several years later, she believes she acquired the viral disease then because I don't have the infection, yet my younger sister also has Hepatitis and may have been born with HCV. Late last year, my mother's physician suggested that she participate in an experimental treatment to eradicate the disease from her system. Despite some trepidation regarding side effects, she began her treatment in April 2010. Unfortunately for her, the side effects were felt almost immediately; fatigue, dizziness, nausea, lack of appetite, and occasional bouts of short-term memory loss. She complained of aphasia and numbness about a month ago, but her doctor told her those were also reactions to her Hepatitis medication.

Though those first 24 hours were pretty scary, my mom has made leaps and bounds of progress since then. She had suffered what is referred to a delayed-reaction or "old stroke"; by the hospital's best estimate, the actual stroke occured four or five weeks ago but it didn't affect her nervous system until now. Luckily for us, it's also very treatable. By Thursday she was alert and talking, and on Friday she was walking again (albeit very slowly). She checked out of CDH late Sunday afternoon, and as I write this, she's meeting with her occupational therapist for the first time. We're also pushing my birthday celebration back one week while she recuperates. Looking back now, I'm relieved that her condition didn't worsen and that she's on the road to a full recovery. I've had my share of problems this summer, but in a way I feel selfish for dwelling on my personal crises as a potentially devestating family emergency was gradually uncoiling. As my mother regains her strength, I certainly hope that anyone reading keeps my family in their thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Random Notes, August 2010

+ Elena Kagan? I'm still not sure about her, but any conservative that opposed her nomination for the Supreme Court must've forgotten two crucial X-factors: the right still has a 5-4 advantage on the most partisan court in generations, and the next justice to retire will likely be Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee and dyed-in-the-wool liberal. Regardless, the GOP's shutting down of several Appellate Court nominees seemed more spiteful than pragmatic.

+ Now that Prop 8 has been overturned, here's a great article from The Nation on how same-sex marriage might become the election issue of the 2010 midterms. Granted, I believe government spending is far meatier issue, but he makes a pretty convincing argument.

+ Remember what I said last week about the Royals? Seems like I spoke too soon. Even without the top four outfielders in our early season depth chart (Podsednik, Dejesus, Ankiel, Guillen) we're still playing .500 ball in the Ned Yost era. Then again, we spent the last week playing lightweights like Oakland and Seattle, so this could be more fad than trend. Let's see how KC fares against the Halos before I eat my words.

+ Speaking of baseball, my latest fantasy misadventures are on par with my 2008 and 2009 results. The floor finally caved in on my TV.com team, which is now in last place after going a collective 2-18 in the past two weeks. My roster has its hands tied following injuries to John Buck (who I was forced to drop), Ryan Howard, and Ian Kinsler. Meanwhile, my "other" team is rolling after a 11-0-4 week, putting me right back in third place. Similar rosters, wildly varying results.

+ Finally, I was tempted to end this blog with a "long series of tubes" reference, but upon hearing of the senator's passing a few minutes ago I determined that it would be in terrible taste. My deepest sympathies to the Stevens family.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Live, from Chicago...

I typically don't use this blog for SNL-related jabber, but this is something special. Every year, Lorne Michaels and his cohorts fly around the country to audition and take note of talent. The Chicago cattle call is referred to the "SNL showcase" and held every late July at IO. As a current IO student, I thought maybe I had an inside track to see the auditions; as an added incentive, one of my former teachers was amongst the cherry-picked. Understandly, this is major annual event and draws a big crowd, so I had to prepare; I was informed that even though the show started at 8, doors opened at 7:15p. Lo and behold, when I arrived in Wrigleyville that night, the line outside of IO was well over a hundred strong. I thought this worked to my benefit, as the Del Close Theater sits 150. As it turned out, only the first hundred were let into the showcase. Though my rare opportunity to mingle with Lorne's minions didn't work out --apparently, Seth Meyers and Marci Klein were there, too-- at least I can take solace in the fact that Tara DeFrancisco (my former teacher) reportedly had a very strong outing.

Other notes:

+ If it weren't for David DeJesus' injury, I'm pretty sure the Royals would not have been sellers at the trade deadline. We'd been playing .500 ball since Yost replaced Hillman, and for once we were in a rare position of upward mobility. Alas, my dream outfield has been sliced and diced; with DeJesus out until 2011, Scott Podsednik was shipped for LA and Rick Ankiel was traded to Atlanta, receiving mostly minor leaguers in return. Recent heroics aside, there's nothing that can convince me that onetime hot corner prospect/current platoon left fielder Alex Gordon has not been a flop. Barring a miracle, the Royals' apparent goal for 2010 --right now, anyway-- is to avoid losing 95 games.

+ I regret to inform everyone that my stint as a life insurance agent didn't work out. Even though I was hired, there were several intangibles I couldn't quite get past, of which I can't elaborate upon at this time. With a heavy heart, the job search soldiers on...

+ This week's blog was a bit of a downer, but I'll leave you guys on a positive note. My ex-boss posted this on his Facebook wall yesterday, and I couldn't help but share this clip. Between this song and The Bad Plus' rendition of "Iron Man," it's funny how the Black Sabbath songbook is so friendly to jazz musicians.