Friday, December 31, 2010

a more (much) substantial (heavier) top ten list


top ten list for the year?
big deal.
any yahoo (or other comparable search engine) with all ten fingers can make a top ten list (in case you need proof, my Pazz & Jop Poll entry for 2010 will be public soon).
but to pick the top ten from the past ten years that you'll most likely be listening to ten years from now takes a good memory, critical expertise and a certain amount of fortune telling ability.
and as I have some (not all) of those qualities, here are the ten albums from the past ten years (2001 onward) that I believe I'll most likely have in a heavy-ish rotation ten years from now.
assuming I'm still here.
assuming any of us are.

here are the rules:
only one album per band (if I were to break this rule then Centro-matic's Love You Just the Same would be the first addition) with no re-issues and no compilations and no live albums (which often function as compilations (and if I were to break that rule then Lambchop's Live at XX Merge would be the disc I would break it with)).

so without further ado (ado, ado (I lied)), the ten albums of the past ten years that I think I'm most likely to still be listening to ten years from now (in alphabetical order):

Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)
Band of Horses – Everything All the Time (2006)
Centro-matic – Fort Recovery (2006)
Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera (2001)
The Hold Steady – Stay Positive (2008)
Los Campesinos – Hold On Now, Youngster... (2008)
The National – Boxer (2007)
The Wrens – Meadowlands (2003)
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006)

Monday, December 27, 2010

back to normal (kind of)


our return to the northeast, despite waking at 4:30 on Christmas morning, progressed smoothly. we even sat next to each other (bulkhead, bulkhead) on both legs (which makes me think there were probably at least a couple empty seats on the plane to LaGuardia) and it was beyond good that we got home when we did.

we spent a lovely Christmas evening and birthday morning (with good eats and the beginnings of snow) at my sister-in-law's in central New Jersey before taking the train back to New York, home, to gather the mail from the neighbor's, switch suitcases for overnight bags and head to Chelsea and the Hilton Garden Inn (the snowstorm lightning was quite cool) for the birthday, including dinner at Nobu that was likely experiencing its slowest night in the four years our server had worked there.
which was not a surprise.
the restaurant couldn't have been more than a third full and it took us five minutes just to cross the intersection to get there as those 50 mile an hour gusts that sound like so many exaggerations when you're in another part of the country decided to roar across Franklin Street just before 9 o'clock.

but dinner was, of course, good to good to great (if a bit overloaded with scallions, which was certainly not intentional on our part - the birthday spouse recommends the nameless King Crab dish that was evolved from the advertised Tempura to something that was gluten-free), which it should be for $125 per person after tip, but it was disappointing that, even though we had finished eating, we were rather rushed out. as in, the coat check person brought our jackets to our table and the overhead lights were turned on before we had a chance to put them on (we were the second to last couple out: our foot-dragging partners, D.C. residents who said they had come up specifically for the blizzard, were still working on their "expensive bottle of wine" from dinner and refused to budge (good for them)).

Fed Ex offices were locked, the Post Office was closed ("Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds," my ass), as was the local Chase branch, but all the grocery stores in our neighborhood appeared to be open (we visited three of four) and, despite not receiving deliveries since last Friday (if then), able to provide at least some food staples with agreeable expiration dates (please welcome leftover tenderloin sandwiches and fresh potato chips to our proverbial table).

so after a week away we're back, if not back to normal, and ready to get back to whatever it is that we do.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Delta has cancelled 300 flights in and out of Atlanta on Christmas Day


even though the temperature will not drop below freezing for another 24 hours.
so hello Detroit!!!

we're getting up at 4:30 a.m. (stay out of my way; I am not a morning person, nor am I a middle of the night person if I've already been asleep for more than 20 minutes), sojourning through Michigan and landing in New Jersey instead of New York, but it beats Delta's suggested alternate routing (Birmingham to Memphis, Memphis to Cincinnati, Cincinnati to LaGuardia and taking 10 hours to do it) with a big 'ol Bob's Sweet Stripes Mint Stick.

but Barnes and Noble actually admits to having the Tusk book in stock (Amazon doesn't; sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don't) so Merry Christmas to all (yep, that's me playing Fred Perry sweater-wearing Santa Claus with little penguin helpers) and to all a good three or four hours of sleep before flying.

Friday, December 17, 2010

since you asked . . .


it's been five days since I last attended an NBA game, six days since I last attended an NHL contest (if a 4-1 Red Wings victory over the Devils can be called a contest), over two months since I last set foot in Texas, almost four months since I last smoked a cigarette, over six months since I last stepped in Pennsylvania and I honestly can't remember the last time I ate blueberry pancakes but it was probably before the last time I shopped at T.J. Maxx and after the last time I ran a marathon because I last ran a marathon about 32 years ago.

the last book I ever read: The Forever War by Dexter Filkins

the last book I ever wrote that I've held in my hands even though Amazon.com says it won't be available until September 11, 2011 and bn.com doesn't seem to have even heard of it: Fleetwood Mac's Tusk

the last cereal I ever purchased: Kellogg's Raisin Bran

the last person I ever interviewed: Michelangelo Signorile

the last time I saw you: depends on who you are.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

huge news!!! exciting news!!! huge and exciting news!!!


or maybe none of those.

but advance copies, soon to be followed by author's copies (which will be mailed out to interview subjects), of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk by Rob Trucks (yes, me) will soon be in the hands of the United States Post Office and headed this (meaning my apartment) way.

which means that copies of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk by Rob Trucks (yes, me) will soon be available for sale at Amazon.com, despite the fact that the book is currently listed with a September 11, 2011 release date.

the book, Fleetwood Mac's Tusk by Rob Trucks (yes, me), is currently priced at $8.86, which is probably a fair amount (not too terribly expensive for the number of pages you're getting) for such a book, but at that price you have to purchase a total of three copies in order to obtain free shipping (orders of $25 or more).

and I'm not sure that I can recommend a purchase of three copies, unless you live in a very rainy area, say Seattle, and like to leave your books outside overnight.

in fact, I'm not sure that I can recommend the purchase of even one copy, especially if you're buying for, say, a newborn who hasn't started teething (this book may be good for teething), or maybe your grandmother who thinks that Guy Lombardo's Auld Lang Syne is like the best music ever recorded, ever.

but if you're interested in Fleetwood Mac's Tusk and you like books that can fit in the back pocket of your jeans so people walking behind you will think that you're either a literary type or maybe just have a lumpy ass, then possibly this might be a worthwhile purchase. and there's a good chance that you'll never see it (new, at least) for less than $8.86 with the hovering possibility of free shipping besides (more than hovering if you can find another $16.14 worth of stuff to buy on the Amazon site) after this.

educated guesses from minds who actually have some education suggest that Amazon may be in possession of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk by Rob Trucks (yes, me), and therefore ready to ship Fleetwood Mac's Tusk by Rob Trucks (yes, me), around Monday, December 20th.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday music the day after Black Friday


also, the day after the Iron Bowl (whew!).

today's $1.99 offerings include Mavis Staples, John Mayer, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, the xx's debut and The National's High Violet.

I haven't heard the first (though I've purchased it), don't care about the second, would be surprised if you don't already own the third and recommend (actually highly recommend, but not as highly as yesterday's Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend) the fourth and the fifth.

and not sure how or when I missed, but Robert Plant's Band of Joy is also $1.99.

remember to use your coupon (good today and tomorrow) - GET3MP3S - to get three dollars off (so that you can buy two of the above selections for a total of 98 cents).

War Damn Eagle!!!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Back Friday music on Black Friday



yeah, though we've got No Country for Old Men (a sentiment I feel almost every damn day) on the television and a spare casserole dish of dressing is being made (because we underestimated dressing yesterday's dressing consumption and you have to have dressing for a proper Turkey Terrific and you HAVE TO HAVE Turkey Terrifics at least twice a day for the three days following Thanksgiving), today, really, is all about waiting for Alabama-Auburn to start at 2:30 Eastern.
no 5 a.m. trips to anywhere but the bathroom and back to a warm bed for this household.

but Amazon has another five or so album-sized downloads for $1.99 today: the Sara Bareilles and the John Lennon (not the most recommendable John Lennon album or we'd spending more time here) and the Big Boi and The Suburbs by Arcade Fire (which I'm sure you already have because I've been so insistent on the Arcade Fire since the summertime) and one that I don't actually own but soon will: Weezer's Hurley.
and don't forget the $1.99 Contra (official "Cousins" video above) if you haven't already purchased. definitely a top 10 pick for 2010.

and, of course, the $3 off coupon code - GET3MP3S - will still work for another couple days. so get to downloading while you've still got two hours and 15 minutes of free time.

War Damn Eagle!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Black Friday music on Thanksgiving Day


so the Lions are on television and Liz Phair's new album is on the stereo and the potatoes have been peeled and cut and they're now soaking and the dressings - both gluten-free and non-gluten-free - have been concocted and the language is all very passive and the turkey's been in the oven over two hours and there's likely not enough hot water for us all to enjoy showers and Amazon's marked a few more albums down to $1.99 each:

the $3 off code - GET3MP3S - is still good for a few more days and Kanye's new album is still $3.99 and Belle and Sebastian's Write About Love is still $1.99 and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' I Learned the Hard Way is still $1.99 and Vampire Weekend's Contra is still $1.99.

but the new $1.99 offerings (the $1.99 offerings as of today) include the latest (all 2010 releases) from She & Him, Interpol and Sade.

happy Iron Bowl Eve, one and all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Black Friday music on Wednesday


once again (with gusto):

Amazon is running a special on their mp3 music downloads through Monday, November 29th.
just enter code GET3MP3S and get $3 off any mp3.
and right now Kanye West's new My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (which he performed track by track last night at the 550-capacity Bowery Ballroom) is priced at $3.99 (with Late Registration at $4.99 and 808s & Heartbreak and The College Dropout are $5.99 each).

further specials:
Belle and Sebastian's Write About Love is $1.99, as is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' I Learned the Hard Way and Vampire Weekend's Contra (get this now if you don't yet have it).

Arcade Fire's Funeral, Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce, Ra Ra Riot's The Orchard, The Stranger by Billy Joel, Neil Young's On The Beach, The Magnetic Fields' The Charm of the Highway Strip and the very seasonal Christmas in the Heart by Bob Dylan are just $5 each (and that's BEFORE the $3 off).

happy, happy.
merry, merry.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

this is not the moon (they're filming Tower Heist outside my apartment), cont'd


okay, okay.
enough already.

we've been inundated with phone calls since my last post.
primarily folks calling to say that I'm a big, fat liar.
or that I'm a big, fat so and so.
or that if I'm not particularly big then I've at least put on a little weight recently and I wasn't exactly rail thin before I started, you know, putting on the weight, and so I'm very much on my way, possibly even very close, to being, if not big, then at least, you know, fat and prone to prevaricate.

and frankly with so many calls of that nature coming in we've had to add more phone lines and if the volume of "fatty fat fat" calls increases any further then we'll have to look into outsourcing some of the work, and, again frankly, I really can't afford to get into the whole international relations/trade agreement thing because I let my passport expire like two years ago.

the few phone calls that have not fixated on a recent weight gain have pretty much fixated on a specific line from my previous blog entry: "you can watch the DVD a year and a half from now to see if I'm lying."
and this mention has been followed by a rather specific question, namely, where will you be in eighteen months so I can ring you up and call you a fatty fat fat falsifier and fabricator?

and therein lies (no pun intended) the problem: I don't know where I'll be in eighteen months so you can call me a fatty fat fat falsifier and fabricator.
I really, really don't.
I mean, yeah, I'm old and the older we get (or at least the older I get) the less likely we are to move.
and I don't really mean move across the country or down south as much as I mean, you know, move off the couch, but still it could, you know, happen.

so in an effort to save us all a lot of heartache and name-calling eighteen months from now, I submit to you, humbly, what I hope will pass for proof that yes, they really are filming Tower Heist in my neighborhood and yes, Ben Stiller really has been outside my apartment.

or at least the top half of Ben Stiller's head has been outside my apartment.

if you look closely, or maybe even squint a bit (and I'm not opposed to you using the zoom feature on your computer's photo software if you can find it), you can definitely determine that the top half of Ben Stiller's head is visible just above that gorgeous golden New England in the fall (though we're still in New York City) leaf.
now, this is not an actual filmed scene.
in fact, in the actual filmed scene he will be walking the opposite direction and carrying a very large backpack over his left shoulder while peeking over his right shoulder at an argumentative couple to see, in a very New York City way, if he should stop and involve himself while ultimately determining, nyah, I shouldn't get involved, and continuing south on 29th Street.
it's the actor in the man.

in any case, this picture was taken from my apartment window, the same window from which my "this is not the moon" picture was taken, only in the daylight instead of the nighttime, and angled further down so that it captures, very definitely (I hope, I think), the top half of Ben Stiller's head (with his left jaw hidden behind a gorgeous golden leaf) as he returns for yet another take of a scene where he walks away, intrigued by but uninvolved with an argumentative couple on 29th Street for the movie Tower Heist.

so unless you feel inclined to point out that I'm like a fatty fat fat stalker-type with a camera and a zoom lens, please quit calling. my passport's expired.

Friday, November 19, 2010

this is not the moon


but it is New York City.
I know.
it's crazy, but it's true.

actually, this is the current view from my apartment if you face east.

but they're not filming Arthur.
Dudley Moore's dead, and buried in Plainfield, New Jersey (did you know that? I knew that, but I don't know where Sir John Gielgud is buried).
and I believe the remake (with Russell Brand and the woman from Greenberg) wrapped several weeks ago, though they did quite a bit of filming just a few blocks from here.

so here's your six (or two) degrees of separation:
Ben Stiller, a/k/a the man from Greenberg (a/k/a Greenberg), walked right past me today without saying a word. walked right past me like I was a stranger, which I guess is appropriate because to Ben I am a stranger. I mean, if he's blogging in his trailer right now (maybe 100 yards from where I'm currently typing), it's not like he can say, You know, Rob, the guy from Greenberg (because I wasn't in Greenberg or Night at the Museum or Night at the Opera or Night of the Living Dead or Night of the Iguana or anything like that).

but it's night right now and just underneath this moon-like light they (you know, "they") were filming Tower Heist, which is the reason that Ben Stiller's in my neighborhood (hell, right outside my apartment building).

see the person sticking their head out the window for that unique overhead view?
that's not me.
I'm the guy taking the picture so I'm not in the picture.
but still, that man (it's a man, baby) has a pretty cool view.

they (you know, "they") were filming a scene with two police cars pulled up onto the sidewalk, red lights flashing, while an arrest is being made (with the perp yelling "Police brutality!" (what pithy dialogue) which I could hear from my apartment. a lot (they did several, several takes)).

I swear this happened. many times.
you can watch the DVD a year and a half from now to see if I'm lying.
and if they end up editing the scene out then I wasn't lying and they wasted a whole bunch of money because there have been close to 100 movie crew types hanging around all day today and they'll be back again tomorrow and at least 30 folks have been here since Tuesday/Wednesday setting up cameras and screens and filters on at least three different rooftops.

and though the light is still on, I believe they've wrapped (at least that scene has wrapped) for the night.

earlier they filmed a rooftop scene next door (well, actually the apartment building on the other side of the two-story house next door) and a guy on the fire escape of that building spent most of the early afternoon generating fake snow.
very distracting to have that kind of thing going on outside your window all day.
it's kind of like your neighbors are hosting a party and you don't really want to go to the party but you don't want to feel like you missed anything either so you maybe walk by or through the party a couple of times during the day to see what you're missing and then when you're back at home (eating either Chinese food or pizza because your beloved, who doesn't really eat a lot of Chinese food or pizza, is out of town and you kind of had a hankering like you were pregnant or something (minus the pickles, though you kind of have the heartburn that's supposed to go with it)) you're thinking that maybe you should walk by or through the party to see if you're missing anything.
kind of.
but at least you're not hungry.

anyway, everyone finally seems to be calling it a day now.

and Ben, if you see me again tomorrow, don't be afraid to say Hi.
not all of us non-movie people in Queens are, you know, stuck up or too vain to speak to a stranger (as long we've seen them on the television and they say Hi first).

(I spoke too soon. the police lights are going again and now there's even a floodlight on in our building's side yard, but Carolina's playing basketball on ESPNU and Chapel Hill's more important than Hollywood.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

do not try this at home


seriously.
do not try this at home, because it's really not any fun at all.

so, I'm doing this kind of spur of the moment interview with former Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie. and Brian turns 50 on Sunday so time's getting to be somewhat of a premium.
and the difficulty, or one difficulty, is that Brian now lives in Tasmania, not Wisconsin so about the time I'm going to bed he's getting up and vice versa.
plus he travels, parties with Engelbert Humperdinck (not kidding there; he's a busy and popular man) so we'd gone well over a week without finding a suitable time.

but Brian e-mails that he's got some availability and we try to do the Skype thing and it doesn't work (bad delayed audio) and so I try calling through my Gmail phone and that doesn't work any better and so we're trying to do the written chat thing even though every other interview I've done for both projects has been oral, not written, and so the tone is, well, different.

but I'm typing questions and Brian's typing answers and since we started without much notice I decide to run to the kitchen to grab a Mountain Dew while Brian's answering, and in my hurry to return, my effort to make sure there is absolutely no lag in the "conversation" I run back into the other room and kick the shit out of a heavy wooden footstool (actually it's an antique commode with a pillow on top).

surprisingly I cuss more in the previous paragraph than I did at the time, but make no mistake, it was painful and looked even worse (photographic evidence above).

so we walk to the emergency room (just in case it's, you know, empty), walk back home when the emergency room's not empty, spend a good portion of the night looking for orthopedists or podiatrists within walking distance for this morning (since my GP, who I like, doesn't have an x-ray machine in his office and doesn't open until 3 today).

and then it's time to, you know, get back to work, or at least try, so I'm dealing with the various iPods (I have three now and we use four between us (don't ask)) and the iTunes library says that the iPod I own that's in the process of dying (which is why I just bought a third) is corrupted and must be restored.
so I restore it. and it still says it's corrupted. and so I restore it again.
etc. etc. etc.

and so then I decide to actually update the iTunes software whose advances I've been rejecting for several weeks and a screen pops up saying that I don't have enough room on my hard drive (which started out at 750 GB) to update iTunes software.
and this, my friends, is scary, scary, scary as hell (speaking of which, the podiatrists I end up visiting are Dr. Axman and Dr. Savir (pronounced Severe)).
so if the panic of having a broken toe, a broken interview and a corrupted iPod isn't enough, now my Mac hard drive is so damn full that I can't even update my iTunes software.

what's that thing that Charlie Brown used to say?
AAUGH!

and my beloved is watching Parenthood in the room with the footstool/commode which, like Weeds, stresses me out in a rather off the charts fashion, you know, to see these relatively smart, relatively identifiable characters do the most stupid, self-involved shit ever (like accosting another parent over your child not receiving an invitation to that parent's child's birthday party).
meanwhile, back in the other room, after updating the iTunes application now says that not only the dying iPod is corrupted but my other two iPods, the brand new (though scratched and gashed), week-old 160 GB iPod Classic and well as the newish nano (with built-in microphone) are also corrupted.
which would not only mean no more recording on these devices (you know, like for interviews which, if you haven't figured out, is pretty much what I do) but no transcribing from these devices since these devices are, you know, corrupted.

thankfully, just before I threw the Mac (with little or no available hard drive space) and the three corrupted iPods out the window, my beloved (who had earlier walked with me to the emergency room and then later conducted the search for nearby podiatrists that accept our insurance) removed the iPod holster from the cordage (is that a word?) so that the iPods now connect straight to a cord rather than a stand-up holster, and the whole corruption problem (well, except for the dying iPod which can't be read or filled or . . . ), at least for the time being, went away.

not so with my broken toe or the hard drive fullness and this and that and the other thing, but at least we don't have a car that we're used to parking on the street because the movie Tower Heist (with Ben Stiller and Casey Affleck and Eddie Murphy and Alan Alda and Tea Leoni and Gabourey Sidibe and Matthew Broderick, but don't expect Alan Alda to show up in my neighborhood because he plays a rich guy who lives in Manhattan, not Queens) is filming on our street at week's end and they've not only already constructed lighting and camera platforms on the roof of our building as well as neighboring buildings but they've pretty much taken up the entire street as well (i.e., so do not even think of parking here for a week), so at least in our pedestrianship we slipped that particular noose.

amen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Graham Parker turns 60 today. or Thursday.



so Graham Parker (he of the Squeezing Out Sparks, Howlin' Wind, Your Country, Don't Tell Columbus fame) turns 60 today (if you believe allmusic.com).
or Thursday (if you believe Wikipedia).

regardless, it is almost certainly the 60th anniversary of Graham Parker's birthday week.
unless it's not.

but just in case, here's a five year old (conducted in May of 2005, just after the release of his Songs of No Consequence album) unpublished (mostly) and unpolished (mostly) interview with the man on the topic of songwriting.

so happy birthday, Graham Parker (unless it's not).


I know there’s more to you than just being a musician, but in terms of musicianship, is it fair to break it down to three parts of writing, recording and performing?

Uh, that’s pretty much it, yeah. That’s musicianship, yeah.

Which one of those three is your strong suit?


[laughs] Um, I think you’ve got to have a bit of each, you know. The writing thing, it’s always a mysterious process. You’re never quite sure what’s going to come out of it. I sit there with a guitar and thrash away, and usually very bad things come out at first which I put aside and keep working. And then you get into a pure flow if you’re lucky and start writing good stuff. That’s the idea anyway. So, you know, it’s kind of hard work because you have to face the fact that you might be . . . You know, every time I start into a writing spree, as it were, you’ve got to face the fact that maybe you haven’t got it anymore, you know what I’m saying? So it’s a kind of scary thing.

Is it one of those “if it rains it pours” things? Like if you’re in a groove you might get maybe three good songs in a week, and then maybe a month’ll go by and everything’s crap?

Yes, it could be. I mean, what I usually do is start off with ideas that maybe I’ve scribbled down, which are basically just ideas to get me to actually sit down with a guitar, and when I start singing the phrases I’ve got I realize they’re bad, they’re subpar. But they start me off somewhere. And it’s nearly always that way. Occasionally there’ll be a phrase or a song title that pops up which just takes my fancy, and that actually works and becomes a song. But it doesn’t usually become the song I thought it was going to be.

You know, you often think, Oh, this is a ballad, this is going to be an aching kind of love thing, and it turns out to be something else entirely. And once you’ve got there, then other ideas start springing up. It’s true. Sometimes it’s, Wow, where did those three songs come from. Boom. And then I’ll be struggling with one for a long time, with a riff or an idea that I’m just hammering away at, and sometimes it will actually turn into a song months and months later, and sometimes it will just lead to something else.

So the writing part is that, and the recording part is, that’s always a bit scary as well, because you’re going in there wondering if the songs will hold up. Will there be some terrible thing that the musicians are trying to play, and they don’t come out like anything? But luckily that’s never really happened. It happens with a few songs over the course of a career, but for the most part these days I have the songs that I’ve written pretty much down to a final draft by the time I get into the studio.

I like to do demos. I go to a small studio and record with me and a guitar and do some overdubs and I often have a few guitar parts, like lead guitar parts, keyboard parts, even bass parts, drum ideas, so I have that for the musicians and so it’s a very quick process for me, recording these days. The new album, Songs of No Consequence, that took nine days to record and mix. With the ProTools, the mixing is speeded up because if you’re doing it right you’re kind of mixing as you go along, and because it’s in a computer you don’t have to go back the next day and fiddle with all these knobs on the board, wondering what you had and why it isn’t as good. There’s drawbacks, because I think the computerized sound isn’t as good as tape. It hasn’t got what tape has got, but you know, as I say, we ain’t going back to vinyl any time soon, so you’ve got to kind of get with the program. And it certainly made this record go pretty quickly, I think.

ProTools is certainly more efficient.

Yeah, it is pretty amazing what you can do. And The Figgs, the backing band on the record, they like to work fast. They recently released their own double album. And they know about not having a big budget and working quickly, because I come from the sort of school where you take two or three months to do albums. But it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. It’s unnecessary and the money isn’t around anymore, you know. That was back in the old days with the huge budgets that were basically a waste of money. But you only realize that in hindsight.

So there’s that part and performing. I do a lot of solo work these days which is very expansive for my material. I can have a large set list and just pick and choose, and if something isn’t going right and I go, Okay, better throw in an old favorite or a rocker here, you know. So that’s good. The flexibility of that is good.

Where did you record Songs of No Consequence?

It was recorded up in Pennsylvania, in a place called Bryn Mawr. It’s near King of Prussia, not far from Philly. The bass player, Pete Donnelly, runs a studio there and it just seemed to be a good idea to use him as the main producer. I mean, I’m usually the producer of my records these days, but this time I said, Okay, you call yourself the producer and just sit there and deal with that and I’ll be the co-producer. He just knows the studio inside out, and it’s a good room and it’s got a lot of analog gear there that everything was fed through to give you a good, fairly warm sound on the old ProTools, you know. So I stayed a hotel there and got up every day and went down to the studio and we cut four or five tracks and do a few overdubs and then we’d have the keyboard player in and it was a good situation. The last album I made in LA so I’m kind of branching out, doing things in different places.

You mentioned mapping out the demos of the songs. Is there anything on the new record that didn’t come out pretty damn closely to the sound you had in your head before you went into the studio?

Ah, that’s a good question. Let me think. Um, well, no, not really. It all came out pretty much as I thought. I mean, I’ve got it that together these days so I can do that. The variety of the album, as a whole, surprised me. For some reason, I thought doing it with The Figgs, and doing a very opposing album to that last one which had a very country bend to it, I thought it would be much more zany in a way somehow. And I don’t know why I thought that because looking back at the songs, they’re all very varied. They’re eclectic, really, so that kind of surprised me.

It was also very pleasing to see how The Figgs managed to tackle different styles, one after the other, you know. The funk of “Chloroform” to the kind of elegiac, is that word maybe, for “She Swallows It,” the big fat ballad sound. You know, we got that on there. “Ambivalent,” as well. And then the Stonesy groove of “Bad Chardonnay” and “Suck ‘n’ Blow.” They came out pretty much as I’d hoped. I’d just sort of forgotten exactly how varied the songs were and that may be due to the fact that five or six of them I’d had for a while. I had them before or during the period I wrote Your Country. I just left them there and thought, These have got to wait for a more pop/rock album, you know. I wasn’t going to confuse the stew by throwing them into the country thing, you know. So I just wrote seven more songs, fairly quickly, to go with it. I guess “Bad Chardonnay,” “Dislocated Life,” “Vanity Press,” they’re new ones, and I kind of thought that I was fitting them all together so it would be one cohesive thing, and it is cohesive but sonically cohesive. But the songs are quite varied, I think, and hopefully it’s entertaining.

Can you take me through the process of one particular song?

Uh, let’s see. One particular song.

Whatever’s foremost in your memory. Of if everything’s fresh, maybe “Dislocated Life.” Tell me how that song goes from your head to a finished product, if you don’t mind.

Right. Well, from writing it, it’s one of those mystery songs that’s suddenly there in front of you. It really is.

Songs of No Consequence kind of fit with the idea of a song like “Bad Chardonnay,” which is about, you know, bad wine and cigarettes. There’s more in there than that, of course, if you know my writing, but it’s not much more than that and “Local Boys” is kind of a flippant kind of idea, you know, like the flip side of “Local Girls,” one of the songs from way back, so you’ve got that. So I’ve got songs like this and suddenly “Dislocated Life” is in front of me and all I know is that I started playing the D and G riff, which reminded me a bit of one of my older songs, “Don’t Let It Break You Down” which is on the Mona Lisa’s Sister album. It’s the same thing, but there is an added note to the G chord, and I’m not technical enough to know what that G chord would be called, that added note, but it makes a whole lot of difference.

But I did a similar kind of trick, or device, on the chorus part, the refrain. It could’ve been very dull if I’d just stayed with the major chords, so I found myself descending from A major to A minor, and to G minor. Not G major to G minor, but straight to G minor, which is very unusual. And this all came very naturally and organically, but I think it’s because I wrote that song, “Don’t Let It Break You Down,” all those years ago, a song that I struggled with for years and years before, before I realized, before I suddenly hit on it that I could put the chorus in D minor. So the song was in D major and then suddenly the chorus is in D minor. That’s what you have to find sometimes to make a song really great. And so that happened with “Dislocated Life,” and suddenly it was in front of me. There it was and all these lyrics, I have no idea where they came from.

They just shot out.

They just shot out. I have no idea who that relates to or what, but there it is, you know. I guess it’s a sign of the times. “Dislocated Life,” you know.

Was repeating the word “dislocated” in the chorus a conscious decision? Obviously you’ve got a rhythm that you’re filling. You’ve got a line that you’ve got to fill, and repeating that one word in the chorus is an odd choice, but it works. Did that just come out or was it a conscious decision?

It just came out. You know, there are rock and roll words, and you’d never think that “dislocated” would be one of them, but it is. It really sounds great and it’s cool to sing it. You know, I’m always pleased with my songwriting when I come up with something that is patently rock and roll but it has a word like “dislocated” in it. So that’s a buzz, you know. And it comes and you just sort of say, Thank you, God. Where the hell did that come from?

Yeah, that’s a word that shouldn’t work but does. And the repetition in the chorus actually fits the theme of the song, too.

It fits the theme of the song, and it’s good you picked that one because you were talking about the recording process from when I wrote it. When I wrote it I knew it was a sit up and beg winner. The guitar sat there as fat as a hog. And when we got into the studio, it was the same thing really. I just said, Give a big kind of U2 kind of thing. Springsteenesque. It could have that kind of feel. Born in the USA kind of power to it, you know. So they just started playing like that, with that big, fat loping bass line and the big open drum kit and, you know, we probably got it in the first take or the second take. We probably did half of it and stopped. I think that was the usual way. You’d say, There’s something wrong here, and then you start talking. You know, Try this on the drums when you get to the bridge leading into the chorus. And try this and that, and blah blah blah. And then, boom, we did it and there it was. And that’s how we recorded most of the songs, really. Halfway through, stop, a quick chat, and then we’re back into it and recording it.

And I had the rough mix of it which I would take to my hotel every night. Take some mixes and listen at night and then listen the next day and listen driving in and it sounded really great, and then we went to mix it and Pete started doing different things, and I took that mix back with me and listened and it was no good. One of the guitars was just slightly too loud, which actually took away the fatness of it. So I said to Pete, The original rough mix is the mix. We don’t even have to tinker with it. I’m sure of it. Put it up. So we played it and I said, Yeah, that’s it. Everything was great. Everything. So that’s Pete doing a good job of getting good sounds on the tape as it were, on the virtual tape, in the first place, so that you could get what’s called a rough mix and it turns out to be the mix.

When is a song finished for you? Do you have to record it? Do you have to play a song live a certain number of times for it to be finished in your head? Or can a song be done when you hit that last chord in the living room the first time through?


It can be, yeah. I mean, I sometimes write three different sets of lyrics, but you know those are the difficult songs. With the ones that just fly out while you’re in the flow, the whole thing can come and it’s pretty much there. I just tinker with the words here and there. I’m not a perfectionist in some ways, but when it comes to lyrics I’m pretty much a perfectionist. Every word has to just flow for me. You know, there are a few things I’m disappointed with occasionally because I couldn’t get them to flow properly, but very rarely. Usually everything is right. And so it’s finished and I go into the studio and I’m often singing almost exactly the same way as I’m singing when I did the demo. Only when you take it on the road do you start singing differently, usually to preserve your voice.

Also, the song stretches over time and you find different ways of singing songs. The solo act has helped me do that a lot, you know. Because when I started that solo thing in ’89 - Live Alone in America was the album – I was singing and playing things almost like they were the original versions. And it wasn’t very good, I don’t think. I know a lot of people liked that record but I’ve done better live solo albums since then because I’ve learned to sing the songs differently, slow them down, you know, open them up. There’s quite a lot you can do.

But that’s just experience, right?

Yeah, that’s experience really, because you have to remember, when I started I got a record deal. I was 24, it was 1975, and I wasn’t one of these guys who was playing endlessly in different bands in clubs. That wasn’t me. You know, this mythology about me being some pub rocker is entirely wrong. I was at home. I mean, I’d traveled around in Morocco and done the whole hippie thing and all that, but that’s what I was, a hippie, laying around doing very little. And I came back to my parents in my early 20s and said, Okay, the next time I travel I’m going to get paid for it. And I started writing and writing hundreds of songs until I came up with good ones. And though I had a little band when I was 13 and one when I was 15, we weren’t serious. I mean, I couldn’t even play properly. I mean, I’m a very slow study. It took me a while, so I didn’t have this experience at playing live. I just had no idea. I had never seen a monitor system until I walked on the stage with this incredible band The Rumour behind me. So I’m still learning, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Otherwise it gets boring.

Yeah, I could’ve learned my craft and been finished after five albums. It’d be like, Okay, that’s it. Where am I going now? But I’m still going places with it.

Since you mentioned The Rumour, let me ask a larger, broader question. I’m looking at these press notes and it says you and The Rumour have two albums in Rolling Stone’s Top 100, but I’m not finding that. I’m finding Squeezing Out Sparks at 335.

Okay, that’s right. No, what happened was back in the 80s – and I found a copy of it the other day in my attic – Rolling Stone had the 100 best records of the last 20 years. And that was out in the 80s, and they had Squeezing Out Sparks and Howlin' Wind.

So Howlin' Wind is what’s missing here.

Yeah, that’s right. So now that it’s gone to the 500, Howlin' Wind’s disappeared somewhere in the shuffle.

It obviously doesn’t hurt sales any to be on such a critical favorite list. I’m not saying it makes you a millionaire, but any attention’s got to help sales.

It means it just goes on and on and on. You don’t really get forgotten. It may be peripheral, but that always keeps the profile there, doesn’t it?

Does it mean anything other than the keeping your profile up? Is it special to you to have one of your albums selected as one of the top 500 albums in history of rock?

It’s better than nothing. I think it meant more when it was the top 100 of the last 20 years because there were two albums in there. And Sparks was fairly high up there, like 40-something or other. And Howlin' Wind was in the 50s. I mean, that really meant something.

Is Sparks even your best album?


Uh, it’d be hard to top it, let’s put it that way. It’s very special. If people want to think that, that’s great. You know, I’m not going to argue with it. It is a pretty special record.

Let me ask you one last big, impossible question: who’s the greatest songwriter alive?

[much laughter] Well, you know, I don’t think anyone is completely and utterly that great that I would put them in that bag. A few years ago I’d say one of my favorites, and definitely one of the best was and still is Lucinda Williams. A friend of mine who played on the Your Country album, Tom Freund, who’s pretty much ignored everywhere, I’ve often said he’s the best songwriter operating now. You know, I think he’s absolutely great but that doesn’t always mean anything these days. You know, I mean, people always say, Your career’s been dulled by record companies, but I always tell them, I’m pretty lucky because I had three major album deals in a row. That’s four albums and four albums and four albums, and you don’t get that now unless you sell pretty big straight off the bat, you know what I’m saying?

Rock and roll is not known for its longevity.


Yeah, I know. You could be the greatest writer operating now and remain on an indie label or be selling them on the Web on your own site, you know. It’s a different world in that respect.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

it's my mother's birthday


and as part of her present I will not post an accompanying picture on this here interweb.

as further evidence of gift-giving I will confess, truthfully, that it's certainly not her fault that her eldest child grew to be the type to gratuitously throw the f-bomb in a Village Voice piece on The Books' upcoming performance at Carnegie Hall.
just dreadful, that.

so the above pic is the album cover of The Way Out, the group's latest.

the band's website, by the way, is a compelling one, if difficult to navigate,particularly if you're interested in the restoration of New England farmhouses so I've provided a shortcut.
enjoy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

while this could not be said


for most of the past couple weeks, today has been a good day.

this has little, if anything, to do with the Spalding Gray papers headed to the Ransom Center, Matt Lauer's interview with the 43rd President or Conan O'Brien's debut on TBS, but several sets of pdfs - for an upcoming Village Voice piece on the Books, the Tusk book (again)(finally) and a Kevin Stallings piece for the Nashville Scene - being put to bed over the past few days are likely contributors.

huzzah huzzah.
hurrah hurrah.
etc.

Friday, November 5, 2010

the last book I ever read


I try to avoid the hyperbole (so let's sneak in some qualifiers), but I'm fairly certain that this is the quickest I've ever read a book of this shape and size (approximately 258 pages without bibliography). or at least certainly the quickest I've ever read a book that wasn't written by Barry Hannah (though Ray, certainly, is much shorter) or the quickest I've ever read a book-length work of non-fiction.
total time elapsed (including just over five hours of sleep): less than 13 hours.
and though I may hold a suspicion or two, I honestly have no explanation as to why:

Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal (yes, the subtitle is a bit over the top and yes, this is the book that The Social Network is based on)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

so although the weather's not cooperating


(it's pretty sunny) it's a pretty easy day to be depressed.
and watching (500) Days of Summer (or having it on in the background) doesn't help.

Friday, October 22, 2010

the last book I ever read: Jimmy Carter's White House Diary (part four)


the fourth and final set of excerpts from Jimmy Carter's White House Diary.

November 20, 1980
“I met alone with Reagan in the Oval Office, and we had a friendly and unrestrained discussion. He listened primarily and made a few remarks, apparently excerpted from his basic campaign speech.”

December 12, 1980
“Nancy Reagan created something of a furor this morning when she said she thought it would be appropriate for me and Rosalynn to move out of the White House into Blair House early so she and Ronnie could decorate it before they move in.”

January 10, 1981
“We can’t find my two split bamboo rods – to me, two of the most valuable items I own. [They must have been stolen when our things from Camp David were repacked in the White House. The FBI helped look for them but had no success.]

January 20, 1981
“I made arrangements for the Secret Service to keep me informed on the way to the inaugural ceremonies. Reagan seemed somewhat disconcerted that no one was in the reviewing stands and there were a large number of ERA banners. He told a series of anecdotes that were remarkably pointless. The one he considered funniest was about an old man who was asked whether he slept with his beard under or over the covers, and then he couldn’t sleep. He suggested this might be a good punishment for Khomeini for seizing our hostages.
“I consider him to be affable and a decent man, remarkably old in his attitudes. His life seems to be governed by a few anecdotes and vignettes that he has memorized. He doesn’t seem to listen when anybody talks to him. He’ll have my support and my sympathy when he’s president.”

March 21, 1981
“[Egyptian] ambassador [Ashraf] Ghorbal called and wanted Jehan Sadat to visit Plains. He asked if I could arrange transportation from Robins Air Force Base to my home, and I told him I had a pickup truck. He paused several seconds and said, ‘I was really thinking more of a helicopter.’ I told him that former presidents didn’t have helicopters, but we would see what we could do.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

the last book I ever read: Jimmy Carter's White House Diary (part three)


the third set of excerpts from Jimmy Carter's White House Diary.

SPOILER ALERT!!! we're into 1980.

February 11, 1980
“I met with Muhammad Ali, who had just returned from difficult trips to China and India. I had also asked him to go to five nations in Africa because he had decided quite early that American athletes should not go to the Soviet Union while invading troops were in the Muslim country of Afghanistan. He went to present our case, which he had done very well. Ali said it was a lot tougher to be a politician and a statesman than a boxer, but he was pleased with the outcome of his trip.”

May 21, 1980
“I decided to visit Washington and Oregon to see the damage done by the Mount Saint Helens volcanic eruption. It’s much more extensive and serious than I had thought, with the Portland harbor [reportedly] filled in with silt, several inches of silt in Spokane several hundred miles away, and serious damage to timberland, crops, and possibly to the health of the people who live there. Just six hours late, we took off. I had the secretaries of the interior, agriculture, the army, the director of FEMA, the National Institutes of Health, plus science advisor Frank Press to assess the problems with the explosion and eruption.

May 22, 1980
“Fifteen miles from the volcano the trees had been burned instantaneously with power at least equivalent to a ten-megaton nuclear explosion, leveling every tree in an area of 150 square miles. One cubic mile off the side of the mountain had been pulverized, and ash had flowed down the mountain, carrying large chunks of ice, large rocks, and molten lava. The top 1,200 feet of the mountain was missing. Spirit Lake was filled with 400 feet of this ash and lava; its level rose 150 to 200 feet.
“This is like nothing I had ever seen – much worse than any photographs of the face of the moon. It looked like a boiling cauldron; icebergs the size of houses were buried underneath hot ash and lava; the icebergs were melting, the surface of the ash was caving in, and steam from the melting ice was rising. There were a few fires about, but there was nothing much left to burn. Eighty-five or ninety people were dead or missing, including, unfortunately, some geologists who were handling the seismograph stations and inclinometers to assess the mountain’s volcanic activity before it erupted . . . . Frank Press says this if by far the biggest natural explosion ever recorded in North America in the last four thousand years.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

the last book I ever read: Jimmy Carter's White House Diary (part two)


the second set of excerpts from Jimmy Carter's White House Diary.

SPOILER ALERT!!! we're getting closer to 1980.

on a side note, today I surprisingly and uncharacteristically gave up, returned a book to the library that I was barely halfway finished reading.
the subject matter was right up my alley and it wasn't the worst book or even the most disappointing book I've ever read, but it just wasn't good enough to finish.
a sign of maturity?
probably not.
a new found ability to properly prioritize?
I'm not feeling Door Number Two either, Carroll Merrill.
or the churlishness that has become so much a part of my personality that there's a good chance I owe Mr. and Mrs. Churl some royalty money?
ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.


November 18, 1978
“We had a crisis in Guyana with Congressman Leo Ryan and five other Americans being murdered by a religious sect headed by Reverend Jones, from California. Several hundred of his followers committed suicide at his urging. We helped evacuate the dead and wounded.”

June 12, 1979
“I announced a new health insurance program with Jim Corman, Charlie Rangel, Harley Staggers, Russell Long, Abe Ribicoff, Gaylord Nelson, all of whom vowed to support the proposal. Kennedy, continuing his irresponsible and abusive attitude, immediately condemned our health plan. He couldn’t get five votes for his, and I told Stu and Joe Califano to fight it out with him through the public news media. It’s really time to do something about health care, catastrophic illness, the problem of the poor not having health care at all, also prevention for children, prenatal to the one-year age level. This kind of coverage is lacking in our country, and it’s needed.”

February 3, 1980
“One [CIA] agent whom we had sent into Iran with a false German passport was questioned by customs because instead of using a full middle name, we used the initial ‘H.’ Apparently the Germans never use a middle initial. When questioned about it, the agent very quickly said, ‘I’m ashamed of my middle name, which is Hitler.’ The Iranian said, ‘Well, under those circumstances, I can understand why your passport is different from all the others in Germany.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

the last book I ever read: Jimmy Carter's White House Diary (part one)


I am done, finished, yea verily I have completed reading all 537 pages (I am not counting the index because I didn't read the index) of Jimmy Carter's White House Diary. and for the next few days I will be posting excerpts of interest.

SPOILER ALERT!!! 1980 wasn't a great year for our 39th President.

March 5, 1977
“Reverend James Baker from South Carolina, immediately after he talked to me, called his sister-in-law and was so excited that he died, unfortunately. I called his wife to express my regrets.”

May 21, 1977
“During the afternoon I met with Major General [John] Singlaub about his statement that if we withdrew troops from South Korea a war would result. He denied making the statement. He said he was just quoting from Korean officials. Then he said that the reporter was not given authority to quote him. I don’t think he was telling the truth, but I felt sorry for him. He emphasized over and over that he was not disloyal, that he’d meant no insubordination. So instead of reprimanding him I just told him that we would transfer him out of Korea.”

February 13, 1978
“We had a regular cabinet meeting and discussed the coal strike, which could create some serious problems if it’s not handled soon. The production of coal has dropped by 60 percent, and by early April we could have at least 5 million people unemployed. We also had a discussion about whether the percentage of incompetent lawyers was 20 percent or 50 percent. I personally sided with Chief Justice Burger, who chose the higher number.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

I really like my job


you know, the job that I gave myself that's not really a job in that there's not really a paycheck or anything else that's very steady about it.

but I do like interviewing people.

and the thing that I don't like about my job that's not really a job is the transcribing part.

don't get me wrong.
I really, really like coming up on those passages that I just know will work. they're kind of like moments of discovery and they feel great, each and every one.

but listening to yourself (if you're me) is pretty much horrible.
especially when you won't shut up.

I mean, I'm transcribing an interview now with Kevin Stallings, the head basketball coach at Vanderbilt University (pictured above). and it's a really good interview.
but there are a couple moments where I'm stumbling around like my 13 year old self is back at the junior high school dance.

(let me once again apologize to my date that evening. though my intent was to put my arm around you I'm pretty sure what actually occurred was closer to a headlock (I was pretty damn short when I was 13 years old))

and what's worse is that at one point Coach Stallings paid me a compliment.
and it kind of came out of nowhere yet sounded sincere (even on the replay), but I don't take compliments very well (not a lot of practice there) so I pretty much just stumbled around to where it kind of sounded like I was stepping on my own tongue.

and that's not fun to listen to.
especially when you have to replay it once, maybe two or three times to make sure you've transcribed the passage accurately.
and by then you're so sick of yourself that you really don't want to be transcribing any more.

but I really like my job.

*** for you latecomers, I am working on two rather extensive (read: long and involved and time-consuming) oral history projects: one with folks who have lost a job since the recession began and one with 49 year olds.
and between those two projects (and those two projects alone) I've interviewed just over 100 people (which is much more listening to myself than I want to do by a factor of about 100) in the past eight months.
so if you know of someone who is both interesting and has recently lost a job OR (not and) someone who is interesting and 49 years old, please steer them in my direction.
good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

everybody goes through phases



I'm going through a Frosted Flakes phase.
(it's been a very long phase, of course, but recently it's experienced what might be called an uptick (this is not the first or even second evening this week that I've enjoyed a bowl (or two)))

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I've Seen That Movie Too



yes, I'm seriously considering the appropriation of Elton John song titles for my blog entries from here on out (next up: Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting)

so here's the thing: once again (and again and again and again) I possess a New York Public Library book (NYPL rocks!) that I have not completed reading that is due and, yes, cannot be renewed.

this week's book in question: Jimmy Carter's White House Diary.
(I'm just about halfway through and while, as a man, our 39th President remains nearly celestial in my estimation, I'm beginning to remember (vividly) his failings as a politician. a vast, glaring difference, say, between him and someone as accomplished as Lyndon Johnson)

this happened, pre-Texas, with Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (one of the last books I ever read and not as stellar as The Corrections unfortunately).
we settled that one by buying a copy through Amazon, returning both copies to the library and then sharing the single copy of Freedom (which is what allowed me to read Meghan McCain's Dirty Sexy Politics on the JetBlue flight to Austin (it's a quick read) before coming back to finish Freedom within the state of Texas while my spouse began reading Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man while waiting for me to finish Freedom; got it? (there will be a quiz later) but we will not be changing partners (dosey-do) with White House Diary as half of our partnership turned up her proverbial nose at the prospect (which isn't looking like the worst decision, to tell the truth))

so the most surprising (and disturbing passage) from one of the last books (though not really the last book) I ever read:

"I wasn't sure what was normal - or supposed to happen between a president's family and a vice president's. But I know what I wanted: for everybody to get along.

"My mom had a similar impulse. She reached out to the Palins and I don't think she always felt they had reached back. Words fell through the cracks. Offers to help - and bond - went unrecognized. My mom really hit if off with Todd, and liked her time with him, and both my parents were incredibly supportive of Bristol and Levi. My mom had even suggested that she and my dad would love to be godparents to their baby, if they were interested. But she never got an answer."

- Meghan McCain's Dirty Sexy Politics

Friday, October 8, 2010

the last concert I ever saw


the hold steady
beacon theatre
new york, ny
october 7, 2010

"the hold steady meets angels in america"

(more pics (and more representational pics) at villagevoice.com)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

more, yet non-chronological, Austin trivia


the Austin City Limits Festival is this coming weekend.
we will be long gone.

regular Austin buses (not busses, which would likely be illegal except in Nevada) cost $1 to ride and you can use a dollar bill (it doesn't have to be change).

the bat exodus from underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge is not particularly impressive, at this time of year at least (lots of bats, but hard to see (see: no dark swarm cloud) without the help of artificial light because that whole "they come out right before sundown" isn't true (unless you think "before sundown" means "too dark to really see").

not a lot of downtown restaurants open on Sunday night, even if it's early.

don't eat at the Chick-Fil-A in the Texas Union after, say, 3 p.m. unless you like your sandwich more "warmed over" (heat lamp-style) than freshly prepared.

I find it strange that the three statues closest to Main Building on campus are Jefferson Davis, George Washington and Woodrow Wilson.
am I the only one?

the Austin Museum of Art is very small and cost five dollars (but the ceramics, most notably works by James Tisdale, Billy Ray Mangham and the late Tre Arenz, are impressive).

the Blanton Museum of Art (on-campus) costs nine dollars if you're not a student or faculty member, and most of the modern art appears to have been donated by James A. Michener and his wife (but Saint Agatha, pictured above, is part of the permanent collection).

Ruby's B-B-Q at 29th and Guadalupe (right by The Spiderhouse on Fruth Street) will tell you that their brisket is their best selection. it's good and peppery, but people who aren't particularly fond of barbecue (or chuck roast) may tell you that it reminds them of chuck roast.
and their chicken very much pales in comparison to the bird served by Iron Works.

UT sorority girls like to eat at Whole Foods on Sunday night.

I still really like the fountain in front of Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

the poolside fountains at the Doubletree on 15th Street are a really good idea (cuts down on traffic noise).

and the housekeeping staff washed the dishes in our sink (or at least replaced them with clean dishes) two days in a row. which definitely removed any dish washing intentions I may have had.

there are so many buildings with Wells Fargo signage than at least one Austin visitor might ask if Wells Fargo owns half of downtown or just 30 percent.

foam Hook 'Em Horns fingers will cost you $10 at ONE OF THE TWO "team stores" within the football stadium. personally that's well more than I would be willing to spend, even without the packing considerations.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

the first thirty-six hours in Austin, Texas


you can stand underneath the sign that reads Taxis at the Austin airport, but that doesn't mean there will be a taxi there.
but most of the time some kind of pay to ride vehicle will show up eventually.

but if you're headed downtown or near the University area the #100 bus only costs a dollar and shouldn't take more than 30 minutes to get you at least close to where you're going. which is the way to go if you're not on an expense account.

our cab driver said that he lived in Austin for 12 years without a car.
he did not find it ironic that he now drives a taxi.

we arrived at the Doubletree on 15th Street way before check-in time but the hotel has a shuttle that will take you anywhere within a two-mile radius.
we chose Whole Foods, and the shuttle driver said that it was the biggest Whole Foods in the world (being the corporate headquarters and all).

after a bit of perusing I decided I could eat at the Whole Foods (almost never my first choice) and one of the sandwich guys (correctly I might add) assumed that I was without major funds because he recommended the tacos ("more bang for the buck").
so we both ordered the soft tacos (two, fully loaded, for $5), then took them up to the second floor patio (very warm, very sunny) to eat.

while in the neighborhood we stopped by Snap Kitchen and Waterloo Records where I bought a t-shirt as a gift (for someone else) and a boxed (as in mystery kind of surprise thing) Simpsons figurine as a gift (for myself).

we walked back to the hotel.

(one of the bellmen thought that the Texas Clocktower shooting (by Charles Whitman on August 1, 1966) occurred in 1979.)


our room wasn't exactly ready (even though it was after 3 p.m.), but once it was we got a very nice one: 14th floor in a 15 floor building, balcony overlooking a very nice Southern view (the State Capitol just to our left), a kitchen so full it has a dishwasher (though not nearly enough dishes to fill it).

walked up Guadalupe to campus, the Harry Ransom Center, over to the Texas Union where the Chick-Fil-A was closed so I asked at the Hospitality desk what the C-F-A hours of operation were.
9 to 5, the woman said.

the University Co-op (which does not have Texas Baseball hats) currently features University of Texas-themed Halloween shirts for a mere $9.99.

walked back down Lavaca, then over 15th to the 7-11 which did not have a 2-liter Dew anywhere so I settled for a 12-pack of 12 ounce cans.

down to the hotel gym (2nd floor) where I ran a mile for the first time in 20-something years (while watching 30 Rock (and the headphone jack on the treadmill is underneath the Stop button where you can't see it unless you're like three feet tall, and not anywhere near the other controls, like Volume and Channel and Power, up by the screen)).

dinner? dinner?
well, it was after 8 and we'd made no plans, had no thoughts other than not having Mexican again after the Whole Foods tacos so I brought up Iron Works (barbecue) even though there really wasn't anything there (I thought) that my beloved could eat.
but I'm a selfish bastard and was well past hungry and it turned out that they flavor with a dry rub which she could actually eat, HOWEVER they closed at 9 and it was after 8:30.
so I made an executive (though I'm not an executive) decision and we placed a phone order, ran down to the lobby to get John, one of the bellmen, to drive us up to Iron Works and back (just over a mile each way as the crow flies, but that's not the way he went) and we ate in our room.

the chicken was pretty damn good (probably the best of what we brought home).
the beef ribs were also pretty damn good.
the potato salad was acceptable.
I didn't have a lot of interest in the pickles that were included and even less interest in the raw onions.
the barbecue beans were, well, not worth eating at all. extremely bland.

curled up and watched the Daily Show when the hot tub (which we can see from our balcony) appeared occupied.

the next morning I grabbed a couple items off the free (for us as I'm a Hilton Honors bigwig) continental breakfast (just okay, primarily because it was free), fought off a sore throat and much congestion, then went down to the pool and read the last 100 pages of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (good, but not as good as The Corrections).

showered, got Tee-Jay, another of the bellmen/shuttle drivers, to run me over to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (on campus, but kind of tucked awkwardly between the interstate and the football stadium).

was welcomed by an elderly docent (of which there were several) who recited most of the introductory welcome material twice, including the fact that the brochures, that she soon collected for me even though I didn't need any of them (contact information for each of the Presidential libraries, for example), on the counter were all free.

watched an informative 23-minute film overview of LBJ's life and career and was reminded that I'm actually quite a fan (Vietnam was the proverbial rock and a hard place, no-win, no solution debacle and the man was arguably as well-intentioned as any President and likely unarguably the hardest-working man to ever hold the office).

exhibits may be viewed on the 3rd, 4th and 10th floors.

I skipped the kind of scene-setting, general history material on the 3rd floor and stuck with the LBJ only objects (bordered in red) such as correspondence, the suit he wore when taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One and the teletype text of his "I will not seek nor will I accept" speech.
the 10th Floor, with replica Oval Office (7/8ths scale) and Ladybird's actual Library office open for viewing, was definitely more interesting than the 4th (some poor portraits of every President (on one wall) and every First Lady (on a separate wall), gifts from other heads of state and an animatronic LBJ telling jokes (audio good but the robot looked nothing like the man).

the LBJ Museum Store: make no plans to walk out with a t-shirt or baseball cap or you will be disappointed.
but I tried to support (the Library and Museum require no paid admission) by purchasing quite a few postcards as well as LBJ's memoir, The Vantage Point.

down the stairs and by the impressive bowl of a fountain, past the north end zone of the football stadium, then up to the Main Building (no tower tours until next spring due to some kind of maintenance/repair work) and over to the Texas Union where, to my tremendous dismay, the Chick-Fil-A (the only one within walking distance, by the way) was already closed.

I returned to the Hospitality desk, reminded the workers there that I had been told that C-F-A closed at 5.
Yes, the woman said, but they didn't check the holiday schedule.
What holiday? I asked.
Well, she said, it's OU weekend.
So the Chick-Fil-A closed at 2 today because there's a football game in Dallas tomorrow?
Pretty much, she said.

I ate a roast beef sandwich at Which Wich.
which seems as good a time as any to suggest that it appears that people in Austin, or at least those working in the service sector, are genuinely nice.
or terrific actors.
the sandwich was good, though the flavor of their barbecue sauce could use some adjustments.

made dinner reservations then down to the second floor spa/gym/room where the weights and treadmills are kept to run another mile (that's two days in a row) then back up for showers.

ate at the Driskill Grill, "consistently ranked as Austin's #1 restaurant," for dinner.
a restaurant week prix fixe was still in force so the two of us enjoyed a three-course meal, with tip and drink, for about $55 each (we paid separately due to the expense accounting - one of us on and one of us (me) off).

then a lovely stroll home (if the hotel counts as home), probably a mile, on a beautiful evening, with much tarrying within the floodlit 30-acre State Capitol complex which is just around the corner from our hotel.